Restemming and restoring an oval shank billiard with issues


Blog by Steve Laug

I was gifted an oval shank billiard with a broken tenon and no stem by a fellow pipe refurbisher. He knows I like a challenge so he thought that maybe this would be a fun one for me to fiddle with. I looked at it when I unpacked it and spent more time looking at it over the weekend. When I first picked it up I put it in the bin of pipe to be refurbished and pretty much figured it would be one of those that I picked up when I had nothing else to work on. I have a few of those sitting in the bottom of the box. On Sunday I was going through the box trying to decide which pipe I would work on next and picked it up. There was something about it that drew me to work on it next. I can’t tell you what that was; I have no words to describe it. I know though that those of you who refurbish pipes know the feeling and the call of certain pipes. This was one of those. So it came to my work table.

Now that I had made a decision to work on it I took time to look it over and assess it. That is what I always do when I work on a pipe. I look it over and list out what needs to be addressed if I am to bring this pipe back to life. I like to enter into the work with a clear idea of what needs to be done. Doing this keeps me from finding those issues that surprise you in the process – at least most of the time it does. There will always be exceptions to the rule. For this pipe it was pretty straight forward.
Here is a list of the issues:

1. The finish was very rough and the darkening of the briar around the middle of the bowl was worrisome. It was hard to tell if it was potential burnout starting to happen – thus darkening the briar or if it was dirt and grime. I was pretty sure it was just soiled and stained but could not tell for sure until I had reamed the bowl.

2. There were scratches and dents all over the surface of the bowl.

3. There was one large fill on the right side of the bowl, mid-bowl that would need some work. I would either need to pick it out and refill it or repair it.

4. There was a burn mark on the underside of the shank mid-shank.

5. There appeared to be a small crack on the bottom of the shank at the place the stem and shank meet. It extends inward about a quarter inch. It was hard to see as it was hidden in the dings on the bottom of the shank from when the pipe had been dropped and the stem broken.

6. The bowl had a thick cake in it to the point that the tip of my little finger was about all that would fit in the bowl.

7. The rim had nicks and damage to the surface as well as a lava overflow from the cake in the bowl.

8. The stamping was virtually nonexistent. All that remained was a faint stamp on the left top side of the shank near the end – it read Made in London. It would definitely disappear if I banded the pipe to deal with the crack.

9. The airway in the shank and mortise was dirty and clogged. I could push air through it but barely when I blew through the end of the shank.

10. There was a broken tenon stuck in the shank. Generally these are pretty straight forward so I was not too worried about removing it.

11. There was no stem to work from as a model and the oval shank would make matching it a challenge.

Here is what the pipe looked like when I brought it to the work table.Bill1

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Bill5 I started the cleanup by pulling the broken tenon. I used the normal drywall screw and had the tools handy. In this case I threaded the screw in gently and was able to pull the tenon out by hand very easily.Bill6

Bill7 I turned to my can of stems for a potential stem. I actually had one that was a decent fit. The tenon was perfect and the fit against the shank end was ideal. The diameter of the stem on the bottom of the oval was too big and would need to be sanded to a correct fit. It happened to be the only oval stem I had at the moment and it was a twin bore bite proof stem. I was careful in fitting the stem because of the small crack in the shank.Bill8

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Bill11 I used the Dremel and sanding drum to take off the excess rubber on the bottom of the stem.Bill12 This may be a funny thing to say but as I examined the stem after I fit it to the shank I noticed it had a small hole near the button. When I turned it over to check it out then I noticed that I was dealing with a bite proof stem – a stem with two airholes coming out of the button from the single airway in the stem. Picture the letter Y and you have a good picture of the stem.Bill13 I inserted a greased pipe cleaner in the airway on left airhole and then repaired the hole in the underside of the stem. I used black super glue to fill it and built it up to give a good base. When it dried I sanded it smooth with 220 grit sandpaper to blend it into the surface of the stem.Bill14

Bill15 Reaming the bowl took some effort and several different reamers. I used the PipNet reamer to start and then worked on the bowl with a KLEENREEM reamer. I finished by using a pen knife to clean out the last remnant of carbon in the bowl. I cleaned out the airway in the shank and the stem with pipe cleaners, cotton swabs and alcohol.Bill16

Bill17 I topped the bowl on my sanding board and lightly sanded the cracked area and damage on the bottom of the shank end.Bill18

Bill19 I sanded the stem with 220 grit sandpaper and then with a medium sanding sponge to smooth out the scratches. I wiped the bowl down with acetone on cotton pads to remove the grime and the remaining finish. The new stem fit really well and I only wished that the shank did not have the small crack that mad banding a necessity.Bill20

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Bill23 I cleaned the area around the fill on the right side and repaired it with super glue. I sanded it smooth and then sanded the bowl with a medium grit sanding sponge.Bill24 I heated the briar with a heat gun and then applied a coat of cherry stain to it. The stain took well and sat deeply in the grain of the bowl.Bill25

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Bill27 With the stain in place the crack on the underside of the shank was very visible. It was mid shank and extended about ¼ inch. At this point I had to decide how to address this crack. I could do a shank insert and do an internal repair or I could band it. In looking over the shank I realized that the tenon was already quite thin and I would be hard pressed to make it smaller to fit inside of a shank insert. I would need to band the pipe.Bill28 I had a round band that would fit once I flattened it. I opened the crack with a dental pick and filled it with glue to repair the crack and then pressed the band into place on the shank.Bill30

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Bill32 I lightly sanded the tenon as the band made the fit in the shank too tight. I put the stem in place and took the next photo to get an idea of the new look.Bill33 I set the bowl aside and worked on the stem. I sanded it with micromesh sanding pads. I did my usual routine with the micromesh pads – wet sanding with the 1500-2400 grit and dry sanding with the rest of the pads up to 12000 grit. I used Obsidian Oil as usual.Bill34

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Bill36 I buffed the nickel band with a jeweller’s cloth and buffed the pipe on the wheel with Blue Diamond polish. I gave the bowl and stem multiple coats of carnauba wax. I buffed it on a clean flannel buffing wheel and then by hand with a microfibre cloth to raise the shine. The finished pipe is shown below. I think that taking the time to recondition and restore this pipe paid off with a beautiful oval shank billiard. Thanks for looking.Bill37

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