Daily Archives: December 21, 2014

Cutting back a broken stem – rescuing a potential cast off

Blog by Steve Laug

When I recut the button on a recent Peterson Shamrock stem I thought I would use the opportunity to go into more detail on how I cut back the stem and shape a new button on the end of the cut off. The photo below shows the state of the stem when I received it. While I had other options in terms of repair of the stem I decided to cut it back.Shamrock7 I have a Dremel that is my go to tool for cutting off a stem. Others use a saw – coping or hack saw, but I use the Dremel. The photo below shows the sanding drum that I use. It is pretty coarse sandpaper and makes short work of trimming back the vulcanite or Lucite of a stem. The trick is to hold the stem and the Dremel steady while you work the end of the stem against the sandpaper.F2DF829HZI92Z2B.MEDIUM Over time I have learned to hold it steady and work the cutting line straight. I take off all of the damaged material so that I have some thickness on the top and bottom of the stem that will accommodate a new button without making the stem too thin in the process. In this case I removed the funneled portion of the airway in the button and what remained was the round airway that would need to be reshaped. The line across the stem is pretty straight considering I do it by eyeballing it rather than using a straight edge.Shamrock13


Shamrock15 The next step in the procedure is to cut a straight line equidistance on the top and the bottom of the stem that will be the sharp edge of the button. The outer edge is slightly rough in the photos but that does not matter as that edge will be bevelled toward the airway in the shaping process. I use a flat blade needle file with a square edge for this initial cut.Shamrock16

Shamrock17 Before I put the flat blade needle file away I use it to shave some of the material that is directly ahead of the sharp line of the button and begin the tapering process. I follow that up with an emery board to get a feel for the look of the stem and to assess how much material I will remove in the process.Shamrock18

Shamrock19 The next step in the process is to shave more of the material away and adjust the angles of the stem to the button. I use a needle file with a knife shaped blade and draw it across the stem toward the button edge. As I draw the file toward the button it peels the material away. I work it from the point on the stem that I have picked as the place where the new taper will begin. I lightly draw it across the upper portion and deepen the cuts the further I go down the stem. I clean up the sharp edge with the straight file once again. I cut a groove in the material next to the button edge that sets the depth of the bottom of the taper. I work the stem angles until they taper directly into the button and the groove disappears. I used 220 grit sandpaper to clean up the file marks and smooth out the transition of the angles to the button. At this point the definition of the button is finished. All that remains is to shape the button and clean up the marks on the material.Shamrock20

Shamrock21 I used the oval needle file to open and flare the edges of the airway to open the airways. Once I have the funnel cut I use a folded piece of sandpaper to clean up the file marks in the slot and smooth out the end of the button. I also use the sandpaper to shape the button and taper and round the edges to make the button oval and smooth.Shamrock22

IMG_3126 I worked the curve of the underside of the stem to make a smooth and clean angle that matched the curve of the bottom of the bowl of the pipe. I used 220 grit sandpaper, medium and fine grit sanding sponges to reshape the curve. The next two photos show the curve and the shape of the button on the cut off stem.Noname

IMG_3073 Once the shaping was finished I sanded the stem with micromesh sanding pads. I sanded the blade and the button and slot area of the stem at the same time. I wet sanded with 1500-2400 grit sanding pads and dry sanded with 3200-12,000 grit pads. I polished the stem with red Tripoli and White Diamond on the wheel and then gave the stem multiple coats of carnauba to polish and raise the shine.Shamrock31



Shamrock32 The finished stem is shown below. The goal in the process is to return the stem as near as possible to its original shape and condition. The button shape is determined by photos or by the remnant of the stem prior to being cut off. The buffed and polished stem should look as close as possible to a factory cut stem. While I have done many of these I still feel like I am in the process of learning. The key to the whole thing is to move slowly, carefully and methodically until the stem is finished. Then sand some more and polish some more… I can’t tell you how many times I have gone back after several months of smoking the pipe and doing a bit more reworking until I am happy with the feel in the mouth.IMG_3091


Carrying on the story of a 1905 Imperial ITC Bent Billiard

Blog by Steve Laug

The seller had marked this little pipe an Imperial ITC Silver Mount Birmingham 1934. Something about the gentle bend of the stem and shank, the shape and wear on the bowl made me want to have this diminutive pipe as my own. I bid on it and was the only bidder picking it up for about $22 Canadian. I think the seller wet down the stem and bowl for the photos because it is far too shiny looking. When I see an old pipe like this I immediately begin to wonder about the gent who owned the pipe. What was he like? What did he smoke in it? When did he purchase it and what did he smoke in it? Many of those questions can of course be answered by the pipe itself. The date in this case was suspect and would be formalized once I had it here. The vulcanite stem appeared to have an older rounded button that let me to surmise that it has an orifice button – a single round hole in the end of the button rather than a flared airway. The bowl was obviously well smoked telling me that it was a good smoking pipe. The stem unchewed telling me that the owner had cared for it well. Other than that I was left wondering about the last owner, was he the purchaser? How had the seller come into possession of the pipe? Questions for which I will not have an answer.Imperial ITC When the pipe arrived I opened the box and excitedly cut through the layers of tape that held the pipe captive in the bubble wrap that protected it. I was proven correct in my assumption regarding the state of the pipe. The finish was indeed wetted for the photos of the seller as the pipe did not glisten like the photos. The bowl was in decent shape, the finish worn and tired. The rim was shot with built up tars and damage from tapping the bowl out. The silver had multitudes of dents and pock marks in it that showed its carriage in a coat or vest pocket and was tarnished. The stem was clean a lightly oxidized but showed no tooth damage. The bowl was caked with a thick build up of carbons but did not have a sweet or smokey smell so it was likely a Virginia pipe. The curve of the stem matched the curve of the bowl. The stamping was clear and readable – Imperial in script at an angle with ITC underneath the underline of Imperial. There was no other stamping on the briar.Imp1



Imp4 I wanted to check out the date given by the seller as I suspected it was somewhat earlier than the 1934 date given by the seller. The stem and button shape and the threaded bone tenon all pointed to an earlier date in my opinion. The hallmarks on the silver band would allow me to do that with some precision as they were not badly worn. I wiped down the band with a silver polishing cloth to remove the tarnish enough that I could read the stamping. To the naked eye it appeared to have a W.H. in an oval followed by an anchor, a lion and a lower case k.Imp5 I brought home a magnifying glass from work that had a built in light. I put the pipe under the lens and turned on the light. I lifted it to get the clearest magnification I could get on the silver hallmarks and what I had seen was indeed correct. It was a WH in two interlocking circles and the three hallmarks were correct.Imp6

Imp7 I took this information to one of my favourite websites to process the information and gather what I could from the stamping http://www.silvercollection.it/englishsilverhallmarks.html. There I found the following data. The anchor stamp told me that the pipe or at least the silver band came from Birmingham, England. The lion told me I was dealing with sterling silver. And the k told me the date – 1905 not 1934. The pipe was significantly older than the seller had noted. That excited me as I love these older briar pipes.Imp8 I also wanted to know what the W.H. in the oval could tell me about the pipe. I dug a little deeper on the English silver marks page and found more information.Imp9 The maker of the silver band was a William Harrison who was active in London. Various copies of Harrison’s marks in Chester Assay Office were registered by Imperial Tobacco Co between 1907 and 1916. The mark above shows a Birmingham 1908 hallmark. From that information I gathered that the W.H. was William Harrison and that the Birmingham Assay Office had stamped the band in 1905.

I unscrewed the stem from the shank in order to work on the bowl. The cake was thick and crumbling in the bowl so I reamed it back to bare wood with a PipNet reamer.Imp10


Imp12 The rim would take some serious work to get it back to workable condition. I set up a topping board and carefully worked the top of the bowl against the sandpaper. The surface of the rim was not even so this took some care so as not to angle the rim. I sanded the rim until the surface was flat and the damage was removed. There was still some darkening to the briar but I chose to leave that rather than to remove more of the briar from the rim.Imp13

Imp14 To remove the spotty and damaged finish on the bowl I wiped it down with acetone on cotton pads and was able to take it back to the unfinished briar. The brown patina of the briar was not removed in the process and once finished would clean up well and still show some age.Imp15 I wanted to take photos of the stem and tenon so that you could see the age and shape it was in. It was a bone tenon, threaded to match the threads in the shank. The end of the tenon has a funnel or tube that is part of the tenon to capture the smoke and bring it into the airway. The other end of the stem is the rounded orific button that I have come to expect on pipes from this time period.Imp16

Imp17 Once the exterior surfaces were clean it was time to work on the interior of the shank and stem. I put the pipe back together and set up a retort. I filled the test tube with 99% isopropyl alcohol and put the stopper and apparatus in place. I stuffed a cotton ball in the bowl to keep the alcohol that was boiled through the pipe in the pipe and not all over the desk top. I use a small tea light candle to heat the alcohol and boil it through the pipe. I repeat the process twice, changing the alcohol between procedures to remove the tars and oils from the shank and stem. Once I removed the retort I cleaned out the shank and stem with pipe cleaners, cotton swabs and isopropyl alcohol. It takes far less pipe cleaners once the retort has finished its work.Imp18

Imp19 I decided to stain the briar using the stain pens instead of the usual aniline stains. I wiped down the surface of the bowl with alcohol and then used the stain the medium brown stain pen to stain the bowl. When applied the stain is streaked but that is easily taken care of with a quick buff with a cotton cloth. I also cleaned the silver with a silver polish and a jeweler’s polishing cloth to remove the tarnish and bring up the shine.Imp20 I removed the stem and sanded it with a medium and a fine grit sanding sponge to address the light oxidation. I then sanded it with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanding with 3200-12000 grit pads. I rubbed down the stem between each set of three pads with Obsidian Oil. When I finished sanding with the 12000 grit pad I also gave it a final coat of Obsidian Oil and when dry took it to the buffer and buffed it with White Diamond and then carnauba wax to protect the stem.Imp21



Imp24 I decided to rub down the bowl with a light coat of olive oil. I find that on these older pipes it brings out the patina nicely. I put some oil on a paper towel and then rub down the pipe, wipe off the excess and repeat the process until it shines.Imp25



Imp28 When the olive oil was absorbed and the bowl was dry to touch I took the pipe to the buffer and lightly buffed it with White Diamond. I gave the entire pipe several coats of carnauba wax, buffing the silver with a very light touch so as not to damage the hallmarks and stamping. I finished by buffing it lightly with a soft flannel buffing pad to raise the shine. The finished pipe is shown below. It is ready to go back into service. I intend to enjoy it for many more years. I always enjoy smoking these old timers and only wish they could tell their stories. It is amazing to be able to load a bowl and smoke a pipe that is almost 110 years old. Speak to me, I am listening I want to hear your stories… and add my own to the saga you could tell.Imp29