This one was a labour of love – A Custombilt Bullmoose


Blog by Steve Laug

My brother sent me a pipe that is a shape I have had two previous times and always sold or gifted. It is a Bullmoose or a Scoop shape. Tracy Mincer did a great job with this shape and it is one I have never seen repeated as chunky as he did them. This one was stamped on the right side of the shank with the words Custombilt over Imported Briar.CB1 The pipe was solid but dirty. The stem would not push into the shank and the grooves and trails in the briar were dusty. The bowl had a thin, uneven cake in it and the lava overflowed slightly onto the rim leaving a thin coat of tars and oils. There were some dings and dents in the smooth parts of the pipe and the finish was worn. There were some fills in the grooves that showed through the worn finish. Overall it was in good shape. The stem had tooth chatter on the top and bottom sides with a few deeper tooth marks near the button. The photos below show what the pipe looked like when I started working on it.CB2CB3CB4CB5 I took a few close-up photos of the bowl rim, front and back views and the stem to show what I had to deal with in the restoration of this one.CB6CB7CB8CB9CB10 The stamping gave me a bit of information on the date of the pipe. The one word Custombilt stamping rather than the Custom-Bilt stamping would help to pin down the date a bit. I decided to pause a few moments and do a bit of reading to help narrow down the date. I looked on one of my go to resources – Pipedia.org. I also have Bill Unger’s book but it is packed away at the moment and this article on pipedia quotes extensively from the book. Here is the link to the article: https://pipedia.org/wiki/Custom-Bilt

Under the heading, Custom-Bilt History is the following information.

“The book (Bill Unger’s Book, my comment) opens up with an intriguing statement that unfortunately is never fully followed up: Before beginning this history, I need to emphasize an important fact and to ask the reader to keep it firmly. Spelling-Custom-Bilt, Custombilt, and other variations-is extremely important to the various aspects of the following discussions. It was not, however, important to many people in the company’s early days. [Emphasis mine] {Page 9}.”

“Tracy Mincer started the original Custom-Bilt pipes it appears in 1934. Bill meticulously details the start of the Company, how it was financed, the changes in the original ownership, how the company distributed its product, the manufacturing process, certain patented items, and other interesting stuff… In 1946, the name was changed to Custombilt after Mincer began an association with Eugene J. Rich, Inc. (my emphasis). There were some big changes in advertising and distribution. The slogan “AS INDIVIDUAL AS A THUMBPRINT” began at this time as well.”

“In the early 1950’s, Tracy Mincer developed severe financial problems that caused him to stop making the Custombilt, and he lost the name. In 1953, Leonard Rodgers bought the company and emphasized tobacco pouches and butane lighters. (However, it appears Mincer was working on his new pipe, the Doodler.) In 1968, Rodgers sold the Company to Consolidated Cigars. In the early 1970s, Wally Frank Co. bought the Custombilt trademark and began to produce their version of the pipe in 1974 or 1975. Hollco Rohr owned the Weber pipe factory, located in New Jersey, and produced the Custombilt pipes there. In 1987, the pipes were made out of the Butz-Choquin factory (France) and then Mexico until the late 1990s. Currently, the Custombilt name is owned by Tobacalera of Spain.”

From this information I am pretty sure my pipe is made after the change in 1946 and before Tracy Mincer lost the name in the early 1950s. It has the characteristic Mincer like rustication patterns and shape. It could very well be from the Rich era of the brand.

I went to work cleaning up this old timer. I scrubbed the bowl with a toothbrush and Murphy’s Oil Soap. I was able to clean out the rustication and the grooves with this method. I rinsed the bowl under warm water to remove the soap and the grime. The first picture shows the soap on the bowl and the second through the fifth picture that follows show the cleaned and dried bowl. You can see the putty fills in the grooves. Fortunately all of them were in the grooves and not in the smooth portion of the bowl.CB11 cb12 cb13 CB14 CB15I scrubbed out the airway in the shank, mortise and stem with alcohol, pipe cleaners and cotton swabs until they came out clean. I thought about using the retort but chose not to on this pipe as it smells sweet and clean.CB16 CB17To clean up the scratches and lava on the rim of the bowl I used a medium grit sanding sponge and “topped” the bowl on it. I find that this sponge removes the grime and leaves the rim intact with no briar removed. I worked it on the sponge until it was clean and then used a cotton swab and alcohol to clean up what remained.CB18 CB19I sanded the stem with 220 grit sandpaper to remove the tooth chatter and deeper tooth marks as well as the small gouges and oxidation on the vulcanite.CB20 CB21With the internals of the shank and mortise cleaned I was able to put the stem back in place. I reamed the bowl with a PipNet pipe reamer and took the cake back to briar.CB22 CB23I used a Black Sharpie Permanent Marker to stain the rustication patterns on the bowl and shank. Once I finished with that I wiped the bowl down with alcohol to soften the black and prepare the surface for the contrast stain.CB24 CB25 CB26 CB27 CB28 CB29 cB30I warmed the briar with a blow dryer and then stained it with Feibings Dark Brown that I had thinned with alcohol 1:1. I applied the stain and then flamed it with a lighter to set it. I repeated the process until I got good coverage.CB31 CB32 CB33 CB34I buffed the pipe with Blue Diamond on the wheel to give it a shine and even out the stain coat. The next photos show the bowl at this point in the process. The contrast of the dark in the grooves with the brown really gives the briar a bit of pop.CB35 CB36 CB37 CB38I was careful with buffing around the stamping as I did not want to damage the pristine stamping on this pipe.CB39With the bowl done I turned my attention to the stem. I wet sanded with 1500-2400 grit micromesh sanding pads until the majority of the scratches left behind by the sandpaper were gone. I rubbed the stem down with Obsidian Oil. I dry sanded it with 3200-4000 grit micromesh pads and gave it another coat of oil. I finished by sanding it with the 6000-12000 grit micromesh pads and giving it a final coat of oil. I set it aside to dry while I worked on another pipe.CB40 CB41 CB42I buffed the pipe with Blue Diamond to raise the shine and then gave the stem multiple coats of carnauba wax. I gave the bowl several coats of Conservator’s Wax and then buffed both the bowl and stem with a clean flannel buff. I hand buffed the pipe with a microfibre cloth to deepen the shine. The finished pipe is shown in the photos below. I love the finished look of this old timer and the feel of the hefty bowl in the hand. In my opinion it turned out to be a beautiful pipe. Thanks for looking.CB43 CB44 CB45 CB46 CB47 cb48

3 thoughts on “This one was a labour of love – A Custombilt Bullmoose

  1. Terry jacobs

    I just received 2 Custom Bilt’s from the grandson of a WWII in-theater vet. They are marked ‘Custom-Bilt’ and have no stem markings. They both have the same groove design and one has a rusticated top of the bowl … The finish on both are quite good. What kind of value do these have???

    Reply

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