Daily Archives: December 11, 2017

ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS: Do junk pipes have any redeeming value?

Blog by Steve Laug

I don’t know how many time I have been asked about the value of junk/no name or worn out pipes for the refurbisher. The question has been posed in a variety of ways but the gist of it is always the same. I thought it would be good to take a bit of time to address that question and give my rationale for my answer. I will start with the rationale and then proceed to explain the value of each old pipe.For me every pipe has a purpose for my work. From the most expensive artisan or factory made pipe to the most lowly basket pipe all were made for the purpose of smoking – that part is obvious and needs no argument. But to me a not as obvious answer is that every pipe that comes across my worktable is part of my education as a repairer/refurbisher. Each one brings a different challenge to the table that needs to be thought out and addressed with care because it is or was someone’s cherished pipe. That is always the first thing in my mind and it is important to keep that in place when I address the hard chores that the pipes bring to me.

For example, I have a Big Ben that I am working on now. It is an absolute mess – the bowl is almost closed off with thick, stinky cake. The stem was made for a 9mm filter that never was used and is almost completely closed off with sticky, smelly tars and oils from the button to the airway in the bowl. The stem has been chewed and the button is missing on the top side. You might shake your head at what many call pipe abuse but that is not the whole story. When the pipesmoker dropped this pipe off at my house for work he said he only had two pipes. Both needed work but he could only part with one at a time. He talked about it not smoking as well as it used to and he was unclear why that was so. He looked sadly at it as I told him what I was going to do. He was a bit happier when I told him it would not take too long. You see, he cherished the pipe. He had no idea that he was abusing it and reducing its usefulness. He just smoked and enjoyed this pipe. It was by far the favoured pipe of his pair.

With that fresh in your mind always remember that what appears to be a worn out and tired looking pipe was or is someone’s favourite one. Treat it accordingly.

But apart from those opening comments what is the value of a worn out old pipe. I purposely used to buy as many old no name or drugstore brand pipes as I could from thrift shops, yard sales and online because I was going to learn from them what I needed to know to be a pipe refurbisher. Practicing on tired old low priced pipes would allow me to make mistakes that did not ruin someone’s beauty. All the mistakes could one day be repaired anyway so they were really an investment in my education in the hobby.

I bought and went through a lot of old beat up bowls that had been knocked about on walls, floors, car doors, ash trays and even a boot. From these I learned how to top a bowl to bring it back to flat. I learned how to round the outer and inner edges of the bowl. I learned how to pick out and replace or repair damaged putty fills. I learned how to strip off finishes that were hidden under a wide variety of top coats – varnish, lacquer, shellac and even plasticized finishes like urethane. I learned how to restain a bowl and blend stains for colours. Learned how to hide or mask fills in the bowl with contrast stains. I learned how to rusticate a bowl that had too many fills and too much damage. I created and designed various tools to help with the rustication. Each one provided opportunities to fine tune my rustication skills and create a variety of patterns. I learned to match sandblast finishes on rims using a series of bits on my Dremel tool. I learned how to drill out a burned out area and replace it with a fresh briar plug. I learned how to make bowl coatings and pipe mud to protect a newly reamed bowl. I learned what reamers I liked best and what to use in each type of bowl. I learned how to pressure fit bands and repair cracked shanks. I learned to open airways in shanks. There were probably many more lessons learned on these worn pipes but you get the idea. I could practice until I learned the skill then move on to make it my own.

I went through a lot chewed up and missing stems to learn how to do stem repairs and replacements. I fit tenons with files and a Dremel and sanding drum to get close to a fit and finished the fit with sandpaper. I graduated and bought a PIMO tenon turning tool and learned to use it on preformed stems or older stems that I could repurpose. I learned how to rework stems – first cutting them off and reshaping a button and slot and later learning to rebuild them with super glue and charcoal. I experimented a lot with needle files to learn to shape and cut button ends on these old stems. I learned to shape stems to fit the shank of the pipe and how to make round stems square! I learned to bend them with boiling water in the microwave, on a cookie sheet in the oven and later over a heat gun. Each step I learned was added to the refurbishing skill set for later applications.

I bought old cracked shank and broken shank pipes to learn how to repair them. I went through learning how to band a shank, make a stainless or Delrin insert in the cracked shank and even cutting the cracked part of and reshaping the shank. I learned how to rejoin broken shanks to the bowl with pins and then with a Delrin or stainless tube. I even learned how to cob together diverse parts to create a totally different pipe. I learned how to join shank extensions to the existing broken shank. Eventually I learned to use a microdrill bit to stop a crack in the shank or bowl from spreading.

I went through a period where I bought some cracked bowls to recreate or repair the pipe. I shortened billiards to make pots and cut off the broken parts and rejoined a different bowl part to the top of the cut of bowl. I used pins and pegs to bind the two parts together. I learned to drill and stitch cracks in the bowls along with Charles Lemon of Dadspipes. I learned to repair interior cracks in the bowl with a variety of methods.

You could say that every pipe I purchased is part of my education. I can also tell you that very few pipes are ever thrown away in my shop. Even the old cast offs provide briar for repairing burnouts or cracks. I currently have a box of parts that go for that. I have two large coffee cans of stems that one day need to be separated by size but  I purchase lots of stems on eBay or from flea markets or shops around town. I have scavenged bands from all kinds of broken pipes and will often buy a broken pipe just to keep the band or stem. I currently have a box of pipes to restem that I have picked up around the globe. One day I will get to them but as it is now I slowly chip away at them.

So the short answer to the question I began with is simply that every pipe, no matter how bad was once someone’s cherished possession and should be treated well. Second, each pipe is a contributor to your education and skill set as a refurbisher and repair person. Never pass up the opportunity to learn from these often despised pipes. They have much to teach if you are willing to listen to them.



Something about Karl Erik Freehands gets my attention

Blog by Steve Laug

The next pipe on the work table was a beautifully grained Freehand. It had a combination of a smooth and a rusticated patch made to look like plateau. The top of the bowl and the end of the shank was true plateau. The shape of the bowl top was almost rectangular. The walls of the bowl are scooped on the sides and front of the bowl. The bottom of the bowl is multi-sided. The shank is quite thick and the underside is stamped Karl Erik over Hand Made in Denmark over 6. The bowl had a dirty finish and there was some damage on the shank end plateau. There was a thick cake in the bowl and lava overflow and grime in the plateau on both the top and the end of the shank. There was some damage on the bottom right edge of the shank plateau. A piece of briar was missing from the shank edge but it was a clean break with no cracks. I have circled the chipped area in red on the second photo. The stem was oxidized and there was tooth chatter on both sides near the button. Jeff took quite a few photos of the pipe before he started his clean up. The next photo shows the rim top and the bowl. You can see the shadow of the cake in the bowl and the overflow of lava in the plateau of the rim top. The finish under the grime and lava looks like it is in pretty decent shape. The inner edge of the bowl looks smooth and damage free.Jeff took pictures of the bowl from various angles to show the condition and the overall look of the pipe. I was pretty hooked with what I saw. It was a beauty underneath the grim and the damage on the shank did not affect the overall condition of the pipe. The underside of the shank is stamped Karl Erik over Hand Made in Denmark. Underneath that is the number 6. There is also a picture of the stem in the shank. It shows the oxidation on the stem and the buildup of grime on the stem surface. The next two photos show the condition of the stem. It is pitted with oxidation and there are tooth marks and chatter on both sides near the button.Jeff worked his magic in cleaning up this pipe. He reamed it with a PipNet reamer and smoothed the walls of the bowl with a Savinelli Fitsall pipe knife. He scrubbed out the mortise and the airway in the shank and the stem with alcohol, cotton swabs and pipe cleaners. He scrubbed the exterior of the bowl, rim and shank with a tooth brush and Murphy’s Oil Soap to the oils and tars there and in the plateau finish on the rim and shank end. He rinsed it under running water. He dried it off with a soft cloth. The cleaning of the stem raised more oxidation in the vulcanite. The tooth marks and chatter was clean but visible. I took the stem off and put it in a bath of Before & After Stem Deoxidizer along with a stem from a Peterson Mark Twain. Once again I totally forgot to take pictures of the pipe before I started.I did however; remember to take photos of the bowl to show its condition before I started my work on it. I really like the rustication work on the right side of the shank and the back of the bowl. Jeff did a great job removing the grime and lava from the plateau on the rim top. The inside of the bowl was incredibly cleaned and the finish on the plateau top looked good. The inner edge of the bowl looks good as well. The plateau on the shank end also looked really clean. The finish was dry but in good shape.The underside of the shank looks very good. The stamping on the shank looks really good. The damaged area on the edge of the shank end can be seen on the right side of the photo below. The grain on the shank looked really good. The contrast stain shines now that the finish has been cleaned.I scrubbed the briar with Before & After Restoration Balm. I rubbed it into the briar with my finger working it into the plateau on the rim top and shank end with a shoe brush. The product worked to lift the grime and debris out of the grooves of the briar. I rubbed it down and scrubbed it deeper into the plateau on the top of the rim and end of the shank. I polished the briar with a soft cloth to remove the balm from the briar. I reworked the chipped area and stained it with a dark brown stain pen. The photos below show the repaired and stained area. Interestingly the shape of it and the angle matches the smooth area on the left side of the shank end.I set the bowl aside and turned back to the stem. I removed it from the soak in the Before & After Deoxidizer and wiped it down. I cleaned out the inside of the airway with alcohol to remove the product from the stem. I polished the stem with a soft cloth to remove all of the deoxidizer and give it a bit of a shine. It had removed much of the light oxidation though there were remnants in the rings and grooves above the tenon. There were still some oxidation that needed to be addressed and the button needed to be reshaped on both sides to remove the tooth marks and chatter. The photos below show what it looked like at this point. I used a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper to work on the tooth marks, chatter and to reshape the edges and surface of the button.  I worked over the oxidation on the flat portions and on the rings and grooves in the turned stem with the sandpaper at the same time to remove it from the surface of the hard rubber stem.I polished out the sanding scratches and marks in the vulcanite with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding it with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanding it with 3200-4000 grit pads. I wiped the stem down with Obsidian Oil after each sanding pad. I buffed the stem with Blue Diamond on the buffing wheel. I brought it back to the table and sanded it with the final three 6000-12000 grit pads. After the final pad I gave it a final coat of oil and set it aside to dry. I put the stem back on the bowl and worked the pipe over on the buffing wheel using Blue Diamond to polish the bowl and shank. I used a gentle touch on the briar when I was buffing it so that the grooves of the plateau and the rustication would not be filled in and make more work for me. I buffed the stem with a harder touch to raise the gloss on the rubber. I gave the pipe multiple coats of carnauba wax. I buffed the pipe with a clean buffing pad to raise the shine. I hand buffed it with a microfiber cloth to deepen the shine. The finished pipe is shown in the photos below. The combination of rustication, plateau and smooth finishes make this an interesting and beautiful pipe. The dimensions of the pipe are: Length: 6 1/2 inches, Height: 2 3/4 inches, Diameter of the bowl: 2 inches, Diameter of the chamber: 7/8 inches. I will be adding this one to the rebornpipes store shortly if you are interested in adding it to your collection. It will make a fine addition to the rack. If you are interested email me at slaug@uniserve.com or send me a message on Facebook. Thanks for looking.