Blog by Robert M. Boughton
Copyright © Reborn Pipes and the Author except as cited
For after all, the best thing one can do
When it is raining, is to let it rain.
— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, in “The Poet’s Tale: The Birds of Killingworth,” in Tales of a Wayside Inn (1863)
Longfellow’s powerful poem is about man’s intolerant bent for all things natural based on ignorance of the indispensability of even the smallest part in an ecosystem. It speaks to acceptance and “gentleness, and mercy to the weak, and reverence for Life.” The work is sad and satirical and, in the end, surprising in its song of survival, but, alas, will never be required reading in any public school.
Knute of Denmark is a second of Karl Erik, which Karl Erik Ottendahl (1942-2004) made his main brand. Ottendahl, an underrated and generous pipe maker who was a low-paid lithographer before he took up pipe carving as a hobby until it became his full-time vocation, understood the average smoker who made far less money than those fortunate enough to afford expensive varieties of the Danish freehand style of which he was an early crafter. He therefore dedicated his life and work to pipes of great natural beauty at bargain prices. Here is one that very much resembles the pipe in this blog, suggesting Ottendahl may have had a hand in making this Knute of Denmark.I suspect, or at least like to think, that Ottendahl read Longfellow’s magnificent poem, a couplet of which I quoted above, and if he didn’t, he would have enjoyed it. And it was raining in the Isotopes City while I restored this pipe.
RESTORATION The stem was savagely damaged, with the top lip all but gone and a small hole below it and the bottom having two gouges. Such long-term acts of mayhem must have been inflicted by someone with clear and severe anger issues who masticated the mouthpiece the way some people chomp on gum to stop smoking coffin nails. I gave it an OxiClean bath to start. At the same time, I stripped whatever dirt and stain (the latter of which I could see no signs) were present with an Everclear soak. The immediate appearance of dark reddish swirls in the alcohol surprised me. The OxiClean soak, which was complete first, shows in the pic below how filthy the stem was. Afterward, all I can say is it was clean. Figuring I had at least an hour before the stummel would be stripped, I filed off fine shavings from an old otherwise useless stem and made a nice little pile. The ironic part of that task was that the stem was once a fancy type similar to the one I was fixing and would have been a perfect replacement had it not been toasted! Then I added a few drops of black Super Glue, mixed it together with the shavings and quickly and liberally applied it to the stem after dipping a cleaner in petroleum jelly and inserting in the mouthpiece past the hole. WARNING: I forgot my usual process of lubricating a small sliver of card stock paper also and inserting it inside the stem in front of the cleaner, but it all worked out later – with some extreme difficulty. That done, I had 12-24 hours before it would be dried, way more than enough time to finish the stummel that was ready to come out of the Everclear. Checking out the progress of the alcohol soak, I was amazed by the almost blood red color of the 190-proof grain alcohol and guessed it was from residual maroon stain.For the first time after an Everclear soak, I wiped the still drying wood with a cotton rag saturated with purified water. The water took longer to dry, but the result was stunning. Despite the sandblasting, I believe what I beheld was the finest piece of briar I’ve ever seen. Its natural beauty shone through the crisp dullness. I reamed the chamber, used a small sharp pocket knife to cut away some excess buildup and sanded with 150-, 220, 320- and 600-grit papers, then retorted the pipe. The following shots show the tremendous improvement of the wood’s potential color and glow. I used the super fine “0000” steel wool in two of the photos only on the rim and shank opening. But look at the difference. Late that night, with the stem patch dry, I took out one of my files, a narrow triangle with medium-grit flat sides to remove the thick, uneven mess on the top of the stem that is a necessary by-product of the black Super Glue method of hole-filling. I was also able to remove most of the deep chasms on the bottom of the stem. I began the smoothing process with a dual 150- and 160-grit sanding pad and regular, rougher 150-grit paper.The effort to salvage the ruined old stem was worthwhile and a good start on a plan of total rehabilitation for personal use, but this pipe is for sale, and I know the more difficult work of re-building the bottom lip will take longer and not, in the end, be suitable to pass off to a buyer.
But as it happened, I had two other freehands with good fancy stems with which I could play musical chairs, a Ben Wade by Preben Holm I re-stemmed before and an estate Karl Erik I’m working on now that’s far too huge to support the smaller stem it came with. For now, I’m enjoying the BW with the damaged Vulcanite stem as the yellow Lucite one fits the Karl Erik. I liked the dark brown swirled Lucite stem that was on the Karl Erik better, and since the tenon of the BW by PH was too thin, the issue was settled. I sanded down the elegant brown Lucite fancy stem’s tenon and smoothed it with steel wool before micro meshing it. A thorough buffing on the wheel with red and white rouge on the stem and stummel, and it was done. CONCLUSION
In the spirit of nature, I used no stain restoring this freehand that needed no artificial help to reveal its innate beauty.