Johs: The best value in compelling, handmade pipes

We’ve talked about Boswell pipes, which are handmade in America and available for, oftentimes, a pretty penny. A fantastic alternative that you should know about is the line of Danish pipes made by a guy named Mogens Johansen. His pipes are marketed under the brand “Johs” and they’re all handmade. What’s better is that you can get your own unique pipe from a price point starting at about $90 from SmokingPipes. As of this writing, the most expensive Johs pipe will run you about a hundred bills.

Johansen actually carved pipes for the brand Bjarne before Bjarne Nelson died in 2008, so some of his designs and shapes might be familiar to the veteran pipe-smoker. In 2008 I was mostly concerned with trying to play the guitar and awkwardly failing to pick up girlz- I hadn’t yet been introduced to this habit and hobby! Now that I have been, it has not even remotely helped either pursuit.

At any rate, I have two Johs pipes: a sandblasted bent brandy I picked up for $88.00, and a partially-rusticated bent Dublin I bought for $95.00.

Here are two of Johansen’s pipes.

First, though, some background: Mogens Johansen is Danish. He makes 2,000 pipes a year. That’s a lot! He does them quick by drilling out the chamber, and mortise, then fitting a pre-made stem to the wood in lightning speed. That’s a big reason these handmade pipes are so inexpensive, and it’s right up my alley. The other reason they can be had for a tinker’s cuss is that Johansen does a lot of spot rustication to cover up and remove flaws in the briar: pipes made of perfect briar often cost more than those that employ some technique to hide it. Though some despise it, I like rustication and how it makes a pipe feel in my hand: I’ve been a fan of tactile intrigue ever since the Nintendo 64 came out with three rings on its joystick, but your mileage may vary. 

If you’re a fan of the Danish freehand mode, as I am, you’re better off spending your $100 towards a Nording since Johs pipes tend to be variations on old classic British shapes. But damned if Mogens doesn’t add some flair to his designs- that’s what first compelled me to buy one, and it smokes like a dream for as little as I paid for it. Plus, again, it’s handmade.

Johs Partially-Rusticated Bent Dublin

My Johs partially-rusticated bent Dublin.

The first pipe we’ll talk about is what SmokingPipes calls a Bent Dublin. I’ll take that, though the outward flare in the bowl puts it closer to what’s sometimes called a “strawberry” for me. I don’t much care about the stem -though it seems to fit the pipe well- but the artistry in the piece is sold. It’s got good grain, but there’s a huge, tornado-shaped chunk of contrast-stained rustication at the heel of the pipe that concealed a flaw. I’m good with it, though. When I held it in a ponderous manner, my middle finger felt it right up. Ninety bucks for a feel-up? That’s the makings of a good Thursday! And it was one when I smoked it.

Here’s the pipe on a cheap rack with the olivewood shank front and center.

The shank of the pipe is married to a piece of olivewood that I’ve found really compelling and attractive. Combined with the grain of the briar, the accent adds enough visual intrigue to take this pipe to the next level, and that little bit of what I’ll call stunt wood put me over the edge towards forking over five hours of pay for it.

This guy measures 5.29 inches long and it weighs 1.8 ounces. The bowl is 18 inches tall, with a chamber depth of 1.5 inches and a diameter of .76 inches. The pictures show that the briar around the chamber is wide -a third of an inch on either side- and that leads it to a cool smoke. 

The irregular rustication of the heel is something I find quite compelling.

The mortise (the hole where the stem goes) is visually straight, although the vulcanite stem comes right out with barely a turn. After I removed it, I noticed that the olivewood extension was either dented or cut off-gauge near it, but I didn’t see it while handling the whole pipe. I was too lazy to break out the digital calipers for it, but normally any off-center drilling that’s invisible to the naked eye will not present itself as a true problem in a typical use case.

I had no issues smoking the pipe, which I loaded with Half & Half, an old grandpa type of drugstore blend that’s a mix of burley and Virginia tobaccos with some cigarette-type notes. The tobacco itself was just okay, but the pipe was a lot cooler than others during the smoke because of its generous briar wall on each side of the chamber. 

The pipe from the top.

I hate the use of the word “generous” in terms of a review. A generous side? A generous portion? It’d really be generous if the manufacturer gave us the product -whatever it is- for free. The word generous has become a cop-out for a cheap review. I call it a “menu word.” Generous helpings? Let’s endeavor to avoid that description. The briar wall is thick, and the bowl of the pipe effectively insulates the heat of the burning tobacco, is all I’m trying to say here. 

Johs Sandblasted Bent Brandy

My Johs sandblasted bent brandy.

Let’s move on to my second Johs pipe, the sandblasted bent brandy. It conforms a lot more towards the typical shape on a pipe chart. What puts it into total Danish territory, for me, is the backwards cant of the bowl towards the end of the stummel and the stem. 

You’re probably not into ocean liners and the great ships of yesteryear that plied the frigid Atlantic waters to take all manner of people from England to America and then back again. But I am! This pipe’s bowl reminds me of the funnels of the S.S. France, later the Norway, or other great streamline moderne liners from the 1940s and 50s. In 2003, when I was thirteen, my mom booked the family on a cruise on the Norway to commemorate my sister’s high school graduation. Unfortunately, a boiler explosion that actually killed eight people scuttled our plans.

The cant of the bowl is apparent here.

It scuttled the ship, too- under the name “Blue Lady,” the liner got sent to the breakers at Alang, where it was destroyed.

That being said, aside from is design cues that make me think about the days of oceanic travel, the sandblast treatment on this pipe is really compelling. Essentially a lighter form of rustication, sandblasting removes lighter layers of briar to reveal rings like you’d expect on a tree instead of a root.

Johs’ treatment of this pipe does just that, along with a dark contrast stain that highlights the topography of the bowl’s ridges with pleasing, red-hued clarity. Between the heel and the stem of the pipe is a portion of briar left untouched aside from Johansen’s signature, and it’s matched by a brief band of smooth-surfaced briar at the mortise, which leads into a sharp acrylic stem as amber and stripey as my hair after I’ve badly bleached it and washed it ten minutes too soon in order to go to Little Caesar’s to pick up my dinner. 

Here’s the heel and shank of the pipe.

The stummel is cut flush with the stem on this pipe and it’s a pleasure to clench in the jaw.  Though a visual inspection of the mortise reveals what appears to be a flaw in the briar near seven on the clock face, it made no difference when I first smoked it while waiting for a better pizza from Hotbox. For what it’s worth, at this price point, flaws are to be expected from a handmade pipe.

A bowlful of Edward G. Robinson in this pipe was a good smoke. Overall, the pipe measures 5.65 inches long and weighs 2.1 ounces. The bowl’s 1.98 inches tall while the chamber depth shaves just under half an inch from the total. The chamber’s .81 inches wide compared to an outside diameter of 1.79 inches, which leaves nearly half an inch of thickness once it gets to the bottom- like its brother, this Johs is well-insulated. 

The Final Word

I firmly believe that, for a hand-made pipe that’s totally unique in terms of cut and briar, there is no better value than a Johs. Mogens’ cheapest pipe -some version of a sandblasted brandy- will run you around $93 as a starting point, and although it’s pricey compared to a cob or a Dr. Grabow, you probably won’t turn back! Other sandblasted shapes start at about $10 more, but then we get into some fun territory: Johs pipes don’t get all that crazy, but some of his smooth acorns and bent Dublin sitters would be really nice buys at around $120! In fact, some of his smooth bent Dublins have some really nice plateau unobstructed by rustication. A pipe like that could easily become an heirloom. 

My newest Johs pipe, another bent brandy.

I’m not really a clencher for fear of ruining acrylic stems or leaving toothmarks on vulcanite and then having to restore it (a serious pain that I’ll talk about another time), but if I was looking for something unique, handmade, and intriguing on several levels, I’d probably pick a Johs pipe. Hell, I have. Twice Three times! In addition to the pipes I’ve shown you today, I picked up another one a couple of months ago, also a sandblasted bent brandy but with a taller bowl. Clearly I’m a fan!

If you’re remotely into pipes, you should be too.

2 thoughts on “Johs: The best value in compelling, handmade pipes

    1. I didn’t expect much beyond Peterson and Savinelli when I got back into the hobby. The variety of affordable pipes from around the world is insane!

      Liked by 1 person

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