Daily Archives: May 28, 2015

Different methods for removing a ghost from a pipe

Blog by Steve Laug

The latest pipe I worked on came with a stubborn ghost so I was forced to use almost all the tools in my arsenal for removing the ghost. As I worked through the various procedures that I use I thought it would be helpful to spell out each method individually for ease of reference. Some of the pipes I work on are quite easy to clean and merely take pipe cleaners, cotton swabs and alcohol. Most though need a thorough reaming and cleaning. Other like the one in the photos below take a lot of elbow grease and a lot of different methods to remove the ghosts and deliver a clean smelling pipe.

1. Thorough cleaning and reaming – the first method is by far the one I use the most. I have found that 9 times out of 10 I ream the pipe with a PipNet reamer with four different sized cutting heads. I generally start with the smallest head and work my way up to a cutting head that is close to the size of the bowl. I will finish any portion left behind with a sharp pen knife. I use cotton swabs, pipe cleaners and isopropyl alcohol to scrub out the shank and bowl as well as the stem. This method works well on many of the lightly smoked pipes that I clean out. I also find that those pipes used to smoke straight Virginia tobaccos or Virginia Perique tobaccos are the cleanest and generally do not have a ghost. The worst for tars and buildup are the pipes used for aromatics. Those smoked with English/Balkan blends are somewhere in between.Cam8


Cam15 2. Retort – The second tool in the kit is a retort. A retort is a simply made tool that includes a test tube, cork, a connector and surgical tubing. The surgical tubing is stretched over the stem or inserted in the shank (see Andrew Selking’s posts). A cotton ball is stuffed into the bowl and alcohol put in the test tube. Canned heat, an alcohol lamp or a candle is used to heat the alcohol to boiling and it is pushed through the stem, shank and bowl. When the test tube is removed from the heat source the cooled alcohol returns to the test tube. It carries with it tars and oils that have been boiled out of the pipe. I have found that I have to often repeat this process several times before I get a clear alcohol back in the cooled tube. I am currently working on a pipe that I have used the retort on four times and just now am getting a clear alcohol return in the test tube. Once I remove the cotton ball and the tubing I use pipe cleaners, cotton swabs and alcohol to remove any remnants of tars and oils. Once the pipe dries out the retort has generally removed all but the most stubborn ghosts and leaves the pipe smelling clean.Cam10




Cam14 3. Cotton ball and alcohol treatment – This treatment is one that I use instead of the salt and alcohol treatment that many have written about. Sometimes I use this method instead of a retort – if the pipe has a ghost but is not terribly dirty. Other times I use it along with a retort. I stuff the bowl full of cotton balls all the way to the bottom. I stick a cotton swab in the shank to plug the airway or in some cases put a rubber stopper or cork in the end of the shank. I use a rubber ear syringe to fill the bowl with alcohol. I used 99% isopropyl alcohol and fill it until the cotton is covered. As it evaporates I add more alcohol to the bowl. The alcohol generally goes into the shank as well and draws the oils and tars into the cotton balls in the bowl. I leave the pipe sitting in an old ice cube tray over night or until the cotton is darkened. Then I remove the cotton balls and repeat the process until the cotton remains white. Once the bowl is empty I use pipe cleaners, cotton swabs and alcohol to clean out any remaining oil and tars in the bowl and shank.Cam16

Cam18 4. Kosher salt and alcohol treatment – The salt and alcohol treatment is a variation on the above method. I used it for years and had no issues with pipes that I did the treatment on. Many have spoken of split shanks and bowls cracking after this treatment and will not use it. I have never had a problem so I continue to use it on stubborn bowls and ghosts. I use a Kosher sea salt that is in rock salt form and fill the bowl with it. I then use the rubber ear syringe to fill the bowl with alcohol. I prepare the shank in the same way either plugging it with a cork or stopper or even a cotton swab. I let the alcohol run into the shank and then set the pipe in the ice cube tray overnight. The alcohol wicks out the oils and tars from the briar and turns the salt dark. In the bowl in the pictures I had already used a retort and the cotton ball and alcohol treatment. The salt and alcohol treatment drew out more oils that were left. I empty the darkened salt from the bowl and then clean out the bowl and shank with alcohol, cotton swabs and pipe cleaners. The key is thoroughly flush out the salt with the alcohol and pipe cleaners/cotton swabs. I let the pipe dry for three or more days before I smoke a bowl in it.Cam19


Cam21 5. Cotton ball and white vinegar treatment – This treatment is also a variation on the alcohol/salt and alcohol/cotton ball treatment. Instead of using alcohol as the liquid in the bowl I use white vinegar. I have found that it works wonders to draw out the tars and oils that are left behind by the alcohol. I also use it to freshen the foulest bowl. No need to rinse the bowl afterwards as the vinegar evaporates leaving behind a faint smell. I stuff the bowl with cotton balls and then fill it using an ear syringe. Like the previous methods I leave the pipe sitting overnight. I remove the cotton balls and clean out the bowl and shank with alcohol, pipe cleaners and cotton swabs to remove any remaining oils.Cam17 6. Activated Charcoal and heat treatment – The final option is to fill the bowl with activated charcoal pieces (I pick them up from aquarium shops or from the pet area at Walmart) and set it in a metal pan in the oven on the lowest heat setting that is available. The heat softens the oils and they are drawn out into the charcoal. I usually leave it in the oven for 15-30 minutes though could probably leave it in longer. I then dump out the charcoal and clean the bowl and shank with alcohol, pipe cleaners and cotton swabs.

The last pipe I worked on I used all of the methods other than the charcoal one. I may still have to use that as there is a faint ghost remaining in the pipe. For most of the pipes I work on a combination of one or two of the above methods accomplish the task. Only the most stubborn need to use all of them. Experiment with the methods and let us know what works for you and also any variations you might have adapted to improve the methods. Pass on what you have learned as for me that is the best part of the hobby – learning from another refurbisher what works for them.

Cleaning and Restoring a Blatter of Montreal Bent Egg

Blog by Steve Laug

When I received this Blatter of Montreal Egg pipe I sat down and looked it over carefully to assess what would need to be done to restore it. The finish was very dirty and worn but underneath the dirt and oils there was some amazing grain. On the right side of the bowl, near the top there was a fill that had popped out and left a large divot in the briar. The size of the missing fill distracted from really seeing the beauty of the pipe. Looking at the top of the bowl I could see that the inner edge of the rim was slightly out of round and the rim had been previously topped. Both the stain and the topping were not even. The outer edge of the rim had been rounded from sanding and was no longer a clean sharp edge. Sometime ago the bowl had been reamed and a broken uneven cake left on the sides of the bowl. The airway at the bottom of the bowl had a groove carved from the opening across the bowl bottom that appeared to come from using too heavy a hand with a pipe cleaner over the years.

The stem was in good shape in terms of not having any tooth damage or chatter. The button was still quite sharp and distinct like the other Blatter pipes that I have cleaned. It was oxidized and somewhere along the way someone had sanded or buffed the stem with it removed from the pipe. The edges of the stem at the shank junction had rounded shoulders and because of that the fit against the shank was not perfect. The diameter of the shank was slightly larger than the stem due to the rounded shoulders. There would need to be some work done on that area to reduce the damage though I am not sure that it can all be removed. I find this kind of rounding of the shoulders on the stem or the shank on pipes that have been overbuffed or worked on by someone new to the refurbishing hobby.

I took the pipe apart to look at the internals of the stem and the shank. The shank has an interesting design. The mortise ends with a slight ridge and then the airway drops into a kind of sump/or chamber to capture the moisture – kind of like the Peterson system pipes. This chamber had the airway drilled toward the top end. It was filled with a lot of black sticky tar and oil. It would take a lot of scrubbing to clean that area. The mortise itself was pretty clean. The end of the tenon was almost clogged with the buildup around the end. The same was true of the slot in the end of the tenon. It was reduced in size by about half. The stem would also take some work to clean out the thick build up inside.Blatter1



Blatter4 The next photo shows a close up of the area of the missing fill. It is quite large and will need to be repaired.Blatter5 I scrubbed the bowl with cotton pads and isopropyl alcohol to remove the grime and prepare the missing fill for repair. I picked out the loose particles from the area and scrubbed it down again.Blatter6 I filled the hole with larger particles of briar dust and then filled it with superglue. I added more briar particles to the top of the repair.Blatter7 I sanded the repair with 220 grit sandpaper to remove the excess and smooth out the patch. The size of the patch can be seen in the next photo. The larger particles of briar dust worked differently than the fine dust I used in the past.Blatter8 I used a folded piece of sandpaper to bevel the inner edge of the rim to take care of the damage that had made it out of round. Beveling the rim inward took care of the damage and brought the rim back into round.Blatter9 I sanded the rim with a medium and a fine grit sanding sponge and also sanded the repaired area on the side of the bowl. Each successive grit of sanding sponge smoothed out the repair and blended it into the bowl.Blatter10 Once the patch was sanded smooth I scrubbed the bowl down with acetone on a cotton pad to remove the rest of the finis and the remaining wax buildup on the bowl. The birdseye briar was stunning on the left side of the bowl.Blatter11


Blatter13 I also scrubbed the top of the rim with the pads and found that the work on the rim had really cleaned up the look of the pipe from the top.Blatter14 I worked on the rounded shoulders of the stem. First I sanded it with 220 grit sandpaper blending the flow of the shank with the stem. The key was to reduce the shoulder rounding without changing the shape of the shank. Once I had the transition as smooth as I could make it I sanded it with a medium and a fine grit sanding sponge. The finished shank/stem transition can be seen in the next series of photos.Blatter15



Blatter18 With the repair finished on the side of the bowl and the transition smoothed out at the stem/shank junction it was time to give it a coat of stain to blend it in with the rest of the briar. I used a dark brown stain touch up pen to work on those two points on the bowl.Blatter19

Blatter20 I probably should have done this sooner, but I chose not to. The bowl had already been reamed but I wanted to clean up the reaming job and try to smooth it out. I used a PipNet reamer and chose a cutting head that fit the bowl tightly and removed the odds and ends of broken cake left in the bowl.Blatter21 I then set up the topping board to repair the round outer edges of the rim. It did not take too much topping to make that edge sharp and clean once again instead of rounded. I finished sanding the rim afterward with a medium and a fine grit sanding block to remove the scratches left behind by the 220 grit sandpaper.Blatter22

Blatter23 I used the same dark brown stain pen to stain the rim. I applied the stain until the coverage was acceptable. I lightly buffed the bowl with White Diamond to smooth out the stained areas and blend them into the rest of the bowl.Blatter24



Blatter27 With the externals finished on the bowl it was time to address the internals. The airway in the stem and shank and the sump in shank all were filthy. I decided to use a retort on the pipe. I set up the test tube and connector to the stem and then stuffed the bowl with a cotton ball before boiling the alcohol through the bowl and stem.Blatter28

Blatter29 I boiled the alcohol through the bowl and shank the first time and the alcohol came out a dark brown.Blatter30 I took the retort off the stem and ran pipe cleaners and cotton swabs and alcohol through the shank and stem. While they were definitely cleaner there was still a lot of “sludge” present.Blatter31 I set up the retort and boiled another tube of alcohol through the bowl. This time the alcohol was definitely lighter but still dark.Blatter32 I emptied the tube and boiled a fresh tube through for the third time. While it was definitely getting lighter it was still brown.Blatter33 I ran a fourth tube of alcohol through the stem and shank and finally it came out clear. This was one dirty pipe. I used pipe cleaners, cotton swabs and alcohol to finish cleaning the shank and stem. I used the dental pick to clean out the edges of the slot on the button. With the internals clean I turned my attention to the stem. I sanded it with 220 grit sandpaper and then with the medium and fine grit sanding sponges. Using those I was able to remove the oxidation on the surface.Blatter34


Blatter36 I switched to micromesh sanding pads. I wet sanded with 1500-2400 grit sanding pads and rubbed the stem down with Obsidian Oil.Blatter37 Afterwards I buffed it with White Diamond to polish the stem and lessen the scratches. I dry sanded the stem with 3200-12,000 grit micromesh sanding pads and rubbed the stem down with Obsidian Oil between the 4000 and 6000 grit pads. I also gave it a final rub down with Obsidian Oil after the 12,000 grit pad.Blatter38


Blatter40 I buffed the pipe with Blue Diamond Plastic Polish and then gave it several coats of carnauba wax. I buffed it to a shine and then used a clean flannel buff to raise the shine. The finished pipe is shown in the photos below. I have also included a photo of the repaired rim. Note the repaired fill on the right side of the bowl. The pipe is cleaned, polished, repaired and ready to smoke. I think it is a beautiful pipe in one of my favourite shapes. Blatter41




Blatter45 Thanks for looking.