When I was at a recent pipe show I noticed a guy walking around with a messenger bag that looked really nice. I asked him if it carried pipes, and he opened it. The front pocket had room for a tablet and the back pocket had 8 pipes tucked away in individual pouches and all his accessories. I was so impressed that I asked where he got it and he gladly gave me the information and website.
I feel as many of you may feel, when you spend a lot of money on a pipe you worry about how you can protect your pipe when you take it out and about. And when you take it out you may want to bring its friends along for the ride as well. This is where Smokin’ Holsters comes in.
I reached out to Neil at http://www.smokinholsters.com/ and had him make me a custom bag which he delivered quickly and I’ve enjoyed greatly. Now that I’ve done product testing so to speak, I’d like to share with everyone a little about him and his process for making the bags so I’ve interviewed him to shed some light on his custom work.
What got you into making pipe bags?
In 2002 I started looking to get a nice leather pipe bag. I had a great toiletries bag I used but it didn’t seem to suit my aesthetic. I have been working with leather since college but at the time I wasn’t set up nor did I have the time to make a pipe bag. Though I hadn’t seen anything at the local shows or on-line I figured there would be someone at Chicago that had a hand made pipe
bag to sell. Well there wasn’t. I spoke with a bunch of retailers I knew at the show and they all basically said that what I was looking for wasn’t available. Keith Toney who is now with Cornell and Diehl worked for Knoxville Cigar at the time said “Neil, you’re going to have to make your own”. The first bag I made was sound and actually quite nice but when I was done I didn’t like it and couldn’t see myself using it so I posted to ASP (alt.smokers.pipes) that it was for sale and posted a few pics. It actually sold in 2 minutes. Short answer, I saw a niche and filled it.
This of course isn’t your day job, what do you do when you’re not making bags?
Actually nowadays it is.
What are the various leathers you use?
Well for exteriors bison and cowhide. The interiors are almost always deerskin.
Could you elaborate on why you use different leather for inside vs outside?
Well the exterior requires water and weather resistance as well as being strong enough to provide some impact protection. In order to do this I mostly use chrome-tanned cowhide and bison in a specific range of thickness that provides for these factors. Also, these leathers, by virtue of their natural tendencies and the tanning process have less malleability and stretch that provides for the structure of the bag. The interior of bags requires a more malleable and soft skin with stretch. Water resistance in the bags interior is paramount. Deerskin is perfect for this purpose in both feel and physical characteristics.
About how long does it take you to do a bag?
In actual working time, it takes anywhere from about 4 hours to as many as 18 hours depending on the bag.
Could you describe your process on how you make a bag and the type of tools you use?
Well, I start with a side or a full hide (a side is usually about 18 – 24 sq ft, full is double) and a list of bags I’m making and I measure and cut the skin.I then trim the edges to for each specific bag. Then the individual pieces are edge dyed. Zippers are then made and the hardware is made ready. I then cut the deerskin to make all the interior pockets and the lining. The entire liner is made and glued to the inside of the bag. For hand laced or stitched bags I then punch the leather for lace or thread and when all the parts are ready I sew the bag together. For machine-sewn bags, once the parts are ready I use the machine to sew the bags together. The interior bag stiffeners are then glued in, the bag is signed and numbered and done. The one exception to the above is when I use English Bridle leather. When I use this, the skin I get is natural and I finish and oil the skin myself.
As to tools, for cutting my primary tool is a rotary cutter followed by a scissor and a straight edge. I use assorted leather tools like punches, skivers, gougers and a bunch that would make no sense if I named them. I have a triple feed commercial leather sewing machine and a commercial edge skiver. For sharpening I have a paper wheel-sharpening set-up, a buffer
and assorted sharpening stones and files. I have a branding machine for debossing logos and several bench machines that set snaps, rivets and stuff like that. I have lots of rulers in different shapes. Glues, dyes, oils and that kind of stuff.
What’s the most unique custom bag you’ve done?
For a pipe bag I’d say the most unique design was a bag with a Moose hide exterior fitted with an exterior pocket that had a clip so that the customer could snap his .38 in the pocket and have access to it if needed.
Do you see yourself making anything else besides bags?
I assume you mean pipe bags and I do. Besides accessories like pipe stands and racks, I have made tamper stands and racks, accessory pipe and accessory carriers for a bunch of different purposes from hanging off a briefcase to in a car or for use in a tree stand. The name of my company, Smokin’ Holsters is in itself the name of a product I make, a Smokin’ Holster slides on your belt and typically holds a lighter and tamper providing easy access. I have also always made non pipe related items like briefcases, portfolios and sack and carriers for everything from knives to flutes to music stands and tents.
What pipe shows do you usually attend?
When I started out I went to a lot of pipe shows like NY, Chicago, Richmond, DC and Columbus. I’ve also been to a Vegas show. These days it seems that I only go to Chicago regularly but that could change. The problem I have is that getting bags to a show is a lot harder than say getting pipes to a show. To fly to a show requires shipping bags packed in boxes and then having arrangements set up to return the bags home if they don’t sell. Too, getting enough bags together for a pipe show is actually not the easiest thing as my demand for orders gets in the way. My bags are usually represented at most shows through intermediaries. Recently I had a dozen or so bags displayed for sale by a friend at the Tokyo Pipe Show.
Do you smoke when making your bags?
Nope, one mistake and the leather is ruined. I’ll smoke if I’m drawing or at the desk for a bit but not when I’m actually working on leather.
How long have you been a pipe smoker?
I smoked a pipe for a bit in college but cigars were more my thing. I think I started up the pipe again in about 2000.
What’s your favorite tobacco?
All time I have two: Balkan Sobranie Virginia #10 and Three Nuns.
You can find out more about Neil’s bags by going to http://www.smokinholsters.com/.
And that wraps up the interview. So I’ll leave you with this question. How many of you already have a bag and what do you think about it?
James Foster goes by the online handle of Pylorns in the forums, and he is the creator of an app for keeping track of your tobacco cellar inventory called The Pipe Tool.