Dr Grabow Restoration and Stem Repair

Blog by Greg Wolford

I picked up this Dr Grabow Freehand at an antique mall about a month ago when I got the Wally Frank that is visible in the photos, too. It was scratched to heck on all the smooth briar and the stem was chewed completely through. But I went ahead and bought it for three reasons:

– I’ve  never had a freehand
– I have been wanting to restore a stem with a hole or, in this case, a lot of damage
– I got a pretty decent price
So, I picked it up.Greg1




Greg5 I decided to deal with the bowl first, by stripping it with acetone and soaking it overnight in an alcohol bath; I also put the stem in a OxiClean soak at this time.  After removing the bowl from the alcohol bath I then used a brass bristle brush to get all the tar and gunk out of the rusticated top grooves. Then I sanded it to remove all the scratches from the smooth briar and take the old stain off the high points using 400 grit wet/dry sandpaper.Then I used some water based black leather dye on it, getting into the recesses well and wiping of the smooth portions as I went; I wanted to keep that darker contrast in the grooves. After I had it covered to my liking I dried it with the heat gun. Next I went back to 400 grit to take down the high points and smooth areas to remove the small amount of black color from the water based dye. When that looked good to my eye I polished it with 600 grit, wiped it down with 91% isopropyl alcohol on a cotton pad to remove any left over dust and dirt.  I heated it with the heat gun again to make sure the briar was good and dry. When it was nice and warm I applied Fiebing’s dark brown spirit-based leather dye, diluted 2:1 with 91% alcohol and flamed it in; I did this twice. The color was a bit too dark now so I wiped the pipe down, taking care to not soak my cotton pad too heavily or get into the recesses too much, with alcohol until it looked right to me. I then set it aside.Greg6

Greg7 When I soaked the bowl in the alcohol bath I also left the stem in a OxiClean soak overnight. I had removed and washed it well before starting on the bowl so it was ready now to work on.Greg8 I decided to shorten and reshape the stem instead of replacing it or trying to fix the gaping holes. I used a coping saw to cut off the end, saving as much of the stem as I could. The bottom hole had also cracked so it required removing quite a lot of the stem to get most of the crack out. The next step was to grease a pipe cleaner with petroleum jelly and insert it into the stem. I then dripped some Super Glue into the crack and let it set up while I worked on something else.

When I came back to it, the glue was hardened and I was ready to move on to the next step: making a new button. I began this process by scoring a line along the top and bottom of the stem where I wanted the button with a cutoff wheel on my Dremel. After I had the new button laid out, I then started to shape it with various needle files. I began shaping from the button back, forming it into shape with the rest of the stem. This took considerable time to get it even and “natural” looking. When I was satisfied I then began to shape the end of the button.Greg9

Greg10 I shaped the bit with needle files, too, again using several to get the shape right. The first step for this was getting the angle to look right on the top; this didn’t take as long as I expected. I then began to form the bottom of the bit, trying to match the shape of the top as close as I could; this took more time and effort than I’d expected.

Making a new drought hole was something new to me. And was not without its challenges either. I used my needle files, again, to start shaping the new hole, making it a bit taller as well as wider than the hole that was left in the cut off stem. I took the extra time to fan the drought hole, too, partly because I wanted to and partly to see if I could do it. This ended up being some of the most time-consuming and tedious work of the entire project: I needed to make sure I didn’t go too thin in any direction but I wanted the hole to really funnel out well. I am pleased with the results and the way it smokes and would say it was worth the extra time and effort to accomplish it.Greg11

Greg12 After all the shaping I wiped the stem well with alcohol to clean it off for a test fit – to my mouth. The test failed; the bit was too long and too steep. So back to the files I went. I filed, tested, filed, tested a few times until it felt comfortable in my mouth and looked good to me. Now time to get it shiny again.

I began with a fine/medium grit sanding sponge. It worked very well to get in and around the bit to smooth it a bit more and to take out the file marks. I then began wet sanding with grits 220/320/400. At this point I applied some Novus 2 plastic polish. The Novus line come in three grades: 3 – the most course, 2 – the second, and 1 – the final polish. I began using this product on my motorcycle windshield a few years ago and loved it. I have numbers 1 & 2 but have yet to try 3.

After using the Novus, I began with the micro mesh, wet sanding with grits 1500/1800/2400/3200/4000 (I’m not looking at the numbers but I believe that was the correct grit numbers. I applied the Novus 2 again and then polished with micro mesh 6000/8000/12000. Now it was off to the buffer with pipe and stem.

I buffed the pipe several times around with Tripoli to get the color just where I liked it. I then moved onto the white diamond for both the pipe and stem. I took a little extra time on the stem to make sure I fine tuned the button a little more, testing it every so often. After buffing the pipe and stem with white diamond I changed to a metal buffing wheel with blue rouge to polish the metal tenon on the stem; I hate a nicely polished stem that hasn’t has the metal (if there is any) not polished, too.Greg13


Greg15 Several coats of carnauba wax was then applied to both pipe and stem. I did the final buffing with my “mushroom” on my cordless drill. I like the control I have with it and also the fact it’ll reach almost anyplace with little effort. The final touch was to polish the rustication with a soft toothbrush to make sure I didn’t have any wax residue left.Greg16 There were, and still are, some fills in the pipe but I wasn’t particularly concerned with them. Several are on the shank and it would have been “dicey” to try to fix them without ruining the nomenclature. There was one fill on the side that fell out, presumably from the softening of the putty in the alcohol bath. I missed that one until after I had already started smoking it.  If I’d seen it earlier in the process I would have fixed that one but now it’s there for the duration.Greg17 (I couldn’t get a good focused shot of the finished button.)


7 thoughts on “Dr Grabow Restoration and Stem Repair

  1. Pingback: Wally Frank Shipmate | reborn pipes

  2. rebornpipes

    Overall it looks great Greg. The new button worked well. The rise of the blade of the stem from the cut of the button seems pretty abrupt and thus almost like a bulge from the edge of the button. Not sure if that makes sense to you. I generally use my flat blade needle files or even a rasp to smooth out the slope from the button toward the tenon and get rid of the bulge there. It is still a great job! No criticism intended just another learning exercise for me. Thanks

    1. Greg Post author

      And taken as a learning tip: I can and will take all I can get! I do see what you mean. I guess I was so focused on the feel I missed the look.

      1. rebornpipes

        Great Greg, that is the point of the blog – to learn from each other. I am working on an Italian pipe at the moment that has the same finish as your Grabow and it is giving me fits trying to get the finish removed. I thought I had it and restained the bowl and it looks awful. Back to the work table. Always learning.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s