I purchased a pre-drilled block of briar with a Lucite stem from Burlington on Whyte Tobacconist in Edmonton a few weeks ago. I sorted through the box of blocks they had at the shop and chose this one. It showed some interesting birdseye grain on the sides and some straight grain on the front and back. I also like the angle of the stem on it and figured it might be an interesting project to work on between some of the refurbs that I have going all the time. I put it on my desk in my basement office next to the computer keyboard and looked at pretty much daily trying to figure out a shape that would fit the grain and the angles of the block. I used pencil and scribbled a lot of them on the block, erasing and reshaping the image repeatedly until I finally saw a shape that I kind of liked and figured I could carve it easily enough.
I used a blunt pencil and sketched the rough idea on the block. I have carved enough to know that what the original sketch looked like may be far removed from the finished pipe. As the excess briar was removed there would likely be flaws that would change the shape of the finished pipe until it became quite different from the original concept in my mind. Also I have learned that the height of the bowl can also dramatically change as I carve into the block. But at least I had an idea and was ready to begin the carving. The next series of five photos show the block after I removed the surface material to get a look at the grain. After sketching the drawing on the block I took it into the back yard and began to remove briar from the block with my Dremel and a large sanding drum.
The next four photos show the block after the initial work with the sanding drum. I removed all of the square edges and the excess height of the block and began the rough shaping of the new pipe concept. The grain is actually going to be quite nice as far as I can see at this point. There were also some flaws showing up in the block on the left side near the shank bowl junction and also on the bottom edge of the left side of the bowl. These are visible in the first photo and look like a line across the bottom edge. At this point I brought the block inside and took the photos below before taking it back out to work on rounding out the edges of the bowl and shank.
I took it back outside and used the Dremel and sanding drum to remove the edges and begin to round out the bowl shape. At this point I was not aiming for smoothness only rough shape. The next three photos show the bowl after this shaping was completed. You will note that the inside edge of the shank bowl junction is quite rough. I took a lot of briar off at this point to lengthen the shank and to clean up that junction. A lot more work would have to be done but the shape was beginning to show more clearly. The flaw at the bottom of the left side of the bowl and shank was actually becoming bigger and are visible in the first picture as a darkened line at the bottom of the bowl and shank. I apologize for the lack of clarity in these photos but it was late evening at this point and I did a poor job of focusing.
From this point in the process I used files and wood rasps to remove more of the briar and to refine the shape of the bowl. I also decided to cut the stem into a saddle bit as I thought that look would go well with the shape I was working on. The pipe was becoming a modified egg shape. Where it would go from here would be worked out with the files and the work at removing the flaws in the briar as much as possible. The next four photos show the shaping of the saddle stem with the wrasp and files.
Once I had the rough shape on the stem I used the files and rasp on the bowl of the pipe. I filed away the briar to further round out the shape of the bowl and shank. The flaw in the shank and bowl bottom on the left was still an issue that would take a lot more work to see if I could remedy it or work around it. The next five photos show the rounding of the bowl after working it over with the files and rasp.
After using the files I sanded the bowl with coarse grit emery paper to further shape the bowl, shank and stem. I worked on the shank to round it out and match the diameter of the stem. The next four photos show how far the shape has come to this point. The flaw is also very visible in the first and the fourth photos below. It is very deep at some points and on the surface in others. It does not go into the interior of the bowl or shank so there will be a lot more sanding to see if I can rid the block of the flaws. To me this is always one of the surprises that lie within a block of briar. They never become visible until a lot of work has been done in shaping. At this point I was wondering if I would need to rusticate the bowl or possibly figure out another option or shape to deal with the flaw.
I continued sanding the bowl with the emery paper and then switched to a coarse grit sanding sponge. At this point I was not worried about scratches that would come later. I only wanted to remove more of the briar. I also heated the stem with my heat gun and bent it to shape. I still needed to clean up the junction of the shank and bowl. It needed a little less slope in my opinion. The next three photos show where things were at this point in the process. The pipe is beginning to take shape. I have also removed quite a bit of the briar around the flaws on the bottom edge. The change can be seen in the first photo below.
I used the files and rasp to remove more of the slope on the back side of the bowl and make the angle more in tune with the front slope of the bowl. Once I had removed what I wanted I used my sanding sponge and the emery paper to remove the marks of the files. With removing more of the slope I also decided to define the curve of the back side of the bowl along the shank and make the angle there more obvious and distinct. I used the Dremel with the sanding drum to shape this portion of the bowl on both sides. The beauty of this decision is that it removed a fair piece of the flaw in the shank and bowl. The next three photos show the shape after I worked on defining the angles more clearly. The question in my mind at this point was whether I would be able to make the stem as thin as I would like due to the deeply set tenon in the stem. Nonetheless the finished shape of the pipe emerging from the briar.
The next series of three photos show the bowl after I had sanded it with 220 grit sandpaper. I gave it a quick coat of medium brown aniline stain and flamed it. I buffed it with White Diamond to see where things stood at this point. The grain was very clear on the sides – some nice birdseye on the right side of the bowl, cross grain on the front and back of the bowl and on the top and bottom of the shank. The left side of the bowl was mixed grain toward the bottom and the flaws were glaring. The top half of the left side was covered in birdseye. The top of the rim was cross grain that matched the top of the shank. The stem was bothering me at this point so after taking the photos below I fit a vulcanite stem to the shank. I like the flow and the thinness of the stem. I made the decision to keep the vulcanite stem and put aside the Lucite one.
With the new stem in place I sanded the shank and stem to match cleanly. I also continued to sand the bowl and shank with 220 grit and 340 grit sandpaper. I also used a fine grit sanding sponge on the bowl. Once the visible scratches were gone I took it outside into natural light to inspect for further scratches. I took it back to the work table and wet sanded it with 1500 and 1800 grit micromesh sanding pads. I continued sanding the bowl and shank with 2400-12,000 grit micromesh until the bowl was smooth. I examined it under a bright light and reworked the places where there were still minute scratches. Once that was done I decided to stain the bowl.
I wanted to try something different with the staining process this time around so I first gave it a coat of black aniline stain and flamed it. Once it was dry I sanded and buffed the bowl with Tripoli to remove the stain from the surface. My purpose was to highlight the grain in the briar and make it more visible. The black was to be the first undercoat of stain that I would use on this pipe. The next three photos show the black stain after much of it has been removed. The grain is very visible in the photos. The birdseye and cross grain really stand out. After these photos I wiped the bowl down with a cotton pad wet in Everclear to remove more of the surface stain and prepare the surface for the next coat of stain.
The second coat of stain that I used was an oxblood stain. I applied it with a bent pipe cleaner, flamed it. Once it was dry I polished it by hand with a terry cloth to even out the finish and make sure it would be ready for the next coat of stain (photos 1 and 2 below). I took it to the buffer and buffed it with White Diamond and then gave it a coat of Dark Brown aniline stain thinned 2:1 with Isopropyl alcohol. I flamed the stain and then buffed it again with White Diamond. Photos 3 and 4 show the pipe after that work. The grain is really standing out now and I am pleased with the finished colour of the pipe. It is a rich reddish brown in colour and will deepen once I have waxed it and polished it. The beauty of this combination of stains is that it really served well to blend in the flaws in the briar on the bottom left side. They are still there but are less glaring.
With the staining finished it was time to do more work on the stem. I sanded out the scratches that remain with 340 grit sandpaper and then a fine grit sanding sponge. I worked on the angles of the saddle with the sandpaper and sponge to clean up the cut marks in the vulcanite. I continued wet sanding the stem with 1500-2400 grit micromesh sanding pads and then polished it with Scratch X plastic polish to remove the remaining scratches. The next series of nine photos shows the bowl finish after 4 coats of carnauba wax and a buff with a soft flannel buffing pad. The finish is actually quite amazing and the grain made this work keeping smooth even with the visible flaws in the briar. The stain masks the flaws and blends them into the black of the grain well and though they are present they are not glaring. The stem still needs more work at the point of these photos but it is beginning to take on a shine.
The final four photos show the finished pipe. I continued to wet sand the stem with the 1500-1800 grit micromesh sanding pads until the scratches and rough areas were clean and black. I then dry sanded with the remaining grits of micromesh from 2400-12,000 to polish the stem and give it a mirror like finish. Once that was finished I waxed the pipe and stem several more times with carnauba wax. All that remains is for the pipe to be christened with its first bowl!