Blog by Steve Laug
Wikus asked me in a comment on the blog I wrote on the KBB Yello-Bole Churchwarden why I don’t give the pipe a coat of either varnish or shellac after I have refinished them. I wrote a response in which I said I don’t like that finish and want the pipe to be able to breathe. I have found that the varnished bowls get hot when smoked so that is another reason. But probably the biggest reason is that I really like a more matte finish instead of the high gloss that some like. I have to be honest – to me the matte finish that lets the grain pop and hides nothing behind the shine really is my preference. It does not mean I don’t like a shine but rather that I like the shine of a good wax and buff over the other options.
The pipe I worked on next is a prime example of what lies beneath the varnish coat. This one is a unique (at least to me as I have not seen one before) triangular shank billiard made by Dr. Grabow. It is stamped on the left side of the shank WESTBROOK over Dr. Grabow (the bottom edge of the lower stamp is faint as it is very close to the ridge on the angle of the side). It is stamped on the right side Imported Briar (faint stamp) over Adjustomatic in script. Underneath both lines it reads PAT.2461905. My brother picked this one up because the grain and shape caught his attention. He took the following photos before he cleaned it up. From the above photos you can get a general idea of the shape and condition of the pipe. It is sound and has no cracks or burns on the surface. The finish is pretty well shot – the varnish is crackled and checked looking on the sides of the bowl and shank. The overall look is cloudy and muddied by the varnish going. There is a pretty thick cake in the bowl and it overflows onto the rim top. The bowl however appears to still be in round both on the inner and outer edges as far as can be seen in the slightly out of focus third photo. The stem looks good at this point with light oxidation and some tooth chatter and marks on the topside near the button. The orange Grabow spade logo is in place on the left side of the stem. More will be revealed through his close up photos.
The first photo shows the rim condition up close. My initial observation about the edges need to be modified somewhat. The inner edge looks good but it will be better determined once the thick and uneven cake is removed from the bowl (good news is that this one must have been a good smoker to have developed this kind of cake). The outer edge looks good other than some slight damage to the front right side where there appears to be a chip and some wearing.The next close up photos show the stamping and stem logo. I have recorded the condition and content of the stamping above. I include these for you to see the overall condition of them and the finish on the shank and stem.The last photos he included show the condition of the stem. There is a visible line that covers the separates the first inch of the stem from the rest which looks to me that the stem had a Softee bit on it for most of its life. There is tooth chatter on both sides of the stem and on the top side (second photo below) there are visible tooth marks that need to be dealt with. This is why I think the bit protector came after the initial tooth marks or they would have been far worse. On the underside of the stem there is a small tooth mark that is quite deep. Both sides will need some work to smooth out the damage.I did a US Patent search to see what I could find out about the patent number on the side of the shank. I was able to find out that the patent was filed on Jan. 25, 1946 but was not issues until February 15, 1949. I learned that the inventor of the Adjustomatic system for Grabow was D.P. Lavietes. I know nothing about him but I do know that Dr. Grabow used the mechanism in their pipes. With this information I know that the pipe was made after 1949 because the patent stamp says that the mechanism is patented not patent applied for. I have included the entire patent below for those who may be interested. I enjoy the descriptions, rationale and drawings that the inventor includes in these old patents. They are a pleasure for me to read through them. If you want you can skip over the next four photos and read about the pipe’s restoration. My brother did his usual thorough cleaning of the pipe. He reamed the bowl and cleaned the internals of the shank, mortise and stem with alcohol, cotton swabs and pipe cleaners. He scrubbed the rim and was able to remove all of the tars and oils that had built up there. He cleaned the exterior of the bowl and stem with Murphy’s Oil Soap to remove the grime and build up in those areas. When I received the pipe in Vancouver it was clean. The only thing that he had not been able to do was remove the stinger from the threaded tenon to clean behind it. The next four photos give a clear picture of what the pipe looked like when it arrived. The close up photo below shows how well the rim and bowl cleaned up. The inner rim was in pretty decent shape other than a little burn on the front edge almost in line with the chip on the outer edge.The stem was in better condition than I expected as in the cleaning process a lot of the chatter seems to have been removed with the calcification.I took photos of the condition of the stinger apparatus because it was looking really good. In the past when I got these they were black and looked awful. They were bad enough that if I did not like stingers before, the general grime and grit would have sealed the deal. This one however was sparkling.I heated the stinger with a Bic lighter and the tars that held in the tenon released it. With the stinger removed I was able to clean out the buildup behind it in the stem. I used pipe cleaners, cotton swabs and alcohol to clean out that area of the stem. I cleaned out any remaining debris in the mortise at the same time.I sanded the tooth marks and the rest of the stem to deal with the oxidation using a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper. The tooth marks came out of the top side of the stem with no problem. There was still one small almost pin hole tooth mark on the underside that I would need to deal with and repair. I cleaned the surface of the stem with alcohol and filled in the mark with clear super glue. Once it dried I sanded it with 220 grit sandpaper to blend it in with the rest of the stem surface. I buffed the stem with Red Tripoli on the buffing wheel and brought it back to the work table to polish it with micromesh sanding pads. I wet sanded it with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanded it with 3200-12000 grit pads. After each set of three pads I rubbed it down with Obsidian Oil. After the last pad I gave it a final coat of oil and set it aside to dry. After polishing with the 1500-2400 grit pads I wiped down the tenon with an alcohol wet cotton pad to remove some of the darkening in the threads. In doing so I got some alcohol on the end of the stem and it brought out a bit more oxidation to the surface. This is one of those frustrations but also a good thing as I was able to then back track and sand the stem again with 1500-4000 grit pads and then buff it with some Blue Diamond on the wheel and I removed the rest of the oxidation. I then went back to polishing the stem with 6000-12000 grit pads to bring the shine to the surface.With the stem polishing done I set it aside and turned to the bowl. I examined it and decided that the best way to deal with the crackling varnish coat was to remove it. My choice for removing varnish coats is to scrub the finish with acetone on a cotton pad until it is gone. The first wipes will leave the surface gummy and rough. You have to scrub the surface until it is smooth to touch. The next four photos show the bowl with the crackled finish. It took four cotton pads and acetone to remove this crackled varnish finish. Underneath the cloudy varnish coat there was some really stunning grain. Once the finish was gone and I had wiped the pipe with a paper towel with a little bit of olive oil I took photos of the pipe. There was some scratching in the briar that would need to be polished and there were some nicks that would need to be lifted if they did not polish out but the overall appearance of the pipe was stunning. I worked on the bevel of the inner edge to smooth out and remove the damage on the front side. I used 180 grit and 220 grit sandpaper to bevel the rim a little to accommodate the edge damage. I polished the briar on the rim with 2400 grit micromesh sanding pads to remove the scratching left behind by the beveling. I polished the bowl and rim with 3200-12000 grit micromesh sanding pads to raise a shine in the briar and make the grain stand out. I put the stem and bowl back together again and buffed the pipe with Blue Diamond on the wheel to further polish it. I gave the bowl and stem multiple coats of carnauba wax to protect it and buffed it with a clean buffing pad to raise the shine. I hand buffed it with a microfibre cloth to deepen the shine. The finished pipe is shown in the photos below. It has come a long way from the worn and tired pipe that came to my brother in Idaho. The depth of the shine, the look of the grain and the flow of the pipe all work together to make this a beautiful Dr. Grabow pipe. It is one of the earliest pipes of the RJ Reynolds era. It was a fun pipe to work on and the results just multiplied as each step I took in the cleaning and polishing process brought more of the beauty of this piece of briar alive. Thanks for looking.