Pipes

Amerian Hustle: Pipemaker Scott Klein

An entrepreneurial spirit leads Scott Klein into pipemaking and other realms.

In 2009, Klein was 21 years old and working as an operations manager for one of Chicagoland’s largest coffee distributors, and he had picked up pipe smoking. The father of his girlfriend at the time took an interest in Klein and was aware of the young man’s ambition to build things as well as his interest in pipes. One evening his girlfriend’s father mentioned his friendship with Alex Florov, a Russian-born pipemaker who lived about an hour away from Klein’s home, and encouraged his daughter’s boyfriend to check out Florov’s website. What Klein saw when he visited the website amazed him.

“I was just so blown away by what I witnessed,” Klein recalls. “Alex is one of the best pipemakers there is, and his pipes were like polished gems. I wanted to do something where what I was making felt substantial and valuable. A house feels that way, but you can’t hold it in your hand. A pipe is such a small thing that you could hold one in your hand, and Alex did such an amazing job. Seeing his website that night led me into becoming a pipemaker.”

The Opportunity of a Lifetime

Shortly after viewing Florov’s website, Klein spoke to him over the phone and expressed his interest in making pipes. The two men arranged a meeting, and Florov agreed to teach Klein how to make pipes. It’s hard to overemphasize Florov’s pipemaking abilities. Born in Moscow, Florov became a much-esteemed restorer and repairman of antique Russian furniture before moving to the United States in 1992, where he worked as an industrial design model maker. Since 2004, Florov has translated his eye for detail and precision craftsmanship into becoming one of the world’s best pipemakers, and he regularly fetches prices of several thousand dollars for his work. Klein was stunned by Florov’s generosity just as much as he was by the Russian’s pipes.

“I learned from the best,” Klein says. “He is a true master of the craft of pipemaking. The guys at his level were charging at least $1,000 a day to go train with them, and Alex didn’t charge me at all. I understood early on that I was being given a rare lifetime opportunity, and I wasn’t going to squander it. It was fun, and I loved the entire learning process, but those days were hard.”

Ten years after beginning his tutelage under Florov, life has changed mightily for Klein. A little more than five and a half years ago, Klein visited pipemaking friends in Nashville, and after being there a few days, he decided that he would move to Music City and set up his company, Scott’s Pipes. Beginning in Chicago and continuing in his Nashville base, Klein has established pipe connections around the world, and he is now generally regarded as one of the top young pipe carvers in the U.S., with a style all his own, one he simply describes as “American”—clean, somewhat classic, balanced and well-executed.

Klein credits his development as a pipemaker to ceasing to find the new and innovative and instead to pursue doing the best work he can. He learned precision engineering from Florov and continues to use those lessons to make his pipes excellent smoking instruments. Like his mentor, Klein uses a milling machine to drill his pipes’ holes to a 10,000th of an inch precision.