Blog by Al Jones
I am truly honored that forum owner, Steve, asked me to write a guest article on his wonderful blog. Just a little over one year ago, I made the transition from occasional cigar smoker to an avid pipe smoker/collector. Pretty early on, I discovered that access to better quality pipes could be had through the estate market. It was also about that time I found the SmokersForums.uk forum and quickly made that venue my go-to spot for pipe information. While reading the “Restoration & Maintenance” section, it became apparent to me that even finer estates could be found if I was willing to put in a little elbow-grease and restore them. If one reads the “Stickies” in that section, pipe restoration techniques can be quickly learned thru contributions from professionals and amateurs. I was fascinated and dove in.
My tools evolved from simple sandpaper and some buffing wheels mounted in a hand drill to a bench mounted buffer, micromesh sanding papers, reamers, needle files etc. Making some of the tools to save a few bucks was all part of the fun and learning process. I favor Vulcanite stems, so occasional maintenance will be a part of my pipe smoking experience.
Due to my Welsh heritage, I’m a big fan of anything British, primarily cars and motorcycles. So, it seemed natural to be attracted to the classic shapes produced by the British masters. I’m a fan of GBD brand pipes and those estates can be readily found at reasonable prices thru Ebay, etc. The 9438 Author shape is a particular favorite and I have several models of that shape. The pipe I chose to document in this article is in Tapestry finish. I was intrigued by the turned stem and after a little research, I found it was a “chair-leg” stem used on certain Tapestry models. My joy in finding this pipe quickly evaporated when I opened the box and saw the level of oxidation on the many curves and crevices. I tend to purchase estates with saddle stems, but this one ramped the difficulty notch up significantly. Indeed this stem proved to be the most difficult I’ve encountered.
Some “before” shots of the pipe:
Typically, it takes me about an hour or so to restore a stem. This one took nearly twice that long. Fortunately, the previous owner had left no teeth indention issues to resolve. I soaked the stem in a mild Oxyclean solution as the first step. In badly oxidized stems, I think this step pays off in removing oxidation from the inside of the stem as well. Next up, I used some 1500 and than 2000 grit wet paper until the brown was removed. Getting oxidation from the chairleg creases was frustrating and finger aching. I almost gave up at one point, but sitting the project down for a few hours strengthened my resolve. I’m always eager to smoke an estate I’ve cleaned up, so there is always that pot at the end of the rainbow. I found wrapping the sandpaper around a thin kitchen knife allowed me to get the oxidation from those thin crevices. Next up, was a polish with each of the final four grades of “micromesh” (4000, 6000, 8000 and 12000). Micromesh comes in pads and sheets. I found the larger, 6” x 2” sheets last longer and are easier to fold into creases, etc. Following the micromesh, the stem had a deep, black shine that I enjoy on my mostly Vulcanite stems.
The next step was to buff the stem lightly with some White diamond and then “Blue Magic Plastic Polish”, each product getting it’s own cloth wheel. The Blue Magic product is made for the automotive industry and available at most autoparts stores (Megiuars also makes a similar product). Some folks are adverse to putting an automotive product on their stems, but so far, I’ve found no adverse tastes, etc. I do think the product helps “seal” the Vulcanite as oxidation seems to either not occur or very slowly. James Upshall pipes are noted for their fast oxidation, but so far my restorations using this product has kept my collection shiny. I also gave the pipe a light coat of “Obsidian Stem Oil”.
The bowl wasn’t in bad shape, but had the usual tobacco/tar buildup on the bowl top. I used my Castleford reamer set to remove the thin cake than soaked the bowl with Sea Salt and Everclear for a few hours. This was done while I was working on the stem. Following the soak, the draft hole was thoroughly cleaned with a series of bristle pipe cleaners soaked in Everclear. I’ve had success eliminating ghosts by cleaning this area of the pipe until the cleaners come out nearly white. I gave the bowl a light buff on the wheel with some white diamond, then Carnuba wax. A hand polish with Paragon wax completed the briar clean up. The wood on the bowl top was a little lighter in color, but I knew smoking it would even out and darken that area. (plus I was not looking forward to prepping and staining the mixed “Tapestry” finish..)
The completed pipe:
It may be a combination of the pipe shape and the effort required to refurbish it, but this particular pipe has become a favorite. I swore that I’d never purchase another chairleg stemmed pipe, but won an Ebay auction last night for another GBD Tapestry pipe with a chairleg stem……