Blog by Paresh Deshpande
There are two SOMERSET pipes in my inherited pipe collection; one is a Paneled Billiards and other is a Rhodesian (which is my favorite shape). If there was a pipe/ pipes amongst the large number of inherited pipes that I am not attracted to, this Paneled Billiard ranks right there at the top. The reason for this lack of attraction is primarily two fold; firstly, this eight paneled billiard is a shape which I do not like. I prefer pipes with an even shape either smooth or rusticated or sandblasted, but panels, definitely not my taste. Secondly, the SOMERSET brand, which I had never heard of and neither had I bothered to know more about due to shape!!!!! However, once while discussing pipes on a video call with Mr. Steve, I showed him this pipe and suggested that I would like to discard it as I did not like the shape and also it’s an unknown brand. Mr. Steve, in his wisdom and experience suggested that I should reconsider as SOMERSET is quite possibly a brand of Comoy’s seconds!!!!!! With this suggestion, I decide to work on this pipe.
This square shank, eight paneled billiard has a smallish bowl size with a chamber depth of about 1.1 inches with somewhat thin walls. Beautiful sandblast is seen on the bowl, rim and on three sides of the shank. The bottom surface is smooth, flat without any sandblast and bears the only stampings seen on the pipe. It is stamped on the bottom as “SOMERSET” in a mild arch over “IMPORTED BRIAR” in straight line, all in capital letters. There is no other stamp on either stummel or on the stem. The stummel and shank is stained with a very dark reddish/ maroon hue. The stem is high quality vulcanite without any stampings.I have tried in vain to unearth information on this brand in general and this pipe in particular. Alas!!! I haven’t been able to garner any information from the internet, apart for the input provided by Mr. Steve!!!!! I would love to receive any information that may be available with you on this pipe.
INITIAL VISUAL INSPECTION
This pipe has been well used (and subsequently, I realized ABUSED!!!!!!!) as is evident from the thick cake in the chamber and damage to the inner edge of the rim in 12 ‘O’ clock direction. The sandblast is deeply filled with dust, tars and grime of all the yesteryears of smoking and subsequent disuse for last 35-40 years. The rim top is also sandblasted and there is overflow of lava on to the rim top. As mentioned above, there appears some minor charring to the inner edge of the rim. This needs to be looked into after the bowl has been reamed of all the cake.
The mortise is clogged and air does not flow through it. This condition is consistent with that I have seen on my grand old man’s other pipes!!!! The mortise had clogged, adversely affecting the performance of the pipe and hence had been conveniently set aside and replaced by another one. Such was his habit, it appears.The stem is oxidized but more heavily towards the lips. There is minor tooth chatter with a couple of slightly deeper bite marks on both surfaces of the stem. The fitting of the tenon in to the mortise is very loose and will have to be addressed.THE PROCESS
I start the restoration process by reaming the chamber to get rid of all the cake, using a Kleen Reem pipe tool. I further scrapped the walls of the chamber with a fabricated knife and took the cake down to the bare briar. This is the time when I observed a damage which every restorer of pipes fears the most. With a cringe, I observed a distinct line emanating from a point about mid way of the chamber, above the draught hole extending upwards and downwards. To explore further and also to smooth and remove the last remnants of the cake, I sand the walls of the chamber with a folded piece of 150 followed by a 220 grit sand paper. To my horror, I observed that from the point where I had first observed the crack, there were other cracks which extended around the walls in a circular pattern along the middle of the bowl. I checked the exterior of the stummel and was relieved to find it was solid and that the crack did not extend to the outer surface. Here are the pictures of the process and the damage observed. I was wondering as to how I should address this issue as I did not have J B Weld, when I remembered that Mr. Steve had repaired my inherited Barling Ye Olde Wood by coating the chamber with a mixture of sour cream and activated charcoal. I searched my tool and material box and realized that I was only carrying a few capsules of activated charcoal. The jar of activated charcoal, along with bulk of my pipes, was left behind when I moved to my place of work. I shared the pictures of the damage and predicament with Mr. Steve. He confirmed that this appeared like the beginning of a “burn through” or a “crack”. He also suggested an easier and practical solution; a coating of pipe mud made using pipe ash and water!!! Only a person of his knowledge and experience can share such simple and easy-to-do solutions to complex problems. Thanks again, Sir. The next couple of days were spent in collecting pipe ash!!! Lol…… All readers and first time restorers are advised to collect and keep a jar of pipe ash handy!!!!! Or collect Cigar ash which works just fine.
While collecting ash over the last couple of days, I undertook the restoration of the Somerset Rhodesian and soon realized that this one too had cracks in the bowl. Thus I was now tackling this issue on two pipes simultaneously!!!!! More detailed write up on the Rhodesian will be posted separately. Meanwhile I addressed the stem of the Paneled Billiard. Using a Bic lighter, I flamed the surfaces of the stem to raise the tooth chatter and minor bite marks. I was surprised to find that this process had raised all the bite marks and tooth chatter to the surface. All I was left to do was sand the surfaces with sand paper followed by the micromesh pads. I sanded it with 220, 400 and 800 grit sand paper. I wiped the stem with cotton pad dipped in alcohol to remove the resultant dust. I rubbed some extra virgin olive oil in to the stem and set it aside to be absorbed in to stem. I polished the stem with micromesh pads, wet sanding with 1500 to 2400 grit pads and dry sanding with 3200 to 12000. I rub a little extra virgin olive oil in to the stem after every three pads. I finish the polishing of the stem by rubbing a small quantity of Paragon wax and giving it a final polish with a soft cotton cloth. The stem is now nice, smooth and shiny. I cleaned the airway in the stem with pipe cleaners and alcohol. The issue of a loose-fit between tenon and mortise was addressed by heating the tenon with a Bic lighter, constantly rotating the stem, till the tenon was slightly pliable. I gently pushed a rounded needle file in to the tenon to enlarge it and set it aside to cool down. Once cooled down, I wiped it clean with a cotton cloth soaked in cold water. I tried the fit, and the stem sat in the shank snugly, making all the right kind of noises. I was very pleased with the fit.I cleaned the internals of the mortise and the airway with hard bristled and regular pipe cleaners and isopropyl alcohol. I scrubbed the mortise with shank brush dipped in alcohol. The internals of the shank are now clean and the pipe smells fresh and new. There are no traces of ghost smells from the stummel.Having addressed the internals, I turn to address the exteriors. I gently scrapped the charred rim down to the bare solid briar. Though this has resulted in a slight undulation to the rim surface, it is very minor and hence, I left it alone. Another reason to let it be was that if I had a Dremel machine, I would have topped the bowl and then carved out very small rustications to match the sandblasted stummel. But I do not have a Dremel machine!!!! That issue settled, I wash the dirty stummel with Murphy’s oil soap and a tooth brush. I thoroughly scrub the sandblast with the hard bristled toothbrush to remove the oils, tars, dirt and grime lodged in the surface. I rinse it under tap water, dried it with paper towels and set it aside to completely dry out. Having collected sufficient quantity of pipe ash, I decided to address the chamber cracks. I cleaned the interiors of the chamber with a cotton ball dipped in isopropyl alcohol. Once cleaned, I inserted a folded pipe cleaner into the shank and up to the draught hole to prevent it from clogging. I made putty like paste of pipe ash and water. This paste was evenly applied to the entire inner surface of the chamber with a thin bamboo frond with shaved end to form a spatula, a bigger one at that, as compared to a regular one. I set it aside to dry out. The climate here being very wet and humid, it will take a long time to dry out.The coating dried completely after about a week and I just gently scrapped the chamber with very light hands to check the layer. Alas, the complete coating just crumbled out leaving a very dry coat of ash through which all the cracks were easily discernible.So, it’s back to square one and all the efforts and waiting has come to a naught!!!! I shared the above pictures with Mr. Steve with a suggestion of using HONEY as a bonding agent rather than water. When he replied that he had never used honey but, uses YOGURT if water mix fails, I dropped the idea and decided to go ahead with yogurt!!!!Fortunately, I had started collecting pipe ash and mixed it with yogurt. Using the same earlier method, I applied an even coat of pipe ash, yogurt and also added two capsules of activated charcoal. I set it aside to dry out, praying that the mixture bonds well and sticks to the walls of the chamber. A few days later, the mixture had completely cured and it did not crumble. The bonding appeared to be strong and durable. With a 400 grit sand paper, I sanded the inner walls very lightly to a smooth surface. Now the internal walls are looking solid and I can’t wait to load my King of England tobacco and enjoy my fruits of labor. Once the stummel had dried out completely, I rubbed a small quantity of “Before and After Restoration Balm” in to the briar and let it rest for a few minutes. The balm almost immediately works its magic and the briar now has a nice vibrant appearance. I further buff it with a horse hair shoe brush. To finish the pipe, I rubbed a small quantity of HALCYON II wax which is used for rusticated/ sandblasted surfaces and set it aside for a few moments. Thereafter I polish it with a horse hair shoe brush and a soft cotton cloth. Though, the pipe feels small in my hands, the chamber is decent sized. Notwithstanding the size, this is a beautiful looking pipe with some great sandblast patterns. The pipe is very well made and of high quality craftsmanship as evidenced by the perfectly aligned and matching edges of the stem and shank as well as the quality of the vulcanite stem. The finished pipe is shown below.