Blog by Steve Laug
Another of the questions that I am frequently asked is “How do you decide whether to replace fills I the briar or to rusticate the bowl and shank?” As always seems to be the case there is another question behind that one that needs to be answered before even considering that decision. That question is fundamental to all the work we do as refurbishers/restorers. Simply stated it is: “How far do I go in the process of working on a pipe before it ceases to be its original maker/manufacturers pipe and becomes a product of my work?” If your changes essentially alter the original it has become yours. The choice boils down to a question of preservation or abandonment. I thought it was worth devoting an Answers to Questions Blog to addressing this question and all of the considerations that it raises. As always the ideas are my own and I am not expecting everyone to agree with my conclusions but I ask that at least you wrestle with the issues.
Once you have wrestled with the question of how far you go in your work and make a decision about how much is too much then you are ready to go the direction that decision presets for you. If you decide to preserve the pipe as much as possible to the original then rustication is off the table. It becomes simply a matter of repairing or replacing the fills in the briar. That decision is not difficult because the end result is that you want the fills to blend into the finish as much as possible. The last thing you want is spots all over the bowl where the fills stick out.
Hopefully, that will help you make the initial choice regarding the pipe in your hands. To fine tune the decision make process further, set some parameters for what you will or will not rusticate. For example for me the fine tuning has led me to make decisions on what I will and will not rusticate. I will rusticate any Imported Briar no name pipe without thinking twice. These generally have a lot of fills that stick out and I want to get rid of them. With these there is never any concern about preservation. I am really more concerned about beautifying what to me is an eye sore. I wipe it down with alcohol to clean it up and jump right into the rustication.
I have also decided that I will not personally rusticate or change any name brand pipes – Stanwell, Kriswill, BBB, KBB, Charatn, GBD, Kaywoodie to just name a few. With the Kaywoodie brand I specify even more focused on the early pipes they made. I never mess with higher end pipes like Dunhill or even new artisan pipes. With all of those I have chosen to take a minimalistic approach in terms of refurbishing and restoration. Even in my repairs I tend to be a minimalist with these brands as much as possible. I do not want the pipe to be anything less than what it was when it left the factory or the maker. I want it to shine in all of its beauty. Of course you will need to make your decisions regarding parameters and once you do you also have the power to make exceptions to them.
If I am going to preserve the pipe and leave the fills in place that decision also have some qualifiers. If the fills are large and ugly pink putty has been used to fill them in I almost always use a dental pick and remove them. I refill them with a mixture of briar dust and super glue. If they are chipped but otherwise solid I often repair them instead of replacing them. If they are soft they need to be replaced. If they are small and well hidden in the finish I tend to leave them. If they are out of my sight line when I smoke it then I also tend to leave them. If they stand out then to me they have to go. I replace them and blend them into the finish as much as possible. All of these qualifiers are arbitrary and personal at some level I guess but you can decide that yourselves. If you can live with the fills as they are then leave them. Most if not all of them are aesthetic and in no way affect the smoking function of the pipe. I have had the most filled and ugly pipes that are my best smokers and I have had almost flawless pipes that were awful smokers.
I think that summarizes my thoughts on the original question. As with most things in our hobby there are questions behind the questions. There are multiple levels of answers but at the same time it really boils down to what you individually want to do. It comes down to your aesthetic. Whether you choose to preserve a brand or to make it your own truly is your choice. I think for many of us once we have made it our own we should remove the original makers marks as it is no longer a pipe from their hands (at least externally as notice we have said nothing about changing the mechanics). Hopefully you have found this blog helpful as you make your own choices. Thanks for humouring this old pipeman in his ramblings. Cheers.