Blog by Steve Laug
My brother Jeff picked up some amazing freehand pipes lately. When I was in Idaho for my mom’s funeral I packed them to come back to Canada with me. There was a Soren Hand Carved, a Granhill Signature 1 100, a Ben Wade Golden Walnut Hand Made, a Veeja 900 C6 and a Viggo Nielsen Hand Finished Freehand. All of them were hand crafted and had interesting shapes and finishes. Some had full plateau rim tops, some partial plateau rim. I put them in my restoration box and tonight brought them to the work table. The pipe I chose to work on next was the Granhill Signature Freehand. My brother had done all of the cleanup work – reaming, scrubbing the exterior and cleaning the mortise and the airway in the bowl and shank. That left me the finishing work on it. The bowl has a smooth finish and plateau on the rim top and shank end. The shank flares toward the stem which is a swirled freehand style acrylic stem. The bowl is quite small in diameter and is very clean. The finish on the pipe was in excellent condition. The acrylic stem had tooth marks and chatter on both the top and bottom of the stem at the button. Jeff had cleaned the rim top and removed the debris in the plateau. He had scrubbed the exterior with Murphy’s Oil soap and removed the dust and grime that had accumulated there. He lightly reamed the bowl with a PipNet reamer and cleaned it up with a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife. He cleaned the interior of the mortise and the airway in the shank and the stem with alcohol, cotton swabs and pipe cleaners. The pipe came to me clean and ready to do some light touch ups and polishing. The stem was cleaned but had tooth chatter on the top and underside near the button and on the surface of the button itself. I took close up photos of the rim top and the shank end to show the condition of the plateau. I also took photos of the stem to give a clear picture of what I had when I started. I took a photo of the underside of the shank to show the stamping there. It read GRANHILL in an oval shape over Signature. Under that was stamped the number 1 over 100. Not sure what that means and the brand is unfamiliar to me.The Granhill brand was unfamiliar to me. I had never heard of it before so I did some searching on Pipedia to see if I could find any information at all. I found two potential makers of the brand though they separated the name into two parts Gran Hill. The first possible maker was Michael V. Kabik with some of them stamped Made in Denmark. The spelling of the name was noted to come in other versions: Granhill, Gran-Hill. The second possibility comes from Lopes book where he states that the brand also was used by a Fargo Tobacconist, Lonnie Fay, who made freehands bearing this stamp in the 1970s. To me the similarity of the pipe to other Kabik pipes that I have worked on made me go with him as the maker of this particular pipe. I went back to Pipedia and spent time reading about Michael Kabik (https://pipedia.org/wiki/Kabik). Here is a summary of what I found.
Michael Victor Kabik or Michael J. Kabik, now retired artisan and pipe repairman, was born in Annapolis, Maryland in 1950. As a student he was fascinated by science, but finally turned to the arts. In the early 1970s he started working as an artisan and designer for Hollyday Pipes Ltd., and when the company closed he set up in his own right.
Kabik writes as follows:
…In the 1960s, I had helped Jay build Jay’s Smoke Shop and was his first employee. Since that time, he had set up one of the very first freehand pipe-making operations in the U.S. along with his partner, Chuck Holiday, called CHP-X Pipes. The staff consisted of four full-timers actually making the pipes and perhaps another four in sales and office work. Chuck, who did the actual design and carving, had long since had serious disagreements with Jay and split. Chuck’s replacement from the staff was quitting, and Jay was in a bind. Jay offered me the job, and I gladly accepted. The fellow quitting was supposed to train me for two months but left after two weeks, leaving me with an awesome responsibility. I felt as though the future employment of all these people depended on me as the designer and cutter…and it did.
…Sadly, CHP-X closed its doors two years after my arrival, due primarily to distribution, sales force problems, and other issues to which I was not privy…In love with a medium that satisfied my creative impulses while, pretty much, paying the bills, I bought up the essential equipment and produced pipes on my own. I did this from a farm house my wife and I rented in Phoenix, Maryland. I produced pipes under the name KANE, Gran Hill and others I can’t remember as well as a private label line for a store in, I believe, South Dakota.
…In 1973, I was approached by Mel Baker, the owner of a chain in Virginia Beach called Tobak Ltd. Mel was interested in producing a freehand pipe line and was alerted to my product by Al Saxon, one of his managers and a former CHP-X employee. Mel wanted to relocate me to Virginia Beach, give me carte blanche, and recreate the CHP-X studio with, of course, a new name for the product. I’m sure my answer came very quickly.
…We decided on the name Sven-Lar. Why? Well, when I bought out CHP-X, I also got a small drawer full of metal stamps that were created for private-label work. The Sven-Lar name was conceived but never realized. Aside from having the stamp already made, there were other reasons we chose Sven-Lar. First, we were making a line of pipes in the Danish freehand tradition and also, sadly, we knew the difficulty American pipe makers had breaking the foreign market mystique barrier. The latter certainly played a big part in the demise of CHP-X.
Armed with that information I was pretty certain that the pipe I was working on was made by Kabik. I turned my attention to restoring the pipe. I started with the clean bowl, I rubbed the bowl down with Before & After Restoration Balm to deep clean the briar bowl and the rim top as well as the briar shank with the exotic insert. The product works to clean, enliven and protect the briar. I hand rubbed it with my fingers, working it into the exterior of the pipe. I wiped it off and buffed it with a soft cloth to polish it. The pipe 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 set the bowl aside and turned my attention to the stem. I sanded out the tooth marks out of both sides of the stem with 220 grit sandpaper. I worked over the surface with sandpaper to remove the tooth chatter, marks and to smooth out the surface.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 on the acrylic. I polished stem and bowl with Blue Diamond to polish out the remaining small scratches. I gave the bowl and the stem multiple 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 plateau on the rim top and shank end and the smooth brown finish work very well with the swirled brown acrylic stem.The finished pipe is shown in the photos below. While I have worked on other Michael Kabik pipes (a CHIP-X) this is the first Granhill pipe of his that I have restored. It is well crafted and is very similar to the CHIP-X that I worked on in the past. The shape, finish and flow of the pipe and stem are very well done. The dimensions are Length: 8 inches, Height: 3 1/2 inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 2 ¼ inches wide and 3 1/2 inches long, Chamber diameter: 3/4 inches. This one will be added to the rebornpipes store soon. If you are interested in adding it to your collection send me an email to email@example.com or send me a message on Facebook. Thanks for walking through the restoration with me as I worked over this Granhill freehand. I have other freehands that I will be working on in a variety of shapes and sizes in upcoming blogs.