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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.