Blog by Steve Laug
There are many times I take on the challenge of repairing a pipe totally for the learning experience. When I begin working on it there is nothing of redeeming value in the pipe itself. It is not beautiful or worthy of keeping. Rather it provides a unique learning opportunity for me to work on a skill in my refurbishing hobby. The pipe below is exactly that kind of pipe. Mark Domigues sent it to me along with other bowls when I was working on the shank repair on his old Peterson pipe. It is a no name pipe with a rustication pattern that I did find particularly attractive. In fact I put off working on it as it just did not appeal to me. I can’t tell you how many times I picked the bowl up and carried it to the recycle bin (a bin I used for briar parts) and then carried it back to the “to be refurbished” box.
Finally, Monday the challenge called me. I took the bowl out of my box and looked it over. As I looked at it, the shape kind of grew on me. It is a brandy glass shape and the shank actually has a flare to it as well. The rustication is a bit striated but as I cleaned up the exterior it is a lot like tree bark. The stain is a contrast stain – a black undercoat in the grooves and a brown top coat. It was worn but could be salvaged. The shank stem junction was also worn but a band would clean up that part of the pipe. The interior bowl sides were clean and solid. The rim was in good shape. But the glaring problem is visible in the photo below – a large, ½ inch diameter burnout on the flat bottom of the pipe. The surrounding briar was solid. The burnout was very focused. The burn did not extend into the rest of the bottom of the pipe. In fact the wood around the edges of the hole was clean and solid. There was none of the darkening around edges of the burnout or on the bottom of the bowl. It looked like it might be a great candidate for practicing a repair. I have done one other repair on a burn out which involved inserting a briar plug and this looked like it was another candidate for that repair. The difference in this one was the solidness of the briar around the hole.
As I worked up the chutzpah to tackle this repair I decided to work on the shank. I sanded the shank smooth in preparation for the band. I like to have a smooth surface under the band rather than a rusticated pattern. I find it gives a good smooth fit to the band. I sanded out the rustication to the width of a nickel band. Once it was sanded smooth, I heated a band over a heat gun and then pressed it into place. I liked the finished look of the band.
I am sure that you can tell at this point that I am procrastinating in addressing the main issue of the bowl with all of the other random work on the pipe but that went on a little longer. I found a stem in my stem box that fit the shank quite well. The mortise had originally had a screw in fitment so it was threaded. The threads were well worn so I decided to use a regular style push stem. I sanded the tenon to get a good tight fit on the stem and then sanded the stem to get a good fit against the shank and band. The slight bend in the stem looked good but it was a bit crooked so I would address that issue later. The finished look of the stem and band with the bowl was quite nice…maybe there was something redeemable about the bowl after all.
I have a few pieces of scrap briar that I have scavenged from pipe maker friends that I had put away for this kind of repair. So I found one that had enough briar left that I could carve it into a plug for the bottom of the bowl. I trimmed it with a hack saw to reduce the size of the plug.
In the first photo below you can see what the hole looked like after I had cleaned it up with a pick and Everclear. I had also reamed the inside of the bowl to remove all of the cake from the sides and the bottom of the bowl. The second photo shows the hole after I had drilled it out. I used a cordless drill with a ½ inch drill bit to round out the damage area and remove any further damage around the burnout. I chose the ½ inch bit as that was the diameter of the hole at the widest part of the hole.
I shaped the briar plug with a Dremel and sanding drum. The next series of photos show the progress of the shaping. I took the rough briar from a wedge to a circular plug and then shortened it to a round plug. I shaped a cap on the plug to the inner diameter of the bowl. Also originally I envisioned pushing the plug through from the inside of the bowl and then cutting off the portion that extended beyond the bottom of the bowl. I would then redrill the airway to finish the repair.
I continued to reduce the diameter of the plug until it was the same size as the hole in the bowl. The inside bowl bottom was hard to match with the cap of the plug. I continued to shape it until it was cup shaped. It seemed no matter how I shaped it however, it would not fit in the bowl bottom as the burnout was not centered in the bowl bottom. It was toward the front of the bowl bottom. I finally decided to use a different tact. I would forgo inserting it from the inside and go the other direction. I would insert it from the outside in. I measured the thickness of the bowl bottom (which was actually in good shape other than the burned portion). I then shortened the plug until it was relatively flush with the bottom of the airway. I coated the plug with superglue gel which gives me a bit more time before it sets and pushed it into the drilled hole. I pressed it against the table top to get the plug in place solidly.
Once the glue set I sanded away the excess briar with a Dremel to match the surface of the bowl. I was not worried about the rustication as I would duplicate that after I finished working the plug into place. The next two photos show the plug and the bowl surface are smooth and the plug is tightly in place.
The next photo shows the interior of the bowl. The plug is even with the entrance of the airway. There is difference in bowl depth around the left edge. I plan to give the bottom of the bowl a thick coating of pipe mud to both protect the new plug and to even out the slight trough on the left front edge of the plug.
I rusticated the bottom of the bowl with the Dremel to match the tree bark look of the rustication on the bowl (Photo 1 below). I stained it with a dark brown aniline stain and then also gave the bottom of the bowl a second coat with black stain to emulate the effect of the stain coat on the rest of the bowl (Photos 2 and 3 below).
I stained the rest of the bowl with the dark brown stain to freshen it up and blend in the stain on the bottom of the bowl. I buffed it with red Tripoli and White Diamond to raise a shine and then gave it several coats of carnauba wax on the buffer. The finished exterior is visible in the first close up below and the following four photos of the pipe.
With the repair finished on the exterior of the pipe I worked on the stem. I sanded it with 220 grit sandpaper and then with a medium grit sanding sponge to clean up the oxidation and scratches on the vulcanite. I heated the stem with a heat gun to straighten it and then rebent it over a rolling-pin to give it a slight bend. I set the bend under cool water and then gave the stem a quick buff with Tripoli before taking it back to the work table to further sand the stem.
I continued to sand the stem with micromesh sanding pads from 1500-12,000 grit to bring a shine to the vulcanite. I wet sanded with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanded with 3200-12,000 grit sanding pads. When I finished sanding with the pads I rubbed the stem down with Obsidian Oil and let it dry then buffed it with White Diamond and gave it multiple coats of carnauba wax.
With the externals repaired and finished it was time to make up some pipe mud to coat the bottom of the bowl and give a protective coat over the bowl plug. I sacrificed a nice little Cohiba Cuban cigar for the purpose of making the mud of the ash. When the cigar was finished I had a nice bowl of clean ash.
I mixed the ash with a small amount of water to make a paste. I inserted a pipe cleaner into the airway and then applied it to the bottom of the bowl, tamping it into the crevices around the plug and building up the bowl bottom. As the pipe mud dried I added additional layers of mud to the bottom of the bowl and around the lower sides of the bowl. The next series of three photos show the progressive build up of the mud in the bottom of the bowl.
When the mud had dried to touch I buffed the pipe a final time with White Diamond and then gave the entire pipe several coats of carnauba wax to protect and give it a shine. I then used a clean flannel buff for the final buffing. The restored pipe is pictured below. I will let the pipe mud cure and harden for a few days before loading up the pipe and smoking the inaugural bowl.