A Collection of Methods for Cleaning Clear Perspex Stems

Blog by Steve Laug


When I posted a blog on work I had done on the GBD Prestige Billiard recently Dave wrote and asked that I share tips that I may have on cleaning clear Perspex stems. These stems are distinct from clear Lucite or acrylic stems which are treated exactly like other acrylic stems. Perspex stems are typically found on GBD Prehistoric and Prestige as well as periodically on other GBD pipes. Over the years I have struggled with removing the tobacco stains in the airways of these stems. There seems to always be a brown line that fills the airway and looks lousy when viewing an otherwise clean and restored pipe. I have tried many methods that others have recommended with varying degrees of success and sometime no success. I have combined methods and had better success but always I have been seeking a better way of cleaning this part of the Perspex stem. If you have one of these pipes you know the struggle I am talking about. It generally is an issue of the airway and the funnel slot in the button. I thought I would share with you the variety of methods that I have tried, modified and then end with the one I am currently using and a potential new method on the docket.

I think there is a common reason for the issue with these stems. I have worked on a lot of them over the last 20 years so I see some similarities in the stems that are the worst to clean up. I have had some that were relatively easy to clean and others that I never been able to remove all of the stain. In looking them over I believe that the difficult stems share a common issue – the drilled airways in the stem are rough and porous. You can see it when you look at the stem as they are more opaque than the rest of the clear stem material. When the drill bit passed through to create the airway it left a rougher surface in some of them than others. What I have found is that the rougher the surface the more likely it is that the stains will be more difficult or even impossible to remove with the standard methods that I will enumerate below.

When I started cleaning these stems I used the usually my universal airway cleaning method – a pipe cleaner and alcohol pushed through the stem. I immediately regretted doing so because of what happened. I was able to remove some of the stain but the Perspex tended to craze into lots of tiny little spidering cracks. None of them caused the stem to break or fall apart but they all went throughout the material. Later I read on the forums that you are never to use alcohol on Perspex! I bear witness to the damage alcohol does to Perspex. I know others here use it sparingly on the stems with no issues. However, due to my previous experience I will not use it at all no matter how sparingly. Needless to say that left me with a dilemma. How was I going to remove the stain in the stems? I wrote to various restorers and refurbishers to see if they had any tricks up their sleeves that they would be willing to share and I tried them all.

One friend wrote me back and explained his method. He uses lemon juice to clean the inside of the stem. His rationale was that the juice is acidic enough that it should work to loosen the stains in the airway. He said he had experienced good success using it. So I thought why not give it a try. I scrubbed the airway repeatedly and inserted a pipe cleaner in the airway and let the lemon juice work on the stem overnight. When I removed the pipe cleaner and scrubbed the internals of the airway with water I could see that the colour of the stain was lighter and believed that I had removed a portion of the stain. I repeated the process half a dozen times with the lemon juice expecting further stain removal. It did lighten the stain but no matter how many times I scrubbed and soaked the airway with the lemon juice I could never completely remove the stain from the stem.

Another friend wrote about using Bar Keepers Friend scouring powder. He applied it to a wet pipe cleaner and it worked well for him. So with nothing to lose and potential a method that would give better results than the lemon juice I decided to give it a try. I wet a pipe cleaner and dipped it in the powder to coat the pipe cleaner. I pushed it through the airway repeatedly and then coated it again with more powder and repeated the process. With this method I was able to remove more of the stain than with the lemon juice but I could not remove all of it. I had the brilliant idea of combining the two methods to see if together they would do better. I soaked the airway with lemon juice and then scoured it with the powder. The results were the same as I got with either one alone a stain – still remained. As far as I was concerned I had not found a method that gave me the results I wanted.

I read about another method on one of the forums and decided to try it. I dipped a pipe cleaner in a Soft Scrub Cleanser and worked over the inside of the stem repeatedly, recharging the pipe cleaner regularly. I scrubbed it and rinsed it with running water. After I rinsed it I found that it had done a much better job than either of the previous methods I had tried. I repeated the process and found that the stem was about 80% better than when I started. Things went better but still a stain remained in the airway.

I decided to approach the issue from a different starting place. I wanted to test my hypothesis regarding the relation of the roughness of the material in the airway to the presence of stain there. The stem I chose to these this on had a rough airway that was visible in the opacity of its colour through the stem. I used a variety of needle files to smooth out the internals of the funneled slot in the button and a round micro needle file to sand out the inside of the airway in the stem. My intention was to smooth out the rough surface. It took a bit of patience to enter the stem from both ends to reach the length of the stem and smooth out the airway. As I worked on the airway That process removed 90% of the stain in the stem and then I followed it up with the soft scrub cleanser to finish the last 10%. My goal was to make the inside airway as smooth as possible to minimize the surfaces that held the stain. I think I had finally found the method.

There is one other addition to the methodology that I intend to experiment with. If it works well it may be a way to polish the inside of the stem. I read that you can chuck the pipe cleaner in a cordless drill, dip it soft scrub and spin it in the airway. I want to see if I can achieve the same results with less hand work. I would also like to try to spin a bristle pipe cleaner through the stem and see if that works as well. I have gotten emails and had conversations with folks who swear by this method for cleaning out these stems so I want to try it out and see for myself. I will keep you posted on this addition to the process.
Cleaning the externals of the Perspex stems is relatively easy in comparison to what I have just explained. I sand out tooth marks or repair those that need it with clear super glue and sand the surface smooth. I polish the stem by wet sanding with 1500-2400 grit micromesh sanding pads and dry sanding with 3200-12000 grit pads. I lightly buff the stem with Blue Diamond polish on the buffing wheel. I give the finished stem several coats of carnauba wax and buff with a clean buffing pad and hand buff with a microfibre cloth to give it a deep shine.

If any of you have tried other methods of cleaning these stems and had success post your additional tricks in the comments below. Thanks for reading.

3 thoughts on “A Collection of Methods for Cleaning Clear Perspex Stems

  1. Pingback: Oh, Donna, I Wish I Read the Instructions First | rebornpipes

  2. Dave Cooley

    Thank you Steve. i have tried nearly all of the methods you detailed, with some degree of success, but never with the “perfection” these beauties deserve. I have also thought that the walls of the airway might be rough, but had little success trying to polish the airway. Chucking a soft scrub soaked pipe cleaner and/or a bristle pipe cleaner is a method that sounds promising. I love the pipes…but hate the stain. To the casual pipe man it might appear you lack proper pipe “hygiene” 😉


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