Generally, I never have to give much thought to which pipe I will refurbish next as I pick up only pipes that I like. I have an old box in my laundry room where I keep pipes that need to be refurbished. At times this box has had over three hundred pipes in it but has recently diminished to eleven. These are the tag end of a lot of pipes that I have had over the past years. Sometimes I buy a batch of pipes on eBay that will have many I don’t want for one or two that I am hunting for. Sometimes these unchosen ones end up in the bottom of the box. Other times friends will give me garage sale finds or flea market or auction finds – sometimes nice and sometimes junk to be honest with you. When I go to refurbish a pipe I pick through the box and select the ones that strike my interest and leave behind for later all the ones that for one reason or another just did not catch my attention. They can accumulate and I gradually chip away at them. I have now worked through even that leftover lot – the ones that did not catch my eye and am left with 11 more pipes that just don’t do anything for me. All of them need to be restemmed and refinished. All of them are in rough shape. They no name pipes stamped with such markings as Bruyere Garantie, Imported Briar, Real Briar and Genuine Briar. Not even their names are interesting because I can ferret out no history or brand to link them to. So you see these pipes are not worth much. They will probably end up being give away pipes for me but I am guessing that with a little work they can be made into great smoking pipes. I am sure they will be great pipes for someone just starting out or someone who needs a yard pipe. The interesting thing is that the drilling/mechanics on all of them are well done. The finish on all of them is pretty rough – either flaking, peeling, or chipped and there are huge fills in some of them and many little fills in others. They are truly utility pipes but they are the ones I am left with. So I am left to decide which one I will work on next. The photos below show the lot. Maybe one interests you.
So which one do I pick up first to work on? Should I cut the tenons for the three bowls that don’t have stems so that all have stems? Do I pick one and work the stem to a fit and sheen? Do I refinish a bowl? Do I really want to do anything with the lot at all? Inevitably I will pick up each on and fix it. Each of the 11 pipes will be a teacher of method and practice for me. Each one will give me the opportunity to hone a skill – staining, finishing, stem shaping, button opening, airway opening, topping, rusticating and the list can go on and on. I used to just give away the stummels to folks who wanted to learn to fit stems. I even sold a few by the dozen to thin down the lot but these remain – for better or worse. It is for the training value, the practise of the art of refurbishing alone, that I continue to tackle these pipes sitting at the bottom of the box. Each one gives me a valuable chance to learn something new or hone a skill to better use. It is from working on pipes like these that I have developed several rustication patterns, the patience and persistence in shaping stems and turning tenons. I have learned to apply contrast stains and practiced bending and straightening stems. I know that I can afford to mess things up on these without feeling any loss or disappointment. If I had not picked them up to work on they were destined for the firebox. So with that in my mind I will reach for another pipe from the box.
I tend to work on things systematically and so about a month ago I had an afternoon free so I restemmed 9 of them. I turned the tenons and stuck the new stems on the pipes. Some of them are reclaimed stems from my stem box and some of them are stem blanks that will take some work to finish. I have not worked on any of the stem fittings or squared them up to the shank at all. I have not worked on the diameter or taper of the stem as it meets the shank. I have not smoothed out the casting ridges or shaped the buttons or slots. I just turned the tenons and put the stems on the pipes and put them back in the box. That leaves three more to fit stems on and then the 12 of them to be customized and polished.
I heard footsteps on the front porch by the mail box. I figured one of my daughters was home from work or my wife so I just kept looking at the pipes to make a choice. What was that? Oh, the doorbell rang… The door opened and closed. My daughter just opened the door to the basement workshop and called down to tell me that I have a package. Maybe it is some of my EBay wins that have arrived. Ah, I can still postpone picking up one of the restems or turning the remaining three tenons. Good, they can wait for a little longer while I work on the new arrivals. After all they are ones that I chose to restore… so I close up my box and head upstairs to retrieve my package. I think I may as well have a bowl while I am upstairs…