Blog by Dal Stanton
You need to first hear the story then the restoration of the pipe will come. Let me first tell you about the granddaughter.
Chrystal, age 30, came to Bulgaria for two weeks from the People’s Republic of China. My wife and I hosted her in our home. She has a master’s degree and teaches in an English language department in a university near Beijing. Her keen interest in the well-being of people was the catalyst in becoming aware of the issues of human trafficking and the devaluation and exploitation of women. Through foreign acquaintances she has in her role as a teacher, she heard about Daughters of Bulgaria – the work here in Bulgaria seeking to help trafficked and sexually exploited women.
Chrystal’s aspirations to know and understand more about this issue both intrigued her and struck a chord in her own core experience that prompted her to throw caution to the wind and reach out to the Daughters of Bulgaria staff via email about coming to Bulgaria and to learn about the issue and what tangible things are being done to help women coming off streets and out of brothels. Her email was received with surprise and question – someone from China desires to come to Bulgaria to learn from us! In the communications with Chrystal that followed, her deep and sincere concern for people in general and in her home, China, was very evident. She came to Bulgaria during her annual January break from teaching at the university. We were amazed at how quickly her visa to enter Bulgaria was approved!
During her visit, we had the privilege of learning about the path of her life in China. As Westerners, we were anxious to learn about Chinese culture and customs and we were also interested in her personal story.
She, like most Chinese women while growing up, personally experienced the effects of the enduring custom of valuing sons over daughters. With China’s strict one child per family law to control population which recently changed to allowing two children, Chinese families were faced with pressures to have a son – which is the greater honor for the family in a culture where honor is profoundly important.
During the one child per family period, Chrystal’s
parents had a baby and it was a girl – the opposite of honor became Chrystal’s experience as she grew up with this subtle sense of shame. She recounted remembering the acute feeling of self-guilt that she wasn’t a boy and her presence brought dishonor to her family – she wasn’t what her parents wanted. Growing up, she understood that her parents had to settle for a girl.
To counteract this sense of having lesser value, Chrystal’s smile was pained while looking down recounting how she sought to excel in everything she did as she emerged from childhood into womanhood – trying especially to earn her father’s love and acceptance. Her passion to excel did have its benefits. It propelled her growing up, in her studies and eventual appointment as a teacher in the university, being observed and appreciated by her supervisor in the professional and academic university environment. Yet, Chrystal has discovered that even this accomplishment was not enough to reverse the underlying, unspoken sense that she did not measure up – that she would always be the daughter for which her parents had reluctantly settled. Chrystal confided that this perhaps, is why she was so drawn to learn more about the Daughters of Bulgaria and the profound effects of devaluing of women resulting in human trafficking – it so resonated in her heart and to some extent, in her experience of feeling the impact of not being valued by others – even by those closest to you.
Even though this part of her story is ongoing and unfolding, Chrystal’s concern for others and her simple joy in living (she always seemed to be laughing and smiling!) confirmed to me that she had found a good place in her life – at her core. The serendipitous trip to Bulgaria, of all things, revealed to me that she’s taking life as it comes and living to the fullest as she is able – growing as a person and seeking to help others in need. How will she use what she is learning in Bulgaria in China? She confessed with a smile, she doesn’t know exactly but she believes it will be used in some way that will be evident in time – like a seed planted in soil.
When Chrystal started asking us questions about our life in Bulgaria, she found out that I do something she had never heard of before – restore pipes! She was fascinated. And when she heard that I sell restored pipes worldwide to benefit the Daughters, she decided to do her part in helping the Daughters as well. The first thing she did was post some pictures and information about The Pipe Steward to her friends in China on social media available there. For the next several days, the stats for www.ThePipeSteward.com launched because of ‘hits’ coming from China – yes, I can see the countries of those looking at the website!
Secondly, and most important in helping the Daughters, was to choose a pipe as a special gift for her grandfather. I asked her why the gift for her grandfather? I found out that February is Chinese New Year and it is customary to give gifts or money to family. I asked her why a pipe? She said that as a farmer – a common man, her grandfather is considered near the bottom of the social strata and her thoughts of him are of his life as a farmer and that he liked to smoke. She described him smoking thick cigarettes with strong tobacco and said that he also had an old, long metal pipe that he liked, but she said there was nothing special about it. (The answer posed in the picture to the right is on the ‘Left’ 😊)
After she methodically explored many ‘Help Me!’ baskets and scrutinizing MANY pipes, she found the special one (or, did it find her? 😊) she would give to her grandfather. I asked her, out of all the pipes she had studied, why she had chosen the pipe she did? She smiled as she looked down thoughtfully. She described the ‘rose’ carving in the briar and said that it reminded her of the rose that forms the logo for the Daughters of Bulgaria – the rose is beautiful but also, fragile and strong. The ‘rose’ sculpted in the pipe also formed a hope that revealed to me the depth of love that resides in Chrystal despite everything. She said that when her grandfather smoked this pipe that she hoped that it would remind him fondly of her – that she would be carved in his heart like the rose on the pipe.
With Chrystal’s return to China coming soon, I quickly went to work on the chosen pipe she planned to give her grandfather after returning to China. Just before her departure from Bulgaria, my wife loaded Chrystal with gifts from Bulgaria for her and her family (but a special jigsaw puzzle for Chrystal!). I also presented her the restored ‘Rose Pipe’ ready for her grandfather. Her first reaction to seeing it and holding it in her hands was how it had changed! The second was some concern that her grandfather may not appreciate its value. She struggled a bit considering keeping it for herself because now it meant so much to her, not to smoke, but to cherish as a reminder of her time in Bulgaria. It was gratifying to pass this pipe on which I had purchased from a seller in the US New England state of New Hampshire in 2016, brought to Bulgaria and was patiently waiting for Chrystal to come to Bulgaria so it could choose Chrystal and make its way to its new steward, a common man – a farmer in China, Chrystal’s grandfather.
When Crystal left Bulgaria on her trek back to China (on Aeroflot via Moscow and Peking!) she knew that I was writing her story in this write up of the restoration of her grandfather’s pipe. I agreed to wait to publish this blog after Chrystal promised to send me pictures of her with her grandfather and after she presented the Rose Pipe to him. True to her word, the pictures arrived less than a week after her departure with these words:
My grandpa really likes your pipe!!! My dad said it is so special and valuable. My mom said it is like an art. Yes, they are happy. My dad even didn’t know my grandpa likes pipe. But it turns out that my grandpa does like it!! So, my dad is happy. I look forward to your writing [blog write up]. I feel so blessed and so loved to know you!! By the way, what kind of wood is the pipe made of?With a deepened appreciation for the granddaughter and her love for her grandfather, and for the pipe man in China who has become the new steward of the Rose Pipe, I now tell the story of the restoration of the Sculpted Rose Billiard that was on my worktable but now in China. First, to answer Chrystal’s question: Briar 😊. The only marking on the pipe is the COM, ITALY, on the underside of the shank. The pipe has been well loved and used much by examining the chamber and rim. The chamber shows very thick cake and the rim is gummed up with lava. Both need to be addressed through reaming and cleaning. The bowl itself is dark from oils and grime. The reddish or Oxblood hue is dull and tired. There are small dents on the surface from normal bumps and at least one small fill that I see that needs checking. The vertical fire grain beneath the finish is very attractive – showing much, much potential, which I like. The shank is slightly bent with a nice-looking saddle stem which shows some oxidation but hardly any tooth chatter. I think this gift for Chrystal’s grandfather will turn out very nicely! I take a few close-ups to show these issues. To begin the restoration of this special gift for Chrystal’s grandfather, I clean the stem’s airway with a pipe cleaner dipped in isopropyl 95% then I drop it in an OxiClean bath to soak to loosen and raise the oxidation. After it soaks through the night, I take it out (and realize that I forget to take a picture of it!) and take the stem to the sink and wet sand using 600 grade paper. This does very well in removing the oxidation. To hydrate the vulcanite, I then apply paraffin oil (a mineral oil) to the stem and put the stem aside to absorb. The pictures show these steps. Next, I tackle the thick cake in the chamber. I take a starting point picture and then employ the Pipnet Reaming Kit blade heads to cut through the cake to give the chamber a fresh start. I use 3 of the 4 blades available. I then fine tune the reaming using the Savinelli Fitsall Tool. I follow this by sanding the chamber using 240 grit paper wrapped around a Sharpie Pen. This gives me leverage to apply pressure and to reach down into the chamber. I finish by wiping the chamber with a cotton pad wetted with isopropyl 95% to clean the carbon dust. After an inspection of the chamber showing no problems, I move on. I clean the externals of the stummel with undiluted Murphy’s Oil using a cotton pad. I also use a bristled tooth brush on the sculpting. I’m anxious to see how this Oxblood hue cleans up. I also utilize a brass brush on the rim. Brass brushes do not harm the surface. The cleaning did a good job on the rounded rim as well as the stummel surface. The old finish is thin and raw briar is left on the rim. I decide to check the condition of the two small fills on the left upper side of the stummel. Using a sharp dental probe testing showed that the fills weren’t solid, so I dig out the old fill with the probe. I see no other fills needing attention, so I decide to address these now. I wipe the area with alcohol to clean it and then I mix a small about of briar dust putty using thick CA glue. Using an index card, I shovel some briar dust in a small mound. I then drop some CA glue close to the mound. Using a toothpick, I then pull briar dust into the CA glue mixing as I go. As the two mix, it thickens. When it reaches the thickness of molasses, I apply the mixture to the pits with a small mound of excess to be sanded after it the putty cures.After the briar dust patch sets up, I clean the internals of the mortise and airway using pipe cleaners and cotton buds. I also use a dental spatula to scrape the tars and oils from the mortise wall. After some effort, the internals are cleaning up and the cotton buds are coming out clean.Turning back to the stummel, the patch has cured and using a flat needle file I file down the briar dust patch to almost flush with the briar surface. I then use 240 and 600 grit paper to sand it down further to the briar surface and blending the patch. Amazingly, a face appears for a while as captured in the second picture! I then wipe the entire stummel with alcohol to remove the thin finish and to clean the stummel. Taking a very close look at the condition of the surface. I see a lot of nicks, cuts and very small pitting. The surface is in rough shape. I decide to employ sanding sponges to work on the rough briar surface as well as the rounded rim that has seen better days. I start with the coarse sanding sponge sanding the smooth surface – I pass over the sculpted areas. I then graduate from the coarse sponge to the medium grade sponge, then to the fine sanding sponge. These pictures chronical the progression – starting with the coarsest sponge: Medium sponge: Fine sponge: Moving from sanding sponges, I fine tune further using the micromesh pads. First, I wet sand using pads 1500 to 2400, then dry sand using pads 3200 to 4000 and 6000 to 12000. The pictures show the progression. Well, it’s been a productive day! To finish my ‘pipe work’ day, I’ll continue the internal cleaning of the stummel by allowing it to clean stealthily in a kosher salt and alcohol soak. To do this I twist and pull a cotton ball to form a wick that I insert and push through the mortise and into the airway. I then fill the bowl with kosher salt (you can use any kind of non-iodized salt – iodized salt leaves an aftertaste) and give the bowl a shake to settle the salt. After I place it in an egg crate for stability, I use a large eyedropper and fill the bowl with isopropyl 95%. After a few minutes, the alcohol is absorbed, and I top off the alcohol once more. Putting it aside, I shut off the lights. The next morning, the salt and wick have both darkened from drawing out the oils and tars from the internal briar. I toss the expended salt and wipe the chamber with paper towel making sure to remove left over salt crystals. To make sure all is clean I run one pipe cleaner and cotton bud wetted with alcohol. Internals are clean! Moving on. As I’ve reflected on the original reddish, Oxblood hue of the pipe, I think this was partly why Chrystal was drawn to the pipe – with its sculpted rose. I will apply a dye to the stummel combining Fiebing’s Dark Leather Dye and Oxblood Leather Dye. I’m envisioning a subtler Oxblood embedded in the darker brown, but leaning more toward the brown than red. I will mix the two dyes in equal parts and see what happens! I assemble all the desktop components of my staining process. I first wipe the stummel with a cotton pad wetted with alcohol to clean it. I insert a shaped cork into the mortise to act as a handle. After mixing the Dark Brown and Oxblood in a shot glass, I then warm the stummel using a hot air gun. This expands the briar grain allowing it to absorb the dye more effectively. After the stummel has been warmed, I apply the dye mixture to the briar surface with a folded over pipe cleaner. After thoroughly covering the surface, I ‘fire’ the surface using a lit candle. The alcohol in the aniline dyes immediately combusts when lit and sets the dye pigment in the briar grain. I repeat this process a few minutes later and set the newly stained bowl aside to rest through the night. With the newly stained stummel resting, I return to the stem waiting in the wings. There are minor tooth chatter and bites on the button. I first freshen the button lips using a flat needle file. Using 240 grit paper I quickly sand out file scratches and chatter. I then use 600 grit paper on the bit area, erasing the coarser paper scratches and follow by using 0000 steel wool on the entire stem.Moving next to the micromesh phase, I wet sand using micromesh pads 1500 to 2400, then dry sand using pads 3200 to 4000 and 6000 to 12000. After each set of 3 pads I apply Obsidian Oil to the stem to revitalize the vulcanite. The stem looks good. I love this part of the restoration process – unwrapping the fired stummel. After making the decision to dye, often the grain makes its own decisions regarding how the dye is received – I’m never sure how dye mixtures will look in the end. To unwrap the flamed stummel shell, I mount a felt cloth buffing wheel into the Dremel and set the speed at the slowest RPMs and apply Tripoli compound. After completing the cycle with Tripoli, to further blend the dye I wipe the stummel lightly with a cotton pad wetted with alcohol. Before moving to the application of Blue Diamond compound, I use a fine point Sharpie Pen and give a little highlighting to freshen the sculpting on the stummel. Next, I rejoin stem and stummel and mount a cotton cloth wheel to the Dremel, increase the speed to about 40% full power and apply Blue Diamond compound to the stummel. Blue Diamond is less abrasive and continues to tease out the natural sanded gloss of the briar. The briar grain is responding with a smile on its face – oh my! After wiping the pipe down with a felt cloth to clean off the compound dust left by the Blue Diamond, I mount another cotton cloth buffing wheel onto the Dremel, maintain speed at 40% full power and apply a few coats of carnauba wax to stem and stummel. When completed, I give the entire pipe a hand buffing using a microfiber cloth to raise the brilliant shine and finish up the restoration of Chrystal’s gift for her grandfather.
In Bulgaria, the rose is special. Even though is a beautiful flower, here in Bulgaria it is not primarily known as a beautiful flower, but as a rugged producer of fine oils and perfumes known and exported world-wide. This is one of the reasons why the rose became the logo of the Daughters of Bulgaria – but not only a logo, but a symbol of profound value, strength and beauty. Women who have been trafficked and sexually exploited are treated as valueless property to be used and then discarded. All people are endowed with intrinsic value – even those that are not treated as Daughters, but are daughters, with identities, stories and value. When Chrystal chose this ‘Rose’ pipe, she wanted it to be a special gift to her grandfather for the Chinese New Year – a gift that would remind her grandfather of her – not a rose carved in wood, but that she would be carved in his heart.