A Tribute to an American Pipecarver – “John L. Lakatosh”

Blog by Paresh Deshpande

In my last blog on Boswell ’96 pipe restoration, I had confessed my growing admiration for pipes made by American pipe carvers after having worked on a number of pipes like Tracy Mincer, Custom-Bilts, Kaywoodies, John Bessai, J M Boswell etcetera. I realized that American pipe carvers are artistic, technologically inventive and that the pipes they made are robust, life lasting with a nice feel and heft and of very high quality. However, my liking for freehand pipes has remained undiminished. So now I have on my work table, three freehand pipes made by an iconic American small time pipe carver, who passed away in March this year. The carver that I am mentioning is Mr. John Lakatosh.

The three pipes currently on my work table are large sized freehand which were hand carved by John Lakatosh. The first is a large bent freehand billiard carved in 4-81; the second is a large sized triangular freehand pipe with a nice heft and hand feel, carved in 1-83 while the third is a sitter Saxophone (or should I call it a Ballerina!!!!!) carved in 5-85, the first digit indicating the month and later two digits denoting the year in which they were carved. All these pipes bear the stamping “HANDMADE” over “LAKATOSH” over the “MONTH AND YEAR” in which they were made. These stamps are in engraved in a script hand on the shank end of each pipe. I was keen to know more about John Lakatosh, the carver, his pipe making techniques and philosophy. I searched pipedia.com and there is a very brief write up on him. I reproduce the information available on pipedia.com for a quick read.

John Lakatosh was a carver from New Columbia, Pennsylvania. He made pipes in his home workshop in the Susquehana Valley up above Sunbury. John made pipes during the week and sold most of them at craft fairs in Central and Southern Pennsylvania. He retired from carving, to go back to bus mechanic work after the tobacco industry took a decline. He now lives with his wife in Lewisburg Pennsylvania, where he now crafts furniture for family and friends. He recently passed on March 8th 2018. (Primary/Familial Source)

As I was surfing the net for more information on Mr. John Lakatosh, I came across his obituary. Here is the link (https://www.heffnercare.com/obituaries/obituary-listings?obId=3010702)

The stummel surface of all three pipes boasts of beautiful straight and flame grains all along the stummel surface. The 4-81 carved pipe has three hand rusticated patches, one on either sides of the bowl and one on the front side. The front of the stummel on the one carved in 1-83, has a beautiful and delicate sliver of rustication extending from top left side of the rim and extends to half way down towards the heel on the right side. The sitter carved in 5-85 has smooth surface with no rustications.  The stummel is relatively clean and has a few dents and dings likely due to uncared for storage. The briar is dull and lifeless and has taken on a layer of aged patina, through which one can make out the beautiful grains all round. All three pipes should clean up nicely. Apart from the pipe 4-81 which appear to have been smoked maybe once or unsmoked, the other two pipes have seen considerable use and have a decent layer of cake. The condition of the inner walls of the chamber on both used pipes can be ascertained only after the cake has been removed completely and taken down to bare briar. Both the bowl feels robust and solid to the touch from the outside. This issue should be a breeze to address. The plateau rim top has darkened on the 1-83 and 5-85, more so on the later due to frequent lighting, on the back side of the rim. This can be seen in above pictures. The plateau rim top of the 4-81 is pristine. The condition of the inner edge and rim top can be commented upon only once the rim has been cleaned. The plateau shank ends of all three pipes are clean and without any accumulation of dirt and grime. However, the mortise does show signs of accumulated dried oils, tars and remnants of ash, greatly restricting the air flow.The 1-83 and 5-85 have green and brown acrylic stem respectively. The 4-81 has a vulcanite stem. The acrylic stems have beautiful swirls of contrasting light and dark colors. The green stem has significant damage in the form of deep bite marks on both the upper and lower stem surface near the edge of the lip. The brown acrylic stem has tooth chatter on both surfaces of the stem, also near the edge of the lip while the vulcanite stem is devoid of any tooth chatter or bite marks, but is heavily oxidized. There is some damage to the stem in form of cuts, on the flared edge towards the tenon. The tenons on both the green and brown acrylic stem are covered in dried oils and tars and so is the airway. The air flow through the stems is laborious to say the least. The fit of both these stems in to the mortise is very loose, which will loosen further after the mortise and tenon have been cleaned. These issues will need to be addressed. THE PROCESS
I started this project by reaming the chambers of 1-83 and 5-85 with size 3 head of PipNet reamer. I used a 220 grit sand paper, pinched between my thumb and forefinger, to sand the inner walls of the chamber of all three pipes. Once I had reached the bare briar, I wiped the chamber with a cotton pad dipped in isopropyl alcohol. This removed all the residual carbon dust and also rid the chamber of all ghost smells. I followed up the reaming by cleaning the mortise and air way of all three pipes, using hard bristled and regular pipe cleaners, q-tips dipped in alcohol. The mortise and the draught hole of 5-85 was so chock-a- block with all the dried tars, oils and gunk that I had to use my fabricated spatula and the drill bit from the Kleen Reem pipe reamer!!!! I gave a final clean with shank brushes dipped in alcohol and dried the mortise with a rolled paper napkin. The shank internals and the draught hole are now nice and clean with an open and full draw.I cleaned out the internals of the stem using hard bristled and regular pipe cleaners dipped in alcohol. I scraped the dried oils and tars from the tenon with the sharp edge of my fabricated dental spatula. The deep bite marks on the green stem of 1-83 were cleaned with cotton pad dipped in alcohol and spot filled with clear superglue. I set the stem aside to cure the fill. Now, it was the turn of the stummel of all three pipes to get cleaned up. Using a hard bristled tooth brush dipped in undiluted Murphy’s oil soap, I very deliberately scrubbed the stummel, cleaning the surface thoroughly. Special attention was paid to scrub out all the dirt and dust from the crevices in the rustication on the sides and front of the stummel on 4-81. I cleaned the plateau rim and shank end too. The stummel, plateau shank end and rim top were dried using paper napkins and soft cotton cloth. The cleaning of the stummel revealed three dents on the stummel of 5-85. I decided to raise these dents to the surface using the steaming method. I heated my smaller fabricated knife over a candle. Once the knife was hot, I placed a soaked Turkish towel over the dent and placed the heated knife over it. The steam generated pulled out two of the three dents. I spot filled the remaining dent with clear superglue and set it aside to cure overnight. Once the fill had cured, using a flat head needle file, I blend the fill with the surrounding briar and further sand it with a piece of 220 grit sand paper to achieve finer match. I wanted to highlight the grains seen and further blend all the repairs carried out to the stummel. To achieve this aim, I sand down the three stummel using micromesh pads, wet sanding with 1500 to 2400 grit pads and dry sanding with 3200 to 12000 grit pads. The three stummel now have a deep shine with grains popping out with magnificent contrast. Though this part of restoration is the second most time consuming and laborious, the end results are also the most satisfying. The play of grains, the contrast and the smooth surface are well worth the efforts. I rub a small quantity of “Before and After Restoration Balm” in to briar and let it rest for a few minutes. I took some extra efforts to work the balm in to the hand carved rustication on the bottom of the bowl. 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. With the stummel nice and clean and attractive, I worked the stems of all three pipes. The fill on the green acrylic stem had cured nicely and I sand it down with a flat head needle file. I sharpened the lip edges using a needle file and sand the entire stem with 220 followed by 400, 800 and 1000 grit sand paper. This helps to reduce the sanding marks left behind by the more abrasive 220 grit paper. By mere sanding itself, the minor tooth marks seen on stem surfaces of the brown stem of 5-85 were addressed completely while this process eliminated the deep oxidation seen on the vulcanite stem of the 4-81 pipe. To bring a deep shine to the vulcanite stem as well as the green and brown acrylic stems, I went through the complete set of micromesh pads, wet sanding with 1500 to 2400 grit pads and dry sanding with 3200 to 12000 grit pads. I wiped the stem with alcohol after each pad and rubbed it down with Extra Virgin Olive oil. The internals of the stem was cleaned out using alcohol and pipe cleaners. The pictures of the process and final results are shown below. To finish, I re-attach the stem with the stummel. I mount a cotton cloth buffing wheel on to my local machine which is similar to a Dremel. I set the speed at about half of the full power and applied White Diamond compound to each of the three pipes. I wiped/ buffed all the pipes with a soft cotton cloth to clear it of any leftover compound dust. I then mounted another cotton cloth wheel on to the polishing machine and applied several coats of carnauba wax over the stummel and the stem of all three pipes. I finished the restoration by giving all the pipes a rigorous hand buffing using a microfiber cloth to raise the shine further. The completed pipes, with the dark brown hues of the stummel contrasting with the shiny black stem, looks lovely, fresh and vibrant; the photographs speak for themselves. The beauty, size and shapes of all these pipes make it one of my favorites and will find a place of pride in my modest collection. If only the pipe could tell some of the stories and techniques used by Mr. John Lakatosh while carving pipes.… Cheers!!

3 thoughts on “A Tribute to an American Pipecarver – “John L. Lakatosh”

  1. Charles Lakatosh

    Okay you need to leave a nickel thickness on the carbon with a pipe reamer you can contact me I’m John’s son Charles Clakatosh41@gmail.com for more insight into my father and our family we all had a lot of calibration me and my sister’s and mother all had our tasks for the family business!!

  2. Charles Lakatosh

    You did a fine job my Dad’s pipes!! They are really good you should have used carnuba wax that’s all we ever used as a finish via heat transfer buffing wheel and they’ll look beautiful every time I always did the finishing he said I was better than he was we all miss him very Much on this Fathers Day!!! If you want to know more about him EMAIL me!

    1. rebornpipes Post author

      Thanks I have passed your message on to Paresh in India who restored the pipes. They were part of his Grandfather’s collection… still trying to figure out how they got to India from your Dad.


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