Johs: The best value in compelling, handmade pipes

These might get old, but a big part of why I started this blog was to review budget-level pipes. I’ve seen how many reviews there are of tobacco- there are thousands and thousands! Aside from a couple of subreddits and occasional posts on various fanboy forums, though, pipe reviews are few and far between. I wanted a resource someone like me -a blue collar dumbass with an internet connection and enough education to make me hate my millennial life and all the choices I’ve made to lead me here- could draw from. 

My Johs Partially-Rusticated Bent Dublin

We’ve discussed pipes from makers like Nording, Savinelli, Ropp, Peterson, and Boswell that range from around $60 to upwards of $200. Today, we’ll meet in the middle and talk about a couple of Danish pipe 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 $115. 

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 picking up chicks- I hadn’t yet been introduced to this habit and hobby!

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.

My Johs Sandblasted Bent Brandy

First, though, some history: Mogens Johansen is Danish. He makes 2,000 pipes a year. That’s approximately a shitload. He does them up quick, by drilling out the chamber, mortise, and associated holes and fitting a pre-made stem to the wood in lightning speed. That’s a big reason these handmade pipes are so inexpensive, which is 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.

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 a good date!

The pipe on a cheap pipe rack.

The shank of the pipe is married to a piece of olivewood that I’ve found really compelling and attractive. Combined with the relatively-tight 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 out five hours of pay for it.

Here’s the rustication on the heel of the pipe.

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 grain of the olivewood is very visible here.

The mortise (the hole where the stem goes) is visually straight, although the stem comes right out with barely a turn. After I removed the vulcanite stem, I noticed that the olivewood extension was dented or cut off-gauge near it, but I didn’t see it while handling the entire pipe or while I smoked it. 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 any typical use case.

I had no issues smoking the pipe -loaded with Half & Half, an old grandpa type of drugstore blend made by Scandinavian Tobacco Group 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. 

See how wide the chamber walls are?

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” and try to avoid it.

Neither SmokingPipes or Johs has paid me for a review, so I’ll say instead that the walls of this bowl are “liberal,” but that leads to its own set of political issues. No, no- they’re thick- how about that? No, not thicc- don’t get me started on the girls of TikTok! 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

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. 

The Johs sandblasted bent Brandy.

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 on the off-chance that you are, 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 people scuttled our plans.

Another view.

It scuttled the ship, too- under the name “Blue Lady,” the liner was sent to the breakers at Alang and 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 dinner. 

The heel of the pipe.

The stummel is cut flush with the stem on this pipe and it’s a pleasure to clench.  Though a visual inspection of the mortise reveals what appears to be a flaw in the briar near 7 on the clock face, it made no difference when I first smoked this pipe while waiting for a better pizza. For what it’s worth, at this price point, flaws are to be expected from a handmade pipe.

The top of the pipe- my bulldog stand went missing!

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. 

Let’s wrap this shit up so I can go to bed 

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 be an heirloom. 

I’m not really a clencher for fear of ruining acrylic stems (ugh) and having to restore vulcanite (a serious pain in the ass 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!

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

    1. Agreed! I’ve searched for that equation but this is the only time I’ve really found it. Boswells have exploded in price over the past decade.

      I just got a new Johs that’s pretty ho-hum but it’s got a classic Stanwell forward cant to it that I miss from some of dad’s old pipes.

      Like

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