Boswell and Johs: a comparison of handmade pipes

I finally had a chance to smoke a new Boswell partially-rusticated bent brandy pipe a couple of months ago when it was still warm out. I also got the chance to smoke the Johs sandblasted bent brandy I got even further back but had forgotten about. Is that a sign I don’t need any more pipes? Probably. All the same, it had been a while since Sheldon the tortoise went on a field trip, and that’s always the perfect excuse for a smoke.

This is Sheldon.

I met Sheldon last June, when my friend, his owner, was going through some extraordinary life changes that would have killed a lesser person. To help, I offered to take Sheldon in for a while. I had him until last month!

The day I smoked my pipes, I set him in my yard. He made a beeline towards a shrub as I filled the Johs with Dreams of Kadath, a plug tobacco made by Cornell & Diehl that’s a mix of just about every type of tobacco there is- Black Cavendish, Burley, Kentucky, Oriental, Perique, and Virginia. The blend is pretty wet, and I didn’t heed my own advice of letting it dry out a little before I packed my pipe, so lighting it was a bit of a struggle. All was well after a while as Sheldon dug a hole under the bush and I put the Johs through its first smoke.

Here are the Johs (below) and the Boswell (above). They’re similar pipes at a quick glance.

The Johs -a sandblasted bent Brady- is a nice-looking pipe. Both it and the Boswell are, actually: part of the reason I smoked them back-to-back was due to how similar they are not only in terms of appearance, but also with regards to their manufacturing process: Both pipes have bowls that are canted backwards and feature dark stains. Neither is smooth except for a accent band of contrasting briar, and both pipes feature saddle bit stems. Also, both were made by hand- Mogens Johansen makes around a thousand pipes a year in Denmark, while J.M. and his son Dan Boswell crank out around six times that many in Pennsylvania.

This is my third Johs pipe. 

The Johs has a tall bowl, a sloping heel, and a cant that gives it that ocean liner funnel look I enjoy. It measures 5.16 inches long, with a bowl height of 1.77 inches and a chamber that’s 1.57 inches deep. The chamber diameter is .82 inches, giving this one .81 cubic inches of tobacco capacity. As a comparison, the chamber volume of my widely-flared Johs bent Dublin is .68 cubic inches, and my other sandblasted bent brandy Johs has nearly the same capacity as this new guy.

Johs can sell so many pipes because Mogens Johansen works like a maniac. That’s why most of his pipes feature spot rustication and sandblasts to cover up flaws in the briar that someone working at a more even pace would discard. It’s been my experience that, while the fit and finish of his pipes are far above the average Single-A squad, minor cosmetic flaws often come into play that prevent the pipes from finding a home in the majors. This bent brandy, for example, has some stain issues at the shank transition, the mortise isn’t completely centered, and the bowl isn’t drilled completely smoothly. None of that bothers me, but they’re worth mentioning. For what it’s worth, you’ll find the same issues in a Peterson or Savinelli at this price point, and none of those are handmade.

The heel of my newest Johs pipe.

I already mentioned that I have two other Johs pipes, one very similar to this one and one which isn’t. I noticed that this new one smokes noticeably warmer in my hand than either of its siblings, but that’s because its walls are much thinner than theirs. The heat was never excessive, and it never became an issue. I actually like it when a pipe is warm.

I smoked the pipe down to the ash, and it was fine. Dreams of Kadath has a pretty intense taste to it! Throughout the smoke, what I perceived to be the berry and fig notes of the topping gradually integrated into the grassy, smoky, woody, and nutty flavors of the rest of the tobacco.

One more shot of the Johs, this time from the top. The pipe is arrow-straight, the bend is due to the typical z-axis bent of the stem of a bent brandy. 

Overall, I like Johs pipes because they’re handmade aside from utilizing a pre-formed stem. They’re also ungodly cheap and punch far above their weight: this one cost only $92.34. That’s a steal for a handmade Danish pipe, especially if you want a truly unique companion. Minor fit and finish quibbles aside that probably weren’t worth mentioning to begin with, I’d have loved it if my first pipe had been a handmade Johs.

After I finished, I picked Sheldon up to relocate him into the primary part of my yard. He promptly ate an ant and began munching on the grass for a late-morning carbo load! I picked up the Boswell and loaded it with Edisto by folding the flakes back onto each other into a plug about the size of the pipe’s .77 cubic inch bowl. I was surprised by the pipe’s diminutive size compared to the Johs, especially since Boswell pipes tend to be closer to the jumbo-jet side of the spectrum, but it didn’t bother me. In fact, I liked it! I don’t smoke indoors, so I don’t have hours to kill behind a pipe. In terms of utility, this Boswell might be the perfect pipe for me.

My newest Boswell.

The Boswell has a squatter bowl than the Johs, without as much of that ocean liner cant to it. Part of this is due to its base- it’s a sitter, a feature I took advantage of when I looked up and couldn’t find Sheldon! I set the pipe down on my windowsill and hurried towards the street when I found that he’d scampered about forty feet down the length of my yard in the span of how long it takes me to light a pipe! Whether or not he’s read the parable, the yard bunny that hides under my brother’s truck better think twice before he challenges Shelldude to a race.

The Boswell fired right up. I began to smoke Cornell & Diehl’s Low Country: Edisto mix after a charring light and a quick tamp. It’s a tart Virginia blend which is pretty mild in terms of temperament and nicotine- not anywhere close to how much of a sock to th

Sheldon was all tuckered out after this hike. He’d started from back beyond those shrubs! 

After some hissing on both our parts, I deposited Sheldon back in the grass in front of me again. I picked the Boswell up and turned it sideways to read the inscription on its flat base before I finished smoking it. It turns out that this pipe was the first I’d ever encountered made by Dan Boswell, who’s worked side-by-side with his dad J.M. for years. As I finished the remainder of the smoke, I noticed no difference in quality between it and any of J.M.’s. The pipe -produced in 2016 but never used- performed like it’d been broken in years ago, the same as all of J.M.’s works. Where the Johs gave a competent smoke, the Boswell provided a professional one. I’d recommend either pipe to someone new, but the Boswell really brought it, albeit at 150% of the cost.

The heel of the Boswell has Dan’s brief inscription on it. 

Years ago I reported directly to the Vice President of Marketing for a CPG company stuffed with well-known brands. I tried to interact and pick his brain every chance I got. One day I met with him to brashly ask if I could be project manager for the rollout of a new product. Respectfully, he responded by asking me if I had real experience in the specific facets of the project, or if I merely had exposure to those responsibilities. Oof.

I fucked up and learned my lesson. Out of the pipe sock, the Johs has exposure. The Boswell has experience. 

The heel of the Boswell has Dan’s brief inscription on it. 

As far as these two pipes go, the difference between exposure and experience is in the price. Even as an estate pipe -albeit unsmoked- the Boswell cost $50 more than the Johs. I’d imagine that it’d have been closer to $200 new. Is the opportunity cost of breaking in a handmade pipe worth that price difference to you? If so, I’d go for the Boswell. None of mine have ever steered me wrong, and despite a thorough examination, none of the flaws I found in the Johs were present in the Boswell.

That said, I’m not trying to steer you away from Johs. They’re great pipes- I have three of them, remember? Overall, both provided me with a great smoke, just like Sheldon provided me with some reptilian intrigue. After I finished the Boswell, he kicked and hissed as I loaded him up to take him back upstairs, but I remember doing the same to my parents after days of exploring Discovery Zone so I can’t say I blame him.

After a long day, Sheldon made himself home by digging a hole in his terrarium.

Sheldon was a foster tortoise, a weird concept. I watched long-term while his mom navigated some foundational life changes. He’s home now, and I miss him. I’ll have to get one of Savinelli’s machine-made Tortuga pipes to celebrate if I get a tortoise of my own, of course! In the meantime, I’ll have two fantastic smokers in these handmade Johs and Boswell pipes. Though this Johs is one of Mogens Johansen’s more pedestrian offerings, it was a good pipe, and I’d recommend it. The Boswell, though- boy howdy. Those pipes are not to be underestimated!

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