Speaking of stone carving, I've gotten back into carving pipes. Its been a hobby for +/- 30 years, and mostly I've just done it for fun/curiosity/gift giving. Lately, though, I've been building up an inventory with the idea of finding/creating an outlet to start selling them.
Typically I work with softer stones in the 2-3 mohs hardness range, so a lot of steatite, alabaster, and catlinite (aka pipestone). These are all carvable with standard woodworking files and saws, and allow for some fairly delicate shapes and detail. I worry about breakage, though, and have to warn people about dropping and banging on hard surfaces. I figure they are at least as durable as glass pipes.
Since moving back to New Mexico I've been tracking down local sites where I've been able to actually mine some stone. I've found some (pretty soft) alabaster, this stuff called "pilar slate" which I think is a form of steatite but nobody really seems to know for sure, as well some small chunks of lapidalite. Some time this spring I'm going down to the southern NM/AZ border to track down a source of "Mattlinite"* which looks a lot like a travertine with its earthy colored swirls and hints of blue and white, but is much softer.
When I first started carving stone it was with a piece of pipestone given to me by a hitchhiker I picked up on my way back from Alaska. He was making mushroom shaped pipes using nothing but a coat hanger and a sharpened spoon. I started off with a 4-in-1 rasp and some drill bits. Lately I've upgraded to a few sets of tungsten carbide grit rasps, some better drill bits, and automotive wet/dry sandpaper up to 1600 grit. I use a few different table top power tools for roughing out shapes from cut blocks, and for precise hole drilling. I'm trying to streamline my process as much as I can while still doing the bulk of the shaping and finishing by hand.
Perhaps ironically, I haven't actually used a pipe for years, but I've always enjoyed carving them. I like the idea of creating a type of personal tool that will be held and used as opposed to a piece of statuary or figurine that just sits on a shelf. My pipes are all essentially spoon pipes, in various smoothly rounded, symmetrical configurations. I don't do figures, engraved patterns, or inlays, but they are, I think, comfortable to hold and interesting to look at.
I'm still working on establishing a price range for selling them. I'm not really looking to make a decent $ per hour or anything, but each piece can take anywhere from 5-15 hours from rough block to finished, polished, pipe, depending of the complexity, size, and material. So while I don't want to be giving them away I do realize there's likely a ceiling to what people will spend on a pipe. My goal is to work out a process and design that I can hopefully get up to $150-200 per piece for. If anyone has any input on the price of pipes these days, I'm all ears.
*supposedly discovered by a local geologist named Matt, I'm told.