Blog by Steve Laug
About a week ago I received a call from a woman who had been referred to me by a pipe shop here in Vancouver. As is often the case here in Vancouver, the woman was calling on behalf of her husband. She wanted to know if I could replace a stem on her husband’s pipe. I told her to bring it by for me to have a look at. A little later the same day she showed up at the front door with a small plastic sandwich bag clutched in her hand and somewhat gingerly handed me the bag. The pipe inside was in rough shape. It had been smoked hard and had a thick gooey cake in the bowl, overflowing onto the rim and down the sides of the bowl. The rim top was damaged and slightly out of round. The stem was not even the correct stem and it was broken off. The diameter of the stem was less than the diameter of the shank. I looked at the pipe in the bag I could see the tars oozing out onto the sides of the bag. It smelled pretty sour. It was obviously either her husband’s favourite pipe or maybe his only pipe. She said he wanted a straight stem on the pipe. Could I do the work? We agreed on a price and she left the bag with me. I took the pipe out of the bag and took some before photos. I wanted to get rid of as much of the smell of the pipe as possible – believe me it was sour and it was dirty. I wiped the exterior of the bowl down with alcohol soaked cotton pads and remove the thick grime and sticky tars off the side of the bowl and as much from the damaged top as possible. Sadly I was in such a hurry to do that I forgot to take photos. Once the exterior was cleaned it was time to tackle the inside of the pipe. I scraped out the inside of the mortise with a dental spatula and remove a lot of hardened tars from the walls of the mortise. The airway into the bowl was clogged with thick tars so I used a paper clip to push through and open the airway. I cleaned out the mortise, shank and the airway into the bowl with cotton swabs, pipe cleaners and alcohol. I cleaned until the inside was clean and clear.I reamed the bowl with a PipNet pipe reamer and the second cutting head. I took the cake back to bare briar so I could check out the inside walls of the pipe. I finished cleaning up the remnants of the cake with a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife. The inside walls look surprisingly good, but the top and inner edge of the rim had damage from repeated lighting of the pipe in the same spot.To minimize the damage to the top and edges of the bowl I lightly topped the bowl on the topping board with 220 grit sandpaper. I was able to remove much of the damage. I worked on the inner edge of the rim with a folded piece of sandpaper to smooth out the burn on the front right side. There was some darkening to the rim but it was solid and looked better.With the internals cleaned, the externals cleaned and rim damage minimized it was time to work on the new stem for the pipe. I went through my assorted stems and found one that would work. It had approximately the same taper that the shank had so it would continue the taper back to the button. I sanded the stem and the shank with a medium grit sanding block to make the transition very smooth. I carefully avoided the stamping on the side of the shank so that the Medico over Husky over Imported Briar was undamaged. The stem fits the shank very well and the transition from briar to vulcanite is smooth. The next series of photos show the pipe at this point in the process. The shank on the pipe was not quite round, so I had to do a bit of reshaping to get a round stem to fit it. The stem only fit one way and there was a divot where there had originally been a logo. I filled in the divot with black super glue and set it aside to cure.With the repair to the stem curing I turned my attention to the bowl. I used a Cherry Stain pen to touch up the sanded areas on the rim and the shank. The colour matched the existing colour on the rest of the bowl so I figured it would be a good match.I buffed the bowl with a soft cloth to raise a shine and blend the stains on the briar. I took the following photos to show the overall condition of the bowl at this point in the process. I rubbed the briar down with Before & After Restoration Balm to enliven, clean and protect the wood. I rubbed it in with my finger tips and worked it into the shallow blast on the bowl and the smooth areas as well. I buffed it with a shoe brush and then with a soft cloth to remove the excess balm. I sanded out the scratches in the vulcanite with 220 grit sandpaper and adjusted the fit to the shank of the pipe.I cleaned out the airway in the stem using alcohol and pipe cleaners. The stem was fortunately not very dirty so the cleanup was very simple. 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 Obsidian Oil on a soft cloth. I buffed it with a soft cotton pad. This small, lightly sandblasted Medico Husky pipe looks a lot better now than it did when I started working on it. The rim top looks much better than when I started. It was chewed up and heavily caked with lava. The newly fitted stem is high quality and shined up well. I buffed the bowl and the stem with Blue Diamond polish to raise the shine on the briar and the vulcanite. I gave the bowl and 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 rich brown stain allows the grain to really stand out on this little pipe and it works well with the rich black of the vulcanite stem. This restemmed Medico is ready to go back to the pipeman who sent it to me. I will be calling his wife shortly so that she can pick it up for her. Thanks for walking through the restoration with me.