Northwest of Milan, between Lake Varese and the highest mountain in Italy, Sacro Monte, lies the city of Varese, home to most of the legendary Italian pipe makers dating back to the late 1800s.
Brothers Federico, Francesco, Cornelio, and Carlo started manufacturing pipes in 1911. In 1949, Federico with the help of his sons founded Figli di Federico Rovera, which became the second largest pipe manufacturer in Italy.
The original factory’s production consisted of pipe brands manufactured for well known names in the trade throughout Europe. Today, pipes imported to the USA carry the brand name, “fe.ro”, an acronym of the founder’s name - Federico Rovera. The makers of fe.ro are also involved in manufacture of related products, such as nylon tenons, mouthpieces, crystal pipe filters, cigarette and cigar holders and pipe rests. Part of the production is devoted to olive wood pipes.
Italian briar from the Tuscany region is used exclusively in the fe.ro pipe production. Briar burl is a part of the white heath tree. It grows between the roots and the above ground tree. Burls harvested for fe.ro pipes must be 50 or more years old. They are cut into blocks, then boiled in water for up to 20 hours. This process removes all sap, resin, acid and other flavor distorting constituents.
Over the course of years, the supply of briar from various regions changes characteristics. Italian briar from Tuscany region at present has richer grain than briars harvested in other parts of the country. While smoking characteristics may be the same regardless of grain, it is the visual and esthetic properties of the end product that prompt fe.ro to keep making a bigger initial investment in raw materials in order to have a superior finished product.
Once the blocks arrive at the factory, they are placed in the drying warehouse for a minimum of six months. They are air dried as opposed to kiln or oven drying used by some of the other manufacturers. This time consuming process results in a sweeter, dryer, better smoking pipe in general.
Grading of raw briar blocks conforms to internationally recognized standards. There are 3 main classes with 2 subcategories and 5 size groups. fe.ro uses only high grade (Extra) blocks. Further grading takes place internally during the manufacturing process. This means that even a less expensive pipe by fe.ro carries the heritage of a high grade briar.
Turning a raw block of briar into a finished pipe involves between 40 to 50 steps, depending on the finish. The block in the hand of a pipe maker undertakes a long journey through a variety of wood working tools. These processes involve turning, shaping, drilling, tooling, sanding, and staining. Even the mouthpiece has to be shaped to fit each individual pipe. All of the “Extra” grade pipes are finished using Brazilian Carnauba wax. It has a deeper and more permanent gloss than bee’s or other waxes.
The employees are accomplished in the skills required for creating a pipe from beginning to end. The factory uses not only some proprietary tools designed and created on site, but also implements certain proprietary components such as nylon tenons and color matched mastics. This combination of quality and looks delivers a superior product born in the creative hands of master makers of the fe.ro pipe.
The final product is nothing short of magnificent.