Restoring an Unstamped Rhodesian Handmade


Blog by Steve Laug

When I saw this pipe that my brother picked up I was captivated by the grain. The unknown maker had done an amazing job of laying the shape out with the grain. The sides of the bowl and shank have stunning flame grain radiating from the point at the heel of the bowl. The heel and the cap on the bowl, as well as the top and the pointed bottom edge of the shank have beautiful birdseye grain. He sent me the following pictures to whet my appetite for this pipe. I like the Rhodesian shape and I like the combination of nice grain, a sterling silver band and a black vulcanite stem. This one had them all. The only oddities to me were the shape of the shank – it was an egg shape, pointed at the bottom and the freehand style panel stem. The bowl had a thick cake in it and it was scratched at about 11 o’clock in the photo below. It looked as if it could have been cracked but it was not once he had reamed it free of the cake. The finish was dirty and there was some darkening/burn marks on the back side of the cap. It appeared to me that it was originally a virgin finish but I would know more once I had it in Vancouver and had cleaned up the finish.The next two photos show the grain on the sides of the bowl and the bottom. There is birdseye toward the left side of the bottom of the bowl curving up to meet the grain on the sides.Underneath the oxidation and tarnish on the band it was stamped Sterling Silver in an arch. The stamping was centred on the top side of the shank.The stem was heavily oxidized and had tooth chatter on both sides near the button. On the underside of the button there were deep tooth marks and one of them was on the button. The chair leg style stem would be a challenge to clean up.My brother did his usual comprehensive clean up on the pipe. He was able to remove all of the cake in the bowl and on the rim. He cleaned up the dirty finish on the bowl and cleaned out the mortise and the airway in the shank and the stem. The stem was more oxidized from his cleanup but the oxidation was on the surface so it would be a bit simpler to work on. The next four photos show what the pipe looked like when I brought it to the work table. There was some rim damage on the back side of the bowl. You can see it in the photo below. There was some burn damage as well as some bad nicks in the burned area. The outer edge had been flattened at that point and would need to be reworked. I took close up photos of both sides of the stem to highlight the tooth marks and chatter on them. There were three sandpits on the bottom of the bowl. The first was on the right side and was the largest of the three. The second and third were on the opposite side and were mere pin prick flaws. I filled in the holes with clear super glue. When it dried I sanded it with a piece of 220 grit sandpaper and then with a medium and fine grit sanding sponge to blend it into the surrounding briar.I topped the bowl on a topping board with 220 grit sandpaper to smooth out the damaged rim and ready the back side for a repair. I was pretty sure that if I topped it most of the damage would be remedied and the burn mark would disappear. Fortunately it was not deep in the briar so the sanding took care of it. Once I had it smooth I sanded it with the medium and fine grit sanding sponge.I wiped the bowl down with alcohol on a cotton pad to remove any remaining oils and dirt on the on surface of the briar. The next set of four photos show the cleaned surface of the briar. I polished the briar with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding it with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanding with 3200-12000 grit pads. The photos below tell the story of the polishing and interestingly the ring grain in the briar begins to show through by the polishing with the three final pads. I rubbed the polished briar down with a light coat of olive oil to highlight the grain and make it stand out. A little olive oil brings new life to the dry briar. This pipe truly  has some stunning grain as is evident in the following photos. I sanded out the tooth marks and chatter on the stem along with the oxidation with 220 grit sandpaper. The photo below shows the stem after the sanding. I rebuilt the dent in the button with black super glue. Once it was dry I sanded it to match the rest of the button.The stem had a very interesting tenon. It was short and it had what looked like threads on it. I decided to leave these in place rather than change the original shape of the tenon. I worked over the stem itself. I polished the vulcanite with micromesh sanding pads. I wet sanded it with 1500-2400 grit pads. I rubbed it down with Obsidian Oil repeatedly during the sanding. The photo below shows the stem after being sanded with the first three pads. There is still evidence of oxidation in the rubber so it will take a lot more sanding and polishing before it is black again. I buffed it after this with red Tripoli on the buffing wheel and was able to remove more of it. I dry sanded it with 3200-12000 grit pads (the second and third photos below) and again rubbed it down repeatedly with Obsidian Oil. Once it was finished I gave it a final coat of oil and let it dry. I buffed the bowl and stem with Blue Diamond a final time and worked to remove any remaining oxidation on the stem. The Blue Diamond is a plastic polish and it really brings a shine to the vulcanite. I gave the bowl and the stem multiple coats of carnauba wax. I buffed the pipe with a clean buffing pad to raise the shine. I finished buffing by hand to deepen the shine. I polished the silver band with a jeweler’s polishing cloth and removed the remaining tarnish. The finished pipe is shown in the photos below. I wish I knew who the unknown maker was. He or she did a great job making this pipe. The shape, the layout with the grain and the craftsmanship make this a pipe that will outlive me that is for certain. It is truly a beautiful pipe. Thanks for walking with me through the process of the restoration.

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