Kris Barber turns out his Edwin Pipes when he can get away from his bike business
by H. Lee Murphy
Kris Edwin Barber may be one of the healthiest-looking pipe smokers around. At the age of 53 he stands 6-foot-3 and weighs just 170 pounds, all of it taut muscle. He’s a former triathlete, it turns out, who one year competed in a different triathlon—that energy-sapping combination of running, swimming and biking prodigious distances—each weekend all summer long. The basement of his home in Shakopee, Minnesota, a suburb south of Minneapolis, is notable for a sleek, high-tech bike set up for indoor traiming. It’s valued at more than $8,000, which puts Barber’s weekend hobby practically in Tour de France territory.
Sharing space with the bike in that basement is Barber’s pipemaking workshop. He came to the pipe hobby late, getting his start in refurbishing old briar around 2007 and, in a remarkably backward approach, not taking up smoking itself until sometime after that. He still puffs on just one or two bowls each week, ranking him as a very occasional smoker, but his reputation as the carver behind Edwin Pipes is growing fast. He’ll turn out more than 50 pipes this year, most of them in a distinctly American style of which he is proud. Indeed, the “cradle” of extra briar he designs to wrap around the bottom of his bowls has become a signature stroke that spurs fans to immediately identify an Edwin pipe.
Kris Edwin Barber never liked his middle name, yet he thinks it’s perfect as a pipe brand. He’s been pretty good at building that brand in the past few years. He attends pipe shows each year in Chicago and St. Louis and consigns some of his newest work to tobacco merchants as far away as Germany. He also maintains a website at www.edwinpipes.com. Yet his most effective marketing recently has come on Facebook and Instagram, of all places. In fact, he gets the majority of his sales on social media.
For his online followers, Barber is diligent in photographing his pipes at each step of the carving process, then posting those photos to Instagram. “People love to see a pipe that they may want to own being made step by step through the whole process,” he says. “One photo I take may show awesome grain but also a large sand pit. I show the customer how I work past that in more photos that follow.”
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