Exploring Pipe Evolution – Boris Starkov’s Fin

Exploring Pipe Evolution – Boris Starkov’s Fin

All pipe-makers and their work naturally evolve over time. Things change within their work and sometimes you can literally see the step by step, natural transitions that such an idea takes and you can watch as it slowly evolves and goes from one place to another & then another.

The evolution expresses itself in all areas of the pipe. You can see them searching and exploring new ways of executing a shape, how a stem can look, accessorizing and adding little extra’s to the pipe, a search for using new materials and more. Sometimes, when the conditions are just right, slowly and gently, pipe by pipe after pipe, the more they work on and explore the concept, the more the concept begins to grow and then, the magical process of ‘design evolution’ occurs and the entire body of work has the potential to become completely altered. 

No area of the pipe is out of bounds. If it is part of the normal pipe, these pipe-makers are looking for ways to approach it differently.

The pipe-makers to be showcased in this series are all searching for something and it is this search that is driving the evolution and it is their search & their journey, that affords us collectors & admirers, a front row seat to their process.

These pipe-makers and their work are crucially important to the hobby as a whole because it is their personal exploration and their journeys, culminating in whatever it is they find, the conclusions so to speak, that influences other pipe-makers. It is that influence which will then take another pipe-maker on a similar journey to also find something new and different. It is a constant, never ending process of copying and refinement that further brings the art of pipes forward.

Today’s article will focus on Russian artisan Boris Starkov.

Boris Starkov

The focus will be on the evolution seen in what we will call, Boris Starkov’s Fin

The birth of Boris Starkov’s Fin on the top of the stem

Boris struck gold when he copied an idea he had previously seen in some Kent Rasmussen and Peter Heding pipes. It was a little fin (or step as Boris calls it) protruding out on top of the stem. On it’s own (as seen above and below) this type of ‘fin’ element is what I would categorize as a ‘pipe accessorizing’ element. The application of an element, most often for purely aesthetic (non-engineering) purposes. The element has no functional or practical use to the smokability of the pipe. The act of accessorizing is done mainly to bring out and accentuate the overall expression of the pipe and or it’s form, in one way or another.

It is simple to surmise that Boris had no idea where this accessorizing would lead him but it is right here that this current form of expression began. What was it that he did? He began playing with the stem and looking for ways to express the ebonite in a more dynamic manner. Rather simple. He grabbed an idea and slowly, several of his pipes started having these little fins protruding out from the rear top & bottom of his stems. This started about 2 years ago. They jutted straight out, some had a sharp upward curve, some veered left, some veered right and others even went upside down.

Boris clearly found a lot of joy in accessorizing the pipe in this way but at this time, there was little thought to anything else but the existence of the fin. Boris did not pair or connect the fin with another element on the pipe. He did not match the fin’s shape somewhere else on the briar to create a double element effect, he did not transition the fin into something else, none of that was done. The new lines associated with the ‘fin’ started at the fin and ended at the fin. It was a very simple treatment. And simple treatments are quite naturally how these beautiful things begin.

Starkov’s Fin – At the time, an element all it’s own

So now Boris had this fin idea. It looked interesting. It was something new and different. Boris however was not content with the fin in that particular state. He began to ask himself what more he can do? How can he take his fin further? If someone is searching for new ways of doing things, one pushes forward, even when one is unsure of the end result.

The natural thing in that state of mind was to take the lines from the fin and extend them out onto the briar itself. Carry the fin’s line forward and see what happens. The results were again very interesting. Boris first had to raise the fin a little and he then carried the top of the fin’s line forward, as seen in the picture below. By doing this, a small wave formed over the briar highlighting the path that the fin’s line was taking. Boris’s extension of the fin’s lines have now brought the fin idea onto the briar itself.

Starkov’s Fin evolving – Fin raised slightly allowing the line to enter and caress the top of the shank forming a wave in the process

Now he had to contend with the side-effect of this wave or hump travelling down the shank. The natural thing to do at that moment, was to simply let the wave peter out and create a smooth transition to the bottom of the shank. Slowly but surely however, we see the fin’s effect’s creeping their way into the rest of the pipe.

Starkov’s Fin – The Fin’s lines first entry onto the briar

And on the other side of this very same pipe, Boris again explored and did something different. He took the fin and split the top and bottom of it and formed two lines & he allowed those two lines to split apart and form a channel inside the shank as seen below.

Starkov’s Fin – The Fin is split into two lines and as each travels down the shank, a channel is created

Boris was clearly taking small steps at first, likely because that is all that most of us can do in such moments. We take small steps and see what happens. It is difficult to think in bigger steps, which is why the very act of taking small steps is so important. Remember that this entire process we are reviewing, occurred over a two-year period.

Let’s pause for a moment and review where the fin idea is at right now – We have a fin, a fin’s natural lines when extended and the waves they form & finally a fin splitting into a top and bottom, forming two lines which when separated, create a channel. Now things are getting really interesting.

Boris tested this new concept on several shapes.

Starkov’s Fin – Applied to a horn, two lines extend from fin to form a channel

Soon after, the fin took a rather sharp and dramatic turn with a high upward slant. This had two side-effects. The first more basic side-effect is that it created some dual harmony with the side of the bowl facing the fin. Both fin and bowl are now parallel which always creates a nice dynamic design effect as seen below.

Starkov’s Fin – The Fin gets a high upward curve

The second side-effect and more important in my mind, is that the sharp upward curve allowed Boris to explore how low he could take the bottom line of the two fin lines. Obviously he did this and one can see the slow formation of a ‘natural channel’ forming in between the fin’s lines and the bottom of the shank. Now we have the lower lines framing the shank. Another novel new step in the right direction.

Starkov’s Fin – As a result of the high curve on the top of the fin, Boris saw that the lower lines can now extend deeper and travel under the shank

The extension of the fin’s lines below the shank, framing this natural channel around the bottom of the shank was such a smart and beautiful step. The crisp execution of that design idea all alone, is absolutely stunning to me. Here are some examples of this fin application where Boris takes the lines slightly further.

This example from my personal collection, combines the beauty of the fin’s lines with Boris’s penchant for asymmetry to create a wonderful interplay of form and line.

Starkov’s Fin – One line travelling down & below the shank.

The elegant simplicity of this particular fin variation is truly spell-binding.

Starkov’s Fin

The asymmetry of the pipe is in a literal dance with the fin’s lines.

Starkov’s Fin

The exact same concept seen applied to a Pot shaped pipe below. If you look closely in both the above and below pipes, Boris again did something new with the fin. Rather than have the fin’s lines split apart to form a channel, he still let them split but this time he kept the surface in between the two lines, flat. Boris is slowly opening up option upon option for him to work with with his continued exploration of this fin idea.

Starkov’s Fin – Top and bottom fin lines extending but not forming a channel and rather creating a flat surface

Starkov’s Fin

Another brief review of the fin and where it is at now in the evolution process – We have a fin on it’s own, a fin’s natural lines when extended and the waves they form. We have a fin splitting into a top and bottom, forming two lines which when separated, create either a channel or a flat surface and finally, a fin’s lines extending below the pipe to frame the shank in a natural manner. So many steps brought Boris to this place and now, he has so many options to choose from when making a pipe. Naturally, at this point in the game, Boris took all of the above many different fin applications and decided to make an attempt at producing an entire pipe which would carry all of these ideas throughout as much surface area on the pipe as possible.

His first attempt produced one of the most interesting Bulldog’s I have ever seen. The lines on this pipe are so easy to follow, so fluid in their form and so beautiful to look at. In this variation, Boris placed two separate fins on the pipe, on the top and bottom of the stem and the rest was a simple application of all the steps he had gone through previously.

Starkov’s Fin – Two fins now frame the shank with a slender channel in the middle.

Starkov’s Fin – The top and bottom fins from the rear

Starkov’s Fin

His second attempt at combining all of the elements we listed above is truly Starkov’s Master Opus. Starkov completely unrestricted himself and allowed the entire pipe to reap the full benefits of his fin exploration. He had now become so comfortable with the various fin applications and allowed his full artistry and new knowledge of this one element to shine.

The fin’s lines travel the entire length of the pipe almost protruding beyond the bowl. He both allows a small channel to form along the shank and take the lower fin line and accentuate it to the point of it forming it’s own wave that hugs the bottom of the pipe. He separates the bowl completely from the lower portion of the pipe to allow the fin’s full beauty to shine on it’s own. He even places some of the channels he grew so fond of earlier on the top of the bowl to highlight the harmony of what the fin has done for him.

Starkov’s Fin

Starkov’s Fin

Starkov’s Fin

Starkov’s Fin

Starkov’s Fin

What is it that we saw occur in this evolution? We saw the stem becoming an absolutely distinct part of the overall pipe design. The stem is no longer just a stem with the main pipe design residing within the briar. Rather we now see a small element in the stem, ‘the fin’, become a larger part of a much bigger and harmonious idea. We now see the entire design concept for a pipe, flowing solely from the stem. The stem has become the starting point for the entire design concept for the remainder of the pipe. What a fantastic flip in the design process.

Where Boris Starkov’s fin will end up, nobody knows. His exploration on the subject matter and the results he achieved along that journey are highly commendable.

To see more of Boris Starkov’s work, visit his website here:


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  1. Neyolya - April 11, 2013

    The best!!!!

  2. Jari T - April 11, 2013

    What a terrific article!

    Really interesting and well depicted treatise about the evolution of a shape and a carver, and how a non-functional but elegant detail took over.

    I’m glad you are writing again.

    Many thanks!

  3. Mikael Pertot - April 12, 2013

    David, it is great to read your articles again – ESPECIALLY when it concerns one of my favorite pipe-maker 😉

    *puffs* /Mikael

  4. bob macconnell - April 20, 2013

    these are truly works of art!!

    • David M. - May 1, 2013

      Nice to hear from a fellow Canadian Bob! :)

      Yes, Boris is very deep inside the concept of ‘artist’. I completely agree.
      This deep mental connection to art, that Boris has, is literally what guides him on these journey’s, as outlined in this article.
      Only an artist would spend so much time and energy thinking about a small little fin and seeing what ‘More’ he can make of it.
      Thank you for your comment.

  5. Steve Morrisette - May 9, 2013

    Very clear and enjoyable analysis and explanation. Not easy to do, let alone well. Full marks!

    The pipes are great and Boris’ work is always fun to see and thought provoking.

    Keep up the good efforts, both of you, please.

    • David M. - May 9, 2013

      Glad to hear that you enjoyed this ‘dissection’ of evolution in Boris’s work Steve.
      If you think like an artist, as I do (to an extent at least), the job becomes that much more interesting for me. Sharing those perspectives, which can be foreign to some, is the goal.
      So happy you found it thought provoking as that is truly the Ultimate Goal here on TobaccoDays.
      My Best and Thank you for your comment.

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