Putting Humpty Dumpty Back Together Again


Blog by Steve Laug

I was contacted by Mike, reader of rebornpipes about fixing two of his pipes. It was probably over a month ago when he emailed me. The first one was a gift from a friend and when he tried to take of the stem the shank broke away from the bowl. This sounds awful but it is not as bad as it sounds. He sent me photos of the pipe so I could have a look at it. It is made out of pear wood I believe and is a Chinese made pipe (at least it appears to be). He packed it up with another pipe, an old Custombilt that needed a new stem and mailed them to me. When it came the pipe was in a bag – it looked much liked the first series of photos below. It looked like Mike had been loading a bowl for a smoke when it broke. The shank and bowl were held together by an inner tube that appears to be plastic but even that is not overly clear at this point. Whatever it was it was brittle and broke neatly apart. The brass washer that was used for decoration was loose, having been held in place by the joint. The pipe was very dirty on the outside and the inside and needed some work. I would soon find out why it was not cleaned.The stem was tight in the shank and was hard to remove. Mike had said that the pipe was a filter pipe but I am not certain of that. Certainly the tube looked like it could hold a paper filter but the inside of the tube had been stepped down several times. There was a thick cake in the bowl and an overflow of lava on the rim top and some darkening around the edges and top.I took a photo of the end of the shank to give a bit of an idea of what that portion looked like. It was a tube within a tube with something stuffed in between the two tubes.I scraped out the load of tobacco in the bowl to begin my cleaning process. I reamed the bowl with a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife and took the cake back to bare wood. I wanted to be able to see what was going on under the cake. Everything looked good once I had removed the cake.I cleaned out the internals of the pipe and shank with pipe cleaners, cotton swabs and alcohol. Cleaning out the airway into the bowl proved to be a difficult proposition. It was hard to work a pipe cleaner through and blowing air through it seemed really constricted. I worked on it quite a while and was able to work the pipe cleaner through. It seemed like there was some kind of fitting in the bottom where the airway entered the bowl that dissipated the smoke. It felt like some kind of nipple with multiple air holes. Cleaning the shank was simpler but even there I ran into several step downs along the inside of the shank piece.I took a photo looking down into the airway and you can see the broken tube that held the shank to the bowl just inside the shank walls. Deeper down the shank is another tube that appears to be aluminum. Inside that tube at the bottom is a centered hole that descends into the bowl and to the nipple with multiple air holes at the bottom where it enters the bowl bottom.I cleaned the end of the short shank entering the bowl and flattened the broken tube that held the shank and bowl together on both. It was ragged and crooked. I cleaned up the brass washer that acted as an ornamental space with 1500-2400 micromesh sanding pads. I used all-purpose glue and reset the washer in place on the bowl end of things.I had a piece of steel tubing that was the right size to insert in both the shank and the bowl end of the broken tube. I roughed it up with a file to give the glue something to anchor too on the smooth steel. I mixed a batch of JB Weld to bind the metal tube in the shank first. I packed the mixture in around the broken tube and the outside of the wooden shank with a dental spatula and set it aside to dry.  I joined the family for dinner and afterwards the glue was cured enough to connect the bowl end. I applied another coat of the JB Weld mixture to the tube and to the edge of the two sides that would be pressed together. I aligned the two parts and held it tightly until the glue had set enough for it to be stable when I laid it down. I set it aside to let the glue harden. After a short time I took photos of the newly joined bowl and shank. I set the bowl aside for the evening to let the glue cure overnight and turned to work on the stem. I cleaned the inside with pipe cleaners, cotton swabs and alcohol. Once more I was in for a surprise. There was a brass grate inside the airway at the place the saddle portion is on the outside of the stem. It was very dirty but the cotton swabs and alcohol cleaned the grate. I was able to work the pipe cleaner through each section of the grate until the grate and stem was very clean. The tenon was wide open like it was made for a paper filter. A 9mm filter would work well in this tenon. My only issue is that with all of the brass pieces in the airway in the bowl, shank and stem the filter would further constrict the flow of the smoke through the airway into the mouth of the smoker. I don’t think it is worth smoking with a filter.I sanded out the tooth marks and chatter on the top and underside of the stem next to the button to remove the damage in those areas. I used 220 grit sandpaper and was able to smooth out all of the damage. The stem is not vulcanite but seems to be a soft plastic that is similar to the tube that runs through the entire shank and that broke at the joint of the bowl and shank. I polished it with 400 grit wet/dry sandpaper to polish out the scratches in the soft plastic. I continued to polish the stem with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanding with 3200-12000 grit pads. I wiped down the stem after each pad with Obsidian Oil. After the final 12000 grit pad I gave it a final wipe with Obsidian Oil and set it aside to dry. The oil is not absorbed like it is with the vulcanite but it did clean up the remaining dust and grime from the polishing. I set the stem aside and wiped the bowl down with alcohol. I cleaned up the excess glue that has squeezed out at the bowl shank joint. I removed all of the oils, grime and dirt that were ground into the pear wood. I worked on the rim top with alcohol and micromesh sanding pads until the wood was clean. With the wood clean I polished it with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding it with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanding it with 3200-12000 grit pads. I wiped it down with a damp cloth between each pad. When I finished with the 12000 grit pad I wiped it down a final time and hand buffed it with a soft cloth. I waxed the bowl and shank with multiple coats of Conservator’s Wax. I buffed the stem with carnauba wax. I buffed bowl and stem with a clean buffing wheel to raise a shine in the pear wood. The photos below show the finished pipe. It is actually quite unique in terms of shape and design the multiple brass grates in the bowl, shank and stem constrict the air flow but the draw is ok. It definitely should be smoked without a filter. Once I finish the second of Mike’s pipes they will wing their way back to New York where I am sure he is waiting to fire them up and enjoy them once again. Thanks for looking.

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One thought on “Putting Humpty Dumpty Back Together Again

  1. Pingback: Restemming and Restoring a Straight Custombilt Rhodesian | rebornpipes

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