Blog by Paresh Deshpande
The third of the four freehand pipes purchased on eBay and currently on my work table is the BEN WADE “SPIRAL”. This is a huge sized pipe and fills the hand nicely with its size, weight and heft. I was attracted to this pipe because of its size and the unique spiraled shank. Another factor was the fact that my inherited collection had quite a few numbers of Danish pipes like the Stanwells, Amphoras, Kriswells and SONs. Thus, when I first saw the pipe on eBay, the name Ben Wade sounded so British and when I read the description and the stampings of Made In Denmark, I was immediately interested and intrigued at the same time!!! I got this pipe fairly cheap and the excellent condition it was in when it arrived, further sweetened the deal. This appears to be a simple and straight forward cleaning job from the looks of it.
The stummel shows a combination of sandblasted and smooth surfaces. It shows smooth surface on the left side extending 2/3 way down from rim top towards the heel of the bowl and on the right side it extends from the base of the bowl to 1/3 way upwards towards the rim top.The shank has beautiful and evenly spaced 5 spirals, first half from the bowl end is sandblasted while the remaining half towards the shank end is smooth and bears the stampings “Ben Wade” over “SPIRAL” over “SANDBLAST” over “HAND MADE” over “IN” over “DENMARK”. These stampings are seen in the first and third spiral of the shank. The stem bears the Ben Wade logo of the initials in capital letters ensconced within a crown on the top surface of the stem near the tenon end. All the stampings are clear and crisp. There is some very interesting history on Ben Wade pipes which I got from pipedia.org. Some interesting snippets of information are reproduced below:-
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 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.
In the second World War the factory was destroyed by German air raids on Leeds. But the Ben Wade family decided to re-build it immediately after the war and pipe production was re-started soon and successfully linked to the fame from the pre-war years.
Before the second war Ben Wade clustered their offerings into three price points: “Ben Wade” included the higher end pipes (eg the Larnix, Super Grain, Selected Grain, etc), “BW” included the mid-level pipes (eg Statesman, Natural Grain, County, etc), and “BWL” were the least expensive (eg Hurlingham, Adelphi, Tense Grain). Champion was in the last group, and in the 1930s at least retailed for 2/6.
Ben Wade turns Danish
Young Copenhagen master pipemaker Preben Holm had made a meteoric career heading a pipe manufacture employing 45 people at the age of 22! But around the turn of 1970/71 he was in major financial difficulties. His US distributor, Snug Harbour Ltd. in New York City, left him in the lurch. Holm had three unpaid invoices on his desk and another large shipment was ready for the USA, when Snug Harbour’s manager told him on the phone that there was no money at all on the account to pay him.
So the Dane went to New York for an almost desparate search for a new distribution partner. He made contacts with Lane Ltd. and met Herman G. Lane in February 1971. Lane Ltd. had no interest in Holm’s serial pipes produced at that time but so much the more in the hand-carved freehands because the hype for Danish freehands and fancies in the States was still on its way to the climax then. The meeting resulted in an agreement to start cooperation. Lane insisted to improve the quality considerably and in return he assured to be able to sell essentially larger quantities.
Holm went back home to work on new samples with all-new designs and altered finishes for Lane. Both, Lane and Holm, agreed that it would be unwise to sell the pipes under Preben Holm’s name as long as Snug Harbour had a considerable stock of Preben Holm pipes and might sell them pipes at very low prices just to bring in some money.
So on Mr. Lane’s proposal it was determined to use the name Ben Wade belonging to Lane Ltd. Lane spend considerable amounts of money for advertising the new brand in the big magazines– the centerpiece being whole-page ads showing a very exclusive Seven Day’s Set.
The cooperation with Lane Ltd. proved to be an eminent business success for both partners. Within a very short time Ben Wade Handmade Denmark sold in much larger quantities and at higher prices than they had ever dreamed of. And the hype these freehands and fancy pipes caused went on unbroken long after Herman G. Lane deceased. Preben Holm – obviously much more brilliant in pipe making than in pipe business – was in major troubles again in 1986 and had to sack most of his staff. The Ben Wade production was significantly lowered but continued until his untimely death in June of 1989. Up to now Preben Holm made Ben Wade pipes are cult and highly sought for on the estate markets.
From the above information, I can say with some certainty that this line of pipes was made between the years 1971 to 1986.
INITIAL VISUAL INSPECTION
This Ben Wade has a huge size and fills the hand nicely and has a combination of smooth and sandblasted surfaces. The sandblasted areas are filled with dust and grime which can be easily seen in the crevices of the blast. The smooth surface is also covered in the tobacco oils and oils secreted by sweating palms giving it a dull and lackluster appearance. There are no blemishes in the briar of the stummel or the shank that can be seen. I surmise that a nice scrub with Murphy’s oil soap and a hard bristled toothbrush should suffice to clean the stummel and the shank. The rim top is sandblasted and is covered in overflow of lava, tars and grime. There is no apparent damage to the inner and outer edge of the rim that can be seen, like a charred rim or an out of round bowl or chips and dents. However, the condition will be ascertained once the chamber has been reamed and the overflow of lava is removed from the rim surface. The chamber shows uneven cake build up with a thicker build up at the bottom and progressively reducing towards the rim top. The condition of the walls will be ascertained once the chamber has been reamed and the cake has been taken down to the bare briar. However, the stummel feels solid to the touch with no soft briar anywhere which is indicative of the likelihood of a burnout or major heat fissures.The beautiful and unique spiral shank has crisp edges to the spirals and just needs to be cleaned for the straight grains to pop out in their complete splendor. The plateau shank end is filled with dirt, grime and will need to be cleaned. The airway in the shank shows a blockage during the blow test and should be an easy clean up.The high quality vulcanite fancy stem is oxidized and the “BW WITH CROWN” logo appears faded as it is covered in oxidation. This needs to be addressed and the preservation of the stem logo attempted.Deeper tooth chatter peppers both the upper and lower surfaces of the stem. However, the bite marks are more pronounced and numerous on the lower surface. I shall try to raise these to the surface by flaming with Bic lighter and the deeper ones will be filled with CA superglue. Buttons show light deformation due to bite marks and will need to be sharpened. It is interesting to observe that these tooth indentations are slightly more forward towards the tenon end rather than the button end!!! Probably, the huge size and the front heavy bowl necessitate clenching it forward for better balance.THE PROCESS
I started the restoration process by reaming the chamber with a Kleen Reem pipe reamer followed by scrapping the remaining cake from the chamber with my fabricated knife. The cake was hard and dry. I further removed the cake using a 220 grit sand paper and sanded the walls till the solid bare briar was reached. I wiped down the interiors of the chamber with a cotton swab dipped in alcohol to clean the chamber of all the carbon dust and inspect the inner wall condition. And there it was, a sight which every restorer, experienced or a novice silently prays is not seen…… the beginnings of a crack/ heat fissures!!!!! The following pictures show the extent of these fissures. I shall address this issue later after I have cleaned the stummel and the stem, both internally and externally. This was followed by cleaning the internals of the shank and the airway. I attempted to insert a hard bristled pipe cleaner dipped in isopropyl alcohol through the airway in the shank and realized that there was no give for the pipe cleaner half way through the mortise. The blockage called for a more aggressive method of cleaning!!! Using a fabricated (again…. I have modified and fabricated a number of tools which I find useful in my restoration processes as the sophisticated and designated tools are not easily available to me and those available are too expensive!!!) Dental spatula, I scraped all the grunge, oils and tars from the mortise. However, a pipe cleaner would still not pass through!! I shone a torch light in to the chamber and looking through the shank, I realized that the blockage was nearer to the draught hole as the light did not pass through. I addressed this issue by inserting a rounded needle file and dislodging the blockage. I further scrubbed the walls of the draught hole and the mortise with the rounded needle file. Once I was satisfied with the filing, I thoroughly cleaned the mortise and the airway using a shank brush, q-tips and pipe cleaners, all dipped in isopropyl alcohol, till the pipe cleaners and q-tips came out clean. I checked the draw and it was nice, smooth and full. With the insides of the stummel and shank cleaned and freshened up, I turned my attention to the exterior of the bowl. Using Murphy’s oil soap and a toothbrush, I cleaned the exterior of the bowl. I gave a very deliberate scrub to the bowl and into the rustications to remove all the dust, dirt and grime that had accumulated over the years. I purposefully avoided brass brush/ steel wool while cleaning so as not to damage the sandblast. Once the cleaning with the oil soap was done, I rinsed it under running tap water and wiped it dry with a soft cotton cloth. I took care that the water does not enter into the chamber and the shank. I wiped and dried the stummel with a paper napkin and a soft cotton cloth. The bowl now has a nice, beautiful, clean and robust look to it. I kept the bowl aside to dry out and turned my attention to the stem. Turning my attention to the stem, I cleaned the stem surface with Magic Clean sponge and followed it up by flaming the surface of the stem with the flame of a Bic lighter to raise the minor tooth chatter and bite marks to the surface. This was followed by the sanding with a 220 grit sand paper. This serves two purposes; firstly, it reduces the size of the fills as well as evens out the surface of the stem for the fill and secondly, it has been my experience that if the stem oxidation is removed before the fill, the end result is a nice black and shining finish and not the dirty brown spots wherever the stem has been filled. I followed it up with sanding the stem surface with a 600 grit sand paper. I spot filled the deeper bite marks with clear CA superglue and set it aside to cure overnight. I had covered the stem logo with a whitener in order to highlight the stem logo. The extent of highlight will depend on the depth remaining in the stamping. While the fills in the stem were curing, I decided to address the beginnings of the very minor issues of heat fissures in the chamber. I mixed an adequate quantity of pipe ash, activated charcoal with yogurt to form a thick slurry and applied it as evenly as possible all along the inner walls of the chamber. This too, was set aside to cure/ dry along with the stem. The next day, once I was satisfied with the cure, using a flat head needle file, I sanded the fill to match it with the stem surface and also to sharpen the edges of the buttons on either surface. I further matched the fills and sharpened the buttons by sanding with 220, 600 and 800 grit sand paper. The stem was polished with micromesh pads, wet sanding with 1500 to 2400 grit pads followed by dry sanding with 3200 to 12000 grit pads. I rubbed a little extra virgin olive oil with my fingers in to the stem. After I was through with the last grit pad, I gave a final rub of extra virgin olive oil and set it aside to be absorbed by the stem. It had taken a couple of days for the coating of pipe mud to completely cure and dry out. I very lightly sanded the chamber coating with a 600 grit sand paper to even and smooth out the surface of the chamber.Once I was done with the chamber, I gave the external surface of the stummel a good clean up with a dry soft cloth to remove any dust/dirt that might have settled on the bowl overnight. Thereafter, I rubbed a small quantity of “Before and After Restoration Balm” into the bowl ensuring that it reaches the rustication also. I am truly amazed at the spread of this balm! Just a small quantity quickly spreads and is sufficient to coat the entire bowl when rubbed with the fingers. The product was further rubbed into the rustication when buffed, using a horsehair shoe brush. I let it rest for a few minutes to let the balm work its magic on the briar. The transformation is amazing!! Once this was done, it was back to using muscle power to enhance the shine and beauty of the sandblast and the smooth surfaces by prolonged rubbing with a soft cloth followed by a microfiber cloth. I finished the pipe restoration by attaching the stem with the stummel and giving it a nice rub with a microfiber cloth. The pipe now has a nice and deep shine to it. The finished pipe is shown below. Thank you for sparing your valuable time in going through this write up.