Daily Archives: July 20, 2018

Transforming a Stately Peterson’s System Standard Republic of Ireland 312

Blog by Dal Stanton

This Peterson’s System Standard Republic 312 came to me in the Lot of 66 that I secured last year on the eBay auction block.  This eclectic collection of pipes has been good to me and beneficial for the Daughters of Bulgaria as I’ve recommissioned many pipes of this Lot and they are now in the hands of new stewards.  This Pete can be found in the picture below just cattycorner to the lower left of the Sculpted Gourd Calabash that was already recommissioned and with a new steward in Washington State, USA – a US Airforce pipe man serving his country. The Pete now on my worktable was commissioned by a long-time friend and colleague who worked with us while we lived in Ukraine several years ago – before we lived here in Bulgaria.  Debbie contacted me from her present home in the US state of Montana about acquiring a special pipe for her husband’s birthday.  Unfortunately, James’ birthday was coming on a faster timetable than I could accommodate, so we settled on a special Christmas gift.  She looked through the offerings on the www.ThePipeSteward.com section called, For ‘Pipe Dreamers’ Only and after getting input from James’ best friend, settled on the Pete.  When I asked her why the Pete, the response was that it was a manly looking pipe as well as its origins – the Republic of Ireland.  James’ rich heritage finds Irish roots, and Debbie felt that this Pete’s disposition would suit James well.  What a great wife!  So, in the queue the Pete 312 went and now he’s on my worktable.

Not long ago, I enjoyed restoring my first Peterson’s – a System Standard 313 which allowed me the opportunity to look more closely at the history of this well-known Irish pipe name.  What I found interesting and helpful was the description of the classic Peterson System Pipe.  When this design hit the market in the late 1800s it was innovative then and continues to be popular today. Two design innovations were the focus: a trap (or sump) that collected the moisture in the mortise and the well-known ‘P-Lip’ stem, which stands for ‘Peterson’.  This design was supposed to be superior by directing the smoke to the upper part of the mouth rather than burning the tongue.  It is also engineered to compress the air as it moves toward the button with an internal narrowing of the airway.  I found this helpful cut-out of the System Pipe at Pipedia’s article about Peterson.The System 313, I last restored, was quite a bit smaller than this larger System Standard 312.  I found a very helpful Peterson’s System Standard shapes chart at the ‘Amazingmisterp’  blog site – link.  It helpfully situated the 313 and 312 next to each other for an easy comparison – circled below.  I enjoy looking at the nuanced shapes that Peterson has produced through the years.  I can understand why they continue to be a very collectable pipe name and why it would be a great challenge to add to your collection the entire roster!  As a ‘Made in the Republic of Ireland’ stamped Peterson, it is considered to be Republic Era which spans anywhere from 1949 until the present (from the Pipedia article:  A Peterson Dating Guide; A Rule of Thumb, by Mike Leverette).The Peterson history is captured in a short article found in Pipedia which included a bit here:

History pertinent to our purposes began in the year 1865; the year Charles Peterson opened a small tobacco shop in Dublin. Later in 1875, Charles Peterson approached the Kapp brothers, Friedrich and Heinrich, with a new pipe design and with this, a very long-lived partnership was formed, Kapp & Peterson. This new pipe design is the now famous Peterson Patented System Smoking Pipe. By 1890, Kapp & Peterson was the most respected pipe and tobacco manufacturer in Ireland and rapidly gaining followers in England and America. In 1898 another of Peterson’s remarkable inventions became available, the Peterson-Lip (P-Lip) mouthpiece, also known as the Steck mouthpiece. So, for the purpose of this dating guide, we will study Irish history, relevant to our pipe dating needs, from 1870s until now.

With the Peterson’s System Standard 312 now on my worktable, I take some pictures to get a closer look and assess his condition. The nomenclature is clear.  On the left side of the shank is stamped in arched fashion, ‘PETERSON’S’ over ‘SYSTEM’ over ‘STANDARD’ in straight letters.  Above this stamp, on the nickel ferule is ‘K&P PETERSONS’.  The right side of the shank bears the ‘MADE IN THE REPUBLIC OF IRELAND’ placing it in the Republic Era – from 1949 until the present (from the Pipedia article:  A Peterson Dating Guide; A Rule of Thumb, by Mike Leverette) The shape number, 312, is below it.

Assessing the condition of this larger, stately Pete, there’s cake in the chamber that needs to be cleared to allow fresh start.  The rim has some lava caked on it and some burn damage from lighting the tobacco.  The left front of the stummel is darkened from the briar over-heating in the same area that appears to be the lighting point over the rim.  I see very nice briar under the dull finish.  The heel of the stummel appears to have two larger fills that I’ll need to take a closer look at.  The heel is also skinned up.  The P-Lip stem has heavy and deep oxidation as well as calcification on the button and some tooth chatter.  I also detect two deep gashes on the upper and on the lower stem – almost like something sharp was clenching the stem.   That will need repair.

With the assessment completed, I start the restoration of James’ Christmas Pete by placing the heavily oxidized P-Lip stem in a bath of Before & After Deoxidizer along with five other pipes’ stems that are in queue for restoration.  The Pete is on the far left – first in line of this batch.While the stem is soaking for several hours in the Deoxidizer, I turn to the Peterson stummel.  I start my using the Pipnet Reaming Kit.  Starting with the smallest blade head, I go to work.  I use two of the four blades available to do the heavy lifting on cake removal.  I then fine tune the reaming by utilizing the Savinelli Fitsall Tool by scaping the chamber wall.  Then, after wrapping 240 grade paper around a Sharpie Pen, I sand the chamber revealing fresh briar.  Finally, I clean the chamber using cotton pads wetted with isopropyl 95% to remove the residual carbon dust.  With the carbon cake removed, I inspect the chamber and it looks great.  No problems with crack or heat fissures.  The pictures show the progress. Now I turn to cleaning the external bowl using undiluted Murphy’s Oil Soap and cotton pads. I also utilize a brass wire brush on the rim.  After scrubbing, I rinse the bowl in cool tap water.  The rim is not in good shape and will have to be topped to clean it up.  The two fills I saw on the heel of the stummel are not solid and are not flush with the surface.  I use a sharp dental probe to dig out the old filler.  I will patch these later. With my day ending, I decide to move forward on the heel fill patches to allow them time to cure through the night.  I do additional excavation of the old fill material with a sharp dental probe to remove what I can.  I then wipe the area with a cotton pad wetted with isopropyl 95% to assure that it is clean.  I mix a small batch of CA glue and briar dust to create a putty.  Using a toothpick, I gradually mix the CA glue with the briar dust until it reaches the viscosity of molasses and then apply the briar dust putty to the old fills using a dental spatula.  I apply more than needed to create a mound to be sanded down and blended after cured.  I set the stummel aside and turn off the lights. Morning has come and first order of business before heading out for the workday is to pluck the P-Lip military style stem out of the Before and After Deoxidizer bath.  I allow the stem to drain for a few minutes then I use cotton pads with light paraffin oil to wipe the raised oxidation off the stem.  I also use alcohol to clean the surface as well as with pipe cleaners to make sure the airway is cleared.  The Deoxidizer has done a good job, but I still detect oxidation that will require sanding the vulcanite.  The button also is rough with a combination of tooth dents and calcification ridges that linger.  Of course, the twin ‘pincer’ gashes remain at the mid-stem.  The Before & After Deoxidizer bath is the first salvo.I decide that the second more aggressive salvo to attack the deep oxidation, gashes and tooth dents is to use 240 grade sanding paper over the entire surface of the P-Lip stem – of course, care is given to safe-guard the ‘P’ embedded on the stem.  After completing sanding with 240 grade paper, I wet sand the stem using 600 grade paper.  Then, using 0000 grade steel wool, I sand/buff up the stem.  The sanding process removed the major difficulties with the dents and gashes.  I’m hopeful as well, that the oxidation was also dispatched.While my focus is still on the stem, I apply Before & After Fine Polish, working the polish in with my fingers.  After letting it set a few minutes I wipe the polish off with a cotton pad then in the same way, apply Before & After Extra Fine Polish and let it absorb for a few minutes.  I then wipe it down again with a cotton pad.  These polishes not only help to revitalize the vulcanite but also to continue removing the oxidation.Moving forward, using micromesh pads 1500 to 2400, I wet sand the stem.  Following this, I dry sand using pads 3200 to 4000 then 6000 to 12000.  After each set of 3 I apply Obsidian Oil to continue refreshing the vulcanite P-Stem.  I love the glossy pop of the vulcanite after the micromesh process.  I take pictures to show the progress and I put the stem aside to dry. Turning to the Peterson stummel, the briar dust and CA glue patches have cured and time to file and sand the mounds down.  First, using a flat needle file I file down the excess putty mounds almost to the briar surface.  I take a picture of the starting point, then the filing process.  Then, switching to 240 grit paper I continue the sanding process to the briar surface.  The picture below shows how after the excess is sanded away, the briar dust putty is left providing a new, stronger fill in the briar blemishes.  I then switch to 600 grade paper to finish the sanding to this point. Flipping the stummel over, I tackle the significant rim damage.  I take a picture to get a closer look.  The rim is darkened from scorching but also it has developed dips in the surface plane from burn damage.  To repair the rim and establish a clean, new plane surface, I top the bowl.  Using a kitchen chopping board, I place 240 grit paper on it and gently rotate the inverted stummel in circles – checking often to make sure I’m not leaning into a soft area. After a few rotations I take a picture of the rim.  The picture below shows the degree of damage to the rim by revealing where the board is not making contact with briar – the dips in the rim. The next picture shows where I stop topping with the 240 grit paper.  I don’t want to take more briar off the top.  I kept my eye on the nickel shank ferule which was very close to the rim plane as I was topping.  I did not want to scratch it up!  After the 240 grit, I replaced it with a sheet of 600 grit paper to erase the scratching created by the 240 grit paper.The darkened areas on the rim (picture above) are residual effects of scorching.  To minimize this, I will cut an internal rim bevel to remove the damage as well as adding a touch of class to this already classy Peterson’s System Standard.  I start with a coarse 120 grit paper to do the initial beveling. I pinch the rolled piece with my thumb and rotate it around the internal rim circumference creating the even bevel.  I follow the 120 paper with a rolled piece of 240 grade paper then 600.  I repeat the same process for the external rim circumference.  The bevel looks good.  The pictures show the progression. I just realize that I became so involved in the technical aspects of this restoration that I forgot to clean the internals of the stummel!  Back to the dirty work.  I use pipe cleaners and cotton buds dipped in isopropyl 95% and go to work.  I also use dental spatulas and probes to scrape the mortise walls.  I also utilize a shank brush to scrub the airway and the mortise walls. I read how challenging Petersons are in the clean-up and this one is no exception.  I expend a lot of cotton buds, alcohol and time and I seem to be making no dent in the gunk carnage.  I finally halt this approach and decide to let it cook overnight in a kosher salt and alcohol bath.  Using a cotton ball, I fashion a wick which I insert down the airway and into the sump area of the mortise. I fill the bowl with kosher salt, which, unlike iodized salt, does not leave an aftertaste. I then fill the bowl with alcohol and let it sit overnight.  Time to turn out the lights. The next morning the kosher salt/alcohol bath did the job through the night. The salt is discolored and the cotton ‘wick’ has drawn tars and oils out of the internals.  After removing the expended salt into the waste and wiping the old salt out of the chamber with paper towel, I blow through the mortise to clear out salt from the internals.  I then follow by using pipe cleaners and cotton buds to make sure things are clean.  Oh my….  The grunge continues unabated!  This is one of the nastiest pipes I’ve tackled!  I’ve read that Petersons are notoriously difficult to clean…. Since I’m running out of time – I need to go to work, I decide to do another kosher salt soak through the day while I’m working.  Off I go…hopeful that the second time is the charm.Several hours later, home from work, and again, the salt is discolored, and the wick shows evidence of gunk extraction.  Again, I clear the salt from the chamber and use additional cotton buds and pipe cleaners – I’m pleasantly surprised to find that the internals are indeed clean!  I use only one cotton bud and pipe cleaner.  I can almost guarantee, this Peterson is the cleanest it’s been since it came from the factory in Ireland!Turning to the stummel surface, to remove the old tired surface finish and nicks and cuts from normal wear, I wet sand the stummel using micromesh pads 1500 to 2400.  I follow by dry sanding using pads 3200 to 4000 and 6000 to 12000.  I take pictures recording each step of the micromesh process.  I enjoy watching the grain emerge – this is one of my favorite parts of restoration. To enrich and deepen the briar grain, I then apply Before & After Restoration Balm to the stummel surface.  I apply some to my finger and work the Balm into the briar.  It starts with having a light oil texture and then thickens as it’s worked into the surface – taking on a wax-like texture.  I take a picture of the Balm on the stummel surface and set it aside to allow the Balm to absorb.After about 45 minutes, I use a cloth and wipe the Before & After Restoration off the stummel.  As I wipe and rub it begins to start buffing up.  I like how the Balm works – it is a subtle enhancement to the briar grain hue that deepens the color. I now mount the Dremel with a cotton cloth buffing wheel, set the speed to the slowest, and apply Blue Diamond compound to both stem and stummel.  I apply the compound methodically around the briar surface using the table lamp to see the movement of the compound on the surface as I move the buffing wheel.  As a fine abrasive, the compound removes the very fine blemishes on the stem and stummel surface – buffing the surface to it natural sheen.  I change to another cotton cloth wheel and use the Blue Diamond to clean/buff the Peterson’s classic nickel ferule. When I finish applying the compound, I wipe the stummel and stem with a felt cloth to remove the compound dust in preparation for the carnauba wax application.Before I move on to applying the wax, I have one more project.  The Peterson ‘P’ stamp on the stem needs some touching up.  I use white acrylic paint to do the enhancement.  I lightly apply a coat of the paint over the ‘P’ stamping and while still wet, I dab it very lightly with a cotton pad leaving a film – in the second picture below.  It doesn’t take long to dry, leaving the ‘P’ filled with paint.  I then lightly scrape the dried paint off the surface using the middle, flat section of a toothpick.  The toothpick slides over the top of the ‘P’ leaving the freshened stamping.  It looks great! I now mount another cotton cloth wheel to the Dremel, increase the speed to about 40% of full power, and apply carnauba wax to both stummel and stem. I follow this by giving the stummel and P-Lip stem a hand buffing with a microfiber cloth to raise the shine.

My oh my, did this Peterson come out nicely – he is stately.  The stem reach gives a long flowing impression.  The briar grain is rich with bird’s eye and swirls – pleasing to the eye.  The 312 is a larger System pipe and feels full in the palm.  I’m sure James will appreciate the gift that his wife has provided him under the tree this year and I’m thankful their support of the Daughters of Bulgaria – women and girls who have been trafficked and sexually exploited.  Thank you, James and Debbie!  Debbie found this Peterson’s System Standard Republic 312 in the “For ‘Pipe Dreamers’ Only” section of The Pipe Steward website where many pipes are available to be commissioned – all benefitting the Daughters of Bulgaria – a great cause helping women who are/were enslaved.  Thank you for joining me!  I start with a ‘Before & After’ picture lest we forget – an amazing transformation!

Restoring a Wally Frank Era Custombilt Sitter #633

Blog by Paresh Deshpande

After having worked on my grandfather’s old 1938-1946 era Custom-Bilt large billiard pipe (https://rebornpipes.com/2018/06/02/restoring-my-grandfathers-custom-bilt-pipe/), I was keen to work on a second Custombilt in the collection. This particular pipe was a sitter with ¾ bend to the stem. It has a very interesting shape. Being at the bottom of the learning curve on identification of pipe shapes and restoration, any help in accurate description of the shape of this pipe would be highly appreciated!!!!

The pipe has thin (as compared to the thick rustication on the 1938-46 Custom-Bilt that I had previously worked on) wavy and haphazard rustication starting from the bottom of the bowl and extending upwards to the rim. These wavy, haphazard upward sweeping rustications give the impressions of flickering flames of fire. These flaming rustications at the back of the bowl reach nearly the outer edge of the rim from either side of the bowl and progressively lower down towards the front of the bowl.  The shank has four prominent rustications extending from the bowl towards the end of the shank forming four distinct plain panels, one each on the top, bottom, left and right side of the shank. The left and right panels house the stampings on the pipe while the top and bottom panels are blank highlighting the beautiful cross grains.

Under all the dust, dirt, oils, tars and gunk of all the years, stamping on the pipe can be read as   “Custombilt” in cursive hand over “ORIGINAL” in block letters on the left side panel of the shank. The letter ‘C’ meets the ‘U’ nearly half way up from the bottom of the ‘U’. The right side panel of the shank bears the stamp # “633”. The stem is bereft of any stamping. While restoring the first Custom-Bilt from my grandfather’s collection, I had visited Pipedia for collecting information and dating of Custombilt pipes (https://pipedia.org/wiki/Custom-Bilt). There is an interesting review given by Richard Esserman  on a book written by   William E. Unger, Jr., PhD, which deals with the study of Custom-Bilt pipes. I have reproduced some interesting excerpts from the webpage:

The book opens up with an intriguing statement that unfortunately is never fully followed up: Before beginning this history, I need to emphasize an important fact and to ask the reader to keep it firmly. Spelling-Custom-Bilt, Custombilt, and other variations-is extremely important to the various aspects of the following discussions. It was not, however, important to many people in the company’s early days.

Perhaps the reason for this is that briar pipes were simply viewed solely as smoking instruments-even as a “longer term” disposable item (perhaps like a good pair of shoes). I would suggest that Tracy Mincer would be shocked that these pipes are being collected today.

Tracy Mincer started the original Custom-Bilt pipes it appears in 1934. Bill meticulously details the start of the Company, how it was financed, the changes in the original ownership, how the company distributed its product, the manufacturing process, certain patented items, and other interesting stuff.

Mentioned briefly in this chapter was the fact that Custom-Bilt was producing big, carved pipes using Algerian briar for production up to WW II. One important employee, Hetzer Hartsock, stated:

I can tell you something about that rough texture that Custom-Bilt had. One reason rough textured was used was not only for looks but it could hide flaws in the briar. [The process gave] A very uncontrolled cut. Then he [Tracy] would buff it out. [page 25]

In 1946, the name was changed to Custombilt after Mincer began an association with Eugene J. Rich, Inc. There were some big changes in advertising and distribution. The slogan “AS INDIVIDUAL AS A THUMBPRINT” began at this time as well.

In the early 1950’s, Tracy Mincer developed severe financial problems that caused him to stop making the Custombilt, and he lost the name. In 1953, Leonard Rodgers bought the company and emphasized tobacco pouches and butane lighters. (However, it appears Mincer was working on his new pipe, the Doodler.) In 1968, Rodgers sold the Company to Consolidated Cigars.

In the early 1970s, Wally Frank Co. bought the Custombilt trademark and began to produce their version of the pipe in 1974 or 1975.

Hollco Rohr owned the Weber pipe factory, located in New Jersey, and produced the Custombilt pipes there. In 1987, the pipes were made out of the Butz-Choquin factory (France) and then Mexico until the late 1990s. Currently, the Custombilt name is owned by Tobacalera of Spain.

The Pipes

Most Custom-Bilt pipes that you see at a pipe show have somewhat big, chunky bowls with rough carving or gouges. It is very rare to see a completely smooth piece. In today’s market, the pipes are still considered to be on the large side but are not true giants. It should be noted that in the early days when the Custom-Bilt pipes were first being produced, these bowl sizes were considered very large and massive. The size of the average pipe was a group 3 or 4 sized Dunhill.

The first thing that Bill addresses in his chapter on pipes is the quality of the bowls in the early years. Rick Hacker, in his Rare Pipes book, suggests that Mincer bought blemished bowls from other companies and used the wood-working router to get rid of the blemishes. According to an important employee, Hetzer Hartsock, “Tracy used a very choice Algerian briar, and they were bigger blocks than what the other companies were using.”

William E. Unger, Jr., Ph.D. (“Bill”) has studied the stampings on a large number of Custombilt pipes and based on this extensive study conclusively dates Custombilt pipes. There is a picture of a stamp which resembles the stamping seen on my pipe, and is reproduced from Pipedia in the picture below.From the above details gleaned from Pipedia and the above stamp, it can be safely inferred that this pipe dates to the 1970s era. This also coincided roughly with the time when my grandfather quit smoking and I was waiting in the wings to make my debut into this wide and beautiful world in a few years time!!!!!! From the look on the pipe, it appears that my grandfather never believed in cleaning his pipes and believed in just keep using the pipe and once it fouled up, simply keep it aside and buy new one!! Thus, the reason for the large collection of pipes that I have inherited from him.

I had loved the first Custom-Bilt that I had worked on for its size, feel in the hand, its rustic looks and wide rustications and I love this Custombilt for its size, shape, the heft and the gorgeous beautiful flaming rustications!!! Well, have I fallen in love with Custombilts???? Maybe!!!!!!

Having admired the beautiful rustication, the shape/ size and safe in the knowledge that I will get to smoke it in the years to come; I proceeded to carry out a detailed examination of the condition of the pipe and the work that will be required during the process of restoration. Any follower of Mr. Steve’s blog will recollect the 10 steps elucidated by him for beginners in pipe restoration and I sincerely follow it. It helps a person to assess the condition of the pipe, what are the issues that needs to be addressed, what processes will be involved and while appreciating these facts, formulate a broad action plan for the entire restoration.

The bowl has a relatively thin layer of cake (…which subsequently proved incorrect!!!) which will have to be reamed out. The condition of the insides of the bowl needs to be appreciated thereafter. The pipe was used to smoke an aromatic tobacco since the smell was not offensive, but rather somewhat sweet. I believe that once the bowl is reamed to its bare briar, the smell will be taken care of!!As seen in the above picture, the outer edge of the rim is perfectly rounded with no damage whatsoever. However, there appears to be a small chip to the inner edge of the rim on the left side in the 9 ‘O’ clock direction. The exact extent of the damage or otherwise, can be appreciated only after the bowl has been reamed. It could be addressed/ minimized, if need be, by creating a slight bevel on the inner edge.

The airflow is restricted and required considerable effort to blow through the pipe. The airway in either the stem or shank could be blocked or the mortise could be clogged. Blowing separately through both, stem as well as the shank, I realized that both are blocked/ clogged.The draught hole is right at the bottom of the bowl and there is no reservoir/ sump as in the Pete system pipes. A pipe cleaner could not pass through the draught hole as expected. This needs to be addressed.

The bowl and shank are covered in dust, dirt, oils, tars and grime. The stamping, though readable, is covered in the tars, oils and grime.The rustications on the bowl and shank have turned black due to accumulation of dirt, oils and tars of more than 48 years of its existence. The rim, however, is clean and free of any overflowing lava.The stem is free of any serious damage, tooth chatter or bite marks. The oxidation was light and just a firm rub with a moist Mr. Magic clean sponge, removed a great deal of oxidation from the stem. Overall, this pipe and stem was not very heavily abused.THE PROCESS
This time around Abha, my wife, was not around to help me with the bowl and this, I definitely missed!!! Using a Kleen Reem pipe tool, I completely removed the cake from the bowl. The quantity of carbon cake that was removed from the bowl belied my initial appreciation about thin layer of cake. The bowl now looks huge!!!Another observation I had was that the cake was very dry and tightly packed. Using an improvised and fabricated knife, I scraped all the remains of the carbon from the stummel down to its briar and finished with sanding the interiors of the stummel using a 220 grit sand paper. I wiped the interiors of the stummel with cotton swabs dipped in Isopropyl alcohol (99.9%). The interiors are now looking clean, smooth, solid and fresh.Once the cake was completely removed, the small chip on the left of the inner edge of the rim in 9 ‘O’ clock direction, though visible, was not alarmingly large or prominent. The rim top slopes inwards and a bevel would not really look good. I was not sure how much sanding would be adequate and also since it does not look bad, I decided to lightly sand it using micromesh pads, wet sanding using 1500 to 3200 grit pads and dry sanding it with 3400-12000 pads. Any advice or suggestions pertaining to the issue of this chip is most welcome and will definitely teach me a thing or two.

The next issue that required to be addressed was that of the restricted airflow!!! I started with the cleaning of the interiors of the shank and what a mess it was! Using hard bristled pipe cleaners, shank brush and alcohol, I cleaned out the mortise. With a dental spatula, I scraped out most of the gunk and tars which had moistened due to alcohol. I used the drill tool in the Kleen Reem pipe tool with a pipe cleaner embedded in the slot in the head of the drill tool, dipped in alcohol to clean the airway in the shank and also the draught hole.With the help of q-tips and pipe cleaners dipped in Isopropyl alcohol, I cleaned the internals of the shank and scrubbed the inner walls of the mortise to remove the last remnants of the oils, tars and gunk. At this stage, the airway in the shank was clean, the draught hole was clean and opened out and the mortise was free of all the accumulated tars and oils and gunk of the past!!

With the internals of the stummel and shank cleaned and freshened up, I turned my attention to the exterior of the bowl. Using Murphy’s oil soap and a toothbrush, I cleaned the exterior of the bowl while paying more attention to the cleaning of the flaming rustications, which I had so come to love! I gave a very deliberate scrub to the bowl and into the rustications to remove all the dust, dirt and grime that accumulated over the years. I purposefully avoided brass brush/ steel wool while cleaning so as not to damage the thin horizontal rustications within the flaming vertical rustications. Once the cleaning with the oil soap was done, I rinsed it under running tap water and wiped it dry with a soft cotton cloth. I took care that the water does not enter into the chamber and the shank. The bowl now has a nice, beautiful, clean and robust look to it. I set the bowl aside to dry out and turned my attention to the stem.

Thankfully, this stem does not have any deep tooth/ bite marks or tooth chatter nor does it show any deep and stubborn oxidation. The wet Mr. Magic Cleaner had almost completely removed the oxidation. Using a 220 grit sand paper, I gently removed the minor tooth chatter that was visible. I folded a fresh piece of the grit paper into a sharp edge and sanded the button to give it shape. I wiped the stem down with a moist cloth to remove the sanding dust and applied a thin coat of Extra Virgin Olive oil and rubbed it into vulcanite with my fingers. I let it rest for a few minutes and wiped it off with a soft cloth.Once I was satisfied that the excess oil has been removed, I went through with the complete set of micromesh pads, wet sanding with 1500 to 3200 grit pads and dry sanding with 3400 through to 12000 grit pads. I rubbed extra virgin olive oil into the stem after sanding by each micromesh pad. In my exuberance to finish the pipe, I completely missed out on taking pictures at this stage. However, in the subsequent pictures of the completed pipe, you shall be able to appreciate the shining stem!!!!

I cleaned the internals of the stem using hard bristled pipe cleaners and alcohol. After considerable attempts at cleaning, the pipe cleaners finally came out of the other end. The air now passed through the stem freely. I further cleaned the internals of the stem till the pipe cleaners came out clean through the other end. Thereafter, I rubbed Extra Virgin Olive oil deeply into the stem and set it aside to be absorbed by the vulcanite.

Turning my attention the bowl the next morning, I liked the clean, fresh look of the bowl. Once again I gave it a good clean up with a dry soft cloth to remove any dust/dirt that might have settled on the bowl overnight. Thereafter, I rubbed a small quantity of “ Before and After Restoration Balm” into the bowl ensuring that it reaches the rustication also. I am truly amazed at the spread of this balm!  Just a small quantity quickly spreads and is sufficient to coat the entire bowl when rubbed with the fingers. The product was further rubbed into the rustication when buffed, using a horsehair shoe brush. I let it rest for a few minutes to let the balm work its magic on the briar. The transformation is amazing!! Once this was done, it was back to using muscle power to enhance the shine and beauty of the rustication by prolonged rubbing with a soft cloth followed by a microfiber cloth. These rustications give an impression of shimmering flames leaping upwards!!! I was very pleased with my efforts……I know it is akin to blowing my own trumpet, but I do believe that if the notes are correct and melodious, please blow it. The finished bowl is shown below. Finally when I fixed the stem into the shank, I realized with a cringe that due to the cleaning of the mortise, the fit was not snug, it was way too loose! I had read somewhere that holding the tenon to a Bic lighter flame, increases the girth of the tenon which in turn ensures a snug fit into the mortise. Sounds easy enough but doing it for the first time and that too with a pipe you have come to love and admire….. is not easy. However, I took the plunge knowing very well that even in the case I mess it up, Mr. Steve of rebornpipes would bail me out. I have realized that one needs to have that kind of back up so that the journey is smooth, insightful and free from fears of failure, and that in essence is what Mr. Steve is to me as my Guru. Thank you Sir once again!!

Well, to cut the long story short, I heated the tenon over the flame of a Bic lighter continuously turning it around. I stopped when the tenon felt slightly soft and pliable to the touch and set it aside to cool down with a pipe cleaner inside, praying for it to set perfectly into the mortise and not break/ crack. After the tenon had completely cooled down, I again attached the stem to the shank and, what a relief, the fit was nice and snug with just the right kind of noises!!! The finished pipe is shown below. This project was fun filled and a great learning experience. Thank you for sharing your valuable time with me while reading this post. And lest I forget, thank you Mr. Steve for providing me with invaluable guidance and a canvas for essaying my journeys.


A Humpty-Dumpty Restoration/Reclamation of a piece of Kay Family History

Blog by Steve Laug

Not long ago I was in communication with Alice regarding a pipe that had belonged to her Grandfather, William Kay. She had been keeping it in a drawer for many years and she took it out to pass it on to her nephew. When she opened the case she said that the amber stem was crumbling to pieces and the case itself was also crumbling. She said that it had been kept dry and safe in a dresser drawer for years so she was sadly surprised by the condition of the pipe. It was a piece of her family’s history but it was in sad condition. She really did not know what to do with it. She wrote to see if I would even be interested in it. She wanted to pass it on and thought I might want it. When I heard about it I wanted to see it before I accepted the challenge to work on it and assess whether I could stabilize the amber and resurrect the old pipe. I was not sure but I wanted to see it. Alice graciously took some photos of the pipe and emailed them to so that I could have a look at what she saw as she looked at it. The photos below tell the story. From what I saw in her photos I was hooked. I could see the “crystallization” of the stem and the chunks of amber in the broken case. It looked salvageable from the photos. Besides that, I wanted to see what I could do with the pipe. I loved shape of the bowl and the curve of the stem. The band was green which made me wonder what was happening to make it that way. The pipe had definitely seen a lot moisture along the way. To me it was certainly worth a try to restore it and the history of the pipe alone made me want to work on it. I wrote Alice back and told her I was interested. After several emails went back and forth between, the pipe was on its way to my brother Jeff’s home in the US as it is definitely easier to ship things within the states that to ship them to Canada. I would have to wait for a bit until I would see it in person.

It did not take too long for the package to arrive at my brother’s house. When he opened the box it looked much the same as Alice had described it so nothing more happened in transit. My brother shook his head when he saw it and I think questioned my sanity yet again. LOL! We shall see if I have any semblance of sanity left once I have it in hand and see what I can do. I figure at worst I will need to craft a new stem for it and at best I may be able to make the amber one at least functional and stop the breakdown of the amber. I asked Jeff to take some photos of the pipe so I could see what he saw. He sent me the following photos and they pretty much tell the story of the pipe’s condition.Two of my daughters visited their Grandad in the States for his birthday at the end of June and brought the pipe in a baggie back to Canada with them on their return. I wrote and asked Alice to send me a photo of her grandfather and a couple of paragraphs about him to give me a sense of background on this pipe. She did a great job capturing his personality and a bit of the unique character that went with it. It helped me see a bit of the man behind this Gordon pipe and gave me even more reason to see it come back to life. Here is what she wrote about her Grandfather, William Kay.

William Ewart Kay August 21, 1880 – June 6, 1938.  His US Naturalization papers list his race as Scotch. (Not Scottish…Scotch) Born in Ontario, Canada, and ended up in Grassy Lake, Alberta somewhere around 1905.  He married Lucy Evaleen Phipps in 1909 and they had 4 children. He was a rather interesting man and not always a very nice one. About 1917 he relocated the family to Auburn, Washington and came as a railroad strike breaker. No one talked about those years but my father told me that he was known as Scabby Bill Kay until he died.  Railroad towns have no pity. The kids didn’t seem to suffer, at least. 

I have his pocket watch. It is not a very expensive piece.  According to whispered family stories, he often had a lady friend and this watch was a gift from one of them  When he came home sporting a shiny new watch he told my grandmother (not a stupid lady) that when he was walking home a crow flew over his head and dropped the watch right in front of him. Still shaking my head over that tale!  Grandmother outlived him by 26 years, happily. I think she loved every minute of not keeping his house. 

My Dad said he was an amusing man, a good carpenter and became a strike breaker because there was no work in Canada in those years. My dad met him when they were both working on a government fish hatchery project in Auburn. That’s about all I know about the man. He died 10 years before my birth and the family rarely spoke of him. Times have certainly changed. Nothing is a secret any longer. Sadly, being a family elder means I have no one to ask!

Thanks for all this. I hope it makes it in a reasonable number of pieces. I am still amazed that it disintegrated so fast and in so many strange ways. It has been in its case in a dry dresser drawer forever. — Alice

I was unfamiliar with the brand so I did a bit of hunting on the internet for information on the brand. The inside of the case Gordon Best Briar in an oval on the lid. Gordon was also stamped on the left side of the shank in an oval. I did find a Gordon pipe on Pipephil’s site but the stamping and logo were very different so I am not sure it was the same maker. I also looked on Pipedia and found a listing for Gorden Pipes – spelled differently but the information that followed the name stated that it was an early 20th century brand of Samuel Gordon and that the stamping was Gordon in a lozenge on the shank. Here is the link for that information as it does match this pipe (https://pipedia.org/wiki/British_Pipe_Brands_%26_Makers_E_-_H). There was no more information that I could find on the brand anywhere on the net. The time line fits pretty well with the look and make of the pipe I am working on.

Armed with that information and the backstory of William Kay I brought the pipe to my worktable started the rebuilding of the Humpty-Dumpty pipe. It was going to be a real challenge to put all the pieces together again. Rebuilding and stabilizing the stem was only part of the work. I was not sure that would even be possible because it really seemed to be disintegrating as I touched it. I am pretty certain that the stem is made of amber. I would know more once I tried to rebuild it and put the pieces back together. The tenon was loose in the stem and when I touched it I could see that it was not even connected.

The tenon was metal and it was rusted and deteriorating. It was stuck in the shank of the pipe. I assumed that the end in the shank was also threaded because the stem end was. I thought that it was screwed into a threaded mortise in the shank. The band was silver and the normal black tarnish was present. There was a lot of pitting and a green oxidation that came from the metal tenon and inside the case. The finish on the bowl was ruined and worn out. There was a lot of buildup and grime on the outside of the bowl that would need to be dealt with. The rim top looked like it might be the least damaged part of this old pipe because of the thick lava coat overflowing from the cake in the bowl. The airway from the shank to the bowl was clogged. This was definitely going to be a challenge. I took a photo of the parts of the pipe when I removed the stem from the tenon.I tried to turn the tenon with a pair of pliers to see if I could unscrew it from the shank. It did not take long to realize that I was not dealing with a threaded tenon at all. The tenon turned out to be a push tenon. It looked like a repair person sometime in the life of the pipe had converted it from a threaded shank and tenon to a push tenon. Their methodology was interesting to say the least. They had slipped a hard rubber tube over the worn threads of the original tenon and drilled out the threaded mortise to receive the push tenon – creative but damaging. He had lined the mortise with a paper washer to hold the tenon tight in the shank. Over the years moisture had gotten into the mortise and the paper was disintegrated and stuck on the tenon and in the shank.  The threaded tenon conversion was full of rust as the original metal tenon had deteriorated with the moisture and wicked up the stem and around the band. It was a compound mess that would need creative solutions to be dealt with.The band was loose on the shank. The glue that had held it in place had long since deteriorated. I removed the green tarnished band from the shank and laid out the pieces of the pipe at this point in the process to show what I was dealing with.I decided to try to put all of the pieces of the amber stem together again. I greased a pipe cleaner and put it in the airway to keep the glue from filling in the airway. I glued it together with super glue gel and filled in the hole in the right side with the broken chunks of amber. I filled in the gaps around the chunks with clear super glue. I painted the surface of the rest of the stem with clear super glue to stabilize the stem material. Time would tell if it would hold together or not. I let the glue cure for over four hours and when I picked it up to look it over, it fell apart. The stem broke in half and there was a large hole in the right side of the stem. I had not fixed anything at this point but only made things significantly worse. I shrugged it off and glue the two parts back together again. I left the hole to deal with later. The photos below show the state of the stem after repairing the break. It was not looking very promising. I set the stem aside to cure for three full days – it was pretty depressing.I started to formulate a plan B – a new acrylic stem in case all the efforts on this older stem were for naught. I place an order for a stem with Tim West at J.H. Lowe and it is on its way here. I am hoping it will be a suitable replacement. In the meantime, I took all the pieces of the original stem that I had in the plastic bag that it came in and tried to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. I used an amber super glue gel to build up the edges of the broken part of the stem. I pressed the pieces in place in the hole to build it up and provide a base that I could fill in once the initial glue on the stem cured. I set the stem aside to cure for another couple of days. I did not want to take any chances with breaking it again.I kept looking over at it and wondering if my repairs would work in the long run. I could see that it was rough but I think it may form enough of a base for me to rebuild the stem with amber super glue once it cures. We shall see. I turned my attention to the filthy bowl. I had already removed the silver band from the shank as it was loose anyway. I used a sharp pen knife to scrape away the paper gasket that lined the walls of the shank. It fell apart as the knife cut it. I reamed the bowl with a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife and scraped the rim top and inner bevel with the edge of the knife. I sanded the bowl with a piece of sandpaper wrapped around a dowel. I cleaned out the interior of the mortise, shank and airway to bowl. The airway was plugged and I could not blow any air through it from either the shank end or the bowl. I pushed a straightened paper clip through the airway to open it up again. I used alcohol, cotton swabs and pipe cleaners – smooth and bristle – to clean out the tars, oils and build up that had collected over the years. It was as much a mess on the inside as the outside.I wiped off the exterior of the bowl and shank with acetone on a cotton pad to remove the remnants of the old varnish finish and the grime that had been ground into the briar. At this point the pipe bowl was beginning to look pretty good. There was some nice grain on the bowl. Once I had the surface clean and free of the old finish and the debris of time it was ready for the next step in the process. I worked Before & After Restoration Balm deep into the briar on the smooth finish to clean, enliven and protect it. I wiped it off with a soft cloth. I buffed the bowl with a cotton cloth to polish it. It really began to have a deep shine in the briar. I took some photos of the bowl at this point to mark the progress in the restoration. The grain on the bowl is really beginning to stand out and will only do so more as the pipe is waxed. The stem was still quite a mess. Once the first coats of glue cured I used some thick amber super glue to fill in the larger holes in the right side of the stem and build up around the inserted pieces of the original stem. I needed to fill in some of the open space to stop the airflow through the repair. Once the amber glue had cured I filled in the small areas around the repairs with clear super glue. I set the stem aside and let the glue cure.The original tenon was a mess – it really was a hard rubber tube forced over a threaded metal tenon that was rusting and crumbling as well. The shank had been drilled out to remove the threads in the mortise so once again I am guessing that this was some repair person’s idea of creating a push stem. I had removed it earlier and put it aside. I created a new tenon for the stem. It was a threaded Delrin tenon – in this case the threaded portion on a Jobey system tenon was the perfect size for this stem. I would try fitting it once the glue had cured enough to not damage the stem further.  I reduced the side of the hip at the top of the tenon to match the diameter of the mortise using files and sand paper. I set the tenon aside and called it a night.

In the morning I checked the stem and found that the glue had hardened on the stem so I sanded the repaired areas with 180 grit sandpaper to smooth out the surface of the repairs and blend them into the rest of the stem. Then I tried to fit the mortise to the stem and found that my measurements were correct and it fit perfectly. I carefully turned it into the stem and took the following photos. The stem was looking pretty decent at this point and the patch seemed to be hard and stable.I decided to be daring at this point and pushed the stem into the mortise of the shank and took some photos of the pipe at this point. Even though there was still a lot of sanding to do on the stem to smooth and polish it, I was making progress and I was excited to see what it looked like. I wanted to send the two photos to Alice so she could see the salvage job on Humpty. At this point the stem material is stabilized and I could see that the stem would be usable. Now I needed to see if I could make it look even better.I smoothed out the final touches on the repair with 220 grit sandpaper to blend the repairs into the surface of the amber. 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 to give life back to the amber. I put the stem on the shank and set the pipe aside to work on the broken and damaged case. I glued the parts together with all-purpose white glue. I pressed them together until the glue set enough to let the parts hold when I laid the case down. I polished the stem with a polishing cloth. I buffed the bowl with Blue Diamond on the buffing wheel. I carefully avoided the stamping on the left side of the shank so as not to damage it. I gave the bowl multiple coats of carnauba wax and buffed the pipe with a clean buffing pad to raise the shine. I hand buffed the bowl and stem individually it with a microfiber cloth to deepen the shine. The finished pipe is shown in the photos below. It is great to be able to hold William Kay’s pipe in my hand as a solid and smokeable whole. I can’t wait for Alice to read this blog and see the finished pipe. I look forward to hearing from her. This was a challenging and a fun project to work on. Thanks for taking time to give it a read.