Blog by Dal Stanton
We all have favorite ‘friends’ in our specially chosen, first string rotation of pipes that are ready when we call upon them. For me, each of these pipes have names and associations with my life – memories of a person or a special event or both – that is stirred to life when I grab that pipe off the rack and spend time, usually packed with my favorite blend, Lane BCA. In several blogs I have referenced my attraction to L. J. Peretti pipes of Boston – I’ve started a collection of Perettis and I have found they are hearty pipes and good smokers. My fascination with Perettis started with a Christmas gift from my son, Josiah, a few years back in Denver. He found this wounded warrior in the Armadillo Antique Mall in Denver and I found it under the Christmas tree with Josiah’s confidence that I could mend his wounded pride and broken stem!This hearty L. J. Peretti Square Shank Billiard became my first experience in the art of stem splicing. I learned a lot and was proud when I published the write up of this achievement: A Christmas Gift in need of a stem splice – L J Peretti Squared Shank Billiard. Josiah’s gift started my appreciation for Peretti pipes in Denver. I have enjoyed this pipe and he was joined serendipitously by another Peretti, another square shank, but a Rhodesian (See: LINK for write up). Jon, a friend and colleague working in Ukraine, gave me my second Peretti! These two, together, I call the Peretti brothers.As life unfolds, things happen. I was back in Denver from Bulgaria last February for the births of two brand new beautiful granddaughters and had grabbed the Peretti Brother Billiard and was heading up the stairs to go outside to enjoy a bowl and the view of the Rocky Mountains, when I fell (going up the stairs!) and the stem splice that had served faithfully was overcome by the impact of my body coming down on it. The stem broke at the end of the ‘shelf’ created for gluing. You can see this on the next picture. I lost the remainder of the stem in the flight back to Bulgaria, but it wouldn’t have mattered because there wasn’t enough left of it to repair. The picture below shows the remainder of the original cannibalized stem’s fashioned shelf remaining on the Peretti saddle stem – the junction line shows up in the shine on the stem. I decided to do a write up simply of this repair, but I have an alternative motivation too. My wife and I are leaving soon for the Black Sea coast for our annual R&R and I wanted to repair the Peretti Brother to take with me to the beach! So, I took pictures of the repair process but am now doing the write-up on the beach, looking out over the Black Sea!Starting the repair, I find an adequate donor stem to cannibalize for the replacement. I measure it and cut it with adequate length so that the cut is at the old seam that you see in the picture above. I make the measurement then, using a flat needle file as a saw, I make the cut after placing the stem in a vice in such a way that I can use the edge of the vice as a guide during the cut. In this way, I hope that the cut is straight and perpendicular to the stem!There is a little vulcanite spur left that I clean off easily with the file.Lining the donor stem up with the remaining original stem looks like the right length for a balanced feel and look.Next, carefully I cut an upper groove on the original stem essentially in the same place as the first shelf was, thus removing the old donor remnants.I use the tapered pieces of a clothespin to wedge the square shank saddle in the vice safely and securely. I want the saddle stabilized in a horizontal plane for the filing/cutting process. I also line up the old seam with the edge of the vice so that the vice’s edge helps as a guide. I’m aiming for a cut that is perpendicular to the stem’s length as I create a new groove using the flat needle file. Patience is my best friend in this process. The pictures show the progress. As I draw close to the airway, my goal is to stop when the airway is exposed halfway while keeping the horizontal shelf and the inside vertical edge of the shelf at right angles.Satisfied that I’ve gone far enough, I trim off the end of the lower shelf – as close to right angles as possible! I think it’s looking good. I eyeball the progress. The truth is that not all stems are drilled with holes in the exact middle. To get an idea of the best alignment of the new donor stem with the original, I put a pipe cleaner through both. I flip the donor stem eyeballing the alignment to see if one position is better than the other. The most important alignment consideration is the airway. The external stem can be cosmetically improved, but a blocked airway cannot be easily removed. When one doesn’t have precision tools, which for the most part I don’t, one lives with the value of improvisation. To cut the shelf in the donor stem now, I mount the donor stem in the vice and again, using the angled pieces of a clothespin, I fashion a stable filing platform! I file conservatively. That is, not to go for an exact measurement but leaving some excess stem to file down gradually, working up to a good fit. I use the width of the flat needle file as the measure for the length of the shelf which leaves me a little ‘fat’ to work with. The challenge will be keeping the shelf that is fashioned as much of a right angle as possible or, the two, shelf butt ends to be parallel! As before, I use the side of the vice as a guide to keep the new edge straight. I take pictures of the filing progress. At this point, after eyeballing the progress, I realize that as I’m filing the shelf, it is not horizontal but sloping downward toward the end of the shelf. To address this, I use the short edge of the flat needle file and saw a straight line to open the airway. In doing this, I now I have a built-in level – the top of the airway. I continue to file the shelf to reveal uniformly the airway and this should be close to being level – I hope! The progress is shown. At this point, I test the alignment even though there’s a long way to go on the donor stem. To test, I put a pipe cleaner through the airway in both pieces. The airway must line up in the finished repair.After more filing, another test. Closer.As I file and test, I realize that the lower shelf extension on the original Peretti stem was still a bit fat, so more vulcanite is filed off. The challenge is not taking off too much because it can’t be replaced easily!In time, another test – getting there. You can see the pipe cleaner creating the alignment axis through the two pieces. The gap that is showing on the top I address by taking off more vulcanite from the donor stem (second picture), after flipping over I file the vertical edge ‘back’. This will close the gap on the top and spare the original Peretti stem from giving up more vulcanite.I decide I’ve filed and fitted enough. The time has come to glue the two pieces of stem. I think its possible to fiddle too much seeking ‘Fit Nirvana’! I clean the shelves with alcohol, including the airway with a pipe cleaner. The tricky part of the gluing is to avoid CA glue getting into the airway and sealing it – not a good situation! The way to avoid this is by inserting a pipe cleaner that has petroleum jelly on it – the CA glue will not stick to it. The challenge doing this is that when you press petroleum jelly into a closed space it squeezes out and can contaminate the area that needs maximum CA glue effectiveness!After cleaning the area and thinking about how I might maximize the bond between the spliced stem pieces, I remembered a technique that I had previously read in either one of Steve’s Rebornpipes blogs or Charles Lemon’s, Dad’s Pipes blogs, describing how drilling holes can enhance the glue’s penetration and bonding qualities. To do this I mount a 1mm drill bit into the Dremel. WARNING bells are going off in my mind: Do not drill through the vulcanite! There’s not a large margin of error. With the bells ringing, I drill a couple of holes on each side of the airway on both stems’ shelf. It looks good and I’m glad I remembered this technique.I repeat the cleaning of the upper and lower shelves with alcohol and insert a pipe cleaner through the pieces with a bit of petroleum jelly on it. I then apply thick CA glue to the shelves and draw the two pieces together while keeping the pipe cleaner taught assuring a straight airway. I use a thick CA glue so that the glue remains in place and doesn’t run spread over the stem.By keeping the pipe cleaner taut and the airway straight, I maneuver the two pieces to fit as well as possible which leaves the external appearance a bit ‘Frankenstemish’ but that’s OK and expected at this point in the process. I can address that later. In the pictures following you can see gaps and where the stem surface is not flush as the stem transitions through the splice. The primary bonding of the splice is successful with a clear and straight airway. To address the gaps, I mix a batch of activated charcoal powder and regular CA glue to make a putty that acts as a filler for the imperfections of the fit. I keep the putty a bit thinner than normal when I use this mixture repairing tooth dents and damage to the bit. Keeping the CA and activated charcoal putty thinner, or wetter, allows a better penetration into the gaps around the split. After I mix the putty, I apply it around the spliced area with a flat dental spatula and tamp the putty down into the gaps. The pictures show the process. The result looks truly like a ‘Frankenstem’. A give a full 24 hours for the putty to cure well and I then begin the filing and shaping process using a flat needle file. The pictures show the gradual process of shaping the external appearance of the stem splice. Following the filing, I use 240 grit paper to further smooth and shape. In the next pictures you can see that I sand the entire stem. The entire stem must be tapered and sloped so that the spliced area disappears into one unified stem presentation. The tapering is not only on the upper and lower stem, but also on the stem’s sides where the stem bows inwardly from the saddle to the button.Following the 240 grit paper, I smooth further with 600 grit paper.As the stem splice smooths during the sanding, I detect a hole where the putty failed to fill. I dispatch this by spot dropping black CA glue in the hole to seal it. After it cures, I continue sanding and smoothing the area. With the splice repair essentially finished, what I don’t show in pictures following is the normal, full sanding and buffing process. I follow the 600 grit paper by buffing the stem with 0000 grade steel wool. I then follow with 9 micromesh pads from 1500 to 12000 with a coat of Obsidian Oil between each set of 3 pads. I then apply Blue Diamond compound with the Dremel, followed by the application of carnauba wax to both stem and stummel. You can still see the seams of the splice, but the entire stem looks great. The pictures show the finished spliced stem. The Peretti Brother Billiard joined me on the Black Sea and both of us have enjoyed a great reunion! Thanks for joining me!