Blog by Steve Laug
One of the pipes my brother sent me this past week was this long stemmed little billiard. The stem was over clocked almost ½ a turn in the shank and the stem was frozen in the shank. It was dark coloured and the finish was dingy. The rim was covered with an overflow of cake from the bowl but it did not look to be damaged either on the inside or outside edge. The bowl itself had a broken cake lining it – thicker in the middle and the back edge than at the top or the bottom fo the bowl. There was some small pin prick sized marks around the back side of the bowl near the top edge but they were not rough. The stem itself was quite clean – good rubber so it had hardly oxidized. There were two small tooth marks – one on each side of the stem. The WDC white triangle in the stem had lifted and would need to be repaired. The stamping on the shank of the pipe is what got my attention. On the left side it had the WDC in a triangle logo over MILANO. I have seen quite a few WDC Milano pipes over the years. On the other side it is stamped Hesson over Pat’d Dec 22, 1925 and the shape number 1527.
I was not sure what kind of connection I was dealing with on the tenon on this old Milano. Other ones I had worked on were push aluminum tenons and sat in the shank. The aluminum oxidized and the tenons often were bound to the shank when I got them. But there was something about this one that was different. I could not turn it either direction so I put it in the freezer overnight and let the different expansion/contraction rates of briar and metal do their work. In the morning I carefully worked it back and forth and it seemed to give a little. I decided to see if it was a threaded tenon so I held the shank tightly next to the stem and the turned the stem counter clockwise and it came free. Once it was out I could see that I was dealing with a slightly older Milano Hesson system than any of the previous ones I had worked on. This one had a threaded tenon with a long tube attached to the end. The tube extended right up to the entry of the airway in the bottom of the bowl. The shank was also was threaded but the threads had been cut into the briar. There was no mortise insert in the shank. I looked at the documents I had from the other WDC Milano Hesson pipes that I had restored. This one was slightly different. I have included the Patent drawing for your comparison. The differences are readily notable. The patent is from 1932 and the pipe is stamped 1925. The major difference that I see is the internal of the shank and the tube on the tenon in the 1925 edition. I decided to use my tried and true method for correcting over clocked stems. I heated the tenon with the flame of the lighter and tried to turn it. It did not work. No matter how long I held the lighter in place it did not heat the glue in the stem enough to allow me to align the stem with the shank. I set up a heat gun and heated the tenon on low heat. It did not take long and I was able to screw it into the shank and align the stem properly. I set it aside and let it cool with the stem in place while the glue hardened again. I took the following three photos to show the properly aligned stem.
I cleaned out the shank with cotton swabs and alcohol until it was clean. I ran a pipe cleaner through at the entry of the airway into the bowl. The end of the metal tube sat against the entry so it was pretty clean. Most of the grit and grime were in the threads on the walls of the mortise. I reamed the bowl with a PipNet reamer and the smallest cutting head to take the cake back to the briar.
With the inside clean I worked on the bowl finish. It was dirty but it also had a coat of varnish on the surface that had gone opaque. The grain was invisible underneath it. I lightly sanded the bowl and rim with 1500 grit micromesh to break up the surface of the varnish and then wiped the bowl down with acetone on cotton pads until I had removed the grime and varnish coat and the grain was visible. The stain on the pipe was oxblood so it had a rich, deep red hue to it.
I scrubbed the metal tube with 1500 grit micromesh and used a brass tire brush on the threads to clean up the grime and oxidation that was present on it. I cleaned out the inside with pipe cleaners, cotton swabs and alcohol. I buffed the bowl with White Diamond (very lightly around the stamping on the shank) and gave it a coat of carnauba wax.
I started to polish the stem with micromesh sanding pads. I wet sanded with 1500-2400 grit pads and then rubbed the stem down with Obsidian Oil. I was just starting to sand with a 3200 grit pad when the edge of the pad hit the edge of the triangle (it sat high on the stem as it appeared to have lifted) and sent it flying. The white triangle was nowhere to be found so now I faced a new dilemma. I filled in the empty triangle in the stem with liquid paper. It is the same white as the previous triangle. It shrinks as it dries so once it was dry I put a drop of clear super glue on top of it to form a bubble. Once it dried I could sand it down to the surface of the stem and I would be good to go with the replacement triangle. Once the glue dried I sanded the fill down to match the surface of the stem and the new triangle looked pretty good. I cleaned out the threads on the tenon with alcohol and a cotton pad and then screwed it back into the mortise. I sanded the newly filled and area with 1500-2400 grit pads and then continued with 3200-4000 grit pads. I rubbed the stem down with Obsidian Oil and then dry sanded with 6000-12000 grit pads. I gave it a final coat of Obsidian Oil and let it dry.
I buffed the stem and bowl with Blue Diamond on the wheel and then gave it multiple coats of carnauba wax. I buffed it with a clean flannel buff to raise the shine and then hand buffed it with a microfibre cloth. The finished pipe is shown in the photos below. It does not look too bad for a pipe from Dec. 22, 1925. Thanks for looking.