Recently I have had the privilege of getting to know Mike Williams, the man behind Honey Creek Pipes. I didn’t know Mike a couple of months ago or about his pipe making or shop; I simply started conversing with him on a Facebook pipe group about how to do “something“. Our conversation went on for quite some time, covering many things pipe-related. Sometime in December Mike asked me if he could send me a pipe he had made as a “thank you” for my help; Mike has been making pipes for just over a year and has – until now – learned everything by trial and error. To be honest, I was kind of shocked at this offer; I try to “give back” to the community when I can by sharing information, answering questions and in others ways so I had no clue our conversation would lead to just an unexpected gesture. But then again, this is another example of how generous and close-knit the pipe community is, so it shouldn’t have been too big of a surprise.
Mike gave me several options to choose from but I couldn’t decide; I knew that the real colors and textures of the antler couldn’t accurately be reflected in the photos. So, I told him to pick for me, what he’d pick for himself. Since we were almost into the Christmas season at the time, I said no hurry about getting it to me; little did I know that opened a whole new creative door in Mike’s mind. Having no time crunch and total freedom, he made me a completely new matching set: pipe, rack, and tamper! Okay, now I really was totally blown away! These tantalizing photos came as I awaited my new antler-ensemble:
During some of our public conversation our editor, Erin, took notice of what we were talking about and asked me to do a review of the interesting pipes that come out of the Honey Creek Pipes shop. Mike was fine with this idea so, some time and much conversation later, I have my new set, have had the opportunity to smoke and evaluate it and now it is time to share my experience.
First, the pipe itself is made from whitetail deer antler; actually, the whole set is made from whitetail antler now that I think of it. Mike does all of his work by hand using almost nothing that isn’t hand-powered: a Dremel and a drill I believe comprises the total his machinery. Almost all of the materials he uses he harvests himself from the woods near his home in Troy, OH; some is ordered from a supplier when he can’t get what he needs locally but that is a minimal amount. Beside whitetail deer antler, Mike has also worked with elk, sika, and axis. He uses both vulcanite and acrylic for his stems, some adorned with decorative bands, others not. He has recently expanded his stem offerings so one can really customize their new pipe to their individual taste.
Of course the first thing I did was to inspect the pipe closely. Okay, I did that third: first I closed my gaping jaw, second I set up the set to admire for a few minutes! LOL My suspicions were correct; though the photos he sent were good, they didn’t accurately portray the beauty of the antler Mike used. The pipe easily passed the “cleaner test” and showed how well drilled the pipe was both from the mortise/airway and the tobacco chamber; everything lined up nicely. The drilling was smooth, with the exception of one small spot on the chamber wall; nothing to be concerned with and is pretty well covered with a cake now. Mike will soon (or may already have) a drill press so these little “oops” spots will likely be a thing of the past when he’s no longer drilling with a hand drill.
I have read, and Mike even commented, that the cleanliness of a horn or bone pipe makes all the difference in the first few bowls; a clean pipe will have almost no taste from the material, a dirty one will, well, be funky from what I understand. Funky is probably an understatement. Mike told me of his firsthand experience with the first antler pipe he ever made, finding out just how important a clean, dust-free pipe is; I have to say it was both a funny and gross story to hear!
As I said I ran the pipe cleaner through the stem into the bowl to check alignment and saw no dust or any particles. I removed the stem for the inspection and ran the other end through the airway, took a cotton swab to it and blew through it: no signs of dust at all. Mike told me he endeavors to make sure his pipes are clean when they go out to a customer and based on what I experienced he achieved it.
Mike recommended that I, or anyone who gets on of his pipes, coat the bowl lightly with honey to facilitate the development of the cake in the new pipe so I did. I packed the pipe with an old favorite of mine, a Gentlemen’s burley- blend, that I am very familiar with to evaluate the smoke from this new-to-me pipe material. The charring light was not pleasant to be frank. I don’t know if I didn’t get the top clean enough or maybe missed some area on the upper part of the bowl with the homey or even packed it a bit too “high” but it tasted foul – and suddenly Mike’s story was a little less funny.
I tamped the bowl lightly and re-lit and was pleased to taste my tobacco, not the funk again (to be clear, I only got that taste on the one light of the first bowl; it has not happened again). The antler pipe smoked very well from there to the end of the bowl. It is a little like a clay or meerschaum in that it will heat up some if you smoke it too fast. However, since the bowl is 1.5″ deep and the antler is about 5″ tall overall, there’s plenty of material to hold onto so that your hands get no heat whatsoever.
While Mike makes a lot of different sizes of pipes, depending on the material he’s working with, mine is large and is not a clencher by any means; it weighs in at nearly 7 ounces (197 grams)! But the natural shape and texture of the antler makes it very comfortable to hold while smoking. In face, on mine there’s a “sweet spot” that I’ve found that makes the pipe almost hold itself in my hand.
After smoking this pipe several times with several different tobaccos, from Gentleman’s Blends to Latakia blends, I have to say that it really reminds me of a clay, porcelain, or meerschaum pipe in all of its smoking qualities: the heat exchange, the neutral flavor (after the honey-sweetness burns off, which was about two bowls for me), and the lack of ghosting. The cake began with the first bowl, as Mike suggested it would, and is building nicely; I like a thin cake, generally speaking, so it is already close to my perfect. In fact, the building of a thin cake in this pipe is about the only thing I can think of that is different from the materials mentioned above.
Now functionality is the most important thing to me in a pipe; this pipe definitely meets that requirement with ease. But this pipe, actually the whole set, is also a great display item, too. It is very aesthetically pleasing to my eye and I think it would be to most pipe smokers/collectors. In my home state of West Virginia whitetail deer hunting is a staple of most folks lives and has been for generations; the use of antler in artistic ways is not uncommon here. So this pipe speaks to Appalachian heritage, too, in my opinion, another reason I so enjoy it and it’s companion stand and tamper.