Blog by Steve Laug
I received this old BB&S Londoner bowl as a gift from a friend. It came without a stem but it was in very good shape. It had a cake on the bottom half of the bowl that was rock hard and needed to be removed. The finish was decent but dirty. The stamping on the left side of the shank reads LONDONER over London England. On the right side it reads BB&S over 5386. The BB&S stamping tells me that this bowl was a Barling – Benjamin Barling and Sons. I looked on the pipephil site (http://www.pipephil.eu/logos/en/logo-l5.html#londoner) and found that I could at least date the pipe as pre-1962. The link told me that once the family had sold the Barling brand (1962) pipes and especially the seconds of the brand were made in France, Italy or in Denmark… Since my pipe was stamped London England it was made before the sale of the brand and still bore the London England stamping. The shank had dents on the top and bottom sides and the bowl had dents all the way around the sides and bottom. Everything about the pipe signaled an easy task of refurbishing.
The general clean up went quickly. I was able to get the bowl ready to restem with no issues whatsoever. The issues with this refurb have nothing to do with the process of the restoration rather they come with regard to operator error with the camera/computer. It is a pain for me to have to admit that I erased the photos from the camera before I had copied them to the computer. I had taken some great photos! They were probably the best I had taken (at least I can say that because I have no proof or disproof that it is true). There were at least a dozen photos of the pipe from the moment I started the process, through reaming the bowl to the steaming of the dents. They showed the reaming process for the hard cake in the bottom half of the bowl. They clearly depicted the visible dents all around the bowl and then showed the process of using steam from a wet cloth and a hot knife blade to raise the dents. Those are the photos that I erased from my camera this morning. I have tried to undelete them to no avail so I apologize for not having any photos from the early stages of work on this pipe bowl.
With the confession out of the way and leaving behind my foolishness at rushing through a cleanup of the memory card in the camera I will move on to the remainder of the restoration and restemming of this little prince. After the missing reaming and steaming of dents I wiped down the finish of the bowl with Murphy’s Oil Soap on cotton pads to remove the grime. I rinsed off the bowl and dried it with towels. The photos below show the cleaned bowl.
Wondering what else would go wrong with this restoration I proceeded carefully with one eye looking over my shoulder. It seems these comedies of error come in sets. Who knows what would come next in the folly of this clean up. I poured out my can of stems and went through them until I found a stem that was close to the diameter of the shank. I drilled the airway in the tenon end to accommodate the centre pin on the PIMO tenon turning tool and then pushed the stem onto it. I slowly and by stages turned the tenon to fit the shank. My normal practice is to turn it as close as possible with the tool and then fine tune it by hand with sandpaper. I saw no need to invite trouble so I followed that process to the letter. I used a Dremel and sanding drum to cut back the excess vulcanite of the stem. This is handwork and takes a steady hand so as not to nick the shank of the pipe. Whew! I made it without damaging the briar and making more work for myself. I used a rasp to remove more of the excess diameter on the stem at the shank. I worked on it with the rasp until I had the fit close, then I put a plastic washer between the shank and the stem and sanded it with 220 grit sandpaper. I wanted to smooth out the surface and remove the marks left by the Dremel and the rasp at the transition point. I don’t know about you but after all of the detailed Dremel, filing and sanding work my hands need a break. I laid aside the stem and did some simple work. I cleaned out the inside of the bowl and shank with pipe cleaners, cotton swabs and alcohol. After that my hands were quite rested and it was time to get back to the stem. The fine tuning of the shape of the stem is tedious when it is done by hand. I don’t have a belt sander or power tools to make this go more quickly, so it is just ongoing hand work. I continued to use 220 grit sandpaper to shape and clean up the fit of the stem at the shank.
With the fit finished and being acceptable I breathed a sigh of relief. There were no more gaffes that happened up to this point. The stem looked acceptable and the pipe was taking shape. Not too much work left to do before I was finished and the drama was over. I sanded the stem with medium and fine grit sanding sponges to remove the scratches and rubbed the stem down with Obsidian Oil. I took photos of the pipe at this point to make up for the lack of photos due to operator error in the earlier part of the process.
So far no bigger crises than forgetting photos. A few more steps left before I am in the clear on this one. I was moving to the buffer and if something could happen at this point it would be at the buffer. Nothing like getting this far and having the buffer snatch the pipe out of your hand and send it across the room snapping the tenon or cracking the shank. So with fear and trepidation I buffed the bowl and stem with White Diamond before continuing the process of polishing the stem. It worked well and I headed back to the work table. I wet sanded the stem with 1500-2400 micromesh sanding pads and then gave it a coat of Obsidian Oil. I dry sanded with 3200-12000 grit pads and then gave it a final rub down of the oil. I let the oil dry.
One more dangerous trip to the buffer to go and I was home free. I buffed the pipe with Blue Diamond on the wheel and then gave the bowl and stem multiple coats of carnauba wax. I buffed it with a clean buff with no drama so I was finished with that part of the work. I gave it final hand buff with a microfibre cloth. The finished pipe is shown below. Not too bad – only problem in the process was the photos. Whew! Now one question remains should I give the stem a slight bend or not. What do you think?
Al Jones (upshallfan) commented below regarding what the pipe would look like with a slight bend. I gave it a bend a few moments ago. What do you think? Thanks Al.