Restoring a “Naturel” Bent Sitter

Blog by Paresh Deshpande

The next pipe on my work table is a beautifully grained sitter with a nice feel in hand and light weight to boot, with a fantastic balance when clenched (though I do not like to clench). This pipe has been with me for a very long time, awaiting its turn for restoration, in fact for so long that now I do not even remember how it ended up with me!! It’s definitely not from my inherited collection.

If anyone loves a briar pipe with tightly packed, distinct and beautiful bird’s eye grain at all, then this sitter will definitely attract such a smoker. It has lovely bird’s eye grains on either side of the bowl, extending towards the front from either sides but not quite joining. On the front part of the bowl and towards the rear, densely packed cross grain adds to the visual appeal of the stummel. The cross grain on the back of the bowl continues on to the top half and left bottom portion of the shank while the cross grain in the front extends to the bottom of the heel. I believe the following pictures will do far greater justice to the stummel visually than my limited descriptive powers!! This is one beautifully carved pipe where it appears that the grains dictated the end shape of the pipe and that the carver has done great justice to this beautiful art of nature!!!! It is stamped on the left of the shank as “NATUREL” while the right is stamped as “MADE IN LONDON” over “ENGLAND”. At the bottom surface of the shank, near the shank end, is stamped the numeral “300”, which could be the shape code. All my sincere and untiring efforts to search for information on this pipe have come to a naught. Any help to unravel the mysteries surrounding this pipe and pipe maker is welcome and would be highly appreciated.

The chamber shows a nice even build up of a thick cake which makes it difficult to comment on the condition of the inner walls of the chamber. There is a light overflow of lava over the rim top. The inner rim edge of the rim has a number of minor dents which could easily be addressed by creating a slight bevel. The outer rim too has numerous dents and dings all around its circumference. The rim top also had an uneven surface, probably caused by negligent handling of the pipe by the previous owner.The surface of the stummel is covered in dust and grime giving it a dull and lackluster appearance. The stummel surface is peppered with numerous dents, dings and a couple of marks akin to a road rash, probably caused by rubbing against a hard surface during storage. There is one fill in the stummel on the left side. There are a number of small mysterious spots on the left and front side on the stummel. These spots are definitely not fills and neither are they water marks!!!! I shall try to learn more about these mysterious spots as I progress during the restoration. The mortise is surprisingly clean and air flow through it is open and full. The vulcanite saddle bent stem has an aluminum ridged stinger. Heavy tooth chatter is seen on both surfaces of the stem towards the lip with comparatively lighter bite marks on the upper surface. This issue should not be a major headache to address. The lip edge on both sides is crisp but lightly damage. The saddle portion of the stem has gouges on the left side and how did it get there? It’s a mystery!!!!! The finned torpedo shell shaped stinger is dirty and would need a thorough cleaning. The quality of vulcanite is good and should turn out beautifully.THE PROCESS
I reamed the chamber with size 1 PipNet reamer head. To reach the areas where the PipNet reamer could not reach to remove the carbon cake, I used my smaller fabricated knife and scraped out all the remaining cake. I further used a folded piece of 180 grit sand paper to sand out the last traces of remaining cake and expose the walls of the chamber to ascertain that there are no cracks/ heat fissures, and there were none. I wiped the chamber with a cotton pad dipped in isopropyl alcohol to remove the carbon dust left behind by all the reaming and sanding process. The walls of the chamber were solid with no damage. I gently scraped the rim top surface with a sharp knife to remove the lava overflow. This was followed by cleaning the mortise with cue tips and pipe cleaners dipped in isopropyl alcohol. I scraped out the now moistened gunk in the mortise with my fabricated spatula and followed it up with a second round of cleaning with pipe cleaners. This further eliminated traces of old smells from previous usage. However, the dents and dings to the rim top surface and edges are now clearly exposed. The internals of the stummel are now clean and fresh. Now, it was the turn of the external surface of the stummel to get cleaned up. Using a hard bristled tooth brush dipped in undiluted Murphy’s Oil Soap, I very deliberately scrubbed the surface of the stummel. I cleaned the rim too. The stummel and rim top was dried using paper napkins and soft cotton cloth. I am not very happy the way the rim top appears at this stage with all the dents, dings and uneven inner and outer rim edges. This will need to be addressed. But now that the stummel surface is nice and clean, the beautiful bird’s eye and cross grains on the stummel present themselves in all their glory. Can’t wait to see the grains in their resplendent beauty once I am done with final polishing and buffing!! After cleaning the rim top with Murphy’s oil soap, I had observed that the rim top surface, outer and the inner rim edge was uneven, presenting a very sorry appearance. I topped the rim on a 220 grit sand paper, checking frequently till I was satisfied that the uneven surface is completely addressed. The inner and outer rim edge is still uneven, though much better than before topping. Using a folded piece of 220 grit sand paper pinched between my thumb and fore finger, I shaped a light bevel on the inner edge and a slightly prominent bevel on the outer rim edge. I was careful while shaping the outer bevel as I did not want to greatly alter the overall shape of the pipe. The rim surface and both edges now look pristine. Subjecting the rim top and edges to a regime of micromesh pad polish will further enhance the finish and help in blending the bevel with overall shape of the stummel. Next, I decided to address the dents, dings, road rash marks, mystery spots and one fill on the stummel surface. As I have remarked earlier, the mystery spots were indeed baffling. I tried to erase them by spot cleaning these blemishes using acetone followed by alcohol and finally by sanding the stummel with sand paper, but to no avail. These buggers appear to keep winking at me mischievously!!!!! I turned to my mentor, Mr. Steve and shared pictures of these spots and tricks employed (though unsuccessfully at that) to address them. These spots baffled him too. He thought over it, researched and suggested that these could be “Root nodules”. This seemed a plausible explanation. My research on root nodules says that these are found on the roots of plants, primarily legumes that form a symbiosis with nitrogen-fixing bacteria, rhizobia. It is known that this process has evolved multiple times within the legumes, as well as in other species found within the Rosid clade (flowering plant species) and Erica arboria (briar wood) is a flowering plant which falls within the Rosid clade. Thus, these spots are most likely root nodules which have developed in this piece of briar and there is nothing that can be done to eliminate these spots. You cannot fight nature’s mysteries!!

With the mystery of the spots resolved, I proceed to refreshing the fill and addressing the road rash. I reduced the road rash by sanding and removed the old fill. I trowel a mix of briar dust and superglue in to this gouge and over the road rash marks and set it aside to cure. I overfill the gouges as it helps in subsequent blending of these fills with the rest of the stummel during the sanding process.While the fills were curing, I worked the stem. Using a Bic lighter, I flamed both the surfaces of the stem. The heat from the flame helps the vulcanite to rise to the surface and in the process addresses to a great extent all the issues of tooth chatter. I followed it by reshaping the lip edges with a flat needle file. I further sand the entire stem with 220 followed by 400, 600 and 800 grit sand paper. This helps to reduce the sanding marks left behind by the more abrasive 220 grit paper. To bring a deep shine to the vulcanite stem, 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 wet pad and rubbed it down with Extra Virgin Olive oil. The internals of the stem was cleaned out using alcohol and pipe cleaners. The fills had hardened by the next day and with a flat head needle file I proceeded to sand the fills to a rough match with the rest of the stummel. Further blending of the fills was achieved by sanding the entire stummel with 220, 320, 600 and 800 grit sand papers. I am pretty satisfied with the appearance of the fill and stummel at this stage.At this stage my aim was to bring a deep shine to the briar and highlight the lovely grain which is what had attracted me to this pipe in the first place. I wet sand the stummel with 1500 to 2400 grit pads and follow it up by dry sanding with 3200 to 12000 grit pads. I had wiped the stummel with a moist cloth after every wet sanding pad as it gives me an idea of progress being made. Save for the dark spot of the fill, the stummel now looks amazing with all the bird’s eye grain and cross grain peeking out of every inch of the stummel!! And this brings me to a difficult decision; should I stain it or let it be? I decide not to stain the stummel as it would take away the natural look of the briar while suppressing the appearance of the grain. Here is how the stummel looks at this point in restoration. I rub a small quantity of “Before and After Restoration Balm” in to briar and let it rest for a few minutes. The balm almost immediately works its magic and the briar now has a nice vibrant appearance. The balm works to rehydrate and revitalize the briar. I further buff it with a horse hair shoe brush to bring a deeper shine to the stummel. To finish, I re-attach the stem with the stummel. I mount a cotton cloth buffing wheel to the Dremel (actually it is not the brand machine, but a local machine which is similar).  I set the speed at about half of the full power and applied White Diamond compound to the entire pipe. I wiped/ buffed the pipe 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. I finished the restoration by giving the entire pipe a rigorous hand buffing using a microfiber cloth to raise the shine further. The completed pipe looks lovely, fresh and vibrant; the photographs in this case, do not do justice to the appearance of this beautiful pipe. Thank you for having the patience to reach this far while reading the write up.

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