Monthly Archives: February 2018

Restoring a Rusticated House of Robertson War Club


Blog by Steve Laug

After my brother Jeff found an assortment of House of Robertson pipes at an auction in Wilder, Idaho which is an area in the greater Boise, Idaho area. He kept an eye out for more of the brand on his weekly pipe hunts. He found several others that are quite unique in an antique mall near where he lives. There were two large long shanked pipes – one round shanked and one square shanked. The third of the batch that he finds is a nice little classic apple shape. It looks tiny with the size of the other two. The two larger pipes are a combination of smooth and rusticated. They both have smooth panels on the sides or front of the pipes. Both of the large ones are banded with a sterling silver band. It seems to me that the bands on both the square shank and the round shank are decorative rather than a repair for a cracked shank. I will be restoring them in the days ahead. He picked them up for us to restore. They all have the name House of Robertson roughly hand-etched on the side or underside of the shank with an engraving tool. I am including the information that I found when I received my first of the House of Robertson Pipes. I found a link on Pipedia that gave me the only information I could find on the brand. I include that in total as it is interesting to read.

“House of Robertson” was in business for many years, but alas, closed their doors in 1999. They were located in Boise, Idaho. They are noted for making rather large and interesting pipes. Thayne Robertson was a Master Mason, AF & AM, and started the shop about 1947 and his son Jon started working there in 1970 when he finished college, along with Thayne’s daughter. Thayne and his son started making the big pipes at that time, and made them together until 1987 when Thayne passed away. Jon kept the store and his sister moved on to other things. The House of Robertson appears to have closed around 1999. https://pipedia.org/wiki/Robertson

This large, long square shank, flat bottom sitter is the next House of Robertson pipe I chose to work on. It is quite different from the other pipes from this Boise based store. It is large – 7 ¼ long with a bowl that is 2 inches tall. It is engraved with the House of Robertson signature on a smooth panel on the left side of the shank just ahead of the band. On the top of the shank it is etches P.L.F.S. I have no idea what that etching stands for. There is a smooth band of briar just ahead of the silver band. There is also a smooth panel on the front of the bowl and two smooth areas on the rim top. The pipe was dirty but underneath all of the grime it appears to be in excellent condition. The rustication on the shank was quite light and had the look of a sandblast finish. The sides of the bowl were deeply rusticated, almost like roots and then it is almost like it was also sandblasted over the top. The bottom of the bowl and shank also appeared to be sandblasted. It is definitely an interesting pipe and should clean up very well. The narrow silver band is stamped Sterling Silver on the top side. There were some nicks in the edge of the silver at the stem/shank junction. The fit of the stem to the shank was good. The square stem was oxidized and had some small tooth marks and chatter on both sides of the stem near the button. Jeff took photos of the pipe before he started the cleanup. The next close-up photos show the finish on the top and the underside of the bowl. The first photo shows cake in the bowl and the lava overflowing onto the rim top. The grain on the top of the bowl and the inner and outer edge of the rim looks really good. The finish on the rim top was appeared to be in great condition under the lava coat. The next two photos show the front, side and underside of the pipe. It has a very interesting finish. The next photo shows the etched name on the left side of shank on a smooth panel of briar. It reads House of Robertson. On the top of the shank on a narrow smooth panel it reads P.L.F.S. The final two photos show square shank and band. You can also see the general condition of the grime in the rustication of the briar. The tapered stem was oxidized and had tooth chatter and marks on both sides of the stem near the button. The edge of the button had some dents in it as well.This unique pipe was really dirty with a thick cake, overflow of lava on top the rim and dust and debris in the heavy rustication on the sides of the bowl. He reamed the bowl with a PipNet pipe reamer and cleaned up the remnants with the 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 remove the dust in the rustication on the bowl and shank as well as the smooth portions. He rinsed it under running water. He dried it off with a soft cloth. Once the dust and debris were removed the finish was dull but appeared to be in excellent condition. I took photos of the pipe to show its condition before I started my work on it. I took a photo of the bowl and rim top to show the condition it was in once it was cleaned off. It has an interesting combination of rusticated and smooth finishes on the top of the bowl. The unique square stem was oxidized and had tooth marks and chatter on both sides. You can also see the nicks in the edge on the top and underside of the Sterling Silver band.I worked Before & After Restoration Balm deep into the nooks and crannies of the rusticated finish to clean, enliven and protect the briar. I hand rubbed it with my fingers and worked it into the finish with a horsehair shoe brush. I wiped it off with a soft cloth. I buffed the bowl with a cotton cloth to polish it. It really began to have a deep shine in the briar. I took some photos of the bowl at this point to mark the progress in the restoration. The grain on the smooth portions stands out, while the deep grooves of the rustication look almost undulating. It is a unique and strangely beautiful pipe. I sanded the stem with 220 grit sandpaper to remove the oxidation on both sides of the tapered stem and remove the tooth marks and chatter on the top and bottom sides at the button.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. I polished it further with Before & After Pipe Polish –using both the Fine and Extra Fine Polishes. I gave it a rubdown with Obsidian Oil one last time 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 lightly polish the stem. I buffed the bowl with a light touch so as not to get any of the buffing compounds in the grooves of the rustication. I buffed the stem to raise the gloss on the vulcanite. I gave the bowl multiple coats of Conservator’s Wax and gave the stem multiple coats of carnauba wax. I buffed the entire 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 medium brown stains on the rusticated square shanked poker shaped bowl with a smooth bands and rim works well with the rich black of the vulcanite stem. The polishing and the reworking of the stem material left this a beautiful and interesting looking pipe. The dimensions of the pipe are: Length: 7 3/8 inches, Height: 2 inches, Outside Diameter: 1 5/8 inches, Diameter of the chamber: 7/8 inches. This one will be heading back to Idaho. A House of Robertson collector who used to frequent the Boise shop is adding it to his collection. Thanks for looking.

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ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS: Topping or not topping a bowl – that is the question


Blog by Steve Laug

Often I am asked how I decide whether or not to top a bowl. Like the other questions in this series of Answers to Questions this has a multifaceted answer. I wish sometimes that the answers were black and white – very straightforward. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to have a template that says when a rim top looks like “this” – top the bowl? Sadly there is no such template. For me the decision is really a process of elimination. I look at the condition of the rim and consider the various options putting them aside one by one until I come to a conclusion. I may use a combination of steaming and topping to bring back the rim top. There are times when I have had to rebuild portions of the rim top to get it level and smooth. Whatever, method I use I spend a fair bit of time examining the pipe before moving forward. Here is my process for deciding to top the bowl or not to top it.

Examine the rim top. The first thing I do when I bring a pipe to the work table is assess the damage to the bowl and shank. Focusing on the rim top, I look for damage to the outer and inner edges of the rim and damage to the rim top itself. At the worst these damages include one or more of the following – deep gouges, marks, burned and charred areas. At the best they may include dings, nicks and dents. Sometimes you can guess at the condition of the rim at this point – you get so you can tell quite quickly over time. Other times the examination has to be done after the initial cleaning of the exterior of the bowl. Generally I can draw my conclusions quite quickly just by looking, the extent of the damage (this is one of the perks of having worked on pipes for over 20+ years).

Dents, nicks and dings. This is the best case scenario in terms of rim damage. If this is what I find then I seek to remove or minimize these issues. Dents and dings can be lifted with steam. I use a wet cloth and hot knife to create steam and lift the dents and dings. I repeat the process until I am happy with the results. Others use an iron and cloth. Choose what you are comfortable with because both work well. For nicks along the edges – inner or outer – I try to steam them to raise them but have found that this is often pretty useless in addressing issues where a nick has a sharp or cut edge. In that case I use a small folded piece of sandpaper to smooth them out. I follow that by polishing the sanded areas with micromesh sanding pads. I rarely top a bowl with this kind of damage to the rim top. I have found that these issues generally can be remedied with steam and little bit of sanding magic.

Nicks, cuts, gouges, road rash. There are definite issues that call for the use of a topping board. For me topping tends to be the last resort after I have tried other means of dealing with the damage on the bowl. But if the following scenarios are true then I top the pipe. If the pipe has been used like a hammer to knock out the dottle and the outer edges of the bowl a broken down or rounded over. If the surface of the edge is very rough with broken fibres of briar. If the inner edge is damaged to a point where a light topping will remove the damage. If the top surface of the rim is gouged, cut or rough to the touch. All of these are signs to me that the bowl should be topped.

Once you have made the decision that the rim needs to be topped then the next question comes into play. How much of the top needs to be removed from the surface of the rim? To me this is as important a decision as that of topping. Once again I am a bit of a minimalist in my approach. I only remove as much as is necessary to reduce the footprint of the damage. In some cases it is very light and I work over the edges of the bowl independently to minimize the damage in those areas and blend the sides into the topped rim. In other cases it requires a bit more work to remove the damage and I have to remove more material. I always keep the idea of minimal in mind as I do the work.

In terms of the actual process, I use a cutting board with a piece of 220 grit sandpaper attached to it. I work the bowl on the sandpaper in a circular motion as I find it makes the scratches in the briar less noticeable that when I work from side to side or front to back. The circular motion sandpaper marks are also more easily removed. I sand and check, sand and recheck, and repeat until I am satisfied with surface of the rim and the edges. Sometimes all of the damage is removed and other times it requires some hand work to fine tune the edges of the bowl. The key to the process is the repeated checking to make sure that you have removed enough of the briar to deal with the damage but not too much to ensure that the profile of the pipe remains the same. . I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to keep the rim top flat against the topping board as it is very easy to give the top an unwanted slant in the process. A good topping job should be unnoticeable. You work to blend the rim top into the flow of the bowl and then match the stain.

My rule of thumb is always to aim for removing the least amount of material from the rim top as possible. I want to minimize the damage and bring the rim back to a “near new” condition. I want the rim to match the normal wear on a pipe of its age. There is nothing worse in my opinion than having crisp edges on a rim top when everything else about the pipe has been softened with time and use. Once the rim is topped and the damage is removed if any dents remain I will steam them out. If you top a sandblast or rusticated rim top then your work just begins with the topping. You will need to decide if you want to leave it smooth as a contrast with the finish around the bowl and shank or work over the rim top with a Dremel and burrs to match the original finish on the rest of the bowl. That of course is a matter of your own comfort with process and your own aesthetic as well.

I think that summarizes my thoughts on the original question. As with most things in our hobby there seems to be questions behind the questions. There are always multiple levels of answers but at the same time it really boils down to what you individually are comfortable with in terms of the topping. Hopefully you have found this blog helpful as you make your own choices. Thanks once more for humouring this old pipeman in his ramblings. Cheers.

Kathy’s Dad’s Pipes #9– Restemming & Restoring George Koch’s “Malaga” Banker


Blog by Steve Laug

This is the ninth of the “Malaga” pipes that I am working on from Kathy’s Dad’s pipes. I will retell the story of the estate. Last fall I received a contact email on rebornpipes from Kathy asking if I would be interested in purchasing her late Father, George Koch’s estate pipes. He was a lover of “Malaga” pipes – all shapes and sizes and she wanted to move them out as she cleaned up the estate. We emailed back and forth and I had my brother Jeff follow up with her as he also lives in the US and would make it simpler to carry out this transaction. The long and short of it is that we purchased her Dad’s “Malaga” pipes. There are some beautiful pipes in that lot. I have never seen this many “Malagas” together in one place in all of my years of pipe restoring and refurbishing. They varied from having almost pristine to gnawed and damaged stems that will need to be replaced. These were some well used and obviously well loved pipes. Cleaning and restoring them will be a tribute to this pipeman. (Here is a link to some history of the Malaga Brand if you are interested: https://rebornpipes.com/tag/malaga-pipes/. There are also links there to a catalogue and the maker George Khoubesser.)Knowing about the pipeman who held the pipes in trust before me gives another dimension to the restoration work. This is certainly true with this lot of pipes. I can almost imagine George picking out each pipe in his assortment at the Malaga shop in Michigan. I may well be alone in this, but when I know about the person it is almost as if he is with me work on his pipes. In this case Kathy sent us not only information but also a photo of her Dad enjoying his “Malagas”. Once again, I am including that information so you can know a bit about the pipeman who held these pipes in trust before they are passed on to some of you. I include part of Kathy’s correspondence with my brother as well…

Jeff…Here is a little about my dad, George P. Koch…I am sending a picture of him with a pipe also in a separate email.

Dad was born in 1926 and lived almost all his life in Springfield, Illinois. He was the youngest son of German immigrants and started grade school knowing no English. His father was a coal miner who died when Dad was about seven and his sixteen year old brother quit school to go to work to support the family. There was not much money, but that doesn’t ruin a good childhood, and dad had a good one, working many odd jobs, as a newspaper carrier, at a dairy, and at the newspaper printing press among others. He learned to fly even before he got his automobile driver’s license and carried his love of flying with him through life, recertifying his license in retirement and getting his instrumental license in his seventies and flying until he was grounded by the FAA in his early eighties due to their strict health requirements. (He was never happy with them about that.) He was in the Army Air Corps during World War II, trained to be a bomber, but the war ended before he was sent overseas. He ended service with them as a photographer and then earned his engineering degree from University of Illinois. He worked for Allis Chalmers manufacturing in Springfield until the early sixties, when he took a job at Massey Ferguson in Detroit, Michigan. We lived in Livonia, and that’s where his love for Malaga pipes began. After a few years he returned to Allis Chalmers and we moved back to Springfield. I remember that when we went back to Michigan to visit friends, Dad had to go to the Malaga store and acquire a few new pipes. Many a year I wrote to Malaga and they picked out a pipe for me to purchase that I could give Dad for a Christmas or birthday present. He was always pleased. His favorites were the straight stemmed medium sized bowl pipes, but he liked them all.  He had some other pipes, but the Malagas were his favorites. I remember him smoking them sitting in his easy chair after work, with feet up on the ledge by the fire burning in the fireplace.  Growing up it was my job to clean them and he liked the inner bowl and stem coated with Watkins vanilla, leaving a little of that liquid in the bowl to soak in when I put them back on the rack. Dad quit smoking later in life and so they’ve sat on the racks for many years unattended, a part of his area by his easy chair and fireplace. Dad passed when he was 89 years old and it finally is time for the pipes to move on. I’m very happy they are being restored by you and your brother and hope they find homes who enjoy them as much as Dad did. Thank-you for your care and interest. — Kathy, the oldest daughter

Kathy, once again I thank you for providing this beautiful tribute to your Dad. We will appreciate your trust in allowing us to clean and restore these pipes. I am also trusting that those of you who are reading this might carry on the legacy of her Dad’s pipes as they will be added to the rebornpipes store once they are finished.

The ninth of the pipes that I chose to work on is another “Malaga” Banker (Author??). This one is a mixed finish smooth and rusticated pipe with same mixed finish on the rim top. I really like the shape and the mix of rustication and smooth straight grain on this pipe. The vulcanite stem had lots of tooth chatter and some tooth marks. Some great grain peeks through the grime around the bowl. The warm brown finish on the bowl appeared to be good condition under the dust and tars of time. I am certain that Malaga pipes were oil cured. The uniform finish and the light weight lead me to think that is the case. Once more there are no fills in the bowl or long shank. I have yet to find a fill in any of the bowls I have worked on in this lot and looking through what remains I think it is fair to say I won’t find any in them either.

The mixture of rustication and smooth on the rim top of this Baker was originally covered and the rustication was almost filled in with an overflow of lava from the thick cake in the bowl. The rim top was in good condition and the inner edge of the bowl had some light damage and was out of round. The outer edge of the bowl was in good condition. The stamping was on the underside of the shank and was clear and read “Malaga” on a smooth panel near the shank/stem junction. The black vulcanite stem had tooth dents and chatter on the top and the underside of the stem. The interior of the pipe was dirty. I could see that George thoroughly enjoyed this pipe along with the others as is evidenced by the wear that all of them show. Jeff took these photos before he started the cleanup work on the pipe. Jeff took close up photos of the bowl and rim to show the condition of the pipe before he started to work his magic on it. The exterior of the bowl and shank were dirty. You can see the lava on the rim top, the cake and remnants of tobacco in the bowl and the nicks on the rim top and bowl around the outer edge of the rim. The second rim top photo shows the thick cake and debris in the bowl. It is dirty but in otherwise good condition. He also took photos of the backside and of the side to show the condition of the finish. He also took a photo of the shank to show the stamping on the panel on the underside of the shank. You can see the dust and grime in the rustication on the shank before cleanup.The next photos show the tooth chatter and dents on both surfaces of the stem near the button. There were also some dents in the top and underside of the button edge itself.Working on this ninth pipe followed the same pattern as all of these pipes. Jeff had reamed the bowl with a PipNet pipe reamer and followed up with a Savinelli Fitsall pipe knife to remove the cake. 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, shank and stem with a tooth brush and Murphy’s Oil Soap to remove the oils and tars on the bowl, rim and shank. He rinsed it under running water. He dried it off with a soft cloth. The lava mess on the rim was thoroughly removed without harming the finish underneath it. Without the grime the finish looked really good. As noted above the stem would need to be worked on. I took photos of the pipe to show its condition before I started my work on it.    I took a photo of the rim top to show the condition it was in after the cleanup. Jeff was able to remove all of the lava on the rim top and edges. You can see the contrast between the rusticated portion of the rim and the smooth. The inner edge of the bowl is chipped and damaged slightly but a little sanding would smooth that out. It is a nice looking finish. The stem was clean and you can see the tooth chatter and marks on the surface of the stem and on the edges of the button.I “painted” the surface of the stem with the flame from a Bic lighter to heat and lift the dents in the vulcanite. This is one of those times that I am glad vulcanite has memory. The marks lifted to the surface and a bit of sanding would smooth things out.I repaired the small dips in the top surface of the stem with clear super glue. When it had cured I sanded the surface of the stem smooth with 220 grit sandpaper. I sanded the rest of the stem at the same time and removed some of the oxidation on the surface.I rubbed the bowl down with Before & After Restoration Balm to deep clean the briar and particularly the reshaped areas. The product works to clean, enliven and protect the briar. I hand rubbed it with my fingers and wiped it off with a soft cloth. I buffed the bowl with a horsehair shoe brush to polish it. The briar really began to have a rich shine. I took some photos of the bowl at this point to mark the progress in the restoration. I got a little ahead of myself in using the balm. I had not cleaned up the damage to the rim edge. I used a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper to smooth out the inner edge of the rim. I worked on it and gave it a slight bevel to cover for the damage and the burn marks. Once it was finished I reworked the balm into the rim top and edges.I polished the stem with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanding with 3200-12000 grit pads. I wiped the stem down after each pad with a damp cloth to remove the sanding dust. I used the Before & After Pipe Polish to remove the small minute scratches left in the vulcanite. I finished by wiping the stem down with a final coat of Obsidian Oil and set it aside to dry. I the polished stem and bowl with Blue Diamond to polish out the remaining small scratches. I gave the bowl multiple coats of Conservator’s Wax and the stem several coats of carnauba wax and 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 pipe polished up pretty nicely. The finished pipe is shown in the photos below. This is the eighth of the many “Malaga” pipes that I am restoring from Kathy’s Dad’s collection. I am looking forward once again to hearing what Kathy thinks once she sees the finished pipe on the blog. This one is staying with me. I look forward to carrying on the trust from her father. The dimensions are Length: 5 ½ inches, Height: 1 1/2 inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 1/4 inches, Chamber diameter: 3/4 inches. Thanks for walking through the restoration with me as I worked over this Malaga from George’s estate. More will follow in a variety of shapes and sizes. 

Father Tom – Life in Ordinary Time – Interrupted


Blog by Steve Laug

I have been working on a few Father Tom stories that address some of the inevitable issues of growing older. This is the link to the first one (https://rebornpipes.com/2016/05/19/father-tom-after-the-prayers-have-been-said/). The second one looks at a health issue that I have gone through and survived (and I am sure others of you have as well). I reflect on how the pipe ritual of loading, lighting and tamping seems to bring calm and enable perspective in an otherwise tumultuous experience. The act of slowly smoking the pipe brings quietude that makes room for clarity when processing these and other issues. Thanks for reading. — Steve

When he left the house he had enough time for a leisurely walk to his doctor’s office. He could stop along the way and grab a coffee and sip it as he walked. He could puff on his pipe and as he was pretty much oblivious to the anti-smoking folks he would be uninterrupted in his quiet. He had unconsciously put on his clerical shirt and collar this morning after breakfast but it would serve him well. Nothing was to be avoided more in Vancouver than someone walking down the street looking like a priest. It almost guaranteed that he would be left alone and could smoke his pipe without intrusion.

The path he had chosen took him through the Olympic Village and along the water front of False Creek. He ambled along deep in thought enjoying the slight breeze and the cool of the morning. He was smoking a dark Virginia flake that he had lightly rubbed out and stuffed in his pipe. He had learned that trick somewhere along the way. Once it was smoldering it was a good long smoke and the flavours shifted and changed as the fire burned through the various mixed strands of tobacco in the bowl. He slowly puffed his pipe as was his habit – he did not have to think about it any more it was just normal for him. Some people puffed to the cadence of their pace as they walked but he had learned to separate the two and just slowly savoured the tobacco as he walked.

He was not purposely dragging his heals, he just wanted to take the time to process and think through what may be ahead of him at the appointment with his doctor. The walk was perfect for processing and the pipe provided the smoke screen that gave him space to quietly work through things. Strangely enough his mind had not gone to the “what ifs” but rather he had spent some time reflecting on his life. He had to admit that it had been amazingly uneventful for an aging priest in his mid sixties. He had spent the better part of 35 years as a parish priest in a variety of locations in British Columbia, Canada and a young trainee for the priesthood before that. Even his upbringing to get him to the point of entering the priesthood had been unremarkable. He could easily say that his life had been lived in ordinary time – no real interruptions or troubles other than the occasional bumps in the road relationally or within the parish. But truly he had faithfully and dutifully walked/plodded through the years. Until now his health had also proceeded along quietly and oddly uneventful. He was thankful for that.

Despite the long walk, Father Tom arrived at the doctor’s office early. He sat on the wall in back of the office and finished up the bowl of tobacco he was smoking. He quieted the intrusive white coat shakes that were vibrating through him by letting the pipe do its magic. As he puffed slowly on his pipe he found his anxiety lessening and his heart quieting. When he finished the bowl he went in and greeted the woman at the desk and took his place on the Chesterfield in the office underneath the huge Rodin painting of the dancing women. He closed his eyes and sat quietly, unconsciously fidgeting with his pipe in his pocket. He stirred when he heard the receptionist tell him the doctor would see him now and he could go back.

As he walked down the hallway he stuck his pipe in his mouth – it was an unconscious action on his part and certainly a way of giving himself some comfort. As he walked into the office he had a vague memory that the doctor had said he would be away. The person sitting at his desk was a locum who was filling in for him. When Father Tom came into the office the doctor turned to greet him. Now the problems began…she was obviously uncomfortable. He did not know if it was the collar or the pipe hanging in his mouth or what, but she did not seem able bring herself to tell him about the tests. She fumbled around with the papers on her desk and had a hard time looking him in the eye. Finally, she commented that the results of his blood work were back and there were some concerns. That was it and she left him hanging without continuing. It was awkward to say the least. There was a silence that seemed really long to Father Tom. She sat looking down and he stood in the doorway waiting. He made his way to the chair beside the desk and sat down. Still nothing was forthcoming.

To help her get to the point he started guessing – was it the thyroid test? No. The liver and kidney specific tests? No. The blood chemistry in terms of platelets and white cells? No. Hemoglobin tests? Cholesterol? No. Diabetes? No. He went through each test that he had undergone and to each one her response was no. Finally, he got to the last of the list after all of the above elicited a negative response. He knew before he asked, by process of elimination that the answer would be yes. So he as if was the PSA test – the Prostate Specific Antigen tests which contained markers for Prostate cancer… slowly she nodded yes. No further explanation seemed to be forthcoming so he asked what it meant… she swallowed and said that the numbers had shown a significant increase. What did that mean? No answer… he had enough, he stood and said if she was done he was leaving and would wait until his regular doc came home. She said no… she wanted to schedule a biopsy and an appointment with a urologist for him before he left the office. He sat back down and looked at her… what does that mean? Is there cancer? Again no answer… this was absolutely crazy. He was stymied with what to do next so he just sat there.

She got up and left him sitting there. She did not come back so he walked out to the waiting room and the receptionist. She at least was communicative and handed him his two appointment cards. The first was for the biopsy that she had scheduled for early the next morning and the other for the urologist on Monday afternoon the following week. She assured him that the urologist was very good and a colleague of his regular doctor. She bade him goodbye as the phone rang. He sat on the edge of the Chesterfield and reloaded his pipe. He put the pipe in the pouch of tobacco and pushed it into the bowl. It took longer than usual this time around but he had done it for so long he did not have to think about it. His mind was just whirling.

One of the other patients sitting in the waiting room told him that the office was a no smoking environment. He did not even acknowledge her when she spoke, for he was too numb to care. Once the bowl was right and he tested the draw he rose to his feet and went out the door. He lit his pipe and stood in the entry way puffing on the pipe until he got a good burn going. He started walking home in a thick cloud of smoke. This time he took a straighter path home – up Arbutus to Broadway. Once he was on Broadway he walked until he got to Granville Street. At Granville he stopped a small pub and ordered a pint and sat in the sidewalk café. He had no idea what time it was as his mind was swirling. He finished his pint and relit his pipe. He made his way to 16th Avenue and walked East until he got to Main Street. He was not far from home now but he could not keep up with his own thoughts…he sat on a park bench on 16th in the park between Main and Fraser. The lack of information he had been given rattled him and his normal tendency to assume the worst was not helpful. His head was spinning and he could not quiet his fears. He quietly recited the Serenity Prayer as he sat there. Long ago he had memorized the long version of the prayer as he found that the second half gave him much hope and expressed the desire of his heart. It was that version that he recited there in the park.

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next.
Amen.

He took a deep breath and slowly let the breath out. He felt a calmness coming back over him that had deserted him since he had received the news. It was a calmness born not of denial but of trust. H repacked his pipe and slowly puffed away while his thoughts became more focused. He knew the “C” word was not final until after the biopsy and the appointment with the urologist but it felt final to him. He would need to set aside the what ifs until that time as they were unproductive now. He knew that whatever happened in the next few days, that his until now ordinary life had certainly been interrupted. All of the ordinary life experiences he had enumerated previously during the walk to the doctor, his quiet uneventful life, suddenly faded into the mist of the potential threat that reared up in front of him now. It seemed strange that only a few hours before he had found comfort in his rituals of the morning. Now that morning seemed ages ago and he had been reeling inside. Somehow the ritual of the pipe and the prayer had brought a new calm over him.

If you had been near by you would have heard him repeat “living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time…trusting…”. You would have seen an elderly priest, pipe in mouth, talking to himself, deep in thought. He sat that way for a long time, nothing moving other than the imperceptible rise and fall of his chest as he puffed on his pipe. The smoke rose around him and engulfed him in his thoughts. Then suddenly it was if he came to life, he came back to the moment, tamped his pipe, stood up and started walking the remaining blocks home. His mind was quieter than it had been all day. Really nothing had changed but him. Somehow the pipe and the prayer together had given him the space to stand apart from his problem and be quiet. He knew Mrs. Conti would have prepared dinner for him and laid it out. It would be ready for his arrival. He knew that his pipes and his books would be on the table next to his chair. He knew that he had a quiet evening ahead of him. He knew he would face the biopsy in the morning. And he knew that he was not alone as he walked through this.

He went up 16th to Fraser and then up Fraser to his block. Once there he crossed Fraser and made his way home. He opened the gate and climbed the stairs. He unlocked the front door and went inside. He put his hat on the hall tree and went into the kitchen to see what was laid out for supper. He fixed a plate and took it to his chair in the parlour. He sat down, put his pipe on the rest and quietly ate his meal. A thought went through his head and he said it out loud – no, even this is still ordinary time – just interrupted.

Restoring a NOS Rusticated House of Robertson Hawkbill


Blog by Steve Laug

My brother Jeff found an assortment of House of Robertson pipes at an auction in Wilder, Idaho which is an area in the greater Boise, Idaho area. He picked them up for us to restore. I had forgotten that I had mentioned the brand in passing in a blog on Leonard’s Pipe Shop in Portland, Oregon. Here is the link to that blog where I mention it as one of the brands that Leonard’s sold: https://rebornpipes.com/2013/06/06/leonards-pipe-shop-portland-oregon/. It is a fascinating brand that really I had never had the privilege of seeing first hand. He cleaned them all up and on a recent trip to Idaho, I picked them up and brought them back to Canada. I took pictures of the lot of them to show the wide variety of pipes that they made in terms of both size and style. The craftsmanship is very good with the fit of the stem and shank well done and the finish both rusticated and smooth exemplary. Jeff picked up three more of the brand in Pocatello, Idaho so I will be working on more of these pipes in the future. They all have the name House of Robertson roughly hand etched on the side or underside of the shank with an engraving tool. I did a bit of hunting for information about the brand and found a link on Pipedia that gave me the only information I could find on the brand. I include that in total as it is interesting to read.

“House of Robertson” was in business for many years, but alas, closed their doors in 1999. They were located in Boise, Idaho. They are noted for making rather large and interesting pipes. Thayne Robertson was a Master Mason, AF & AM, and started the shop about 1947 and his son Jon started working there in 1970 when he finished college, along with Thayne’s daughter. Thayne and his son started making the big pipes at that time, and made them together until 1987 when Thayne passed away. Jon kept the store and his sister moved on to other things. The House of Robertson appears to have closed around 1999. https://pipedia.org/wiki/Robertson

The third of the six pipes I chose to work on was rusticated Hawkbill shaped pipe. It is NOS (new old stock) and is unsmoked. It is engraved with the House of Robertson signature on a smooth panel on the right side of the shank. The rusticated finish on the pipe had a smooth band around the rim and the rim top was smooth. There were also smooth bands on the left, front and right sides of the pipe moving up from a smooth circle on the bottom of the bowl. The pipe was in excellent condition other than being dusty from time. The deep grooves in the rustication were very dusty. I have circled the pipe in red in the above group photos. It is an interesting pipe. The bowl is clean and unsmoked briar. The drilling on the pipe is different to me – it looks like the airway came out below the bottom of the bowl. It is still very smokable but the look is quite unique. The stem was lightly oxidized but clean. The fit of the stem to the shank was good. The vulcanite appeared to have been a pre-formed stem that was shaped to fit this pipe. Jeff took photos of the pipe before he started the cleanup. The next close-up photos show the finish on the top and the underside of the bowl. The first two photos show clean bowl and the rim top. The grain on the top of the bowl and the inner and outer edge of the rim looks really good. The finish on the rim top was in great condition. The next two photos show the sides and underside of the pipe. The next photo shows the etched name on the right side of shank on a smooth panel of briar. It reads House of Robertson.The tapered stem was oxidized and pitted from the oxidation. It was otherwise very clean and unsmoked.This unsmoked pipe was an easy cleanup for Jeff. After all of the heavily caked and dirty pipes he has cleaned it was a nice break to clean off the dust and oxidation from a pipe that had been sitting in storage for a long time. 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 remove the dust in the rustication on the bowl and shank as well as the smooth portions. He rinsed it under running water. He dried it off with a soft cloth. Once the dust and debris were removed the finish actually looked to be in excellent condition. I took photos of the pipe to show its condition before I started my work on it. I took a photo of the bowl and rim top to show the NOS condition of the pipe. The stem was clean but pitted and oxidized.I rubbed the bowl down with Before & After Restoration Balm to deep clean the nooks and crannies of the rusticated finish, enliven and protect the briar. I hand rubbed it with my fingers, worked it into the finish with a horsehair shoe brush. I wiped it off with a soft cloth. I buffed the bowl with a horsehair shoe brush to polish it. It really began to have a deep shine in the briar. I took some photos of the bowl at this point to mark the progress in the restoration. The birdseye grain stands out on the two sides bands and the cross grain stands out on the rim top, the smooth base and the front band. I sanded the stem with 220 grit sandpaper to remove the oxidation on both sides of the tapered 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. I polished it further with Before & After Pipe Polish –using both the Fine and Extra Fine Polishes. I gave it a rubdown with Obsidian Oil one last time 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 lightly polish the stem. I buffed the bowl with a light touch so as not to get any of the buffing compounds in the grooves of the rustication. I buffed the stem to raise the gloss on the vulcanite. I gave the bowl multiple coats of Conservator’s Wax and gave the stem multiple coats of carnauba wax. I buffed the entire 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 medium brown stains on the rusticated Hawkbill shaped bowl with a smooth bands and rim works well with the rich black of the vulcanite stem. The polishing and the reworking of the stem material left this a beautiful and interesting looking pipe. The dimensions of the pipe are: Length: 5 3/4 inches, Height: 1 3/4 inches, Outside Diameter: 1 1/2 inches, Diameter of the chamber: 3/4 inches. This one will be going on the rebornpipes store shortly if you want to add it to your collection. Even with an under drilled airway it should still smoke very well. It will be priced accordingly for seconds pipe. Why not take this opportunity to add a House of Robertson pipe to your rack. Thanks for looking.

Restoring the last of three Jobey Gourd Calabashes with a Briar Shank Extension


Blog by Steve Laug

As I have mentioned before my brother Jeff has really gotten good at finding Gourd Calabash pipes when he is pipe hunting. He picked up this batch recently. I posted about the large calabash in the middle of the right hand column recently and it is available on the rebornpipes store. It is by far the largest of the five calabash pipes that he found. The second one I am working on is the pipe at the bottom right of the photo. It is another unique looking Calabash to me in that it is a nicely shaped gourd with a briar shank extension on the end of the gourd. It bears the Jobey brass oval logo on the side of the briar extension. The third of the calabash pipes that I worked on was a second Jobey calabash. It is the one on the bottom left of the photo below. As I mentioned before, when I first looked these Jobey calabashes I wondered if any of them had the Jobey system tenon that I have come to expect on Jobey pipes. However, this was not the case on any of the three Jobey Gourd Calabashes in the bunch. All of them have the mortise drilled in the briar extension and is made for a push stem. Once again, I had never seen Jobey Gourd Calabashes before learned that they were probably made by Wally Frank. Here is the link to the first of the pipes I worked on – the one circled in red in the photos below:  https://rebornpipes.com/2018/01/09/restoring-a-full-bent-jobey-gourd-calabash-with-a-briar-shank-extension/. Here is the link to the second of the three circled in blue: https://rebornpipes.com/2018/01/28/restoring-the-second-of-three-jobey-gourd-calabashes-with-a-briar-shank-extension/. Today I am working on the third of the Jobey Calabash pipes and the fourth of the lot. It is the pipe on the top left of the photo below.

Once again Jeff took some photos of the pipe before he did his cleanup work on it. The photos below show it in the condition he found it in on one of his hunts. The gourd was dull looking and generally dirty. It had spots of sticky label material on the sides of the bowl. The briar shank extension was also dull and lifeless looking and there was a gummy substance in the brass logo on the shank extension. The meerschaum bowl on this pipe was light weight and appeared to be block meerschaum. There was a thick cake in the bowl and the rim had a coat of lava that went almost all the way around the inner edge of the chamber onto the rim top. The chair leg style stem was oxidized and dirty. There were tooth marks and tooth chatter on both sides of the stem at the button. The next photo shows the condition of the meerschaum cup. The cup of the meer was had some lava overflow from the bowl on the inner edge and top. There is also darkening around the inner edge of the bowl and cake in the bowl.The next two pictures show the condition of the underside of the bowl and the tars and oils on the walls of the gourd. The underside of the meerschaum cup was dirty but in good condition. The cork gasket on the inside edges of the gourd was in good condition but dried out. It needed some grease to liven it up.The briar shank extension was dirty and there was debris around the outside of the oval and in the letters stamped in the brass.The stem had light oxidation and tooth marks and chatter on both sides near the button. It also had the same price tag glue on the top and underside of the stem.Jeff did a thorough cleanup on the meerschaum bowl, the inside of the gourd and the stem. He carefully scraped the cake in the bowl with a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife. He cleaned the internals with alcohol, pipe cleaners and cotton swabs – scrubbing out the mortise as it was dirty. He scrubbed the exterior of the meerschaum cup and the gourd with Murphy’s Oil soap and a tooth brush and was able to remove all of the oils and dust ground into the gourd. He was able to remove all of the lava and overflow from the top of the meerschaum bowl and left it looking very clean. Once he had removed the lava on the rim top and inner edge they were cleaner than I expected. The scratches in the meerschaum were quite shallow and would be easy to polish out. He cleaned internals of the stem with alcohol. When it arrived I took some photos of it to show how it looked before I did the restoration.   He did a great job of cleaning up the rim top including the tars and lava. The bowl is clean and smooth with all cake removed. The photo below shows the condition of the bowl and rim at this point. The inner edge of the bowl is clean but there is some wear and damage to the edge. The stem had cleaned up nicely with relatively little oxidation. The tooth marks on the top and underside along with the chatter were still present.I took the bowl off the gourd to have a look at the inside of the pipe. The gourd was very clean. The cork gasket was dry but that could be remedied easily enough. The mottled appearance carried through to the inside of the meerschaum bowl and can be seen in the photos.I used my fingers to rub the gourd and briar extension down with Before & After Restoration Balm to bring life to both and to remove any residual dust or dirt in the surface of the calabash. I wiped it off with a cotton cloth and buffed it with a shoe brush. The next few photos show the gourd at this point in the process. I used some Vaseline petroleum jelly to lubricate the cork gasket and soften it. I have done this for years and I really like the effect of the jelly on the cork. I used 1500 grit micromesh sanded off the spots along the surface of the meerschaum cup where it sat against the cork and the top of the gourd to ensure a smooth fit.I checked the pliability of the cork gasket, rubbed a little more Vaseline into it and put the bowl back on the gourd. The fit of the cup against the gasket was snug but not hard to insert. It was perfect. The pipe was beginning to look finished. The shine on the gourd and the rim looked good. The briar extension had its own shine as well. I took the cup off the gourd and polished it with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-2400 and dry sanding with 3200-12000 grit pads. I wiped the bowl down after each sanding pad with a damp cloth to remove the sanding dust. I buffed the cup with a microfiber cloth to polish it. I sanded the stem with 220 grit sandpaper to remove the tooth marks and chatter on the top and underside near the button. The rest of the stem was in decent condition. I rubbed the stem down with Obsidian Oil at this point and let it sit for a little while.I cleaned out the airway in the stem with pipe cleaners and alcohol to remove any residual bath and also the sanding dust from the work on the stem surface and tooth chatter.I polished the vulcanite 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 with Obsidian Oil between each sanding pad. After using the 12000 grit pad I buffed the stem with Blue Diamond to give a deep and rich shine. I polished the stem with Before & After Pipe Polish using both the fine and the extra fine product. I gave it a final coat of Obsidian Oil and set it aside to dry. Normally at this point I put the stem back on the bowl and take the pipe to the buffing wheel to work it over. This time I took the parts to the buffing wheel. I gently buffed the meerschaum cup and rim with Blue Diamond to lightly polish the meer. I carefully buffed the gourd base and briar shank extension with Blue Diamond being cautious about the pressure I put on the gourd. I buffed the stem with Blue Diamond to raise the gloss on the vulcanite. I took the pipe back to the work table and gave the gourd multiple coats of Conservator’s Wax. I gave the stem several coats carnauba wax. I buffed the parts of 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 dimensions of the pipe are, Length: 9 inches, Height: 3 ½ inches, Diameter of the cup: 2 ½ 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. Thanks for looking.

Chasing the Grain and the Danish Freehand, Part 1


Blog by Robert M. Boughton
Copyright © Reborn Pipes and the Author except as cited
For
Ed Anderson (August 10, 1945-March 28, 2017)
and
Ed James (July 11, 1950-June 4, 2017)
Chasers of the grain whatever pipes they smoked
 
6 For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. 7I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. 
—  The Bible, KJV, 2 Timothy 4:6-7

Old artists never die.  They just find a new genre.
RMB

CHASING THE GRAIN

The term chasing the grain has been used to describe activities including farming, micro-brewing, woodworking in general such as furniture and, of course, the noble pursuit of transforming blocks of wood into vibrant, striking tobacco pipes.  After extensive searching, I have found varied references to that phrase as well as “the chase” and still others, and each seems to reflect the same basic idea – with twists as various as the personalities of those who create, study, sell and savor tobacco pipes of all kinds, not just freehands.

In its most basic sense, for a pipe maker to chase grain is to choose the block and carve it, following wherever the wood leads to achieve the desired result.  The concept, therefore, commences with the skill of the carver to find the best available wood block and not to dismiss out-of-hand any natural and useful quality that may be uncovered later.  The turn of the chase in the direction, closeness and evenness of the grain in the burl, or the tuberous growth harvested from beneath the soil and between the shrub and the roots, is paramount.  To interpret the flow of the burl’s grain could be called secondary only to the highest management of whatever other advantages lie within the block and its ultimate embodiment.  Other than those factors, as if they were not enough, the individual and competitive chases are “won,” or better yet advanced as an artform, by a combination of imagination and intuition: having the right stuff to take even the “heart” of a burl, with no grain at all, and make something of beauty from it.

Most shocking of all to old-schoolers, when the practice gained speed in the 1960s into the following decade and began its steady march from the capitol of Denmark across the globe, were the rough, hardened bark left intact, and the “crazy designs” to achieve the result that is incongruous in the most glorious, exalted sense of the word.  Maybe as a Codger I would have reacted with the same trepidation, but I was a toddler at the time and have grown to adulthood with far stranger spectacles – Flower Children and their VW Peace Vans, Hasbro’s Twister, the Slinky (which in fact was introduced in 1945), and certain soiled clothing saved by a female White House intern, for example.

Alternative woods such as the golden walnut used for the pipe the restoration of which will be shown in the second part of this tribute come from trees.  The idea that briar is from the same source, or even bushes, is incorrect and ought to be banished.

Plateaux and ebauchon blocks courtesy The Wood Database

Plateaux (fine grain, and with the bark left on the burl) and ebauchon blocks (often birds-eye or no grain, and without the bark) are harvested from the briar shrub, a small, woody plant with one to several branches sticking out of the ground and notable on sight for the little white and blue flowers. Mostcarvers prefer the plateaux blocks to the ebauchon due to the bark that is almost a trademark of the Danish freehand, the striking straight grain and increased density.  But a real chaser of the grain, again, can take almost any block and produce a masterpiece from it by following its trail: with or without bark and having straight, flame, cross, bird’s-eye, mixed and/or no grain.

Many words are used to describe this amazing plant.  I reached the designation shrub – based on the obvious properties of treeless branches, a burl that, by definition, is buried, and roots – from the minority of sources, available pictures and my own ability to think.  The botanical name for the briar shrub is Erica arborea, of the Heath family, which grows to a general maximum height (again debated but taking the middle ground) between eight and 12 feet.  The plant must be at least 40 years old before it is viable to sell because of its size corresponding to age.  An older, bigger burl being necessary to make a larger pipe, but also able to be cut in halves or still smaller fractions for multiple lesser sizes, sets the standard.   Burls as old as a century, uncommon within my lifetime of 55 years, are now all but impossible to find; within the lives of my parents and grandparents, briar burls dating back two and a half centuries were still around, though already scarce.

Now, a few words regarding the standard for age and size of briar burl harvesting.  The only block I have bought with the intent to try fashioning a pipe was the most gorgeous hunk of rich, brown walnut with the tightest, straightest grain I’ve ever seen in that type of wood.  And by hunk, I mean it was an easy 12″ x 12″ x 4″.  To give an idea of what that means, the perfect specimen of walnut I bought at a local exotic wood shop for around $8 was about four times larger than a briar block for a bent pipe that the great American carver Mark Tinsky offers.  That’s the block for more experienced pipe makers, by the way, not the beginner’s pipe making kit.  After an unfortunate series of misadventures, I no longer have the walnut block or the photo of it I snapped as a sort of proof of life, but there are witnesses including two pipe maker friends who dissuaded me from making a first attempt with the beautiful piece, the hardness of which they agreed would create difficulties better avoided.  One of them did offer to buy it from me, but I was still determined to go for it.  In that respect, the loss of the walnut block was good luck, as it made the decision for me.

Some notes about briar as opposed to other woods used in pipe making, including golden walnut.  Many reasons briar is the ideal wood for pipes include but are not limited to the following.

  1. Perfect density. On the Janka Rating System, the industry standard, briar’s density is 2,090 lbs./ft. – although very dense, not too hard and not too soft, but just right. The more detailed descriptions I found to describe how the scale works – one being that it “measures the force required to drive a .444-inch steel ball into the wood until half the diameter of the ball is embedded in the wood,” from 0-4000 lbs./ft. – may be second tongue to engineers and construction contractors and the like.  But for most of us, these brief technical explanations are complex and, worse, incomplete, as if the little details such as how the force is delivered and determined go without saying.  It’s like trying to follow the lecture of a college algebra professor who speaks impeccable Pidgin English with an unintelligible accent.  And so, I searched Google for the latest Janka Scale for Idiots, a level in this esoteric field of knowledge to which I have no timidity owning.  I found a site (below in Sources) that in its turn oversimplifies the process as dropping a small metal ball onto a piece of wood until the wood dents.  But for me, counting as givens the weight and velocity of the ball, which is more accurately shot with something akin to a nail gun rather than dropped by a klutz, works.
  2. High threshold for igniting. Remember, briar is wood, even though it doesn’t come from a tree, and wood has two primary attributes, being good for making things and burning. So-called common sense would, therefore, make the mere idea of crafting any kind of wood into an implement with a hollow bowl at one end to fill with deliberately combustible leaves, and then a connecting piece to place in the mouth and light, laughable.  Of course, this is not as preposterous a proposition as, say, doing the same with “the elongated woody core in which the grains of an ear of corn are embedded” (see corncob, dictionary.com).  On the latter subject, have you ever seen a homemade corncob, or a cheap Chinese pipe made of some mystery, balsa-light, maybe ersatz and toxic wood burst into flames while someone is smoking it?  I have.  It’s not a pretty sight.  But returning to the point and keeping in mind that paper is perhaps the best comparison for the temperature at which it ignites, at 233° Celsius, or Fahrenheit 451, another reason briar is preferred for pipes is its amazing heat resistance (withstanding more than 700° C, or 1,292° F, in tests after the full processing of burls into blocks).
  3. Relative porousness. Despite its high density and threshold for bursting into flame, briar has a certain contradictory porousness, giving this unique wood an ability to breathe and expand that makes it more viable for tobacco pipes than any alternative wood.
  4. Lack of toxicity. Last, but not least, while every wood has dreadful toxic consequences if the dust is inhaled, briar by itself is without doubt safe when a pipe made from it is placed in the mouth and heated. Walnut is also safe in this regard.  That is as far as I dare go at this point on that subject, for well-founded fear of kindling a debate that might just turn into a conflagration.

ON PIPES AND PERSONIFICATION

“Okay, this is a good time to talk about limits,” Janeane Garafolo as Dr. Abby Barnes tells her radio audience in the 1996 romantic comedy The Truth About Cats & Dogs.  “You can love your pets.  Just don’t love your pets.”  While the implication is a little more disturbing in the movie, so close are we humans to our pipes that we sometimes personify them.  While coming to love our pipes and even think of them as dear friends, perhaps naming and referring to them as he or she is a touch – well, touched.  Then again, if it works, don’t fix it.

In Pipes & Tobacco Magazine [Fall 2002], the authority R.D. Field goes so far, in an essay titled “Curing: Another in a series of infrequent articles on the briar pipe,” as to write how “the shrub needs to sort of undergo torture, to struggle.”  In a jovial, downhome tone, he describes the process in horrific detail, starting with the shrub’s early life as if profiling an un-sub.  Really, it’s like TV’s “Criminal Minds,” or The Police song about a serial killer, “Murder by Numbers,” with a line I’ll never forget, “First you make a stone of your heart.”  To become what it is, the plant needs a horrible living environment, bad soil and a hot, very arid climate, to stunt its growth so that it doesn’t mature fast and becomes hardened inside.  Then the burl must be tracked down and captured uninjured, intact, in its violent removal from the soil using pick-axes and shovels and whatnot, with the final parting of its roots made with a chainsaw, so that it can be taken alive straight to the sawmill.  From there on, it is kept wet (read water-boarded) on a constant basis until the “processing,” or rehabilitation, begins.  Here is a direct extended quote from Field’s detailed description of the entire lurid process in his style that is a cross between Hemingway and King, from a man who clearly knows his subject.

“Now at this point the wood is still alive, and the sawmill folks have to kill it, but nicely, so it can be made into pipe bowls.  So they put the burls into trenches, cover ’em with empty gunny sacks, and let ’em sit until they die – about three months’ time.  Man, you ought to smell the aroma of that wood in the trenches; there’s a real tang in the air, a good clean tang that makes you feel good to be alive and to be in the countryside.  Anyway, the wood takes a time to die.  And if you take away some sacking to look at the burls you’ll see bright green shoots growing out of the wood.  That wood is a fighter; it doesn’t give up but tries to find new earth to bury itself in.  After the wood is dead is the time for cutting.” 

 Ya think?  I, for one, thank God for that last tidbit in the passage!  Wow.  But wait!  There’s more!  After the 90-day holding period is up, the burls, dead but still wet and, of course, were they in fact persons, grateful for the release from their earthly bonds, are taken to the cutters.  Everyone should read Field’s full, concise account of the old salts described so well in his article, if only for its Victorian/Goth side.  These singular, peculiar and frankly scary men begin their work with back country surgical first cuts into each burl, calculated by on-the-job knowledge, to split the plant and reveal an inner cavity which is, in an à propos way, referred to in certain circles as its heart.  There is even a reddish fluid present.  This key area, however, is by proper convention referred to as the center, perhaps representative of the suppressed sensibilities of those concerned, where the wood is redder and without grain at all.  From there, the burl is cut into various numbers of blocks and sizes that are segregated into plateaux and ebauchon, again by size.  Not to beat a dead burl, but the plateaux blocks, with their much better grain, tend to be preferred, whether for “traditional” or Danish freehand pipes.

The blocks are then boiled, even if in water rather than oil, as in the bygone days of the Inquisition, to remove most of the sap and all other impurities such as bacteria, and to hydrate the wood.  This is the step that heightens briar’s heat resistance.  Then they are re-graded based on the inspections of experts who pass judgment according to outward appearances that lead them to render their professional guesses, in effect, of what is inside.  The experts search for tell-tale signs – perhaps blips in the grain like spikes or dips on an electrocardiogram monitor? – of small inner pockets with stones and dirt and other illicit substances that later create pits.  Before shipping to re-sellers, the blocks are dried by air for as long as a year or by faster means, such as a kiln, depending on demand.  This is the best laid plan men have today, but it can still go askew.  [My thanks and apologies to Robert Burns.]

There is so much more but so little space, and nothing in my stomach after so much exposure to the facts of the matter.  The unusual number of Sources at the end provides at least fuller details.  But it seems to me that the two friends in my local pipe club, whom I mentioned earlier regarding the one walnut block I bought, agree upon the simplest way to spot a good block of any suitable wood, although they both push briar as the best and easiest for beginners.  The friends and well-known pipe makers, Victor Rimkus and Don Gilmore (who makes his pipes under the name Don Warren, or DW), advise wiping the dust and dirt from a block with a wet cloth or paper towel to see the quality of grain, which would seem to require some experience to obtain the skill to spot signs of inner pits.  Free advice doesn’t get much easier than that, and coming from successful artisans, it ought to be a suggestion worth heeding – and one the original chasers of the grain must have used, carried on today by their followers in different countries, of particular note Denmark, Italy, Russia and its former satellites, and the U.S., to name too few.

P-P-P-P.A.D. TO THE BONE

Thus might George Thorogood have sung one of his greatest songs had he been into tobacco pipes, I imagine.  I pined for a freehand since the first time I walked into my local tobacconist, still new enough not to have seen one, and scoped out the glass display cases.  Selling is the bottom line in capitalism, but the wonderful owner, Jennifer, is one of those rare souls who never lets her considerable business drive prevent customer service from coming first.  She’s the kind of entrepreneur who is always happy, in the most genuine way, to unlock a case and place any pipe someone might want to examine on an ornate felt-cushioned stand, to be picked up by the potential buyer without the inherent possibility of fumbling in a hand-off.

And Jennifer, although she doesn’t smoke pipes, is an expert on the signs of P.A.D., thereby knowing that once the seed is planted, in time it may grow into a mature briar burl.  That is how it started for me, and although I ogled a few Nordings and Karl Eriks and others that day, all were beyond my means.  Not long later, at the height of my disorder, when the roots had encircled me, I was the little shop’s best pipe customer, spending hundreds of dollars there each month not counting the acquisitions I made at antique stores, garage sales and online.

Then one fine day, from the last person I would have imagined, came my chance to own a real Danish freehand – for free!  You see, we had not exactly gotten on well before then.  You could say he is the definition of a codger.  But in the years since, our friendship has bloomed like an old briar shrub.

In the years since, I’ve acquired eight more, although one, however dear to me, is of dubious origin.  Here they are, and I expect the one will be obvious.

My first BW by Preben Holm, a stunner

Another Golden Walnut BW by Preben Holm

I dubbed this Italian no-name “The Beak” after I completed its forming, as it clearly was unfinished.

Karl Erik Chimney

Karl Erik beauty

Søren Refbjerg Rasmussen 4-Panel Rustic

Mastersen Israeli

Bjarne

CONCLUSION

The potential end of each chase is limitless, turning only upon a few integral factors: the grain of the wood; the shape and/or design of the pipe (classic, striking in originality or a merger of the two), and sometimes mind-blowing manipulations of the multiple possible grains imposed by the characteristics of a block.  Imagination is the one asset needed to attempt the pursuit at all.  [See Field again, in his straight-forward description of the grains with some fascinating challenges to accepted wisdom, as well as being devoid of gruesomeness, in the Sources.]  The results of the practice can be dazzling, or less so, hence the attraction and excitement of the chase.

SOURCES

https://pipedia.org/docs/CharacteristicsOfBriar.pdf
http://www.naspc.org/archives/odyssey_3.html
http://www.amsmoke.com/briar_folder/BriarStory.html
http://www.wood-database.com/briar/
http://tinytimbers.com/janka.htm
http://www.ralphshardwood.com/blog/when-does-the-hardness-matter
http://www.rdfield.com/Articles/curing.htm
http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/police/murderbynumbers.html
http://rimkuspipes.com/index.html
http://www.dwpipes.com/
http://www.rdfield.com/Articles/Grain.htm
http://archives.nypl.org/rbk/22970