Dad’s Applewood Pipes

by Green Deane

in Blog

Applewood forks, some suitable for pipe making.

Apple was wood we chose and shaped together

Time edits your memories. It sands off the rough edges that were once painfully sharp. It makes some moments clearer by evaporating the fog of being involved. Time throws most of your past into some hard-to-open memory dump. There it hides without an access code until something triggers it which happened recently to me because of the approaching Fathers’ Day.

When you’re young what you know is so terribly important because you don’t know much. Your small amount of knowledge is very precious. That tends to get overwritten with adult life. Other things become more important taking up space and time. When one reaches the other end of life those childhood memories, faded and ignored for so long, often return sometimes with an echo of sadness, sometimes with a sweetness long forgotten. Writing about Linden Tree blossoms recently brought back a memory from those early days, an era when we did not have a TV or a phone. Computers were experimental and the size of houses. They wouldn’t be common for half a century. For entertainment we played cards on Saturday night, usually Sixty-Three while enjoying burnt popcorn dressed up with oleo washed down with flat soda.

Vasilios Tsapatsaris, 31

I had two fathers, one who sired and one who raised.  The sire, Vasilios Tsapatsaris, died young, only 33, when I was six. It’s odd now being past 60 and nearly twice as old as he lived, as if I’ve ended up being the mature adult for both of us. He never got a chance to live to the age of contemplation, to out-live the insults and errors of ones youth. He didn’t live long enough to know what kind of man he was or could be. Nor did he live to see his son or daughter grown. For most of my life he has been a long, low gravestone in a Greek cemetery far away, more a mystery than a man.

And then there is he who raised me, my stepfather, “Dad.” He’s a mystery, too. Quiet. A gentle giant. A heavy-weight boxer had he chosen that career but did not. He preferred to fix watches and clocks. But, dad could lift a motor out of a car by hand and not grunt. I saw him do it once. I also remember a time when I was a freshman in high school. I weighed 135 pounds and was arguing with my mother. It was getting heated and loud. Dad came over and with just his left hand — he was right-handed — lifted me off the floor… that got my attention. With my legs dangling in mid-air he calmly told me not to ever argue with my mother again. Message received. I lived with him and my mother for some 18 years but I never knew him well. Yet his influence was strong. His presence guiding. I’m not sure we ever discussed anything of significance but we did things together. Neither of us liked team sports but on April 8th, 1974 we watched Hank Aaron break Babe Ruth’s homerun record. It was good for him, me and Hank. Another thing we did together involved the Linden Tree, or Basswood as we called it.

We’d pick just the right apple branch

Dad smoked a pipe so we made pipes. We didn’t make pipes because we had to, or because the store-bought ones were bad. We made pipes because we could and it was enjoyable and the evenings long especially in the winter. First we’d go out into the local fields and look over several wild apple trees. They weren’t crab apples but apples trees from tossed away cores and opportunistic seeds. Every apple seed is totally different than the parent. One never knows what apple tree awaits in a seed. We examined the progeny closely.

Applewood was the briar of choice in that it is a sweet wood. We’d find a large branch to whittle the bowl out of. It also had to have an intersecting smaller branch at just the right angle to receive the stem. This selection of wood was then roughly carved, and done so rather quickly, in a matter of a couple of hours. When it was a rough pipe shape into simmering water it went. Boiling the carved block drove any sap out so the bowl wouldn’t crack as it dried or when hot tobacco coals were in it.

Coppiced basswood provided the stem

After several hours of simmering, the wood was allowed to cool.  Next the drilling began, creating the bowl and then the delicate task of drilling the much smaller intersecting stem holder. Once drilled and the holes met into the simmering water it went again to make sure all the sap was gone. Later the bowl was carefully shaped and sanded until smooth and presentable. Final polishing was done by rubbing the bowl on the side of your nose. The oil on your nose makes the polished wood shiny. Now it was time to make a stem.

For the stem we would find a basswood that had been coppiced, that is, the tree was cut down and sprouts had sprung. There one finds not only some of the best edible parts of the basswood in spring but also young stems with soft centers. We’d find some the right size, take them home, remove the bark, size them to the stem hole and then with a wire ream out the core. With a bit of sanding and a twist the pipe was complete, ready to be stoked with Dad’s old standby tobacco, Prince Albert… in a can.. which later would hold earthworms for fishing.  We made some corncob pipes, simple, much easier, but they never commanded the pride of an applewood pipe.

There’s still one of those applewood bowls at my mother’s house in Maine, all these decades later. I’m going to get my hands on it one of these days. It’s a concrete connection to Dad, of the time we shared, and the lessons I didn’t know I was learning.

Pipe Maker and dad, Robert H. Jordan, age 33

We lost Dad about seven years ago, near father’s day. He was 86. A man with a wry sense of humor, he told me not long before he died that he didn’t feel any different in his eighties than he did when he was in his twenties.

“That,” he said, “proved what a pathetic young man I was.”

Somehow I doubt that.

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Kathy March 23, 2016 at 00:06

Thanks for sharing your story. Makes me remember some things I had forgotten about my parents and grandparents. I really enjoy your site. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. Enjoy your humor too.


Barry K Jordan November 20, 2013 at 16:11

After receiving my 2 curved Mora knives, I set out carving a couple of spoons from apple wood, from the old tree in my yard that I had to finally cut down, as it was in bad shape. We did however, get many jars of apple butter from it, before it had to go. Anyway, I had no idea apple wood was a good choice for carving. But after doing it, my research showed it was prized as a carving wood. Who knew? lol The grain in my wood was sort of curly. My first spoon brought me much criticism, as it was short of, ah, great looking, lol, but none the less, it was a spoon. My second was much better. None the less, my English (city raised) wife and kids refuse to eat or serve with it. Anyway, I loved the story about your Dad. Is nice to read something interesting, and then see it’s a fellow Jordan.


Larry November 19, 2013 at 17:47

Great piece here. Made me remember my dad and two moms. Log your blog. Love weeds too. 🙂 Thanks for all your hard work. lb


Jacqueline September 18, 2013 at 10:40

Sending you my condolences on your mom’s passing. I know you will carry the best of her forward through all your days.


badger July 20, 2013 at 20:19

Thank you for all of your posts. I myself am currently 16 years old. right now my father is on the decline both physically and mentally. I admit that I have spent very little time with him, and reading this article has truly made me wish to spend more time with if only as his son and to show that I love him. my parents are happily divorced and I live with my mother and i am free to visit him anytime, the other day he and his wife invited me to go with them visit my brother who is in the navy. He was given some time on leave so that he could visit. Justin (my brother) and I had not seen each other in over seven years so this was a happy day for me. I apologize for taking up space on this age, but i just thought that you might like to know that your posts are are great and they really have people think and on occasion reminisce and also that there is some hope for the youth of this age.

Again I say thank you Sir.


Green Deane July 20, 2013 at 23:46

As someone who lost his mother a couple of weeks ago yes, spend time with him and enjoy it deeply because once they are past all one has is memories. Say everything that needs to be said now.


Joe May 31, 2014 at 21:50

Deane, count yourself lucky, that you had men around you who deeply influenced you. Even short, sweet memories of the instruction is testimony of love, no matter what you, yourself think. I now know this. Men, especially the strong yet fatherly type, didn`t usually give, nor receive, love openly. Mine didn`t. I kind of think of that is as it should be.


sheljm36 July 2, 2013 at 21:52

So, how what method did you use to drill the holes in the fork -through the bowl, and the part that the stem fit to?


Green Deane July 2, 2013 at 22:09

We used a regular drill.


Ernest June 25, 2013 at 13:36

New to your site, just met you last weekend in Jax. Thanks for sharing because it stirs my memory of conversations with my great grandfather. I remember setting by the stove in his garage. He was a young man during the hard times of WWI and WWII and lived on into the 1970’s. He did not speak of the good old days. He spoke of what it took to keep soul and body as one.


Green Deane June 25, 2013 at 16:36

thanks… I enjoyed your company. You also might like this editorial:


gigsib June 30, 2012 at 11:58

Your site rocks! There is so much to learn —
I have just planted some chaya cuttings in balcony pots (living in a condo now and don’t know if chaya is happy on a pot), and am trying to figure a way of making green papayas that the recent heavy rains have done a job on, tasty and edible. I mean, besides of Thai salad of which I have already made a lot.
Thanks in advance for any suggestions


Green Deane June 30, 2012 at 14:58

I have articles on chaya and papayas. Please post what questions you might have of these plants there. Thanks.


Henry June 7, 2012 at 11:37

Thank you for a nice and reflective story. I am very much a fan of your site.


Scott May 23, 2012 at 12:09

Excellent story – I have reached that age where I see past the folly of youth and have found myself waxing nostalgic…also attempting to finally get all those things happening that I always wanted to do. I have climbed the summit and am definitely on the downhill slope. Love your Dad’s comment – I’ll have to adopt it along with my friend’s 80+ year old dad’s comment – “Every day’s a holiday”



Gorges Smythe May 22, 2012 at 21:10

I doubt it, too.


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