Daily Archives: February 8, 2018

Crafting a thin band for a cracked shank in a Tracy Mincer Large Billiard

Blog by Steve Laug

A good friend from New York, who I met over email and I have talked about all things pipes and tobaccos over the months. We have Skyped together and compared notes on our favourite pipes and tobaccos as well as the aging process in our lives. We have become pretty good friends sending tobaccos and pipes back and forth across the continent and chatting together regularly. A month or so ago he showed me one of his favourite old Tracy Mincer billiards. It was a beautiful pipe that only bore the Tracy Mincer stamp on the underside of the shank. He told me that he was cleaning it and removed the stem and heard that fearsome crack sound that pipemen have come to know as a shank cracking. Sure enough the shank cracked on his beautiful pipe. We spoke of options that were available for a repair. One of those was to insert a Delrin or stainless tube in the shank, reduce the tenon diameter and the repair would be complete. Another option would be to band the shank. He wanted me to have a go at the repair so he shipped it to me to work on. He did not want a band on the shank as he liked the original look of the pipe.

When the pipe arrived it was far larger than I imagined. It really was well rusticated and beautiful. The rim top, the rustication on the sides and shank as well as the smooth band around the shank/stem union really stood out against the rustication. The high quality vulcanite had some light tooth marks and a light oxidation in the surface. I removed the stem and measured the shank with a micrometer to see what I needed in terms of an insert tube. I opted for a stainless tube. I drilled it out and smoothed out the inside of the tube. It was ready to be inserted and set in the mortise. I set it aside and picked up the stem. That is when I realized that there was a problem. Airway in the tenon was drilled off centre to the top left. If that was not bad enough it was drilled at a bit of an angle. The combination of the off centre drilling and the angle of the airway meant that if I reduced the diameter of the tenon I would end up opening up the airway on the upper left side and essentially destroying the tenon. I thought about removing the tenon, drill the airway open and replacing it but that was problematic because of the angled drilling.

With the facts in hand I did a Skype call with New York and explained the issues and showed my friend the airway in the stem and tenon. I showed him the off centeredness and the angular drilling and told him that I would send the pipe back to him as he did not like metal bands. We spent some time talking about options – even leaving it as it was with the crack and just enjoying it while being careful. He said that he knew it was there and it would bother him. We went online and looked at some of the bands available – all of them were too large and covered too much of the shank. They just would not do on this particular pipe. At that point I had an idea – I could cut the band down so that it was a much thinner band and the profile would actually work well with the look of the pipe. We discussed the pros and cons of that solution and he gave the go ahead. I ordered a 20.5mm nickel band for the shank of his pipe. It was the largest band available and it was a close fit to the shank. It would need some work but it would look good I thought once it was completed.

When the bands arrived I was so anxious to get started on the repair of the pipe that I forgot to take photos of the pipe. I sent a message to my friend and asked if he had any photos of the pipe before he sent it to me. He laughed and said he too forgot to follow his normal habit of taking a full set of photos before he mailed it. He did have one photo of the pipe that I could use. He sent it to me and I have included it below.I cleaned up the end of the shank and used a Dremel and sanding drum and a small flat needle file to cut a channel in the shank end for the band to rest in once it was in place. The diameter of the band was slightly smaller than the shank so this was necessary. I sanded the area smooth with 220 grit sandpaper to fit the band in place. I pressed the band on the shank and used a Dremel and sanding drum to remove over half of the depth of the band. I wanted it to be significantly thinner and cover less of the briar. When I got close to the right depth I used a topping board and 220 grit sandpaper to take it down even more. With the band on the shank I wanted the edge of the band and the shank end to be flush so that the stem sat firmly in place as it had before. The next two photos show an original 20.5mm band with the one that I cut down. You can see from the photo how high on the shank the band would have gone. The new band was less than half the size of the original band.Once the band was the right height I smoothed out the cut off edge to take away the sharpness of the metal. I rubbed some white all-purpose glue on the cracked area and on the freshly sanded area that the band would sit on and pressed the band onto the shank. I wiped off the excess glue that was squeezed out but the band with a damp cotton pad and took the following photos. I polished the area in front of the band where I has sanded it smooth using micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanding with 3200-6000 grit pads. Once it was smooth I restained it by mixing a medium and a dark brown stain pen to match the colour of the rest of the pipe. The colour was good. I took photos of the pipe at this point before I buffed and polished it. I polished the nickel band and the restained shank with micromesh sanding pads. I dry sanded with 1500-12000 grit pads. I wiped it down with a damp cloth after each pad. I wiped it down after the final set of pads one more time. I buffed the bowl and shank with Blue Diamond on the buffing wheel to raise a shine and blend the stains together. There were some tooth marks and tooth chatter on both sides of the stem just ahead of the button. I sanded out the chatter in the vulcanite with 220 grit sandpaper. It did not take too much work to remove all of the marks. I polished the stem with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-2400 pads and dry sanding with 3200-12000 grit pads. I wiped the stem down after each sanding pad with Obsidian Oil. I polished it with Before & After Pipe Polish Fine and Extra Fine. I wiped it down a final time with the oil and put it aside to dry. With the stem polished I put it back on the pipe and lightly buffed the bowl with Blue Diamond being careful to not fill the grooves in the blast with the polishing compound. I used a regular touch on the stem to polish out any remaining scratches. The bowl had a good coat of wax when it arrived so I gave 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. I will get it in the mail to my friend in New York on the weekend. I am looking forward to hearing what he thinks once he sees the finished pipe both on the blog and in hand. Thanks for walking through the banding process with me. This was a pipe that I really enjoyed working on. Cheers.


ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS – What do I look for when buying estate pipes?

Blog by Steve Laug

I remember when my brother got bit by the pipe hunting bug and just about picked up every pipe he saw because they looked good, or were unique, or just because… I remember doing the same thing when I first started going through antique malls or rummage shops. I just purchased what I found because they were there. Jeff and I sat down and talk through what I looked for and how to sort through all the brands of pipes that are in the sales. We spoke of brands and my process for sorting through the options. I don’t remember how long we took but he wrote down the brand names that I look for and asked questions about the details of knowing what was workable and what was not. This for me was the part of the process that was not logical it was merely a matter of preference. I have a lot of pipes to work on so I have become very selective over the years as the bins and boxes have filled up.

Since we had talked about this it dawned on me that it might be helpful to walk those of you who are interested through my process. It is here for you to use if you want to. If you don’t want to, just skip this blog and carry on. You will eventually develop your own hunting regimen and methodology. This one is mine and it has worked for me for many years now.

When I look at estate pipes, whether online, on eBay or in person at an estate sale, auction or in my visits to antique shops and malls, I have an internal checklist that I work through. I used to have to think about it and methodically work my way through the process but no longer. It is now a part of the warp and weave of my thinking when I am in the pipe hunting mode. I had to step back and think through it again as I write this blog because I just automatically do it now. Here is my list.

  1. Who made that pipe – my first question is one of the ways I eliminate pipes from my purchase. I have become more selective, as I mentioned above, so I quickly move through the pipes in a display. After a while you learn to recognize shapes, markings, finishings etc. so it is pretty quick. If the pipe is a drugstore pipe (think Medico, corn cob), then I skip over it. If is an older one – Kaywoodie, KBB or KB&B, Yell-bole I will often put it aside or add it to my mental list. Personally I pass up many Medicos, Carey Magic Inch pipes, Grabows and Willards. I skip most is not all of the Imported Briar no name pipes and all no name Italian pipes that have flooded the inexpensive baskets by pipe store cash registers.
  2. What is the general condition of the pipe – Again this review is almost automatic. Last weekend my brother was in an antique mall in Montana and we Facetimed for a bit and he showed me pipes. It seems I can see cracks, nicks, holes, breaks, wrong stem and misfit stems with broken tenons without taking a lot of time. I look at the rim top and check for lava, damage to the inner and outer rim, burn marks and charred areas. I quickly eye-ball the finish and see if there is a heavy varnish coat of varathane coat. I typically do not take a pipe apart at this point. I am merely eliminating the ones that I am not interested in working on. The ones I want are now added to my growing pile to be examined more thoroughly.
  3. Let’s take it apart (if I am able) – This is the time for a closer inspection of the pipes in hand. I scrutinize them at all levels in this step. I look at the stamping to see if it is readable and/or damaged. I look at the stem to check if it is original and the markings match the shank stamp. I remove the stem if I am able without breaking the pipe and check out the internals. He I am examining the inside of the mortise, holding it up to the light to see if the shank is clogged. I look for broken inner tubes or stinger apparatuses in the shank or the stem. I check the shank end to see if there are any signs of cracks that don’t show up on the exterior of the shank. I look for burn marks internally in the mortise as I have seen burn through areas even there. I check out the inside of the bowl as much as I can and the outside looking for burn marks or checking or charring. I am not too worried about fissures in the bowl I am more concerned with the condition of the wood around them. Those that make this final cut are the ones I purchase the rest are left behind. I do not hesitate to walk away from these pipes. Even the chosen few can be left behind if the price cannot be agreed upon between the seller and me.

Often folks will assume that I will not buy damaged pipes – broken shanks, cracked shanks, stems that are chewed up, etc. That is not necessarily so. I assess what work will need to be done and if it will reduce the value of the pipe or if I am not in the mood to work on that kind of issue (yes there are times that I just don’t want to look at another cracked shank). If the pipe is repairable and will look good when fixed then it remains in my purchase pile. Oh, there is also another exception I tend to also scavenge pipes for parts – stems, bands even briar for other repairs so some of the pipes I purchase may be for my bone pile. I gather my purchases, pay my bill and add them to my restoration bins.

I thought it might also be helpful to some of you to have an idea of the brands I look for on my hunts. I know that this highly subjective (at least to some degree) but I think it illustrates a point in terms of how my head works when I am hunting. The brands that make up this list are not exhaustive as there are many that may have escaped my memory as I write this but you will catch the pattern. I have organized them by region in the list below.

  1. Danish or Scandinavian – these include Stanwell, Kriswill, Jarl, Nordings (I have found many of each of these brands on my hunts).
  2. English and Irish – Dunhill, BBB, GBD, GW Sims, Barlings, Comoy’s, Charatan, Lowes, Petersons and all of the sub brands and seconds of each of these (check out the Pipephil.eu site to figure out these).
  3. French and Belgian – Hilsons, GBD early pipes, Comoy’s, Butz Choquin, Chacom and some of the earlier St. Claude made pipes (again check the Pipephil.eu site).
  4. Italian – I have found that other than Savinellis the estate market on these is limited. I have picked up some nice Castellos, Brebbias, Acortis, Radicis, and even an occasional le Nuvole pipe. I leave behind some of the other brands such as Lorenzo or Lorenzetti as well as the no name basket pipes that bear the Italy stamp.
  5. North American – Tracy Mincer, Custombilt, Custom-Bilt, CPF, National, Manhattan, Linkmanns, older Yello-Boles, KB&B pipes, KBB pipes, Kaywoodies, SM Frank, some Wally Frank pipes, Canadian made Brighams, Trypsis, Calich, and even the occasional artisan pipe from both countries – such as Tinskys, von Ercks, Wests, Buraks and the list can go on.
  6. Meerschaums – Generally I am not a big fan of facial meerschaums. I like classic shapes, lattice meers and sometimes well executed faces. I probably pass over more meerschaum pipes than I purchase. If I take one I want the carving to be really well done. I really dislike poorly carved faces with poorly executed features.

I am sure that each of you who are reading this could add more to the list but this is a bare bones list that I work with. It is meant to be a starting point. Add your own brands to the list as I am sure I will as more come to mind. 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 and your willingness to take the time to work on an estate pipe. What I find ugly and worthless may well turn your crank and be on your wish list. No problem with that because that is what makes this hobby the amazing thing it is. Hopefully you have found this blog helpful as you make your own choices. Thanks for humouring this old pipeman in his ramblings. Cheers.


Farida’s Dad’s Pipes #2 – Restoring a 1990 LBS Classic Series Dunhill Shell Billiard

Blog by Steve Laug

The next collection of pipes that I am working on comes from the estate of an elderly gentleman here in Vancouver. I met with his daughter Farida last summer and we looked at his pipes and talked about them then. Over the Christmas holiday she brought them by for me to work on, restore and then sell for her. There are 10 pipes in all – 7 Dunhills (one of them, a Shell Bulldog, has a burned out bowl), 2 Charatans, and a Savinelli Autograph. His pipes are worn and dirty and for some folks they have a lot of damage and wear that reduce their value. To me each one tells a story. I only wish they could speak and talk about the travels they have had with Farida’s Dad.

Dad in the Antarctic in 54/55.

In the midst of restoring this Classic Series Dunhill and thinking about its travels, Farida sent me an email with a short write up on her Dad. She remembered that I had asked her for it so that I could have a sense of the stories of her Dad’s pipes. Here is what she wrote: My dad, John Barber, loved his pipes. He was a huge fan of Dunhill and his favourite smoke was St. Bruno. No one ever complained of the smell of St. Bruno, we all loved it. I see the bowls and they’re large because he had big hands. When he was finished with his couple of puffs, he would grasp the bowl in the palm of his hand, holding the warmth as the embers faded. The rough bowled pipes were for daytime and especially if he was fixing something. The smooth bowled pipes were for an evening with a glass of brandy and a good movie. In his 20s, he was an adventurer travelling the world on ships as their radio operator. He spent a year in the Antarctic, a year in the Arctic and stopped in most ports in all the other continents. He immigrated to Canada in the mid-fifties, working on the BC Ferries earning money to pay for his education. He graduated from UBC as an engineer and spent the rest of his working life as a consultant, mostly to the mining companies. Whatever he was doing though, his pipe was always close by. 

Thanks Farida that explains a lot about their condition. If your Dad was rarely without a pipe I can certainly tell which pipes were his favourites. As I looked over the pipes I noted that each of them had extensive rim damage and some had deeply burned gouges in the rim tops. The bowls seemed to have been reamed not too long ago because they did not show the amount of cake I would have expected. The stems were all covered with deep tooth marks and chatter and were oxidized and dirty. The internals of the mortise, the airway in the shank and stem were filled with tars and oils. I took pictures of the Dunhill pipes in the collection. These were some nice looking pipes when her Dad bought them and they would be nice looking one more when I finished.

The second pipe that I am working on is a large Group 5 S Shell Billiard. I have circled in the above three photos in blue to identify it for you. It has a gold band that reads Dunhill Classic Series. It is good looking billiard. The Classic Series was produced by Dunhill in 199O as part of homage to their heritage and would make a great pipe for when you are out and about in the evening. When it was released it was a classic black Shell Briar in an equally classic shape, complete with a distinctive gold colored band. The pipe is stamped on the underside of the shank with the shape number LBS F/T. The first digit of the number is missing because of the sandblast, but it is a shape LBS and F/T for Fish Tail stem. Next to that it read Dunhill Shell over Made in England 30. There is a shape number after the Made in England stamping 997 (987?). Dating this pipe is a fairly easy proposition. You take the two digits following the D in England and add them to 1960. In this case it is 1960+30= 1980. (Pipephil’s site has a helpful dating tool for Dunhill pipes that I use regularly http://www.pipephil.eu/logos/en/dunhill/shell-briar1.html).

It was in pretty rough shape. The bowl was so dirty and caked with grime that it was very hard to tell what condition it was in. The finish was dull and caked with oils in all of the grooves and valleys of the sandblast. The top of the rim was rough and the inner edge was badly damaged. There were spots on the front of the rim top and at the rear that had deep burns into the briar just like the first pipe from this estate. The briar was burned to a point where I could pick it out with my fingernail. The shank was so dirty that the stem would not properly seat in the mortise. The stem was also a little rough – tooth marks on both sides near and in the button itself. The top side the button is quite thin and worn down. There is a deep tooth mark on the underside near the button and lots of chatter on both sides. It was oxidized and there was some calcification on the first inch of the stem. I took some photos of the pipe before I started to clean it up. I took close up photos of the rim top, the gold band and the stem. You can see from the photo the thick cake I the bowl overflowing lava onto the rim top. You can also see damage to the front, inner edge of the rim and the back left inner edge. There appears to be some serious gouges in those areas and also along the entire inner edge. The amount and extent of the damage will only be clear once the bowl is reamed and cleaned. The gold band on the shank says Dunhill Classic Series and it is in excellent condition. The stem has some deep bite marks on the top edge of the button and on the underside of the stem just ahead of the button. There is a lot of calcification and wear on the rest of the stem as well. I reamed the bowl with PipNet pipe reamer starting with the smallest cutting head and working my way up the third sized head. I took the cake back to bare briar. I used a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife to finish up the reaming and also to clean up the damaged areas. They turned out to be burn damage so I scraped out the damaged briar until I got to a solid base. The bowl exterior was so encrusted in grime and oils that it was hard to see the sandblast finish. All of the grooves, nooks and crannies of the Shell finish were not visible due to the coating filling them in. I scrubbed the exterior of the pipe with a tooth brush and Murphy’s Oil Soap under warm running water to flush away the grime as the soap loosened it from the finish. I scrubbed until the finish was clean. The draw back in this case was that it removed the black Classic stain. The good news was that I could see some amazing grain in the sandblast. I knew that restaining it would not be an issue so it was good to see what was present. The damage to the rim top and inner edge is very visible in the third photo below. The heaviest damage is to the back edge of the rim top and it extends almost to the outer edge of the rim. I had several options to consider in repairing the damage. I could top the bowl and lose the rest of the nice blast on the rim top or I could repair and buildup the rim top with briar dust and super glue. To top it would require remove a lot of briar due to the depth of the damage on the back side. I decided to go with rebuilding the rim top and edges. I layered on clear super glue and briar dust with a dental spatula on both damaged areas until I had it built up even with the rest of the rim. I rebuilt the inner edge of the rim the same way keeping the super glue out of the bowl itself. You will notice in the three pictures that follow that I don’t worry too much about the dust in the bowl as I will sand it out once the repair is hardened. I scraped out the inside of the bowl with the edge of the spatula to knock off high spots along the inside edge. I sanded the bowl with a piece of 220 grit sandpaper to smooth out the inner edge and to sand down the walls of the bowl. I blew out the sanding dust through the shank. I also scraped the top of the rim with the edge of the spatula and knocked off high spots. The first three photos below show the repair rim top and edge. I put a dental burr in the Dremel and copied the sandblast pattern that was on the rest of the rim onto the repaired areas. I ran the Dremel at just below the 10 marker in terms of speed and carefully etched the surface of the briar. The fourth photo shows the rim top after I had used the Dremel on it. I used a brass bristle wire brush to clean up the surface of the rim and it was ready to stain. I put a cork in the bowl to hold on to and stained the entire pipe with a black aniline stain to bring it back to match the colour of the pipe in photos. I applied the stain with a dauber and flamed it. I repeated the process until the coverage was even all over the bowl. I set aside the bowl to let the stain dry overnight. In the morning I worked some Before & After Restoration Balm into the surface of the sandblast with my finger tips to deep clean the finish, enliven and protect the wood. I buffed the pipe with a horsehair shoe shine brush to get it into the grooves of the plateau. I let it sit for a few minutes and then buffed it with a cotton cloth. The pipe came alive and there was a rich shine to the briar. I took some photos of the bowl at this point to mark the progress in the restoration. With the bowl finished (except for buffing) I set it aside and worked on the stem. The stem was dirty and had some significant damage to the top side on the button and a large deep tooth mark on the underside. I cleaned up the damaged areas with alcohol and cotton pads. Once the areas were clean I built up the damaged areas on both sides of near the button with black super glue. I rebuilt the button on both sides as well. I set the stem aside to let the glue cure. Once the super glue patch had dried I sanded it with 220 grit sandpaper to smooth out the surface of the repairs. The topside of the button was far better than when I started. The tooth mark in the underside was filled in and smoothed out. More sanding and filling to do to cover the air bubbles but it was looking good.I decided to take a break from the sanding for a bit and cleaned out the stem and the shank. I cleaned out the airway and the slot in the stem and the mortise and airway in the shank with pipe cleaners, cotton swabs and alcohol. I worked them over until they were clean.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 them down after each pad with Obsidian Oil after each pad. I polished it with Before & After Pipe Stem Polish – both fine and extra fine to take out some of the tiny scratches in the vulcanite. I finished by rubbing it down with a final coat of Obsidian Oil and set it aside to dry. With the stem polished I put it back on the pipe and lightly buffed the bowl with Blue Diamond being careful to not fill the grooves in the blast with the polishing compound. I used a regular touch on the stem to polish out any remaining scratches. I gave the bowl several 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 second of six Dunhill pipes that I am restoring from Farida’s Dad’s collection. I am looking forward to hearing what Farida thinks once she sees the finished pipe on the blog. I will be posting it on the rebornpipes store as she wants to sell them for the estate. It should make a nice addition to a new pipeman’s rack that can carry on the trust from her father. The dimensions are; Length: 6 inches, Height: 2 inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 ½ inches, Chamber diameter: 7/8 inches. Thanks for walking through the restoration with me it was a challenging and worthwhile pipe to work on. Cheers.