Daily Archives: January 19, 2016

Celebrating the Re-Opening of My Store with a Restoration

Guest Blog by Robert M. Boughton
Member, International Society of Codgers
Member, North American Society of Pipe Collectors
Photos © the Author

“The people like to be humbugged.”
“Unless a man enters upon the vocation intended for him by nature, and best suited to his peculiar genius, he cannot succeed.”
“Nobody ever lost a dollar by underestimating the taste of the American public.”
“The noblest art is that of making others happy”

― Phineas Taylor Barnum (1810-1891), U.S. showman, businessman, politician, celebrated hoaxer and founder of the Barnum & Bailey Circus

P.T. Barnum was a man of contradictions, as the quotes above suggest, making him an obvious two-time Republican candidate for state legislator in the Connecticut General Assembly, both of which races (at different periods of his eventful life) were successful. Business, however, was always his first love, and by the age of 12, in Bethel, Connecticut, he earned enough money selling snacks and homemade cherry rum to buy his own livestock. By 21, he owned a general store and a newspaper called “The Herald of Freedom,” and ran a small lottery.

The Greatest Showman on Earth, who insisted his customers were willing participants in his obvious pranks and hoaxes, never said the line most attributed to him: “There’s a sucker born every minute.” Hence the first quote above. Barnum’s fame began with the 1835 purchase of a blind slave named Joice Heth, whom he advertised, in one of his greatest hoaxes, as being 161 years old and the one-time nurse of George Washington. During her tour of New York City and New England, throngs of gawkers paid to hear the old woman spin tale of “dear little George.” To heighten the already wild frenzy around Heth, Barnum later spread the rumor that she was, in fact, an automaton manipulated by ventriloquists. At Heth’s autopsy in 1837 – to which Barnum sold tickets – medical examiners determined that she was probably 80 at the oldest.

Despite his purchase of a slave, to whom he no doubt gave far better treatment than her former owners, as a legislator in later years Barnum was a strong advocate of equal rights for African-Americans. And likewise, giving up all liquor, including the cherry rum that started his long run in business, Barnum became a devout supporter of the Temperance Movement and remained committed to it until he died.

Other than Heth, three of Barnum’s best-known “exhibits” were a child dwarf he called General Tom Thumb, who was even granted a royal audience by England’s Queen Victoria; the Fejee Mermaid [see “The X Files,” S2, E20, “Humbug”], or the top half of a dead monkey sewn to the lower part of a fish, and his giant, six-ton African elephant named Jumbo, which was bought under wide protest from the London Zoölogical Society and led to the adjective jumbo, or large.

There are far too many more titillating examples of Barnum’s contradictory exploits and far too little space to go into any of them here, but you get the point. At least I hope you do. In a market-driven economy, advertising, publicity and flair are everything, and they form the unabashed purpose of this blog: to celebrate the grand re-opening of my online pipe restoration and sales business with the latest addition to its stock.

The selection has diminished in size during the past few months that the webstore was down, due both to continuing sales the old-fashioned way – hand-to-hand – and a plethora of personal issues, including moving again and several pressing legal matters in which I am prevailing through appeals despite being up against real attorneys, that have until recently eaten away at the time I prefer to devote to pipe work.

As the Steve Miller Band might have sung had they been writing of my better spent daily life:

This here’s a story about Bobby Mike and his stew,
One young lover with nothin’ better to do
Than sit around the house, smoke his pipes, and watch the tube
And here is what happened when he decided to cut loose….

With no further ado, I am pleased to call out in a booming voice, though it be in written words, “La-dies and gen-tle-men, who are children of all ages, welcome to the greatest, most amazing, daring, thrilling and spectacular show on Earth! The circus known round the world as pipe restoration! And now…in the Center Ring…turn your eyes toward the wonderful and awe-inspiring silver-banded bulldog ! All the way from England, measuring an astonishing six inches in length and a 6/8” x 5-1/4” chamber diameter, and called the Atwood Hall of Fame Natural #5, of the world-renowned Comoy’s family!”







Rob8 Sixty-three years after it was made and, my intuition tells me, loved by a single owner, there are numerous signs of wear and tear. Still, scratches on almost every inch of the stummel and bit, not to mention a few outright dings, are the pith of the blemishes, not counting the almost inevitable loose sterling silver band. These flaws are negligible considering the venerable pipe’s age and obvious regularity of use. Even the band – which, given the thinness of the inherently fragile material itself, invites heavy tarnish, bending and total obliteration of any hallmarks or stampings – was almost pristine, and is once more, still showing showing the single word of its substance, STERLING, and by more careful examination three hallmarks – something I can’t make out following by a T and a 5. Here is the first page of the original (and apparently only) Atwood U.S. Patent, showing the same design of the Hall of Fame 1953 Brandy.

AtwoodAtwood pipes came with “a permanent aluminum cup at the base of the chamber, with a bore hole.” [http://www.pipephil.eu/logos/en/logo-a9.html] The cup and bore hole, after cleaning, indeed are intact.

Although, by virtue of Atwood being a Comoy’s second, I was not over-concerned with the possibility of finding fills in the wood if I were forced to strip the original polish and stain, but I nevertheless took every measure I could conceive to avoid that step. At worst, I was convinced, the reason for the oppressive stain was to hide unfortunate grain. As will be shown, this proved to be the case.

I began by removing almost all of the rim burn with concerted rubbing using 2400 and 3200 micromesh freshly cleaned by a long soak in purified water.Rob9 An unsuccessful but still incomplete attempt to fix the remaining rim burn and scratching led me to an acceptance at that point of the fact that, though I might otherwise rid the rim of the remaining char, the remaining scratches, not just on the rim but everywhere else on the stummel, were sufficient to necessitate a low enough grit of sandpaper to take it down to bare wood. Having learned that sandpapering the entire wooden surface of a pipe can and often does lead to more problems, I chose the more efficient and reparable measure of an Everclear bath.Rob10




Rob14 The Everclear was a complete success in revealing that there were, indeed, no fills, but even finer scratches than even my minute examination of the briar beforehand, using a jeweler’s magnifier headset, had caused me to suspect could exist. And so I tried the superfine 0000 steel wool first, which at least took off the rest of the old artificial color and some of the less pernicious scratches. But 200-grit paper was unavoidable, in careful spot sanding, to banish the rest of the marks and pocks, followed by another soft buffing with the steel wool.Rob15


Rob17 The next steps seemed to be an easy crank or two of a 21mm reamer in the chamber followed by 320-grit and 500-grit paper, and a retort.Rob18


Rob20 The retort required two test tubes full of Everclear, but only because of the way the first tube-full always seems to remain in the pipe’s inner bowels after a few boils. At any rate, immediately following the retort, I ran a bristly cleaner through the bit’s air hole, which came out remarkably light, and used both ends of a fluffy pipe cleaner on the inner shank to soak up the wet residue of various accretions still in the shank. I removed the cotton ball from the chamber and swabbed it thoroughly with small white cotton gun cleaning cloths. Then I finished the chamber with a final wipe using 500 paper and more thin cotton swabs soaked in Everclear. The chamber was silky smooth.

“This pipe is clean!” I said to myself, out loud in fact, thinking of the tiny lady of “Poltergeist” fame, who sought out and did her best to dispel dead but still malicious souls.Rob21 At last, I turned my attention to the bit. It was in pretty good shape, but notice the bad scratch in the second photo below.Rob22 Every micromesh pad I have, still damp after the soaking from which I removed them some time earlier, was employed to make the bit shine again.Rob23

Rob24 The distinctive A for Atwood was perfectly ingrained and intact. I had made the rounded top of the bulldog bowl lighter than the rest of the stummel on purpose, and as the time for re-staining had come, I chose Fiebing’s Brown leather stain for the top and Lincoln Medium Brown (darker) for the rest.Rob25 Applying the Fiebing’s with care to the top, I flamed it with my Bic, then did the same to the rest of the stummel with the Lincoln.Rob26 After a short sit to cool off (both the wood and me), I gently buffed the whole surface with 3000 and 6000 micromesh.Rob27





Rob32 The final step before buffing was re-attaching the band to the shank, mindful of placing the STERLING/SILVER stamp in small letters on the upper left side, where it had been.Rob33 Oh, glorious moment! The time was nigh to retire to my office, wherein rests my electric buffers. Observing the clock on the wall, which told me it was already 2 a.m., I considered the neighbors opposite that side of the apartment and, understanding the way my building is laid out, realized they would hear nothing from their bedroom. I used the customary red and White Tripoli on the bit, with the clean buffer between each, and white Tripoli, White Diamond and carnauba on the stummel, again separating each with the clean buffer. For the band, I used a very fast turn on the clean buffer.Rob34









Reborn S.M. Frank Bakelite Bent Billiard

Blog by Pam Otto

This week’s refurbing adventure comes courtesy of an eBay estate lot, for which the seller accepted my “Best Offer” bid. The transaction occurred on a Sunday and by Wednesday the pipes had arrived. This is the photo that accompanied the listing:Pam1 All of the pipes appeared quite old, with orifice bits, and two of them really jumped out at me: a KB&B Blue Line that would need to be restemmed, but otherwise appeared to be in decent shape, and a C.P.F. Chesterfield that looked to be, and indeed is, positively enormous.

The other two pipes were older S.M. Franks. One is stamped Genuine Amber on the shank but as the stem on it is quite dark I’m going to guess it’s a replacement. The second one is stamped Frank Bakelite on the shank. It has a lovely bent red stem, way overturned, and a metal band stamped EP Silver. A few dings and a couple scratches on the bowl, and no tooth marks on the stem. I’m thinking this one, for whatever reason, was not a favorite.

Even though I’m anxious to get the Blue Line and Chesterfield cleaned up and smokable, the Frank Bakelite, with its simple needs, beckoned. It moved to the front of the queue.

I don’t know old this particular pipe is, but if it dates to the same era as the KB&B Blue Line, it could well be past the century mark. Thoughts, anyone?

At any rate, the stem of this old boy seemed like a logical place to start. I took a couple of pictures of it in its overturned state, then unscrewed it completely to see if an internal problem was to blame. Thankfully, the bone tenon was clean and solid.Pam2


Pam4Knowing I’d read how to tackle overturned stems, I looked to Steve’s blog and, sure enough, there it was in clear, easy-to-follow directions. Following the steps he listed, I filled a cup halfway with water, leaned the stem against the side of the cup and put it in the microwave. I used the highest setting and, because the cup was only half full, set the time for 1 minute—plenty of time to get the water boiling.

In those 60 seconds, two things happened that I hadn’t really counted on. One, it worked (not that I had any doubts in the recommendation; it’s just that I rarely get things right the first time). And two, whether because of the vigorous bubbling of the boiling water, or because my microwave is a carousel, or even because the Bakelite was so smooth, the stem fell all the way into the water.

The material itself was fine; in fact, some of the debris from the airway got cleaned out by the bubbling water. However, the heat caused the bent stem to straighten.

Reheating the stem to restore the curve was no big deal; all I had to do next was re-bend it over a rounded object. But as I hadn’t foreseen this step, I didn’t have many options from which to choose. Paper towel tube? Nope, too flimsy. Peanut butter jar? Too big.

Then I saw it, sitting amid the excelsior of a near-empty holiday gift basket: a small summer sausage. It had a slightly narrower diameter than I’d hoped for, but it was a solid cylinder and certainly convenient. I heated the stem in boiling water again, laid it across the curve of the sausage, and applied slow, steady pressure.Pam5


Pam7The results weren’t perfect, but they could be worse. Or wurst, har har. The stem feels good in my mouth, and the curvature looks okay. However, it’s not quite as deep as it was originally, and that bothers me just a wee bit. If I can find the rolling pin I know I used to have, I may try re-curving the stem at some point in the future.

To make the tenon fix on the stem permanent I dunked the tenon-stem assembly once again in boiling water—this time holding onto the stem so it couldn’t submerge completely. I twisted it tightly onto the pipe, counting on the slightly swelled tenon to grab hold inside the shank and the slightly softened glue in the stem to let go. I untwisted and, sure enough, the stem came off while the tenon stayed in the shank.

I dried the tenon with a soft pipe cleaner and applied super glue sparingly to the narrow threads, then twisted it back into the stem. Satisfied with the alignment, I put the pipe down to let the glue cure.
The following evening I unscrewed the stem from the bowl and the tenon withdrew from the shank just fine. I screwed it back in to make sure the repair held, then removed it once again and set it aside.
I took the bowl over to the sink and scrubbed the outside with a toothbrush dipped in Murphy’s Oil Soap. I wiped it down, then took it back to the table and rubbed it good with cotton balls soaked in 91% isopropyl alcohol.

The rim had a pretty good chip—maybe 1mm or so deep–missing at about the 8 o’clock position as you look at the bowl from the shank. While an extreme topping of the bowl would smooth things out, I felt it could also compromise the bowl’s shape. So after sizing it up from all angles, and finding that there really wouldn’t be much chance of tobacco being in contact with that area, I decided to try filling it instead.Pam8

Pam9Before proceeding with the fill, I thought it might be good to first address the inside of the bowl, which had minimal cake but a troubling bit of what looked like fuzzy mold or fungus. I didn’t want any spores getting into the fill, so I wiped everything down with 190 proof alcohol, then wrapped a piece of 220 grit sandpaper around my finger and sanded the interior thoroughly. More alcohol, then the addition of a flame. Take that, moldy fungus! After another heavy swabbing with Everclear I declared the inside done.

Back to the rim patch… I cleaned the area to be filled with alcohol, then scrubbed it with a green Scotch Brite pad to remove any dirt and debris. I was glad I used a wide pad like that because the briar on either side of the chip was loose and came off when I scrubbed.

The fill would need to be a little wider but not any deeper—not a big deal. I packed some briar dust along the rim, then reached for the super glue to drip onto the patch.

I’ve done this many times but am still perfecting the technique. This time I learned an important lesson: Don’t attempt a maneuver like super glue-dripping, which requires a certain degree of precision, with a parrot perched on your shoulder.

(Time out for a side note: I have a large macaw named Tom who is a frequent observer of my pipe renovations. I don’t let him near smoke or fumes but other than that he’s close by pretty much all the time. He normally sits on his stand and looks down on the proceedings, but this particular night he was on my shoulder.)

Anyway, Tom shifted just as I was letting a little drip drop onto the pipe. I totally missed the briar dust and watched as the dribble made its way down the inside of the bowl. Shazbot.

I tried again, Tom shifted again, and I dripped on the outside of the bowl. Arrrr!

Fool me once, fool me twice… I wiped up the outside drip as best I could and put Tom over on his stand. I sat down and, with steadier hands, I dripped the glue a third time—on target—and after sprinkling on a little more briar dust, set the bowl aside to cure overnight.Pam10 The next morning I took a flat needle file to the overfilled fill to jump start the removal of material. After that a thorough sanding with 220 grit sandpaper, first with the paper in my hand and then on my topping board, got the fill flush with the side of the bowl as well as the adjoining rim surfaces.

Follow-up sandings with 400 and 600 grit smoothed things out even more, but also revealed a couple of small holes in the fill. I probably had left some small air pockets in the briar dust; I couldn’t pack it down as tightly as I normally would due to its location on the rim. I refilled the fill using minute amounts of briar dust and applying the superglue with a toothpick.Pam11 While these tiny patches dried, I took on the task of shining up the metal band. I wiped it down with white vinegar, then ran through the sequence of 1500-12000 micromesh pads to make it good and shiny. Using the same pads, I polished the stem as well.Pam12 To give the patches a little more time to cure, I set about cleaning out the shank. Two—count ‘em, TWO—pipe cleaners, one bristle and one regular, dipped in alcohol was all it took.

I don’t know why the former owner didn’t smoke this pipe much, but as I set about sanding the patches I started coming up with scenarios. One, maybe it’s a crappy smoker. Only time will tell on that one. But other situations came to mind too. Maybe the stem was a problem from the get-go. Maybe it overturned after only a few smokes. Maybe the bend didn’t feel right. (Not that that will be problem any more. Ha.) Maybe it gurgled.

Whatever the reason for its nearly new condition, the pipe was rapidly coming back together again. Even with a 20 minute detour to sand off my super glue mistake inside of the bowl, the end was in sight.

I sanded the outside of the bowl and shank with 400 and 600 grit paper and followed up with the 1500 micromesh pad to take care of some slight scratches and dings. Next I got out the aniline stains to even up the color of the briar. Although much of the bowl was still quite dark, it was lighter on either side of the rim patch. I wiped on some oxblood stain, flamed it, wiped on dark brown and flamed again. A little bit of dabbing here and there with the dark brown and the staining was complete.

I slipped the metal band on the shank, screwed on the stem, smiled when it stopped right where it should, and headed over to the buffer.

(New development here at Casa Otto: Aided by a couple of gift cards from my brother, I invested in a Foredom M.BL—a small bench lathe with a variable speed motor that tops out at 7,000 rpm. I haven’t gone over what I estimate is about 1,200 rpm, based on the intervals marked on the speed control, and the results have been outstanding. Not only is it a fabulous machine, but it’s also small and fits nicely on the kitchen counter. It’s a huge improvement over my jerry-rigged drill press buffing station in the garage, and on a day like today when the outside temp is 2°F, a heck of a lot warmer too. Next step: Setting up the buffer in a spare bedroom. Upside to this will be getting counter space back. Downside is that the spare room is quite a distance from where the beer and snacks that fuel all good pipe projects are stored.)

I first buffed the assembled pipe with White Diamond, wiped it down with a flannel rag, then gave it three coats of carnauba, buffing with a clean wheel after each application.

This old pipe didn’t see much action during its go-around. But today, chip-free, moldy fungus-free and with a stem that sits where it should, it stands ready for a new century of service.Pam15Pam14Pam13