Blog by Steve Laug
It was a pleasure to refurbish this original Custom-Bilt (note the hyphenated title). I have always loved the rugged individualism of Tracy Mincer’s pipes. They are like none of their imitators in terms of character and sheer smoke-ability. They feel great in the hand; have and open draw and generally a comfortable stem. They are nothing pretty to look at yet there is something endearing about their “ugliness”. This old pipe was in very rough shape when I started to work on it. I apologize up front in that I forgot to grab the camera to take pictures of the pipe when I began the work. My words will have to suffice as I tell you about it. There was still a dry and almost petrified dottle of tobacco left in the bottom of the bowl. The cake that was on the walls was filled with cracks and major chunks of it were missing. The only way to remedy that was to ream it. The exterior of the bowl had a very tarred and sticky rim and the finish was gone and flecks of white paint were all over the crevices of the rustication. The stem was dull brownish green with a white crust around the button and up the stem a good half inch. This stuff was like concrete.
I always start my refurbishing process by addressing the issues of the bowl. That way as it soaks I can work on the stem. I scraped out the petrified dottle and reamed the broken cake back to bare wood. I cleaned the inside of the shank with a shank brush and bristle and fluffy pipe cleaners and isopropyl alcohol until they came out clean. I wiped down the exterior of both the shank and bowl with a rub of alcohol. When finished it was dropped in the alcohol bath for most of the morning while I worked on the stem.
I went to work on the stem. I decided to buff it with black Tripoli (coarse polishing compound) to address the hard crust on the front of the stem and the general oxidation on the blade of the stem before the saddle. I did not want to work on the saddle with it off the shank as it is too easy to round the edges and spoil the fit. After buffing it was sanded with 240 grit sandpaper to finish breaking through the white crust. Once it was gone the rest of the stem was cleaned up with my normal list of 400, 600 grit wet dry (with water), and then micromesh pads – 1500, 1800, 2400, 3200, and 4000 grit. I also used the wet dry sandpaper and the pads to careful work on the saddle portion of the stem. Upon completion the entirety was given a coat of Obsidian Oil and then waxed with carnauba.
I set the stem aside and retrieved the bowl from the alcohol bath. As I took it from the bath I scrubbed it with a brass bristle tire brush to get into the crevices on the pipe and the rustication. It was a mess with some paint in the rustication. The alcohol had removed the grime and the wire brush removed the paint flecks. Just a reminder – I use a soft bristled brass white wall tire brush in these instances as the bristles do not damage the surface of the briar. When the bowl was clean I wiped it down with isopropyl on a cotton boll. It was ready to restained with a medium brown aniline stain. I applied the stain with the dauber that comes with the Fiebings Shoe Dye (aniline stain), flamed it and set it aside to dry thoroughly. Once it was dry I buffed it with White Diamond on my buffer and then applied a coat of Halcyon Wax and buffed it by hand with a cotton cloth.