Blog by Steve Laug
In my ongoing work on Bob Kerr’s Estate I seem to be making a dent. I am working my way through the Dunhills in his collection – the Shell and Tanshell pipes. I am cleaning them for the family and moving them out into the hands of pipemen and women who will carry on the trust that began with Bob and in some pipes was carried on by Bob. In the collection along with the Dunhills are a good bevy of Petersons, some Comoy’s and Barlings as well as a lot of other pipes – a total of 125 pipes along with a box of parts. This is the largest estate that I have had the opportunity to work on. I put together a spread sheet of the pipes and stampings to create an invoice. I was taking on what would take me a fair amount of time to clean up. I could not pass up the opportunity to work on these pipes though. They were just too tempting.
I sorted the pipes into groups of the various brands and had a box of 25 different Dunhill pipes in different shapes, styles and sizes. I decided to work on the Dunhills first. It was a great chance to see the shape variety up close and personal. The photo below shows the box of Dunhill pipes.I am making progress on the 25 Dunhills with only 13 more to go. I went through the box of Dunhills shown above and chose the 12th sandblast pipe to work on – another Group 4 Shell Billiard with a long repair band. It is stamped on the underside of the bowl heel and the shank with the following information. The shape number 197 F/T is on the heel followed by Dunhill over Shell Briar. The Made in England stamp and any size or date stamp has been obscured by the long repair band on a cracked shank covers the rest of the stamping so I cannot date it. The nickel band is split but since it is glued in place it is not movable and will be left as is. The nickel band is a bit overwhelming in terms of it being the first thing that catches the eye. There is not much to be done with that. The round shank and band however flow into a tapered fishtail stem that is oxidized and has tooth marks and chatter near the button. There is some calcification on the first inch of the stem ahead of the button and there is some light damage to the top of the button. The Shell Briar finish is dirty but nonetheless there is something quite beautiful about the repaired pipe. There is grime and tars filling in much of the craggy finish. The bowl had a light cake and some lava overflowed on the rim top. Bob had gone to a lot of work to repair this one and keep it in his rotation. I think there is still a lot of life left in this little billiard. With a little work this pipe would look good once again. I took pictures of the pipe before I started working on it. I took some close up photos of the rim top, stem and the banded shank to show what I was dealing with. Judging from the condition this little billiard was in and the amount of work that went into banding and repairing the shank, I think I can safely say that it was another one of Bob’s favourite pipes. The cake in the bowl not quite as thick and the lava on the rim top was less so it makes me wonder how long after he repaired it that he actually used this pipe. You can see the cake and tobacco in the bowl. The stem was dirty, oxidized, calcified and had a lot of tooth chatter on the top and underside for about an inch ahead of the button. You can see the length of the nickel band on the shank but what you cannot see is what is visible with a light down the shank. The band holds together several cracks in the shank. They have been well repaired and the band has been glued in place and fitted nicely to the shank.I took a photo of the underside of the band to show the split in the nickel. It is smooth and has been glued to the shank so it is not easily removable and also not necessary to remove. I will need to fill in the crack and sand and polish it smooth.I took a photo of the stamping on the underside of the bowl and shank. It was weak but still readable.
I am sure if you have read the restoration work on the previous pipes you have already read what I included about Bob Kerr, the pipeman who held these pipes in trust before I came to work on them. Also, if you have followed the blog for long you will already know that I like to include background information on the pipeman whose pipes I am restoring. For me, when I am working on an estate I really like to have a sense of the person who held the pipes in trust before I worked on them. It gives me another dimension of the restoration work. I asked Brian if he or his wife would like to write a brief biographical tribute to her father, Bob. His daughter worked on it and I received the following short write up on him and some pictures to go along with the words. Thank you Brian and tell your wife thank you as well.
I am delighted to pass on these beloved pipes of my father’s. I hope each user gets many hours of contemplative pleasure as he did. I remember the aroma of tobacco in the rec room, as he put up his feet on his lazy boy. He’d be first at the paper then, no one could touch it before him. Maybe there would be a movie on with an actor smoking a pipe. He would have very definite opinions on whether the performer was a ‘real’ smoker or not, a distinction which I could never see but it would be very clear to him. He worked by day as a sales manager of a paper products company, a job he hated. What he longed for was the life of an artist, so on the weekends and sometimes mid-week evenings he would journey to his workshop and come out with wood sculptures, all of which he declared as crap but every one of them treasured by my sister and myself. Enjoy the pipes, and maybe a little of his creative spirit will enter you!
I have included one of Bob’s wood carvings to give you an idea of what he daughter wrote about above. You can see his artistry in the carving that is patterned after British Columbia’s Coastal First Nations people. To me this is a sea otter but perhaps a reader may enlighten us.
Having already worked on 11 other pipes from Bob’s estate I had a pretty good feel for how he used and viewed his pipes. I am coming to the end of the Shell and Tanshell pipes (2 more to go). I learned to tell which pipes were his favoured ones and which were his work horses. I could get a sense of the ones that accompanied him into his carving shop. In many ways it was as if he was standing over my shoulder while I cleaned up his pipes. With that in mind I turned to work on the 12th of his pipes. I reamed the bowl to remove the cake on the walls and the debris of tobacco shards that still remained. I used a PipNet pipe reamer to start the process. I followed that with a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife to clean up the remaining cake in the conical bottom of the bowl. I sanded the bowl with 220 grit sandpaper wrapped around a piece of dowel. It smooths out the walls and also helps bring the inner edges back to round. With the bowl reamed it was time to work on the rim top and remove the thick lava coat in the blast of the rim. I used the Savinelli Fitsall knife to scrape away the high spots of lava and a brass bristle tire brush to work on the rim top and remove the buildup there. It also worked to minimize the rim damage a bit.With the bowl reamed and rim top cleaned I scrubbed the sandblast finish. This is pretty much my process in cleaning either sandblast or rusticated finishes. I scrubbed it with undiluted Murphy’s Oil Soap and a tooth brush to remove the grime from the grooves and canyons of the blast. I worked over the tarry lava overflow on the rim with the tooth brush and a brass brush. I rinsed the pipe under running water to remove the grime. I dried it off with a soft towel. The pictures below show the finish after scrubbing and rinsing. The outer edges of the rim were in good condition but the finish was worn off so I used a Mahogany stain pen to touch up the rim top and edges. I have found that particular stain pen matches the colours on the Shell Briar quite well. It is transparent enough to let the other under colours show through and blends in well with the existing stain.I decided to work on the crack in the nickel band first. I fill in the small open areas with clear super glue. It has the advantage of not only being clear but will also flow underneath the band bonding it to the briar. Once the glue cured I sanded the repaired area with micromesh sanding pads to smooth it out. I polished the band with the micromesh pads – wet sanding with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanding with 3200-12000 grit pads. I wiped the band down with a cotton pad after each sanding. I worked some Before & After Restoration Balm into the sandblast finish of the bowl and the rim top. I worked it into the nooks and crannies of the sandblast surface with my fingertips to clean, enliven and protect the wood. I let the balm sit for about 20 minutes and buffed it off with a soft cotton cloth and then polished it with a horsehair shoe brush. I took photos of the pipe at this point in the process to show what the bowl looked like at this point. I scraped out the inside of the mortise with a dental spatula to break away the tarry buildup on the walls of the shank. I cleaned out the internals of the bowl, shank and the airway in the shank and the stem with alcohol, pipe cleaners and cotton swabs until they came out clean. It was very dirty in the shank and stem but now it not only looks clean but smells clean. I gave the bowl several coats of Conservator’s Wax and buffed it with a shoe brush after each coat of wax to raise the shine. The bowl looks really good at this point. The sandblast grain just shines and is showing all of the different layers of colour that make up a Dunhill Shell finish. I set the bowl aside and turned my attention to the stem. I sanded out the majority of the marks and tooth chatter on the surface of the vulcanite with a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper. I followed the 220 grit sandpaper with 400 grit wet dry sandpaper to minimize the scratching. The two papers combined did a pretty decent job of getting rid of the tooth marks and chatter as well as the oxidation and calcification. As I work on this stem, I am pretty sure that the tenon is Delrin. That makes sense – a broken shank and a snapped tenon. It is not too often that I get to sing the praises of another repair person. But I have to because this repair guy was amazing. He did a great job on rebuilding this old guy and giving it life.I polished the stem with Denicare Mouthpiece Polish to take out the oxidation at the button edge and on the end of the mouthpiece. I also worked hard to scrub it from the surface of the stem at the tenon end. I polished out the scratches with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanding with 3200-12000 grit pads. I wiped the stem down after each sanding pad with Obsidian Oil. I polished it with Before & After Pipe Stem Polish – both Fine and Extra Fine. Once I had finished the polishing I gave it a final coat of oil and set it aside to dry. 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, the nickel band and the vulcanite. I gave the bowl multiple coats of Conservator’s Wax and the 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 colours that show up in the sandblast of the Shell briar bowl looked good with the polished black vulcanite. The long nickel band actually does not look too bad and this well repaired Shell Briar 197 F/T Billiard has a long life ahead of it for the next pipeman who takes on the trust of Bob’s pipes. It really has that classic Dunhill look that catches the eye. The finished pipe is shown in the photos below. The dimensions of the pipe are Length: 6 1/2 inches, Height: 1 7/8 inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 3/8 inches, Chamber diameter: 3/4 of an inch. This is the 12th Dunhill and the 11th Shell from the many pipes that will be coming onto the work table from the estate. Thanks for reading this blog and my reflections on the pipe while I worked on it. I am having fun working on this estate.