By Al Jones
To this point, I’ve never had a proper tool for bending a stem. Previously, I used a propane torch, which was pretty risky and completely unnecessary. Someone on a forum mentioned that Hobby Lobby sold heat guns. I found this item and it was priced at $24. At the checkout counter, the clerk said a coupon for 40% was on their website, so that reduced it to $16. The gun didn’t look very formidable, but the spec sheet said it had a maximum heat range of 604 degrees, which sounded more than adequate. It has a flip down wire stand. Unfortunately, it only comes in the pink color, but I’ll never misplace it.
I practiced on an old beater pipe with a Vulcanite stem. I inserted a fat pipe cleaner in the stem to keep the airway open. The gun made the stem pliable in about 25-30 seconds, held about 1″ away from the nozzle. I used a big, metal weight to set the bend, but any jar, etc. would work fine. Just match the arc of the stand to the bend you desire. After making the bend, I immerse the stem in cold water to set the bend.
I have a very nice, full-bent, 1999 Ashton Pebble Grain (in rare tan stain) in my collection. The angle of that stem never looked right to me and by my taste, was too shallow. I like the final bent portion of the stem to match the top of the bowl. I was curious as to how the Ashtonite stem would bend compared to the vulcanite. It took a bit longer to get pliable but bent nicely. After immersing in cool water, I noticed there was a slight wrinkle in the material on the underside. I removed that with some 1500 wet paper and polished up that area. The pipe still passes a stem cleaner, but now is at a more attractive angle.
The original stem angle:
The new bend below. The pipe smokes as well, but hangs more naturally.