by Jessi Phillips | Special to the Kalamazoo GazetteThursday July 23, 2009, 12:35 PM
KALAMAZOO -- When Andy Henderson's wife, Jessica Hayosh, gently encouraged him to trade his video games for a more worthwhile pursuit, she had no idea it would lead to what Henderson calls "an instant obsession." "Maybe I made a few comments here and there, like, 'Why don't you spend more time doing something productive?'" Hayosh said. "I knew he had some sort of creative spark in him." Henderson had already sold most of his gaming equipment before their wedding in February 2008, but still had plenty of games on his computer. At around the same time, he'd also started smoking a pipe in an attempt to cut back on his two-pack-a-day smoking habit. "I was puffing on a cheap $15 pipe when I thought, 'I can do better than that,'" Henderson said. Thus, a new addiction was born. Henderson carved his first pipe in August 2008, and though he says that pipe "was horribly ugly and smoked terribly," seeing the finished product motivated him to keep going. He joined some pipe-making forums on the Internet, and soon created his own "shop" on etsy.com, an online purveyor of handmade and vintage items. Hayosh uses the site to sell beading supplies and knitting wares. "I didn't make take many art classes and never really felt like I was that artistic," Henderson said. "But just getting one finished and looking at it, I think, 'Holy crap, I can't believe I did that.'"
Henderson now creates three or four pipes a week, selling them almost as quickly as he can make them. The pipes start as a block of briar wood, a fire-resistant wood imported from Algeria, Italy and Greece. Henderson then uses a drill press to create the airways and tobacco chamber and a bandsaw and disk sander to create the rough shape of the pipe. Then comes the most laborious part of the process -- sanding the pipe by hand. "I'm someone who is usually fidgety, and it's actually turned into a very constructive outlet for that energy," Henderson said. "My wife is very tolerant of the wood dust that's everywhere." "To see how far he's come is amazing to me," Hayosh said. "He really has this talent." Each pipe takes between eight and 20 hours to make, and runs from $60-$140. While most of his patrons on etsy.com are women buying for husbands, fathers or boyfriends, he has had one woman say she was buying the pipe for herself. Henderson sees pipe smoking catching on with the younger set as well. "It's a lot cheaper to smoke a pipe than cigarettes," Henderson explained. "Tobacco will never be safe, but it's more about the flavor of the tobacco, more about the taste. Smoking the pipe, I get by smoking on it a half-dozen times a day and I'm satisfied." Both Henderson and Hayosh have been pleased with the results of their etsy.com endeavors and the support the site has provided. In February, the couple's "Etsy Love Story" was featured on the site's blog, and in June, Henderson won an etsy.com poll for "Best Father's Day Gift." Both try to put most of their profits into building their business, and each has considered the possibility that these crafts might someday turn into a full-time occupation. "The master guys can do a pipe in two hours and then turn around and sell it for $5,000," Henderson said. "I hope I'm a lot faster after a decade of doing this."