Daily Archives: September 21, 2017

ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS: What alcohol do you use to clean pipes and why

Blog by Steve Laug

I decided to write a few blogs to answer questions that different people have written or called me about. None of them will be long blogs; rather they will be short and to the point answers to the questions and some general rationale for why I do the things I do. The first of them addresses the question of what alcohol I use to clean the pipes that I work on. Some of the questions were direct and others were questioning my choice of alcohol. I chose to address both kinds of questions in this first blog. I will explain my choice and the reasons for that choice. My idea is not so much to justify my choices as to state them and explain the reasons for my choices. I don’t expect others to necessarily agree with me but I answer from my own best practices and preferences.

I have received so many private messages, emails or phone calls asking me about what kind of alcohol to use in cleaning pipes that I thought this would be a good place to start. The choice I have made is not based on ignorance. I have tried a lot of different alcohol products before settling in on the one that I now use all the time. I have read a lot of answers on the forums and different websites answering that same question. The answers are generally quite adamant in their claims to their preference of product. These answers have ranged from those who use Everclear to those who use Rum. The writers have argued their case for the alcohol of choice based on experience and preference. While some fit the gamut above there have been others who answered that they used their favorite Whiskeys, Bourbons and Scotches. I have even read of folks using moonshine and others using flavoured liqueurs to give their pipe a sweet taste. I have read those responses now for a long time and never bothered to answer or give my own opinion.

For me the answer is quite simple. I have chosen not to use an alcohol I would drink to clean out my pipe because I would rather drink it than waste it as a cleaning product. To me it has always seemed like a waste of a good drink to use it to clean my pipe. I am a bit of cheap skate so I hate to waste even a dram of something I enjoy on something it was not intended for. But beyond being cheap, I also don’t like cleaning my pipes with a product that has a high percentage of water in it. I want to use something that cleans and then evaporates without leaving behind moisture or a residual taste in either the stem or the shank of the pipe. When I smoke my pipe I do not want to taste some flavouring but I want to be able to taste various tobaccos that make up the blend that I am enjoying having to deal with the tastes of the product I cleaned the pipe with.

My decision was not made in a vacuum. I have tried each of the different alcohols I have mentioned above as well as various Pipe Sweeteners that have been sold over the years. After reading all of the much touted claims for Everclear I went to the US and purchased some to give it a try. It worked well and did leave a clean pipe, but it was not available here in Canada and I was not convinced that it was worth the effort to cross the border to purchase it. I tried a variety of high octane Rum and Whiskey (or Whisky) to clean out my pipes. It was okay but left the insides of the pipe wet for longer than I liked. It also did not do as good a job in my opinion as the Everclear did. I even tried some Maker’s Mark Bourbon because I had it here and happened to have been sipping it while working on pipes. I dipped a pipe cleaner in my glass even though it seemed like a real waste of good Bourbon and it did not work as well as the Everclear. It also left the internals wetter than I liked. I tried some Dewar’s Scotch and some other Scotch that I have enjoyed over the years and found the same issues. With each of the alcohols that I used above I had to follow up with a dry pipe cleaner to remove the moisture in the shank and airway. I was unsatisfied with the results and it seemed to make my work harder. I am not a big fan of flavoured liqueurs so I chose not to use them. They just seemed too sweet and sugary to my liking and I would have to clean out their taste to get a good smoke.  

There had to be something that would work as well as the Everclear, had a high percentage of alcohol versus water and was easy to obtain in Canada. I did some research online and talked with my pharmacist with regard to what I was looking for and the purposes I needed it. I have known her for quite a few years so I trust her recommendations. She suggested that I try using 99% isopropyl alcohol for thoroughly cleaning the pipes I was working on. It had a high percentage of alcohol so that it evaporated quickly and left behind no residue. It had a very low percentage of water, which meant it would not soak into the briar and leave behind moisture. It was flavourless, odorless and colourless so it would not leave behind a taste that would affect the tobacco. It sounded like the ticket. She said to make sure I purchased the 99% isopropyl, which was always stored behind the pharmacist’s counter, and not the one on the shelves which was 91%. With that recommendation, I figured it was worth a try. I picked up my first bottle of isopropyl and I have been using it ever since.

I have found that it works extremely well. I cleans deeply and evaporates quickly leaving behind no residue. I have used on pipes with extremely dirty mortises, shanks and airways and have been satisfied with its cleaning ability. I also use it in my retort and it boils quickly through the pipe and bowl without leaving behind any residue. It is a great universal cleaning agent and one I continually use for all the work that I do. That is what I use and what I recommend. Thanks for reading this.

Comoy’s Pebble Grain Billiard Restoration

By Al Jones

The Comoy’s “Pebble Grain” line was introduced in the 1970’s, and to my eye, is similar to the “Granitan” line from GBD. The finish is sandblasted and buffed down to give it a “worn” appearance, and perhaps a bit like stonewashed denim. This one is the shape 186, a classic straight billiard. It is described on a 1975 shape chart as “Largest Billiard – Tapered Stem”. The pipe sports the drilled, three piece, “C” stem logo of the pre-Cadogan era (prior to 1981). Another feature of the Pebble Grain line is the beveled, polished bowl top, which I find particularly appealing. Despite the size of the pipe, it only weighs 35 grams.

From the sellers photos, the pipe appeared to need only a minor clean-up. There was some build-up on the polished top and the stem was mildly oxidized with one small tooth mark.

Using heat from a lighter flame, I was able to lift the tooth dent, but only slightly. I put a dab of grease on the “C” soaked the stem in a mild Oxy-clean solution for several hours. While the stem was soaking, I turned my attention to the bowl. Using a worn piece of scotch-brite, I was able to remove all of the build-up on the polished bowl top. A piece of 2,000 grit wet paper removed most of the darkening that remained, without damaging the stain. I removed the mild cake with my Pipenet reamer set. The bowl was then filled with sea salt and alcohol to soak overnight.

Following the bowl soak, the polished top was buffed with White Diamond and several coats of Carnuba wax. The shank was cleaned and stem mounted. I attempted to fill the small tooth indention with black superglue, but it was too shallow to adhere well, so I left well-enough alone. I removed the heavy layer of oxidation with 800 grit wet paper, followed by 1,5000 and 2,000 grade paper. This was followed by 8,000 and 12,000 grade micromesh sheets. The stem was buffed with White Diamond rouge and Meguiars Plastic Polish. The bowl was hand polished with Halycon wax.

Below is the finished pipe.

Update:  After a few days, I was unhappy with the way the tooth indention looked.  I had been using a very old bottle of the Stew-Mac superglue and it definitely wasn’t as viscous as when it was new.  I opened up a new bottle and it worked 100% better.  So, if you have really old glue, my bottle was at least six years old, it might be time for an update.

Below is an updated stem picture.  The patch on the indention is now flush and it has only a slightly different sheen than the vulcanite.