Blog by Anthony Cook
A friend from the Pipe Smoker Unlimited forums recently picked up a volcano-shaped Merkur 2000 pipe as a birthday gift to himself (we all know that those are the best gifts). He was drawn to the shape and the bit of nice grain that he could make out beneath the grime and dark stain. He mentioned in a comment that it was going to need a little cleaning up. So, I offered to take care of that for him and he accepted.
I gave the pipe a good look over when the pipe arrived some time later. I was immediately impressed by how light it was for its size. It appeared to be in good, clean condition too. The stem had barely any tooth chatter, but it had some reddish oxidation that almost matched the stummel stain and there were strange bands of raised vulcanite in some areas. My best guess is that something had lain across the stem for a very long time to cause the warping. The stummel appeared to have a few scratches, including one on the rim that was the most pronounced, but they were small and looked shallow. So, I was confident that they could be easily removed.
The actual manufacturer of this pipe is a bit of a mystery to me. It’s stamped “MERKUR 2000” along the left shank, “REAL BRIAR” along the right, “WEST-GERMANY” and “720” along the bottom, and there is a slanted “H” logo on the stem. Pipephil has a listing for a Blackwood pipe with a matching stem logo and “2000” in the same location and typeface. It’s my guess that neither Merkur nor Blackwood is a manufacturer brand name, but rather they are either model names or shop-branded names. Whatever the case may be, the “WEST-GERMANY” stamping is a clear indication of the country of origin and that the pipe was made sometime before the 1990 German reunification.
When I asked my friend what he wanted done with the pipe, he said that he would like me to lighten the color a bit and make the grain “pop.” So, to begin, I wiped the stummel down with acetone and cotton pads to remove the grime and lift some of the old stain. I think a good, internal cleaning is the foundation of any estate pipe work. So, I scrubbed out the stem and stummel with a few pipe cleaners, cotton swabs, and a shank brush. Next, I set up the retort for some deep cleaning (kind of like steam cleaning the carpet). I flushed the stem and shank 10-12 times with the boiling alcohol, let the pipe rest for about 10 minutes, and the flushed it 10-12 times again with fresh alcohol. After the second retort the alcohol in the vial was almost as clear as when it was fresh (the debris seen in the photo is bits of carbon build-up on the outside of vial from the candle flame). So, I gave the pipe a final scrub to remove anything left behind from the retort. The stem was dropped into a bath of Oxyclean and warm water for about an hour, and then I removed the softened oxidation by scrubbing with cubes cut from a Magic Eraser pad. I sanded down the tooth chatter and warped bands on the stem with a progression of 220, 320, and 400-grit paper and the entire stem was lightly sanded with 600-grit paper to get rid of the pitting and smooth the surface.
I already knew that I couldn’t completely restore the stem logo; the upper-right portion of the “H” was almost entirely worn away. I thought that it would look better with something there though. So, I painted over the logo with a grout pen, let the paint dry, and then very carefully sanded away the excess with 1200-grit paper to reveal the partially restored logo. Then, I sanded the rest of the stem with 1200-grit and polished with the full range of Micro-Mesh pads to wrap up the stem work. The scratch on the rim didn’t seem too deep. I thought that I would be able to remove it with just a light topping. It didn’t take much sanding with 220-grit before I noticed that the “scratch” was widening and realized that it wasn’t a scratch at all, but a small pit. I thought that it might still be shallow enough that I could sand it out, but when the pit was still there after a bit more sanding I decided to cut my losses and patch it with a briar dust and CA glue patch. Then, I topped the bowl with 320-grit to even everything out.
Unfortunately, that pit wasn’t the last one that I encountered while working on this pipe. At least two more revealed themselves along the rim and a few more on the rest of the stummel. Now, before I tell you about how I did the rest of the stummel I have to issue an apology. I failed to take any more photos before finishing up the pipe. I’ll lay the blame on the previously mentioned pits that kept cropping up, which caused me to backtrack at almost every stage and redo sections of the work. However, I’m sure that you can follow along with no problems. I won’t detail any of the pits, since they were all addressed in the same way as the one above.
In order to honor the request to make the grain “pop,” I heated the stummel with a heat gun to open the grain and applied a dark brown stain thinned to one part stain to three parts isopropyl alcohol. After flaming the stain to set it into the grain, I hand-buffed with a soft rag to remove the excess, and then sanded the stummel with 400-grit. This removed most of the light scratches as well as much of the surface stain, which gave the grain some nice contrast.
I heated the stummel again before applying a medium brown stain thinned the same as before. I flamed and hand-buffed again before lightly sanding with 600-grit and 1200-grit papers. I also began polishing with Micro-Mesh 1800-grit to 2400-grit.
Next, I applied a light brown stain, flamed, hand-buffed, and reattached the stem to give the stummel a Tripoli buff on the buffing wheel. I don’t buff the stem with Tripoli, but it’s good to have it in place to prevent the buffer from rounding the shoulders of the stem and shank faces. I use a rubber tourniquet tightly wrapped around the end of the stem to protect it from the wheel.
I polished the stummel with 3200-grit through 4000-grit paper before giving it one final stain of British tan thinned by eye until it was just weak wash. Then, I polished with the remaining Micro-Mesh grits before buffing the entire pipe with White Diamond and applying several coats of carnauba wax to finish up the pipe.