Two students add a handmade touch to tobacco

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All photos Christine McCormick/Catalyst

Second-year Jonathan Weinberg meanders between the trees, his eyes darting in search of the perfect tree branch. After dismissing several that revealed flaws after closer inspections, he settles on the perfect piece of beech.

“I look for wood where one branch splits off from another,” he said. “I use tree limbs I find and I have used pine, oak and beech.”

After finding the perfect piece of wood, Weinberg returns home and begins the long process, which can take between two and five hours, turning a simple branch into a handmade, solid-pieced tobacco pipe. He is among a growing number of crafters that sell their handmade goods.

“Quite a few college students make handmade items, so if you buy handmade there is a chance that you’re helping out a starving college student,” Weinberg said. “Handmade items also help the local economy, assuming you’re buying from local artisans.”

After taking up pipe tobacco at the beginning of summer 2010, Weinberg searched for an alternative to store-bought pipes.

“I taught myself how to make them over the summer,” he said. “I looked at tree branches and saw a pattern that I could make a pipe out of.  I already had experience in some woodcraft so it was simply a matter of using a drill to create holes in the right places.”

While Weinberg could have settled for a store-bought mass-produced pipe, he prefers the production process and the finished pipe is one-of-a-kind.

“Making a pipe is a relaxing process and it allows me to focus my thoughts onto something real in the world,” he said. “Of course, having a finished pipe is something to be proud of.”

Soon, others were requesting Weinberg’s creations. Word spread among his friends and he began marketing them at local craft fairs. He’s since sold seven of his pipes.

“The most I’ve sold one for is $90, as part of an auction,” he said. “The price depends on the size and quality of the wood.”

He is also working on creating an Etsy store. Etsy is an online hand-made market place that connects buyers and sellers interested in handmade goods. For a small percentage of their sales, artisans can create their own online storefront and market their creations to Etsy’s seven million members. Weinberg’s store is still a work in progress. He hasn’t actually listed any of the pipes online yet.

For those looking to light their handmade tobacco pipes, second-year Sarah McKnight has an eco-friendly solution. For the past year, she has been making hempwick. Branded as “Fire Wire,” this beeswax-infused hemp cord is used to light candles, tobacco, fires and more.

“I guess you could use it for making roasted marshmallows too,” she said. “But it wouldn’t be very efficient.”

When McKnight noticed students around campus using hempwick, she wondered if she could make it herself. After purchasing hemp cord typically used for jewelry making and cosmetic-grade beeswax, she began to produce her own eco-friendly hempwick. She refers to the process as “boring and tedious.” Though she can make about 300 feet in an hour, it burns her fingers and covers her in sticky wax. It was a matter of trial and error, but eventually she figured out a perfect method to make her Fire Wire.

“I first have to warm up my wax,” she said. “I use a mini crock-pot to melt it. I then unravel about six feet of cord and, using my right hand, feed the cord into the crock-pot. I do this while drawing it out with my left hand. I can dip about five feet before I have to let the excess wax drip back into the pot. I have to hold this for about thirty seconds before I can do the next five foot section.”

McKnight has since sold about 700 feet of Fire Wire. Unlike most suppliers that sell in bulk, she provides smaller increments of hempwick for those interested in trying it. Fire Wire is about twice as thick as most hempwick available for purchase online.

She recommends her hempwick over traditional lighters for a few reasons, including possible medical benefits. She said, “When you inhale through a tobacco pipe you are directly inhaling the fumes from the accelerant. When you light your tobacco pipe with the hempwick, you are receiving fewer chemicals in your inhale and the flavor of your blend is preserved.”

She has yet to sell Fire Wire off-campus, but has sold it to both New College and Ringling students. As a sign of her success, she says that many smoking connoisseurs on campus have tried it at least once.

Whether they’re selling tobacco pipes, unique pieces of jewelry, or awesome Palm Court Party costumes, plenty of New College students are keeping the local economy strong as they sell handmade crafts from their dorm rooms. Check the New College Craigslist or the forum for a wonderful selection of handmade goods.

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