Blog by Greg Wolford
I saw this old Medico V.F.Q. go through two or three eBay auctions with no bids. I have recently been admiring pipes with Cumberland stems and thought this one would make an excellent “project” pipe to see how well I could repair a Cumberland stem. (A side not here: This is not a Cumberland stem I have found out; it is nylon/plastic.) So I wrote to the seller and offered $5/shipped for the pipe, noting that I didn’t care how she shipped it, just safely and cheaply would suffice. She posted a seven-day auction with an opening bid of $5 with free shipping; I was the only bidder.
When the pipe arrived it looked as bad, maybe worse, than I had expected. The stem was really chewed up and the finish was shot. There were also several fills that I hadn’t been able to see in the (above) auction photos. I decided to work on the stem first so I broke out some tools.
The first thing I did was to try to raise the dents with the heat of a tea candle. Not being actual rubber (which I didn’t realize yet), this had little effect. Next I began with needle files to take off some of the roughness. This made some improvement and gave me a better surface to work with for patching with super glue, which I applied at this point. You can also see the shape of the pipe as a whole here when I got it.
I worked in stages over a few days on the stem: allowing the patch to cure, adding more as it shrank, touch it up a little as I went with files or sandpaper. Once it had finally cured into a patch that filled and covered all the dents on both sides I began to shape and smooth it with files and 220 grit sandpaper. The button was ragged and kept getting that way when I worked on it; it was at this point I think that I realized I was working with nylon not rubber. When this revelation struck I decided to begin working it toward the best finish I could get with micro mesh and not spend a lot more time on this stem.
I had been doing a running post on Pipe Smokers Unlimited forum with this project. Steve, our humble leader and blog owner, contacted me with the welcome news that he had a very nice VFQ stem that he would send to me for this pipe. I excitedly accepted his gracious offer and sent him my address. When the stem shows up, if it fits, I will add photos of the end product; thank you again, Steve.
It was now time to get the bowl going, starting with a good leaning, inside and out. The pipe needed reaming and the shank was clogged with gunk, too. So I reamed it back to bare wood, pretty much, and cleaned the shank with many pipe cleaners, cotton swabs and a set of shank brushes until the final cleaners can out white; I also cleaned the stem at this point.
The finish was terrible so I took some cotton balls and acetone to the stummel, scrubbing off the years of grime and broken layer of what I assume is/was lacquer. With the old finish gone there were a few things now obvious: there were a couple of large fills to address and the bowl needed to be sanded to remove some scratches, and it needed topped.
I started with the topping process, using 220 grit sandpaper. I realized that the rim char was too deep to get all of it out without getting into the large fill near the top of the bowl’s front so I rounded the edges of the bowl to remove the edge char and see how deep that was; it wasn’t bad. I decided to leave the top for now and work on the fills; after the fills were done I came back and sanded the top smooth.
I wanted to use this pipe to experiment on, not just the stem but also the fills. In the past when I have used super glue and briar dust to patch a fill it is usually much darker than the rest of the pipe; sometimes I can blend it in well and other times not so much, so I wanted to try something different here, with an eye toward a future project. A few months ago I bought some black and amber super glues from Stewart McDonald; they offer black, amber, clear, and white. The black I plan to use on stems but the amber I thought might work well on patching fills and this was the project to try it on.
I removed one fill to start, just in case the experiment didn’t go well; the dry time on this stuff is very long so I suggest you try the accelerator if you order from them (I forgot it).
I used my dental pick, a beading awl, and a file to pick out the old putty. After the putty was out I dripped a bit of the amber glue into the hole, leaving extra to feather when I sanded it. I also used the end of the awl to make sure the glue went all the way into the hole. Then I waited until it cured a few hours, tapped it down with a tamper, in case there was any air pockets, and let it finish curing. When it was set through, several hours, I began to sand with 220 grit paper. And I was really pleased with the initial results: an almost perfect match to my eyes!I then decided to take out all the fills and patch them the same way, with amber glue and nothing else.The waiting game began again. Some hours later I noticed that the large fill at the top needed more glue so I dripped in another layer and waited more. This morning I finally got to start sanding the new fills down, and the entire bowl as I went. The results on these fills were a bit varied from the first one I soon saw. Even when sanded smooth a couple of the fills weren’t as nice and I have a few ideas why: I didn’t use the awl to make sure the glue went in all the way, I didn’t go back and tamp it part way through the curing process, and I may not have gotten all the pink-filler out. The next time I do this I will be sure to remember these items!
Next I prepared the bowl for staining. I finished sanding with 220, then 320, and finally 400 grit paper and wiped the bowl down with alcohol to remove any dust left behind. Then I began staining the bowl with a medium brown stain marker. I applied one coat as evenly as I could and let it dry about 10 minutes. Then, the secret I think to using these, I applied a second coat in small segments, wiping it with a paper towel to even out the color as I went. The rim got 3 coats of stain. Next I gave the stummel a light buff with Tripoli, and the entire pipe a buff with white diamond and a few coats of carnauba wax, then a buff on a clean wheel before a final hand buffing with a microfiber cloth. I’m very happy with the end results of this multi day project. I think the fills look and blend much better, especially the first one. And I believe with a little more tweaking and experimenting this is a very good option for patching fills. From a $5 eBay catch to, well, it’s probably still not worth much – but I’m glad in the end that I took the time to Save This Old Pipe.
The new stem that Steve sent me arrived in the mail. I have written about and post the story, along with new photos, here.