Blog by Steve Laug
The Alco pipes were made by Falcon in England. This particular version of the Alco was made to hold an in line triple air groove filter. All Alco bowls are interchangeable with any other Alco, but NOT with Falcon. The Alco I was given is an Alco Universal Gold pipe. The pipe was in decent shape with the finish on the bowl in good shape but dirty. The rim had an abundance of lava overflow that came from a thickly caked bowl. There was tobacco debris stuck to the bottom of the bowl. The copper coloured base was dirty but did not show damage. The gold band was attached to the stem and showed some oxidation. The stem itself had a lot of tooth chatter on both the top and bottom sides near the button. What complicated that a little was that the stem was a dental bit and had two scored marks on each side. The airway in the stem was tight and the slot was narrow. The stem had a gold Falcon on the top side. The stamping on the underside of the base read ALCO UNIVERSAL. The pipe came apart easily. I twisted the bowl off the base and found that there was a plastic spacer between the bowl and the base. The bowl had been stamped ALCO on the underside and it was dirty. The base had a lot of tars and oils that had hardened around the centre post. The stem also had the above mentioned “Triple Air Groove Filter”. Surprisingly the filter was pretty new looking.I cleaned out the airway in the stem with pipe cleaners, cotton swabs and alcohol. It was not as dirty as I expected. It made me wonder if the previous owner had not cleaned it a bit before he put in the new filter.The base was another story. It looked as if it had not been cleaned for a long time. I loosened the hardened oils and tar with a dental pick. I cleaned up the loosened debris with cotton swabs and alcohol and was able to remove the hardened tars and oils that had accumulated in the base over the years. I used cotton swabs, pipe cleaners and alcohol to clean out the inside of the mortise and airway in the shank.Reaming the bowl was a challenge as the cake was hard and dense. Starting with the smallest cutting head on the PipNet reamer and moving through the first three heads I reamed the cake back to bare briar. I cleaned up the bowl and airway at the bottom using the Savinelli Pipe Knife. Thinking about it as I write I probably should have tried out the Falcon Pipe Reamer that I picked up not too long ago. I forgot I had it so it will have to be used next time. I scrubbed the base of the bowl and airway with cotton swabs and alcohol to remove the accumulated oils and tars on the bottom. You can see the ALCO stamping on the briar at the top of the picture.I worked on the rim with a cotton pad and saliva to remove the build-up there. It just took a bit of elbow grease to remove it and the undamaged rim came out of the grime. I wiped down the bowl with alcohol on the cotton pad and cleaned the dirt off the surface of the bowl and touched up the rim.I wet sanded the rim and bowl with 1500-2400 grit micromesh sanding pads and wiped it down again. I finished by sanding it with 3200-4000 grit pads to raise the shine. I put the bowl back on the base for the photo below.I have always found plastic stems harder to polish than rubber ones. The dental bit was a challenge to clean out all of the tooth marks in the grooves. I sanded the stem with 220 grit sandpaper to smooth out the chatter and then used 2000-6000 grit wet dry sandpaper to begin polishing it. I wet sanded it with 1500-2400 grit micromesh sanding pads and gave it a coat of Obsidian Oil. I dry sanded it with 3200-4000 pads, gave it another coat of oil and finished sanding it with 6000-12000 grit pads. I gave it a final coat of Obsidian Oil and let it dry. I have found that buffing plastic stems is more trouble than it is worth as the heat of the buffing pads can easily melt the stem and create a mess. I hand polished the stem with Meguiar’s Scratch X2.0 with cotton pads to bring up the shine. I buffed the bowl with Blue Diamond and gave it several coats of carnauba wax. I buffed the bowl with a clean buffing pad. I gave the stem several coats of Conservator’s Wax and hand buffed it and the bowl with a microfibre cloth. The finished pipe is shown in the photos below.