Blog by Steve Laug
I just finished refurbishing a beautiful Oom Paul that is stamped left side of the shank Sydney P. Ram in script. On the right side it is stamped Imported Briar over 3172/VD. When it arrived to my work table it had a few issues that needed to be addressed. The rim was damaged on the right front outer edge from what looked like being knocked against something. The inner edge on the front had a burned area from a lighter. The briar was unstained, natural but looked dry, lifeless and dirty. The bowl was barely smoked the top 2/3s of the bowl was darkened and had some particles of tobacco stuck to the bowl sides. The bottom 1/3 of the bowl was still raw briar. The airway was quite large at the bottom of the bowl but was well drilled and centered on the back side of the bowl at the bottom. The stem would not sit all the way in the mortise and was very tight. The mortise was far dirtier than the bowl. It had a buildup of tars and oils that had prevented the tenon from seating properly in the mortise. The stem itself was not only oxidized but had stains that ran the length of the underside. The airway was plugged. The slot in the button was plugged and was very narrow so that getting even a paper clip into the slot took a lot of effort.
I took the stem off the pipe and used an unfolded paperclip to open up the clogged airway. It took some work but I was able to open it back up. The slot in the button was so small that a normal pipe cleaner was hard to push through. Once it was done the clog came out and was pipe cleaner detritus and tars.
I put the stem in an Oxyclean bath to soak while I worked on the bowl. The damage to the outer rim of the bowl needed to be addressed. I was able to stem the flat surface and lift some dents but the outer edge dents were actually cuts and they did not move. I decided to top the bowl lightly to remove the damage to the edges – both the outer right front and the inner front burned area. I set up a topping board with 220 grit sandpaper and took down the top until the damage was minimized. I then sanded the outer edge with a medium grit sanding block to dull the sharp edge slightly. I worked on the inner rim with a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper to bevel the edge slightly and minimize the damage from the burned area.
With the rim top cleaned and repaired I worked on the inner edge of the rim with a folded piece of sandpaper. I beveled the inner rim edge inward to compensate for the burned area on the front of the bowl. Then I washed down the bowl with alcohol on cotton pads to remove the wax and the grime on the briar. I scrubbed the inside of the bowl with cotton swabs and alcohol to clean up the debris in the bowl and the dust from sanding. I cleaned out the shank and mortise with pipe cleaners, cotton swabs and alcohol until the cotton swabs came out clean and the mortise was clean to sight. I followed up that by sanding the rim with a medium and fine grit sanding sponge and then with 1500-12,000 grit micromesh to polish it. The beauty of working with natural briar finishes is that when a bowl is topped it is not hard to match and blend into the finish of the bowl.
I steamed the front, bottom and sides of the bowl where there were many small dents and nicks. I heated a table knife over the gas flame on our stove, folded a wet cloth and placed it over the dents and then touched the hot blade of the knife to the wet cloth. This created steam with which I was able to lift many of the dents and nicks. While most of them were gone there were others that remained that were reduced noticeably.
When I finished the steaming of the dents I rubbed down the bowl with a light coat of olive oil to give life to the briar. I buffed it on the wheel with Blue Diamond polish and gave it several coats of carnauba wax to protect and finish it. Once the stem was completed I would buff it again and then apply more wax to the pipe.
While the stem was soaking I set the finished bowl aside and did a bit of research on the Ram brand. It was one which I had read about on the forums and had seen on eBay but not a brand I knew anything about. I googled the name and found quite a bit of information on the different pipe forums and on Pipedia.http://pipedia.org/wiki/Ram%27s_Horn.Here is a summary of what I found.
“Sydney P. Ram was a pipe maker in the 1930’s and reported to have retired in 1942. Ram’s shop was at 59 West Monroe in Chicago’s Loop. His pipes were normally simply stamped Sydney P. Ram in script. He was also the author of a book on pipe smoking in 1941 called How to get more fun out of smoking; a guide and handbook for better smoking and is sometimes available on Amazon, having been reprinted in 2011.”
I contacted Ken Prevo who was mentioned later in the Pipedia article as we have corresponded on the various pipe forums that we both frequent. I asked his permission to post a copy of the 16 page catalog from the shop era that was referenced in the article. He graciously responded that I could post it here on rebornpipes in high resolution. I have done so here: https://rebornpipes.com/2015/05/22/are-you-getting-the-most-out-of-your-smoking-a-pipe-catalogue-from-the-sydney-p-ram-pipe-shop/
Ken welcomes those interested in viewing or downloading a copy of the catalogue to do so from his Dropbox at this link: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/dao82dnm8tw3y0i/XIdMElvkbk.
Ken reported that recently, in 2013, New Old Stock has shown up with the pipes being sold from California, which may have been where Ram relocated the shop after the war, or it could have been retained inventory on closing the Chicago store and retiring.
The catalog states that all pipes are either Algerian or Corsican Briar. The pipes being sold are light but color to deep brown very rapidly. Ken has not seen similar treatment. The catalog shows pipe prices ranging from $1.75 to $7.50. (Factory workers in the era made around $40/wk at the time). They are stamped either straight grain or imported briar. The catalog also indicates the shop did its own blending and had onsite repair.
I took the stem out of the Oxyclean bath and rubbed it dry with a coarse cotton cloth. I sanded the stem with 220 grit sandpaper to remove the oxidation that was still left and the residue that was hardened in spots on the underside of the stem.
I worked on opening the slot in the button. I used a combination of needle files to open the slot. I began with a flat blade file to widen the slot on the top and bottom. This is tedious work but it pays off dividends in the end. Once I had that area more open I worked on the sides of the slot with a flat oval file to create a Y shape in the slot. I then used a fat oval and a round needle file to open the slot further and round out the ends of the slot. When the filing was completed I folded a piece of sandpaper and worked on sanding the inside of the slot smooth and removing all of the file marks.
By this time with the slot opened and the oxidation pretty well cleaned up it was ready to be polished with micromesh sanding pads. I wet sanded the stem with 1500-2400 grit pads and rubbed the stem down with Obsidian Oil.
I removed it from the shank and dry sanded it with 3200-4000 grit micromesh and rubbed it down again with Obsidian Oil before finishing with 6000-12,000 grit pads to bring the final shine out on the vulcanite.
I took it back to the worktable and rubbed it down with some Briar Wipe before taking it back to the buffer for some carnauba wax. I buffed with several coats of carnauba and finished by buffing it with a clean, soft flannel buff. The dry buff raises the shine on the bowl. The finished pipe is shown in the photos below.