Transforming a Dr. Grabow “Omega”


Blog by Paresh Deshpande

“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the prettiest of them all?” asked this “Omega”, looking deeply into my eyes!!!!! How I wish I could have promptly replied that it was “YOU”…. but I could not get myself to say so!!!!! It was then that I decided to work on this pipe and make an attempt at its transformation.

This bent billiards has “OMEGA” stamped on the left side of the shank over “DR. GRABOW” in block capital letters while on the right side it is stamped “IMPORTED BRIAR”. A nickel ferrule adorns the end of the shank and is devoid of any stampings. An “ACE OF SPADES” on the left side breaks the monotonous black of the stem. I searched pipedia.com for information about the brand and try to place the period when this model was introduced by Dr. Grabow. The site has very detailed information about the brand and various models and is a highly recommended read. I have extracted only the relevant portions here:-

Dr. Grabow pipes are the quintessential American brand. Made with care in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, this 60-year-old line of inexpensive tobacco pipes is a favorite among new pipe smokers for its consistency and good taste. The famous smoking pipe brand gets its name from the owner Dr Grabow, a general physician who lived in Chicago.

Made in America since the 1930’s, Dr. Grabow tobacco pipes were named after “the good doctor” to help polish the smudged image of smoking a pipe to newly tobacco-leery American public. The line of pipes bearing Dr. Grabow’s name have become one of the best known pipe brands in North America.

The Dr Grabow pipes first began with Louis B Linkman of the M.Linkman and Co of Chicago. The trademark “Dr Grabow” itself actually begun at about 1932 and had the US patent number 1.896,800.

The birth of the Dr Grabow smoking pipe is simple enough. It started off when Dr Grabow himself and his acquaintance Dr Linkman regularly visited the local pharmacist at Brown’s Drug Store in Lincoln Park Chicago.

Dr Linkman was on the lookout for a doctor’s name to Christian an innovative line of pipes in order to mellow out the smoking apparel’s smoggy image. He asked Dr Grabow to allow him to use his name to which he agreed and the name has stuck since then. Linkman continued to manufacture his Dr Grabow pipes until 1953. 

The earliest of these exclusive pipes were stamped both with Linkman’s and Dr Grabow. They included a propeller emblem that was white in color at the top of the mouthpiece.

In 1944 the white propeller emblem was replaced with a white spade, a move that heralded the introduction of Linkman’s new Dr Grabow pipes. All of the newer entries included most of the earlier favorites as well as “TRU-GRAIN” and “SELECT”. Later models of Dr Grabow pipes were described as Imported Briar.

I further searched pipedia.com and found detailed and comprehensive information on the various lines and models of Dr. Grabow through the years and was able to date this Omega to 1975. Here is the link; https://pipedia.org/wiki/Dr._Grabow_Models_(Series,Line)_Names_Through_the_Years

INITIAL VISUAL INSPECTION

The first thing that struck me like a jolt was the reddish brown/ very dark reddish purple, OMG!!!! I cannot even describe the color of the stain on this pipe; it was that unappealing to the eye to say the least. It just surprises me as to why my grand old man even bought it, if he had indeed bought it. You just feel like turning away from it. To add to its color woes, the stummel is covered in dust and grime of storage from all these years. The stummel has Custombilt like rustication emanating from the joint where the shank and stummel meet and move away from the bottom towards the rim top. Within this rustication we have very fine thin lines. The raised portion of these rustication have the same reddish brown coloration while within these rustication, it has dark color. The shank is plain and devoid of any rustication. There appears to be some kind of coat covering the entire stummel. All said and done, this coloration has to go!!!!! How am I going to do it, I really do not know, but IT HAS TO GO!!!!!! The chamber is lightly caked and has overflow of lava on the rim top. This will have to be cleaned and sanded down if the rim top surface is damaged underneath the overflowing lava. The inner and outer edge has minor dents and dings.The stem appears to be ebonite and has a plastic feel to it. The stem is a copy of the famed Peterson’s P-Lip button with the difference in the bore being dead center on the end of the button as opposed to being on the top surface. It has extensive damage to the upper and lower surface of the lip. It is peppered with tooth chatter and has one deep bite mark each on both the surfaces. This will have to be addressed.The mortise is relatively clean and air flows freely through the airway in the pipe and shank.The nickel ferrule has lost its shine and shows minor spots of corrosion. I think it will polish up nicely.THE PROCESS

I had made a promise to this pipe that I shall make it “the prettiest of them all…” (Well, actually it was like “TRY” really) and thus the first and most logical start point was to address the color of the stummel. To make this pipe attractive, I felt that I should attempt to do the following:-

(a) Highlight the rustications.

(b) Get some shine on the stummel.

(c) Attempt to reveal the grains on the smooth shank.

(d) Highlight the contrast between the raised portions of the rustication with that of within the rustication.

Having identified what needs to be done, I turned my attention to how it could be done. SWOT analysis dictated that I needed to adopt processes which did not require any stains or coatings of lacquer as I did not have any. Also since I do not have any mechanical equipment, I had to adopt simpler and manual techniques. I decided that the best and easiest course of action for me would be to get rid of the original stain.

I started by reaming the chamber with a Kleen Reem pipe reamer and fabricated knife. I removed the complete cake from the chamber. I further sanded down the walls of the chamber with a 220 grit sand paper to smooth the walls and took the cake back down to the bare briar. I gently scraped out the little overflow of lava from the rim top. I also cleaned out the mortise and the shank with cue tips and pipe cleaners dipped in alcohol.Once the chamber was cleaned, I turned my attention to the stummel and tried to get rid of the lacquer coating. I started by wet sanding with a 1500 grit micromesh pad and soon realized that it would not work. I tried sanding with 800 grit sand paper without any success. Soon I found myself sanding the stummel with 150 grit sand paper. The lacquer was very difficult to get rid off and after a considerable time, I was finally able to completely remove the lacquer coating. Believe you me, my fingers had started to hurt and sitting at the table for 3-4 hours at a stretch caused cramps in my back. But the end result was pleasing.

Then began the arduous and time consuming process of sanding the stummel with micromesh pads. I proceeded to sand the stummel with micromesh pads, going through wet sanding with 1500-2400 pads and dry sanding with 3200- 12000 grit pads. I was very pleased with the way the stummel had turned out. I decided that I liked this finish and after further cleaning and polishing, the stummel would look just beautiful. Once I was through with micromesh pads, I cleaned the stummel with undiluted Murphy’s oil soap and tooth brush. I paid special attention to the deep areas of the rustication, thoroughly cleaning it with the brush. I dried the bowl with cotton cloth and paper towels.I rubbed “Before and After Restoration balm” in to the stummel with fingers deep into the rustications and let it rest for a few minutes before I buffed it with a horse hair brush. Finally, I polished the stummel with a soft cotton cloth and muscle power!!!! I also polished the nickel ferrule with a jeweler’s cloth. Luckily, the corrosion was superficial and polished up nicely. Turning my attention to the badly damaged stem, I start by cleaning it with cotton pads dipped in isopropyl alcohol. I flamed the stem surface with a Bic lighter to raise the tooth chatter. The deeper tooth chatter and bite marks were filled with clear CA superglue. Thereafter began the time consuming process of curing, sanding with flat head needle file, 220 grit sand paper and finally by micromesh pads. In all, I had to repeat the fill and sand procedure thrice before resorting to final polish using micromesh pads. I also cleaned out the internals of the stem with pipe cleaners dipped in alcohol. To finish the pipe, I rubbed a small quantity of Halcyon wax II on to the stummel and gave it a nice polish. The pipe now does look stunning. I love the way the pipe has turned out and I can proudly reply back to this Omega “IT’S YOU!!!!!!” The finished pipe is shown below.

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