Blog by Steve Laug
A few weeks back I received an email from Anthony, a reader of rebornpipes asking if I would be willing to help him clean up his Dad’s pipes. He wrote; “I have a few pipes (8 or so) that haven’t been smoked in 15 years. They were my dad’s. I would like to get someone to restore them”. We chatted back and forth via email and the long and short of the story is that I have eight of his Dad’s pipes in my shop now to work on. The photo below shows the mixture of pipes that he sent me. There are some interesting shapes and most are very dirty and have very little if any of the original finish left on the briar. All have an overflow of carbon on the rim top and all have damaged stems and buttons. They will need a lot of TLC to bring life back to them but it should be fun to give it a go. I went through the pipes and assessed their condition and contacted him and got the go ahead to proceed on the lot. So I have begun.The first pipe I chose to work on was actually the first one that I removed from the mailing envelope he sent them in. It is shown above in the photo of the lot. It is the top pipe of the left column circled in red. It has a carved rustication around the bowl and a smooth thick shank. It is a large, thick shank, rusticated Lovat. It is stamped on the left side of the shank Imported Briar over BIG PIPE. The rim top has some overflow of lava and darkening. There is a thick cake in the bowl that is flaking and peeling from the walls of the bowl. The stem is heavily chewed and has some damage on both sides around the button. It will need to be reshaped and rebuilt. There is some water damage around the shank at the stem, though it is heavier on the underside of the stem. The finish is worn out and there is a lot of dust and debris in the grooves of the rustication. I took photos of the pipe to show its overall condition when it arrived at my work table. I took some close up photos of the rim top and the stem to show what I was going to be dealing with on this pipe. The rim top had a thick cake of lava overflowing from the bowl over the back half. The inner edge of the rim was damaged with a burn on the right side toward the front of the bowl make the bowl out of round. The outer edge of the rim looked to be in good condition. The stem was in pretty rough condition. There were tooth marks on both sides of the stem and button and some deep chunks out of the sides of the stem at the sharp edge of the button. The fit against the shank had a gap because of the dirtiness of the shank. You can also see the water damage to the briar at the stem/shank joint.I took a close up photo of the stamping on the left side of the shank. It is dirty but it is readable and says Imported Briar over Big Pipe.I like working on clean pipes so I decided to clean up both the inside and outside of the bowl and shank. I reamed it with a PipeNet reamer and took back the cake to bare briar. I started with the third cutting head and worked up to the largest cutting head and cleaned the bowl. I used a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife to scrape away the remnants of cake and clean up the walls. I scrubbed the bowl and the stem with a tooth brush and Murphy’s Oil Soap to remove the grime in the grooves of the rustication and clean off the grime and mess on the smooth portions. I also scrubbed the water damaged areas to remove the marking in those areas. I rinsed the bowl under warm running water to remove the debris and the soap. I scrubbed it with the tooth brush until the surface was clean and debris free. I took photos of the pipe after the cleanup. I scrubbed the lava build up on the rim and was able to remove the majority of it with the soap and brush. I removed the stem from the shank of this pipe and from another of Anthony’s Dad’s pipes and dropped them in the bath of Before & After Pipe Deoxidizer to break up the oxidation on the surface. It was fascinating to note that the tenon on this stem was metal and seemed to have been made for a filter.Once the briar dried there were shiny spots on it where the original finish still clung to the wood. It appeared to be varnish or some shiny substance and it was streaky and uneven so it needed to go. I wiped the bowl and shank down with acetone on cotton pads to remove the remaining varnish finish. Now that the bowl was clean and the stem was soaking it was time to start working on the rim top and the burn damage on the front right inner edge. I topped the bowl on a topping board with 220 grit sandpaper to remove some of the burn damage and the nicks and dents in the rim top.I worked over the inner edge of the rim with folded 220 and 240 grit sandpaper to give it a bit of a bevel and remove more of the damage area. The next two photos give a clear picture of how the pipe looked at this point in the process.I polished the rim top with 1500-12000 grit micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanding with 3200-12000 grit pads. I wiped the rim down after each pad with a damp cloth to remove the debris. There were some red tints in the briar and I wanted to leave the briar light in colour. I used a tan aniline stain to bring out the red tones in the briar. I applied the stain with a dauber, flamed it and repeated the process until all of the grooves and carvings were evenly stained. To make the stain more transparent and spread it evenly around the briar I wiped the briar down with alcohol and cotton pads. Doing this thins the stain and makes the grain shine through more clearly. I let the briar dry and took photos of the pipe at this time in the process. It is starting to look really good and the grain is showing through the rustication pattern. I used an oak stain pen to fill in the rustication patterns and fill in the light spots in the pattern. I wanted to have a bit of contrast between the smooth briar and the rustication and this would provide it without being too much. I removed the stem from the Before & After Deoxidizer after it had been soaking overnight. I rinsed it down with warm water and blew air through it to clean out the mixture from the airway. The oxidation was at the surface and almost like a dust. The next two photos show the oxidation and the tooth marks and areas that needed to be repaired near the button. I wiped down the oxidation, cleaned out the tooth marks and dents with a cotton swab and alcohol. I dried off the stem and filled in the marks on the surface of the button and the tooth marks in the stem ahead of the button.I smoothed out the repairs with 220 grit sandpaper to blend them into the surface of the stem. I repeated the process with 600 grit sandpaper to further smooth out the scratches.I polished the stem with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-2400 and dry sanding with 3200-120000 grit pads. I wiped the stem down with Obsidian Oil after each pad. I polished it with Before & After Pipe Polish – both Fine and Extra Fine. I gave it a final coat of Obsidian Oil and set it aside to dry. I the polished stem and bowl with Blue Diamond to polish out the remaining small scratches. I gave the bowl multiple 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 first of eight pipes that I am restoring from Anthony’s Dad’s collection. I am looking forward to hearing what Anthony thinks once he sees the finished pipe on the blog. Once I have the other seven pipes finished I will pack them up and send them back to him. It will give him opportunity to carrying on the trust from his Dad. The dimensions are Length: 6 inches, Height: 2 inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 1/2 inches, Chamber diameter: 7/8 inches. Thanks for walking through the restoration with me as I worked over this pipe from Anthony’s Dad’s collection of pipes. Seven more will follow this restoration. Keep an eye out for them because there are some unique pipes in the lot.