Daily Archives: October 31, 2013

The Pipe Hunt – Rule #4: Buy estate pipes that challenge your refurbishing abilities


When I formulated Rule #4 it was a natural outcome of my pipe refurbishing self-training. I purchased according to what I wanted to learn until I had learned it. For me this method of buying old pipes provided the class time/workshop time where I could practice some of the tips I was reading about and learning from others in the online community. I have never been particularly shy about asking “how” and “why” questions. Ask my daughters and they will tell that one of my nicknames is “Why”. Buying pipes according to what I wanted to learn in refurbishing quickly became a habit that I really did not take time to think about until I was ready to move on to something new. I often picked pipes that I really was not interested in keeping in my collection but because they had problems that would be teaching/practicing opportunities for me. This has been the case each step along the learning curve for me. In the rest of this article I will trace out my journey in refurbishing through the kinds of pipe I bought. Through this monologue on the journey you will see my process and the method to my madness.

When I began my refurbishing education in earnest my earliest purchases were pipes that were dirty and caked but did not have any issues requiring technical skills. I was looking for very straightforward cleanup jobs. The bowls just needed to be reamed and cleaned and the stems cleaned and deoxidized. They were not chewed on or beat up on the edges of the rim. They were not charred or badly damaged. They had merely been smoked and used. I bought that kind of pipe and worked on them until I was ready to move from learning how to cleanup minimal external and internal issues. I wanted to learn how to clean a pipe from the inside out. I bought reamers – actually I have over twenty different kinds now residing in my work kit. I tried them all until I found the ones that worked best for me. I read about processes of cleaning shanks and bowls. I bought a retort and learned how to use it. I practiced with salt and alcohol treatments. Everything I did was done with a single purpose in mind – to learn how to clean a pipe. Once I felt comfortable in the process of cleaning out a pipe it was time for me move on and learn other aspects of the craft.

The second skill I wanted to learn was to refinish a pipe bowl. This influenced the type of pipes that I hunted for and purchased. I looked for ones that still had intact stems with little damage but bowls that needed to be refinished. I bought sandblasted bowls, rusticated bowls, smooth bowls all types and shapes. I wanted to learn how to remove the finish from a pipe and then to prepare it for restaining. This involved different methods for cleaning each kind of finish.I learned to top a bowl and remove damage to the inner and outer edge of the rim. I learned to steam out the dents in the bowl and to remove or minimize dings and scratches. I learned to sand smooth bowls and rims with varying grades of sandpaper and micromesh sanding pads. Each step in sanding taught me to be pickier regarding the scratches and sanding marks I left behind. Once you have a pipe almost finished and have to start over and resand you quickly learn to work at the preparation more carefully. I spoke with several pipe makers to learn the art of staining and where to get the aniline stains. I learned (and I am still learning) the techniques of staining and practiced them on many pipes. I worked on various colours and blends of colours. I worked on understains and overstains. I worked on learning how to do contrast stains. I worked on buffing the bowls and sanding them after staining. It was a great learning curve, one fueled by the kinds of pipes I bought.

The next step in my refurbishing course came from the previous one. After staining old pipes and still being bothered by the fills that were eyesores to me I decided to learn how to replace the old pink wood putty fills. I tried a variety of methods all learned on bowls I picked up at garage sales, antique malls, junque stores and thrift shops. The idea was to remove the fill and replace it with something that would take the stain. I tried putties and filler sticks and still was not happy. I tried wood glue and briar dust mixed with a bit of stain and was a bit happier. But I found that the wood glue dried shiny and still stood out on the bowl. I moved on to try superglue and briar dust and am very pleased with how it works. It is a dark colour in contrast to the lighter/pinker colour of the putty but it is solid and hard when it dries and does darken with the stain. I began to look for pipes with fills to remove and practice on in the stores. I found many pipes that I practiced on and then passed on to the racks of new pipe smokers. The pipes I worked on had begun to look better and better but I still had much to learn. Everything up to this point was pretty simple and cosmetic. The real challenges were just around the corner for me.

It was time for me to learn stem repairs with a greater degree of technicality. I say repairs and not restemmingbecause as yet I had not tackled that aspect of refurbishing. With that objective firmly in mind I was on the hunt for and purchased pipes with tooth marks, bite throughs on the stems, cracks and broken pieces. I wanted to learn how to make patches on the stems and also to recut and shape a new button on the stem. I shortened the stems. I cut buttons with files and sanding blocks. I learned to shape slots in the button with needle files. I called repair people and pipe makers to make sure I got the right tools. I bought and discarded many in the process of building the right kit. I worked with epoxy patches mixed with vulcanite dust. I worked with patches using pieces of vulcanite and epoxy. I worked with superglue and finally settled on black superglue for patching holes and bite through areas. In the process I learned to use heat from a hot water bath, a heat gun and then even a lighter to raise bite marks in the stem and to reduce tooth chatter. I learned a variety of methods to remove oxidation. All of this was part of the process of learning to refurbish stems.

When I felt more competent in the stem repairs I wanted to learn how to fit new stems to the bowls. I went on to purchasing bowls that were missing stems and learned how to turn the tenons on precast stems and to shape the stems with a Dremel and files. I bought precast stems from Pipe Makers Emporium and also bought lots of used stems on Ebay and scavenged them from broken pipes. The learning included fitting tenons, shaping stems, adjusting the taper, making saddle stems, reducing the diameter at the shank, countersinking the shank to make for a tight fit, shaping the button and opening the slot in the end. Lots of experimenting took place in learning to use the PIMO tenon turning tool which meant that some tenons were too small and others too large. All were part of the process of learning to use the tool, its limitations and methods of working around those limitations.I also learned how to shape a stem from a piece of rod stock. Each step was part of the education for me in stem repair and shaping. You can see with this method in mind I bought many bowls that later I ended up giving away and/or selling very cheaply. They ended up being good pipes for starters.

I always keep an eye out for pipes that push the limits of my restoration abilities to see if I can learn new tricks and tools. For me the purchasing of estate pipes is for my ongoing education. I am always looking for better methods and learning new methods and acquiring new skills and tools. The above paragraphs spell out my learning journey. A few more years down the road I will add new skills and thus new paragraphs to the learning journey. The long and short of Rule #4 is to buy for the purpose of learning.