Restoring a Nording “Pick Axe” Freehand Pipe

Blog by Paresh Deshpande

I had just finished restoring a 1940s-1960s Kaywoodie Bent Billiard with a 4 holed stinger, also from my grandfather’s collection. I am always fascinated by “Free Hand” pipes. I feel these freehand shapes let the creativity and imaginations of a carver run riot without the bindings of the exacting demands of a classical shapes and finish.

Over a period of time, I have collected a number of freehand pipes during my not-so-long journey in to the pipe world and have realized that these freehand pipes invariably have a nice hand fit, sitting snugly in to the hands of the smoker with a nice heft to them. The most fascinating aspect of a freehand, I feel, is the carver’s desire to highlight the grains in the briar block and shape the pipe accordingly to highlight these grains.

I was fortunate to come across four estate freehand pipes, one Soren, one Ben Wade Spiral, one Nording #4 and one Nording Pick Axe shaped pipe. I discussed with my mentor and guide, Mr. Steve Laug, and after his approval on the aspects of collectability and the price point at which they were available, I purchased them about a year back!!!! Since then, these were waiting for me to work on and now that I feel slightly more confident in doing justice to these lovely pipes, I decided to work on them. The first of these pipes that is now on my work table is the Nording Pick Axe shaped freehand.

This beautiful pipe has the classical pick-axe shape with a plateau rim top. The stummel has a smooth surface with densely flame grains extending from the mid way on right side and extending mid way on left side while the remaining surface on the stummel has beautiful rustication. The smooth portions extend to the sides such that when held in the palm, all the fingers are holding the stummel along the smooth surface and one can admire the fine delicate rustications on the back while sipping your favorite tobacco. Blissful!!!!!!!!! Similarly, the top surface of the shank is rusticated extending half way through on either side while the bottom is smooth with straight grains extending from the tip of the axe towards the end of the shank.  The only stamping, “NORDING” in block capital letters, is seen on the smooth portion of the shank. The stamping is clear, crisp and easily readable. The fancy stem has a slight bent towards the lip and helps the pipe to balance straight on a table. There is the letter “N” in block capital letter, stamped on the top surface. But it is faint and hidden under the heavy oxidation.I searched the internet for detailed information on Nording pipes and this pipe shape in particular shape. Though I did not find anything particularly about this pipe, it was interesting to read how young Mr. Nording got in to the business of pipe making. It makes for a very interesting read. We must not forget to thank one Mr. Skovbo, who had a major contribution in introducing Mr. Nording in to this business!!!!!!  I have a couple of SON pipes in my grandfather’s collection which I will restore at a later date since I now know about the historical importance of these pipes!!!!!!!!!!! Here is the link for easy reference of those interested:ørding 

The stummel is covered in dust, oils and grime giving a dull and lackluster appearance to the bowl. The rustications on the back of the stummel are, likewise, filled with dust, dirt and grime. This will need to be thoroughly cleaned. On close scrutiny, I saw some minor superficial dents and dings on the smooth surface. Will I address it or keep it as it is as a characteristic feature of this pipe’s past life? Hell yes, I will address it!!!!! I want it to be as perfect as I can make it for its next innings with me!!!!!! The chamber is clean with a very uneven and thin layer of cake. The plateau rim top is covered with overflow of lava. The inner rim edge is crisp, even and intact. The chamber is odorless and dry to the touch. The inner wall condition of the chamber will be ascertained once the chamber has been completely reamed. However, I foresee no issues at all as the bowl feels solid to the touch.The fancy stem is heavily oxidized with tooth chatter and bite marks on both surfaces and some calcification can be seen towards the lip. There is a significant damage to the lip end in the form of a bite through hole on the upper surface and some deep bite marks on both upper and lower surface of the stem. The airway in the stem is slightly blocked. These issues will have to be addressed. On close observation, the upper surface of the stem bears the stamp “N” in block capital letter. However, this stamp is very faint and covered in thick layer of oxidation. I will attempt to restore and save this stamp.The shank, mortise and the airway is relatively clean and will only need to be sanitized.THE PROCESS
The first step that I usually follow is the reaming of the bowl. However, in this project, since the only significant damage appreciated is to the stem and would be a time consuming process to repair, I started this restoration by addressing the stem first by sanding the stem surface with a 220 grit sand paper followed by 1500 grit micromesh pad. This serves two purposes. Firstly, it evens out the surface for a fresh fill during stem repairs and secondly, I have experienced that any fill in a stem repair turns distinctly brown after micromesh sanding if the oxidation from the stem surface was not removed prior to the application of the fill. Once I was through with the sanding, I wiped the stem clean with cotton pad dipped in isopropyl alcohol. This was followed by flaming both the surfaces of the stem with a Bic lighter, concentrating more around the hole on the upper surface and the deeper bite marks on the lower surface. This helps in raising all the tooth chatter and dents to the surface.I inserted a pipe cleaner coated with Vaseline in to the stem airway before applying the fill. This helps in preventing the fill from entering and blocking the airway. I prepared a mixture of superglue and activated charcoal and applied it as evenly as possible over the hole and deep bite marks and set it aside to cure for 48 hours since the climate here is very wet and humid. While the glue was curing, I worked on the stummel, reaming out the cake with a Kleen Reem reamer, followed by a pipe reaming knife that I had fabricated. I brought the cake down to the bare briar. To further remove any traces of old cake and smooth the inner walls of the chamber, I sanded the inner wall surface with a 220 grit sand paper. As observed during initial visual inspection, I had decided to remove all the dents and dings in the stummel. I cleaned the stummel with Murphy’s oil soap, paying special attention to the plateau rim which was scrubbed with 000 grade steel wool to remove all the overflow of lava. Thereafter I sanded the smooth surfaces of the bowl with a 220 grit sand paper. Once all the dings and dents were evened out and the surface made smooth, this was followed by micromesh polishing pads, wet sanding with 1500 to 2400 grit pads. Again, I wiped the bowl with a moist cotton cloth after each pad. Thankfully there were no fills in the stummel. Once I was through with the wet sanding pads, I used the 3200 to 12000 grit pads to dry sand the stummel to a nice shine. I set the stummel aside to let it dry out naturally. I rubbed some “Before and After Restoration” balm deeply in to the stummel with my fingers. This balm helps in rejuvenating and protecting the briar wood. The immediate and incredible transformation that takes place is a worthy reward for all the efforts!!! The mixed grain can now be clearly appreciated. I let the balm be absorbed by the briar for about 15-20 minutes and then polished it with a soft cotton cloth. The bowl now looks fresh and attractive with the grains popping out any which way you look at the briar. Turning my attention to the stem, using a flat head needle file I sanded out all the fills to match the surface of the stem. I further matched the fills by sanding it with a 220 grit sand paper. I had to spot fill clear superglue into small fills which were exposed during the sanding and repeat the entire process twice. To finish the stem I went through the complete set of micromesh pads, wet sanding with 1500 to 2400 pads and dry sanding with 3200 to 12000 grit pads. I wiped the stem with a cotton swab dipped in alcohol after each pad and rubbed olive oil into the stem after every three pads. The stem looks crisp, shiny and like new. Having addressed the “appearance” aspects of this beauty, I turned my attention to the “performance” aspects to ensure that this beauty smokes as well as it looks. I thoroughly cleaned the shank internals using shank brush, pipe cleaners, qtips and isopropyl alcohol. The stem airway was cleaned using regular pipe cleaners and also bristled ones dipped in alcohol. The airway is now clean and the draw is full and open.To complete the restoration, I rubbed a minute quantity of PARAGON WAX on the smooth stummel and the stem and HALCYON WAX II on the rusticated surface. After a few seconds, using muscle power and a microfiber cloth, I polished the entire pipe to a lovely shine. The finished pipe is shown below. This one shall soon find a place in my rotation. Thank you for your valuable time spent in reading this chronicle of my journey.


2 thoughts on “Restoring a Nording “Pick Axe” Freehand Pipe

    1. PARESH

      Thank you Sir for your appreciation. The classic shapes are evergreen and loved by all, and I especially love the Rhodesian and Bulldog. However, i feel these freehands add a different and unique dimension to one’s own collection.


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