Daily Archives: July 9, 2012

The Alcohol Bath and New Life for a Brigham Acorn


The work on this older Brigham 4 Dot Acorn gives a clear picture of how the alcohol bath can remove the grime and prepare the older worn pipe for a restain that brings it back to life. When I am dealing with this kind of wear and tear on the finish of an estate pipe, it is generally my opinion that it is easier to take the pipe back to an unfinished condition rather than try to work with the existing finish and have any hope of restoring it. It also is a shortcut method to remove the finish without the labour intensive sanding that would normally be required. I have a pint jar with a lid on it that I keep on my work bench that is full of isopropyl alcohol. It is now brown but I find that it works well in removing the finish but also it seems to add depth to the stains I use. I recycle the alcohol monthly by pouring it off slowly and rinsing and scrubbing away the sediment in the bottom of the bath. Thus it is always clear – just with a brown tint.

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The pipe I am using to illustrate the process is a Brigham Acorn. It has the standard Brigham style rustication on the bottom edges and on the side of the bowl. It was used to give the pipe character and hide flaws in the briar on an otherwise nicely grained pipe. This one was in rough shape. The bowl was incredibly grimy inside and out. I reamed it and cleaned the bowl and shank. Then it went into an alcohol bath overnight so the alcohol would do its work cut the grime and dirt as well as any remaining finish.

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While the bowl was in the bath I turned my attention to the stem. From the pictures above you can see that the stem was another story. The first ¾ of an inch around the button was heavily caked with a lime like build up. I generally find this under stems that have used the softy bit to protect them from bites. Most folks who use them never remove them to clean them and this is the result. It is hard stuff to remove. I mixed a solution of Oxyclean and hot water – 1 scoop of the powder to a pint of water. I shook it and stirred it to get it dissolved and dropped the stem in it for several hours. I had other pipes to work on during the wait so it was not a problem. I find that the Oxyclean softens the oxidation and particularly this kind of lime scale. Once it is softened it is easily removed with the buffer and sandpapers.

I took it from the wash and went to work on the inside of the stem. On a typical pipe this is an easy thing to do. But on a Brigham the tenon is the length of the shank and is made of aluminum. It is designed to hold the Brigham filter system which is a hard rock maple tube that fits in the tenon. 

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Where there was normally a Brigham filter in this pipe it was gone and the tars had built up to the point that the stem was closed off and did not fit all the way into the shank. It took a lot of pipe cleaners and alcohol to get it clean. The outside aluminum shank was sanded 0000 steel wool and with micromesh pads to remove the oxidation and darkening of the metal. The stem was sanded with my normal list of sandpapers – 240 grit to break up the oxidation on the surface, 400 and 600 grit wet dry sandpaper with water to finish removing the problem and then the micromesh pads – 1500 to 6000 grit to polish and shine the stem. Upon completion the stem was set aside to be buffed when the bowl was finished. 

I removed the bowl from the alcohol bath the next morning. I dried it and looked it over for any remaining finish or grime. I wiped it down with a soft cotton cloth and some clean isopropyl then gave it a quick buff with Tripoli to smooth the surface. I took it back to my work table and restained it. For this one I used an oxblood or cherry stain, rubbed on and rubbed off several times until I got the colour I was looking for. I let it dry and then took it to the buffer to be polished with Tripoli and White Diamond. After that it was polished with a coat of carnauba wax. Here are some pictures of the finished pipe.

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