Blog by Steve Laug
When I was in Stuttgart, Germany recently I purchased a petite pocket Canadian made by Butz Choquin. The cost was relatively cheap at 43€. It was stamped Butz Choquin Belami on the top of the shank and St. Claude in an arch over France. I like the contrast stain on the pipe and the fact that it would fit nicely in my coat pocket while traveling in Germany. When I returned to my hotel room I looked it up on the web. I found that it was listed as a Junior Pipe on the Butz Choquin Website and in fact there was a picture of a pipe that looked very much like the one I picked up. (http://www.butzchoquin.com/detail.php?id=BCBELUN5PF4) I liked the look, the shape and the size of the pipe as soon as I saw it and decided it was a pipe that would commemorate my trip to Stuttgart. There was a sandblast version of the pipe available as well and I looked them both over carefully before choosing the smooth one. I purchased the pipe and a pouch of one of the shop blends called Cigarren-Mezger Vaihinger Mischung Nr. 15 – an English mixture to christen the pipe. It was one of the only shop blends that did not have some kind of fruit topping. I took my newly purchased pipe and tobacco to a coffee shop across the street from the shop and loaded a bowl of the Vaihinger Mischung Nr. 15. I bought a cup of dark hot chocolate and fired up the bowl and sipped the hot chocolate. I was impressed by how well the pipe smoked. It delivered a flavourful and cool smoke from start to finish. Early in the bowl there was a slight charcoal taste from the bowl coating but it soon disappeared into the well rounded English smoke. While I smoked it I looked it over more carefully. Though it was smoking well the finish left much to be desired. It was rough to say the least. After smoking it a few moments I noticed that the stem had oxidized. I would need to think about what to do with the finish when I returned to Canada.
I smoked the pipe for the remaining week of my German trip and continually looked it over. As I had decided when I bought it the shape was perfect and the taper on the short stem fit well with the overall look of the pipe. It felt good in the hand and was a pleasure to smoke. But the rough finish became increasingly problematic to me. There were a lot of scratches in the briar on the surface of the rim and the rest of the bowl and shank. The contrast stain was nice with the dark black under coat that highlighted the grain and the lighter yellow brown top coat to add depth to the finish. But the pre-staining finish work was severely lacking as the scratches from the initial sanding were tactile and visible. A coat of varnish had been applied to the pipe that not only covered the bowl but also flowed over part of the stem. The varnish on the stem showed up when the pipe was smoked. The stem oxidized in weird patterns around the flow of the varnish. It gave the stem almost a flame pattern with the oxidation appearing from the button forward about a ½ inch along the jagged edges of the varnish coat. I would need to address the finish of the pipe when I returned to Canada.
I took it to the worktable and took the above photos before beginning to work on the pipe. Though it is hard to really see the roughness of the finish some of the scratches are visible in the photos. The oxidation of the stem is also less visible in the photos than it was in person. I stripped off the varnish using acetone on a cotton pad. I used it sparingly as I wanted to remove the varnish but not the stain. I sanded the pipe with a medium and a fine grit sanding sponge to remove the remaining varnish and also remove the scratches in the briar. I then sanded it with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanding with 3200-12,000 grit pads. I sanded the stem as well with a fine grit sanding sponge and the micromesh sanding pads being careful to avoid the BC logo that was painted on the stem. Once the bowl was smooth I buffed it with White Diamond and then rubbed it down with a light coat of olive oil to enliven the finish and then gave the bowl and stem multiple coats of carnauba wax to protect the finish and vulcanite. I finished by buffing it with a soft flannel buff to raise the shine. I am happy with the finished pipe. Now not only does it smoke well but it feels better in the hand looks more finished to the eye. Sometimes I just can’t help myself and have to refinish a pipe that simply irritates my sensibilities.