Jen’s Trove No. 5: Recommissioning a Mehaffey Cutty 6

Blog by Dal Stanton

When I first saw this pipe on eBay, what drew my attention was the canted bowl.  I wasn’t sure then what shape it was, and when Jen recently pulled it out of the “Help Me!” basket to add to her trove of pipes she was collecting for restoration to give as gifts to men in her family, I still didn’t know.  After pulling it out on my work table, I took another look and started looking at my ‘go to’ sites for shapes charts.  My thinking was, “Chimney” because of the taller than usual bowl that can be canted, but “Cutty” was also in the running mainly because of the forward canted bowl.  When I sent my thoughts about the shapes and a picture to Steve for his input, his verdict was a ‘Cutty’ shape.  The forward canted bowl was the clincher and that my pipe’s bowl was tall, but not reaching ‘Chimney’ proportions.  Here is what I saw on eBay and what I sent to Steve:I enjoyed TobaccoPipes description of this very old pipe shape having its genesis in the clay world:As far as we can tell, the Cutty is the oldest pipe shape that is still available today.  

 As early as the 16th century, pipe smokers would settle in at their favorite tavern and–if they had a high enough social status–would pull out a long clay pipe, almost always a Cutty shape.  This shape was common because it was easy to craft in the molds used for clay pipes (William Goldring, The Pipe Book: A History and How to: 1973).  

Clay Cutty pipes, up until about a century ago, always included a “spur” or “boot” of extra material at the bottom of the bowl.  When smoking the same clay pipe all day long, the bowl tends to get pretty hot.  The spur allowed the smoker to grasp the base of the pipe without burning his hand.  Today, some Cutty’s keep the spur attachment, but not many.

A modern example of a Cutty pipe is the Savinelli Petite 402 model.

 Like the Dublin family this pipe falls in, the Cutty has a conical shaped chamber, which means the diameter of the chamber tapers down the closer you move to the bowl.  The largest difference between a Dublin and a Cutty is that while a Dublin has evenly thick chamber walls that move down the bowl, the Cutty has more of a rounded shape, in some ways resembling an Egg.  As pointed out by G.L. Pease, the Cutty has an exaggerated forward cant, originally purposed to keep the heat and smoke away from the smoker’s face.  

Typically, Cutty pipes have a very slight bent stem, but this is not a strict qualification. In many instances, we see modern Cutty with straight stems and deep bent stems.

On my work table, I took these additional pictures to fill in the gaps and show some of the needs. The stamping on the left side of the shank reads ‘Mehaffey’ [over] ‘6’.  The right side of the shank also has the number ‘6’ stamped – I assume this is the shape number.  While one can find Mehaffey pipes on the internet, unfortunately, the one factoid that is repeated in many places can be found in Pipedia’s single reference to this pipe maker:

E.A. Mehaffey operated a pipe & tobacco shop in Wheaton, Maryland. He used to make pipes for many years but as legend has it, his house tobacco mixtures were much more prestigious than his pipes. Mehaffey was in business up to the 1980’s.

While this statement does not engender enthusiasm for E. A. Mehaffey’s pipe production, the Cutty before me boasts a very attractive, large piece of briar.  With the taller than usual bowl, both sides of the bowl showcase tight bird’s eye grain patterns, which offer a perpendicular disposition toward the grain.  On both the front and the back of the bowl, as one might expect, horizontal grain is evident – the parallel perspective of the grain.  If one thinks of a rope as grain, the horizontal grain is looking at the side-length of the rope.  Whereas, the bird’s eye grain is looking at the ends of the rope ends after they are cut.  This is a beautifully styled and positioned Cutty shape with this fine piece of briar.  Complementing the forward canted bowl, the long shank and tapered stem adds to the perception of styled length.  I’m liking it! Looking at the pipe, the needs start with a moderate build-up of carbon cake in the chamber which needs to be removed down to the fresh briar.  The rim has lava flow and black crusting which needs removal.  I see no fills on the stummel. One area of problem is at the upper junction of shank and bowl.  There are what appear to be two punctures and what appears to be a crack running perpendicularly off the left puncture.  It is difficult to guess what caused these.  I will probe the holes to make sure they are only superficial and make sure the crack is not growing.The tapered stem has mild oxidation and a good bit of tooth chatter on the upper and lower bit. I begin the recommissioning of this Mehaffey Cutty by plopping the stem into the Oxi-Clean bath to soak and to raise the oxidation from the vulcanite. Using the Pipnet Reaming Kit, I address the cake in the bowl.  After spreading paper towel to catch the exhumed carbon, I use the smallest blade first.  I realize very quickly that the smallest will be the only reaming blade I use and switch to using the Savinelli Pipe Knife.  The conical chamber narrows toward the base so the Savinelli Pipe Knife does the job.  After removing the carbon cake, I wrap a piece of 240 grit sanding paper around a Sharpie Pen and sand the chamber.  Following this, I clean the chamber using a cotton pad wetted with alcohol to remove the carbon dust.   While I want to start on the external briar, I like to take care of the dirty stuff first!  Using cotton swabs and pipe cleaners wetted with isopropyl 95% and go to work on the internals.  I like working on a clean pipe.  I discover that a metal tube is providing the airway through the long shank.  With the use of a long, bristled brush I’m able to clean the internals of the mortise very quickly.  Not bad!Now to the external briar surface.  I use undiluted Murphy’s Oil Soap with cotton pads and a bristle tooth brush to clean the bowl of the grime.  I also work on the rim using a brass bristled brush.  With a cleaned up stummel, I take another close look at the rim.  I love the tight canted look of the bowl and I hate the thought of removing any briar real estate from the profile of this Cutty.  Yet, I’ll need to remove some, just enough to remove the damaged briar and to restore fresh lines.  I look again at the problems at the upper junction of the shank and bowl.  I first use a sharp dental probe to clean out the holes of collected debris.  I’m careful with the hole on the left, looking at it very closely it appears to be prone to crumble.  As I look at the crack running to the left of this more fragile problem area, the question in my mind is whether to do a full crack repair, drilling ‘back-holes’ on either side of the crack to block any possibility of the crack enlarging.  Or, avoiding the added trauma to the briar by drilling, would simply laying a line of thin CA glue seep into the crack and sufficiently close it down?  I sent these questions and the second and third picture below to Steve for his input. While I wait for Steve’s response, I’ll focus now on the rim repair.  I begin by using 240 grit sanding paper on a chopping board to create my topping board.  Before putting paper on the board, I invert the stummel on the board and eyeball it free standing.  I want to make sure that I top it keeping the angle of the rim parallel to the board.  Damaged, scorched wood tends to be softer.  I have learned by unfortunate experience that it’s easy to start angling into the softer wood and be left with an angled rim plane.  Not pretty!  As I free stand the inverted stummel, I discover there is a rock – the rim is already dipping.  I determine by looking at which part of the rim is healthy, which part of the rim needs to guide the topping while not dipping into the worn area – softer part of the rim. The pictures that follow show the progression of the topping.  Notice the first picture is only after a few rotations on the topping board staying on the healthy part of the rim.  The dark areas are lower and so don’t engage the paper.  As the topping progresses in the subsequent pictures, the dark areas gradually are engaged by the sanding paper as the rim moves toward the paper at the different points.  The final picture shows switching to 600 grit paper to smooth the topping.  The rim plane looks good and is level! Now I remove the damaged briar on the internal rim’s edge and create an internal bevel to balance the look of the rim – blending the damaged area with the healthier area. In the first picture below, the damaged area is in the 2 to 3 o’clock area.  A bevel looks good too by creating lines that, to me, are classy.   Using a rolled-up piece of 120 grit sanding paper I fashion the internal bevel.  Then I follow with rolled pieces of 240 grit and 600 grit papers to smooth the bevel.After the internal bevel is completed, I take a look at the external edge of the rim.  It also has some heat damage and has a dark ring.  I use 240 grit paper rolled and create a gentle bevel around the outer edge.  I don’t need much – just enough to clean up the briar. I follow the 240 grit paper with 600 grit.  The rim looks good.I put the bowl aside for a time and take the stem out of the OxiClean bath.  The oxidation has risen to the surface.  I reconnect the stem and stummel placing a plastic disc between the two.  I do this to avoid shouldering the stem by rounding the shank edge of the stem.  I use 600 grit paper and wet sand the stem in warm water.  I follow this by using 0000 steel wool to buff out the sanding lines and shine the stem.Turning now to the tooth chatter and tooth dents, I start with the upper bit.  The tooth static is not serious and I sand it out using 240 grit paper.  I also sand out a slight dent on the button lip.  I then erase the 240 grit lines using 600 grit paper followed by 0000 grade steel wool.  The upper bit looks good. The lower bit is a bit more problematic with a significant tooth dent in the center of the bit.  It also has significant tooth chatter and a small dent on the button.  I use the heating method by lighting a candle and I pass the affected area over the flame – I keep the stem moving back and forth over the flame.  This heats the vulcanite and the expansion of the rubber seeks its original shape.  This method works well.  The damaged area did expand so that I am able to sand out the rough areas using 240 grit paper, then 600 to remove the scratch traces of the 240, then 0000 grade steel wool to buff our the remainder of the 600 residue marks and shine the stem.  I also sand out the dent on the button. I receive word back from Steve about the approach to the stummel problems.  His recommendation to do the full ‘surgery’ on the crack by drilling holes at the end points of the crack and filling these along with the holes together is the strategy.  As I was already aware, Steve urged caution around the left hole that appears up close to be crumbling.  The first picture below shows two arrows pointing to the end of the crack where I will drill holes.  The carrot in the middle is marking the obvious area of concern.  I want to keep this area intact so that I can fill it with a putty made from briar dust and CA glue.  First, I use the sharp dental probe to mark the points for the drill – creating a guide hole so that I don’t create unintended rustification!  I utilize a magnifying glass to do this!Historically, it hasn’t been easy to drill these holes with precision.  Using a handheld Dremel with a 1mm drill bit mounted in the hand extender (the cable extension) needs a steady hand!  I decide to try something different.  I attach the Dremel hand extender to a miniature vice.  If I stabilize half of the equation that improves my odds!  With the drill stationary, I can bring the stummel to the drill with more control.  With Dremel readied with a 1mm drill bit, I put my plan in motion.  The first hole I do, the lower one, I had a little wobble so the hole wasn’t as crisp as hoped.  The upper hole was much better.  Of course, the drilling does not go through to the internals!  The depth is only a few millimeters. Overall, this was a better setup. With holes drilled, I mix briar dust and Special ‘T’ thick, CA glue to form a putty to fill the drill holes as well as the holes.  I scoop a small mound of briar dust on a plastic lid and next to it I make a puddle of CA glue.  I gradually mix the dust into the CA glue until I arrive at the viscosity I desire – I want it to be a bit on the wet side so that the putty will better penetrate the holes, cracks and crevices.  I use a dental spade tool to tamp the putty down while I spread it over the damaged area.  I place more than needed so that when I sand the patch mounds down, they will blend well.  The day has turned to night, and it’s time to turn out the lights!Having cured overnight, I’m ready to file and sand the briar dust putty patch.  Using first flat and rounded needle files I slowly and gradually file the patch mounds down so that they are very close to being level with the briar surface. The aim is to keep the files on the patch material and not on briar.  For the fine tuning, I use 240 grit paper to bring the patch flush with the surface, aiming to remove putty from the unaffected surface area – blending the patch.  I take some pictures to show the file progressing. Next, I use 240 grit sanding paper to take the patches down to the briar surface and remove superfluous briar putty from the briar surface.  I roll the paper into more of a roll, and move it in a circular motion over the patch material.  The briar putty is easy to distinguish from briar in that it sands up into a white powder whereas briar doesn’t.  The first picture below shows this well.  I take pictures to show the 240 grit paper progress.  When I come to the place where only the filled patches remain, flush with the briar surface, I then switch to 600 grit sanding paper and smooth out the surface further.  The patches come out very well.  The pictures show the progress. During the repair, I was thinking about the next steps for finishing the stummel.  With the rim repairs, darker scorched areas around the rim, and the crack/holes repair on the stummel surface, I decide to darken the finish on the Mehaffey Cutty to blend these areas more effectively.  Again, with aniline dyes (alcohol based), the opportunity to lighten the hue is an option by wiping the surface with alcohol.  To prepare the surface, I decide to remove the old finish with acetone and cotton pads so that the staining process will have more uniform results.  The acetone removes the old worn finish very quickly and now I’m down to the raw briar.The briar surface is in good shape so I begin with using a light grade sanding sponge to smooth out the nicks.  After the sanding sponge, I wet sand using micromesh pads 1500 to 2400.  Following the wet sanding, I dry sand using micromesh pads 3200 to 4000 then 6000 to 12000.  Oh my.  What emerges through the micromesh cycles is an extraordinary piece of briar works.  Mehaffey may not have been known for his pipes, but I have little doubt that when this Cutty was on the Mehaffey shelf with a price tag on him, it was an upper shelf pipe being offered.  Other than the repair work done, there are no imperfections or fills of any sort that I can discern, and the grain…, oh my! I continue to work on the beautiful Cutty stummel now to apply the stain.  I decide to mix 1 to 1 ratio of Fiebing’s Dark Brown Leather Dye to alcohol.  During the micromesh process, I also decide to add a pinch – just a pinch, of Fiebing’s Oxblood Leather Dye to add a little rich attitude to this proud Cutty! I take a picture of the staining set-up, then wipe the stummel down with alcohol to clean the surface.  With a large eye dropper, I mix the dyes in a shot glass. I then warm the stummel using the hot air gun, expanding the grain and making it more receptive to the dye.  After warmed, I liberally apply the dye over the stummel, using a cork inserted into the mortise as a handle.  After I achieve full coverage, I fire the wet dye using a lit candle which immediately burns off the alcohol in the dye, setting the stain in the grain.  After cooling a few minutes, I repeat the process and set the stummel aside to rest for several hours.  The pictures show the staining process. With the newly stained bowl resting, I take up the stem to complete the sanding process.  Using micromesh pads 1500 to 2400, I wet sand the stem.  I follow this with dry sanding using pads 3200 to 4000 then 6000 to 12000, applying Obsidian Oil after each cycle of three to help the vulcanite regain luster and vitality.  I love that vulcanite pop! I set the stem aside to dry. Time to unwrap the stained Mehaffey Cutty and see the results.  I mount a felt buffing wheel on the Dremel and set the speed at the slowest.  After purging the wheel with the Dremel’s metal tightening wrench, using Tripoli compound, I apply the more abrasive compound by moving the wheel in a circular motion over the surface removing the fired crust.  After completing application of Tripoli, I wet a cotton pad with isopropyl 95% and wipe the surface down to blend the dye evenly over the briar.  I then mount the cotton cloth buffing wheel on the Dremel and add speed up to 2, with the fastest being 5.  I then apply a lesser abrasive compound, Blue Diamond, in the same fashion as the Tripoli compound.  When I complete applying Blue Diamond to the stummel, I reunite the stem and stummel and use Blue Diamond on the tapered stem.  I complete the application of compounds by hand buffing stem and stummel with a soft felt cloth to remove the compound dust from the surface in preparation for applying carnauba wax.  The pictures show the progress – looking very, very nice! With the finish line in sight, I mount a cotton cloth wheel on the Dremel for carnauba wax and I apply it to stem and stummel at the same speed.  After applying several coats of wax, I mount a clean cotton cloth wheel and further buff the surface to make sure the wax has deiminated into the briar and increase the shine.  I then rigorously hand buff the Cutty with a microfiber cloth.

I’m pleased with the results.  This Mehaffey Cutty with the canted bowl is complemented well with the shade of the finish – a rich deep brown and I can see the slight accent of the Oxblood I added to the mix.  The grain is a showcase of bird’s eye and horizontal flow.  The crack and hole repair is all but invisible.  I think Jenny will be pleased to give this Cutty to a special member of her family.  Her gift becomes a help to benefit our work here in Bulgaria with the Daughters of Bulgaria.  Thanks Jenny!  For more about this and why I do what I do, check out my blog, The Pipe Steward.  Thanks for joining me!

Addendum: In case anyone noticed, I forgot to clean the internal airway of the stem!  Rest assured it will be done before a new steward packs his first bowl!

1 thought on “Jen’s Trove No. 5: Recommissioning a Mehaffey Cutty 6

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