In popular culture (and perhaps in the real world, too), tobacco pipes are typically found attached to a certain type of character, someone old and curmudgeonly, with patches on the elbows of their jacket and an unusual abundance of hair coming out of their nose or ears. As these anachronistic sorts have disappeared over the years, so, too, has pipe smoking faded into the background as a vice of choice. But some years ago, Jukka Viitasara and Karl Berglund had an idea: If you designed a new pipe—one that was both beautiful and functional—maybe you could draw in a new generation of pipe smokers, or, at the very least, give existing smokers an object they were proud to puff in public. With Stiff, their new venture, the duo has succeeded in delivering the half of that equation involving the product. The Swedish company’s plastic pipes are handsome enough to make even a concerted non-smoker reconsider.
The pipe is available in three handsome colorways: "blue and dark navy," "red and murray," and "black and pistachio." But aside from being an aesthetic improvement in the sense that they’ll match something other than a tweed suit, Stiff’s pipes are also a departure from convention in terms of materials. The designers bill the pipe as the first ever cast in one plastic piece, pairing a polished thermoplastic body with a briar wood chamber. "There are no problems with the existing wooden pipes," Viitasara told me, "except that they haven’t changed much the last two centuries. This is an industry that needs something new."
The briar bowl allows Stiff’s pipes to retain a familiar wooden taste, but the meticulously engineered plastic stem engenders superior air flow, in addition to giving the pipe its clean lines and eye-catching colors. But the process was not without its challenges—especially when it came to combining natural and synthetic materials. "What is going to happen with the plastic cast when the briar wooden core expands and shrinks?" Viitasara recalls the team wondering. "How are we going to injection mold [a thin wooden core] with an extremely high pressure without causing it to crumble? How are we going to foresee the dimensional differences in the wooden cores when they need to have an exact fit for the mold cavity?"
"We have worked our asses off to come up with a perfect smoking experience and air flow," Viitasara explains, and ultimately it took two years of testing and tweaking for Viitasara and Berglund to iron out the materials issues satisfactorily. But in a sense, that steady process reflects what the duo loves about the act of pipe smoking itself. It’s about having the chance to step back from a world awash in stimulation—taking a walk outside, perhaps, and looking at a problem for a new angle, or maybe just letting your mind wander for a bit. As Stiff’s site reads, "In our stressful society, half an hour of soulful pipe puffing will help you to slow down the tempo and bring a contemplative view of life."
But for the founding duo, the new company isn’t simply about pipes. "We love the pipe-smoking philosophy," Viitasara reiterated, "but we also love the plastic material, with its endless varieties and possibilities. When you mix those two 'worlds,' something interesting emerges. We love the clash, and we’re always gonna strive to find different approaches and try to create something unexpected."
While other products may show up a bit further down the line, the company’s currently focused on readying its pipes for wide release. That being said, a tobacco pipe that people aren’t ashamed to smoke in public could be one of the more unexpected things you could endeavor to design today.
[Hat tip: It’s Nice That]