A 51-year-old father of two, naval veteran former Aviation Engineer third class Michael Darr and now devotes 20-30 hours a week to pipe making and the remainder of his time to his wife and children. Not that Mike spent a great deal of his life in the navy, indeed his service was quite short, but his peace time service has left him disabled and “unemployable” by Veteran’s Affairs. And that is a good thing for us, the pipe smoking community, because Mike is not a sailor, nor is he a “craftsman”, he is an Artist. Make no mistake, the capital “A” is not a typo, Mike is an Artist. Mike spent 30 years as a jeweler, which led him into the lapidary community, and has worked as a sculptor and a jack-of-all-trades.
But Mike is not a businessman. So, while he has worked with enough gold to make an Aztec proud, Mike has never hit it rich. I thought of asking him what pipe, thus far, was his masterpiece, but I got the distinct feeling that he would have to say “all of them”, because Mike treat every pipe he makes as if he were creating his magnum opus.
Mike spent about a year “practicing” before circumstance prevented him from honing his skills for about two years, and then some 12 months ago he finished putting together his shop, again, and began cutting briar into stummels. Then in September of 2014 Big Mike Pipes (BMP) 001, a huge sized poker made of olivewood was sold before it even was finished.
Also, being disabled from two mental illnesses (bi-polar and PTSD) Mike tends to start a lot more pipes than he finishes. This is not to say that Mike does not finish his commission work, but rather when left to his own devices, mike pours his vast, creative mind out into the briar.
Like many people living with bi-polar mental illness, mike is a highly motivated, highly creative, highly intelligent individual who also, like many people living with PTSD, can get overwhelmed by the pressures of the world. I tell you this only because Mike says he wears his disabilities proudly, and believes that they speak about the mental processes of the man. He believes that to understand him, to accept him, you must accept his limitations.
In any event, I first met Mike in December of 2013 and was immediately taken in friendship by the verbally reserved, open-minded (if perhaps a little right-wing), a little too shy, and a little too unsure of himself, gentleman who had started a pipe group on Facebook in order to break out into the pipe making world. At this time, PIPE SMOKERS/MAKERS was growing to a point that Mike could not control it by himself, and placed a call out for volunteers to help them administrate. With a shrug of what the hell, I contacted him, and it has been the beginning of a good friendship.
Other administrators have come and gone from the pipe group, most having left the group administration amicably, but Mike and I have kept this group growing along with a couple of other diehards.
On a personal level, as a friend, Mike, like anybody with mental illness, requires some patience and understanding of his limitations, but this does not in any way affect his business practice, quite to the contrary, these limitations make Mike slightly easier to deal with a business level, as he obsesses about getting his commission done, and exceeding the expectations of the client.
When I first ordered a pipe from Mike, I found him reserved, uncertain, and all too willing to undersell himself. However, Mike has made a few pipes since that time and has grown in his confidence as he continues to make masterpiece after masterpiece. With over 70 stummels on the go, with everything from traditional to contemporary, from simple to exotic, it is highly likely that Mike will have something almost ready for you, though if you require something artistic, you can’t rush art.
Once the pipe was completed, we had some trouble connecting over the final details, final payment, shipping details, shipping costs and the like, and due to this, it took Mike over a month to get the pipe to me. And I have to say, Mike was beside himself, and begged me not to consider this as the way he does business. And when my pipe arrived, I found that Mike had included a matching briar/lucite/chrome tamper for my pipe as an apology for shipping times.
So the final question has to be made; or rather, the final two questions;
Am I happy with the pipe I got? Ecstatic! It smokes beautifully, it looks beautiful, and elegant, and is comfortable in the hand.
And finally, would I deal with Mike again on a business level? In a heartbeat! Mike bent over backwards to ensure that I was happy with my product, and absolutely guarantees his work. He made up for the inconvenience of waiting, and continued to keep me informed with status updates, even as we struggled to get the pipe to me.
Thanks once again Mike, my olivewood BMP 001 custom poker smokes better than my Dunhill, and is a nicer pipe. I can’t wait to see what you come up with next, and someday I’ll get that dragon churchwarden from you! Look for Mike at his Facebook group Big Mike’s Pipes or PIPE SMOKERS/MAKERS, see you there!
Well, I have a brand new olivewood poker that is among my favorite smokers now, so do as I do and;
Smoke ’em if you got ’em!