Monthly Archives: November 2012

A Review – The Masika made by JSEC Pipes


James Gilliam from JESC Pipes http://www.jsecpipes.com/sold-pipes.html and I had been emailing back and forth regarding a refurb he was doing. We talked about different processes and he wrote a piece for the blog on a pipe maker’s look at refurbishing. In the process he showed some pictures of a nice little bamboo shanked pipe that he had made for himself. I really liked the looks of it and commented that should he make another I would be interested. Not long after that I received an email from James about a little bamboo pipe he was carving that would be rusticated. He sent me some pictures of the shape and later of the unstained bowl. Once it was done he sent some pictures and a simple note saying, “It is yours if you want it but there is no obligation.” When I saw the finished pipe it called my name and I sent James the payment via Paypal and the deal was completed. He named it Masika and the picture below gives its vitals.

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In this review I want to look at the pipe from a more technical side and walk through its construction, feel and delivery of the smoke to me. I drew the pipe from the brown cloth pipe sock and here is what I found. Once it was in my hand I have to say that honestly I was not prepared for what awaited me when I opened the package. I had read the dimensions and saw the pictures but somehow they did not capture the beauty and patina of this pipe. The bamboo has a patina to it that makes the pipe look far older than it is. It is a darker brown tone that I have found only on older bamboo pipes. I don’t know how James accomplished the patina but it is virtually the same colour as some of my older Yello Bole Bamboos and Kaywoodie Mandarins that are over 50 years old. It was very lightweight. Somehow in my head I had not captured what 20 grams felt like very well. This thing is virtually weightless.

Looking at the externals of the pipe. James seems to have used several stains to give an undercoat that shows through the top coat and a contrasting top coat as well. Depending on the light and angle of the pipe the colour highlights look different. They are a variety of browns and blacks that come through with the light and the angles. The rustication is well done and tactile but not rustic or rough. The best descriptor I can use in speaking of it is to describe it as refined. The band of smooth around the shank ahead of the black band and bamboo and the smooth rim are a great contrast to the rustication and the stain variations on the bowl and shank. I have already spoken of the bamboo and its attraction for me. There is a twist and bend in the bamboo that gives it a feel of struggle and pulling back. I like the look of the twist and turn of the bamboo as it gives a character to the shank that a straight piece would not give in the same manner. The black band between the briar and the bamboo makes a great transition from the pipe to the shank. James also used a small band of black before the stem as well. The two bands serve to set off and bookend the bamboo shank of the pipe. The hand cut ebonite stem is very well done and comfortable in the mouth. It has a nicely shaped button that is sharply cut and catches well on the back of my teeth. The slot in the button is oval shaped and there is a smooth V slot that facilitates the movement of smoke across the mouth.

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Moving from the externals of the pipe to the internal mechanics. James your workmanship on this pipe is stellar. The angle of the drilling is done in such a way that the bowl is of a uniform thickness throughout. The bowl bottom is relatively the same thickness as the walls of the pipe. The bowl is drilled at the same angle as the exterior of the pipe. The draught hole is precisely where it should be – centred at the back side bottom of the bowl. The bowl is coated with a neutral tasting bowl treatment. I don’t know the components but it did not add any flavour to the tobacco nor did it come off with the first smoke. I don’t usually like bowl coating but this one was not a problem to the smoke. I am confident that James is not covering flaws in the interior of the bowl. Holding light to the bowl revealed a clean and smooth airway with no impediments. Looking down the bamboo shank at the stem end it is clear that it is not lined with any material even in the mortise. I believe that James used a tenon to anchor the bowl shank and the bamboo but I am not clear as to the material. The tenon on the stem is crafted of stainless steel and is a good snug fit. The inside of the stem is also very smooth. There is no roughness or constriction where the stainless steel tenon ends and the stem material begins. This transition is smooth. The airway flattens out like a squeezed drinking straw so that the diameter does not change but is flattened and opened.

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I have been smoking this pipe consistently since it arrived and it smokes very well. The bowl break in was quite easy from the first bowl. It smokes dry and clean with no moisture buildup or gurgle to the bowl. From the first I have been able to smoke it to a dry ash. With each smoke there is no damp dottle to deal with in the heel of the bowl. The draught on this pipe is very smooth – no whistling sound and no sense of having to suck or work to get the air to move through – it is effortless. It has been and will continue to be a pleasure to smoke, exactly what I look for in a pipe that keeps its place in my rotation.

I would highly recommend that you have a look at the pipes James sells. He is a pleasure to deal with and fine craftsman. I know others who have commissioned pipes from him and found the experience a pleasure. I cannot speak highly enough of the workmanship on this pipe and ease of the deal with James. Give him a call and order a pipe or at least check out the website that I noted above. Have a look at the beautiful work that he does.

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This Refurb Makes Me Question, what makes a pipe a REJECT


Blog by Steve Laug

I have no idea who the maker of this pipe is. When I bid on it I thought it might be a Peterson Reject but once it got here I am not so sure. It has no stamping on it other than REJECT in big block letters on the left side of the shank. The briar is not too bad, in fact I can find only one or possibly two fills that are virtually invisible as they are blended into the stain very well. The stem is a cross between a Peterson and a Wellington. There is no p-lip on it – just a straight orific button with the airway on the end of the button not on top. There is a sump in the shank so it is a system pipe of sorts. It is well drilled and has a great draft on it. The band seems to be a stainless steel rather than the cheap reject band put on by Peterson rejects of time past. Sooo, I am not sure who the maker is, nor am I sure why it is a REJECT.

I took it from the box, reamed and cleaned the bowl and shank. The sump is surprisingly new looking. There is no stain or darkening in it, just clean untouched briar. The bowl is darkened but there was not much cake and what was there was only around the top half of the bowl. The stem was minimally oxidized and there was some tooth chatter on the top and the underside of the stem. I did not do much to the bowl finish, merely buffed it with Tripoli and then gave it several coats of carnauba. The stem took a little work as I sanded out the tooth chatter and then went through the list of micromesh sanding pads from 1500-12,000 grit. I also polished the stem with the Maguiar’s Scratch X2.0. I finished by buffing it with White Diamond and then wiped it down with some Obsidian Oil before giving it multiple coats of carnauba and a buff with a soft flannel buffing wheel.

I forgot to take the pictures beforehand but here are some photos of the finished pipe.

Refurbishing a horn stemmed Bruyere Garantie Beautiful Swan Necked Pipe


I picked this old timer up in an antique shop near Vancouver, quite a few years ago now. When I got it the bowl was almost black and dirty. The rim had a good 1/8 inch of grime and tar built up so that it looked like a plateau top. The finish was so opaque that you could not see the grain through it. The stem was dirty and to be honest with you all, when I got it I had no idea it was a horn stem. I worked hard to get the oxidation off it and all I got was more of the brown tones coming through. There was tooth chatter on the top and bottom of the stem. The chatter was kind of white coloured. I asked several guys about the stem and they also did not even think about a horn stem. I had the pipe in my collection for about 5 years or more before it dawned on me that it was a horn stem.

This is a big pipe and it is elegant. It is 8 inches long and the bowl is a little over 2 inches tall. It is stamped on the left side of the shank Bruyere in an arch over Garantie. On the right side it is stamped St. Claude in script over Bruyere. Once I stripped it down there are a few visible fills in the briar but they blend in quite well surprisingly – no pink putty on this one. I cleaned the rim meticulously by hand with warm soapy water on a damp paper towel. I scrubbed it until it was clean. I then sanded the bowl to remove the varnish coat and grime. I had not learned many of the tricks I use now so it was one of the first old timers that I refurbished. I wiped the bowl down with Isopropyl alcohol once I had sanded the majority of the finish coat off the pipe. It took quite a bit of time to carefully wipe away the finish around the stamping without damaging that. The bowl was finally cleaned and smooth – I remember sanding it with 1200 wet dry sandpaper to finish. Then I stained it with a medium brown wood stain – I have no idea if it was an alcohol stain, it well could have been Watco Danish Oil for all I know!

The stem took quite a bit of work to sand it smooth. I cleaned it up twice. Once when I first got it and then again when I figured out it was a horn stem. It is a big piece of horn and quite pretty in terms of the sheen and depth of colouration in it. I used the method I spelled out in a previous post on polishing horn stems and it is like new. I sanded it with wet dry sandpaper up to 2400 grit and then buffed it with lots of carnauba wax. Later I used the micromesh sanding pads on it and really gave it a depth of shine. The pipe is a great smoking pipe and is definitely a sitting pipe. It is a handful. The first picture shows the finished pipe. I wish I had some before photos but this was found in the days I never thought of doing that. So all I have is finished photos. The next series of photos show the size of the pipe in comparison to a nice little bent billiard that is about a group three sized pipe. The grain is quite nice. Nothing striking in terms of straight grain but there are several spots with nice birds eye and then the rest is swirling grain that almost seems to have movement to it. The stem is multicoloured and has the old orific (round) airhole in the button.

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Another Piece of Tobacciana – A Trench Art (?) Pipe Loader


Blog by Steve Laug

When I saw this piece of tobacciana I had to add it to my collection. It is so unique that I have not seen another since I first laid eyes on this one. It is pipe loader. It is made of an outer case with a plunger inside and a scoop-like inner piece that is loaded with tobacco. I think the inventive character that made this envisioned scooping a load into the scoop portion and then inserting it into the part with the plunger. Once it is loaded it is put on top of the pipe bowl and the outer portion is pushed down over the inner scoop and the tobacco is loaded and tamped in the bowl. I have to say it is a bit of a fuss to scoop and plunge but it does work remarkably well and loads a perfect bowl of tobacco. It is made of brass and what looks like several shell casings. I am not sure if it is trench art but I have been told that it appears to be. The two pieces fit together perfectly well and slide easily against each other. It has the patina of aged brass but is otherwise very clean. It is something that sits in my pipe cabinet and is a great conversation piece with other pipemen but it is not something that anyone else is truly interested.

Any ideas from any of the readers? What do you think?

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A Pair of Rare Dunhill Cobs – Dunhillbillies


On a lark I restemmed a couple of my Missouri Meerschaum cobs a while back for a special pipe cleaning and polishing night hosted by our local Dunhill and Brigham Representative. He told us that if we brought our old pipes with oxidized stems he would buff them and polish them for us – no charge. Being a bit of a joker and handyman I scavenged in my can of stems and found two oxidized Dunhill white spot stems. These had just the right sized tenons to fit on a couple of old cobs that I had here. So with very little effort, I made them fit the shank. Just in case some of you are worried that I might have ruined them by trimming them back, I assure you that I did nothing to the stems other than clean them up a wee bit and then insert them into my cobs.

Thus armed I packed my trusty pipe bag – holds eight pipes. I included some other nice pipes that I wanted to have the benefit of having buffed but I also included the pair of Dunhill cobs. I waited for an opportune moment when the handy rep was at the buffing wheel. There was a lag in the number of gents coming to him for buffing work so I sidled over and handed him my good pipes first and he did a magnificent job cleaning and waxing them on his wheels. When he had finished them he asked if I had any others that I wanted him to take care of. I hemmed and hahed a bit and then said I had a couple but that they were very special and rare. I wanted to make sure that he would not damage them in any way. I emphasized the fact of their rarity by stating that in fact I had never seen or come across any like them in all the years I had been smoking a pipe.

With that I had hooked him and he turned off his buffer and looked inquiringly. I could see the look in his eye – full of questions. What kind of pipes could I possibly have that I was worried he would harm them? What could I have in my bag that I was slow to pull out and have him buff? I think he was a bit put out by my slow response. So now that I had him hooked I decided to work him a little bit and play with the hook. I began to spin the tale I had worked on earlier in the afternoon. I was enjoying every moment of this so I dragged it out a bit longer than necessary probably, but as I talked a small group of other pipesmokers had gathered around the wheel. We were all puffing on pipes of chosen tobaccos and everyone was interested.

I spun the tale of how I had come across these two special pipes in a cabinet at a local antique mall in Fort Langley, British Columbia. I had gotten the clerk to unlock the cabinet and carefully removed the pair from the cabinet. I looked each of them over carefully so as not to break them. After all I did not want to buy something that was worthless. Both pipes were a bit worn from wear and showed some charring at the rim but otherwise they were clean and seemed to be solid. The clerk said they were rare and who was I to argue as I had never seen anything like the two of them. The price for each was a kingly sum. At this point in my tale I looked at each of my listeners. But in particular I fixed my eyes on the buffing king. I wanted to emphasize the cost of these gems. Now my tale had captured the most dubious of them so I began to reel them in. I explained the stems and the slight oxidation that each had. I explained how they each had a white dot set in the vulcanite of the stems. At this point I am sure the buffing king was wondering if I had stumbled on a pair of early patent era Dunhills. All those listening to the tale know my proclivity for pipe scavenging and how I am pretty lucky in my finds. I honestly think that I had struck the motherlode of pipes finds.

The Dunhill Rep/buffing king was beside himself now. He wanted to see them now. He wanted to handle the two old timers and get a feel for their age and ply his skill in bringing the shine back to life on them both. But I wanted to set the hook a bit deeper so I continued talking about how I had carefully carried them to the cashier and shelled out the money for them. I talked of the deep shell finish on both and the almost amberlike brown of the bowls and shanks. Then as they were almost salivating I pulled the pair out of my bag and handed them to him with the bowls and shanks hidden in my hands. Just the two white spot stem poked out of my hands. I slowly and carefully opened my hands to reveal the treasure. I told him they were called Dunhillbillies. And with that everyone but him was just about rolling on the floor in laughter. They just shook their heads and few of them had choice comments for me. But the buffing king looked at me with a grimace and then he laughed loudly, shaking his head. I have to hand it to him as he did a great job buffing the pair. The pictures below show the twosome after his hard work. What do you think? Are they treasures or not?

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A New Stem and a New Look For a Larsen Special


I got this Larsen Special in a lot I picked up for a very cheap price. The stem that was on it is in the bottom of each picture to give an idea of what it looked like. The shank extension is made of vulcanite and was very oxidized when it came to me. The stamping on the pipe is actually on the extension and it is faint. It is visible with a jeweler’s loupe and is stamped Larsen Special and Handmade in Denmark. The bowl was badly cake and the finish was almost flat with dark soiled spots of grime on the surface. The rim was covered with a lava overflow of tars and oils. I decided as soon as I saw it that the stem had to go. I had no idea what I was going to do with it but I knew it was history.

I cleaned the bowl with Murphy’s Oil Soap undiluted on a soft cotton cloth and cut through the grime and grit on the surface without damaging the finish at all. I used the same thing on the rim and was able to remove the lava. There was a bit of darkening that remained but no burn or charring. I used micromesh and Oxyclean on the vulcanite shank extension. I avoided sanding around the stamping as it is very light and I did not want to compromise it any more than it was. I was able to get the majority of the oxidation cleaned off the end and then coated it with some Obsidian Oil and let it sit for a while. Once it had dried I rubbed it with a soft cloth and then took the pipe bowl to the buffer and gave it a good buff with White Diamond, carefully avoiding the stamping. Then I coated the bowl and shank with carnauba wax and buffed with a soft cotton buffing pad. The grain on this pipe is absolutely beautiful. I really like the look of it. The bowl is quite large and it is clean and trouble free once it was reamed and cleaned.

I looked through my stem can and found this Lucite/amberoid stem that I thought would look perfect with the pipe. It is a military style bit so I sanded it enough to give it a snug fit and then used micromesh sanding pads 1500-12,000 grit to sand and polish the stem. I opened the slot and made it into an oval shaped flared opening in order to better disperse the smoke. The old stem is still in the box. I am not sure what I will do with it but it will not find a home with this old Larsen ever again.

Oh this one is a keeper by the way and is regularly in my rotation. It smokes English and Balkan tobaccos like it was made for them. I think I will go and fire up a bowl now.

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A Classic Rework of A Royal Duke Supreme


Blog by Steve Laug

I had this old Royal Duke bowl in my box. It had some promise to my eye but it needed some work. The first thing I did was drill out the metal mortise that took a threaded tenon. I did not have any stems that fit it anyway and I wanted to try something new. The issue that remained once it was gone was the fact that the mortise rough inside and the end of the shank was not square so that there was no way to get a new stem to fit it seamlessly. The finish was very rough as can be seen in the photos below. The varnish on the outside of the bowl had bubbled and blistered. The front edge of the bowl was actually darkened as the varnish seemed to have burned or at least coloured. There were dents in the bowl and the rim was rough. I turned a precast stem with my tenon turner and got it close. I had to custom fit it as the shank was a little tapered toward the end.

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The stem fit fairly well but would take a bit of customizing to get a good tight fit to the shank. It would also need a good cleanup to trim off the castings on the stem. The vulcanite was fairly decent quality as I have had it a long time but it showed no oxidation.

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I decided to work on the bowl first to clean up the remaining finish and remove the varnish from the bowl. I also wanted to see if I could remove the darkening around the front and back of the bowl. I washed the bowl with acetone on a cotton pad and cleaned off the finish. It took repeated washing to break through the varnish coat and also the burned and bubble finish. The next two photos show the pads after the wash. You can begin to see the grain coming out on this beauty. That is what drew me to the pipe in the first place and I was glad to see that it was truly there.

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I repeated the washing until the pipe was clean and had no remaining finish coat. The dark undercoat of stain still remained and light brown topcoat also was still present. This is clearly seen in the photos below. I worked on the fit of the stem and tapered the tenon enough to get a good snug fit to the bowl. I also used my Dremel to remove excess vulcanite from the top and the sides of the stem so that it lined up smoothly with the shank of the pipe. It was at that point I decided to pressure fit a nickel band to the shank to square things up a bit. There was no way that the stem and the shank would meet squarely as the shank was a bit angled and dented from the metal inserted mortise. The previous mortise had been threaded in and it had a thin band or flat top on it that sat against the briar. It was also patched a bit with putty to make the flow from the shank to the insert smooth. I fit the nickel band with heat and pressed it into place. I liked the finished look of the band and it gave me a straight edge to work with on the new stem. I again used the Dremel with a sanding drum to shave off more of the vulcanite and make the stem fit against the band inside edge. The next two pictures below show the stem after the fit and the shaving with the Dremel. You can see the rough surface on the saddle and the cleaned up edges of the cast stem and the button.

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I then sanded the bowl and the stem with 240 grit sandpaper to remove the scratches in the briar and also on the vulcanite stem. It took quite a bit of sanding to smooth out the saddle of the stem. The next five photos show the progress of the sanding on the stem. I also sanded the bowl to remove the remaining finish and scratches. I topped the bowl and smooth out the inner and outer rim to remove the damages to them both. I also used my heat gun to put the bend in the stem. I have a curbed dowel here that I put the heated stem on to ensure that the bend is straight and that I do not crimp or bend the stem unevenly.

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Once the sanding was at this point I wiped the bowl down with Isopropyl alcohol. I find that it removes any sanding dust and also the wet look shows me places where I still need to sand the bowl and stem. Once that was done I sanded the bowl again with 400 and 600 grit wet dry sand paper and water. I progressed through micromesh sanding pads 1500-12,000 grit – the first four pads with water and the remaining ones dry sanding. Once it was completed and smooth I wiped it down a final time before staining it.

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While I was sanding the pipe and working on the stem I tried to visualize what stain I wanted to use on this pipe. At this point remember I was not trying to restore the original Royal Duke colouration. I was working a new pipe out of this piece of briar even though I left the stamping. I decided to go with an oxblood aniline stain. I applied it with a cotton swab, flamed it and then took it to my buffer and buffed it with White Diamond.

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The next three photos show the pipe after the buffing with White Diamond. I had not applied any wax at this point nor was I finished working on the stem. The colour came out better than I imagined. The dark under notes of the grain come through nicely in the finished pipe. The light areas have a reddish brown hue that is a bit lighter as the pipe has been waxed and buffed.

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Once the pipe was stained I coated the bowl with multiple coats of carnauba wax to protect the new stain while I worked on the band and the stem. The nickel bands shine up really well with the higher grit micromesh sanding pads. I sanded the band with the 6000-12,000 grit pads and then polished it with some wax as well. I moved on to the stem. I sanded it some more with 240 grit sandpaper to remove some more of the scratches in the saddle area left by the Dremel. I then sanded it again with the 400 and 600 grit wet dry and water to smooth out the lesser scratches left behind by the 240 grit sandpaper. I went on to use 1500-3200 wet micromesh sanding pads to polish up the stem some more. These early grits of micromesh leave behind a matte finish as they sand out the scratches. It takes the grits above 4000 to really see the depth and polish that is there when finished. Once I used the lower grits I then polished the stem using Maguiar’s Scratch X2.0 polish and rubbed it on with a cotton pad and polished it off. I buffed the stem with White Diamond following this to see what I needed to work on.

I took the stem back to my work table and used the higher grits of micromesh. I started with 3600 and worked through 4000, 6000, 8000 and 12,000. Once I finished I buffed it again with the White Diamond and then coated the stem with Obsidian Oil and let it sit while the oil soaked the stem. I hand buffed the oil with a soft cotton cloth and then polished it with some carnauba wax paste and then buffed the entire pipe with several coats of carnauba. I buffed it with a clean cotton buff between coats of wax. The final photos are of the pipe as it stands now.

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