Alternative Woods: Refurbishing and Restemming a Black Walnut Pot

I received this pipe bowl as a gift from a friend in exchange for some work I did on one of his pipes. I took it out of the box and put it in the refurbishing box without giving it much of a look. Today I took it out of the box and looked it over. It is well made; the airway is drilled straight and comes out the bottom of the bowl. The drilling is accurate and clean. The mortise is smooth and clean. The bowl has been smoked very little as the bottom half is still fresh wood. The shank is clean and there are no tars. The wood is clean with a few dings and dents. There seems to be a slight finish on the bowl – varnish or something. It also appeared to have a band on the shank originally as there is a stain from the metal on the end of the shank. It came to me without a stem. Today I will take care of that.




I wiped down the bowl with acetone and cotton pads to remove the finish and sanded it with a medium grit sanding sponge. I wiped and sanded until the finish was gone from the bowl and then wiped it down a final time. The smell of the sanding dust as well as the grain told me that I was dealing with a well made walnut, probably black walnut pipe. This one would clean up very nicely.




Since I could not remove the stain left behind by the previous band I decided to reband the pipe. I found a nickel band in my band collection that would be a perfect fit. I heated it with the heat gun and the pressed it into place on the shank. I cleaned up the shank end of the pipe once the band was in place and widened the bevel on the inside end of the mortise to fit the new stem that I would fit for the pipe.




I went through my can of stems and found three different stems that would work with this pipe. Two of them were vulcanite and one was a clear acrylic. I have not done much work with clear acrylic and never turned the tenon to fit a pipe so this one seemed to be the way to go. Each pipe has to be a bit of a learning experience. Besides I liked the way the clear acrylic looked with the walnut bowl and the silver band.

I drilled the airway in the stem to fit the end of the PIMO tenon turning tool and then put the tool on my drill and slid the stem in place. I adjusted the cutting head on the tool to cut off enough material to get a close fit on the stem. The tool is touchy in terms of accurate adjustments so I eyeball it close and then sand it by hand until it fits the shank.

I pushed the stem in place on the walnut bowl and set it down to look at the overall appearance of the pipe. The clear stem was going to work well once I had shaped it to fit. The walnut was already darkening from the oils in my hands. This was going to be a beauty once it was finished.




The diameter of the stem and that of the shank were different. The stem was significantly larger than the shank of the pipe. I used a Dremel with a sanding drum to sand off excess acrylic material. I proceeded with that slowly and carefully as I did not want to nick the band or damage the pipe bowl.


I took the material down as close as possible with the Dremel and then did the rest of the sanding by hand with 220 grit sandpaper. It took quite a bit of time and several return trips to the Dremel before I had the shank and the stem diameter matching. The following photos show the progress on the stem with each one taking it a step closer to the finish.




When I finally had the fit correct with the 220 grit sandpaper I switched to a medium grit sanding sponge to further refine the fit and to remove the scratches left behind by the sandpaper. I finished sanding with the medium grit and used a fine grit sanding sponge to sand the stem again. When finished the stem looked opaque and the shape was done. All that remained was to polish the stem.




Before sanding it further I used a needle file to smooth out the transition in the airway between the stem airway and the place where the drill bit ended when I worked on the tenon. I was able to even out the transition and taper it for a smooth and seamless transition. The walnut was continuing to darken from my hands as I worked on it. I also stopped and sanded the rim of the pipe to remove the deep scratches that were present when I received it.




I wet sanded the stem and the band with 1500-2400 grit micromesh sanding pads and then dry sanded with 3200-12,000 grit pads. I wiped the stem down between each grit of micromesh with a damp cloth to remove the sanding dust and to further polish the stem.



After I finished sanding the stem and the band with the micromesh pads I took the pipe to the buffer and buffed it with White Diamond to further polish it. I rubbed the stem down with Obsidian Oil and when it was dry gave the pipe and the stem multiple coats of carnauba wax and a final buff with a soft flannel buff. The finished pipe is shown below. The bowl has only been given a wax coat and no stain. The finish is natural and I believe that it will continue to darken as it picks up the oils from my hands when I smoke it.




4 thoughts on “Alternative Woods: Refurbishing and Restemming a Black Walnut Pot

  1. Dave

    Thanks for sharing this interesting project, Steve. I was bitten by the “clear stem” bug a few years back. I acquired about twenty of them (GBD) because I love the look (and feel) of the clear Lucite, but admit that I don’t smoke them as often as I thought I would due to the tendency of the airway to stain. Are you able to maintain the “new look” with daily use, and if so….how?
    The walnut is a stunning wood to work with. This bowl and stem are, in my opinion, beautiful. Please do a follow up review to let us know your experience with thw walnut bowl, and the clear stem.

  2. Mark Domingues

    Nice looking pipe, Steve! Thanks for showing work on an acrylic stem. When you use the Dremel, is it in a vise?

    1. rebornpipes Post author

      Thanks Mark. No I freehand it with the Dremel. I just don’t have a vice set up since my shop is not set up and use the wife’s laundry room 😦 I hold the Dremel and work it slowly around the stem as close as I can get to the shank of the pipe.


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