Blog by Steve Laug
A fellow Canadian contacted me about working on a Bekler that he had picked up. He said it was pretty rough. He sent me these photos for a quick look. I loved the look of this pipe. It is stamped CAO Bekler on the darkened shank. On the foot it is stamped ’81 over A La Rodin no. 7 of 100. Above the darkened shank is an insert of carved roses. Above that is a bi-colour spool. The stem was pushed into the spool. There are threaded connectors between each piece of the shank. When the pipe arrived it was in worse shape than I had expected. Joe had said that the stem needed work but I did not expect the mess that came. Someone had hacked the stem with files and left behind an uneven surface with many deep file marks and scratches. Some of the flaws were raised and some were indents. It looked as if they had tried to thin the mouthpiece down and narrow the width of the stem. The button was intact but had file marks. The file marks went every direction across the stem. The slot in the end of the stem was off centre with the drilling in the slot slightly to the left. The stem itself was twisted to the left as well. The inside of the stem had a dark sludge in it that pretty well hid the tortoise shell look of the Lucite. The bowl and shank were badly scratched and the rim was a mess. The bowl was out of round and the same person had used the file on the rim leaving behind deep gouges in the top of the rim. On top of the scratches there was a thick coat of lava that covered the top from the inner edge out to about the middle of the top. The foot had some nicks out of it. This would take some tedious work to clean up.
I took some photos after I initially sanded the stem. I wanted to document the condition of the pipe. I sanded the stem with 220 grit sandpaper to smooth out all of the cuts and file marks. It took a lot of sanding and shaping to smooth out the stem surface. I found that under the file marks there were some tooth marks in the underside of the stem. I sanded that surface smooth and wiped it clean. I used a clear super glue to fill in the divots. Once the glue dried I sanded the entire stem once again and blended the patch into the surface of the Lucite. I reshaped the button and the edge with the sandpaper and cleaned up the slot with needle files.
Once the surface was smooth I cleaned out the inside of the stem with pipe cleaners and alcohol. I scrubbed the interior with both smooth and bristled pipe cleaners. I was able to clear out the darkening and tar in the airway. With the stem cleaned up and the surface smooth I took a picture of all of the parts on this pipe. The connectors look rough but upon examination I found that they were solid and needed to be cleaned up. You can also see the file marks on the top of the rim and the tars and lava that filled them.
I scrubbed the spool insert with Murphy’s Oil Soap and then rinsed it off with water. I cleaned out the inside of the spool and the threaded connector with alcohol, cotton swabs and pipe cleaners. I used a topping board to clean up the ends of the connector as it was poorly done. It looked like someone had shortened it with a pair of cutters and left the residual chips and flakes on the connector. The tars had caught on them giving the end a rough look. The threads were also caked with tars and oils. I scrubbed the next shank insert, the carved rose piece with the Oil Soap and a tooth brush and rinsed it with water. I cleaned out the interior with pipe cleaners, cotton swabs and alcohol. I also cleaned the longer connector inside and out. I used a dental pick to clean out the threads. I also used the topping board to smooth out the ends.
The next photo shows the two shank inserts joined together with the smaller of the two connectors. I gave them a light coat of Conservator’s Wax and buffed them with a shoe brush to raise a shine. I decided to work on the stem with the micromesh pads to see what the surface looked like with some shine. I find that the first three grits of micromesh pads – 1500-2400 – tell a lot. I could see the spots that I needed to still work on but I could also see the lovely tortoise shell Lucite beginning to show its colours. I put the stem on the two inserts to get a feel for the look of this part of the pipe. I took the next two photos to show the progress. The stem was getting there. I still needed to heat it and straighten out the twist in the bend and bend it slightly more as it did not fit snugly in the case. Before I heated the stem I examined it carefully. There was a small flaw in the swirls of the material on the top surface of the stem at the bend so I would need to be careful in the heating and bending. Fortunately the flaw did not go too deeply into the stem material but sat on the surface. I heated the tip of the stem and straightened out the twist in it as I bent it slightly to match the case. I repaired the flaw with super glue and sanded it with 20 grit sandpaper to smooth out the repair.
I cleaned the interior of the bowl and shank with pipe cleaners, cotton swabs and alcohol. I set the bowl aside to dry out and I sanded the stem with micromesh sanding pads. I wet sanded with 1500-2400 grit pads and rubbed the stem down with Obsidian Oil. I dry sanded it with 3200-4000 grit pads and gave it another coat of oil. I finished with dry sanding it with 600-12000 grit pads and gave it one last coat of oil.
I polished the stem with Meguiars Scratch X2.0 and then gave it several coats of wax. I scrubbed the surface of the bowl with the Scratch X2.0 and hand buffed it with a cloth. I sanded the file marks on the rim to bring it back to smooth. The deep gouges were blackened and took quite a bit of sanding to remove them. I started sanding with 220 grit sandpaper and worked on the surface of the rim. I was careful to not change the profile of the bowl or the angles of the rim. I sanded the rim with micromesh pads from 1500-12000 grit to smooth out the surface and give it a shine. I gave the bowl several coats of Clapham’s Beeswax Polish and buffed it by hand with a cloth.
I lightly buffed the bowl with Blue Diamond on the wheel being careful around the blackened shank. The shine rose in the meerschaum and the pipe looked good. Though there were still nicks and scratches they now looked like marks of honour and age rather than abuse. To me it is always a fine balance between restoring a pipe and reworking a pipe. On a beautiful pipe like this one I opted to work on the big issues and leave some of the war wounds on the sides of the bowl. To me the pipe has been around long enough to earn those marks. I want a pipe that is finished to look better than when I started but I am not aiming at making a 35+ year old pipe look new. I want it to look cared for and well smoked. The finished pipe is shown in the photos below.