Blog by Paresh Deshpande
I had finished the work on Somerset 8 Paneled Billiard and I was very pleased with the way it turned out. I have smoked this pipe and have to concede that it was one of the better smoking pipes in my current rotation, the draw is open and full and very smooth right up to the last morsel of tobacco. This is due to the perfect alignment of the draught hole, mortise and stem tenon. Very happy with this one, I must say!!!!!!
The sibling of the first Somerset Brother, now in my hand, is the Bent Rhodesian, and my favorite shape. The upper half of the bowl has beautiful wavy circular sandblast all round which extend to the round shank, while the bottom of the bowl has densely packed birdseye which is seen in the sandblast. Overall, this is one pipe with a beautiful sandblast patterns and as I have come to expect, the quality of the finish and vulcanite stem is par excellence. Like its paneled billiard sibling, this pipe too has a smooth and flat bottom surface 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 shank 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. As conceded in my write up on the Somerset Paneled Billiard, I have been unsuccessful in unearthing information about this brand and still remain a blind spot in my quest for knowledge on pipes. I sincerely request you to share any information you may have on this pipe.
INITIAL VISUAL INSPECTION
The sandblast on this pipe is covered in dirt, dust and grime and appears dull and lackluster. The bowl is heavily caked and there is overflow of lava on to the rim. This will have to be removed in order to ascertain the condition of the chamber walls. From my experience working on the paneled billiard, I won’t be surprised to find cracks and heat fissures on the walls of the chamber. There is a very strong sweet smell to the cake, which perhaps may vanish after the chamber has been cleaned.The mortise is filled with oils and tars and appears to be clogged. There is no free flow of air through the mortise. This will have to be cleaned. There is also a slight gap in the fitting between the stem and the shank. Maybe this will be resolved after a good cleaning of the mortise. The fitting of the stem in to the shank is very loose and just drops of when turned upside down.The stem is heavily oxidized and the edge of the lip on the top surface has been bitten out of shape. There is a bite mark close to the disfigured edge of the lip. These issues will have to be addressed.THE PROCESS
I reamed the bowl with a Kleen Reem pipe tool and with a knife; I further took the cake down to the briar. I have realized that the knife is best suited to remove the cake from the bottom of the chamber. As anticipated, the chamber walls did show the beginnings of a burn out!!!! With a 150 grit sand paper, the walls of the chamber were rid of all the remnants of the cake, presenting a clear picture of the extent of the damage. This pipe too had cracks at exactly same location as its sibling, though not as alarming. Since the pipe ash was still being collected, I cleaned the internals of this pipe with bristled and regular pipe cleaners dipped in isopropyl alcohol. Since the strong sweet smell did not diminish even after the cake had been removed, I decided to give it a salt and alcohol bath. I filled the bowl and shank with kosher salt up to just below the rim top and end of the shank respectively. I filled it up with isopropyl alcohol and set it aside over night to allow it to extract all the residual oils from the chamber and the shank. Next day, the salt and alcohol had done its job. I remove the darkened salts and clean the mortise with bristled pipe cleaners. I set it aside to dry. Once the internals were cleaned, I scrubbed the externals of the bowl with undiluted Murphy’s oil soap and dried it using paper towels and soft cotton cloth. I set it aside to dry. I cleaned the walls of the chamber with cotton pads dipped in isopropyl alcohol (since I was simultaneously working on the repair to the chamber of the Paneled Billiard, there is inescapable repetition of the process). 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.
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 smooth the walls. Now the internal walls are looking solid and ready for duty again!!!! Once the issue of cracked chamber wall was addressed, I turned my attention back to the exterior of the stummel. I rubbed a small quantity of “Before and After Restoration Balm” in to 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. Working the stem, with a Bic lighter, I flamed the surfaces of the stem to raise the tooth chatter and minor bite marks. To address the bite mark and repair the edge of the lip, I spot apply a drop of CA superglue and leave it over night to cure. The next evening, I shape the fill using flat head needle file and carve a crisp edge. To further blend in the fill, I sand the stem with a 220 grit sand paper. I sanded it down 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. Here, I realized that the issue of loose stem was yet to be addressed. This issue 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.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 polished it with a horse hair shoe brush and a soft cotton cloth. These Somerset pipe are very well made and smoke fantastic. The quality of the vulcanite is high grade and feels good to clench. The finished pipe is shown below. Since the completion of this restoration, I have smoked this pipe and included it in my rotation. Believe you me, this pipe, like its sibling, smokes perfect with a nice, smooth draw right to the end. This leads me to think, is it only necessary to have Dunhill, Barling, Comoy’s etc, as fantastic smokers? Well, my personal experience with these two Somersets, is that while the above mentioned brands are excellent pipes, the lesser known ones do need to be looked at and not discarded outright!!!!!!!!!! Thanks for your patience and looking forward to inputs about this brand and the write up. Cheers…………