Blog by Steve Laug
I have been asked a few times about how to patch amber coloured stems. It is a little different from repairing black stems (whether vulcanite or acrylic). Repairing the black stems is relatively simple and includes the use of charcoal powder or vulcanite dust and black super glue. A mixture is made and after insuring that the airway does not close off with the repair the mix is put in place over the hole. Using needle files, sandpaper and micromesh sanding pads the repair is blended into the stem surface, the button is reshaped and the stem is good to use after the repair cures. Repairing an amber or yellow coloured stem is a bit trickier. I have yet to find any yellow charcoal powder or even sanding dust that can be mixed with the super glue like I do with the black glue. What I have found is some amber super glue that is sold by Stewart MacDonald. They sell several colours of super glue including black, white and amber along with the regular super glue that is clear. Here is the link: (http://www.stewmac.com/Materials_and_Supplies/Glues_and_Adhesives/StewMac_Tinted_Super_Glue.html)
I thought it might be helpful to use a recent stem repair I did and wrote about on a previous blog (https://rebornpipes.com/2017/12/24/breathing-life-into-an-early-1900s-eagle-claw-billiard/). I will go into more detail of the process to demonstrate how the repair works. I started with an amber coloured Bakelite stem from an old pipe. It was a mess. There was a bite through on the underside of the stem that was quite large and dirty. There were tooth marks that were quite deep on the top side of the stem – almost going through to join the other side. It would be an interesting repair that would take some finesse to get right. While the amber glue would not perfectly match the stem material it would be a close enough match to make the pipe smokable once again. I cleaned the surface of the stem with Oxyclean to remove all of the buildup and oils on the surface of the stem. I worked over the deep tooth marks on the top side of the stem and the hole on the underside using a cotton swab and the Oxyclean solution to remove the grime that was in them. I dried the stem off with a clean cotton pad in preparation for the repair. I inserted a fluffy pipe cleaner to make sure that it was wide enough to fill the airway and give me protection from getting the glue in the airway. Once I saw that it would work, I greased the pipe cleaner with Vaseline to make sure that the glue did not stick to the pipe cleaner and anchor it in the airway making more work for myself.I filled in the hole with amber super glue (no other material) and sprayed it with an accelerator that I also purchased from Stewart MacDonald. I did the same on the tooth marks on the other side of the stem. I repeated the fill of glue until the repairs were a little higher than the surface of the rest of the stem. I sprayed both sides with the accelerator and removed the pipe cleaner from the stem. The next three photos show the repairs to both sides. While they are visible and looking thick they will blend in better once they have been sanded smooth. I set the stem aside overnight to let the repair cure. I wanted it to be very hard before I started sanding and shaping it.In the morning the glue had cured to a hard surface. It was time to begin the shaping process. I have a small rasp that I used to bring the repaired area down close to the surface of the stem and to start the reshaping of the button area. Once I get the repaired area close I wipe the stem down with a damp cloth to remove the debris left behind by the file.The rest of the shaping and blending is done with 220 grit sandpaper. I sand the surface of the stem until all the transitions between the repair and the surface of the stem are smooth. It takes quite a bit of sanding to get to this point. I often sand the entire stem to make sure that all the surfaces are smooth and that there are no lips or edges to the repaired area.Once I am happy with the feel of the stem it is time to begin polishing it. I used micromesh sanding pads to bring a shine to the repair and the stem. I wet sand it with 1500-2400 grit pads and wipe it down to remove the sanding dust. I am always checking to make sure that the edges of the repair are still very smooth and the transitions around the edges are virtually invisible to touch.I continue to polish the stem, dry sanding it with 3200-4000 grit micromesh sanding pads. I wipe the stem down after each pad and run my fingers over the repaired areas to check on smoothness. I don’t hesitate to refill areas that are not quite smooth and start sanding all over again. In this case that was not necessary. The repairs were solid and the one in the deep tooth marks looked really good (first photo below shows the topside of the stem). The underside of the stem where the bite through had been had a lot of checking or small minute crazing in the material. Because of the clarity of the amber super glue in contrast to this it showed up more on the underside (second photo below).I finished polishing the stem, dry sanding it with 6000-12000 grit micromesh pads. The photos below show both sides (first photo is the topside of the stem and the second one is the underside). The repair is solid and smooth at this point. I wiped the stem down with a damp cloth to remove any polishing dust that may have remained. I gave it several coats of Conservator’s Wax and hand buffed it with a microfiber cloth to polish the wax and give it the protection it would need. I carefully buffed the stem using a very light touch to raise the gloss on the Bakelite without damaging it from the heat. I took it back to the work table and gave it several coats of Conservator’s Wax. I hand buffed it with a microfiber cloth to polish the wax and deepen the shine. The finished stem is shown in the photos below. While the repair is visible I accomplished what I set out to do – repair the stem and return it usefulness. That is the process and methods that I use to repair bite throughs or holes in a yellow, amber or even reddish Bakelite stem. The process is done after the stem has had a thorough cleaning. This gives a fresh surface for the patch to bind to when it applied and cured. I have found that doing this is the most effective way to ensure that the repair holds in the long run. I would encourage you to give it a try to see how it works for you. With that I bring this Answers to Questions blog to a close. I hope that it has given you some insight the methodology for repairing holes in the stem. Thank you for taking time to read this blog. Cheers.