Restemming and Reconditioning a Brigham Voyageur 165

Blog by Steve Laug

The eighth pipe from the lot of pipes that a pipesmoker dropped by for repair is a Brigham Voyageur. It is stamped on the left side of the shank with the Brigham name over Voyageur which is the model. The shape number is 165. It was rusticated in the classic Brigham style with a smooth rim, ring around the rim and the shank end and a smooth spot on the shank for the stamping. The pipe was dirty with dust and grime in the crevices of the finish on the bowl. The rim had a tarry buildup which had flowed from the cake in the bowl. The internals were very dirty with a lot of tar and grime. The overall condition of the bowl was good under the grime. The following photos show the pipe’s condition before I began to clean and restore it. I took a close up photo of the rim top and the bowl to show the condition of the cake and the overflow on to the rim top. I also took a photo of the stamping on the smooth left side of the shank. The pipe was a two dot Brigham. In talking with the owner he was not interested in preserving the Brigham system. He was only interested in having a pipe that he could fire up and enjoy. I would need to decide how I was going to fix this one but it was going to be another challenge for me.The stem was in rough shape. It had a split on the top side that ran from the edge of the button almost an inch up the stem toward the bowl. On the underside it had deep tooth marks and two cracks that ran through the button into the airway in the slot. The slot was compressed from the bit marks. There was a lot of oxidation on the surface and some calcification. The Brigham nylon tenon told me that the pipe is a newer one rather than those with the aluminum tenon. It was designed to hold the Brigham Hard Maple Filter tube that is specially designed for them. This one was clogged with tars. The end of the nylon tube was splitting and flared. It was ruined. The photos below show the damaged areas on the stem.I put the stem aside for a while and started on the bowl. I reamed the cake with a PipNet reamer and the Savinelli Fitsall pipe knife to scrape the cake back to bare briar. I rolled a piece of 220 grit sandpaper and wrapped it around my index finger to sand the walls of the bowl. The cake was so sticky and crumbling that I wanted a hard, clean surface so that the owner could build a new cake to protect the bowl.I scraped out the shank with a dental spatula to scrape away the hardened tars that were on the walls of the mortise and airway to the bowl. I scrubbed the surface with pipe cleaners, cotton swabs and alcohol until the shank and mortise was clean.To remove the hard buildup on the rim top and some of the damage to the front outer edge of the bowl I lightly topped it on the topping board using 220 grit sandpaper. I used a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper to clean up the burn marks and damage on the inner edge of the rim. I finished by sanding the rim with a medium and a fine grit sanding sponge and 1500-4000 grit micromesh sanding pads to smooth out the rim and remove the scratches.I scrubbed the externals of the bowl with Murphy’s Oil Soap and a soft bristle tooth brush to clean out the crevices and grooves of the rustication. Once it was clean I wiped the bowl down with alcohol on a cotton pad to remove the dust on the finish to prepare it for a new coat of stain. I stained the bowl with a dark brown aniline stain and flamed it with a lighter. I repeated the process until the coverage on the bowl was even.Once the stain dried I wiped it down with a cotton pad and alcohol to make it more transparent. I wanted the grain to show through on the smooth portions and the ridges of the rustication. I lightly buffed the bowl with Blue Diamond on the buffing wheel. I gave it a light coat of Conservator’s Wax and hand buffed it with a shoe brush and a microfiber cloth. The buffed and restored bowl is shown in the photos that follow. The time between this picture and the next cannot be captured in photos as there were two days of work and time that went into trying various methods of repairing the original stem for the pipe. I cleaned out the split in the stem and roughened the surface with a file. I cleaned out the cracks on the button, the split on the top side and the tooth marks on the underside of the stem. It took a bunch of sanding and picking. I filled in the gaps with black super glue and charcoal powder to strengthen the repairs. I filed them smooth and sanded them to restore the finish. All was going well until I tried to slide a pipe cleaner into the airway. I pushed it through the airway and into the button only to have the repaired button fall off. The cracks gave way and the chunk fell free of the stem. No repairs would ever hold on this stem. It was finished. One day I may cut it off and use the shorter version for a different pipe but it is not worth a repair any longer.

That decision having been made for me I went through my stem can in search of a replacement. I knew the owner was fine with a non-Brigham stem so that was the way I was going to proceed. I found a stem that had the same dimensions as the original stem. It was a straight stem that I would need to clean up and bend the stem to match the original but it would look good on this old pipe.I sanded the stem with 220 grit sandpaper to clean off the oxidation and remove the light tooth chatter and tooth marks on the top and underside of the stem. I turned the tenon down with a Dremel and sanding drum and fine-tuned it with a file to reduce the tenon to fit the shank of the pipe. I heated the stem with a heat gun until I was able to bend it to match the original stem. I polished the stem with micromesh sanding pads. I wet sanded it with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanded it with 3200-12000 grit pads. I still had to work on the tenon to remove the file marks but the stem was beginning to shine. I polished the tenon with micromesh sanding pads to remove the majority of the file marks on the vulcanite. I buffed the tenon and then the stem and bowl with Blue Diamond polish on the buffing wheel to remove the final scratches on the stem. I gave the stem and the smooth portions of the briar several coats of carnauba wax on the wheel and then buffed it with a clean buffing pad to raise a shine. I hand buffed the bowl and stem with a microfiber cloth to deepen the shine. I think that the owner will really like the looks of his restored and restemmed Brigham. It looks really good to my eye. Thanks for looking.

3 thoughts on “Restemming and Reconditioning a Brigham Voyageur 165

  1. Dal in Bulgaria

    Steve, that stem, often like life, was ultimately for your growth in patience and perseverance! The pipe is still recommissioned, even with the replacement stem, it lives on :-). Great job. I would have loved the detailed chronicles of the attempted repairs even though they weren’t successful ultimately. The split was a bear.

  2. Charles Lemon

    I quite like the Brigham Shape 65. I own several older Made in Canada versions in various grades. The 65 shape is one of the few older Brigham shapes to have been retained when production shifted to the EU. You did a great job matching the stem profile of the original here, Steve. That old stem was just shot!

  3. William

    Wow. Two days lost on the stem. On more than a couple of occasions I have said that stems are my nemesis but I do not recall having ever seen you have such trouble with one. They are evil I tell you! The end result in this case as always is amazing Steve. Thank you once again and I am still hoping you will publish a book.


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