Blog by Aaron Henson
Last summer’s tip to Dallas netted me several great pipes. One of which was my first poker. It was in a basket in an out of the way corner of a second hand store. Very dirty and grimy but I could tell the grain underneath was beautiful with a nice contracting stain. The stem was broke off about half way but I thought I could turn it into a nice stubby. I looked forward getting it home and start working on it. The stem had a heavy amount of oxidation and a buildup of white near the broken end. This leads me to guess that the previous owner had used a softy bit to compensate for the broken stem. I set the stem to soak in a mild Oxi-clean bath to raise the oxidation. After 24 hours I removed the oxidation with a magic eraser and an application of Walker Briar Works Pipe stem cleaner. I wiped down the outside of the stummel with 91% on a cotton pad to remove the dirt and oils. I was looking for any hidden issues that might be need to be addressed. Thankfully there were none just a few handling dents/scuffs. In fact, there weren’t even any fills. The grain was beautiful and the existing contracting stain really made it stand out.
There was a healthy buildup of tars on the rim but not a lot of cake in the bowl. What little cake there was came out easily with my reaming tool. I smoothed out the interior of the bowl with 80-grit paper wrapped around a ½ inch dowel.I like to clean the inside of the pipe before working on the outside so next came the interior of the shank. Lots of cotton swabs dipped in alcohol eventually saw it clean.
Next, I finished the bowl by doing a salt and alcohol soak. I plugged the shank with a cotton swab and filled the bowl with salt. Sometimes I use cotton balls but this time I chose salt – no reason why. I filled the bowl to the top with grain alcohol and let it soak 24 hours. This leached out a lot of the leftover tars and removed the smell of the old tobacco from the bowl.
Not wanting to top the bowl, I tried something new. I placed a little Oxi-clean powder on a green pad in a shallow dish of water. Inverting the bowl, I worked it in a circular motion on the pad. This had the desired effect and only a little bit of sanding was required on the rim.Returning to the stem I began work on a new button. I taped off the end and mixed up a slurry of black super glue and charcoal powder using a tooth pick to apply it to the stem. Several coats of slurry were needed to build up the button. After the slurry dried, I used a flat file to rough out the shape of a new button. Trying it out, I realized that the stem was too thick and narrow to be comfortable. So I began to file the top and bottom of the stem to make it a more comfortable fit. But as I did so, I had another revelation: the Berwyck was a filtered pipe. The filter chamber extends back to where I was trying to shape a flat spot in the stem. While I didn’t file into the airway I decided not to continue for fear that I would. It was at this point that I decided to abandon the idea of a stubby and start looking for a replacement stem. I figured I had a few of options: 1) I could buy an old stem that matched, 2) I could make my own stem using the tenon of the old stem, 3) I could splice a fish tail onto the existing stem (this would allow me to keep the spade trademark – thank you, Dal for this idea), or 4) I could try Dr. Grabow and see if the factory could supply me with a new stem.
I started with the last option first. I figured if I was willing to buy and old stem, why not buy a new stem with a better chance of a good fit. I sent an email off to International Pipes & Accessories, the Dr. Grabow factory in Sparta, North Carolina, but received a disappointing response. So my next course of action was to begin a search online for someone with an old stem to sell that would fit. I eventually posted the story of my quest on the Dr. Grabow Collectors Facebook page. It was not long before I was contacted by Joe Mansueto, the moderator for the Dr. Grabow Collectors Forum. Joe very kindly offered to use his contacts at International Pipes and too my surprise he was told that I should send the pipe to them.
I had not completed the work on the stummel and I wanted to have it at the 95% complete point before sending to the factory. So, steamed out the dents using a wet terry cloth rag and my wife’s clothes iron. Next came a light sanding with 1500-3200 grit micro mesh pads.
The rim was is in need of some stain and I had just received a set of Guardsman stain pens I bought from Amazon. This was my chance to try the out. I was very happy with the way they worked. I have used other stain pens in the past but with less than satisfactory results. Blending the three pens I got a good color match with the rest of the stummel.
With the stummel done, I packaged up the pipe with a hand written letter describing the situation and my connection with Joe. I included a $15 check ($12 for the stem and $3 for return shipping) and sent the pipe off to Sparta. The pipe left on a Thursday and arrived in North Carolina on Monday. I had no idea what to expect for timing so I determined to wait as patiently as I could, figuring it would be 3-4 weeks.
To my pleasant surprise it was just a week and a half later. I was on the road in Texas again when my son told me that a package had arrived from Dr. Grabow. When I got home I was like a kid at Christmas wanting to get the pack open and see what Santa sent me. I was not disappointed. The new nylon stem looked great. It returned all the grandeur and dignity that the pipe once had. I was glad now that the stubby conversion had not worked out.
Although I am not a big fan of nylon stems, mostly to the fact that they are a pain to repair, clean and polish. But this one being new was not a problem. I did polish the stem using 6000-12000 grit micromesh. The stem also needed a little deburring at the air hole and smoothing out on the face of the button. All of which was done in short order.
I finished the pipe at the buffing station while smoking a bowl of McClelland’s Stave Aged in a Yello-bole Chesterfield – a previous repair. I started with red diamond rouge on a rag wheel then finished with three coats of carnauba wax. I could not be happier with the results. Thank you for taking the time to read this.