Reshaping and Restemming a no name Oval Opera Pipe

Blog by Steve Laug

I bought a group of pipe bowls on Ebay a while ago and one of them was an oval bowl Opera pipe. The stamping was non-existent, whether worn off by over buffing or never present it was no longer on the shank on either side. It is shown in the photo below marked with a red oval. It is an interesting shape and this one was a normal sized pipe. There was nothing of the typical small size of the pipes like this that I have worked on in the past. The stem was long gone and the broken tenon was stuck in the shank. The finish was rough and had deep dents and nicks all over the bowl. The cake in the bowl was thick and the rim was damaged on the inner edge and had burn marks on the front top and left side. There were two large fills on the bowl; one on the left side shank near the bowl junction and the other on the underside mid-shank.Op1 Op2 I pulled the broken tenon by my usual method. I use a drywall screw and insert it in the airway. I use a screwdriver to turn it into the airway just enough to be tight in the tenon. You need to be careful to not turn it in to far as it will expand the tenon and crack the shank. Once it is in place I use needle nose pliers to wiggle it free of the shank. It usually comes free with little effort. That was true in the case of this tenon.Op3
Op4 I took the next set of photos to show the state of the pipe when I started this project. Note the damaged rim top and inner edge.Op5
Op8 I went through my can of stems for a donor stem and found a bent saddle stem that I could straighten and fit to this pipe. I turned the tenon with the PIMO tenon turning tool to a close fit and hand sanded it to get a snug fit. The shank was slightly oval and the stem round so I would need to work on the shank to get a good fit.Op9
Op10 I used 220 grit sandpaper to clean up the finish on the bowl and shank. I did preliminary shaping of the rim to clean up the damage at the top. I used a PipNet reamer to ream the bowl. I use the smallest head and work it in the centre of the oval first and then move it to the front and back of the oval to ream those areas. I cleaned up the reamed bowl with a pen knife to get rid of the cake. I needed to take the cake back to bare briar so that I could reshape the inner edge.Op11 I sanded the bowl with 220 grit sandpaper to remove as much of the damage to sides of the bowl as possible. You can see from the photo below the dip in the top edge of the bowl about middle. That is where the burn damage is on that side.Op12 I wiped the bowl down with acetone on cotton pads to remove any remaining finish and to see where I stood in terms of removing damage to the bowl.Op13
Op14 The next photo shows the extent of the damage to the top and inner edge of the rim. You can see the rough cut marks on the inner edge from a previous owners attempt to ream the bowl. You can also see the burn marks on the left and right top and sides of the rim.Op15
Op16 To remove the dips where the burn marks were in the rim top and to remove the damaged briar I decided to top the bowl. I would need to reshape the rim to match the original but I would deal with that later.Op17 I used a Dremel and sanding drum to shape the outside edge of the rim and bowl.Op18
Op19 Op20 I put the stem in place in the shank, aligned it correctly and sanded the shank to clean up the fit. I wanted the shank to be more round and consistently shaped as it originally was not completely oval – it was only that shape on the left bottom side. The rest of the shank was round. I sanded until I had the shank rounded and matching the stem.Op21
Op22 I continued to shape and sand the rim and flow into the bowl. I worked on the slight bulge in the stem at the saddle to get the alignment and flow right. Since I had a clean slate to work with on this old briar I figured to get it as close as I could to a clean flowing look. I wanted it to look better than before not just cleaned up. It would take a lot of sanding and shaping before I was finished with it.Op23
Op26 The fill on the bottom of the shank was solid except for one small spot in the centre of the repair so I sanded it, wiped it clean and filled in the spot with clear super glue. Once it dried I sanded it smooth to match the rest of the shank. The small rough spot was gone and the fill was smooth and dark.Op27 I cleaned out the shank and airway with the KLEENREEM drill bit to remove the buildup in that area. The draw on the shank was constricted so this was necessary to open it and give an easy draw to the pipe.Op28
Op29 I cleaned out the shank and the airway in both the bowl and stem with alcohol, cotton swabs and pipe cleaners until it was clean.Op30 I sanded the edges of the stem and the scratches in the saddle portion with 220 grit sandpaper to shape and define the edge and fit of the stem. I left a slight bend downward in the stem when I had straightened it and like the look of it.Op31
Op34 I put a cork in the bowl of the pipe and prepared to stain it with the black undercoat. I wanted to highlight the interesting grain and the black would bring that out. It would also serve to mask the repair on the shank and the fill next to the bowl.Op35 I applied and flamed the black stain and repeated the process to get good coverage on the bowl.Op36 I wiped the bowl down with alcohol soaked cotton pads to remove the stain that did not settle into the grain.Op37
Op40 I sanded the bowl and shank with a medium and fine grit sanding block to further remove the black stain. The contrast is beginning to show and the grain stand out.Op41
Op44 I sanded the bowl and shank with 1500-1800 grit micromesh sanding pads to remove the scratches on the briar.Op45
Op46 I wiped it down with alcohol on a cotton pad and then set it up for the top coat of stain. I chose to use a Cherry Danish Oil on the top coat. I applied it with a cotton pad and set the bowl aside to dry.Op47
Op48 While the bowl dried I worked on the stem. I wet sanded with 1500-2400 micromesh sanding pads to further fine tune the shape of the stem. I worked to remove the remnants of scratching left behind by the initial shaping done with the lower grits of sand paper. I rubbed the stem down with Obsidian Oil and then dry sanded it with 3200-4000 grit pads. I gave it another coat of oil and finished sanding it with 6000-12000 grit pads. I gave it a final coat of Obsidian Oil and let it dry.Op49
Op51 The bowl was dry by the time I finished with the stem so I buffed the bowl and stem with Blue Diamond on the wheel and then gave both several coats of carnauba wax. I buffed the pipe with a clean flannel buffing pad and then hand buffed it with the microfibre cloth. The finished pipe is shown in the photos below. I really like the way the contrast stain came out and the way it hid the fills on the shank. The pipe really has some stunning and interesting grain all the way. Not one side looks the same. There is birdseye, cross grain and swirled grain. I think the finished pipe is a great improvement from when I started it. Thanks for looking.Op52


2 thoughts on “Reshaping and Restemming a no name Oval Opera Pipe

  1. Charles Lemon

    The oval bowl is not really a shape that’s in my wheelhouse when I look for a pipe, but this one cleaned up very nicely, Steve. I like the Danish Oil finish – will have to try that some time!


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