Dr. Grabow Colour – Damaged and Reborn


Blog by Steve Laug

I have had this old Dr. Grabow Coloured pipe for a long time. It had damage to the colour coat and to the rim. I kept putting off doing anything with it as I could see no way of repairing the colour coat. It had the nylon stem as well with the Medico filter system. It was a screw mount tenon. The stem was covered with tooth marks and I just did not want to do anything with it… until yesterday.

Yesterday morning I took the pipe out of the box of pipes for repair and wiped it down with some acetone to see if I could clean up the bowl. At this point it was my plan to find some of the same coloured paint and respray the paint on the bowl to fix the spots where it was scratched off. I put the pipe bowl in my pocket and took a trip to Walmart to see if I could match the yellow colour of the paint. I went through about 6 or 7 different yellow colours and none matched. I stuck it back in my pocket and headed home. By this point I had decided to strip the bowl back to the wood and see what was under the paint. I had always heard that the bowls used in these pipes were pretty devoid of grain and had many fills so I figured what did I have to lose on stripping the paint.

I dropped the bowl in the alcohol bath for several hours while I was working on other things around the house. My hope was to loosen the paint coat not dissolve it into the water. Isopropyl should not dissolve the paint but it would certainly soften the paint and penetrate under the paint coat through the scratch marks in the surface. After I removed the bowl from the bath I used a sanding pad with medium grit and rubbed it across the painted surface and the paint began to peel back very easily. The next series of three photos show the effect of the paint coming off with a very light sanding.

I continued to sand the paint coat until it was gone. The next series of four photos show the bowl after the sanding. The paint coat is gone; all that remains is the light coating of yellow haze that will come off with a quick acetone wash. Once the paint was gone I was left with a pretty bland block of briar. There were fills around the front of the bowl and the sides. The shank, right side had a large fill that extended most of the length of the shank. The rim was in great shape with no dents of burns. The inner bevel on the rim was in great shape. I reamed the bowl to clean up the inside and the softened cake. It came out smooth and fresh. I cleaned the shank to remove and of the remaining tars and oils.

Once I had the internals cleaned up I washed the bowl down with a cotton pad and acetone. This removed the remnants of the yellow paint. It is amazing to me to see the amount of yellow colouration that came off with the acetone. The wood had quite a bit of yellow pigment on the surface of the bowl. I washed it down until the pads remained white. I sanded the tooth chatter and marks on the nylon stem (did I ever tell you how much I hate these nylon stems?? No? Well they are truly a pain). I was able to get the majority of the tooth marks out with emery cloth and then 240 grit sandpaper. I attached the stem to the bowl to have a look at what I had to work with  and where I should go with the finish work.

The fills seemed pretty disguised in the light colour of the briar so I decided to do a bit of an experiment. With a pipe of this calibre what do you have to lose? I stained it with a black aniline stain, flamed it and stained it a second time. My hope was that the fills would be hidden well by the stain coat. At first glance they seemed to remain hidden under the stain. I took the pipe to the buffer once it was dry and buffed the bowl with Tripoli to give it a shine and polish. As I did that the fills really stood out. The matte finish of the black hid them but the shine made them stand out. In the second photo below you can see the round fills on the front of the bowl. The one on the shank also stood out a bit.

The next series of photos show the pipe after a buff with Tripoli and White Diamond. The fills on the front now appeared to be a pinkish/red colour under the black coat. The one on the shank also looked pinkish/red. In the second photo below you can see where I restained the fill area on the shank. It was a large fill shaped almost like a moustache. Once it was dry I buffed it again with a light touch. The fills were just too obvious and ugly in my opinion. I even tried giving the pipe a top coat of dark brown stain to see if that would hide them. It did not. So I set the pipe down and went to supper. While I was eating I thought about the possibility of rusticating the bowl and giving the pipe a whole new look.

I took out my modified Philips screwdriver that I use for rustication and went to work on it. The screwdriver has the x pattern and a point. I used my Dremel to cut out the point and create four points with the remaining tip. It has a handle which I pad with a thick cotton cloth so that I can push it into the wood and minimize the discomfort on my palm from pressing. 

In the picture above you can see the work of rustication. The picture below shows the red coloured fills on the front of the bowl that made the decision to rusticate pretty easy for me.

I worked my way around the bowl as is seen in the next series of photos. I worked the front and then the bottom of the bowl and worked my way up each side of the bowl. In this case I decided that I wanted to see what the pipe would look like with a rusticated bowl and a smooth shank so I left the shank untouched with the rustication until I had finished the bowl.

The next three photos show the rusticated bowl and smooth shank look of the pipe. It just did not work for me. I did not like the look. As an aside – one of the great things with the rustication tool I use is the ability to use it in tight spaces and leave the surrounding surface untouched. By the way you will also note the photos that I left the rim smooth as well. 

The next two photos show the putty fills that were used. They seemed to have been white putty that was chalky when I scratched into it during the rustication process. You can see the location and the size of the fills in these photos. I am glad that I decided to rusticate this bowl.

I wrapped the shank and stem junction with a cellophane tape in multiple layers and extended onto the shank a quarter inch. I wanted to make a smooth band that would not be rusticated and match the smooth rim that I was leaving. The tape gave me an edge so that I would feel that as I twisted the tool in rusticating the shank. I also would give an edge to put the teeth of the tool against when I twisted it into the wood of the shank. The next series of photos show the rusticated shank. On the first one you can see the size of the fill on the right side of the shank. It also was the same white putty. As I hit it with the rusticator it left a white chalky residue. You can also see the intent of the band on the shank and the rim of the bowl being left smooth and what that would look like in contrast with the rough finish.

When I had finished the rustication I removed the tape guard and then sanded the band to get it smooth and to bring out the grain with dark undercoat.

Once that was complete I stained the pipe with a black aniline stain. I applied it heavily and then flamed it. The flaming sets the stain deep in the grooves and recesses of the rustication. I gave the rim and the band a coat of black as well. Once it was on I rubbed it off with a soft cloth to get the effect that is visible in the pictures below.

Once the stain was dry I worked on the smooth areas of the bowl – the rim and the band – with micromesh pads from 1500-6000 to polish them and smooth them out. I also worked on the nylon stem. It was a pain. The material scratches no matter what you do to it. And as I learned a long time ago it does not work to buff it as it has a very low melting point. So I sanded it with increasing grits of wet dry sandpaper – 400 to 600 grit and water and then sanded it with wet micromesh pads from 1500-12,000 to remove the scratching. I polished it on the buffer with blue polishing compound and a verrrrry light touch to give it a shine. I had waxed the smooth surfaces and the stem with carnauba and then wiped the pipe down with a cloth impregnated with Briar Wipe. Here is the finished pipe. I think the experiment worked!

2 thoughts on “Dr. Grabow Colour – Damaged and Reborn

  1. upshallfan

    That pipe had a lifetime of embarrassment in a yellow coat. Your rustification restored some measure of dignity to that poor pipe.

    Reply

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