Blog by Dal Stanton
I saw this large Ben Wade Bent Billiard on the eBay auction block a few years ago and secured it with the winning bid. This was the first time I had acquired a Ben Wade, so my initial thought was to add it to my own collection. I noticed that Ben Wade stamped pipes usually attracted more than usual bidding attention and so I was looking forward to restoring it and learning more about the name. In the end, I put him in the For ‘Pipe Dreamers’ Only! section on the Pipe Steward site and this is where Paresh saw it and commissioned it to add to his collection and this benefits the Daughters of Bulgaria. The Ben Wade, without question, fits the profile of being a ‘hefty’ pipe fitting well in the hand. Here are some of the pictures that got Paresh’s attention: I take some additional pictures on my work table in Sofia, Bulgaria, looking at the stamping. On the left shank is ‘Ben Wade’ in cursive script over MADE IN [over] LONDON ENGLAND. The right shank side has 79 stamped – I’m assuming a shape number. The stem also has a BEN WADE stamp. Pipedia’s article on Ben Wade is interesting and very helpful in explaining the history. The ‘Family Era” (1860 to 1962) is described as the ‘hay day’ of the British pipe maker:
The company was founded by Benjamin Wade in 1860 in Leeds, Yorkshire, where it was located for over a century. Ben Wade started as a pipe trader, but yet in the 1860’s he established a workshop to produce briar pipes. The pipes were made in very many standard shapes – always extensively classic and “very British”. Many models tended to be of smaller dimensions. Ben Wade offered a very high standard of craftsmanship and quality without any fills. Thus, the pipes were considered to be high grade and a major competitor to other famous English brands.
Along with most pipe manufacturers, the Second World War was a difficult time for Ben Wade. German air raids destroyed the factory in Leeds, but the Ben Wade Co., quickly rebuilt after the war. The Pipedia article gives several examples of the Ben Wade based in Leeds nomenclature during the Family Era (courtesy of Doug Valitchka):The ’Family Era’ ended when the business was sold in 1962:
…the owner family decided to leave pipe business and sell off the firm. The family went into negotiations with Herman G. Lane, president of Lane Ltd. in New York at about the same time as the Charatan family. Lane Ltd. bought both firms in 1962. Herman G. Lane had been Charatan’s US sole distributor since 1955 and Charatan always remained his pet child. But Ben Wade was treated in another way by its new owner. The fabrication of pipes was reduced and the factory in Leeds was closed in 1965 finally. So this was the end of Ben Wade pipes stamped “Made in Leeds, England”.
The ‘Lane Era’ is described as a time when the historic quality of Ben Wade declined to a ‘second’ with reference to the production of standard shapes:
Alas the “new” Ben Wades were quite usual series pipes, copies of well-known standard shapes. The pipes often showed hardly masqued fillings and were processed quite coarsely with hardly polished pre-moulded Ebonite stems. Therewith Ben Wade degenerated definitively to a second brand.
According to the Pipedia article, after the death of Herman G. Lane, the business was sold to Dunhill Pipes Limited in 1978 and the new owner had no need to produce ‘seconds’ coming from the acquisition. The Ben Wade Bent Billiard on my work table comes from the ‘Lane Era’ produced between 1965 and 1978 matching the nomenclature during this period. “Made in London England” or just “London” replaced “Leeds” with the characteristic cursive script and ‘Ben Wade’ stem stamp (again courtesy of Doug Valitchka):I had one other question regarding the name ‘Ben Wade’ – the Danish connection? In 1971, the young, Danish pipe maker, Preben Holm, came to Lane with financial difficulties and in need of a new US distributer of his pipes made in Denmark. The new partnership put the Ben Wade name on the Freehand production coming from the Danish factory into the burgeoning US ‘Freehand’ market with a commitment to quality rather than quantity. The market grew through the 70s until 1985, when the market for these pipes fell resulting in the downsizing of the factory in 1986 but the production of Danish Ben Wade pipes came to an end in 1989 after the death of Preben Holm. The Pipedia article concludes by describing the status of the Ben Wade name. Duncan Briars purchased rights to the Ben Wade name from Dunhill Pipes in 1998 and continues to produce pipes at the same factory where Dunhill pipes are made:
The bowls are carved at the world famous 32 St. Andrews Road, Walthamstowe pipe factory, in London, England. The same factory where Dunhills are made. Every pipe is drilled spot on and exhibits a good blast and all have high quality German Vulcanite mouthpieces. Every pipe is stamped “Ben Wade, Made in London, England”. The craftsmanship and smokability have always been superb.
With a greater appreciation for the Ben Wade name, I take another look at the Ben Wade Bent Billiard on my worktable. Even though the Pipedia article gave more of a negative view of traditional shapes of Ben Wades produced in the Lane Era, the pipe I’m looking at doesn’t reflect this. The grain is beautiful, and I see no fills on the surface. The chamber appears to have been cleaned and the briar surface is clean as well showing normal nicks and scratches. The stem does have some minor oxidation and tooth dents on the button. I also detect that there is a gap between the shank and stem – I’ll see if cleaning might correct this. I take some close ups of these issues. To begin the cleanup of the Ben Wade, I run a pipe cleaner dipped in isopropyl 95% through the stem. Then, along with other pipes in the queue, I put the stem in a soak of Before & After Deoxidizer to remove the oxidation. After a few hours, I remove the stem and wipe off the raised oxidation using cotton pads and light paraffin oil – mineral oil. I also run another pipe cleaner through the airway to remove Deoxidizer. Turning to the stummel, I remove the very light cake in the chamber. With the chamber so large, I jump to the largest blade head from the Pipnet Reaming kit. I follow this by using the Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Tool and scraping the chamber walls further. I finish by sanding the chamber wall using 240 grit paper wrapped around a Sharpie Pen. To remove the carbon dust residue, I wipe the chamber with a cotton pad wetted with isopropyl 95%. The pictures show the progress. One of the purposes of removing the old cake to bring the chamber down to the briar, is not only for a fresh start. When the carbon is removed the chamber can be inspected for problems usually pertaining to heat fissures and potential burn throughs. Inspecting the Ben Wade, I detect on the forward part of the chamber a sloping indentation that is a little to pronounced to ignore. Using the Savinelli Fitsall Tool again, I scrape carbon out of the indentation to make sure I’m getting down to the briar. This reveals the full extent of the abnormal burning. I take pictures to show what I see, but the picture doesn’t do too well. Changing the aperture, the picture is lightened, and I outline the perimeter of the indentation in the final picture below. I need to address this budding burn through later after cleaning the stummel. Next, I clean the external stummel surface using undiluted Murphy’s Oil Soap and a cotton pad. The stummel cleans up well but reveals a tired, lackluster, thin finish. I then clean the internals of the stummel using cotton buds and pipe cleaners dipped in isopropyl 95%. The grunge is thick, so I also employ a dental spatula to scrape the mortise walls as well as a drill bit to hand turn down the airway to excavate the old tars and oils. To save on pipe cleaners I also utilize a long shank brush to scrub the airway. Eventually, the tide begins to turn, and the buds and pipe cleaners are emerging less soiled. I take a picture of the tools I use.To continue cleaning the internals, I use a kosher salt and alcohol soak. I like to do this additional step in cleaning to further clean the tars and oils out of the internal briar and to freshen the pipe. I use kosher salt because it doesn’t leave an aftertaste. I stretch and twist a cotton ball to form a wick that I then insert down the mortise and airway pushing it with a straight, stiff wire. I then fill the bowl with kosher salt and place the stummel in an egg crate to keep it stable. With a large eyedropper, I fill the bowl with isopropyl 95% until it surfaces over the salt. I put the stummel aside to soak for several hours.Again, I look closely at the stem that had already soaked in the Before & After Deoxidizer and I see that there remains deeper oxidation. Instead of going directly to sanding out the oxidation, I decide to put the stem in the OxiClean bath to let it soak overnight – to see if more oxidation would be raised. I put a small bit of petroleum jelly over the Ben Wade stem stamping and I put the stem in the OxiClean and turned out the lights. Another day is finished.The next morning the soak had done the job. After tossing the expended salt in the waste, I wipe the chamber with paper towel and blow through the mortise to clear any residual salt crystals. I also use a long shank brush down the mortise. To make sure the internals are clean, I finish by using a cotton bud and pipe cleaner dipped in isopropyl 95% down the mortise and airway. They come out clean.Next, I fish the stem out of the OxiClean where it has been soaking through the night. More oxidation has surfaced. I begin sanding the entire stem using 240 grit paper careful to protect the Ben Wade stamping and shouldering the stem. I focus on the bit area removing the minor tooth chatter. Using a flat needle file, I freshen the button edges. I follow by wet sanding with 600 grit paper and then 0000 steel wool. The oxidation appears to be removed for the larger part except for some around the Ben Wade stamping which I won’t sand for the sake of preserving the stamp. Taking it one step further, using Before & After Fine and Extra Fine Polish, I rub each into the vulcanite in succession. Putting some on my finger, I work the polishes into the vulcanite and let the stem sit for a time to absorb the polish. The polishes are advertised not only to revitalize vulcanite but also to continue to remove the oxidation. After each polish is absorbed, I then wipe the stem down with a cotton pad. The pictures show the progress.Putting the stem aside for now, I work on the budding burn through in the chamber. Previously, I dug out any remaining charring in the indentation. To make sure the area is fully clear, I sand the area again and wiped the chamber with a cotton pad wetted with isopropyl 95% to clean the chamber. As far as chamber burn throughs go, this one is minimal. It has not progressed far and the size and the thickness of the bowl means that there was never any imminent danger. Yet, for the long-term view and use of this beautiful Ben Wade Bent Billiard, I repair the problem where it is before it grows and becomes a worse problem. I mix a small batch of J-B Kwik Weld on an index card. After combining the two components, ‘Steel’ and ‘Hardener’, I have about 4 minutes to apply the mixture before it starts setting. I use a flat dental spatula as a trowel and apply the J-B Weld to the indentation in the chamber. I put the stummel aside to allow the J-B Weld to thoroughly cure. After it cures, I use a sanding drum mounted on the Dremel to sand the excess. I follow this using the Sharpie Pen wrapped with 240 grit paper to leave the chamber smooth and shaped. I’m pleased with the results and glad I went the extra mile to arrest the potential burn through. Later, I’ll apply a coat of activated charcoal and sour cream mixture to the chamber wall to improve the aesthetics and to aid formation of a new protective cake. Before continuing, I reunite the stem and stummel to examine the shank junction. Earlier I saw a gap between the shank and the stem. Often, after cleaning these problems are resolved. I find that this indeed was the case as the stem is now seated as it should be. Pictures are before and after.With the stem now properly seating, I turn again to the stem and using micromesh pads 1500 to 2400 I wet sand the stem. Following this, I dry sand using pads 3200 to 4000 and 6000 to 12000. Following each set of three pads, I apply a coat of Obsidian Oil to revitalize the stem. I love the glassy pop of a micromeshed stem! Turning now to the external surface of the stummel, I take a closer look at the condition of the briar. I identify some very small fills which are solid except for one, which is pitted. Along with normal dents and scratches from wear, there is a small skin mark on the forward outer lip of the rim. For the pitted fill, I dig out more of the old fill with a sharp dental probe. Since I will put clear CA glue on the pitted fill, I color the fill with a walnut dye stick to aid in blending. I then spot drop CA glue on the area and set the stummel aside allowing the glue to cure. After a full work day, the CA glue patch I applied this morning is fully cured. I remove the CA glue mound starting with a flat needle file. The key is to stay on the mound and gradually bring it down close to the briar surface. I don’t want to impact any surrounding briar. I follow the filing by using a tightly rolled piece of 240 grit paper to bring the glue down until it’s flush with the briar surface. My rule of thumb is to sand until I can feel no roughness. The patch looks good – blending well with the briar.To address the rim nicks, I decide to give the rim a very light topping. Using a chopping board as my topping board, I place a sheet of 240 grade paper on the board. Inverting the stummel, I rotate the stummel a few times on the board to freshen the rim lines and remove the nicks. I follow with a few rotations on 600 grade paper. The pictures show the progress. Next, to address the briar surface, I use in succession rough, medium and light grade sanding sponges to work out the cuts and nicks in preparation for the micromesh pads. I find that using sanding sponges on smooth briars helps clean the surface of the old, tired finish without being greatly invasive. The sponges also smooth and soften the rim lines after the topping. I enjoy watching the grain begin to take center stage through the process.Next, using micromesh pads 1500 to 2400 I wet sand the stummel. I follow by dry sanding with pads 3200 to 4000 and 6000 to 12000. I forgot to take a picture of the first set of 3 pads. The grain is coming through nicely. Rejoining stem and stummel, I mount a 1-inch cotton cloth buffing wheel to the Dremel set at about 40% full power and apply Blue Diamond compound to the entire pipe.Before applying carnauba wax to the stem and stummel, I need to touch up the Ben Wade stem stamping with the hope there’s enough tread left in the ‘Wade’ portion of the stamp to hold the paint. Using white acrylic paint, I apply paint over the stamping and sponge off the excess while still wet and allow the paint to dry. After dry, I gently scrape the excess with the flat edge of a toothpick. I’m less than satisfied. I try reapplying more paint and wiping while still wet. After working with it for some time, I’ve come to the best I can do. The ‘Wade’ part of the stamping simply does not have enough depth left to fully hold paint. The picture shows my less than hoped for results. One more project to finish before the final waxing. After completing the chamber repair using J-B Weld and sanding, to aid the aesthetics and to provide a starter layer for developing a protective cake, I mix together sour cream or natural yogurt with activated charcoal to form an application to cover the walls of the chamber. When I first heard about this mixture from Steve on rebornpipes, I was a bit doubtful then, but no longer. I have used this application many times and after applying and drying, the result is a very sturdy layer. After the pipe goes into service, the only caution is when cleaning out the bowl after use do not scrape the chamber with a pipe tool. I simply use a folded bristled pipe cleaner to scrape the wall after dumping the ash. This has worked well for me. I place a pipe cleaner in the draft hole to keep the airway open. Here in Bulgaria, yogurt is very plentiful, so I scoop some natural yogurt in a small bowl and add some activated charcoal powder and mix it. After it mixes and thickens enough so it won’t be runny, I trowel the mixture into the chamber with a pipe nail tool and spread it evenly. After it’s distributed well, I set the stummel aside for a time to allow the charcoal/yogurt mixture to cure. After the Charcoal/Yogurt coating sets, I reunite stem and stummel. Using the Dremel, I mount another cotton cloth wheel, leaving the speed at about 40% and apply carnauba wax. After a few coats of wax, I give the pipe a rigorous hand buffing with a microfiber cloth to raise the shine.
This hefty Ben Wade Made in London England Bent Billiard turned out very well. The horizontal grain on the huge stummel flows in a striking picture and is joined by large bird’s eye pools. The bowl rests very nicely in the palm and will provide its new steward with much enjoyment. Paresh commissioned this Ben Wade and will have the first opportunity to acquire it from The Pipe Steward Store. This pipe benefits the Daughters of Bulgaria – helping women and girls who have been trafficked and sexually exploited. Thanks for joining me!