Repairing and Restoring a Walnut Folk Art Russian Pipe

Blog by Steve Laug

I started cleaning up and repairing this Russian Folk Art Walnut pipe before taking photos of it. It was truly a mess. The shank had been cracked off at an angle behind the copper band and had been repaired by gluing the two pieces together without a lot of care to align the parts. As it was the crack was quite wide open all the way around the shank and had been sealed together with epoxy. I heated it to see if I could take it apart and align the parts and the glue definitely softened. I could rebreak it without further damaging the shank parts so I settled for heating it enough to realign the two parts. I realigned the parts and cooled the shank so the glue hardened. I filled in the deep crevices in the shank with briar dust and clear super glue putty. It hardened and bound the parts together. There was no movement in the shank at all at this point in the process. The photos below show the pipe with the stem in place. The repairs to the shank with the putty mix looked pretty decent in the photos. The rest of the pipe was a mess. The rim was thickly caked with over flow from the thick bowl cake. The finish on the bowl was dirty and sticky. The copper band on the shank was covered with a thick buildup of hardened “gunk” that would not come off with a simple wash. The airway in the shank was dirty and almost closed off. The mortise was also clogged. The tenon on the stem had a rubberized cement buildup around the angles at the stem. The stem itself was horn and had tooth marks on the top and underside near the button. The rounded button had an orific entrance into the stem. It was so plugged that I could not push a pipe cleaner through it. I took some close up photos of the repaired shank to show the flow of the two parts and how the realignment had worked. They also show the super glue/briar dust putty filling the crack that went all the way around the shank. There was some glue from the previous glue job that ran up the shank toward the bowl and actually ran around the copper band edge. The third photo shows the rim and the cake in the bowl. There was damage to the front edge of the bowl from someone knocking it out against a hard surface. I took photos of the stem to show the damage at the button end on both sides. The horn surface was worn and the shine was gone.I sanded the roughness of the repaired area on the shank with 180 grit sandpaper. I wanted to smooth out the surface of the repair so that it matched the shank. I continued to sand it further with 220 grit sandpaper. I smoothed out the repair and the shank began to look like it would have originally. You can see the coating on the copper band. It is like someone painted the surface with a glue coat or with varnish. That coat would need to be removed so that the patina of copper would shine through. The front of the bowl had a brass and copper insert in the wood. It was a mix of thorns and vines that was nailed to the front of the bowl. I reamed the bowl with a PipNet pipe reamer and with a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife until the walls were bare and all of the cake was gone.I topped the bowl on a topping board with 220 grit sandpaper to remove the hard cake and the damage to the front of the bowl. It was a light topping that did not remove much of the rim top but it left it clean, smooth and even.I wiped down the exterior of the bowl with alcohol on cotton pads to remove the finish and the grime that was built up on it. Once it was clean the grain of the walnut shone through the stain on the wood. The next photos show the clean bowl and shank with the repaired area shown clearly in the photos. I used a sharp knife to flare the aluminum insert in the shank. I topped the shank end with the topping board to smooth out the face of the shank. I sanded the bowl, shank and copper band with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanding with 3200-12000 grit pads. The pads removed the material that was built up on the copper band and gave it a shine. I cleaned out the airway in the shank and the mortise with cotton swabs, pipe cleaners and alcohol until the airway was clean.I stained the bowl and shank with a dark brown aniline stain, flamed it and repeated the process until I was happy with the coverage.I took the following photos of the bowl once it had dried. The dark brown was a little dark to my liking so I would have to wipe it down to make it a little more transparent. I wiped the bowl down with alcohol on a cotton pad and then buffed the bowl with Blue Diamond on the buffing wheel. The photos below show the colour of the bowl once I had finished with the buffing. I was really happy with the colour and the coverage of the stain on the repaired area. The stem was fairly clogged with tars and oils. It took a lot of work to clean out the gunk in the stem. Pipe cleaners were really hard to push through the buildup so I picked at it with a piece of wire bent to the angle of the stem. I finally was able to break through so the pipe cleaners and alcohol finally did their job on the stem. I also cleaned off the rubber buildup on the tenon next to the stem with a sharp knife and used the alcohol to scrub that area as well.I polished the horn stem with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanding with 3200-12000 grit pads. I rubbed the stem down with Obsidian Oil after each set of three pads. After the final set of pads I gave it a last coat of the oil and set it aside to dry. I buffed the bowl and stem a final time with Blue Diamond on the buffing wheel and then gave the pipe several coats of carnauba wax. I buffed it with a clean buffing pad to raise a shine and hand buffed it with a microfiber cloth to deepen the shine. The finished pipe is shown in the photos below. It is looking far better than it did when it arrived. I think the owner will be happy about this piece of his own pipe history being brought back to life. It joins the others that are finished of the nine he sent me. Only two more pipes to go and I will be down with this lot. Thanks for looking.



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