Daily Archives: January 13, 2016

Another Brewster That Looks Better Now Than When It Was Made

Guest Blog by Robert M. Boughton
Member, International Society of Codgers
Member, North American Society of Pipe Collectors
http://www.roadrunnerpipesnm.biz (Coming Soon)
Photos © the Author

Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.
― Kong Qui (Confucius), 551-479 BC, Chinese philosopher, teacher and political figure

This Brewster Billiard arrived in one of the many pipe lots I bought online the year before last, at which time I apparently dismissed it as a common Dr. Grabow that could be put off until I had nothing better to clean or restore. Nevertheless, despite the oppressive grime and weariness that lay upon the wretched pipe like a veil of black magic – or maybe because of this gloomy aspect, as a good friend once remarked with acerbic nonchalance that I seem to be attracted to wounded things (his exact words, all the more angering because I knew he was right) – my eyes returned to it many times since it came in the mail. On every occasion except the last, a week or so ago, I made the mental Dr. G. connection and passed it by.

I’m not saying all Dr. G. pipes are worthless; I just seem to be happier when they’re not cluttering up my own collection. But the two I do own are excellent and exceptional, not counting three unusual beauties that were given to me by my friend and mentor, Chuck Richards and which I expect to sell.Brew1





Brew6 There is a good reason for all of this talk about Dr. G. pipes, which might seem to some as nothing more than pointless rambling. As I already noted, all but the last time I considered this pipe, I was so certain it was a Dr. G. that I didn’t even bother with more than a glance. Then, not more than 10 days ago, for some reason I will never understand, I picked it up and squinted at the left side of the shank to check the brand. The pipe was so filthy and sticky (remember that last word) that it might have fallen out of a pig farmer’s bib overalls and smack into the trough. It was so bad, at any rate, that I had to take it into the living room where I keep my jeweler’s magnifier headset to begin to decipher the name, which I could see began with a B. Even then some hard rubbing with a thumb was necessary to break on through to the other side.

When I at last made out the word Brewster, all that came to mind was a great old movie, “Brewster’s Millions,” from 1945. Go figure! And so, of course, I took a seat on the couch and consulted my laptop, clicking the speed dial to pipephil.eu. There, sure enough, was Brewster. Made in Italy. Unknown maker. What kind of hogwash was this? I Googled “brewster tobacco pipes” and found only a few identical references. Well, I said to myself, I’m not about to let any lack of preliminary intel stop me from making this wounded or perhaps birth defected little thing better.

Only when I was gearing up for the restoration, and happened to visit my local tobacconist, did I chance to notice a new estate pipe put out by Chuck. You guessed it: a Brewster, made in Italy. What were the odds, I wondered, laughing so loudly that the young lady behind the counter, Candice, looked at me in surprise. I explained myself.

But the real shock came a few days later, when I was nearly done with the restoration and started wondering (worrying is more like it) how I was going to write a blog about a pipe with a clear name on it of which several experts in the pipe community had heard but still had no clue who made it. Being a somewhat persistent little bugger, however, I returned to Google, this time expanding my search to “brewster tobacco smoking pipes.” I will never cease to be amazed how sometimes the computer knows exactly where I’m going with a search and even comes up with the right suggestion, and others it’s a swing and a miss. This time it was out of the ballpark.

The very first link, at the top of the page, was to – where else? BREWSTER PIPES/ REBORN PIPES, https://rebornpipes.com/tag/brewster-pipes/. To say I was beside myself is an idiom that doesn’t begin to describe my sense of amazement. As I wrote to Steve in an email, the Brewster triangle was complete. And there, in the most vindicating black and white letters I have ever read, were the words, “The thread pattern and the look of the metal fitment looked exactly like a Dr. Grabow set up.”

Anyway, the bizarre connection between Brewster and Dr. G. is so thoroughly Italian (read “Machiavellian”) that I haven’t quite processed all of it yet. But it’s all there in Steve’s blog, blow by brutal blow, and as far as I can tell, it’s a Reborn Pipes exclusive. I’m sure those who are interested in the grizzly details will follow the link above. I am not about to try to paraphrase Steve’s incredibly detailed research. All I can say is that congratulations on an investigative job worthy of Woodward and Bernstein are in order. For once I will exercise the better part of valor in not going into details that already took up pages of Steve’s blog.

I will comment that Steve’s history of the Brewster includes one hilarious section on a blunder involving a large shipment of pipes to Mastercraft which were stained but not cured with a drying agent. Hence they remained sticky to the touch for years before they were eventually “fixed.”





Brew11 The first order of business, if only so that I could handle the clinging pieces of wood and Vulcanite, was to clean the outside. I did this with a couple of white cotton gun cleaner cloths and purified water, and while I was at it applied 1800 and 2400 micromesh. Wetting the micromesh pads, I was able to remove all of the char on the rim. The stummel had so many scratches and dings that I doubted the micromesh would be enough, but the immediate difference was striking.Brew12


Brew14 Next I chose a fixed, 21mm reamer, 320-grit and 500-grit paper for the chamber, and seeing I was correct about the scratches on the stummel, I tried super fine steel wool, the same sandpaper and steel wool again to work away more of the blemishes. This was an ongoing process.Brew15






Brew21 An OxiClean bath, for the first time in my experience, was enough to work out all of the mess inside the bit air hole, which, judging from the used, sudsy, murky water, had been somewhat bad.Brew22 I used 320 paper followed by the full gamut of micromesh on the bit, and thought I was done.Brew23 Now, I didn’t actually notice the problem at this stage, but for the sake of uniformity I’ll add it here. In fact, only after I had completed the remainder of the restoration did I notice the turn of the bit was off. Examining the tenon end of the bit, which should have been flat, I saw it had a chip that I hoped – notice I don’t say thought – I could remedy with a little sanding. Luckily I stopped that madness before it was too late. Yes, I’ve utterly destroyed a few bits in my short experience with the treacherous objects, and I’ve learned my lesson! Turning to Black Super Glue, I dabbed a little over the weak spot and let it sit overnight.Brew24 Staining the stummel with Lincoln medium brown boot stain (which is really pretty dark), I flamed it, set it aside to cool, and buffed lightly with 4000 and 6000 micromesh.Brew25



Brew28 The next day, with the stummel already buffed on the wheels, I had to re-do the entire bit to remove scratches left from my aborted attempt to sand down the lip, and to even out the Black Super Glue. I also heated the tenon, threw a cotton rag over it and clamped it with my grip pliers and turned. It was close, but no cigar, so I repeated the process with less force, and the bit was flush with the shank.

Well, now I looked the two pieces over and was happy with the bit, but there were still fine lines on the wood that I didn’t care for at all. And so, not liking the idea, I used 1800 micromesh to smooth it out, then had to re-buff with white Tripoli, White Diamond and carnauba, and the clean wheel between each.  That did the trick.Brew29





The most difficult part of this task, surprisingly, was the bit, from which, after bringing it to a high shine the first time, I didn’t expect any further problems. It’s taken some time, but I’m finally getting the hang of bits. The easy part of the restore was making the sweet little billiard look better than I expect it ever did out of the factory in Italy, with everyone involved in its creation doing his best to hide the fact!

The When and Zen of Pipe Restoration

Conversation Charles Lemon lives in Eastern Canada and Steve Laug lives in Western Canada. Connecting them across the distance is a common passion for restoring old pipes. Both men find beauty and pleasure in the work of restoration, and share their work on their respective blogs. Charles started and maintains DadsPipes – exploring the art of tobacco pipe restoration and Steve started and maintains rebornpipes – reclaiming old and worn estate pipes. The two restorers sat down recently over Skype for a discussion about their shared hobby. Here is an edited version of that conversation. We invite you into the conversation and to comment at the close of the blog. Let’s carry the dialogue beyond the borders of Canada!

“Other people can talk about how to expand the destiny of mankind. I just want to talk about how to fix a motorcycle. I think that what I have to say has more lasting value.”
― Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

“Logic presumes a separation of subject from object; therefore logic is not final wisdom. This is Zen. This is my motorcycle maintenance. ”
― Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Steve Laug: When has a pipe reached the point that is not repairable or restorable in your opinion? In my experience the answer to that question changes all the time. In the past there were many pipes that I did not pick up because I thought they could not be brought back to life. One thing I have learned over the years is that the definition of no-return has changed as my skills have changed. I have learned new tricks that keep me even taking old bowls and broken shanks and recrafting a new pipe from them. So I would say that my definition of what is not repairable is in a state of flux all the time. How about you?

Charles Lemon: I agree – I’ve tackled some restorations lately that I wouldn’t have touched with a barge pole a year ago. I still ask myself if a restoration is worth it, or advisable, though, even if I know it’s possible. A few situations come to mind. A pipe with great sentimental value to its owner may sometimes be best approached as a preservation effort rather than a restoration. All pipes can benefit from a good cleaning, but I’ve left the pipes inherited from my father in otherwise original condition, tooth dents and all. I don’t smoke most of those pipes, so they’re more memorial items in my collection. On the other end of the stick, a highly collectible pipe can be devalued by an overzealous effort to return it to as-new condition.

SL: True enough Charles. To ask whether a restoration is worth it or even advisable though, is a very different kind of question as to whether it is possible. I think that the cases that you give are good testament to the fact that there are various layers of restoration. To me preservation is also restoration at some level. Think of a beautiful work of art that is cleaned and restored. It is not restored to new condition it is merely brought back to the creator’s intent plus the passage of time. I too have left special pipes from good friends as they came to me in honour of their memory and the gift they were to me. Somehow to remove the dents and dings on them reduces the impact of the gift to me. I smoke them but less frequently than others. The time of smoking is kind of a memorial in fire/smoke. For a moment I join with the person who gave the pipe to me and is no longer present. Those are special times. I leave them for times when there is nothing pressing in my life.

I think the other scenario you put forward is that of the highly collectible pipe. For that I agree with you. Nothing is worse than an overzealous restoration that leaves the stamping reduced and the beauty diminished. I sometimes have the feeling that the restorer who does that really removes the personality of the original. Maybe they should restamp it as their own! LOL.

When I look at a pipe I first ask the question, “Can I restore this?” From there I move to “Should I restore this?” To me once I know it is something that I can tackle then it is easier to choose not to do so.

“An experiment is never a failure solely because it fails to achieve predicted results. An experiment is a failure only when it also fails adequately to test the hypothesis in question, when the data it produces don’t prove anything one way or another.”
― Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

CL: Knowing your strengths and weaknesses is key. If a project is beyond my grasp I will pass it to someone else or put it away for a while and have another look in a few months or longer. Maybe my skills have caught up, maybe not. When IS a pipe no longer restorable? It seems every time I think I’ve found the limit, I see another refurb online where someone’s done something clever and raised the bar.

SL: I do find that I use junk pipes – those with no inherent value – as training ground for doing work on pipes that matter to me. If I screw up the junk pipe I can laugh and call it education. Far better to learn on those than on ones that matter. One of the first burn outs I tackled was on an absolutely worthless Tinderbox Monza. It was fire wood but it gave me the opportunity to practice cutting briar plugs and fitting them in the bowl. This adds another category to what or what not to refurb. I have learned to tackle even useless pipe as part of my pipe repair university course.

CL: There’s a reason I keep buying auction lots of estate pipes – they provide a fairly steady source of pipes with wide-ranging damage and thus repair needs that I can tinker with more or less risk-free.

SL: The trick is having the eye to know when to do what. That is the hard part to learn I have found. The learning is that old concept of “when less is more”.

CL: I was just thinking the same thing! I’ve had so many “firewood grade” pipes come out of the estate lots around here that I tend to forget that some pipes are actually well cared for and won’t need the Terminator approach to refinishing.

SL: Exactly! The restoration process often is like this conversation, back and forth, debating with yourself and the briar what is needed and then starting. Then more debate and then continuing. It is a dance with the wood. We have similar experience with the firewood grade pipes I think. But that is what builds the creativity for me and gets the juices flowing. What can be done with this piece of kindling.

“Care and Quality are internal and external aspects of the same thing. A person who sees Quality and feels it as he works is a person who cares. A person who cares about what he sees and does is a person who’s bound to have some characteristic of quality.”
― Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

SL: The more I think about it, the longer I have been in the work of refurbishing the defining feature for me regarding the restorability of a pipe is whether I want to do it. Sounds persnickety but I think it’s really what I have come down to. There seems always to be a work around to bring a damaged pipe back to life. What do you think about the idea that the critical functional feature in restorability is not the ability of the repair person but the desire? Once you have the basic skills mastered the ability issue disappears from the equation for me. It rather becomes an issue of desire. Do I want to restore this? Either as a part of my ongoing education or as a piece of pipe history or beauty. What do you think?

CL: You’ve got something there, Steve. The basic skills are, well, basic – anyone with a will to learn can figure out how to use sandpaper, glue and stain to restore a pipe. Or a coffee table for that matter. Desire or drive is what keeps us doing what we do. I’ve spent more hours than I can count working on a restoration, knowing full well that the resulting pipe, even if functional and maybe even beautiful, will have no greater value than when I started. But I did it anyway because something about the pipe intrigued me – a shape, a maker, a different style of rustication, or just because I wanted to do it. I’ve also got a few pipes in my rack that I know would have turned out better if I had put a little more care, attention – or desire – into the work while it was on my bench.

I also find that restoring a pipe is an organic process. I sometimes have an idea of how the finished pipe will look going in, but usually the pipe decides on its own how the restoration will proceed. Just reaming the bowl of an old estate pipe can reroute a restoration drastically – hey look! A burnout! How’d that get there? And if you’re lucky, that PITA pipe repair is also the job in which you hit the magic and elusive perfect combination of stains that turns an ordinary pipe into a stunning piece of briar.

SL: I don’t know about you Charles, but I have gone back to the rack and redone those I did early in the learning curve. I have reworked them – some of them two or even three times before I am finely happy with them. To me it is like reading a favourite book – I go back to it again and again and there is always something more. Same with reworking a favourite pipe.

I agree the process of restoration is organic – it develops with each stem that you take along the way. I work on trying not to preset the outcome – other than clean and functional. The rest just happens. I think that is why I am willing to take on seeming disasters – the sheer joy of seeing what is reborn in the process – like finding treasure. I think that mysterious happening is part of the charm that keeps me hunting for pipes to refurbish.

“The way to see what looks good and understand the reasons it looks good, and to be at one with this goodness as the work proceeds, is to cultivate an inner quietness, a peace of mind so that goodness can shine through.”
― Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

CL: There is an undoubtedly spiritual/psychological aspect to restoration work. People talk about being in the groove when they are immersed in the work. Restoring a pipe is oddly restful for me – it’s both a tactile, physical activity and an intellectual pursuit that requires a high degree of focus. On a related note, I find it nearly impossible to be angry or agitated while smoking a pipe, so smoking a pipe while working on a pipe is cheaper than therapy!

SL: The act of restoration is definitely therapeutic. To restore a pipe after work gives me the space to decompress from my day and actually finish something. Sometimes the more complex the restoration is the better it is for me in terms of disconnecting me from the rest of the day. The act of restoration is spiritual at its core it seems to me. The very act of bringing life to a broken and abused thing is spiritual in nature. To me it takes our craft and lifts it to a deeper level. Maybe that is why I find it hard to neglect a sad old pipe that shows promise.

“To live only for some future goal is shallow. It’s the sides of the mountain which sustain life, not the top. Here’s where things grow…..We want to make good time, but for us now this is measured with the emphasis on “good” rather than on “time”….”
― Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

The conversation wrapped up at this point, but the collaboration will continue with a shared restoration project. Watch for that very special post, in which Steve and Charles put a LOT of miles on an old pipe, coming soon to both rebornpipes and DadsPipes!

Thanks for joining us for this discussion. If you’d like to share your own thoughts and opinions on the craft of pipe restoration, we invite you to continue the conversation through the comments section below.