Blog by Steve Laug
I got an email from a fellow in Dawson Creek, British Columbia asking if I would be willing to work on a pipe that he had that was one of his favourites. It was an apple that he really liked and he liked the patina on it as well. This is what he wrote to me: “Sir, I have a pipe in need of your skills. I was visiting City Cigar on a trip to Vancouver and William recommended you. I’ve inherited a pipe from my dad that needs to be refurbished. I wish to add a new curved stem. The old stem’s very loose. I will mail, or ship the pipe to you, as I live in Dawson Creek, BC. Once we discuss price & details. After leaving City Cigar, I was left with the impression that you’re “the guy” for the job.”
I asked him to send some photos of the pipe and give me a look at the pipe. The next two photos are the ones that he sent to me. The saddle stem looked like a replacement to me. I had him send the pipe to me for a closer look.When it arrived I could see that my assumption about a replacement stem was correct. Whoever had added the new stem had sanded the shank and removed half of the stamping on the shank. I could read that it said Made in Denmark and that there were no other stampings. The shank was significantly lighter in colour than the bowl. The rim was dirty and had a chip out of it and its top was damaged. There was some concrete rash on the back side below the chip where the bowl had been knocked on concrete. I took a close up photo of the bowl top to show the extent of the damage and the uneven cake on the bowl sides. I also took photos of the stem and shank junction to show how the shank had been sanded to meet the stem diameter.
I also took a photo of the back side of the bowl showing the horizontal line across the bowl. That line was a large fill that bulged and stuck out the surface of the bowl.The bowl was covered with a thick grime and sticky material. I wiped it down with a cotton pad and alcohol to remove the grime and get back to the finish. The grain really began to shine through once I had removed the gummy buildup. The left and right sides of the bowl showed some nice birdseye. The front and back showed cross grain that ran along the top and bottom of the shank. The birdseye ran along both sides of the shank.I topped the bowl on a piece of 220 grit sandpaper to remove the damaged portions of the rim.I sanded the backside of the bowl to smooth out the bulging fill that ran across the bowl.I sanded down the outer edge of the rim to remove the rim damage and also the burn and darkening on the edges. I scrubbed the bowl down with acetone and cotton pads to remove the finish so that once it was clean I could blend in the lighter portions with the rest of the bowl. The owner wanted a new stem for the pipe so I went through my can of stems until I found one that would fit. He wanted a taper stem and the one I found would suit the bill. He also wanted it to have a slight bend in the end. This sharply tapered stem would make that an easy fit and fix. The stem was slightly larger in diameter than the shank so I would need to reduce it to match.I took off the excess vulcanite with a Dremel and sanding drum. I worked on it until it match the shank diameter. I took it back to the work table to hand sand it. I used 180 grit sandpaper and took back the excess stem material.I sanded the stem further with 220 grit sandpaper until the transition between the stem and shank was smooth to the touch. I heated water in the microwave until it was boiling and put the stem in the water to soften it enough to put the bend in it. I bent it just enough to give it a jaunty look. I used the medium and the dark stain pen to touch up the shank. The combination of colours matches the rest of the bowl colour. I wet sanded the stem with 1500-2400 grit micromesh sanding pads to begin polishing it and to begin to remove the scratches. I rubbed it down with Obsidian Oil. I dry sanded it with 3200-4000 grit pads and gave it another coat of oil. I finished sanding it with 6000-12000 grit pads and gave it a final coat of Obsidian Oil. I set it aside to dry. I buffed the bowl and stem with Blue Diamond on the buffing wheel and polished the briar and the stem. The polishing took out the last of the scratches in the vulcanite stem. The fill on the back of the bowl blends in perfectly now and it is smooth to the touch. The transition from the stem to the shank is also smooth. The slight bend in the stem works well with the pipe. It is finished and ready to go back to Dawson Creek. Hopefully the owner will enjoy the new stem and the virtually “new pipe”. It still carries with it the memories of his dad giving it to him. It still as some of the marks of its story but the look and the feel of the pipe are better than when we began the journey. Thanks for looking.