Restoring an Older GFB Three Star Horn Stem Bent Bulldog


Blog by Steve Laug

The pipe below is one I bought off EBay because it looked like a challenge, that and the fact that it was another GFB pipe. This is the third GFB that I have in my collection. I love the way they feel in the hand and the elegant look of the curves and angles they have. I went back and reread my previous two posts on the GFB pipes I had refurbished to remind myself of their history. There I described the process of hunting down information on the brand. I summarize that here for those may not have read the other two posts. (https://rebornpipes.wordpress.com/2013/06/07/restemming-and-reclaiming-an-older-unsmoked-gfb-briar-calabash/ , https://rebornpipes.wordpress.com/2013/04/01/restoring-a-gfb-bent-billiard-another-reclamation-project/)

The first thing I found was information that the GFB brand was an older French Trademark and that it came from Saint Claude, France. A more focused search for GFB French Briar Pipes led to information that the stamping GFB stood for Great French Briar – something about that did not seem right to me so I continued to look and finally came across the following advertisement from a Sears Catalogue. It shows a full page of GFB pipes and the header says GENUINE FRENCH BRIAR. That made much more sense to me, and all three of my GFB pipes match the pipes in the catalogue. It was good to be reminded of the old brand. I am pretty sure that all three of my GFB pipes come from either the late 1890’s or the early 1900’s.
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This third pipe was a charmer to me. When I saw the photos I decided I would bid to win it. The elegance of the old pipe caught me. The bowl appeared to be in good shape and it had a horn stem. The striations and colour of the stem was beautiful even in its oxidized state. The three photos below were included in the EBay sale. The third photo shows the underside of the stem and the damage to the underside near the button. It looked to be more than tooth marks or chewing. It actually looked like “worm” damage. From the photos it appeared to be localized to that part of the stem and was worth a chance. Worst case scenario, I would sacrifice the stem and restem the old pipe with a vulcanite stem.
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I find that photographing stem damage is difficult and my photos can be out of focus. But I now have a tripod to help with the clarity of the photos (did not get it until after I had started the repairs on this stem. Ah well sorry about the clarity of some of these). When the pipe arrived I took it apart and examined the holes on the end of the stem. Under the lens it was clear that it was not a worm hole at all. Rather it had been bitten and the stem had crumbled in that area. It did not go through into the airway so I think that the previous owner had scraped out the crumbled area of the horn stem for cleanliness and just kept smoking it. That was encouraging to me as it meant that I could repair and not worry about an old “worm” somewhere in the horn stem chewing his way out later! The next two photos show the extent of the damage to the area
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I cleaned out the open area with cotton swabs and Everclear, careful to not use too much of the alcohol on the horn stem. Once it was clean of debris and dust I decided to fill the area with a superglue gel rather than the usual liquid superglue I generally use (Photo 1). My thinking was that the gel would sit better in the large area without running all over the stem. There were also nicks on the sharp edges near the shank that I also repaired with the superglue gel (Photo 2). I layered the glue into the hole to build it up gradually (Photo 3) as each previous layer dried.
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Once the glued cured over night I sanded the area with medium grit emery paper to remove the high spots and smooth out the surface (Photo 1). I refilled the low areas on the fill to further level out the area. There was also a deep nick on the sharp edge of the shank. I cleaned that out and used the superglue to fill that as well. It would dry black but with the staining of the bowl that could be minimized and I wanted it smooth to the touch rather than the sharp cut of the nick that was previously present (Photo 2).
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With everything glued I set the bowl and stem aside and went to work for the day. I would work on the patched areas when I returned home in the evening.

When I returned in the evening, the patches were dry and the pipe was ready to be worked on. I reamed the bowl with the PipNet reamer. On this particular pipe the bowl was conical so it took three different cutting heads on the T handle to ream the bowl to the bottom. With down I cleaned the bowl, shank and stem with Everclear, pipe cleaners and cotton swabs. I wanted the pipe cleaned out before I worked on the exterior.
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The next two photos show the stem after the patches had hardened. Though the photos are a bit blurry, the shininess of the spots where the superglue patches were applied is very clearly visible. Those areas would need to be sanded smooth to match the surface of the surrounding horn.
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I sanded the patch on the shank of the pipe with 220 grit sandpaper and also medium grit sanding sponge to remove the excess glue from the patch. Then I wiped the bowl down with Everclear on a cotton pad. I decided not to use acetone as the stamping on the shank was filled with a gold paint and was still visible. I did not want to damage that stamping. I carefully worked the Everclear around the stamping so as not to get any in the grooves of the stars and GFB stamp.
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I sanded the patch on the stem with 220 grit sandpaper and then a medium grit sanding sponge to smooth out the patch. I continued to sand it with the micromesh sanding pads. I wet sanded with 1500-2400 grit and dry sanded with the remaining grits up to 12,000.
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I buffed the stem with White Diamond on the buffer and the finished stem is shown below. The patch still shows some small holes that need to be repaired with superglue. The sanding and polishing made them very apparent in the first photo below. The patch at the sharp edge near the shank came out very well and is invisible. The horn of the rest of the stem has a deep sheen to it after all the sanding and polishing.
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I unscrewed the stem and set it aside while I stained the bowl. I used a medium walnut stain mixed with linseed oil to stain this pipe. The colour is a rich brown with a slight red in certain lights. It matches the colour of the other GFB pipes that are in my collection. I buffed the bowl with White Diamond on the buffing wheel. Then I gave it a coat of carnauba wax and set it aside to work some more on the stem.
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I was not completely satisfied with the stem patch so I sanded it next to the button some more and cleaned it out. I put some more of the superglue in the low spots and set it aside to cure while I went to work for the day.
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When I returned the glue was hard and the patch a solid bubble on the surface of the stem. I sanded it with the medium grit emery paper and then 220 grit sandpaper to remove the over fill. I always over fill the spots as the glue shrinks as it dries. I have learned that it is easier to remove the excess than to continue to fill and sand repeatedly. I sanded it with a medium grit sanding sponge and then went through the grits of micromesh sanding pads again from 1500-12,000 grit. When I had finished I rubbed the stem down with Obsidian Oil and set it aside to absorb. Once done I buffed it on the wheel with multiple coats of carnauba wax.
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After buffing and polishing the horn stem I buffed the entire pipe with White Diamond on the buffing wheel to polish it then gave it multiple coats of carnauba wax to restore and preserve the shine on the horn and the briar. The finished pipe is back to usable with the stem patch taking care of the deep holes that were previously in the stem. The striated horn stem looks like new and the colouration of the horn goes amazingly well with the medium brown walnut stain. Other than the slightly visible patch the pipe looks like new. I intend to enjoy a bowl of some aged tobacco in a pipe that is far older than I am. I look forward to the day when I pass it on in trust to the next pipeman who will care for and cherish it. Sentimental? I don’t think so, just a realist who knows that this pipe has lived and will live longer than I.
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4 thoughts on “Restoring an Older GFB Three Star Horn Stem Bent Bulldog

  1. bananaboxninja

    Very well done! Lovely pipe.
    I am always hesitant when I see a pipe wit a horn mouthpiece but not anymore. 🙂

    Regarding the gold filled stamp, you use a white correction marker for white stamps why not use a gold marker for these gold filled stamps?

    Reply
  2. Dave

    Thanks for the history on GFB pipes. Thanks also for the effort to save this 100 + year old piece of pipe history. The work you did to save the horn stem is well worth the effort, and the bowl came out fantastic. Being a lover of old Bull Dogs this restoration goes to the top of my list.

    Reply
  3. upshallfan

    Bravo! I saw that horn stem and the damage and thought “oh no, what shame to lose that stem”. Not to be, what a tidy repair. It was definitely worthy of the second attempt. A fine bulldog with a French flair!

    The history on GFB was also interesting. I was gifted a GFB bent billiard with a hallmarked stem cap. I believe they are faux hallmarks and my pipe is definitely of a much more recent vintage.

    Reply

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