Just like new : Pipes and Tobaccos Magazine

Just like new

Pipe repairman Chance Whittamore is taking restoration work to new heights

by H. Lee Murphy

Walk into any cocktail party attended by tobaccophiles, Chance Whittamore has noticed, and the pipe carvers are treated like rock stars. “Everybody wants to be around them,” he says. The pipe repairman? “He’s the Rodney Dangerfield of this hobby, never getting any respect. Nobody takes much notice of him,” Whittamore concludes.

Chance Whittamore

Chance Whittamore

Whittamore has a good perspective: He’s been toiling full time as a pipe rehabilitation specialist since 2008 and, still, many people don’t know his name. That may be changing, however. In the past few years Whittamore has gotten so good—some of his restored briars can pass as new and unsmoked, and to his consternation a few have even been sold that way—that the industry has finally taken notice and is paying its respects. Even if people don’t know Whittamore’s work, they probably recognize him. With his long beard and the ever-present cap on his head, he cuts a distinctive figure at any pipe show.
“In the world of estate pipes, Chance is simply one of the very best,” says Michael Reschke, the president of the Chicagoland Pipe Collectors Club and a reseller of estates himself. “He turns out restored pipes that simply look amazing.”
It is unlikely that a single repair artisan anywhere goes as far as Whittamore does in fixing up old briar. A middleman in estates is typically willing to devote 20 minutes or so to each pipe he resells, with a short turn with a reamer followed by some bleach and alcohol work on the stem, finished by a few turns on the buffing wheel. In contrast, Whittamore spends an average of almost two hours per pipe (and sometimes three hours or more) in painstaking work with dowels, special bleach solutions and fine sandpaper to bring each briar back to showroom-like condition. Put your finger in a 50-year-old, well-used bowl restored by Whittamore, and it’s so smooth, unblemished and odor-free that you’d swear it was unsmoked. The fit between the stem and the shank—often the tip-off to a lazy repair job—is so tight and smooth that it’s sometimes better than the original pipemaker’s work.
Whittamore will tell you that his goal on every pipe is to turn out a finished piece that is utterly pristine.

Before

Before

He compares his labors to that of cleaning a car. “You can take your [automobile] to a car wash and have it washed for $5,” he explains. “But the guy who owns a really valuable old collectable car getting ready to display it at an important show might take it to a detail shop and spend $5,000 or $10,000 getting every last speck of dirt and grit and rust taken off of every part. I prefer to work like those guys do.”
That kind of attention to detail doesn’t come cheap, though Whittamore’s pipes are fairly priced in the end. Customers seem to think so: Whittamore’s suburban Los Angeles-based firm, Great Estate Pipes, sold more than 2,400 pipes last year, many of them at prices less than $350. At this point he’s reached a ceiling: Working 65 hours a week and more, he’s maxed out his volume, Whittamore figures. He has considered hiring an apprentice to expand his output, but he doesn’t trust that anyone else would show as much care in the work as he does. He also rejects the notion of backpedaling and spending less time per pipe. “I won’t ever cut corners,” he declares. As it is, he’s making a comfortable living, has attracted a loyal following and isn’t complaining, even if he doesn’t get the attention that his pipe-carving brethren do.

After

After

Tobacco has been a part of Whittamore’s life since the beginning. He grew up in Kentucky, where his father owned a 600-acre tobacco farm, with most of the crop devoted to Burley. He took up cigarettes at age eight. He quit for a while at the age of 33 when his wife, Cybil, became pregnant with their first child, and he migrated to pipes. Now 42, Whittamore smokes two to three bowls of pipe tobacco a day, along with a few cigarettes and an odd cigar now and then in his garage-based workshop that is attached to his home in Placentia, in Orange County, an hour southeast of Los Angeles. He has a personal collection of more than 50 briars, half of them shape 73 Charatans and a bent acorn silhouette that has been his favorite for years.

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Category: Feature Article, Other Stories, Pipe Articles, Spring 2015

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