Daily Archives: February 10, 2014

Repairing a Tinderbox Monza that Easily Could Have Been Firewood

Blog by Steve Laug

The pipe I repaired today was the one I wrote about earlier entitled When is a Pipe Not Worth Repairing https://rebornpipes.wordpress.com/2014/02/10/when-is-a-pipe-not-worth-repairing/ It was stamped Tinderbox Monza and according to a 1974 catalogue on Chris Keene’s site it originally sold for $15. It could be purchased in a matte finish smooth or a hand rusticated version. The shapes were varied and the sizes also varied. I have repaired one other pipe that had the same rustication but no stamping on it so I would imagine it also is a Monza. Monza pipes were made by Lorenzo for Tinderbox. They were a house line of Italian made affordable pipes during the 70’s.

This particular Monza had seen better days. I described it in my earlier essay as being virtually ready for the scrap heap. The bowl was badly caked and the one inch diameter bowl had been reduced to a hole small enough that I could barely squeeze my little finger in the bowl. The top portion of the cake had been carved or hacked away with a knife and the bottom portion had also been hacked away. This left a solid girdle of carbon cake around the middle of the bowl. The bottom of the bowl had been gouged at and the right side of the bottom had a huge “smile” carved in it. The rim had been hammered into rough shape so that the outer edge was ruined. The lava build up on the rim was very thick and it totally covered striated rustication that had been present when the pot was new.

The stem was chewed and carved with a huge chunk out of the underside making it non-repairable. The stem had then been covered with a softy bit and left to calcify on the stem. The pipe was a mess. Once I removed the stem I could see that the airway had been left immaculate. There were no tars, no oils, no dirt – it literally shined it was so clean. The inside of the stem was the same. This pipe had been cared for in a functional way and probably smoked to death by the original purchaser. It was the clean airway that tempted me to give this pipe a remake. It must have been someone’s favourite pipe for him to go to the extremes that this pipe had seen in terms of treatment. Every action the fellow carried out on this pipe only made sense in a utilitarian sense of prolonging the purpose the pipe was made for.




The outer edge of the rim on the back of the bowl had a chunk missing and a crack running down the outside of the bowl. It also ran on the top of the rim and had yet to break through on the inside of the bowl. The crack ran down along one of the striations carved in the bowl for about ½ inch. It was not very deep once it moved away from the chip at the top edge of the bowl.

The close up photo below shows the cake that forms a ridge around the centre of the bowl. The top had been carved away and the below the ring of cake it had also been carved away. The bowl bottom visible on the top of the photo below shows the gouge that had been carved on that side of the bottom. The other side remained intact and hard.

The front edge of the bowl had been hammered hard or scraped against something and the outer edge was worn and rough feeling.

I reamed the bowl with the largest PipNet reamer cutting head in the set and was able to scrape the cake back to the wood. I wanted to see if the walls of the bowl were charred or burned. I further scraped it with a knife blade and found that the walls were solid under the cake. The wood did not have burned or charred portions.

The stem was ruined as can be seen in the photo below. The bottom side was missing a large triangular shaped chunk that went almost from side to side. I thought about cutting off the end and reshaping the button but the damage was extensive and the previous owner had carved the airway in the broken portion so the material left behind on the top and bottom of the stem was scored and very thin. I would need to fit and shape a new stem.

I picked at the surface of the rim with the dental pick and could see it was not going to work so I topped the bowl. I decided to make a smooth rim to match the smooth band on the shank and the bottom of the shank. They would set each other off well when the pipe was restained. I set up my topping board and a piece of 220 grit sandpaper and twisted the bowl into the sandpaper until I had removed the damaged portion of the rim. The crack on the surface looked as if it had been filled already with some sort of glue and it was solid. This is visible in the photos below.




Once the bowl was topped I dropped it in the alcohol bath to soak and loosen the grit and grime that filled all of the rustication on the sides of the bowl. It was a sticky and tarry mess and I wanted to soften it. I soaked it for about an hour and then scrubbed it with a brass tire brush. I picked out all of the grooves with the dental pick and then put it back in the alcohol bath for yet another hour. Once it came out of the bath I scrubbed a final time with the brush and then picked out any remaining grit in the grooves. I then wiped the bowl down with acetone on cotton pads to remove the softened finish and the remaining grime.



I used super glue and briar dust to fill the divot/chip on the outer edge of the bowl and make it less ragged looking.

I found an old stem blank in my can of blanks that would work with the pipe. It was not a saddle stem like the original one but it would work well. It was considerably larger in diameter than the shank of the pipe so not only would I need to use the PIMO tenon turner to fit it in the shank but I would also need to remove the excess vulcanite and match it to the shank.





I used the Dremel with the larger sanding drum that comes with the set to cut back the vulcanite and shape the stem. This takes time and a steady hand to keep it from nicking the briar and causing more damage than help.



Once I had the stem close to the diameter of the shank I took it back to the work table and hand sanded it with 220 grit sandpaper to finish the fit. I sanded it until the transition between the shank and the stem was seamless. My fingers needed a break from sanding at this point so I decided to repair the gouged out bottom half of the bowl. I inserted a pipe cleaner in the airway to keep any of the plaster mix getting into the airway. Then I mixed up some plaster of Paris in a shot glass and used the spoon end of a pipe nail to put it in place in the bottom of the bowl. I tamped it with the tamper head of the nail and smooth it out.

When the plaster had set I stained the bowl with a dark brown aniline stain mixed 2:1 with isopropyl alcohol. I wanted the dark stain in the striations to come through the stain coat and give some contrast to the coloration of the bowl. I applied the stain with a cotton swab, flamed it and reapplied and reflamed it until the coverage was even across the bowl. I worked to get the rim and the smooth portions of the shank to match in colour.




I sanded the stem with a medium and a fine grit sanding sponge to remove the scratches left behind by the 220 grit sandpaper. I followed that by sanding with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanding with 3200-12,000 grit pads. I rubbed the stem down with Obsidian Oil when I had finished and then buffed it with White Diamond.



The vulcanite stem blank I used was an older one and must have come out during the war years. I had read that in those times there was often piece of metal found in the vulcanite of the stem material. This particular stem had a nice bunch of it on the right side of the stem near the shank. It almost looks like the remnants of a stamp on the stem but it is not. It appeared as I sanded the stem down to fit the shank. The photo below shows it about midway between the top and bottom of the stem near the shank junction. The glare of the flash highlights it as well.

With the stem polished and ready and the pipe stained it was time to bend the stem. I used a heat gun to heat up the stem until it was pliable and then bent it over the round handle of a chisel that I had on the workbench. I used the original stem as a pattern to determine how far to bend the stem.



I rubbed the stem down with Obsidian Oil a final time and then buffed the pipe and stem with White Diamond to give it a shine. I then gave the stem multiple coats of carnauba wax and applied the wax to the bowl with a light touch on the buffing wheel. I finished with a buff with a soft flannel buffing wheel. The finished pipe is shown in the pictures below. I think it will last a few more years and yet again deliver a good smoke. In fact I would not be surprised at all if it does not last longer than I will.




When is a Pipe Not Worth Repairing?

This morning I am asking that question because sitting on my work table is an old Tinderbox Monza, made in Italy by Lorenzo. This old pipe has definitely seen better days. The bowl is over an inch in diameter and the cake in the bowl had choked it down to the point that I could not get my little finger in the bowl. The rim looked as if the pipe had been used as a hammer to the point that it had a chunk out the rear outside edge and a crack that went down the outside of the bowl with a visible fissure across the top of the rim and beginning to drop into the inner rim. The top half of the bowl looked like someone had carved at the cake with a knife and done a poor job of it. Fortunately the cake was as hard as rock so it did not do too much damage to the bowl. All of those issues are not enough for me to pitch a pipe and not work on it.

But the damage on this Monza did not stop there. The bottom of the bowl had been victimized by the self same knife wielder and he had carved over half of the bottom of the bowl away in his poor attempt at cake removal. The bottom of the bowl now flowed from the airway at a steep 30 degree angle with a jokerish gash along the front right bottom edge. At that point the bottom of the bowl is dangerously thin. You see the cake was all around the middle of the bowl like a girdle choking off the pipe but the top and bottom somehow had been miraculously purged of the cake by the knife wielding pipe abuser. This bottom of the bowl gives me pause – I could drill out the bottom of the bowl and insert a bowl plug or I could fill the bottom with a plaster of Paris fill to level it out and then coat the bottom with pipe mud. But would it be a waste of time? Would it be worth the effort?

I am not done enumerating the damage on this old pipe. The exterior of the bowl, the finish was ravaged. The front edge of the bowl was worn down like the heel on a hard playing boy’s pair of shoes. The angle and extent of the damage covered the entire front of the bowl. The striated finish, which was meant to look like tree bark was totally filled in with grit and grime to the point that it was almost smooth. It felt sticky to the touch and the smell was atrocious. I am surprised that my bride let me have it in the house. The striations on the shank were as filled in as those on the bowl so the true shape of the pipe and its finish were absolutely hidden.

But I am still not finished. The stem looked as if it was clean other than minimal oxidation… things were looking up. Maybe I would at least be able to cannibalize a stem out of this disaster. But no, it was not to be. I turned the stem over and it had a gaping hole – a chunk taken out of it that went back almost a half inch into the surface of the stem. The entire button was missing and the gap went from one side of the stem to the other – left to right. But that was not all of the damage to that poor stem – it looked as if the opening had been further opened with the self same knife. Yes the mad knife wielder had carved a slot into the airway at the bottom of the hole. The carving left the bottom of the airway paper thin. It looked as if after doing this “master” surgery the fellow had put a rubber bit protector on the stem as the calcification line on the stem was thick. Doing that after the surgery is like closing the door after the horses have left the barn!

All of these wonderful discoveries met my eye as I examined the pipe before I even considered working on it. I took the pipe apart at this point in my examination and put on the rubber gloves to probe the internals. I was pretty concerned at what would greet me when I took off the stem – if it would come off at all. With the goop that was all over this pipe it was a fair chance that the stem was “welded” in place. But to my great surprise it twisted off quite easily – no drama in this process. I peered down the shank with a penlight to see what creatures and mayhem awaited me inside the shank. I fully expected to see the interior carved by the knife wielder as he sought to make the pipe work “better” after his surgical excavations. But I literally had the wind knocked out of me when I saw a pristine shank. The shank was actually clean! The wood had a veritable glow to it as the light reflected back to me. It was not only clean but there were no tars and oils in it. This totally did not match what the condition of the bowl and externals had led me to expect. What an anomaly. Why was this so? What was going on here? These were just a few of the questions that ran through my mind as I held the bowl, sans stem in my hand.

With that discovery my thoughts regarding the fellow who had so drastically carved up this poor pipe and virtually ruined it took a turn. Rather than seeing him as some sadistically sick individual who took obvious evil delight in so ruining this old pipe to make it questionable if it could ever be restored; I began to soften in my assessment of him. I looked again at the externals of the pipe and stem. I looked at the carved and cracked bowl, the carved and ruined stem, the left over remnants of the rubber softie bit and I began to wonder if what was in my hands was the old pipe smoker’s favourite pipe. As it became harder and harder to smoke he took more drastic measures to make it last. Mind you they are not the same measures that you or I might take but they nonetheless obviously worked for him. Maybe rather than see the fellow as a pipe butcher I should see him as someone who loved this old pipe. He was going to smoke it until it truly gave up the ghost.

I began to wonder if he was not of the old school of pipe smokers who had one pipe and smoked it literally to death and threw it away and started on a new one. This one must have been a grand smoker to have been put through the trauma that it showed in it body. You can see now the tact that my mind was taking me. It would be inevitable that I clean up this old pipe – it would be an act of honouring the old briar and the old pipe smoker who had inflicted so much damage to just get the last bit of life out of his pipe. So it is with this in mind that I reamed the bowl, soaked it in an alcohol bath, scrubbed the finish with a wire brush and topped the bowl to begin the process of bringing it back to life. I have it sitting on my desk next to me now – I will need to fit a new stem on it and then refinish the bowl but it will once again deliver at least one smoke for me to explore my new theory.

So you might ask me, “When is a pipe not worth repairing?” I honestly don’t know the answer to that question. Even an hour ago I would have said this one was a goner. But now, I have “heard” the story of the pipe as I examined it looking at all of the abuse that had been inflicted on it. Now I see with different eyes. You see, that is the problem with pipe refurbishing. When others see a pipe as irreparable there is something that catches my eye that says to give it a try. I guess I have only met a very few pipes that were so damaged that they could not be brought back to life for a new season. And to be honest I still have several of them in my cupboard “seasoning”. I guess I truly don’t know the answer to the question I posed in the title.