Blog by Steve Laug
I am working on yet another Idaho find. This one comes from a small shop in Victor, Idaho. I had a great visit with the shop keeper who has traveled the world. We talked about travels and pipes. She had a small jar of pipes behind the counter and I purchased all of them. I love the Zulu shape and this one is a good example of it. The pipe is in rough shape. The finish is worn and is peeling off on the sides of the bowl. The rim is damaged. The cake had been reamed with a knife and the bowl was out of round. The top was rough and the back outer edge was beat down and had a large nick on the back right side. The stem did not fit in the mortise all the way. It had some oxidation and a band of calcification toward the back near the button. The slot was almost closed off with grit and when I removed it from the shank it had a very grimy short stinger. Not sure but I think I will lose the stinger. I am not sure the stem is the original as the diameter of the shank and the stem are not quite the same.
I took a close up photo of the rim to show the damage to the top and the back side of the rim. It was truly a mess. I took the stem off the pipe and pulled the stinger with a pair of pliers. I scrubbed down the exterior of the bowl and the rim with acetone on cotton pads to remove the peeling varnish and the grime as much as possible before I worked on the rim and the backside of the bowl.
There was a large fill that had crumbled on the underside of the shank about mid shank. It would need to be picked out and repaired. I picked out the crumbling fill with a dental pick and then topped the bowl on the topping board using 220 grit sandpaper. When I had flattened out the majority of the rim damage I repaired the damaged back side of the bowl using super glue and briar dust. I also replaced the fill in the bottom of the shank at the same time.
When the patch dried I did some more topping of the rim to blend the repair into the flat surface of the rim. I reamed the bowl with a PipNet reamer using the first two cutting heads. I took the cake back to bare briar to check for damage to the inside of the bowl.
I sanded the repairs on the underside of the shank and the back of the bowl to blend it into the briar around it. I wanted the transition to be smooth and seamless. The top and the backside of the bowl took some effort to clean up. You can see from the photos the size of the repairs. They had dried hard as a rock and were very stable but they were quite large.
I sanded the bowl and shank with 0000 steel wool to smooth out the scratches and polish the repairs. I used it on the entire bowl to help remove the previous finish.
I used the KleenReem drill bit to clean out the air way between the mortise and the bowl. It was constricted from the build-up of the grime. I could not get a thin pipe cleaner into the airway before I used the bit to open it up. I cleaned out the shank and airway in the bowl with pipe cleaners, cotton swabs and alcohol. I scrubbed it until they came out clean and white. It was incredibly dirty. I tried to get a pipe cleaner down the stem but the slot in the button was too constricted to get even a thin cleaner through it.
I sanded the transition between the stem and shank. The stem did not fit properly in the shank. I worked on the tenon to even it up the fit in the shank. It was almost conical at the end next to the stem so I used a Dremel and sanding drum to even it up. It was also sanded at a bit of an angle so there was a gap on the right side of the shank. I even out the tenon and made it round again. When I was finished the gap was gone and the stem fit. Now all I had to do was adjust the diameter of the shank on the right side and top as it was slightly larger than the diameter of the stem. I sanded the shank with 220 grit sandpaper until the transition was smooth and the diameter the same on both the shank and stem. I sanded the stem at the same time and removed the tooth chatter and calcification on the button end.
I sanded the inside edge of the bowl with a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper to smooth out the roughness on the back edge. I sanded the bowl and stem with a medium and a fine grit sanding sponge to remove the scratches left behind by the sandpaper.
I sanded it with 0000 steel wool to take out the next level of scratches on the briar.
With all of the sanding completed I stained the bowl with the oxblood alcohol based stain to highlight the grain. It would be the first coat of stain that I used. I wanted to make some of the birdseye and cross grain standout and chose the oxblood colour to be the undercoat. I flamed the stain and then buffed it to remove the excess stain.
I wiped the bowl down with alcohol and sanded it with 1500 grit micromesh to further remove the excess stain.
I then stained it with the top coat – a dark brown aniline stain thinned 50/50 with alcohol to make it more of a brown wash coat. I applied it with a cotton swab and then flamed it. I repeated the process until it gave a good coverage. I applied heavily around the top of the rim and on the underside of the shank over the repairs. I buffed it with White Diamond on the buffer and then rubbed down the bowl with a light coat of olive oil to bring life and depth to the finish.
At this point I set the bowl aside to work on the stem. The slot was so tight that I could not get a thin pipe cleaner through it. That had to change so that I could easily clean it. I used small needle files to open it up. I started with a flat oval file and worked on the bottom and top edge of the slot. Once I had them opened I used a thicker oval to give the top and bottom edge more depth and the sides more of a taper inwards to the airway. I finished with a round file and folded sandpaper to smooth out the opening.
I wet sanded the stem with 1500-2400 grit micromesh sanding pads to remove the scratching and oxidation that remained. I rubbed it down with Obsidian Oil and continued by dry sanding with 3200-4000 grit micromesh pads. I gave it another coat of oil and finished with 6000-12000 grit micromesh pads. I gave it a final coat of oil and let it dry.
I buffed the bowl and the stem with Blue Diamond Plastic Polish on the buffing wheel and then gave the bowl and stem multiple coats of carnauba wax. I buffed the pipe with a clean flannel buff and then hand buffed it with a microfibre cloth to add depth to the shine. The finished pipe is shown below. The contrast stain worked well and the birdseye grain stands out on both sides of the bowl. The cross grain on the front and back also looks great. The repairs are still visible but less so than they were before the two coat stain process. It came out pretty well considering where it was when I started on this old timer. Now it should continue to deliver good smokes for a long time to come. I put the stinger in for the photos but it is easily removed and I am pretty sure that I will remove it once I smoke it!