Jen’s Trove No. 8 – Restore & Upgrade of a Dr. Grabow Omega Smooth Billiard


Blog by Dal Stanton

I begin the restoration of the final pipe in Jen’s Trove before she leaves Bulgaria and returns to the US.  As I have posted eight times before this (I just figured out that I mis-numbered her pipes – two number 5s!), these pipes have been culled from my “Help Me!” basket and boxes to give as gifts to the men in her family.  I have been pleased to restore these pipes for Jen, especially because she knows each pipe she acquires benefits the Daughters of Bulgaria, help women and girls who have been sexually exploited and trafficked.  Thank you, Jen!

Her final pipe is a Dr. Grabow Omega Smooth Billiard – Dr. Grabow’s humbler version of a Peterson System pipe or the WDC Wellington.  Similarities include the Military stem with a P-Lip, and band.  The Omega is a smart looking pipe.  The eBay seller had a good selection and I rolled the Dr. Grabow Omega with four other pipes.  One of these was a GBD Americana Made in England which I restored (See this link at The Pipe Steward) and has become a regular friend in my rotation.  The restored Americana follows and then the seller’s picture of the Dr. Grabow Omega. The Lewis B. Linkman Co. started in 1892 (Pipedia).  Yet, the name, Dr. Grabow, was used for the first time in 1930 or 1931.  Since this is my first Dr. Grabow to restore, I find the story of the ‘Dr. Grabow’ name interesting because the Doctor is a real doctor!  From Pipedia’s article on the history of Dr. Grabow (and photo courtesy of Doug Valitchka):

Dr. Paul E. Grabow was a general physician in Chicago, located at 2348 N. Seminary Ave. Some doors north at No. 2400 was the drug store owned by Mr. Brown, a personal friend of Dr. Grabow. Grabow and Brown, both fond of fly-fishing, would often sit together in the early evening hours in a back room of the drug shop talking to one another and enjoying their pipes. Before long, they were joined by Mr. Linkman, owner of M. Linkman & Co., a large pipe factory located one block west on W. Fullerton Ave., at the corner of Racine Ave. These three gentlemen shared common interests and became fast friends.

During one of their evening get-togethers in 1930, Linkman mentioned he would introduce a new type of pipe soon that exhibited what he felt were fine improvements that greatly improved the pipe smoking experience. He was still looking for a good name and believed his pipes would sell better if they bore the name of a physician. (1) Linkman asked his friend Dr. Grabow if he would permit him to use his name. The good doctor felt flattered by the idea a pipe should be designated for him and consented. A formal agreement was not made, nor were there any contracts signed or royalties paid to Dr. Grabow for the use of his name; it was, according to one of Dr. Paul Grabow’s sons, Milford, a “friendly understanding” and Linkman expressed his thanks by sending Dr. Grabow numerous pipes throughout Dr. Grabow’s lifetime. (see The Legend of Dr. Grabow). Also interesting of note are the various instances where Dr. Paul Grabow stated that he developed, or helped develop, the Dr. Grabow brand of pipes. This was a tactic used to convince people that a pipe developed, endorsed, and used by a medical physician would be ‘more healthful’ than a pipe that was not developed by someone in the medical community.

Dr. Grabow pipes have been known as inexpensive, quality smokers – the ‘Drug Store’ variety.  The Dr. Grabow Omega line started production in the 1970s (LINK) coming in a smooth and blasted finishes.

I take additional pictures of the Omega on my work table to fill the gaps.  The nomenclature is stamped on the shank sides – OMEGA [over] DR. GRABOW on the left.  The right is stamped, IMPORTED BRIAR.  The Military mount stem has the classic Dr. Grabow Club card suit mark.  Overall, the Omega is in good shape.  The fire chamber has very little carbon cake.  The stummel surface and rim are clean.  The P-Lip stem has chatter especially on the lover button area and the stem shows no oxidation.  The biggest problem that I see on this Dr. Grabow is the finish.  I don’t like it.  These two comments on a Pipes Magazine Forum discussion about Dr. Grabow Omegas’, cost, quality and appeal, capture my thoughts regarding positives and negative:

Positives: An Omega was the first briar pipe that I ever owned. It still gets regular use and like Brewshooter, I have no complaints with it. Bowl size is a little bit smaller than I like, but it makes for a nice quick smoke, and the military mount makes it really easy to clean. I have Savinellis that I have easily paid four times more for, and sure, they smoke a little bit better, but in terms of a good smoking instrument, the Omega will do you well as long as it is smoked properly and maintained properly.

Negative: One thing I noticed about my Omega is that it had a heavy varnish or clear coat. I sanded it and gave it a nice wax. It seems to breathe a little better now and I like seeing more of the grain. I also gave the band a bit of a brushed look with some fine grain sandpaper. It’s a nice little pipe for that quick smoke.

I remember when I first saw the Dr. Grabow Omega sitting in my palm after it arrived in the mail.  My first thought was, ‘Nice pipe if it didn’t have that candy apple finish.’  Even then, I knew when this pipe came to my work table, I would be removing the finish – it may be an acrylic finish and they often are bears to remove.  I’m hopeful that the acrylic finish doesn’t hide a lot of surprises.  So, with a better understanding of the Dr. Grabow Omega, Imported Briar before me, I begin its upgrade by putting the military mount stem in the OxiClean bath.  Even though I don’t detect oxidation, I want to be sure that what is there will be raised and revealed. The very light carbon cake in the bowl is addressed with the Savinelli Pipe Knife.  After putting down paper towel for a quick clean up, I ream the cake and follow by sanding the bowl with 240 grit paper wrapped around a Sharpie Pen for better leverage.  I then wipe the bowl using a cotton pad wetted with isopropyl 95% to remove the residue carbon dust.  The pictures show the progress. Even though I think it will be unsuccessful, I first try to remove the acrylic finish using cotton pads wetted with acetone.  Was I surprised.  The finish peels off immediately with the acetone.  What I thought was acrylic is more like a jell that thickens with the acetone and gums up on the surface.  It also has a reddish color to it.  I use several cotton pads because they gum up quickly with the red goo coming off the surface.  While I remove the red top layer of finish, after working on the stummel with the acetone, it still is darker than I expected if all the finish had been removed.  I also am now able to see more fills – one larger area in the back of the bowl, over the shank.  That will need some attention.  I take some pictures of the progress and fills.  I decide to let the stummel soak in an acetone bath to remove more of the old finish.  While the stummel soaks in the acetone bath, I fish the Military mount stem out of the OxiClean bath and take a picture.  While there is not much in the way of oxidation showing on the stem, the OxiClean had the effect of bringing out small speckling on the surface.  I use 600 grit paper and wet sand the surface of the stem.  I follow with a rigorous buffing with 0000 grade steel wool.  The 600 grit paper and steel wool were sufficient to work out all the tooth chatter.  I then use pipe cleaners and cotton swabs wetted with alcohol for the filter bay, and to clean the internals of the stem.  Very little was needed to finish the job. Now it’s time to fish the stummel out of the acetone bath.  The finish is removed and I’m looking at the natural briar and it does have a darker hue.  I use a sharp dental probe to test the fills I see variously around the stummel.  I see a few very small fills and most seem strong.  On a few, and on the large fill that I referenced before on the back side of the bowl, above the shank, the fill has a crevasse next to it.  Before working on the stummel fills, I first use a medium grade sanding sponge followed by a light grade sanding sponge to remove the surface blemishes on the stummel.  I like using the sanding sponges because they are gentler than regular sanding paper and soft – conforming to the nooks and crannies of the curves of the stummel.  I also do a ‘sponge topping’ to clean up the rim.  One of the things I want to do to upgrade this Dr. Grabow Omega is to work on the rim.  To me, the flat-top, sharp cut of the rim is detracting. I will introduce an internal bevel and a very gentle external bevel on the rim lip to soften the lines.  As I have said in several other restorations, I believe a beveled rim classes up the pipe.  I use a coarse 120 grit rolled piece of sanding paper to cut the initial bevel, and then following with 240 then 600.  The final picture below shows the addition of the external bevel which is less obtrusive.  I use only the 240 grit paper followed by the 600 grit paper to fashion this bevel.  I do the external bevel like this as more of an accent to the rim – softening the lines.  I really like the grain movement on the rim – upgrading Dr. Grabow Omega! After the sponge sanding, almost all of the pitting and nicks are removed from the briar surface.  At this juncture, only the large fill on the back of the stummel needs attention.  I take a close-up to show the fill.  I use Hot Stuff Special ‘T’ CA glue to fill the crevasse running along this fill. I drip a bit of glue on a toothpick and run the drop to the point to strategically place the glue.  Afterward, I spray the CA glue with an accelerator to shorten the curing time.  In a few minutes, I use a flat needle file to file the mounded CA glue down close to the briar surface.  I then use 240 grit and 600 grit paper to bring it down flush with the briar surface and blend.  Finally, I use the medium and light grade sanding sponges to finish the blending.  The pictures show the progress. With the patch sanded down, I’m ready to utilize micromesh pads on the bowl to bring out the grain of the briar.  I begin by wet sanding using micromesh pads 1500 to 2400. I follow by dry sanding with pads 3200 to 4000 and then 6000 to 12000.  Oh my, oh my.  I love to watch the grain emerge through the micromesh cycles.  This Dr. Grabow is looking good for a drug store pipe! Standing back a bit and looking at the Dr. Grabow Omega again, I reunite the unfinished smooth Billiard stummel with unfinished Military Mount stem to assess where things are and get a sense about which way this Omega wants to go in his upgrade. I’m drawn to the black, darker hues of the natural briar.  The currents of the briar’s grain flow remind me of a storm with bird’s eye swirls and flamed currents unleashed in the wind.  The stummel heel has an almost solid dark plane with a spurt of grain reaching out.  This Dr. Grabow’s newly revealed grain has some personality – no doubt! This grain pattern reminds me of a restoration I did with a very large pipe, A Desirable Reject London Made, where for the first time I used black dye as part of the staining mixture.  The results were surprising to me by pulling out almost a copper kettle hue – attractive.  Here is a picture of that project.For the upgrade of this Dr. Grabow Omega, I decide in favor of the same approach mixing 2/3s-parts Fiebing’s Dark Brown Leather Dye with 1/3-part Fiebing’s Black Leather Dye with the lightening option available by wiping down the bowl with alcohol later.  I set up my staining station and take a picture to show the setup and tools.  What I didn’t show are the latex gloves I’ve started wearing to keep my hands from being colored!  After inserting a fashioned cork in the shank as a handle, I warm the stummel with the hot air gun to open the briar grain for better reception of the dye.  Then, using a folded over pipe cleaner, I liberally apply the dye mixture to the stummel to have 100% coverage.  While the dye is wet on the stummel, I fire it using a lit candle and the alcohol in the aniline dye immediately burns off, setting the pigment.  After a few minutes of cooling, I repeat the process above and then set the stummel aside to rest.  The pictures show the staining process. With the stummel resting, I take the stem and wet sand with micromesh pads 1500 to 2400.  I follow by dry sanding with pads 3200 to 4000, then 6000 to 12000.  After each cycle, I apply Obsidian Oil to the stem to revitalize the vulcanite.  The stem looks good!  I put the stem aside to dry. This point of the process is like a kid getting up on Christmas morning!  With the stained, fired, crusted bowl in hand, I mount the felt buffing wheel in the Dremel, set the speed at the slowest speed (20%) and use the Dremel’s adjustment wrench to purge the wheel of old compound and to soften it.  Using Tripoli compound, I ‘unwrap’ the stummel with the felt buffing wheel.  When I finish with the Tripoli, I wet a cotton pad with alcohol and wipe down the stummel.  I do this to lighten it a bit and to blend the dye.  Then, with the cotton cloth buffing wheel mounted to the Dremel, and turning up the speed to 40%, I apply Blue Diamond compound to the stummel and use it to buff up the nickel planted band.  While the Blue Diamond buffing wheel is mounted, I also use it on the stem to buff.  The pictures show the progress with the compounds. Well, it was going so well until it wasn’t!  My wife arrived home with KFC Chicken for supper that we ate on the ‘Man Cave’ balcony of our 10th floor flat.  Yes, we have Colonel Sanders in Bulgaria. After finishing the chicken which was ‘finger licking good’ I was anxious to show my wife the progress on the Dr. Grabow.  You can guess.  On the balcony, perhaps because of the ‘finger licking good’ chicken was still a bit on my fingers, the Dr. Grabow literally took off and launched from my hand and hit the floor.  With inspection, the dent on the rim was evident… oh my.  Oh well….  I remembered in the back of my mind, I think I read it on an Al Jones’ post, about using a wet towel super-heated with the help of an iron, can help expand dented wood as it heats and absorbs the moisture.  Wood is more like a sponge.  I used my wife’s iron and gave it a go.  Believe it or not, it worked well.  Before and after pictures are #1 and #3.  The briar had dulled where the iron was applied so again I use the buffing wheel with Blue Diamond to restore the sheen with the rest of the stummel. Disaster averted.  Thanks, Al!  I buff the stummel with a clean cotton cloth to remove compound residue.  I mount the Dremel with a cotton cloth buffing wheel and apply carnauba wax to stem and stummel.  Following a few coats of wax, I give the entire pipe a hand buff with a microfiber cloth.

This Dr. Grabow Omega was an unremarkable ‘Drug Store’ pipe.  Now, he’s enjoys an upgrade – he has cuff links now!  The grain hidden underneath the original finish is not unremarkable!  I’m pleased that all this Omega needed was a little TLC.  Jen will give this pipe to one of the men in her family.  ALL the gifts she has given benefit our work here in Bulgaria with the Daughters of Bulgaria – helping women and girls who have been trafficked and sexually exploited.  This Dr. Grabow is the last pipe in Jen’s Trove.  Thanks, Jen!  Check out The Pipe Steward to find out more about why I do what I do.  Thanks for joining me!

6 thoughts on “Jen’s Trove No. 8 – Restore & Upgrade of a Dr. Grabow Omega Smooth Billiard

    1. Dal in Bulgaria

      Appreciate your words, Charles. I agree with your assessment of the Omega. I love releasing the briar especially in a pipe like this one where no one is expecting anything too special.

      Reply

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