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. 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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.