Restoring a Lovely Rhodesian by John Calich

Blog by Steve Laug

I have had a thing for Calich pipes since John made a new stem for a bowl I bought on Ebay for one of his pipes. It was a labour of love and one which led to several phone conversations and correspondence with John. He was a great guy and a definite loss to the Canadian pipe smoking community. Whenever I come across one of his pipes in need of work I try to purchase it and restore it. The pipe I am writing about at this time is a Calich Hand Made Rhodesian that is stamped that way on the underside of the shank. It also has a 04 stamping. The photos below were shown by the eBay seller. The bowl appears to be in great shape. The stem is slightly oxidized and the seller noted that there was a hole in the top side of the stem at the button. I knew what I was getting into when I purchased this pipe – or so I thought.Calich1I have written several blogs about Calich pipes that help give an idea of the age of the pipe. While I waited for the pipe to arrive I reread those pieces to refresh my memory on the stamping. I have included the links to the blogs below.

I summarize the dating information from those blogs now: From my research and conversations I learned that John’s pipes were graded 3E – 8E. The retail prices for them ranged from $145.00 to $500.00. Each pipe was stamped “CALICH” and given an E grade. His earlier pipes were graded from 3-14 and had a single, tiny silver dot applied to the top of the stem. More information can be found at the Pipedia website by clicking on this link. This information told me as expected that the pipe I had was an earlier one.

I vaguely remembered that I had found further information but could not remember it so I read the next blog I wrote. There the information honed in on the date more closely. I quote from that blog now: I did find out some further information on the dating of Calich pipes as the information on Pipedia was not complete. What I found was very helpful. His early pipes were graded with numbers from 3 – 14. By the late 1980’s Calich introduced 15, 16, and even one 17. In the mid-90’s the grade system changed employing a number of E’s. The more EE’s the higher the grade. From that information I knew that the pipe I had was not only an earlier one but came from early in the 1980s.

When the pipe arrived I took some photos of it to give a clear picture of what I was going to have to deal with in the restoration of this pipe. The stem was more oxidized than the seller’s photos showed and the finish also showed more debris in the rustication and the double rings around the bowl cap than had appeared in the photos. The rim top looked about the same – there was a thin build up of lava on the flat surface but the inner and outer edges were undamaged.Calich2 Calich3The bowl had a light cake in it and would be easy to deal with. There was no damage to the inner bowl. As I looked over the surface of the bowl it was clear that under the grime the pipe was in pretty decent shape. The big issue was the hole in the top side of the stem at the button.Calich4 Calich5 Calich6I took a photo of the bite through to show the extent of the damage. The edges of the bite through were also pushed down into the airway on the stem constricting the airway so that a pipe cleaner would not pass through. The topside of the button was also thinned down considerably and would need to be built up. Calich7 Calich8I used needle files and a dental pick to open up the airway and clean up the crushed edges of the bite through. It enlarged the hole but the airway was wide open when I finished. I also roughed up the edges of the cleaned up hole with the needle files to give a rough surface for the repair to bond to.Calich9 Calich10 Calich11With the stem hole cleaned up I was ready to begin the repair. I cut a wedge of cardboard and covered it with clear tape to make a surface that the glue would not stick to. I inserted it into the airway under the hole and wedged it in place. I mixed a batch of activated charcoal powder and black super glue to make a patching mortar and using a dental spatula applied the material to the hole and the top of the button to build it up. I sprayed it with some accelerator to harden the surface so I could continue to work on the pipe and removed the cardboard wedge.Calich12 Calich13I reamed the bowl with the Savinelli Pipe Knife to clean out the thin cake. You can see from the photo that there was not much of a build up so it was quick job.Calich14I set the stem aside and used a dental pick to clean out the rings around the bowl cap. I scrubbed the rustication with some Murphy’s Oil Soap to clean up the dust in the grooves and crevices of the finish.Calich15I scrubbed the top of the rim with saliva and cotton pads and was able to remove the lava on the surface without harming the finish on the bowl top.Calich16 Calich17I cleaned out the inside of the mortise and shank with cotton swabs, pipe cleaners and alcohol.Calich18By that time I was also able to clean out the inside of the stem with pipe cleaners and alcohol. The pipe cleaners went through with little issue and the stem was clean.Calich19The next morning after the glue had cured overnight I worked on the stem. I needed to reshape the slot to facilitate easy cleaning so I used needle files to clean up the entrance of the airway.Calich20I sanded the stem repair and the surface of the button top with a sanding board to begin the process of reshaping the surfaces of both.Calich21I cleaned up the edge of the button and shaped the surface of the button with needle files until the edge was sharp the surface matched that of the underside of the button.Calich22With all of the hard shaping done it was time to begin the tedious process of sanding the repairs. I started with 220 grit sandpaper to smooth out the surface and the transition to the rest of the stem.Calich23There were still some small holes around some spots on the fill. I used a clear super glue to fill these in and smoothed out the patch with a spatula.Calich24 Calich25When the repair had dried I sanded it with some finer grit sand papers until the surface was smooth.Calich26 Calich27 Calich28I moved on to sand the stem with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding it with 1500-2400 grit pads and then giving it a coat of Obsidian Oil. I dry sanded with 3200-4000 grit pads and gave it another coat of oil. I finished by sanding it with 6000-12000 grit pads and giving it a final coat of oil. I let the oil dry before buffing the pipe.Calich29 Calich30 Calich31I buffed the pipe and stem with Blue Diamond on the wheel and then gave the stem several coats of Carnauba wax. I buffed the stem with a clean buffing pad. I gave the bowl several coats of Conservator’s Wax and hand buffed it with a shoe brush. The finished pipe is shown in the photos below. The stem repair is solid and though visible to me as I have looked at it so long, it is not obvious. The pipe is useable and looks as close to what it must have looked like when John shipped it out from his shop in the 80s. Thanks for looking.Calich32 Calich33 Calich34 Calich35 Calich36 Calich37 Calilch36


3 thoughts on “Restoring a Lovely Rhodesian by John Calich

  1. upshallfan

    That was a nice find and lovely version of the Rhodesian shape. Excellent job on the hole repair. I need to pick up some activated charcoal, the black superglue alone is a bit too shiny.

  2. Al

    Fine job, Steve. A nice tribute to the maker. Every pipe has a story, and you have preserved another piece of history.


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