Restoring an Ornate Hand Carved Horse’s Hoof Pipe with a Horn Stem

Blog by Steve Laug

In the box of pipes I just received from my brother there was a pipe that just stood out as one that I would have some fun working on. It was a carved unique shaped piece with a horn stem. The bottom half of the bowl had lines carved into the briar that flowed from the front of the bowl to end of the shank. There was a smooth band around the stem shank union. The top half of the bowl was also smooth with some deep lines carved around the bowl just below the rim top. There were also deep grooves carved in the top of the rim working their way toward the back of the bowl to some deep carving. I was oblivious to the what the shape was until Satu commented below leading to an edit of the blog. The stem was horn and had some amazing stripes and striations in the horn. Jeff took photos of the pipe before he cleaned it. There were no identifying marks on the pipe that were visible to Jeff or to me in the photos. I would give it a more thorough examination once I had it in hand.The bowl had a thick cake that had overflowed onto the rim top. The lava was flaking and dirty. The grooves on the rim top were filled with dust and dirt as well as the lava. The outside front edge of the bowl was chipped and had large piece of briar missing as shown in the top view and front view of the bowl.Jeff took photos of the carved bowl from various angles to show the grain and condition of the pipe. There was something quite fascinating about the carving and the shape of the bowl. You can see the hoof shape in these side view photos. When Jeff removed the stem it looked as if someone had sprayed foam into the shank and then screwed the stem into the shank. It is not even clear if the airway is open or clogged at this point in the process. It was going to take some work to clean out the foam in the shank. It was a real mess that would be an interesting adventure to clean.The stem appeared to be in decent condition with some tooth chatter and light tooth marks on the stem and button on both sides. Jeff did his usual thorough clean up on this old pipe. He reamed it with a PipNet reamer and cleaned up the remnants with a Savinelli Fitsall pipe knife. He scrubbed out the airway in the shank and the stem with alcohol, cotton swabs and pipe cleaners. He scrubbed the exterior of the bowl and shank with a tooth brush and Murphy’s Oil Soap and rinsed it under running water. He dried it off with a soft cloth. The pipe was very light weight. It looks like briar and seems to have the grain of a piece of briar. The grain on the smooth portions really stands out. The carving on shank and the bottom part of the bowl is a series of tight lines that look like the shaggy hair of a horse’s foot coming down over the hoof. The smooth portion is the hoof itself. There are grooves around the bowl and the top of the bowl had some lines and carving in it with some ridges and swirls at the back of the bowl that capture the look of a horse shoe. There was some significant damage to the top and front of the bowl. He cleaned up the stem with the oil soap as well and the striations of the horn looked like swirls. There were tooth marks and tooth chatter on both sides of the stem. The threaded tenon was in great condition but the threads in the mortise were worn smooth. The stem was very loose in the shank and fell off when the pipe was moved. I spent time turning the pipe over to see if I could find any identifying stamping that would help me know who made it and when it was made. There was nothing there. It was an unstamped pipe by an unknown maker at an unspecified point in time. The next photo looking at the pipe from the top down shows the rough edges of the front of the bowl. There are major chunks of briar missing from the curves of the front of the bowl. It almost looked like bit marks were taken out of the front edges of the bowl. The arrows below point out the damaged areas. Now that Satu has identified the shape it is so clear – a horse shoe.The stem was dried out and the tooth chatter and marks are very visible in the surface of the stem at the button on both sides. The striations and marking on the horn stem is actually quite stunning and should polish up very nicely.I decided to build up the damaged areas on the top and front edge of the bowl with clear super glue and briar dust. The combination works well to shape into the curves of the damaged part of the rim. I layered in the glue and the briar dust until it was thick enough to work with. Once it was in place and had dried I shaped it with files and recut the groove on the front, sides and the top of the rim cap with needle files. I smoothed out the repairs with 220 grit sandpaper to blend it into the rest of the bowl. I polished the briar with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanding with 3200-12000 grit pads. I wiped the bowl down after each pad with a damp cotton pad to remove the sanding dust. When I had finished polishing the bowl I stained it with a dark brown aniline stain, flamed it and repeated the process to set the stain in the briar.Once the stain had dried I buffed it on the buffing wheel with Blue Diamond polish to remove the excess stain. I decided to leave it dark on the base and the shank. There would be some natural contrasts between the high spots and the grooves in the briar. I wanted to polish the top part of the bowl – the hoof portion – so that it was lighter than the lower portion of the pipe but matched what showed through. I gave it several coats of Conservator’s Wax and buffed it with a shoe brush to spread the wax all over the bowl evenly. I buffed it with a clean buffing wheel on the buffing to further raise the shine on the pipe bowl and highlight the contrast between the two parts of the bowl. With the bowl finished I turned my attention to the stem. To take care of the loose fit in the shank I painted the tenon threads with clear super glue to build it up to the point that it fit snugly in the shank. I sanded the stem surface with 220 grit sandpaper to smooth out the tooth chatter and the tooth marks. None of them were deep so it was an easy repair. I did not need to fill in the tooth marks so all that was needed was to sand it smooth.I polished the stem with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanding with 3200-12000 grit pads. I rubbed the stem down after each pad with Obsidian Oil and let it soak into the horn. Each successive pad made the stem take on a deeper and richer glow. After polishing the stem with the 12000 grit pad I gave it a final coat of oil and let it dry. I took photos of each side of the stem to show the variations in the colours and striation of the horn. It really is a beautiful piece of horn. I buffed the pipe bowl and stem independently with Blue Diamond on the buffing wheel to polish them both. I worked over the briar around the bowl with the Blue Diamond. I carefully gave the briar several coats of Conservator’s Wax, working it into the hard to reach spots. I buffed the waxed briar with a clean buffing pad to a raise a shine. I buffed the horn stem with Blue Diamond to bring the final shine coat to the horn. There is nothing like polished horn with the undulating colours and stripes in the grain of the surface. It really was looking beautiful. I gave the stem multiple coats of carnauba wax and buffed it with a clean buffing pad to raise the shine. I hand buffed bowl and stem with a microfibre cloth to deepen the shine. I put the stem in the shank and hand buffed it once more. The finished pipe is really quite nice. It is a beautiful piece of briar and the stem picked up a nice shine that brought it back to life. The repairs to the chipped areas on the front and top of the bowl have all but disappeared into the stain coat. The finished pipe is shown in the photos that follow. I am thinking the pipe is probably the same age as all the old C.P.F. pipes that I have been restoring. This is another unique one in the old pipe category. Thanks for putting up with my ongoing obsession with old pipes from another time. Thanks for looking.

ADDENDUM – As pointed out by Satu below this is indeed a horses hoof. The carving on the rim top is the horse shoe and the striated portions are the horses shaggy hair hanging down over the hoof. I took a picture with that orientation to show it more clearly. Thanks Satu. Now to go up and revise the blog.



2 thoughts on “Restoring an Ornate Hand Carved Horse’s Hoof Pipe with a Horn Stem

  1. Satu

    I think that’s a horse hoof with a shoe–turn pipe upside-down. The deco around the pipe rim looks like a metal shoe, beneath that, the hoof leading into a shaggy horse leg. Marvelous pipe!


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