Blog by Steve Laug
I recently came across an EBay lot of bowls without stems and broken tenons still in the shanks. In the lot was one that intrigued me. It was the only one with a stem. The stem was short and tapered. It was very narrow and the button and slot made me think that it was old. The lot had the look of older English pipes but there was no information on the stamping. When the lot arrived in Vancouver, the stemmed pipe was stamped Vanguard over Reg’d on the left side of the shank. All other stamping, if there had been any, was lost. The bowls finish was gone. The colour was almost grey and there were spots all over this bowl and the others as can be seen in the photo below. From the third and fourth photo provided by the seller I could see that the shank was cracked and would need to be addressed. The rim appeared to be very thickly covered with lava and the outer edge had been damaged and rounded. The next photo shows the large crack that was present in the shank of the pipe. It had started to open and the edge of the shank where it met the stem had some nicks. When the box arrived the pipe was actually in worse shape than the photos had shown. The bowl rim was not all that was caked with tars. The bowl itself was almost 1/3 full of half burned tobacco, dottle that was rock hard and filled the bottom of the bowl. The cake on the rest of the bowl was not thick but was very hard. The finish was not only grey and spotty but was dented and rough to the touch. I could feel the ridge where the sides of the crack in the shank had separated. The rim edges were not only damaged and rounded but were also rough from banging out the burnt tobacco against something hard. The stem had tooth marks and chatter on both sides of the stem at the button. The button and slot were intact. The stem appeared to be as old as or older than I first thought. This was going to be a challenge to bring back to life but the age of it made it something I could not wait to tackle.
I took some close up photos of the state of the rim and cracked shank once the pipe arrived. It was a mess that is for sure. The rim and bowl were in bad shape and smelled awful. The shank crack was worse than I had imagined. The first photo of the cracked shank is from the top and the second photo is from the side.
I looked up the Vanguard name in Who Made That Pipe and found that there were two makers. There was a French maker and an English maker. The French pipe was made by Marchal, Rouchon 1907 and the English one was made by A. Oppenheimer/Bernhardt & Meyers. Given that I cannot be definitive as to which maker crafted this pipe. But the interesting thing is that the Marchal & Rouchon Cie which later became GBD France came under control of Oppenheimer in Great Britain. So you can see that though I may not know which one ultimately made the pipe the fact is that the two brands came together in 1902 when Marchal & Rouchon Cie sold out to Oppenheimer. I now have in my collection a pipe which may well have bridged the union of the two companies. The Vanguard thus could easily bear both the French and the English stamping. The lack of a “Made in…” stamp may well signify the years that the companies joined. That in itself made cleaning up and restoring this old-timer interesting for me.
I decided to start the clean up by reaming back the cake and cleaning out the dottle from the bowl. I used a PipNet reamer and started with the smallest head and worked up to the one that fit the bowl. I took the cake back to bare wood to check for damage to the inside walls of the bowl. With a pipe this worn I find that this is extremely necessary. I do not want any surprises after I have cleaned it up.
To repair the damaged shank I opened the crack as much as possible without making it worse and used a dental pick to push super glue into the crack. I pressed it together until it dried. I then used the sanding drum on the Dremel to take down the shank slightly so that a band would fit snugly on the shank and hold the crack tightly together. I pressed the band onto the end of the shank and took the picture below before I heated the band and pressed it into place. I heated the band with a heat gun and then pressed it against a flat surface until the band was in place on the shank. I pressed it onto the shank and then used a folded piece of sandpaper to clean up the edge of the band and shank. I left about 1/8th of an inch of the band extending past the shank to deal with the chipped and damage shank end. The stem would not have had a clean fit against the shank because of the damage. When the stem was in place it fit inside of the band against he shank and looked great.
With the band in place the shank was repaired and the tenon would no longer fit in the mortise. The contraction of the briar by the band cleaned up the crack and tightened up the loose fitting stem. I lightly sanded the tenon with a sanding drum on the Dremel and then by hand to get a snug fit in the shank.
I cleaned the inside of the shank and the stem with alcohol, cotton swabs and pipe cleaners. I used the drill bit from the Kleen Reem pipe reamer to clean out the airway from the mortise to the bowl. When I was finished I swabbed out the bowl with cotton swabs and alcohol and was pleased to find that the rank smell was gone. I sanded the bowl and stem with 220 grit sandpaper and a medium and fine grit sanding sponge to remove the tooth marks on the stem and scratches in the briar. I steamed the dents in the briar with a knife blade and wet cloth.
I sanded the stem with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanding with 3200-12000 grit pads. I rubbed the stem down with Obsidian Oil between each grit and then continued sanding until I had worked through the lot of pads.
I wiped the bowl down with a light coat of olive oil and then sanded it with 1500-2400 grit micromesh pads and then continued through the rest of the grits of pads. I continued to polish the bowl with the remaining grits of micromesh.
I buffed the pipe with Blue Diamond polish on the wheel and then gave it several coats of carnauba wax. I buffed it with a clean flannel buff and then hand buffed it with a microfibre cloth. The finished pipe is shown in the photos below. It came out well for a pipe that potentially was made 108 years ago. Thanks for looking.