Blog by Steve Laug
The Comoy’s pipe pictured below was one of the pipes I picked up at an Antique Mall in Edmonton, Alberta. It was by far in the best condition of the three pipes I purchased that day. It also had the highest price tag – $30 of the three. It is stamped on the left side of the shank The Guildhall over London Pipe and on the right side it is stamped Made in London in a circle over England. The shape is stamped as 30. The grain on it is very nice with a few bald spots on the sides and front on the lower portions of the bowl. The contrast stain that is on these older Comoy’s pipes is extremely well done and it is what always draws me to them. The top of the bowl rim was covered with a little tar. The bowl itself was partially caked and a few tobacco remnants sat in the bottom of the bowl. The stem had tooth chatter and slight oxidation. When I picked it up the stem was on upside down so the three metal lines that were stem logos on these pipes was not visible. I was able to rotate the stem but it was tightly stuck in the shank. I did not want to damage the shank so I left it until I got home.
When I returned home from my trip and things settled down I took the pipe to the work table to refurbish it. I decided to take it apart to begin the process of cleaning it. The stem was tight in the shank and I needed to use the freezer technique to loosen it easily. The tenon is often easily snapped if you try to turn it when it is stuck. I put it in the freezer for 15 minutes and then it came out very easily. When I pulled it out of the shank it brought a lot of chunks of tar and oily buildup with it. The cloth on my worktable was littered with the black pieces that fell out of the shank. Once I had it out of the shank there was a stinger contraption that I have found is common in the older Everyman and Guildhall pipes. This one was covered thickly with tar and oil. It was pressure fit into the tenon but was tightly bonded to the vulcanite. I used a pipe cleaner with alcohol to scrub the inside of the stem and to also work around the exterior of the stinger. I scraped at the gunk that held it to the tenon and was able to remove much of the grit with a dental pick. I grabbed it with a piece of cloth and twisted and pulled at the same time. I kept the stem level during this process as I did not want to damage the tenon by pulling up as I tried to remove it. It finally broke free of the tenon and I laid it aside on the table top. I do not put the stinger back into a pipe that I intend to use. I tag the stingers and save them should I decide to sell the pipe in the future.
I then cleaned out the shank and the stem with pipe cleaners and Everclear. It took a lot of pipe cleaners to remove the oils and tar from the stem and the shank. I cleaned it until they came out only stained but not covered in grime. I intended to use a retort on this pipe so my purpose was only to remove the heavy buildup on the surface in the stem and shank.
Once I had the interior relatively clean I took out my retort and hooked it up to the pipe. The retort is made up of a test tube and stopper with a permanently inserted brass tube to which a piece of surgical tubing is fitted on the end of the brass tube. The tubing fits over the stem. I put about ¾ of an inch to 1 inch of isopropyl alcohol in the test tube. I stuffed the bowl of the pipe with a cotton boll to stop the alcohol from coming out of the top of the pipe when I heated the alcohol. I lit a candle to heat the alcohol and boil it into the stem and shank. I began with a large candle to do the heating. The next series of seven photos show the first boil of the alcohol through the pipe. I let it boil for several minutes and then removed the test tube from the heat. As it cooled the alcohol was drawn back into the test tube. It was dark amber in colour and smelled strongly of old burned tobacco.
I removed the tube from the flame, and once it had cooled I emptied the alcohol from the test tube, rinsed and refilled it. This time I chose to use a small tea light to heat the tube. It gave a better angle on the test tube and pipe. I boiled it again and when it cooled let the alcohol return to the tube. The series of five photos below shows the second boil and the amber fluid that filled the tube. I ran the retort a third and fourth time until the alcohol came out clear and then I knew the shank and stem were clean. I continue to boil the alcohol through the pipe until it is clean. The retort leaves a pipe smelling brand new once the alcohol smell has dissipated and the pipe dried out.
I removed the retort from the stem and the cotton boll from the bowl of the pipe. Once it was removed I ran pipe cleaners through the shank and stem to remove any of moisture that may have been left behind and the pipe quickly dried out. It was time to clean the top of the rim of the pipe. Early on in the process I had examined it and found that the tars on the top were on the surface and that a good scrub with saliva on a cotton pad would remove the buildup quite easily. The next two photos show the cleaning of the rim with the cotton pads.
Once the rim was clean I buffed the pipe with White Diamond and gave the bowl and shank a first coat of carnauba wax. It was then time to work on the stem. I sanded the stem with 340 grit sandpaper to remove the tooth chatter and small dents in the surface of the vulcanite. I then wet sanded the stem with 1500-2400 grit micromesh sanding pads. The next two photos show the stem after the initial sanding with the 340 grit sandpaper.
The next two photos are randomly taken after I had sanded with the micromesh sanding pads 3200-12,000 grit. I dry sanded with these grits and the stem developed a shine and a depth to the blackness of the vulcanite. When I had finished sanding the stem I rubbed it down with Obsidian Oil to preserve the finish and then buffed it with White Diamond and finally multiple coats of carnauba wax.
The final four photos in this essay show the finished pipe. There is a bit of ghosting around the three bars in the photo that appear to be oxidation. The oxidation is gone. Rather what is happening is a reflection off the metal bars. In natural light the stem is a deep and rich black.