Blog by Dal Stanton
When Jenny fished this iconic shaped Poker out of my ‘Help Me!’ basket, her time of consideration was very short. She added it to her Trove of pipes that she asked me to restore to gift the men her family when she returns to the US at summer’s end. She has worked here in Bulgaria with us for the past few years and she will be missed! All her Trove pipes benefit the work we do with the Daughters of Bulgaria, women and girls who have been sexually exploited and trafficked in Europe. I really like the Poker shape. It always elicits a ‘down home’ Mark Twain feel for me – I can easily imagine a vintage gathering of card players sitting around a poker table, dealing hands on a riverboat, and one old crust chewing on his ‘Poker’ as he considers his hand. Taking a puff, then placing the sitter on the table, he changes 2 cards in hope of his fortune changing! All that by looking at this pipe? For me, yes! This Poker got my attention on the eBay auction block and it’s now on my work table here on the 10th floor of our former Communist apartment ‘blok’. Here is what I see. On the left side of the shank is stamped ‘Villager’ and on the right, ‘Grecian’ in a cursive script. The only reference to a ‘Villager’ in Herb Wilczak and Tom Colwell’s, ‘Who Made That Pipe?’ is to the renown Italian name, Savinelli. While Savinelli does boast a Poker shape in its Shapes Chart I found in Pipedia, this Villager is lacking some of the usual indicators of the Savinelli brand (Savinelli stamping, stem shield, etc.). Neither is ‘Villager’ included in the extensive list of Savinelli made sub-brands, seconds & order productions in Pipedia’s Savinelli article. I’m dubious of the Savinelli origin of this Poker, yet I was not able to find an example of a Savinelli ‘Villager’ line to compare. The only other marking is on the right side of the shank, ‘Grecian’. I’m assuming this is pointing to ‘Grecian Briar’ which I’ve seen marked on pipes’ right shank sides. After searching the ‘Villager Grecian’ together, I come up with nothing that helps to identify or disqualify (Savinelli) the origins of this Poker. I would welcome any leads! The one thing I can deduce with great certainty about this Villager Poker, is that it was a well-loved and smoked pipe! But it needs help!
There is heavy build-up of carbon cake in the chamber and the rim is well-crusted from lava and oils. The back-left side of the rim appears to have borne the brunt of the former stewards lighting activities – it is burned and the internal rim shape is out of round because of it. The stummel has normal grime coverage and sports a few small fills which have lightened over time and needing attention. The ‘seat’ of this Poker has been used and shows some wear. The stem has heavy oxidation and has been chewed on a bit and will need work. I’m anxious to recommission this Villager Poker for Jenny’s menfolk!
I begin by placing the stem into the OxiClean bath to raise the oxidation. I let it stew for several hours. Starting on the stummel, I use the Pipnet Reaming Kit to remove the heavy cake from the chamber. I will not be able to inspect the chamber wall for integrity until this is done. I take another picture of the chamber to mark the progress. After putting down paper towel to shorten the cleanup, I employ the smallest blade first then use the next two larger sizes. To fine tune the ream, I then utilize the Savinelli Pipe Knife to remove more carbon. After this, I roll up a piece of 240 grit paper around a Sharpie Pen and sand the chamber removing more carbon build up seeking a fresh briar surface. Finally, I wipe the chamber out with a cotton pad wetted with isopropyl 95% to remove the carbon dust. I do not see any problems with the internal fire chamber’s integrity. The pictures show the progress. With Murphy’s Oil Soap, I begin working on cleaning the rim and stummel of the grime and oils. I use cotton pads and a bristled tooth brush to work around the stummel and rim. Into the scrubbing, I also use a brass bristled brush on the rim – this will not damage the wood. After rinsing off with warm tap water, I use the flat edge of my Winchester Knife to scrape more carbon off the rim surface. After rinsing off again with warm tap water, I look at the rim condition. I am left without any question regarding the need to top this Poker to remove the damaged briar and repair the inner-rim roundness. Pictures show the progress. Before I move to the external stummel repairs, I turn to the internal cleaning. I use cotton swabs and pipe cleaners dipped in isopropyl 95% to do the job. I also utilized needle files and a small flat head screw driver to scrape the sides of the mortise to remove the plethora of tars and oil that have built up. After some time doing this, and with other commitments with my life on the horizon, I decide to utilize a salt/alcohol soak to continue to wage war even though I’m off doing other things! I use Kosher Salt, which does not leave an after-taste unlike iodized salt, to fill the bowl and after covering the bowl with my palm, I give the stummel a few shakes to displace and settle the salt. Then, I stretch and twist a cotton ball to form a wick which is inserted and pushed down into the mortise using a piece of metal coat hanger. As a wick, it acts to draw out the oils and tars as the alcohol and salt interact. I then place the stummel in an egg carton to stabilize it and position it at a slight angle and fill the bowl with isopropyl 95% until is surfaces over the salt. I wait a few minutes as the alcohol is drawn into the mortise and top the alcohol again. The Trojan Horse strategy commences. Returning several hours later, the salt is discolored and the wick shows the fruit of its labors. I toss the expended salt in the waste, clean the bowl with paper towel, and use long bristled brushes to rid the mortise of left-over salt crystals. I return to using cotton swabs and pipe cleaners to complete the internal cleanup job. Surprisingly, I am still scraping gunk off the mortise walls with small flat edged tools! This stummel is a nasty little bugger. Finally, the gunk is removed and cotton swabs are coming out clean. Mission accomplished! Pictures show the gunk removal. Turning now to the stem, I remove it from the Oxi-Clean bath and the oxidation has been effectively raised on the vulcanite surface. Using 600 grade sanding paper, I wet sand the stem removing the mother share of the oxidation. I follow with 0000 steel wool and then Mr. Clean Magic Eraser to finish the oxidation removal. Pictures show the process. Using pipe cleaners, I now attack the internals of the stem. Dipping pipe cleaners in isopropyl 95%, it did not take long before the airway was clean. The picture shows the results.Turning now to the stummel, I take another closer look at the rim. The damaged wood needs to be removed and the rim repaired. I take 240 grit paper and put it on a chopping board to form my topping board. Inverting the stummel, I rotate it over the paper taking off only as much briar as is needed to refresh the rim. I check the progress often to make sure I’m not dipping into softer damaged wood – keeping the top true. I take some pictures to show the progress. The 4th picture below shows the thinner area at the 2 o’clock section of the rim because of the scorching. I finish with the 240 grit paper, and I follow by topping it lightly with 600 grit paper. To shape a more balanced and rounded rim, I create an angled internal bevel of the rim using 120 grit paper. My aim is to create a bevel that evens out and blends with the angle created by the damaged area as much as possible. I also create a bevel on the external rim edge to take away damage as well as encourage more balance. I follow up the 120 grit paper by using 240 and 600 on both the internal and external rim bevels. I think the beveling looks good and succeeds in masking the problem areas on the rim. The pictures show the rim restoration. With the rim repair complete, I look to the stummel. With all the wear nicks and cuts that this loved Poker has endured, I decide to remove the old finish to get down to the natural briar. To do this I use cotton pads wetted with acetone and work on the surface. The acetone works very efficiently and the finish comes off easily. As I inspect the heel of the stummel, I see nicks on the edge. I decide to lightly ‘top’ the bottom of the stummel with 600 grit paper. I am surprised by how ‘not flat’ the bottom is as I top it. After finishing the topping of the seat of this sitter, I used rolled-up 240 and 600 grit papers respectively to bevel the bottom edge very lightly. This removed some remaining dents on the edge that the bevel did not remove. It looks good. The pictures show the progress. Next, using a medium grade sanding sponge I sand the stummel removing the nicks and cuts. I follow using a light grade sanding sponge. Looking at the fills on the stummel, I dig at them with a sharp dental probe to see if they are solid. They seem good, but I’ll need to darken them later. I move directly into the micromesh pad cycles. Using pads 1500 to 2400 I wet sand the stummel. Following this, I dry sand with pads 3200 to 4000 then 6000 to 12000. I take pictures showing the progress of bringing out the briar grain on this venerable Villager Poker. This part is one of my favorites in restoring pipes – seeing the grain emerge with the hidden beauty displayed! At this point, I take cherry and walnut stain markers and touch up the lighter fills so that they will blend better. After touching up, I lightly feather dabbed the stained fills with a cotton pad with a lightly wetted with alcohol. This blended the fills more. The pictures show the progress. To cover the repairs and to blend increasingly a darkened part of the rim that had been scorched, I decide to go a bit darker in the staining of the stummel. Yet, I want to keep it lighter. To do this I mix at a 50% ratio Fiebing’s Dark Brown Leather Dye and alcohol in a shot glass. I want to start a bit darker, but have the option to lighten it by wiping the finish down with alcohol and cotton pad. After I mix the dye, I fit a cork in the shank to act as a handle. I first warm the stummel using a hot air gun to open the grain to receive the dye. Using a folded over pipe cleaner, I apply dye to the stummel thoroughly, aiming for complete coverage. I then ‘fire’ the stummel using a lit candle. This burns off the alcohol in the dye and sets the stain in the grain. After a few minutes, I repeat the process and then set the stummel aside to rest.With the stained stummel resting, I turn to the stem. Using micromesh pads, I wet sand the stem using pads 1500 to 2400. Then I dry sand using pads 3200 to 4000 then 6000 to 12000. After each cycle, I apply Obsidian Oil to the stem to revitalize the vulcanite. When completed, I set the stem aside to dry. The pictures show the progress. Turning again to the stummel, it is time to ‘unwrap’ the fire crusting to reveal the grain. Using a felt buffing wheel mounted on the Dremel, set at the slowest speed, I first purge the wheel using the Dremel’s metal adjustment wrench against the felt surface. This removes old compound and restores suppleness to the wheel. Then, I apply the abrasive compound Tripoli to the surface by rotating the buffing wheel methodically over sections at a time, removing the fire crusting. After completing the Tripoli cycle, I wet a cotton pad with alcohol and wipe down the stummel. I do this primarily to blend the dye more evenly over the surface. I don’t rub too much because I do not want to lighten the hue – it looks good. I then mount a cotton cloth buffing wheel on the Dremel, increase the speed a bit, and apply a slightly less abrasive compound to the surface, Blue Diamond. After the Blue Diamond compound, I buff the stummel with a felt cloth to remove the compound dust from the surface. I also notice that the fills that I had colored earlier had lightened again through the staining process and the alcohol wipe down (see third pictures below). I touched those up again with a black sharpie pen and a dark stain stick. The pictures show the progress. I reunite the Villager Poker’s stem and stummel to apply wax. With the cotton cloth buffing wheel dedicated to applying carnauba wax mounted on the Dremel, I apply several coats over the stummel and stem surface. I follow this with a clean cotton cloth buffing wheel on the Dremel and then a rigorous hand buffing with a microfiber cloth to raise the shine more.
The only direct identification of the name, ‘Villager’, pointed to a pipe bearing the Italian name, Savinelli. I was dubious that this Villager Grecian Poker rose to the quality one expects from Savinelli craftsmanship. Yet, I am very pleased with how this iconic Poker cleaned up. The rich depth of the briar tones and the variety of grain movement makes this ‘Ole Boy Poker’ a keeper and ready for his next steward, who will enjoy him as much as the last. Jen’s gifting this Villager Poker to one of her menfolk benefits the work we do with the Daughters of Bulgaria. For more information about this and my other restorations, take a look at my blog, The Pipe Steward. Thanks for joining me!