Blog by Steve Laug
This is a continuation of the work that began with 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 chewed, damaged stems and buttons. Anthony remembers his Dad smoking them throughout the years he was growing up so they went from regular use to being boxed and stored. 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.I have completed the restoration of four of the pipes. I put red X’s through the pipes in the above photo to show the ones that I have completed. The next pipe I chose to work on was the interesting little carved Sultan head Meerschaum with a ruined replacement vulcanite stem – it is the third pipe down on the right hand column in the above photo. I have circled it in red. It is an interestingly shaped 1/4 bent pipe with a short shank and an inserted metal tenon that has been glued in place in the mortise. The stem that is on it is a replacement twin bore/bite proof stem that is destroyed. I was not the original stem as the diameter is slightly less than the shank. There is no stamping on the pipe. The bowl has a thick cake with lava overflow over the rim top and a lot of dirt and grime ground into the finish of the meerschaum. The face has some dirt deep in the carvings on the features so it is hard to tell if there is any real colouring the bottom half of the bowl (the beard) is very dark and once again I cannot tell how much is colouring and how much is dirt and grime in the meer. I will look forward to seeing what is there once I scrub the bowl. As mentioned above the stem is ruined so I will need to find a different stem. I am checking to see if I have some more amber coloured or even yellow that will go well with the meerschaum and be more like what was originally on the pipe. 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 bowl, rim top and the stem to show what I was going to be dealing with on this pipe. The rim top was dirty and lava covered but the inner edge appeared to be in decent condition. The carving of the Sultan was very dirty with lots of grime and dirt in the grooves of the hat and the beard. The area around the eyes, nose and mouth was also very dirty. It was a mess and it was hard to know what was patina and what was dirt. The stem was ruined you can see from the third and fourth photos above that there was a large chunk of the stem missing on right side. It would need to be replaced. To me the whole stem and shank joint did not look right. It seemed like at the very least the stem was a replacement but it could also be that the shank had been shortened due to damage and a new stem added at the same time. The tenon was threaded and metal and was solidly glued I the shank.Before I started to work on this one I thought that it would be good to share the tribute that I asked Anthony to write about his Dad and his pipe smoking in the past two blog posts in case some of you missed that and wanted to have some background. Personally, I find that it gives me a sense of the previous pipeman when I work on a pipe from an estate. Anthony sent me this tribute: When my dad died 6 years ago, my mom asked if I wanted my dad’s old pipes. He was a long time pipe smoker, ever since I was a kid I can remember him sitting on the couch smoking his pipe inside. He worked at IBM and used to smoke his pipe in his office before they changed the laws in California. So you can imagine he had quite the collection over the years.
I took his pipes and put them in storage for a few years, I myself recently quit smoking cigarettes and decided to take up pipe smoking as it was easier on the wallet. I asked in /r/pipetobacco if anyone could recommend a pipe restoration service and someone told me about rebornpipes.com. I was hesitant but after looking at the blog I knew it would be a good place to send my dad’s pipes.
My dad loved smoking his pipes, sitting out by the pool in the sun taking a nap or in the garage wood working. The house was my mom’s area and the garage was my dad’s area. I spent hours sitting out in the garage as a kid watching the niners or a’s and giants on tv while doing woodworking projects. I hope to do the same with my kids these days.
I’m not sure if my dad smoked other tobacco but I remember Captain Black was the kind he smoked regularly. He had tins of it in the garage, full and empty and would turn the old tin jars into storage for odds and ends, like screws or washers or miscellaneous stuff.
I remember when I played little league my dad would sit in the stands and smoke his pipes. One of my teammates asked “What is that smell?” and I ashamedly said “Oh that’s my dad’s pipe…I’ll go tell him to put it out” and my teammate said “No man, it smells good!”. It’s funny how the little conversations over the years you remember.
Another time when I was in 3rd grade or so we learned how smoking was bad for you (this was back in the 80s). I remember I asked my teacher if smoking a pipe was bad for you too….and she hesitated and said “Not as bad as cigarettes, since you don’t inhale it”. After that I was no longer worried about my dad smoking.
Knowing my mom I have no idea how my dad pulled this off but he managed to smoke his pipe in the house. I guess she liked the smell of it. Recently when I was waiting for my girls to get out of school I was sitting on a side street smoking my pipe and someone walked by and thanked me for bringing the pipe back. He said his dad used to smoke a pipe and he loved the smell. As did mine. The only difference is my daughters complain constantly about the smell of my car, but that is mostly because I smoke cigars too.
Anyway, grab some fine tobacco, light up a bowl and sit back and relax. I don’t have a pool like my dad did but you can catch me working on my laptop sitting in my driveway smoking a nice pipe, especially one of these restored pipes from reborn pipes….I can’t wait to smoke them.
Thanks Anthony, that gives me a sense of who your Dad was and how he enjoyed his pipes. I was ready to turn my attention to this fifth pipe. I decided to start with the bowl. I removed the damaged stem and reamed the bowl using a PipNet pipe reamer to remove as much of the cake as I could. I finished with a Savninelli Fitsall pipe knife and then sanded it with 220 grit sandpaper wrapped around a dowel. I cleaned the top of the rim.The meerschaum was so dirty I resorted to scrubbing it with Murphy’s Oil Soap and a tooth brush to remove all of the debris, grit and grime from the crevices of the carving on the beard, face and cap. It was a real mess. I rinsed it with warm water and dried it off with a soft cloth. I went through my collection of stems and found a stem that had originally come to me on a broken meerschaum. It is a good thing I am a scavenger because this would take very little adjustment to work and the stem was already tapped to fit the threads on the metal tenon in the shank of the meerschaum. I took some photos of the cleaned up bowl to give an idea of what it looked like at this point in the process. It is showing some promise. You can see the new stem underneath it because I used it as a prop for the photos. I think the stem will look good. I cleaned up the mortise, tenon, shank and the airway in the stem with pipe cleaners, cotton swabs and alcohol.I used my Dremel and sanding drum to remove some of the diameter of the new stem and threaded the stem on the tenon. I wanted to see how much more of the material I would need to remove to get a good flow between the shank and the stem. The photos give you an idea of what the stem will look like on the pipe and also how much more work I need to do to get the fit right. More work and sanding to follow! I used files, 150 and 220 grit sandpaper to reduce the diameter of the stem to match the shank. It took a lot of patient hand sanding to align every thing. I took it part way with a Dremel and sanding drum but because the shank is not round and every side even I had to had fit it. I think it was worth the effort. I polished the stem with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding it with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanding it with 3200-12000 grit pads. I wiped the stem down with a damp cloth after each sanding pad to remove the dust. I polished the meerschaum bowl with micromesh sanding pads. I wanted to minimize the scratching but not necessarily remove them all. The pipe has a full history that is told by the scratches and nicks in the meerschaum. I want to give the bowl a shine but not remove the story. It is not a new pipe but a refurbished pipe. I worked through all the grits of micromesh pads from 1500-12000 and buffed the bowl with a microfibre cloth to raise the shine. I polished the bowl with Conservator’s Wax and buffed it with a shoe brush. I buffed it again 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 fifth 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 remaining three 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: 5 1/4 inches, Height: 2 1/4 inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: width is 1 inch and length is 1 3/8 inches, Chamber diameter: 5/8 inches. Thanks for walking through the restoration with me as I worked over this pipe from Anthony’s Dad’s collection. Three more will soon follow in the days ahead. Keep an eye out for them because there are still some unique pipes in the lot.