Restoring a Pipeman’s First Pipe


Sometimes I get requests to restore pipes that touch a sentimental chord for me. When that happens it brings back all kinds of memories and thoughts for me. A while ago I received an email from Phil regarding a pipe he had that he wanted some help with. He explained that it was not an expensive pipe but that was his very first when he started as a pipeman. We emailed back and forth for a bit and then he sent it up to me in Vancouver to assess and see if it was worth restoring. It came in the mail last week and I opened the package to have a good look at it. I went over it slowly and carefully and found some issues that needed to be addressed. To me the pipe was very restorable and I was willing to take it on.

Here is what I saw as I looked at the pipe. I put together a list for Phil and emailed it back to him. I would say it is well worth a cleanup, repairs, refinishing and polishing. I think that it has a pretty long life ahead of it.

  1. He was concerned with the overall condition of the pipe. It was a basic basket pipe and had a lot of fills in the bowl and shank. The bowl had never been smoked to the bottom so the briar is raw. It is a little smoky looking but is basically sound. The pipe can be smoked for a long time.
  1. The little lines in the bottom of the bowl are called checking. They happen to the inside of almost all pipes and are caused by heating and cooling. In this case it appears that the pipe had never been smoked to the bottom. I recommended a complete reaming and then some pipe mud (cigar ash and water) to fill in the little fissures and then a simple bowl coating to protect the bowl while he built a cake.
  1. He had mentioned a crack on the left side of the bowl. The noted crack was definitely there. It was on the left side toward the front. It is a hairline crack that starts at a putty fill toward the top of the bowl and ran down to another putty fill on the bottom of the bowl. This is one time where fills actually worked in my favour. I repair cracks all the time by drilling a small pin hole at each end to stop the crack from spreading. In this case the fills did just that for me. Go figure. I would need to simply pick out the old putty and repair the fills or top them up with super glue and briar dust.
  1. The rim looked like it had several fills on the top and the inner edge. It was hard to be certain as there was a thick coat tarry lava. It would need to be cleaned off and the fills check for stability and repaired if not.
  1. The stem was in good shape but was oxidized and had tooth chatter. It would need to be cleaned and polished to remove the oxidation and make the vulcanite shine.
  1. Looking in the shank the mortise and airway are also sound.

Here is what the pipe looked like when it arrived in Vancouver. I took photos to set the base for what it looked like before I started. Note the fills on the shank sides, bottom and bowl sides and bottom. I took a close up photo of the rim top to show the condition of the bowl and the rim. The front inner edge of the rim appears to be burned and it is out of round. It is hard to know if there was any other damage on the rim top.I took some close up photos of the fills and crack on the left side of the bowl running between the two large fills. It is circled in red in the photos below. The crack is hairline and is fairly tight. The fills show some shrinkage in the putty and will need to be removed and replaced.I took a close up photo of both sides of the stem to show the tooth marks and chatter on both sides near the button.I reamed the bowl with a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife to scrape out the cake to the bare briar. I used the sharp edge to scrape off some of the heavy cake on the rim top.I scrubbed the top of the rim with alcohol and cotton pads. I was able to remove most of it. The inner edge of the bowl showed a lot of damage. The front edge had a fairly deep burn mark that covered the surface of the rim at that point but did not go too deep.I cleaned up the inner edge of the rim and the sides of the bowl with the PipNet reamer. I used it to remove some of the damaged edge.I topped the bowl to deal with the burn mark that is visible in the above photo. After I topped it  I repaired the damaged fills on the rim and bowl sides that way I could top the repaired portions at the same times. I picked out the fills with a dental pick and removed the putty. The two that joined the crack were quite large and deep. I repaired them by tamping briar dust into the pits and then pushing clear super glue into the dust. I repeated the process leave a thick bubble of glue and dust on the surface of the repair. I did the same on the rim top, inner edge and the shank sides and bottom to repair the fills there.I sanded the fills smooth with 220 grit sandpaper to blend them into the surrounding briar. I added a little more super glue to some pits in the repairs and sanded them once the glue had dried. I sanded the oxidation and tooth chatter off the stem with 220 grit sandpaper. I was able to remove all of the chatter and even the tooth marks as they were not too deep in the vulcanite.I sanded the bowl and stem with a medium and a fine grit sanding sponge to begin to smooth out the scratches and sanding marks. I sanded the bowl with 1500-4000 grit micromesh sanding pads in preparation for staining the bowl. I planned on giving the pipe a contrast stain so I started with a dark brown aniline based stain. I applied the stain, flamed it and repeated the process until I was satisfied with the coverage.I wiped the bowl down with alcohol on a cotton pad to remove the heavy dark finish and make it more transparent. I wanted the dark brown deep in the grain once I had removed it from the lighter portions of the briar. I sanded the bowl with 1500 grit micromesh pads. I continued to sand the bowl with 1500-2400 grit micromesh pads to get the transparency that I wanted on the bowl. The next photos show what it looked like once I had finished sanding it. I gave the bowl a top coat of Danish Oil with a Cherry Stain. I rub the oil onto the bowl and rub it off and buff it. The next two photos are a little blurred but you can clearly see the cherry colour that is coming to the surface of the bowl. It works really well to blend in the fills.I set the bowl aside to dry and turned to the internals. I cleaned out the mortise and the airway in the shank and stem with alcohol, pipe cleaners and cotton swabs.I polished the stem with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-2400 and dry sanding with 3200-120000 grit pads. I buffed the stem with red Tripoli on the buffing wheel after the 4000 grit pad and then finish sanding it with the 6000-12000 grit pads. I gave the stem multiple rub downs with Obsidian Oil after each few pads to see if the oxidation at the shank end was getting better. By the time I was finished with the final pads the stem looked much better. I would give entire pipe a buff before I finished the restoration. I mixed a batch of pipe mud – cigar ash and water – to form a paste and applied it to the bowl bottom and sides with a folded pipe cleaner. I pressed the mud into the small checking that was around the bowl bottom with a dental spatula. The pipe mud will protect the bowl while a cake is formed.I buffed the bowl and stem with Blue Diamond on the buffing wheel to raise the shine and highlight the grain on the bowl. The fills are still visible but they blend into the surface of the briar better than they did before. I gave the pipe multiple coats of carnauba wax 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. I will be packing it up and mailing it back to Phil once I give it a bowl coating. I am hoping he enjoys this piece of his personal pipe history. It should provide many more years of enjoyment for him.

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