Fashioning a Churchwarden from a Dimpled Bent Billiard Bowl

Blog by Dal Stanton

The great thing about the Churchwarden shape is that it is the only pipe that is identified not strictly by the shape of the bowl but by the length of the stem.  Bill Burney’s Pipedia Pipe Chart explanation describes this unique characteristic of the Churchwarden shape.  When I received an email from Coleman, he was looking to add a Churchwarden to his collection.  He wrote:

Hey Dal, I was browsing your website love the pipes, wanted to see if you had any more churchwardens available for commission or sale. I’ve always wanted one, and I can’t think of a better place to buy one than from Daughters of Bulgaria. The longer the stem the better. I really liked the billiard churchwarden, and the French imperial one in the shop that’s already sold. Do you think you’ll get anymore?

Last time I was with Coleman was he was an intern serving with us here in Bulgaria about 5 or so years ago.  He was single then, but as life happens, he is now happily married to Rebecca for 4 years!  He had spoken to Rebecca about adding a Churchwarden to his collection from The Pipe Steward and was agreeable to Coleman’s acquisition because the sales benefit the Daughters of Bulgaria – women and girls who have been trafficked and sexually exploited.  Thank you, Rebecca!

Coleman described wanting a Billiard stummel with a bent shank.  I rummaged through potential stummels that could be repurposed to fashion an acceptable Churchwarden for Coleman.  I found three good candidates and sent pictures to him.  In the end, he settled on the Dimpled Bent Billiard in the center which has great promise for a beautiful display of natural briar grain with interesting rusticated accents.  We discussed the terms and came to an accord and I placed Coleman’s Churchwarden project in the queue.

Taking the stummel out and placing it on the work table, when I first acquired the Dimpled Bent Billiard, it came in the Lot of 66 I got off the eBay auction block.  When I initially looked at it, I did not see anything that looked like markings.  With a closer look now, I can just make out on the lower side of the shank the COM being France – I can barely make out ‘ANCE’.  The markings are now so thin that they have nearly passed out of remembrance and undoubtedly will with this fabrication.  I take a closeup of the ghosted marking on the lower shank.What I was not looking for but what is obviously revealed in the closer look at the lower shank is a small stress fracture in the briar.  I take a few more pictures with different angles of light highlighting it.  The good news is that the crack is isolated – not going through to the shank end. I’m assured of this after inspecting closely looking at the shank end and mortise.  My guess is that the small, barely visible crack was formed from a fall where the stem was the first to hit and it pressed up and in opposite reaction, the tenon pressured downwardly on the lower mortise wall and the stress crack resulted on the lower shank. A guess.  I’ll think about what needs to be done about the crack and address it later.The accenting rusticated dimple effect is interesting giving the smooth briar contoured, rustic relief – I like it, and so did Coleman.  The grain shows nice potential in the pictures below. The chamber has some carbon cake build up – I’ll be removing it to give the briar a fresh start.Finally, I take a picture showing the stummel and the Warden stem together – what we’re aiming for!  The bend of the shank sets the stage for a nice, long sweeping Warden stem.I start the Warden fabrication by cleaning the stummel.  Starting with reaming the chamber, I use only the smallest blade head from the Pipnet Reaming kit and follow by scraping the chamber wall with the Savinelli Fitsall tool.  Finally, after wrapping 240 grit paper around a Sharpie Pen, I sand the chamber removing more of the carbon and getting down to the briar.  To remove the carbon dust, I wipe the chamber with a cotton pad wetted with alcohol.  After an inspection of the chamber, it shows no signs of heat damage with cracks or fissures.To clean the external briar, I use undiluted Murphy’s Oil Soap and a cotton pad to scrub.  I also get into the dimples to clean them.  On the rim, the internal lip of the rim is darkened from scorching.  I use a brass wire brush to clean the rim, but even after scrubbing the darkened briar is still evident. The internals of this stummel was no picnic!  Using pipe cleaners and cotton buds dipped in isopropyl 95%, I clean the mortise and airway.  I also do a lot of excavating of tars and oils by scraping the mortise walls with a dental spatula which you can see wiped in plenty on the cotton pad in the picture below.  Using a long shank brush, I’m able to scrub the airway.  It took a good bit of time, but the buds started lightening until enough progress had been made.  Later, I will continue the cleaning by giving the bowl a kosher salt and alcohol soak.I decide to move forward with the stummel repair before beginning the shaping of the Churchwarden stem.  I have two issues to address before moving on.  The rim is scorched and even after cleaning a dark ring persists around the inner lip of the rim.  With the rim already rounded, I will simply go with that flow and bevel out the internal rim damage.  The other challenge is to address the small stress crack on the lower shank.

First, I address the rim.  After taking a close-up of the rim to mark the starting point.  In succession, I pinch rolled pieces of sanding papers between my thumb and the inner rim from coarser to less coarse grades: first 120, then, 240, 470 and 600 grade papers.  This removes the damaged briar and freshens the rim and it looks much better.  The rounded rim will look good as a Churchwarden.  Before and after pictures follow: Now, I decide to address the pressure crack on the lower shank.  I will drill two counter-holes at the ends of the crack to guard against the crack growing.  This stops the possibility of the crack creeping in the future.  Drilling these holes is not easy using a hand held Dremel extension with a 1mm drill bit.  Not only do I have the ‘shakes’ as an obstacle of accomplishing a good, true hole drilling, but the depth of the drilling is also of concern.  The shank is not a thick piece of briar!  I do not want to see sunlight coming into the mortise! The first picture is simply of the crack – difficult to see with a magnifying glass.  In order to help guide the drilling, I use a sharp dental probe, again with the aid of a magnifying glass, to mark the ends of the crack with an imprint where the counter-holes will be drilled.Next, I change out the Dremel clamping and mount a 1mm drill bit into the handheld extender.  This is where the jitters really start jittering.  Perhaps, one day I’ll secure a more stable drilling platform but today is not that day!  Thankfully, and I do mean thankfully, the drilling goes well.  Not too much shaking nor too deep. Next, I use thin CA glue because the crack is very subtle, and I want the CA glue to fill and penetrate what it can.  I apply CA glue to the two holes and crack and apply briar dust to the patch.  Hopefully, this aids the holes to later blend.  I put the stummel aside to allow the patch to cure.Several hours later I make it back to the work table and the shank patch has cured and I begin filing the mound with a flat needle file until the patch mound is almost flush with the briar surface.  I then switch to sanding with 240 grade paper to bring the patch flush with the surface and finish at this point with 600 grade paper to smooth it out and blend it.  The patch looks good and I believe the repair was necessary.  It should blend well with the surrounding bird’s eye grain. Time to focus on fashioning the Warden stem with the use of the Pimo Tenon Turning tool which has been a very useful addition to my instruments in my restoration toolbox.  I keep the directions on the wall in front of me!  The visuals give an idea of how this tool works to quickly and accurately resize a tenon.The precast stem is 8 5/8 inches long.  I begin by measuring the inside diameter of the mortise using an electronic caliper.  The measurement is 8.50 mm.  This represents the critical target width of the tenon to fit the mortise.  The precast tenon is obviously fat and I use the Pimo Tool to take off a layer of the fat tenon simply to serve as a starting point.I first pre-drill the airway with the drill bit provided by the Pimo kit to allow the guide pin of the Turning Tool to fit into the airway.After the first ‘fat’ cut of the tenon, the tenon is 9.60mm.  My goal is not to cut the tenon exactly at 8.50mm for a ‘perfect’ fit, but to give myself about .40mm of extra width to then conservatively sand my way to a good tenon/mortise fit. Every mortise is different, and I have found it better to go at it slowly.  So, adding .40 to 8.50 gives me a tenon target width of about 8.90 to aim for using the Pimo tool. With the hex wrench provided I turn the set screw to the left to reduce or tighten the Carbide Cutter Arm of the Pimo tool.  Again for an initial measurement, I only cut small portion of the tenon and measure (picture below).  There’s always the chance of taking too much off!  The test measurement is 8.79mm.  This cut results in the tenon being underneath the 8.90 conservative target but still above the 8.50mm critical measurement.  I take the tenon down to that measurement and begin sanding. To smooth off and form the end of the rough tenon, I make quick work of it with a sanding drum mounted on the Dremel.Gradually sanding with 240 grit paper as well as using a flat needle file, eventually I achieve a good fit.  The tenon is snug but not too snug.You can see in the next picture the overhang of the shank which needs to be sanded down flush with the stem butting against the shank face.  What I also notice is that the face of the stem is shouldered – or down-turned.  This is from not taking off enough vulcanite to have a flat face surface for the stem face to seat against the shank face.  Not shown is remounting the Pimo tool onto the drill and shaving off a bit more of the stem face to improve the junction.  With the flattening of the stem face the tenon seats well.  I go to work sanding the shank to bring it flush with the stem.  I also taper the sanding up the shank to achieve more flow – not having the stuffed pants look.  After sanding the shank/stem junction looks great. Even though the Warden stem is a new precast stem, it must be shaped, filed and sanded to remove vulcanite ripples and manufacturing seams.  I work on the button area with the flat needle file and then 240 grade paper.  I also fully sand the entire stem with 240 grade paper.  You can see manufacturing ripples in the new stem which the sanding smooths out. After completing the sanding with the 240 grade paper, I wet sand the entire stem with 600 grade paper followed by applying 0000 steel wool.  The Warden stem is looking great.  It’s difficult to take good pictures of the Warden stem because the view is always from orbit to get the full length!  So, I provide a few close-ups as well.To hydrate the vulcanite, I then wipe it down with paraffin oil, a mineral oil.I refit the stem with the Dimpled Billiard stem to get a look at the progress.  I’m liking what I’m seeing.Now I need to bend the stem.  I use a hot air gun to heat the vulcanite to make it supple and bendable.  I first put a pipe cleaner in the airway just to make sure the airway does not collapse during the bending.  The general aim is to give the Warden stem a gentle and flowing bend so that the end of the stem is generally in a parallel orientation with plane of the rim.In the end, I re-heat, re-bend, re-heat and re-bend a few times until I was satisfied. I think it looks good.  I go for the flowing look which is more ‘Gandalf-like’ – the subjective bar for all Churchwardens!  I think this will be agreeable to Coleman.With the Warden stem bent, I start the micromesh process by wet sanding the stem with pads 1500 to 2400, then dry sanding with pads 3200 to 4000 and 6000 to 12000.  After each set of 3 pads I apply Obsidian Oil to continue to hydrate the vulcanite.  There is a pop to the freshly sanding/polished vulcanite!Turning now to the stummel, I use sanding sponges to clean the surface of the Dimpled Billiard removing minor cuts and nicks.  I first take some starting pictures then sand the stummel with a coarse sponge followed by medium and then, finish with a light grade sponge.  The sanding goes over the top of the rusticated dimples.  To get into and clean, sand and polish the dimples, later I will use the compounds and the Dremel to do this. I then go directly to sanding with micromesh pads starting with wet sanding pads 1500 to 2400, then dry sanding with pads 3200 to 4000 and 6000 to 12000.  I enjoy watching the grain emerge during the micromesh process. Before going any further with the stummel polishing, I continue the internal cleaning using kosher salt and isopropyl 95% as I indicated earlier. I begin by forming a wick by stretching and twisting a cotton ball to insert into the mortise.  I then fill the bowl with kosher salt, which unlike iodized salt, does not leave an after taste.  I then place the stummel in an egg crate for stability and add isopropyl 95% to the bowl until it surfaces over the salt.  I wait a few minutes while the alcohol is absorbed and top it off once again.  I then set the stummel aside to soak for several hours. The soak did the job.  The discoloration of the salt and wick show the absorbing action of the salt and alcohol.  I toss the expended salt in the trash can, wipe the bowl out with a paper towel and blow through the mortise as well to dislodge remnant salt crystals.  I finish off by expending a few more alcohol wetted pipe cleaners and cotton buds to make sure all is clean, and it is.  Moving on. With Coleman’s agreement, I’m staying with the natural grain color and because of this I utilize Before & After Restoration Balm to condition the briar surface.  The Balm deepens and enriches what is already present in the grain and I like the subtle improved results of using it.  I put some Balm on my finger and rub it into the surface.  The Balm’s texture begins as a thinner oil-like thickness and then gradually thickens into a wax-like texture.  I work the Balm into the rusticated dimples as well. After fully covering the surface, I wait about 30 minutes and then wipe/buff the excess Balm. I use a toothpick also to make sure the dimples are not holding collected Balm.  A few ‘After’ pictures to compare.  It looks great! With the Balm applied, I mount a cotton cloth buffing wheel to the Dremel at 40% speed.  I then apply Blue Diamond compound to the stummel surface taking special care to work the compound into the rusticated dimples. The sanding processes do not get into the crevasses but pass over.  Using the smaller buffing wheel, I’m able to direct the compound into the crevasses.  I also apply Blue Diamond to the Churchwarden stem.  Its easier to keep the stem and stummel separate because of the size of stem and the rotating motion I use with the Dremel.  After completing application of the Blue Diamond, I apply carnauba wax to the stem and stummel using another cotton cloth buffing wheel and leaving the speed the same.  After completing application of the wax, I unite stem and stummel and give the newly born Churchwarden a rigorous hand buffing to raise the shine.

The fabrication of this Dimpled Billiard Churchwarden came out great.  I’m pleased.  The rusticated Dimpled Billiard has beautiful grain with a splay of grain spreading to the rim and much bird’s eye populating the heel of the stummel.  Often, rustication is used to hide blemishes in a lesser quality bowl, but this is not the case with this stummel.  The rusticated dimples are interesting shapes on a beautiful canvas of briar grain.  I believe Coleman will be pleased.  He commissioned this Dimpled Billiard Churchwarden and has the first opportunity to acquire it from The Pipe Steward Store.  This pipe benefits the Daughters of Bulgaria – women and girls who have been trafficked and sexually exploited.  Thanks for joining me!

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