By Al Jones
The 484B Billiard with saddle stem is a classic in the Comoy’s shape chart and is described as a “Large Billiard”. This pipe is a Grand Slam, which means it originally came with a metal stinger and leather washer system. Most smokers discarded this apparatus for a more open draw. The Grand Slam was introduced in the early 1930’s and was seen into the 1970’s. The round “Made in London, England” stamp and drilled, 3 piece C stem logo indicate that it was made between somewhere from the late 1940’s to the mid-70’s. The pipe arrived in very good condition, with some buildup on the bowl top and an oxidized, but otherwise undamaged stem.
The cake was removed with my reamer set, than the bowl interior finished with a small piece of 320 grade sandpaper wrapped around a smaller bit. The bowl was filled with sea salt and alcohol and soaked overnight. After the soak, the shank was cleaned with some small bristle brushes and paper towels. I soaked the stem in a mild Oxy-Clean solution with a dab of grease over the stem logo. Following the soak, the stem was mounted and oxidation removed with 800, 1,500 and then 2,000 grade wet paper. The stem was finished with 8,000 and 12,000 grade micromesh sheets. I removed the tars on the bowl top with a worn piece of scotch-brite (wet) and then touched up with 2,000 grade wet paper. The bowl top still had the beveled edge and interior was in excellent condition.
The briar was polished with White Diamond rouge, than several coats of carnuba wax. The stem was finished by buffing with White Diamond rouge and then Meguiars Plastic polish. The button is quite crisp on this one, so the previous owner must have been very careful when smoking the pipe.
Below is the finished pipe
Blog by Steve Laug
This drawing came to me from Bill Cumming as a gift. He found it on his journeys. To me the illustration captures the solitary nature of the ritual of the pipe.
A few years ago, I wrote a blog called The Solitary Pipe Smoker in which I spoke of my own predilection toward being a solitary pipe smoker. I wrote it with no disrespect for the community of pipe smoking folks – male and female with whom I have had the pleasure of communing while enjoying my pipe. Rather, I wrote it because in my life I need time that is not filled with “noise” – good, bad or neutral – to recentre and refocus my life. I wrote of how the pipe is able to give me space and time to do just that. The ritual of the pipe is almost sacramental, in that it creates the space in my head and in my life to step away and regroup. The link to the original blog is (https://rebornpipes.com/2012/05/29/the-solitary-pipe-smoker/). For me, the fact that I have to pay attention to the ritual and move through the steps of loading, packing, lighting and tamping my pipe in itself pulls my thoughts into the circle of the bowl.
Like others, I thoroughly enjoy the comradery of a group of pipe folks – sharing tobaccos, while swapping stories and pipes is a pleasure I don’t take lightly. Several years have gone by since I wrote that blog and I thought it was time to revisit my thinking. I have bought, sold and traded quite a few pipes over that period. I have had great visits with pipe folk around the world over a pint or a coffee while enjoying a favourite bowl together. I wondered with the passage of time if my understanding of the solitary habit of my pipe smoking had changed at all. Had my need for space and time alone made any radical shift since I wrote that? Have I become more social in my pipe smoking and less solitary? These and other questions ran through my mind. Yes, it is time revisit my thinking on the solitary dimension of my pipe smoking.
I set aside some time over the past weeks to think about the questions that I posed above. I have reflected on my thoughts from the previous blog and have read others who have written on the communal aspect of pipe smoking. I wanted to compare my earlier thinking with what others have written about the communal nature of the pipe. Some of them have gone so far as to say that pipe smoking is best as a communal experience. For me that has not necessarily been true in the past. Therefore, to check my experience I have taken time for introspection and self-examination; I have to say that I have become even more committed to the time of solitude with my pipe since I wrote the earlier blog. The solitary nature of pipe smoking is sacred to me. It addresses a need in my life for time that is free of the interruption of speech or noise.
Why is that true for me? My every day work life is crowded with people and conversations. I spend 8-12 a day, 5-6 days a week talking with people face to face, on the internet, or the phone. By the end of my day, I am certain that I have used my quota of words. I am talked out and have nothing left to say. I long for the quiet of solitude. No sounds, no talking, no music, no need to respond or pay attention to another person – just quiet, alone time.
However, this is where the problem comes into focus for me. I am not a hermit who lives alone in his cabin in the woods. I live in community with my wife of 40+ years and 3 of our adult daughters. When we get home from work in the evenings, everyone wants to engage and be family – except me. I want to disappear and I get that haunted look in my eyes of a captive who cannot hide. What am I supposed to do? Do I just ignore the needs of the family and selfishly cling to my own needs – real or imagined? Do I stuff my need for quiet and just man up and do the work? Do I come up with an alternative that works for all of us in my family?
Together my wife, daughters and I came up with a workable solution for us – it allows me some solitude before I engage with my family. It is simple and it gives me the space I need and gives them the Husband and Dad they want. When I get home from work, I go to my workshop and fiddle with restoring pipes or have a bowl of tobacco on my front porch or maybe both. By the time dinner is ready my equilibrium has been restored and I can be present in the family. The time with the pipe – either puffing it or restoring it or both gives me the separation that I need to leave the talking of the day behind me. It gives me the solitude that is so necessary for the introverted me to be able to be ready to re-engage with my family. This solution has worked for us for many years now and I find that relieves a lot of pressure that they or I can impose on myself for not being able to listen well to my family after spending a day listening to others.
My reflections confirm that solitude is important not only for my own spiritual and emotional health but for my ability to engage fully in the events of my life and enjoy the present. However, I have also learned that no matter how important solitude is for me, it remains elusive in my life if I do not make space for it. My life filled with noise, busyness and the intrusion of the internet will always take precedence if I do not challenge it. It is hard to leave the noise behind and spend time alone. Many people do not like to spend time alone. They find it uncomfortable and hard to do. To take the time to be alone is actually countercultural and challenging. To maintain a routine of solitude is even harder.
Solitude – where all external communication, noise and internal noise and chaos stops is becoming a fading memory for most people I know. The idea of stopping the doing and just being is becoming harder for folks to imagine. However, I have found that it is a necessity that if neglected has consequences for me. Those consequences range from malaise and weariness that can easily progress to burn out to being so busy that I forget to care for myself with all of the accompanying issues that arise from that. So how do I ensure that I take the time to be solitary? How do I maintain this needed respite?
I have learned that this is where my pipe can facilitate the introspective, quiet time that I require. It is a pleasure that I enjoy and a past time that provides me with the quiet I long for. When I settle on the porch or shop with my pipe and a favourite tobacco the move into solitude begins. The smell of the unpacked pipe begins the process of transporting me into quiet. The feel of the pipe in my hand is inviting. I open the tin or pouch of tobacco and inhale deeply of the aroma. I love that moment when the components of the blend spin around and come together with a delightful pouch note. I slowly breathe out, exhaling the stress of my life. I put the pipe bowl in the pouch or the tin and push the tobacco into the bowl with a finger or thumb. If it is a flake tobacco, I rub it out between my fingers and thumb or on the palm of my hand until it is the right consistency for a smoke. I pack the bowl almost unthinkingly now as I have done it so long. I am often far away in my thoughts as I load the pipe. I use my thumb to test the pack of the bowl. All of these minute steps cause me to focus on a singular task and leave behind the events of my day.
When the flame is put to the smoke and the slight draw of smoke flows into my mouth it is like a sipping a good wine. I savour the flavor of the tobacco as it swirls around my mouth. I sip on the pipe, slowly setting a cadence to the smoke. A good smoke has to be unhurried and uninterrupted if it is going to be a quiet place for me. I find that when my wife or daughters talk with me in the process of the smoke, I lose the cadence and the magic is gone. That slow sipping of smoke into the mouth and letting it slowly leave through the mouth brings focus and quiet. As the smoke ascends and wreaths my head, reaching to the ceiling of my porch I sense the pipe drawing me into the circle of solitude. It is this moment where I could stay forever. Pipe smokers speak of a magic smoke, but for me each smoke that transports me to a peaceful spot is magic.
I have tried to move to that quiet place with others present on my porch. My son in law will join me for a pipe periodically and it is never quite the same. It is nothing he says or does, as often it is quiet. It may be that my mind moves from that place of being unengaged to having to think about another person. I am not sure why but I know that doing that takes my focus off the moment and immediately makes it another social event for me. While it is often a pleasant experience for me, it still does not meet the need I feel for solitude.
I have found that it is only alone that I experience the magic of the pipe. I don’t think I have ever had the experience in the company of pipemen. No matter how convivial the gathering or how enjoyable the experience it is never the same. I think that the experience of the magic is linked to the solitude. I think that is why some have called pipe smoking sacramental. The pipe has the ability to transport the pipeman from the mundane of the day into a sacred place where the soul is at rest and prayer can happen without thinking. The wafting of smoke is not unlike the incense used in places of worship that lift the worshiper to a higher plane and out of their daily routine. The ritual of pipe smoking – the tamping, relighting and puffing slowly all work together the same way to lift me out of the day to day wrestling to a place of quietude.
As the last tamp is done and the last sip of smoke is drawn into my mouth I find myself moving back into the present. The pipe and the smoke have prepared me for re-entry into my home life. It makes the transition into the life of my family somehow more natural and less forced. I tap the bowl against the heel of my hand and tip the ashes into the flower bed below my front porch. I run a pipe cleaner through the stem and bowl and blow air through to remove any bits of tobacco in the bowl. Each step is part of the re-entry. The taste of the tobacco on the inside of my lips and the lingering smoke in my beard are reminders of the place of quiet I am leaving.
All that being said, I guess I am still a solitary pipe smoker most of the time. I am not a recluse or particularly anti-social but I long for and enjoy the quiet times alone with my pipe. The closest thing that provides me the same kind of moment is a pipe on a good walk. Each Sunday I walk to church with my wife and daughters. It is about a 30-40 minute walk and it provides a perfect opportunity to enjoy a bowl and some quiet. I dawdle along with a pipe in my mouth enjoying the day. If it is sunny so much the better and if it is raining it is not a deterrent.
Blog by Robert M. Boughton
Copyright © Reborn Pipes and the Author except as cited
No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right. A single experiment can prove me wrong.
— Albert Einstein (1879-1955), German-born theoretical physicist and winner of the 1921 Nobel Prize for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect, received in 1922 (don’t ask why – the answer in some ways is more complex than Relativity)
THE POWER OF PERSUASION
This is the most difficult pipe restoration blog I’ve ever written, for the things about which it is not. It is not about an antique gold-banded KB&B Blue Line Bakelite, c. 1910-1914. A friend of mine won that distinguished, classic shaped pipe from the pre-Kaywoodie era for a very low price on eBay, and I offered, for a small fee, to restore it. It is not about the still older gold band CPF Best Make turned lion’s head meerschaum, c. 1898, that only lacked a bone tenon to be complete. As much as I dislike the cliché, I poured my heart and soul into that pipe since 2013 in a true labor of love to return the 19th century treasure to its original structural form. The simple act of restoration was – and remains – intended as a tribute to the man most of the readers here know as my good friend and mentor, Chuck Richards, who gave it to me.
It is not about either of these things, or the writing between the lines as it were, but some choice details are relevant. For example, the connection between the two pipes named above is their stems. The Blue Line’s is Bakelite, the world’s first synthetic plastic, which could be colored dark brownish red. The Best Make’s genuine dark red amber stem comes from wholly organic-based resins from exotic, extinct trees that were washed away by large bodies of water and fossilized into mineral form 10-100 million years ago.
The focal point of this blog is the immediate but temporary solution to a series of events that still has not been resolved. Never in my wildest apprehensions, during the last several years of taking some truly ruined pipes and making them whole again, did I conceive that something seeming to be simple could become so bloody banjacked , as the Irish might put it with good cause. At first, I intended to include the details as usual, in a single account of the finished project. And so, with a little help from a friend, I adapted my thinking, draft after draft, to write this aspect of the overall restoration into a single blog. To be brief, here is what happened.
My friend (the one who owns the Blueline, Daryl Loomis), holds the status of co-top buyer of my pipes, numbering five so far, with someone else who came and went in short order. Daryl also let me restore one of his own pipes before, a gorgeous Redmanol Socket system pipe related to this one by its maker, KB&B, and the Redmanol of its construction that was consumed by the General Bakelite Co. in 1922. Thereafter, Redmanol was classed as Bakelite despite certain superior qualities. For extensive details on Bakelite’s origins and development, see the fourth link in my Sources.
At any rate, without going into details that will be covered in my eventual blog on the full restoration of the Blueline, there was a mishap – oh, the understatement! – wherein the bone tenon was crushed. The photo below was taken after I Super Glued the bits and pieces of the shank end of the tenon, minus the powdered remains, as best I could.This catastrophe was followed close on its heels by a second calamity that left the Bakelite stem ruined, as far as I am concerned., other than for use with some unforeseeable shop pipe. There is no way I will place a stem I broke, or anyone else did for that matter, on a paid restoration, even though, for obvious reasons, I’m refunding the small fee. And so, with the immediate goal being to return the Blueline in a condition that it can be smoked as soon as possible, I am left with no alternative than using the genuine cherry red amber stem from my Best Make pending the acquisition of a Bakelite replacement. Here is the Bakelite stem after I was done with it, in the negative sense of the expression.
Top view Bakelite stem
Bottom of Bakelite stem, broken
Open end with both sides of the break shown on either side
Steve wrote an excellent blog called “What Is the Amber Used in Pipe Stems and How Do You Bend It?” in 2013, but had never tried the theoretical guidelines proposed. He still has not had occasion to attempt the unusual process. In other words, it occurred to me, I would be the guinea pig to test the theories. The prospect was not appealing given the potential for destroying my 119-year-old amber stem for the sake of “progress” in this obscure field of pipe restoration. Steve’s blog is a trove of information about amber in general and the article from Scientific American on how amber stems were once custom-crafted and bent per the specifications needed for a specific pipe. Steve raised some good questions in his fine blog that can be read at the third link below.
ABOUT BENDING AMBER
Having spent a great deal of time pouring over every word of Steve’s piece as it related to bending amber, from the viewpoint of having an immediate job to do so, I was left with still more troubling questions. The key concerns were:
- Since amber stems were made and shaped for specific pipes, could they be re-bent later for replacements on other pipes? After all, bending a stem once is one thing, while bending it back is another.
- If so, what might be the effect of age, which tends to make amber more brittle, on a stem?
- Was my hope that the answers to the first two questions just that, wishful thinking, or put more plainly, a crock?
WARNING AND DISCLAIMER: The method I am about to describe, although it worked beyond my wildest dream, does not follow the better, safer steps set forth in the article upon which Steve’s blog is based. Read his blog and, if you already possess or have the means to acquire the equipment described, or the wherewithal to fashion your own versions, please do so. Also follow the other procedures described. I am taking responsibility for my own mistake(s) that made this drastic measure necessary but will not be responsible for anyone else’s misfortunes!
Having abandoned myself to the certainty that my efforts would either turn out well or the whole thing would go awry in the most hideous way, I didn’t bother re-visiting Steve’s blog when I reached the desperate state of mind necessary to go through with the “experiment.” Instead, I winged it. The following pic shows my beloved 1898 amber stem not only in the bent form in which it was hand-fashioned by some unknown but master CPF meerschaum crafter late in the century before the one preceding the current, but as I still feared would be the last time I saw it in any recognizable form.OK, here’s what I did. Pre-heating the oven, instead of the 210° or 220° F. temperature I’ve always used for regular stems, on a whim, if you will (since I was throwing everything else to the wind), I cranked it up to 335°. Steve’s blog states that the process does not even involve an oven and the softening temperature of amber is about 150° C. ((302° F.). I just now confirmed that he was, no surprise, correct.
Therefore, 335° F., or 168° C., was a little high. Placing the stem on a piece of aluminum foil, I forgot to put anything through the airway to prevent more than likely collapse until about a minute after I closed the oven door on it.
Snapping to my terrible lapse of memory, I grabbed a regular pipe cleaner and bolted to the oven, where I found the stem very hot already but the airway still intact, and inserted the cleaner through it.
I also checked after only 10 minutes more (thank God), and found the amber stem had straightened itself! Not only that, but when I touched the stem on the piece of aluminum, it had a bizarre limpness to it. My heart was racing as I removed the aluminum foil with the stem from the oven and placed it on the counter. Picking up the stem with care using both hands on either end of the cleaner, I saw the middle sag downward with gravity.
Sure for a few seconds that I would become ill and have to rush to the sink to vomit, I got a hold of myself and moved my hands to both ends of the stem, at which time I found it was so soft it reminded me of the hilarious old cartoons with Bugs Bunny or whatever Toon character flopping a broken arm about like a cooked noodle. Of course, I didn’t play with the stem, but rushed it to the aforementioned sink and ran cold water over the whole thing until it was firm again and cool.The cleaner came out with no resistance. Needless to say, I sighed in relief and wiped the sweat from my brow. The experiment was a success!
Bakelite above, amber below. I know the bone tenon is backward!
And the amber stem with the KB&B Blueline stummel that’s ready for the temporary amber substitute as soon as I have a suitable new tenon.
In my most recent, exultant email to Steve, I wrote: “As the attached pics show, I finally got the gumption to go for it, and believe it or not it was the easiest bending material I’ve ever worked with. Lucite was a dog when I re-stemmed the BW Preben Holm, but 10 minutes in the oven and the amber not only straightened itself but was like Gumby to the touch — no, like a children’s cartoon of someone with a broken arm!” I attached a couple of photos.
His immediate, doubtful reply told me I was correct in my assumption that Steve didn’t really know what would happen, either. He wrote, with apparent doubt, “Was the stem a true amber stem or is it the Bakelite one that you sent pictures of?”
I responded that the stem I baked was without doubt amber, then sent this added comment: “PS: I decided to crank the temp up to 335, also, on a hunch. It may
have been reckless, but it worked perfectly. I’m planning on writing the process up in my blog on the Blueline.”
Steve wrote back the following words a short time later, and I appreciate them very much, although I don’t know for sure that I “discovered” the process, other than my own oven method. “Thanks for experimenting, Robert. That is an incredible discovery. Do a separate write up on just the bending of amber. I think that alone will be a must read for those of us who love to restore old pipes. Thank you for being reckless.”
Until then, I didn’t understand just how risky this little exercise in stem repair was. But Steve’s power of persuasion being formidable, I took his advice for the blog.
I found the following quote, from a September 1924 Time magazine write-up on Bakelite, amusing in its revelation of the fantastic and egotistic personality of Bakelite’s founder, Leo H. Baekeland, not to mention the influence his company’s PR department must have had in its writing.
“From the time that a man brushes his teeth in the morning with a Bakelite-handled brush, until the moment when he removes his last cigarette from a Bakelite holder, extinguishes it in a Bakelite ashtray, and falls back upon a Bakelite bed, all that he touches, sees, uses, will be made of this material of a thousand purposes. Books and papers will be set up in Bakelite type. People will read Bakeliterature, Bakelitigate their cases, offer Bakeliturgies for their dead, bring young into the world in Bakelitters.”
Hubris? Indeed! But still, it’s amazing stuff. By the way, the lawyers at Bakelite know something about Bakelitigating from their 1922 Patent infringement suit against the Redmanol Chemical Products Co. and the Condensite Co.
Last, but not least, I wish to thank Steve for his blog and invaluable help throughout the ordeal of my collapsing Blueline restoration, and Troy Wilburn for his wonderful blog on another Blueline and its dating.