Andy Petersen of Davenport is carving out the perfect hobby.
About five years into the process of producing handmade smoking pipes, Petersen is gaining national attention in the special niche world of pipemakers. In fact, he was featured in the current edition of the quarterly magazine Pipes and Tobaccos, which he said drew a lot of attention to his part-time business.
“I got about 300 hits on my website since Nov. 7 when the magazine came out and sold almost every pipe on the website now. It has helped me,” said Petersen, who works full time for Republic Services, a local trash hauler that contracts with area municipalities. He delivers garbage cans and recycling bins.
His love of the pipe craft is fairly recent. But his love of working with wood began early.
“I was always making something with my stepdad,” said Petersen, 42. “We made a coffee table together .... and mom was into antiquing furniture. There was always a saw going off in the house.”
The new hobby launched in April 2007 after he quit smoking cigarettes
“As soon as I found out how much flavor a pipe offered, I decided I had been wasting my time with cigarettes,” Petersen said in the magazine story. “I went out and spent $65 on a Stanwell Golden Danish in 2007, studied it for a while, and thought that it didn’t look all that hard to make.”
So, he began investigating.
“That summer I was Internet surfing, finding information on where I could get wood and stem material,” Petersen said. “I already had a few tools. I made my first pipe in September. I was looking for anything I could get my hands on to learn. The first one, it worked.”
But it was far from a finished product. He did not like his first attempt, but he kept going. A year later, Petersen went to his first pipe show, held in Chicago. It is the biggest pipe show in the world with craftsmen from many countries, he said.
In 2010, one of his pipes was selected by judges at the Kansas City Pipe Show to be encased in a special seven-day pipe set for charity, alongside creations from industry luminaries such as Michael Parks, Bruce Weaver and Tonni Nielsen.
Petersen has a workshop in the basement of his home, outfitted with a Midi wood lathe with special jaws for gripping briar wood along with belt sanders, chisels, drill presses, rasps and buffing wheels. He uses Italian briar wood, the best and most common type of wood used for pipes.
He is up at 2 a.m. every day to put in four hours in his workshop before he heads off to work. Then, he works another 90 minutes after dinner each night.
According to the magazine story, “Petersen figures he spends more than 30 hours a week on his pipemaking, with each pipe requiring 10 to 11 hours of attention from start to finish.”
He produces 40 to 50 pipes a year at an average price of about $200. The highest price he has received is about $400, he said.
Chuck Stanion, editor-in-chief of the magazine, said Petersen is quite talented.
“He’s got a ways to go, but he makes an excellent, excellent pipe,” Stanion said. “Like any hobby, there is a top tier. But Andy is kind of at a good level.
“People may think making a pipe would be simple. But it is incredibly complex. New pipemakers usually do not make a good pipe for several years. It is an art form. Most of them in the United States do it part-time. There are about 15 in the U.S. that make a living as a pipemaker.”
Stanion said Petersen is “what I call at a professional level, and I think he could make a living at it.”
Petersen believes he still is learning his craft “Every time I am making a pipe, I think I am making it better and better,” he said. “But I feel like a puppy on the porch.”