Blog by Steve Laug
Here it is New Year’s Day 2019 and I am still working on pipes. I am taking a short break from the Bob Kerr estates that I have piled in boxes around my basement shop to work on a different pipe. My Shop Foreman Spencer is taking it easy today while I am fiddling with pipes. At 14+ years old my fiddling does not change much for him and he really just wants to make sure I stay put with him in the basement. He snoozes, comes over to me now and then to smack my leg and beg for a treat and then retreats to nap again.As you might have read in the title I am switching things up to work on an Italian pipe. This is one that I may have a hard time letting go of when I am finished. It is a Mastro de Paja Fatta A Mano Bent Bulldog. It reads that on the left side of the diamond shank. On the underside of the shank it is stamped Media with 3A in a circle that I am assuming is the grade stamp. On the right side of the shank it is stamped Pesario (the city in Italy where it was made). On the underside of the stem it is stamped with a Sun. There is a gold band angled across the top of the shank forming an arrowhead. The Mastro de Paja gold inset is on the left side of the saddle stem. The pipe came to me in a lot of five pipes that I bought from a pipeman in Florida. The other pipes in the lot were a second Mastro de Paja, two Savinelli Autographs and a Bacchus Carved and Cased Meerschaum. I decided to work on the Mastro Bulldog first.I had the fellow in Florida send the pipes to my brother Jeff in Idaho for the cleanup work. He does a great job and expedites my restoration process a lot. He took the following photos of the pipe before he worked his magic on them. The pipe must have been a terrific smoker because the bowl was pretty clogged up with cake and lava flowing over the rim top. It really was a mess and the cake was hard from sitting. The Florida pipeman had laid aside his pipe some 15-20 years earlier and it had been in storage. It was going to take some work to clean out that bowl and be able to see what the rim looked like underneath the layer of lava. The rest of the bowl looked dirty but the amazing grain shone through. Jeff included some photos of the sides and bottom of the bowl to give a good idea of what it looked like. The next photos try to capture the stamping around the sides of the shank. They read as I have noted above. The acrylic/Lucite stem was in excellent condition. It was dirty and had light tooth chatter but no deep tooth marks in the stem surface. The button also looks pretty good but I would know more once it arrived in Vancouver.Jeff cleaned the pipe with his usual thoroughness – reaming the bowl with a PipNet pipe reamer and cleaning up the remnants with a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife. He scrubbed the internals of the bowl, shank and stem with alcohol, cotton swabs and pipe cleaners. He scrubbed the exterior with Murphy’s Oil Soap to clean off the dust and grime on the finish. The rim top looked very good under the thick lava coat. There were just a few nicks and scratches to deal with. The inside of the bowl itself looked great. The stem was in great shape other than a bit of tooth chatter. I took photos of the pipe when it arrived here. I took some close up photos of the rim top, bowl and stem to show what they looked like after Jeff’s cleanup. It is a startling difference. The rim top will take some work to take care of the damage. The stem will take very little to polish out the tooth chatter on both sides and give it a deep shine.I took a photo to capture the stamped sun on the underside of the stem at the saddle.Before I began to work on the pipe I wanted a refresher on the maker and the stamping. I have not worked on too many Mastro de Paja pipes before so I figured to do a bit of education before I started my restoration.
I turned first to Pipedia to get a feel for the pipe (https://pipedia.org/wiki/Mastro_de_Paja). I quote in part from the article on that site.
In 1972 Giancarlo Guidi, after having spent some time as a hobbyist in producing pipes, decided to officially found a production workshop called “Mastro de Paja”. Mastro: obviously as a master craftsman, De Paja: it derives from the name with which he was affectionately called by friends “Pajetta” because of his curly hair and translated into a dialectal expression “de Paja”.
Spadoni Giannino joins him shortly after that, at the time he was a salesman and among the products he sold there were also pipes. A professional wedding that turned out to be perfect immediately, in no time the new company “MASTRO DE PAJA di Guidi e Spadoni” immediately became one of the most respected manufacturers of pipes in Italy for the quality of production and lines that for those times were innovative, fascinating and even if coarse they immediately met the consent of enthusiasts and collectors.
Unfortunately, the professional marriage between Guidi and Spadoni, due to disagreements and different views on strategies, stopped in 1981. Guidi left the company to found a personal one. In Mastro de Paja which in the meantime became a real company with a production staff remained with Spadoni. Unfortunately, after a very short time, due to economic and financial problems that put the possibility of continuing the business at risk, Spadoni is forced to ask for help and finds it with the intervention of the Pesaro-based entrepreneur Terenzio Cecchini who, despite being burdened by his multiple industrial activities, sees in Mastro de Paja a valid expression of high craftsmanship and takes over as majority shareholder and acquires the position of director.
Soon after even Spadoni decides to leave (and create his own new company), Cecchini then puts his eyes on a very smart young man which he considered capable of giving new glaze to the Mastro de Paja which, meanwhile, inevitably presented some productive and commercial problems. That young man is called Alberto Montini and he started in his thirties his beautiful adventure in the pipes world… He was contacted by the surveyor Terenzio Cecchini at the time the only owner of the Mastro, to take care of it in every aspect, first as an employee, then as an administrator and later as a partner of Mastro de Paja and afterwards with the passing of Mr. Cecchini he became the sole owner.
…Currently the Mastro produces about 2 thousand pipes a year with strictly artisan procedure, at the Mastro currently reigns a warm harmony, is a group of friends who strives to get the best. This also stems from the fact that pipes for Mastro de Paja are not to be considered as any other object to be produced and sold following cold strategies common to everyone in the business world, it’s completely different, it is necessary to love it, it is a style of being, a philosophy of life that can only be appreciated by a noble soul and not noble by title but by principles.
I read further in the article and found the following information on the stamping and the circle 3A stamp. I quote:
Mastro de Paja “ELITE COLLECTION” It is the production of pipes made entirely by hand, even they are unique but of regular production On all “Mastro de Paja” pipes you can see fire stamped all the informations for tracing the value of each creation.
2D: Half rusticated
3A: Brown and orange stain
3C: Perfect grain
It looks like the 3A is pretty high in the hierarchy of the Mastro pipes, with just the 3B Natural and the 3C Perfect Grain ahead of it. It is described as Brown and Orange Stain. That would describe what I hold in my hands today.
I turned to the Pipephil website (http://www.pipephil.eu/logos/en/logo-m3.html) and added the following summary of information on the brand.
Brand founded in 1972 by Giancarlo Guidi. He left it for Ser Jacopo in 1982. Alberto Montini became the owner of the brand in 1995. Production (2010): ~ 5000 pipes / year. Seconds: Calibano, Montini
Armed with that information and renewing my knowledge of the brand it was time to work on the pipe. I decided to begin by addressing the nicks and marks on the rim top and cap. I carefully sanded the rim top with a folded piece of worn 220 grit sandpaper to smooth out the damaged areas. I worked on the darkening around the outer edge of the cap at the same time to try to blend it into the rest of the cap.I polished the rim top and the cap with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanding with 3200-12000 grit pads. I wiped the briar down after each pad to remove the sanding dust and get a sense of the how the finish was developing. The photos show the process. I worked some Before & After Restoration Balm into the briar on the bowl and the rim top. I worked it into the surface of the briar with my fingertips to clean, enliven and protect the wood. I kept it clear of building up in the twin groove around the bowl below the bowl cap. Once the bowl was covered with the balm I let it sit for about 20 minutes and buffed it off with a soft cotton cloth and then polished it with a microfiber cloth. I took photos of the pipe at this point in the process to show what the bowl looked like at this point. When I was processing these photos a dent on the lower right side of the bowl became very visible. It is funny how I did not feel it when I was putting the balm on the finish. It is obvious in the photo below. I have circled it in red to make sure you don’t miss it. I heated a butter knife over the gas burner and put a wet cloth on the dent. I applied the blade of the knife to the wet cloth creating steam. The steam raised the dent. I repeated the process until it was no longer visible. Once the steaming of the dent was finished I rubbed the area down with the Restoration Balm once again to protect and enliven the briar where the stem had flattened the shine. I hand buffed it with a soft cloth and the repair was complete. I set the bowl aside and worked on the stem. I wet sanded the tooth chatter on both sides of the stem with 1500-2400 grit micromesh sanding pads. I was able to remove it. I dry sanded it with 3200-12000 grit pads to polish it further. I wiped it down with a damp cloth after each sanding pad. I finished polishing the stem with Before & After Pipe Polish – both Fine and Extra Fine polishes. I wiped the stem down with a damp cotton pad afterwards and buffed it with a soft microfiber cloth. I put the bowl and stem back together. I polished the bowl and stem with Blue Diamond to polish out the scratches in the briar and the Lucite. I gave the bowl and stem multiple coats of carnauba wax. I buffed the pipe with a clean buffing pad to raise the shine. I hand buffed it with a microfiber cloth to deepen the shine. The pipe polished up pretty nicely. The contrast of the beautiful browns and orange of the briar with the polished black Lucite is quite stunning. The Straight grain around the bowl and shank is quite remarkable. This is truly a beautiful pipe that is for sure and one that I think I will keep around for a while. The finished pipe is shown in the photos below. The dimensions of the pipe are Length: 5 3/4 inches, Height: 2 1/8 inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 2 inches, Chamber diameter: 7/8 of an inch. This is the first Mastro de Paja estate that I have actually been tempted to hang onto. They have all been beautiful pipes but something about the look and feel of this one makes me pause. Thanks for walking through the restoration with me. It was a great break away from the estates that await me. Cheers.
I received a note on Facebook, Gentlemen’s Pipe Smoking Group after posting this pipe on the group. What made it fascinating for me is that it was from the man who made the pipe – Alberto Montini. I quote in full what he posted there…
I thank You for the passion as You present this my pipe. It is one of the best shapes that I made. Thanks again Steve Laug
It is great to hear from the maker of a particular pipe that I worked on and receive his acclamation for the work of restoration that I have done on it. Thank you Alberto. Your words mean a lot.