Blog by Steve Laug
I found this interestingly shape pipe in an antique mall in Idaho Falls. I was attracted to the egg shape, the hanging bottom and the rectangular shank and saddle stem before I even knew who had made it. I was pretty sure that it was a Danish made pipe but did not know who had made it. When the clerk took it out of the display case I saw that it was priced at $15 US – not a bad price these days for estate pipes. I turned it over in my hands and could see that it was well made and barely smoked. The bottom of the bowl still showed unseasoned briar. The stem was oxidized but free of tooth marks and tooth damage. The finish was in decent shape other than some sticky spots where the person selling it had put price tags. On the bottom of the shank it is stamped BJARNE over Handmade in Denmark. That is the only stamping on the shank. It is the pipe circled in the photos below.
I was excited by this find. I liked the shape and the cleanup would be simple. I purchased it and took it back to my mom and dad’s place. But then the something happened that I have come to dread. I was carrying the bag across their parlour when the bottom fell out of the bag and the pipe bounced off the tile floor. There was a sharp crack and the stem had disappeared. I found it hidden in the pattern of the carpet about three feet from the bowl. I was sick to my stomach. The tenon had snapped off evenly in the shank. The stem and the bowl were undamaged otherwise. This meant that what was originally a simple restoration would now be a bit more complicated. I would need to replace either the tenon or the stem. I took some photos of the bowl when I brought it to my work table. The briar was beautiful and not a flaw in the grain on the bowl itself. There was one small sand pit on the bottom side of the shank but it had only darkened from handling and was not that big a deal. The rim had some darkening and burn marks on the top near the back, the right side and the right front. These would have to be dealt with.
I used my tried and true method for pulling broken tenons. I twisted a drywall screw with wide threads by hand into the airway on the tenon. When it bit, I wiggled the tenon free of the shank. It did not take much to pull it out. If it had I would have put the bowl in the freezer for a half hour and repeated the process. I faced the stem on my topping board to knock off the remnants of the broken tenon and then twisted the stem onto a drill bit slightly larger than the airway in the stem. I don’t use the power feature on the drill as I would rather turn the stem onto the bit by hand. This is critical when working on short saddle stems where it is very easy to over drill the airway and ruin the stem. When I had the airway open for a new tenon I improvised by using a junk stem I had in my can of stems. I pressed the tenon on the thin stem into the freshly drilled airway on the stem. The fit was snug and the once I cut back the donor stem I would have a new vulcanite tenon. I glued the new tenon in place with super glue and pressed it until it set. The next three photos give an idea of how the new tenon and the donor stem fit in the stem as a replacement tenon. I cut off the stem with a hacksaw. In this case, after measuring the depth of the mortise I knew I could cut of the tenon portion of the donor stem and be left with a tenon the right length for the pipe. I turned the diameter of the new tenon down with a sanding drum on my Dremel until it was close to fitting and then finished the fit by hand with 220 grit sandpaper.
As often happens with a new tenon I had to do a little fine tuning on the shank – not much really but a slight removal of briar on the left side and a little vulcanite on the left. I probably could have left it but I am picky so I sanded it lightly until the transition was smooth. I wiped down the bowl with acetone on a cotton pad to remove the mottled finish and the glue that was on the shank and the bowl from the price tags.
I examined the burns on the rim and to repair/remove them the bowl would have to be lightly topped. I used the topping board and 220 grit sandpaper to take off most of the burn marks and minimize the damage.
I took the stem off and cleaned out the shank and the stem. It was a pretty clean pipe which lent proof to my earlier assumption of the pipe being lightly smoked. With the tenon replaced, the bowl stained and looking fresh all that remained was to remove the oxidation on the stem. I lightly sanded the stem with medium and fine grit sanding sponges and then went on to sand it with micromesh sanding pads. I wet sanded the stem with 1500-2400 grit pads and rubbed the stem down with Obsidian Oil. I “painted” over the saddle area and the edge of the button with the flame from a Bic lighter to remove the oxidation. I dry sanded with 3200-4000 grit pads, rubbed it down with oil once again and then sanded it with 6000-12000 grit pads. I gave it a final rubdown with Obsidian Oil.
Once the oil dried I buffed the stem and the bowl with Blue Diamond on the wheel and then gave it multiple coats of carnauba wax. I buffed it with a clean flannel buff to raise the shine. I then used the new addition to my order of things, learned from Dave Gossett and hand buffed the bowl and stem with a microfibre cloth to take the shine to the next level. The finished pipe is shown below. The fit of the stem makes the repair look like it came that way. The final photos of the stem and tenon show how the new tenon looks when it was completed. I am sure glad that the broken tenon did not ruin this old pipe and that once the new tenon was replaced the restoration was quite simple. This pipe should serve me well for years to come. Thanks for looking.