An Asheville native and his tobacco pipe
Daniel Billings was born and raised in Asheville, North Carolina. You can hear how much he loves the place in his voice. It’s a good place to be a tobacco pipe smoker. There’s a local B&M, plenty of community, and a never-ending array of outdoor spaces to explore.
Last month, I interviewed Eric Chilton, a fellow native North Carolinian. It struck me how both men, with more than a 25 year age difference between them, spoke about their home state and smoking a pipe with much of the same deep sense of place and time.
Smoking a Pipe with Daniel Billings
Renia: How did you get into pipe smoking?
Daniel: I first picked up a pipe when I was in college, around 2005. He didn’t know much about them, but I was intrigued. My friend purchased his first pipe at a local Walmart and so did I. That’s how little we knew about it. I fell in love with the whole process then, but didn’t do much with it.
Fast forward to 2007, a big year for me. That’s when I really got into smoking a pipe. I met my wife that year, began my current career as a mental health professional, and fell in love with the simplicity and quiet of the pipe.
Renia: How many pipes do you own? Daniel: My collection is always growing. I have around 50 pipes right now. Most of them are the modified corn cobs that I like to make myself.
I have 11 Peterson Pipes, mostly straight Billiards (107 or 106 shapes). I’m partial to my Mr. Beck’s Sherlock Holmes Deerstalker. I prefer traditional shapes. Looking at my collection, I guess I really like straight pipes.
Renia: Tell me about why you enjoy smoking a pipe.
Daniel: I like to modify my pipes, mostly Missouri Meerschaum corn cobs. That means that smoking a pipe has become a hobby with many layers of enjoyment for me. I get the full relaxing experience: working with my hands and the satisfaction of creating something new.
I take the corncob bowls, usually the ones with hardwood bottoms, because I don’t have the tools to put my own plugs in. Then, I pull their shank out and add a bamboo shank lined with stainless steel tubing. Then, I add an ebonite or acrylic stem to it.
I don’t have the space or the tools of a full-fledged pipe maker. I use premade stems, a dremel and a hand tool to shape it and mold the stem how I want it.
Finally, I’ll stain the bamboo and/or the cob bowl. Sometimes I will char it too, if the bowl’s natural. The process ends with a good polish and I’ve got a pretty cool looking pipe.
When it comes to pipe making, I feel like Jon Snow. I know nothing.
I want to learn how to make briar pipes, but this entertains and satisfies me for now. Hopefully, someday I’ll have the space and tools to do more.
Renia: What is your favorite pipe?
Daniel: Remember how I said that 2007 was an eventful year?
At the beginning of 2007 I was single, working two jobs, and had no car. Life was pretty rough.
The random generosity of a friend landed me a car, which allowed me to start dating my wife. She lived five and a half hours away from me at the time.
Then, I started hanging out at a pipe shop and got more serious about my pipe collecting. I was able to pick up a 2007 Peterson Pipe of the Year. It’s was a gorgeous paneled billiard and by far my favorite pipe.
One evening, a few years later, I was leaving work. It was the morning after an overnight shift and my brain was fuzzy. Somehow I left my pipe pouch and checkbook on top of the car. You might think the loss of my checkbook would be my biggest worry, but it was that Peterson’s loss that made me crazy.
A few years later, I was able to trade a pipe for another 2007 Peterson Pipe of the Year. It was actually about $80 more than my trade in credit. My wife knew how much that pipe meant to me and she gifted me with the rest of the money to buy it for my birthday that year.
That Peterson, once lost and then found again, is so full of sentimental value. It’s not the pipe I smoke everyday, but it’s my favorite for it’s powerful memories.
Renia: That’s a cool story. I’m glad you were able to get that Peterson back, even if it was a different pipe. What about tobacco, do you have a favorite?
Daniel: My all-time favorite is G.L. Pease Odyssey (TK-picture). Every fall I open a new tin and that heady aroma captures the mood of the changing season perfectly.
I’m not into the heavier Virginia blends. But I’ve been experimenting with straight Virginias and have found a few that I really like. Quiet Night and Chelsea Morning have found their way into my rotation. So yeah, I guess I’m a big fan of the G.L. Pease blends in general.
Renia: Where is your favorite place to smoke?
Daniel: My all-time favorite place would have to be sitting on the porch of my apartment talking with my wife. We recently moved and for the first time in three years are able to enjoy such an experience. Outside of that I enjoy being able to walk around the Biltmore Estate (hey if you're in Asheville, you better enjoy the perks!), taking my pipes on hikes, smoking at the local B&M, or just taking a pipe with me in the car while running errands.
Renia: Any hobbies besides smoking a pipe?
Daniel: My wife and I are pretty nerdy people--unabashedly so. We’ve gone to a few cons and are hoping to try a few more. We’re also big fans of the local food scene here in Asheville.
Renia: If you could smoke a pipe with one person who would it be?
Daniel: Well, as a Christian I guess the classic answer would be Jesus, right? Beyond that, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis would be cool, they’re the reason so many of us get into this hobby right?
Renia: If you were giving one piece of advice to a new pipe smoker what would it be?
Daniel: I don’t know. Maybe I would tell him to reach out for help if he needed it.
Ours is a helpful and giving community, and there are so many people here willing to talk to someone who’s new. No one should ever feel like they are alone.
Renia: We couldn’t agree more. Thank you for spending some time with us today, Daniel.
Daniel is known as RearViewDriver on Instagram give him a follow and say ‘hello’ in the comments below.