The last pipe in my box of pipes to refurbish was a Medico Apple that was stamped Medico over Imported Briar on the underside of the shank. It was a well-worn sandblast bowl that had dark stain marks on the front and back of the bowl. It appeared to be a dark blue India ink type of staining. The grooves in the blast were worn down almost smooth and what was left was dirty with light brown grime that raised the surface of the grooves smooth. The top of the bowl was damaged and worn from being struck against a surface to empty the bowl. The inside of the bowl was badly caked and crumbling when I received and I cleaned and dumped out the carbon and shreds of tobacco before throwing it in the box. The stem had been bitten through on both the top and the bottom sides next to the button. The nylon stem was in rough shape with many deep tooth dents around the holes. At one point I had taken the stem out thinking I would work on it and sanded down the tooth chatter and some of the lighter marks. I had heated the stem to raise them and gotten quite a few of them out-of-the-way. The holes in the stem left me questioning whether I even wanted to work on this poor worn pipe.
After reading Greg’s post about saving a pipe – the Medico VFQ I was moved to go and have a look at the last pipe in the box. I have four days off starting today and it is a rainy cool day in Vancouver. It is a perfect day for working on pipes so I took the pipe to the worktable. I knew all of the flaws that awaited me but the bones of the pipe, the briar was still sound. The damage truly was cosmetic. The stem was another question. But I figured it was worth the effort. I cleaned the surface of the nylon stem and wiped it down with alcohol. I folded a piece of cardboard and coated it with Vaseline before sticking it in the airway to provide a backing for the black super glue patches that I was going to use for the holes.
The super glue had become quite viscous which actually worked for me. It was not the thin liquid it had been when I purchase it several years ago. I shook it well and then applied it to the holes on the stem. I always do the patching in layers. I start quite wide around the edges of the hole and work toward the centre to close off the hole. I decided to work on both sides of the repair at the same time so I put the glue in both holes. I set the stem aside for the repair to cure before adding more layers of glue.
I scrubbed the bowl with Murphy’s Oil Soap to remove the grime. I used a tooth brush to get into the remaining grooves in the briar. I used the soap undiluted as I find it is less liquid and works better on rounded surfaces as a gel. I wiped off the soap with cotton pads, rinsed the bowl with warm water and dried it off. The next four photos show the bowl after this cleaning. The sandblast was basically worn away and I needed to make a decision on what to do with the finish on this bowl.
The worn finish and the ink stains on the front and back of the bowl made the decision pretty easy for me. To clean and restain the pipe would still leave it worn and the ink stains visible. I decided I would rusticate the bowl with the rusticator I had received from Chris. I wanted the finish to look slightly different from the previous pipe that I rusticated so I had some ideas on what to do once I had rusticated the finish.
Once the bowl was rusticated I scrubbed the rough surface with a brass tire brush to knock of the edges. I carefully rusticated the rim and used the tool to round the edges on the outer rim to hide some of the obvious damage that had been present before. Once finished I stained it with a dark brown aniline stain. I had left the underside of the shank smooth and a portion of the shank next to the stem shank junction. I stained the bowl, flamed it, stained it and flamed it again until the coverage of the stain was even all over the briar.
I buffed the bowl with red Tripoli to further smooth out the high spots on the rustication and give a little contrast to the stain. I used the brass brush a second time on the surface. It still was not quite what I was aiming for but I laid it aside for a while to look at it and think about the options. It was while I was doing that I thought I would see if I had a new stem that would work. It gave me a second option to try should the repair or patches not work well.
I did not have a round taper or saddle stem in my can of stems that was the right diameter for the shank but I did have quite a few square stems that could be modified to fit the shank diameter. I found one that had the tenon already turned for a previous pipe I was working on and put it on the pipe to have a look. I could see some potential in the stem and the look of the wide blade saddle stem. It would certainly be worth a try. If it turned out well and the patch on the other stem worked then I would have several options to work with. The tenon on the square stem was too long but that could easily be adjusted for a tight fit against the shank. I did the adjustment with a Dremel and sanding drum.
With the stem in place against the shank I could see the very evident taper of the shank on the topside and the underside. It was significantly narrower than the rest of the shank. I wondered if the smooth briar at the shank/stem junction was not from a previous refitting of a stem. I looked over the stem I was patching and saw that it actually bore the F stamping on the top rather than the M stamp that I had expected. I had not paid attention to that before but combined with the shape of the shank I was relatively certain that the stem was a replacement and the damage to the shank was caused by a sanding the shank to more readily match the smaller diameter of the replacement stem. That made the stem choice easy – I would refit a new stem to the shank. I would use a nickel band to level the shank out and make the taper of the shank more even. This would also make fitting the new stem quite easy. I set up a heat gun, heated the nickel band and pressed it into place on the shank. The silver actually looked good against the rustication of the bowl.
I used the Dremel and large sanding drum to take off the square edges of the new stem. I worked on it until it was round. I started by taking off all the corners and creating an octagon first and then continuing to round out the stem until it was the same shape as the shank. The bottom of the shank on the pipe was flattened so the pipe would sit upright on its own so I left the bottom side of the stem slightly flattened as well. I sanded the stem with 220 grit sandpaper and medium and fine grit sanding sponges to get the fit against the bowl and band perfect. I also sanded the rustication on the bowl to soften the high spots and flatten them out. I wiped the bowl down with alcohol after I had sanded. The next series of four photos show the sanded bowl and stem. The rustication is getting closer to the look that I was after when I started.
I continued to sand the stem with the fine grit sanding sponge and also the bowl. I once more wiped the bowl down with a soft cloth and alcohol to remove the dust. Each step in the process is flattening out the rustication slightly more and bringing a shine to the newly rounded stem.
I sanded the stem 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 and when it had dried I buffed the bowl and the stem with White Diamond. I sanded the bowl with 1500-2400 grit micromesh sanding pads to further flatten he high points of the rustication and then buffed the bowl a final time with White Diamond. I gave the stem multiple coats of carnauba wax. I buffed with a soft flannel buff between the coats of wax. I wiped the bowl down lightly with a coat of olive oil. The finished pipe is shown below. It has come a long way from the worn and tired looking old Medico with the bite throughs in the stem. The rustication came out the way I wanted it to with the high spots showing a lighter brown and the valleys in the rustication holding the dark brown stain. It is finished and ready for an inaugural smoke – if not by me at least by someone who will take it home to their rack.
Oh, and for those who wondered about the “original” stem that I was patching earlier in this post, I am continuing to work on the repairs. Both sides have had two layers of super glue and the holes are sealed. There are still more layers to go as the glue shrinks as it cures. It will be used on some other pipe in the future I am sure but for now once the patch is finished it will go back to the stem can to be used on another pipe.