Daily Archives: August 24, 2012

Opening the Slot in the Button with Needle Files – A Photo Essay


Blog by Steve Laug

This afternoon I was thinking it would be helpful to write up a tutorial on how I use needle files to open the slot on a pipe stem. In this photo essay I describe in a step by step breakdown the process I use to open the slot. I will describe it and illustrate it with pictures of the stem at each step and the files that I use to do the work. In the past I have just done the work but never documented it so this will be interesting for me as well as you.

The stem I have chosen to open the slot on is a Peterson 69 that has a replacement bit that was fit by Howard Schultie of Schulties Pipe Repair. Howard did an amazing job of fitting the stem with a great tight fit in the end cap of the older Peterson that I sent him. I topped the bowl and restained it when it arrived yesterday. I only had one issue with the stem when I examined it and that was that it came with a fairly small slot that made fitting a pipe cleaner a chore and the draught a bit tight as well. I removed the stem and blew air through the bowl and the airway was nice and open. I slid a round needle file into the stem from the tenon end up to the bend and it too appeared to be open. From that point on the airway narrowed as it moved toward the slot. The slot was narrow and the v shaped funnel at the slot was shallow. I like a more open slot and deeper v in the button and end of the stem so I went to work on it with the files.
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Picture of stem before opening the slot Image

The files that I use – (left to right) flat rectangle, rounded blade with point, flat blade, wedge blade, oval blade, round blade
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I do the filing with my right hand while holding the stem in my left hand. I probably could use a bench vise to hold the stem but I do not have one set up on my temporary worktable. I start the filing with the flat rectangular bladed file or a flat pointed file depending on which fits in the slot. In this case the flat rectangular blade was too thick so I used the pointed flat blade to begin. I filed the top and bottom edge of the slot to open it up wider. My preference for the slot is that is an elongated oval shape so I started by opening these top and bottom edges first. I also slanted the edges of the slot inward toward the airway. I have found that doing so allows me to use the thicker round and oval files to shape the ends of the slot.

The next series of four pictures show how the stem progressed as I used the pointed needle file to open the top and bottom of the slot and the slope of the edges inward. Each photo shows more progress until the fourth picture which shows how the slot looked when I was finished with the flat pointed blade.
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Once I had opened the top and bottom of the slot I could use the wedge file to deepen the v funnel in the airway. This takes a bit of work to keep the angles even on both side of the airway. The wedge file keeps the slot rectangular and really focuses the cutting of the file on the sides of airway and slot. Once I have the angles filed and the v deepened I change to the oval file and keep working both sides of the slot until I get the slot to the correct depth. The oval file also rounds the edges of the v on the inside of the slot and also rounds the corners of the outer edges of the slot. The next series of three photos show the progress of the rounding of the edges and the deepening of the v funnel. The last of the three shows the state of the slot when I had finished this step in the process.
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When the v funnel is completed I used the round file to round the edges of the slot on both ends. I also used it to widen the slot in the process so that it extends the equally to both sides of the button and the top and bottom. It is getting closer to the goal of the oval smooth slot.

At this point in the process I use the folded piece of sandpaper in the photo above to work on the inside of the slot to smooth out the roughness left by the filing. I used 240 grit sandpaper to work on the inside until it was smooth and then shifted to 400 and 600 wet dry to finish the sanding. The final picture below in this series of four photos shows the state of the slot after sanding.
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After finishing the basic shaping of the slot I decided to line up the files that I used to get the stem to this point. The next series of four photos show the files and the current appearance of the reshaped and opened slot. ImageImageImageImage

After taking these photos I did quite a bit more sanding on the internals of the slot. I used the folded sandpaper pictured above to open it up and smooth it out. The first photo shows the finished shape of the slot. From there I used fluffy pipe cleaners to clean out the sanding dust and vulcanite bits that were left in the stem and slot from the sanding. The second photo shows the finished slot after I had sanded it with the 240 grit, 400 and 600 grit sandpaper and water to get it smooth. ImageImage

The final photo below shows the finished slot. It is no longer the slight slot but is now a wide open and oval shaped slot. It easily takes a fluffy pipe cleaner with little effort. The draught is now very open. The internals are shaped in a wide open v shaped funnel that comes to a point ½ inch into the slot. Each side of the v is gradually sloped to the airway at the bottom. The whole process did not take too long. From start to finish I spent 45 minutes. I like the finished appearance of the slot far better than the original one. The feel in the mouth and the draw is comfortable. Image

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Restemmed Sasieni Mayfair


Blog by Steve Laug

I have had this old Sasieni Mayfair on my desk for a long time. It had come to me in a box of stummels/bowls that I received from a friend over a year ago. It sat for several months in that box before I took it and cleaned it up. I reamed and cleaned the bowl and had even restained it after it had an alcohol bath. I had restemmed it after that with a Lucite tapered butterscotch coloured stem. It looked nice and fit well but something did not quite work with the combination in my opinion. I had it sitting on the table for several months with that stem. I smoked it occasionally and looked it over but never really like the way the stem looked with the old pipe. It seemed like two different eras were colliding in the combination of the old bowl and the new stem so it just sat on the table.

One day after I had finished the pipes that I was working on and was not quite ready to close up shop for the night I picked up the Sasieni. I turned it over in my hands debating with myself what to do with it. It did not take long before I decided to restem it with a vulcanite stem. So I found a stem in my can of stems that was the right shape and angles on the slope of the stem and turned the tenon and fit it to the pipe. Even with just that much work the stem looked like it was a better choice for the pipe. I then used my Dremel with the sanding drum to take down the rest of the stem to fit the shank and band. Once I had a good fit I used emery cloth, 240 grit sandpaper and 400 and 600 wet dry sandpaper and water to smooth out the sanding scratches and marks from the drum and to fine tune the fit. I opened up the button with needle files and also funneled the end of the tenon for a smooth airflow. Once it was finished I took it to the buffer and buffed the pipe with White Diamond and several coats of carnauba wax.

I liked the look of the pipe immediately and knew that the new stem was the ticket to returning this old pipe to its former glory. Now with the new stem I find myself reaching for it regularly. ImageImageImage

Reclaimed a Horn Stem Oldenkott Panel


Blog by Steve Laug

I find that I enjoy smoking pipe with horn stems. The feel in the mouth is unique in range of pipe stem material. It is not hard like Lucite nor is it like Vulcanite. There is a very different feel in the mouth than anything else. I really don’t know how to describe it – it is smooth like well-polished Vulcanite or Lucite. It is soft like Vulcanite but somehow a different kind of softness. It has a luminescence that is beautiful when polished to a reflective sheen. It that almost indescribable feel that keeps me on the lookout for more horn stemmed pipes. I think that I have probably a half dozen in my rack at the moment. All but one of them is small bowled and lightweight. All of them are great Virginia Flake pipes and seem to be made for that style of tobacco.

Here  is a few of my horn stem pipes. Image

The pipe below is one I added recently. It is the fourth pipe from the left in the picture above. It is an Oldenkott pipe. When I got it the finish was rough as it seemed to have had a varnish or some kind of topcoat on the bowl that was flaking off and broken. The bowl was unevenly caked but the pipe showed promise. I reamed and cleaned it then put it in the alcohol bath while I worked on the stem. The stem had a few minor bit marks that I repaired by sanding them smooth. The tooth chatter disappeared in the same manner. I have found that with horn I have to be a bit careful with the sanding so that the horn itself does not sliver or splinter so I used micromesh pads exclusively on this one. I started with 1500 grit and sanded up to 6000 grit. Then I took the stem to the buffer and carefully buffed it with White Diamond.

After removing the bowl from the alcohol bath the finish coat of varnish was gone and the colour looked very nice so I sanded it with micromesh pads and then buffed the bowl with White Diamond. I reinserted the stem and gave the pipe several coats of carnauba to bring back the sheen to both the horn and the bowl. The final picture shows the unique tenon and filter apparatus on this pipe. It is aluminum and seems to work as a condensation chamber more than a filter. The shank and stem were clean on the inside and took very little work to clean out the tars that were present. ImageImageImageImageImage

Do I need to ream my pipe?


Blog by Steve Laug

I don’t know how many times I asked this question in the past as I was new to smoking a pipe. Nor do I know how many times I have read this question on the various online forums that I frequent. When I think back to the responses I got when I asked the question and when I read the responses given on the forums I have found that generally the answers that are given fall equally between yes and no. There are proponents of the “never ream” school, the “no” answers, who would argue that if a pipe is properly cared for after each smoke the necessity of reaming is removed. Just fold a pipe cleaner and swish it around the bowl to knock of remnants of tobacco and smooth out the bowl sides and you are good to go. This is the method that I have used for years and I have found that it allows a slow and steady build-up of the cake. But there are also just as many proponents of the “ream often” school, the “yes” answers, which seem to ream at the slightest build-up of cake.

As I consider the question today I have to reflect on whether or not the two schools have made things too black and white. I understand why folks would argue for never reaming. For when I think of the many pipes that have crossed my table that have suffered at the hands of the ream often folks I too want to say, “Never ream your pipe”. The pipes that come damaged are pretty close to ruined – at least when you consider that the bowls are out of round and often too deeply reamed. It takes some creative shaping and reshaping to repair the damage caused by overzealous reaming. To me the “ream often” school of thought seems too often to cause more damage than a little cake build-up would ever cause.

However, that being said there are pipes that have come across my desk over the years that could have clearly used some of the “ream often” care. They were badly caked pipes, neglected to the point that the cake over fills the bowl and the pressure from the different expansion of the cake and the briar cracked the bowls. In the photo below the five pipes on the left show these signs of neglect. The first and the third bowl were so caked that my little finger would not fit in the bowl. The second, fourth and fifth pipes in the photo have had a bit of the cake carved away to make room for more tobacco but to little was removed too late and the bowls are cracked and ruined. My old uncle could easily have owned any of these pipes. I clearly remember, from the times I road with him on his dry cleaning route, that his pipe always looked like this. In fact for years I kind of figured this is what they were supposed to look like! There were times when I would pick up the pipe off the console of the VW Bus and look at and wonder how he could get tobacco in the bowl. One day as I was holding the pipe and checking it out with my little finger, he came back to the van and chuckled at what I was doing. So I asked him about how he got tobacco in his pipe and why he didn’t clean out the hard stuff.  I still remember his response – “when it holds no more tobacco I throw it away and get a new one”. And with that he took the pipe from my hands and packed some more tobacco in the bowl and fired it up. As I look at these old cracked pipes and others I have seen, so caked that they hardly hold anything, I wonder if the previous owners shared my uncle’s view of the disposability of the pipe. They may well have been part of the “smoke it until it is dead” philosophy and then set it aside and started on the next pipe.

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So that leaves me with a question that others have asked as well. What is the proper reaming method? Should you never ream or always ream? I think that like most things in life the answer to this question negates the always and never choices. It is not a black and white issue. To me I have learned that there are times that I need to ream my pipe. Mind you, some of my pipes have never been reamed. Others I have had for over 20 years and smoked a lot and have had to ream once or twice in that time. There are only a few times that I ream a pipe. I am basically a proponent of the “never ream” school – daily maintenance keeps my pipes in order and never looking like the ones above.

Here are three occasions that I have found that I ream a pipe without any hesitation. I know others may well disagree with my choices, but here they are nonetheless. I have the freedom to exercise these choices as I see fit and my opinion is just that, my opinion. Read them over and if you agree, that is fine. And if you disagree, well that is fine as well. Let’s fire up a pipe and enjoy the fellowship of the briar.

  1. I only ream when the cake exceeds the thickness of a dime – a thin coin. I want to maintain that thickness as I have found that it works best for the style and process of my smoking. I use a Pipnet reamer or a Senior Reamer to keep the cake at this thickness only because I have learned that they are easy to keep vertical in the bowl and not tilt to one side and cause the bowl to become out of round. I actually have rarely had to ream my pipes.
  2. I also ream when I by estate pipes. I remove all of the cake so that I can minimize the potential for ghosting tobaccos from previous owners. This is my preference and I know others who ream them back to the amount mentioned above. I like starting over and building a good hard cake of my own making.
  3. I have also reamed pipes that I smoked in my early days with aromatics. I have found that they are almost impossible to get out of a bowl without removing a cake. Again this is my opinion but I have found it works for me. I like to have a clean surface to work from. I know others just load it up with the new tobacco and smoke it into submission!