A HANDCRAFTED PASTIME
photography by Tiffani Jones
The nostalgic scent of a pipe smoking often brings to mind the things of yesteryear. In many ways, our current culture is gravitating toward the genteel and old-fashioned customs of the generations before us. Likewise, pipe smoking has found its way back into the interests of many a common man, though never has a pipe been so uncommon. The global intrigue of the oldest form of smoking tobacco has become an art form all its own. A fine maker of this rare trade and refined tradition can be found right here in Lakeland. Or better yet, in Walt Cannoy’s backyard, in a small studio shed.
Owner and founder, Walt Cannoy, and his fine handcrafted pipes are in demand around the world. Yet Lakeland remains the home for him and his craft.
The Lakelander: What was the inspiration for starting Walt Cannoy Pipes?
Walt: It was a large combination of things. I suppose it all started when I was fresh out of high school. A couple of my friends and I got into cigars. The big 1990s’ cigar boom was going on. Everyone was getting into cigars, and I had to be like everyone else. When I’d go to the local cigar shop, every time I walked in I’d smell the pipes. And, growing up, I had an uncle who smoked pipes. Every time we went to his house, it had that nice aroma of pipe smoke.
Going into the cigar shop brought back those memories for me, and I kinda caved in and said, “Hmm, I think I’ll start smoking a pipe.” So I started pipe smoking. But, you know, there are a lot of different levels and price ranges of pipes, and the pipes I was attracted to at the time were very expensive, much more than I could afford.
I had noticed a pipe-carving kit on the shelf [at this pipe shop], which was essentially a block of wood with holes drilled in it and a stem stuck in it. And I said, “I think I’ll try making myself a fine and fancy, expensive-looking pipe.” So I bought the carving kit, brought it home, and sat down with a couple of files, some sandpaper, and worked on that for a couple of weeks. Finally, I got to a point where I said, “OK, I’m finished with it. It’s not exactly how I want it to look, but I made this thing. And I think I like it.”
The whole process of it really intrigued me. I liked sitting down and making something with my own two hands and having a finished product at the end, for better or for and went back to the cigar shop to buy another one of those pipe-carving kits. I bought another kit and made another pipe out of it. And bought another kit and made another pipe out of it. Until finally, they ran out of pipe kits for me to buy.
Then I went out and found some more block, drilled the holes myself. I had to go find stems to put in them. And it kind of all went downhill from there. I started making pipes on the side, while I was going to school and selling AT&T wireless phones from a kiosk in a Walmart and working at a manufacturing plant that made equipment.
TL: So have you always been interested in building things?
Walt: Yeah! Oh wow, man. Yeah, growing up I think I was always building things and taking things apart as well. Because pretty much anything electronic or mechanical (or really anything that had a screw in it), I wanted to take apart and see what was inside of it. Growing up, I was in the gifted program and all that fun stuff in school, and everybody was always telling me, “You’re going to do great things!” and this and that. And I suspect, though I’ve never asked my father about this, at one time my parents must have been told, “Whatever your son wants to do to express himself creatively, let him do it.” Because, man! I tore up the place. I painted a mural on my bedroom wall without permission, and they didn’t say anything about it!
As one of five kids, we all had a bit of a knack for some creativity. But I was always the one making stuff, like a cheese-grater robot, and robot arms out of paper. So, obviously coming from that, once I started making a couple of pipes, I was hooked.
TL: When did you see you had the potential to launch this as a full-time business?
Walt: It all happened gradually. I started out making pipes for myself in my spare time, then to making them for friends, then to having people say, “Hey can I buy that?” It had evolved to a point where I had to ask myself, “Do I go to a job that I hate? Or, can I better spend this time making pipes for people who will pay me for them?” And yeah, that’s when I knew I’d be making pipes.
TL: What makes Walt Cannoy pipes unique as compared to mainstream pipes?
Walt: Mostly what you will find are factorymade pipes. Someone takes a piece of wood and they stick it in the machine, they hit a button, and it does most of the shaping. So, mostly, you have less-expensive factory pipes. There are some middle-range, middle-class, I guess you would say, handmade pipes in town, but none quite as refined as the pipes I produce. If you think of it in terms of automobiles, I have a line which is my Bentley. Those are the “Cannoy” pipes; my signature pipe, with my name on it. And then I have a line that is more like a Cadillac. They’re not quite as expensive as a Bentley, but those are what I call my “Cardinal House” pipes, and this is actually my focus currently. I launched this line just last year. The Walt Cannoy pipes have been pushed back to a part-time gig, so those are made when I’m done with my day job, focused on Cardinal House pipes.
Currently, I get a lot of orders from Japan, Singapore, China, and the Middle East. I send a lot of pipes to Kuwait. I have loyal customers all around the world, though I actually have very few requests in Florida.
TL: How do all these people find you?
Walt: I get a lot of exposure on Instagram. It’s pretty popular in the pipe community. I also have so much direct demand. I mostly sell off of my website, and online retailers at tobaccopipes. com and smokingpipes.com (based in South Carolina) who are probably the most prestigious retailers of pipes in the world. They just opened an office in China. I’ve had a long relationship with those guys, and the exposure they give me is beyond my own reach.
TL: What is your creative process like in launching these individual lines?
Walt: Creating a Cannoy Pipe (which is what I call my Bentley Pipes) can be a pretty long process. Most of it starts with my drawings in my sketch book. I’ve got some pretty crazy ideas and some not-so-crazy ideas. It starts with interesting shapes. And I’ll just play around with shapes and lines until I see something that catches my eye that I’m attracted to.
TL: What, or who, would you say is your muse?
Walt: A lot of my inspiration comes from what I want to see in a pipe I would own. Every pipe I make for myself. I make something that’s going to appeal to my taste, because I
trust my own judgment and my own artistic assessments, if you will. So I’ve learned to rely on that and basically make a pipe I would want for myself. But, unfortunately, when I finish it, I have to turn around and sell it.
TL: What would you say is the best part of working and creating in Lakeland?
Walt: Living in Lakeland is all-around fantastic. Especially in this part of town, where you get out and drive around. My drive to downtown, to get a cup of coffee at Black & Brew (those guys are my friends) is the best. The route is full of palm trees, the lake, you’ve got Florida Southern College, the Frank Lloyd Wright buildings (fantastic stuff to look at). You go up Success Avenue and you’ve got the historic-district homes, and then you see the swans and the ducks. The city is not so big that you get lost in it. It’s big enough to offer a large local community to be involved in, but not so big that you’re lost within that community. Man, what’s not to like about it?
TL: What is your favorite place in Lakeland?
Walt: Well, I’ve spent many, many, many hours sitting downtown at Black & Brew, watching cars go by, talking to people. Favorite place to hang out? Yeah, that would be it.
Custom orders can also be made at waltcannoy.com.