My Dremel Polishing Techniques with a No-Name pipe from Sozopol Bulgaria

Blog by Dal Stanton

My reaction to Steve’s request that I write a step by step procedure of how I use a Dremel in my restorations was, “Who, me?  Uh….”  When he said that I was the only one that he knew of that uses a Dremel for the entire buffing/polishing process and that my results were up there with high powered buffers, these results piqued his curiosity.  When he also said that others too might be interested in my approach, I agreed to write this essay because I’ve benefit a great deal from reading others and discovering both methodologies of the art and the camaraderie that exists among pipe men (and women!) and those who restore tired pipes.  So, I proceed with this caveat: Since I’ve never used a normal sized powered buffing wheel I can’t compare these with my use of a Dremel.  My use of a Dremel is due to my setting – my wife and I live in a former Soviet apartment ‘block’ on the 10th floor in Sofia, Bulgaria.  By necessity my approach when I started this hobby last June with my first restoration (Link) was to keep things compact and contained because of our living space limitations.  Hence, the acquisition of a Dremel (In fact, I have a Skil brand high speed tool, but like the universal branding of Xerox, I call it a Dremel!) and its use of miniature buffing wheels.  To set the table, I’ll do a short-hand on the front end of the restoration and then get into more detail when I get to the polishing phase with my use of the Dremel, wheels, compounds and wax.  I told Steve that I’m flying by the seat of my pants!  Consider yourself forewarned!

The no-name bent billiard before me now I found in the lazy little fishing town of Sozopol, Bulgaria, (Wikipedia) on the Black Sea coast during summer travels with our visiting daughter and son-in-law.  As we were strolling down the cobblestone street, an older lady had several pipes in a coffee tin situated on a window ledge looking over her impromptu display table with all kinds of old nick knacks and Soviet memorabilia.  I almost missed the tin can because my eyes were scanning the stuff on the table for a lonely pipe in need of a fresh start on life.  When I started drawing the small selection of pipes out of the can and studied them, what drew my attention immediately to this pipe was the unique grain in the briar.  After striking the deal, I took these pictures of the Sozopol find:buff1 buff2 buff3 buff4Today, after receiving Steve’s request for the essay, I took the Sozopol pipe out of the ‘Help me!’ basket, and again examine the briar with fresh eyes.  I’m thinking that this pipe will be perfect for the Dremel essay.  I am drawn to the briar as it is now and am anxious to coax it out even more.  I take a few more pictures on my work desk to fill in some gaps.buff5 buff6 buff7 buff8buff9With no name stamped on the shank and only what I assume is a shape number (362) stamped on the right side of the shank, the only indicator to the origins of this pipe is the stem imprint (above) which appears to be an ‘A’ with either an oval circle forming the cross bar or possibly the cross bar forms the shape of a pipe with the bowl to the right – at least it seems that way to me.  I looked at to find a match and I found none.  I always appreciate discovering something of the history of a pipe which enriches the restoration process for me – I’m connecting with its past as I contribute to its ongoing life through its restoration.  I’ll spruce up this stem logo with white acrylic paint later.

Since this blog is devoted to my use of the Dremel in the latter stages of the restoration, after reaming, cleaning of the internals of stem and stummel, removal of oxidation and micromesh the stem, cleaning the stummel with Murphy Oil Soap, and preparing the stummel for the sanding and buffing processes, I arrive at this point, completion of use of medium and light sanding sponge and the full micromesh process (1500-12000 grit pads). I show these pictures because I understand that the end polishing results will never be better than your sanding prep leading up to the application of compounds and waxes.  For this reason, I’m very patient with the micromesh cycles – I enjoy seeing the grain pop out during this stage and polish will not remove missed scratches and pits in the briar.  The pictures also show the progress.buff10 buff11 buff12Overview of Set-up

One of the first places I went to get a handle on buffing techniques when I was starting was to Steve’s Reborn essay about using a buffing wheel (Link).  Even though the essay is for high powered buffing wheels there was very useful information about dos and don’ts, wheel maintenance and techniques of buffing.  Even though my buffing wheels are miniscule in comparison, they also can launch the stummel or stem quite ably from what you thought was a secure grip.  Safety is also a consideration!  He also provides additional links which are useful.  My Dremel (Skil) has a hand-held flexible shaft that is very useful in allowing me to get up close and personal with the buffing.  I use it all the time.  The wheels I use are about 1 inch in diameter and I utilize both felt and cotton cloth wheels for different applications.  I bought them bulk on eBay at a very reasonable price!  Each wheel is dedicated to a specific stage of the process and is labeled so that compounds and wax are not mixed.  The wrench that comes with the Dremel for loosening and tightening wheels also serves to clean the wheels.  Before each use (or after) I engage the wheel and carefully run the blunt end of the wrench tool along the end of the wheel.  This removes old compound and keeps the wheels fresher and supple.   Pictures show my setup!buff13Compounds and Wax

From a newbie’s perspective, I wasn’t sure what compounds were and what they did (true confession!).  From 9th grade shop class I had a grasp of the basic principles of sanding and moving from more abrasive to less abrasives to remove impurities and smooth things up.  When I started reading, I started seeing words like Tripoli, Blue Diamond, White Diamond, carnauba…, I didn’t know what these did or what part they played in the process – abrasives, polishes?  I also was not familiar with color coding – blue, brown, white – I also saw green on Amazon when I was trying to figure out what to buy in concert with my newly purchased and anxious Dremel.  So, after poking on the internet I found this very helpful site (Enkay Polishing Instructions) that described what the different compounds were and what uses they had and how.  Very helpful too, was a chart that lined up all the compounds from coarse to fine (with colors!) and what kinds of materials they are used on for sanding/polishing (see below).buff14The 3 lines on the bottom, sum up well my pipe universe: Hard Rubber/Horn/Wood.  It was because of this chart that I decided not to use White Diamond because of its next-door status to Brown Tripoli and because the dots for these materials tick Tripoli and Blue All Purpose.  I know that in restorations both White and Blue Diamond are used effectively and one could jump to White Diamond in lieu of Tripoli.  So, my methodology, which seems to be working well for me, is after the micromesh phase is complete, I employ Brown Tripoli (coarsest) and then jump to Blue Diamond (fine), followed by carnauba wax.  Each application has its own wheel.  I start with Tripoli after the micromesh cycles (or after staining which I place between the micromesh cycles and Tripoli), because technically, Tripoli and the diamonds are a continuation and conclusion of the abrasive/sanding process.  With carnauba wax the restoration transitions to the polishing and protective phase – at least this is how I now view it.

Felt Wheel vs. Cotton Cloth Wheel?

I use felt wheels for the Tripoli and Blue Diamond applications and then switch to a cotton cloth wheel for applying the carnauba wax and then a final clean buffing.  Somewhere I read (I’m sorry I don’t have a specific link for the source!) that caution should be used when utilizing a felt wheel because they tend to be more abrasive than cotton cloth and hence, they potentially can generate too much heat on the briar or vulcanite surface – melting or scorching would not be a good result at this stage!  Yet, with words of caution in mind, I have found that applying the Tripoli and Blue Diamond at the lowest Dremel setting (slowest RPMs – It would be interesting to compare the technical data for RPMs for the Dremel with a high-powered polishing wheel).  With the carnauba wax and the final clean buff, I use cotton cloth wheels which is a smoother material and therefore cooler relatively speaking.  I tweak the RPM speed up one number on the Dremel when I apply the carnauba.  I played around with the speeds and this is what seems to work for me.buff15Applying Compounds and Wax

Through simple observation and experimentation, I developed my approach for applying the compounds and wax.  Both compounds and carnauba wax need friction and heat to accomplish the job for which they are intended.  What I discovered as I applied both compounds and wax was that each has its own characteristic behavior when they meet the briar or the vulcanite on the stem.  Since Tripoli and Blue Diamond are abrasives, they remain powdery and dry when they are applied with the felt wheel.  When they make contact, there is a distinctive initial cloudy patch which disappears into deeper gloss through the polishing process.  Compared to the compounds, carnauba wax liquefies into notable ripples during the application and can be strategically spread around in a uniform way.  The way I achieve this perspective is with the felt and cotton cloth wheels being so small, with my bright light overhead, I can angle my field of view to observe the ‘action’ the wheel is generating revealed in the sheen of the reflection on the briar or vulcanite surface.  With the compounds, it can be likened to pushing a broom across the dry floor.  With the carnauba, it can be likened to a wet mop and pushing the wax over the surface.

Charging the wheels is straight forward based upon Steve’s essay and everything I’ve read: Less is more!  For both the compounds, I lightly ‘pause tap’ the wheel on the block of Tripoli or Blue Diamond.  Just enough to pick up some product on the wheel.  With carnauba, there is more of a pause, pause on the block as the wax is collected onto the wheel – not too much though.  When I bring the wheel to the surface, I divide the stummel into about 8 areas and I methodically (I do it the same way each time so I don’t forget a ‘patch’) work the compound or wax into those sectors with overlap between them so I’m sure to not miss anything.  As I watch the ‘action’ in the sheen of the surface, I can move the product around and tell when I’m in need of recharging and moving on by the gloss produced in the ‘patch’.  With carnauba, especially, I watch the ripples created by the liquefied wax and I ‘push it around’ the surface as it is assimilated into the briar or vulcanite and gloss is produced.  I keep the wheel moving in a circular rotation over the surface, never pressing too hard, allowing the product, RPMs and wheels to do the work.  The gloss that increasingly emerges with each application has a 3-dimensional depth to it – this helps me know when I’m achieving maximum shine and I can move on.

The Practice (Thank you to my wife for pictures while my hands were full!)

With my Sozopol no-name, I decide to apply a stain using Fiebing’s Dark Brown Leather Dye with a few drops of Oxblood.  I cut the mixture by adding about one half part alcohol.  I amply apply the stain mix twice, each time flaming the surface of the stummel setting dye in the grain.  I take my Dremel with a felt wheel (after cleaning with wrench) set at the slowest RPM and I apply Tripoli compound to the surface. buff16 buff17Application of Tripolibuff18 buff19Application of Blue Diamond followed by micromesh cloth wipe to remove residue compound before applying carnauba wax.buff20 buff21Application of carnauba wax to stem and stummel finishing with a clean cotton wheel buff and then micromesh cloth buff.buff22 buff23 buff24I hope this essay has been helpful.  Has anyone seen this stem mark?  If you would like to adopt this pipe, let me know!  Leave a response below or send an email to Thanks for joining me!buff25 buff26 buff27 buff28 buff29 buff30 buff31 buff32 buff33

23 thoughts on “My Dremel Polishing Techniques with a No-Name pipe from Sozopol Bulgaria

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  6. Mark Domingues

    Great article Dal. I use the full size buffers but I will definitely try the Dremel on pipes that have a full bent to get where the big buffer can’t!

  7. upshallfan

    You can’t argue with those results. I too would more comfortable with the tool held in a clamp/vise and moving the pipe against the wheel, but to each his own!

    1. Dal in Bulgaria

      Thanks, Al. I would probably try the clamp/vise approach if I had a bit more room! I have the Dremel hanging on the table post that came with it and it keeps it out of the way for my little desk. Maybe one day…. 🙂

  8. David Wilson

    Nice tutorial. I have a rotary tool and pretty much use it the same way for buffing and waxing. I clamp my rotary tool and that frees up both my hands, giving me more control over the pressure I use. Through trial and error I found this works for me because I would sometimes nick the briar, especially around the rim of the pipe. Even though it’s been dubbed a no no, I also use small sanding drums and rounded polishing stones to remove cake from the bowl. I just go really easy. I found at the slowest speed you don’t gouge into the briar.

    1. Dal in Bulgaria

      David, thanks for your input. I debated the clamp down approach and I can see the advantages you described. I’ve grown used to holding the hand-held extender and the flexibility it provides. We’re providing much the same motion – you rotate the pipe more and I move the wheel. Thanks for your comments!

  9. pipedreamersite

    Dal, you get a beautiful and warm finish out of your process with the Dremel. The Dremel reaches more effectively into the area at the intersection of the shank and bowl than a traditional full size buffing wheel. Excellent tutorial, Dal.

    1. Dal in Bulgaria

      Thanks, Al. You’re correct about that area of the shank – even with the Dremel wheel and be a tight angle. Thanks for your words!

  10. Jill Kennedy Hall

    Ditto on the small space – my husband and I share a 34′ travel trailer in Texas. I use an actual Dremel with variable speed settings. The chart on the compounds is great information! Thanks so much! Now, if you’re also handing out patience, I could use some to get results like yours! 🙂

    1. Dal in Bulgaria

      Jill, that’s cool! I have a brother and sister-n-law who are in an RV living in Texas as well. I’m glad you found the chart helpful – it helped me as well. As for patience :-), watching the briar deepen and begin to pop is like a beautiful sunset – it just takes time but its worth it! Thanks for your words!

  11. Charles Lemon

    Reblogged this on DadsPipes and commented:
    Dal Stanton has provided a detailed tutorial here in the use of a Dremel/rotary tool to buff and wax pipes. This is something every piper should know. If you’ve got a Dremel, you’ve got a buffer!

  12. Charles Lemon

    Very impressive results, Dal. I’m sure a lot of us will be reaching for the Dremel after reading through your essay. Just goes to show that specialized tools are not required to achieve professional results.

  13. William

    Fantastic results. I am spoiled by owning a Foredom tool but wasn’t sure on how to safely use it and this will now be my instruction booklet! Thank you both for the exceedingly valuable information.

  14. Wikus Steyl

    Grear article! I’ve recently ordered a Dremel-like machine to do the same and for the same reasons as you.

    I was yet to find definitive literature on how to use it for restoration but you’ve now saved me a lot of trouble.

    1. Dal in Bulgaria

      Wikus, I’m glad the essay was helpful to you! I hope your restorations give you as much satisfaction as mine have.


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