Monthly Archives: June 2013

A Restemming Job with Memories of the Past


The third pipe I worked on in the lot below is the second one down in the third column. It is a Dublin like shape but probably properly is a freehand. It has a shallow sandblast finish with a two-tone stain. The undercoat is black and the top coat is brown. It is stamped on the left side of the shank Racine & Laramie in an arch over OLD TOWN SAN DIEGO over Banza in a script and then a line stamped Made in Italy. The look and feel of it says to me it is made by Lorenzo but I am not sure. When I read the stamping is when the memory came back. I have been in the Racine & Laramie tobacco shop in Old Town San Diego, California. It is a museum like tobacco shop that has a wide range of tobaccos and pipes in an old California mission style village setting. You can almost imagine cowboys riding up and tying up their horse to go in and get a pouch of fixin’s. The picture below is what I remember of the shop. It is from the website http://www.racineandlaramie.com/

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The following excerpt on the history of the shop comes from the website as well. I find it incredibly interesting reading.

History of Racine & Laramie
In 1868 Racine & Laramie became San Diego’s first Cigar Store. Having come from eastern Canada in the prosperity following the War Between the States, Messrs. Racine and Laramée sold cigars, tobacco, stationery, pipes, cutlery and gentlemen’s furnishings. The adobe they rented had been built in the 1820’s as the retirement home for leather-jacket soldier, Juan Rodriguez of the Royal Presidio. It was one of the first six buildings in the small pueblo, 500 registered voters, thousands of Kumeyaay. The Rodriguez family held ownership through periods of depression and Gold Rush boom, and their son, Ramon, was on the City Council. The widow Rodriguez had the building remodeled in 1867 and rented to Racine & Laramie and the Bank Exchange saloon. All was lost in the fire of 1872.

Using archeology, historic research and photographs this building has been reconstructed with the interior furnished and stocked as it may have been in that remote, frontier Pacific port. This picture gives a panoramic view of the interior of the shop looking at the cigar humidor.

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It was this shop that I visited many times over the years. It is like stepping back in time to enter the old town and then to walk into the shop itself. I think the last time I was there was about six years ago now. I took the train from the downtown harbor area to the old town site. I walked through the reconstructed village. I must have spent 3 or 4 hours wandering around the site and ending up in the old tobacco shop. I looked at pipes and tobaccos before settling on a couple of tins. I think I picked up some Dunhill EMP and maybe a tin of McClelland Dark Star before catching the train back into town.

Needless to say when I found this pipe bowl among the lot pictured below I restemmed it and while working on it relived my visits to the pipe shop in Old Town San Diego.

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The finish on the pipe was in pretty good shape – slight wear on the shank area and on the rim left the stain spotty in those areas. The bowl was caked – but differently than most of the pipes I work on. Its cake was primarily in the bottom half of the bowl. The bottom half was thickly caked while the top was not as bad. The photo below shows the bowl as it was when I took it to the work table. The sandblast is either worn from use or it is a lightly blasted finish. The shank was in very good shape and there were no cracks of damage to the inside. The drilling is a bit funny on this as well. It is drilled with a relatively deep mortise and the airway is drilled at the top of the arc of the mortise. It then drops at a sharp angle into the bowl coming out just left of centre in the bottom of the bowl. Because of the high drilling the mortise acts as a sump similar to the Peterson sump in the shank of the system pipes. It was dirty but not with any aromatic residue. Rather the pipe smelled of Virginias and would take little to clean it up.

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This pipe that took me several tries to get a stem that would work. This was not due to the look or feel of the stem but due to unforeseen troubles. The first was a nice saddle stem. I turned the tenon and had a great fit on it. I heated it with my heat gun and tried to bend it over my rolling pin to aid in getting the right angles on it. The heat made it very flexible and as I bent it to the correct angle it just snapped in two parts. Those things happen and in this case it was a frustration to be sure – so back to the drawing board. This time I chose a tapered stem. I turned the tenon and fit it to the mortise. I then used the Dremel with the sanding drum to remove the excess material and fit it to the diameter of the shank. I then sanded it with 220 grit sandpaper to finish the fit of the stem. The next three photos show the newly fit stem.

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I reamed the pipe with the PipNet reamer and cleaned out cake from the bottom of the bowl. I had to use two different cutting heads on the reamer to get it to remove the cake. The smallest head fit into the bottom half of the bowl and I was able to cut it back until the third head fit and removed cake from the top half and the remaining cake on the bottom half.

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I wiped down the bowl and shank with acetone on a cotton pad to remove some of the top coat of stain and even out the lighter areas and the darker areas where the stain was still present. My goal was not to remove all of the stain present but merely even out the top coat so that I could more easily blend in the new stain coat.

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Then with a bit of fear and trepidation, after breaking the first stem, I took the stem to the heat gun and heated it so that I could bend it into shape. I inserted a pipe cleaner in the airway as the bend would be quite significant and I did not want to risk having the airway collapse or kink. I heated it a high heat setting until the stem was flexible. I want the bend to be quite high up the stem toward the shank and not just on the thin portion of the stem so it took some time over the heat to make the stem bendable. I kept the stem moving over the heat as I did not want to burn the vulcanite. Once it was pliable I bend it over an old rolling pin that I have absconded with for that purpose. I have a heavy cardboard tube over the pin so that the surface is very smooth for the bend. Any cracks or rough spots on the rolling pin translate into wrinkles in the hot vulcanite.

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In the first photo below the bend in the stem can be seen after the first heating. I took it back to my worktable and took the photo below so that I could have a clear look at the bend in comparison with the curves in the bowl. It was not bent enough so I took it back to the heat gun, reheated it and bent it further. The second and third photos below show the final bend that I was aiming for. The bend in the stem reflects the curve of the bottom of the bowl and gives the pipe a pleasant flow. It is also bent perfectly for the pipe to sit well in the mouth.

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With the stem bent to the proper angle I worked on its finish with the micromesh sanding pads. I wet sanded the stem with 1500 grit until the major surface flaws were no longer present. The scratches left behind by the sandpaper were gone when I had finished wet sanding it.

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I restained the bowl with a dark brown aniline stain thinned to 2 parts stain to 1 part isopropyl alcohol to match the existing stain on the bowl. I applied the stain with a cotton swab, flamed it with a lighter, reapplied more stain and then flamed it again to get the match correct. When finished I took the pipe to the buffer and buffed the pipe and the stem with White Diamond. The next three photos below show the pipe as it stood at this point in the process. The finished shape is very clear in these photos.

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I brought it back to the worktable and continued sanding with the micromesh sanding pads. I wet sanded the stem with 1800 and 2400 grit sanding pads. I wiped the stem down between sanding to see how it was progressing. Then I dry sanded with 3200-12,000 grit sanding pads to finish polishing the stem. The next series of four photos show the progressive shine on the stem.

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Once the stem was polished I buffed it a second time with White Diamond and then coated the stem with a rub down of Obsidian Oil and let that soak in. After it was dry I rubbed down the stem with a clean cotton rag to bring out the shine even more.

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The final four photos show the finished pipe with its new stem. The old Racine & Laramie pipe was back in action and ready to smoke. The back story to this one is as interesting as the old pipe. I wonder the path it took from San Diego to Chicago area and then up to Vancouver, British Columbia. I wonder where it lost its stem along the path it travelled. I only wish it could tell the stories of its travels and the pipemen who smoked it along that journey. I will probably never know the story but at least my imagination can create a suitable tale for the pipe before I too send it on its way, for I am sure it will outlive me as it passes into the hands of future pipemen who come after me.

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Savinelli deluxe Milano Stack Restemmed & Renewed


Blog by Steve Laug

The second pipe in the lot pictured below that I chose to work on was the one on the top of the right column. It is stamped on top of the shank Savinelli de luxe Milano and on the underside the Savinelli shield and next to that is it stamped 130KS Italy. The finish was dull and mostly gone. The rim was not charred at all but had a heavy build up of tars. The bowl was caked – interestingly for a pipe this deep it was caked all the way to the bottom of the bowl. The dimensions of this bowl are: height 2 1/4 inches, outer diameter of the bowl 1 ½ inches, diameter of the chamber ¾ inches. It smelled of sweet aromatics so it would need to be reamed and cleaned well. There was no stem with it but there was a broken tenon stuck in the shank. I would have to pull the tenon and fit a new stem on the bowl. It was made of a good piece of briar – no fills or sand pits. The grain is cross grain on the front and back of the bowl and the top and the bottom of the shank. It had some very nice birdseye grain on each side of the bowl and the shank. The shape of the shank was a modified oval shape.

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Before I cleaned the bowl and shank I removed the broken tenon that was stuck in the mortise. I have a screw that works perfectly for this process. I turn it into the tenon by hand or a screw driver and then work it out by hand or with a pair of pliers. If the tenon is stuck and will not move I put it in the freezer for 30 minutes or more and generally it will pop out quite easily. In this case it came out quite simply and I was able to move on in the process of cleaning.

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I sorted through my collection of old stems to find an oval one that I could modify to fit the style of the shank. I had looked on line and found that this particular model of Savinelli had a taper stem (see the first photo below). I did not have any oval tapered stems that would fit, nor did I have large enough round stems that could be modified. I chose an older oval saddle stem that I believed would look good. I think that originally it was on a Dr. Plumb pipe but the logo was worn off and my modifications would remove the red dot on the stem (second photo below).

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I sanded the tenon with 220 grit sandpaper until I had a good snug fit on the shank. The next four photos show the stem before I began to shape it to fit. The fit against the shank was good and tight. The look of the pipe and stem worked for me so I was good to go.

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I do the initial shaping of a stem with a Dremel and sanding drum. I set the speed about mid mark on the speed control of the Dremel and slowly work at the surface of the stem. I do this initial shaping with the stem on the shank. I want to shape it as closely as possible to the shank shape before doing the finish shaping by hand. The next three photos show the stem after this initial shaping. There was still much work to do in bring the stem and shank to a proper fit and the width of the stem to a match with the taper of the shank. This work had to be done by hand using sandpaper and files.

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The depth of the bowl on this stack made it impossible for me to get to the bottom of the bowl with my reamers. The PipNet reamer went about 2/3 of the way down the bowl and the KleenReem or Senior reamer did the same. I have used a plumbing tool that is used to clean up pipe after cutting it to ream deep bowl. It is a ¾ inch cone shaped wire brush with a handle that I can turn into the bowl and go to the bottom to remove the cake evenly. It works exceptionally well for this purpose.

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I cleaned up the rim of the pipe with 220 grit sandpaper and also worked on the shank stem fit with the same sandpaper. As I was planning to refinish the pipe bowl and shank I did not care if I removed a bit of the finish while sanding the stem and shank. The next three photos show the stem/shank fit after I had sanded it with the sandpaper. I really liked the look of the pipe at this point and only needed to do the stem polishing and the finish sanding and cleaning of the bowl.

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I used acetone on cotton pads to remove the finish on the pipe. I wiped it down until it was the same colour as the sanded portion of the shank. This would make blending the stain much easier to do. The first two photos below show the bowl after the initial wipe down with acetone. Photos 3-5 show the pipe after the finish has been removed from the pipe and it is ready to be stained.

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When I sanded the stem I found that there was one small tooth mark on the top of the stem near the button that no amount of heat would lift up. I sanded the spot with the 220 grit sandpaper until it was clean and then buffed it with Tripoli until it was very clear the breadth of the spot. I filled the indentation with clear super glue and sanded it once it was dry. The two photos below show the stem repair after the initial sanding and then after it was ready to be polished. Once the polishing was done the repair would be virtually invisible.

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I cleaned the internals of the stem and the shank with pipe cleaners, cotton swabs and Everclear until the shank and the internals of the stem were clean. I used a dental pick to clean out the areas inside the button and the flare of the airway in the button.

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Once the insides were clean I wiped the bowl down with Everclear and removed any possible grime that I added to the surface in the cleaning process. The next three photos show the pipe after all of the cleaning. It is beginning to look like the stem and pipe were made together.

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Because of the amount of grime that I cleaned out of the shank and the stem I decided to use a retort on it to give it a more thorough cleaning. The next series of three photos show the set up of the retort system. I use isopropyl alcohol in the test tube and heat the tube with a small tea light candle. I use a block of ebony that I have here to support the pipe and retort during the process. The alcohol is boiled through the pipe until it comes out clean. Generally this takes 2-3 fresh test tubes of alcohol.

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After removing the retort I cleaned out the bowl, shank and stem with pipe cleaners and cotton swabs a final time to remove any of the alcohol and oils that remained. I then sanded the stem with 1500 and 1800 grit micromesh sanding pads to begin polishing the surface and to remove any of the debris left from the surgical tubing on the stem.I continued to sand the stem with the micromesh sanding pads from 2400-12,000 grit in preparation for staining.

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I stained the pipe bowl and shank with dark brown aniline stain mixed 2 parts stain to one part alcohol to get the brown colour that was previously on the pipe. I wanted it thin enough that the grain would really stand out and give the pipe a uniform look after the sanding. The pipe has some beautiful cross grain on the front and back of the bowl and the top and bottom of the shank with birdseye grain on the sides. I wanted the stain to highlight that. I stained the pipe, flamed it and restained and reflamed it to set the stain in the grain.

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Once the stain was dry I took the pipe to the buffer and buffed the bowl and the stem with White Diamond to polish the stem and the stained bowl. Afterwards I gave it multiple coats of carnauba wax and buffed it with a clean flannel buff. For a final touch I hand buffed it with one last coat of wax and shoe shine brush. The final photos below show the finished pipe. It is cleaned, renewed and ready to go out to a good friend who loves this shape!

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Comoys 498 Extraordinaire Restoration


Many pipe smokers or collectors (I consider myself both) have a “Holy Grail” list of pipes they would like to own. My list totals five and this year I was fortunate to have acquired two from that list within six months. My five are highly sought after and fully restored examples are most likely beyond my meager pipe fund budget. My best bet to acquire any of these models is to find a pipe in need of restoration. Even then, I’m competing with collectors all over the world.

Two pipes on my list are Comoys Extraordinaire models. The Extraordinaire line is described in Pipedia as:

Extraordinaire. This designation was given to any pipe that was out of the ordinary in size or grain. The E/O was introduced in the 1930s, and “Extraordinaires” can be found with no other designation or also stamped, for instance, “Blue Riband” or “London Pride.”

My first Extraordinaire is a 499 that has been dated to the 1930’s, from the “football” stamp and drilled “C” logo. I bought this one from a pipe friend and it was in the condition you see pictured below. (originally purchased at Fine Pipes) I found this 498 Extraordinaire listed on Ebay and was able to make a deal with the seller to acquire it before the auction continued. It was listed as a “283/Blue Riband”, both of which I knew it was not. The nomenclature isn’t as sharp as on my 499 but it is legible. The stamping style and C logo are identical to my 499, so I assume this one is also from the 1930’s. There were plenty of dings on the bowl, including some on the top. The stem was in pretty good shape, but heavily oxidized with one tooth indention on the bottom. Here is the condition of the pipe as delivered.

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There was a moderate cake in the bowl, which I reamed and then filled the bowl and shank with Sea Salt and Everclear for an overnight soak. The alcohol and salt didn’t leach much tar from the bowl, so hopefully it will be ghost free. The bowl was previously reamed slightly out of round and the Comoys beveled bowl top has been dimished over the past seven or so decades.

The next step was to steam the dents and marks from the bowl. I heated an old kitchen knife tip with a propane torch. A wet cloth, doubled over was applied to the area with a dent, then the hot knife tip was pressed over the dent. The steam eventually causes the dent to rise and I was able to remove or diminish most of the dents. You have to be careful on this step not to scorch the wood, so keep your cloth wet. I was able to reduce the dents on the bowl top to much smaller marks. Fortunately, the bowl top was not scorched by previous smokers

Removing the oxidation from the stem took several hours. I first soaked the stem in mild Oxy-clean solution to loosen the oxidation. I put a dab of grease on the “C” logo to protect it. I then used 1500 wet paper and then 2000 wet paper to remove the brown oxidation. I buffed the stem lightly with white diamond rouge (with the stem mounted to avoid rounding the edge). Next I sanded the stem with 8000 and then 12000 grade micromesh sheets. The stem was then buffed again with white diamond rounge and finally with Blue Magic automotive plastic polish.

I tried to raise the tooth indention on the bottom of the stem, but it could not be raised much. I ordered a tube of black superglue that luthiers use for repair on stringed instruments. I’ve previously used regular superglue mixed with a little black vulcanite dust but this pipe seemed worthy of the investment ($15 delivered…). I’ll update the photos after the black superglue is used.

Below is the finished pipe along with my other Extraordinaire 499. I’m thrilled and fortunate to have acquired this one before it went thru the auction process. It makes a terrific stablemate to my 499.

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Update – Stem Tooth Indention Repair:

My order of Black Superglue was delivered this week from Stew-Mac. I forgot to order the accelerant, but Steve Laug told me to let the glue set overnight to dry.

I cleaned out the tooth mark using a small pick, to allow the glue to have a good clean suface.

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The glue is a little thicker than regular Superglue, but it can still run, so the pipe stem must be kept level. Cut the tube open with the smallest opening possible. The bottle does have a tight fitting cap, so hopefully it does not dry out between uses.

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After the glue dried overnight, I sanded it smooth with some 400 and then 800 grit wet sandpapers. I followed this with 1500 and then 2000 grit wet papers.

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I then moved to the final two grades of micromesh, 8000 and 12000 grade papers, followed by a buff on the machine with White diamond rouge. I always do a final buff with automotive plastic polish. I’m pleased with how the repair came out and the black superglue does blend in better than the clear. I’m not a clencher, but I suspect the repair section would last longer then the original stem material.

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A Surprise in this Lot of Pipe Bowls – a BBB Virgin Own Make Billiard


Blog by Steve Laug

This package of pipe bowls to restem arrived this week. There were several surprises in the lot but one that the seller had listed as London Made turned out to be a BBB Virgin Own Make. The stamping had been buffed and was fairly faint but it indeed read BBB under the loupe. The left side of the shank is stamped London Made and the shape number 638. In the photo below it is in the center column the third pipe in the column. It came with a heavy cake and tar buildup on the rim. The bowl had been reamed in the past with a knife but was still fairly round. The chamfer/bevel on the inner rim is what had suffered the damage. The finish was dirty but would clean up fairly easily. Under the grime it appeared to be a beautiful cross grain – birdseye on the front and back of the bowl, on the top and bottom of the shank and cross grain on the sides of the bowl and the shank. It was going to be a beauty once it was cleaned up. The edges on the shank end were clean and undamaged and there were no cracks in the shank. The inside of the shank was also very tarry and caked.

Figure 1 Assorted pipe bowls for restemming

Figure 1 Assorted pipe bowls for restemming

I used a PipNet reamer to ream the bowl and remove the heavy cake build up. I reamed it with a smaller cutting head first and then used the correct size to finish. I wanted to ream it back to bare briar so I patiently worked with the cutting heads until the bowl was clean. The next series of three photos show the reamer in place and the result of the reaming. Look closely at the top of the bowl in the third photo and you will see the damage to the chamfer/bevel on the inner edge of the rim. Also in the photos is the stem I picked out of my can of stems for this pipe. The great thing is that I had a BBB stem in the can that fit well with minimal work on the tenon.

BBB Virgin bowl

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The next photo shows a side view of the pipe. I took this photo because of the great cross grain that is visible on the bowl.

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I sanded the tenon with 220 grit sandpaper to remove a thin layer of the vulcanite and make a good fit on the stem. The next two photos show the fit of the stem. I was unable to push it into the shank due to the tar buildup in the shank. Once I cleaned out the shank I would be able to tell if I needed to do a bit more sanding on the tenon.

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I cleaned out the shank with cotton swabs and Everclear. While I worked on that I also swabbed out the inside of the bowl and the rim with Everclear as well. It took many cotton swabs and pipe cleaners to get the shank clean and ready for the new stem.

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When the shank was clean I tried to fit the stem again. It was still a little tight so I set it aside to work on when it was thoroughly dry. I have learned that if I fit it when the shank is wet the fit will be too loose once it dries out. The photo below shows how the stem fit after the cleaning of the shank.

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When I returned from work the stem fit perfectly. I did not need to do any more sanding on the tenon. I wiped down the exterior of the bowl and shank with acetone on cotton pads to remove the finish and grime from the top of the bowl. I also did some minor adjustments to the shank/stem union as the shank was slightly out of round and needed to have briar removed on the top and left edges to smooth out the union. I used 220 grit sandpaper and a medium grit sanding sponge to even out the fit of the stem. The next three photos show the fit of the stem and shank after the work.

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I sanded the chamfer/bevel on the inner rim of the bowl with a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper. I wanted to repair and minimize the damage to the rim from the reaming that had been done with a knife. I have found that I can set the folded sandpaper at a set angle and work my way around the inner rim of the bowl repairing the bevel. It takes careful work to get the angles to even out and give a finished look to the repair. The photo below shows the finished chamfer/bevel.

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Once the bevel was completed and the shank/stem fit fine-tuned I needed to remove the rest of the finish from the pipe so that I could easily restain it and have a good match on the sanded areas. I sanded the rim and the shank with a fine grit sanding sponge and also with 1500-2400 micromesh. I then wiped the bowl down with acetone wetted cotton pads to remove the finish. The next three photos show the pipe after the wash with acetone. The finish stained acetone cotton pads are in the background.

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I sanded the stem and the bowl with a fine grit sanding sponge after the wash to even out the look of the finish and to prepare it for staining. The next three photos show how the sanded portions now blend in with the finish of the bowl and shank. The scratches have been removed and the bowl and shank are ready to be stained.

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I decided to begin working on the stem before I stained the bowl. I wet sanded the stem with micromesh sanding pads from 1500-1800 grit. Once I had it started as pictured in the first photo below I changed my mind about sanding the stem further at this point. I restained the bowl with a dark brown aniline stain thinned 2:1 with isopropyl alcohol. I applied the stain with a cotton swab and then flamed it with my lighter, reapplied the stain and reflamed it until I had the colour and coverage I wanted. Photos 2-4 below show the pipe after staining. I am happy with the blend of the stain on the rim and the sanded area of the shank. The coverage is heavy enough to give a good colour and yet it is not too heavy so that the grain really shines through. I had not buffed the pipe at this point merely stained it and let it sit while I went back to working on the stem.

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I went back to sanding the stem with the micromesh sanding pads. I worked through the remaining grits of pad from 2400-12,000. Each successive grit of pad deepened the shine on the stem and progressed to a deep black look. I also sanded the bowl with the micromesh pads. The hardest area to remove the oxidation was around the brass BBB diamond insert. To clean that up I used a Bic lighter and passed the flame over the stem surface quickly and the oxidation burned. I also wet sanded the area with the edge of the sanding pads. To finish that area I also used the Scratch X2.0 plastic polish and then rubbed the stem down with Obsidian Oil and let it dry. The next three photos show the stem after sanding with the pads.

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The final four photos show the finished pipe. There are some dents remaining in the side of the bowl that I steamed to lift but they still show. I tend to leave these on older pipes as signs of their age and character. I love the way the grain stands out on this pipe. The sides show the cross grain. I did not take photos of the ends of the bowl to show the birdseye grain that is situated on them but you can imagine the look from the straight lines of the cross grain. The rim and sanded areas on the shank look well blended in and the bowl smells fresh and ready to use. I am well pleased with how this old beauty turned out and know that it is ready for a life of service.

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Cleaning Out the Shank of an Estate Pipe


Blog by Steve Laug

Over the years I have been continually looking for better ways of cleaning out the shank of an estate pipe. I have tried and discarded many methods over that time. The one certainty about the cleaning is that it takes many pipe cleaners, cotton swabs and much alcohol. There are no short cuts to cleaning the shank and airway. Nothing takes the place of slow and repetitive cleaning. Even with using a retort, a short cut on one level, the cleaning of the pipe still takes time before and after the retort has been used. I thought it might be interesting to some of you to read about the process in detail. I have written about the cleaning process – with and without the use of a retort.

With a retort

When I clean the shank with a retort I clean the inside of the stem and remove surface grime in the shank and airway. Before setting up the retort I try to remove as much of the surface grime internally as possible. I ream and clean out the bowl to remove any crumbling or breaking cake. I clean out the stem and button as well to give the pipe a relatively clean surface before I set up the retort. Some people use the retort immediately after reaming and leave out the cleaning step that I begin with. I have done it both ways but like the results of my process. The surgical tubing on the retort slides over the button on the stem and if the surface is dirty or has calcified buildup it does not seal well and the boiling alcohol will seep out around the tubing and make a mess. I clean out the inside of the stem to accelerate the cleaning in the shank. Even with pre-cleaning the pipe it often takes multiple uses of the retort to actually remove all of the tars and oils.

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To prepare the pipe for the retort, I stuff a cotton boll in the bowl and do not press it down to hard into the bowl. I want it to plug the top so that the boiling alcohol does not come out the top but still allow it to circulate within the bowl and the shank. I use isopropyl alcohol in the test tube of the retort and I heat it over a tea light/small candle. The boiling point is quite low so it does not take long for alcohol to begin to boil. The stem and shank heat up as the alcohol goes through them. When it is removed from the heat the alcohol will be drawn back into the test tube and will be a dark brown. I empty out the dirty alcohol, refill the test tube and repeat the process until the alcohol come out clean. I remove the retort and run cotton swabs and pipe cleaners dipped in alcohol through the stem and the shank to absorb anything that has been left behind. When the pipe dries out it smells fresh and new.

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Without a retort

The process of cleaning a shank without a retort begins the same way as the above description. I ream the bowl and clean out the bowl and shank with pipe cleaners and cotton swabs dipped in isopropyl alcohol. I use both the bristle and the fluffy pipe cleaners and also shank brushes. The process for cleaning begins with removing the surface grit and grime. This takes many pipe cleaners before they begin to come out semi clean. Then I use the drill bit that is built into the KleenReem reamer and twist it into the shank. It scrapes the sides of the airway all the way into the bowl and removes the tarry buildup. I clean the bit off with alcohol and repeat the process several times until the bit slides through the airway with no impediment. I then wrap a cut pipe cleaner around the drill bit, dip it in alcohol and run it through the shank and airway until it comes out clean. I finish the cleaning process by scrubbing out the shank and the airway with cotton swabs dipped in alcohol and then pipe cleaners folded and unfolded.

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Shank brushes

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Once the pipe cleaners and the cotton swabs come out clean I smell the pipe and shank to see if it smells clean. If not then I stuff cotton bolls in to the bowl tightly. I leave about ¼ inch of clearance from the bowl rim and then fill the bowl with alcohol using an ear syringe. I have found that this keeps the alcohol within the bowl and off the finish of the pipe. I set the pipe in an old ice cube tray that I have and leave it overnight. The alcohol leaches out the oils and tars that are in the shank and bowl. I remove the cotton and wipe out the shank and bowl and repeat the process until the cotton is clean on the next morning. Once that is done the bowl and the shank are cleaned a final time with pipe cleaners and alcohol. The pipe is now ready to be used.

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My Pipe Collecting Habits


I have been reading over the years about different people’s pipe collecting habits and what they look for in buying pipes. It is always a pleasure to read about their finds and purchases and to enjoy the photos of their pipes. I have seen folks beset with what has jokingly been dubbed, PAD (pipe acquisition disorder) who purchase all kinds of stuff seemingly indiscriminately. (I have to admit that when I first discovered Ebay that is pretty much what I did). It has literally taken me years to purge my collection of many of the ones I bid on and won. I have to say that I am glad to say that the majority of them have passed out of my hands either through trades or sales. Since then I am becoming much more selective. I now have focused my pipe purchases, whether on Ebay or through carvers, to 4 different groups. These groups have very different focuses and also very different purposes. By virtue of purpose they also can stay with me for longer or shorter periods of time.

Group 1: Pipes for refurbishing

Figure 1 Assorted pipe bowls for restemming

Figure 1 Assorted pipe bowls for restemming

Figure 2 Assorted bowls for restemming

Figure 2 Assorted bowls for restemming

This is probably the largest portion of pipe buying that I do. In fact I would say that most of the pipes I purchase from thrift shop, antique malls, rummage shops while on the prowl looking for pipes fall into this category. I periodically get emails or personal messages from people who wonder if I keep all the pipes I purchase or if I sell them. To be honest I think my wife and daughters have the same question. But the answer for me is that any pipe is always open to be sold or traded (with very few exceptions). Over the years I have sold, traded and given away hundreds of pipes. As far as I can predict with any certainty that will always be true as long as I am in the hobby. The joy of the hunt and the process of finding and restoring pipes are a large part of the hobby for me.

But truly buying these lots and pipes is an investment for me. So far I have not, nor is it likely that I ever will make a lot of money on these pipes. But that is not the point of the investment. I do not collect pipes like I invest for the future. It is an investment in terms of my education and skill development. Every pipe I purchase that crosses my refurbishing bench is part of my ongoing development as a pipe refurbisher. I love the process of bringing an old pipe back to life but even that is part of learning methodologies and become adept with tools. It is all about becoming skilled and proficient at something I love to do. And if there is no other reason that satisfies at least it gives me a justification for a part of the hobby that I really love.

With that in mind you will better understand that whatever I plan to work on in my skill set is determines to some degree what I purchase.This is somewhat arbitrary and determined by what I find but nonetheless it governs what I buy and work on. But even with that there are layers at work. For example I collected bowls that needed restemming over the past months because I wanted to work on honing my ability to restem and shape stems for a good fit to the shank.I wanted to learn to work with round, saddle, diamond and oval shanked pipes to be able to cut, fit and shape the new stem. Because that was my purpose the brand etc. of the pipe was utterly irrelevant to me. I just wanted a variety of shapes, styles and challenges. It is always a bonus if there is crossover with some of the other part of my collection but the primary purpose is skill training.

I have purchased pipes over the years for the purpose of learning about staining and finishes on bowls. I wanted to learn about application of stains, mixes and blends and even multi layered stains. I wanted to learn to make the grain stand out and how to make the flaws less visible. I wanted to learn how to replace fills and repair dents and damages to the finish of bowls. Because of this purpose I looked for rough-looking pipes that needed TLC to make them shine again. This included bowls that needed topping, finishes that were peeling, bowls that were scratched and dented. Again the purpose was educational rather than building pipes into my permanent collection. If that happens, again it is a bonus.

I have also purchased pipes knowing full well that they had broken shanks for the sole reason of having the opportunity to learn how to repair shanks and fit bands. This involved learning how to repair a cracked shank from within and without, how to repair a shank with a band and without using a band. The point was to learn methods and skills so the purchase of pipes to some degree was a search for those that needed this kind of work.

You get the point of what I am saying, I am sure. For me this aspect of my collecting will be a permanent feature. From it I will sell, trade or gift the majority of the pipes I have repaired or refurbished. All have been learning opportunities. This will also help explain why I take on what often seem to be impossible refurbs – I do it for the challenge and I will definitely build my skill set in the process.

But this is not the sole focus of my pipe collection. It is not the only kind of pipes I purchase. In fact this first group is where I carry on my education for the purpose of refurbishing pipes that will end up in my second group.

Group 2: Pipes from an Early Era

Figure 3 Some of my GBD 9438 pipes and others

Figure 3 Some of my GBD 9438 pipes and others

This aspect of my pipe collecting is one that I enjoy and which has some definite overlap with Group 1 pipes. I am constantly on the lookout for old-time pipes or just pipe bowls. I work to restem them with an age appropriate stems and bring them back to life. It is something that is relaxing and therapeutic for me in an otherwise busy time of my life. I find that I can unwind and relax while my hands are busy rehabilitating an old pipe. I can listen to books on disk, sermons, music, lectures whatever while I work away at the minute tasks of refurbishing. These pipes often become a part of my permanent collection.

This part of the collection is made up of two larger subsets of pipes – English and North American pipes from days gone by. In both subsets I look for pieces that represent the shapes that I appreciate and are in excellent condition or can be returned to that condition. This means that in both subsets there will be turnover as I find better examples in the course of my refurbishing and in the course of the hunt. This portion of my collection represents about half of my entire collection. It is pretty much equally divided between English and North American. In both I am not looking for newer pipes I am looking for pipes from the late 1800s through the early to mid-1900s. I am looking for signature pieces from that time period made by companies that in many cases have either disappeared with time or have been bought out by others. The briar in these old pipes is generally very good.

In terms of brands that I collect they are as follows. In the English line I collect GBD, BBB, Orlik, Loewe, Simms,Weingott, Barlings, Sasieni, Parker, Friborg&Treyer,Charatan, Comoy’s, Bewlay, older Dunhill, and others. In the North American line I collect old CPF, GFB, WDC, KBB, Kaywoodies, Yello Bole, Dr. Grabow, Barclay Rex, Custom Bilt, Custombilt, Tracy Mincer,Malaga, Blatter and Blatter, Brigham and others.

When I am in the antique shops and malls in the states and in Canada I have an eye out for these kinds of pipes. It is amazing where they turn up and the condition I find them in. I have become picky if they are intended to be keepers for me so I select hard, unless of course, they fit a learning/skill objective that I have set for myself. Even then I choose according to what I want to work on and leave behind some that just do not fit the collection or the objectives.

Group 3: Pipes that are Oddities

Figure 4 Odd Pipe 1 - a British Buttner Bakelite pipe bowl with a clay insert

Figure 4 Odd Pipe 1 – a British Buttner Bakelite pipe bowl with a clay insert

Figure 5 Odd Pipe 1 - a British Buttner Bakelite pipe bowl with a clay insert

Figure 5 Odd Pipe 1 – a British Buttner Bakelite pipe bowl with a clay insert

Figure 6 Odd Pipe 2 An LHS system pipe

Figure 6 Odd Pipe 2 An LHS system pipe

Figure 7 Odd Pipe 2 An LHS system pipe

Figure 7 Odd Pipe 2 An LHS system pipe

Figure 8 Odd pipe 3 a Dr. Plumb Metal

Figure 8 Odd pipe 3 a Dr. Plumb Metal

Figure 9 Odd pipe 3 a Dr. Plumb Metal

Figure 9 Odd pipe 3 a Dr. Plumb Metal

Figure 10 Odd pipe 4 a Chinese Chicken Wood Dragon

Figure 10 Odd pipe 4 a Chinese Chicken Wood Dragon

Figure 11 Odd pipe 4 a Chinese Chicken Wood Dragon

Figure 11 Odd pipe 4 a Chinese Chicken Wood Dragon

Figure 12 Odd pipe 5 a Swedish Broma Nylon Pipe with screw on briar bowl

Figure 12 Odd pipe 5 a Swedish Broma Nylon Pipe with screw on briar bowl

A third category of pipes that I collect is more accidental than by choice. It is made up of uniques and oddities. For some reason I am drawn to odd pipes that were attempts at finding and ensuring the perfect smoke. The variety of creativity and experimenting intrigues me and I like taking these apart and cleaning them up. They are often more of a collection of historical pieces and are not in the regular rotation. The collection itself is quite indiscriminate and in many ways strange. They are misshapen, built with internal gizmos and gadgets for trapping moisture, made out of alternative woods, metals, Bakelite or other unique materials. But all of them have in common inventive designs that caught my attention. This part of my collection is actually quite small and broad in scope. It contains pipes from England, Scotland, North America, South Africa, Canada, France, Holland, Hungary, China, Nepal, Vietnam, and other places. The oddity of the pipe is what catches me. Again this group is somewhat transient as I look for better examples of the various types of pipes some of the original pieces are sold or given away to make room for better examples. I am always looking to upgrade the pieces that I have so that I can have the best examples that I can find for this group of pipes.

Group 4: Artisan Pipes
This part of my collection is specialized to some degree. I love beautiful hand carved pipes with hand cut stems. In this part of my collection there are pipes from a variety of countries and a variety of artisans. I enjoy having some of them commissioned for me personally and being part of their creation. I also enjoy purchasing some of them directly from the craftsman. In both cases the point for me is to have works of art/hand craft that I enjoy looking at and smoking. In this group are pipes by Stephen Downie, Rad Davis, Oliver Camphausen, Larry Roush, Michael Parks, Tony Fillenwarth, Frank Axmacher, Brad Pohlmann, Paul Bonaquisti, Peter Heeschen, Peter Matzhold, Steve Morrisette, Dan Cheblove, Jack Howell, Trevor Talbert, James Gilliam, Mark Tinsky, John Calich, Blatter Brothers and Jeff Gracik of J. Alan Pipes are just some of the ones that I have examples of in my collection. This is an aspect of collecting that I take seriously and have built up slowly and consistently over the years as I could afford their pipes. It continues to grow and develop as pipes from Group 1 provide the funds for expansion.

As I finish writing this piece, I am struck by the breadth and variety of the pipes in my pipe cupboard. There are many but only a few of them hold places that are at least semi-permanent. I have one simple rule in my collecting – pipes are always for sale for the right price and the right reason. That reason for me is to upgrade and fill out places in the collection.

Comoys 215 “The Guidall” Restoration


This Comoys “Guildhall” came with an Ebay estate lot that held my recent GBD Seventy-Six project. It is a stamped “C” logo pipe but the briar is nice and it should make a decent smoker. I suspect given the stamped logo and nomenclature, that this one is from the 1980’s.

The stem was heavily oxidized and it took a lot of elbow grease to get it shiny again. The bowl was reamed and soaked with an alcohol and sea salt mixture, as is my usual practice. There was a chip on the bowl top, around the 7 o’clock position. That spot was sanded lightly with a piece of 6000 grit micromesh which mininized the mark and didn’t require the bowl top to be restained. The beveled edge, a common Comoys styling element, is still intact with some darkening.

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I put a dab of grease on the “C” logo stamp and soaked it in a mild Oxy-Clean solution. It took a lot of sanding with a piece of 1500 grit wet paper to remove the oxidation. The logo has to be avoided, which is tricky. I then moved to 2000 grit wet paper. The stem had a pretty decent level of shine at that point and I finished the hand work with 8000 followed by 12000 grit micromesh papers. The pipe was then buffed on a machine with White Diamond followed by Blue Magic plastic polish.

The bowl was buffed lightly with Tripoli rouge followed by White Diamond and finally several coats of carnuba wax.

Here is the finished pipe. This one will most likely be sold via pipe forum classifieds or Ebay.

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