Blog by Paresh Deshpande
I was on leave a few months back. Two days before I was to rejoin my work place, I received a call from a friend in Mumbai saying that he had come across a person who collects trash and unwanted items from all posh bungalows and apartments in the area and that he had a seen a few pipes, similar to the ones I restore, in his cart. This friend had taken down his contact number and shared it with me. Now the readers of this write up must understand that we do not have a “Pipe Culture”!! During colonial days, smoking a pipe was common and after the British left, in next few decades, it died its natural death. Today, pipes are not available here and neither is pipe tobacco!! So with this background, it came as a big surprise to me that a trash collector had pipes. I had nothing to lose by giving him a call and this is exactly what I did. While I was speaking to him, it dawned on me that this person did not know what he was selling, could not read or text me the stampings on the pipes. The conversation that I had with him in my local dialect was nothing short of being hilarious. I could not make out what I would be purchasing and he did not know what he was trying to sell!! He had 30 pipes for sale. I am very pathetic at any form of gambling and in such case bad luck follows me like a shadow. I shared this dilemma with Mr. Steve who suggested that I should go ahead and strike a deal. If nothing else, I shall have some spares!! That sounded logical and I struck a deal with the “kabadiwala” (this is what a trash collector is called here in local parlance) for all 30 pipes. The next day I joined my work place and the parcel reached Abha, my wife, after about 10 days. Here is what she received in the parcel. This parcel contained some very nice collectible pipes, a few well known brand pipes and some mediocre pipe brands. Overall, with seven Dunhills, a Preben Holm #1, a couple of Made in England Pete System pipes, Charatan’s and other assorted pipes, I would say that I had hit a huge jack pot!!! Hence, I like to call this find as “Mumbai Bonanza”.
The pipe that I decided to work on is from this find and is marked in a red circle in the picture below (little did I know what I was getting in to at this point!!!). It’s stamped as “Stefano” in small italics over “EXCLUSIVE” in block letters on the left side of the shank and on the right side of the shank it is stamped as “SELECTED” over “BRIAR”. The stummel shows some lovely straight grain which contrasts with the rest of the swirls on the stummel surface. The quarter bent tapered saddle vulcanite stem bears the “crown” logo on the top surface and is designed to take a 9mm filter.
To research this pipe, I turned to pipedia.org and the search for “Stefano” led me to the page on Stefano Santambrogio, here is the link to the page; https://pipedia.org/wiki/Santambrogio
The information gleaned from this page is that this is an Italian manufactured pipe by Santambrogio family who are in to pipe manufacturing since 1912!! The present owner, Mr. Stefano Santambrogio has been at the helm of affairs since 1981. What really baffled me was the stem logo which was very different to what I have on the pipe in front of me. I decided to narrow down my research for the stem logo and turned to another site which I frequent, pipephil.eu.
I specifically searched for stems with crown logo and there it was at the end of the list marked as “Stefano”. The match was perfect. One click on the link led me to http://www.pipephil.eu/logos/en/logo-s3.html#santambrogio
Here the information available was more or less similar to that on pipedia.org, however, it was mentioned that Stefano could be a Santambrogio second. Another click on Stefano took me to a page which had pipes with identical stamping on the shank and stem logo to the one I was working on. It was revealed that Stefano was indeed a Santambrogio export for the German market!!
With this information, I proceed ahead with the restoration of this handsome pipe.
INITIAL VISUAL INSPECTION
The chamber is clean with a thin layer of cake which pleases me no end as this would be a first for me. From what I can see, the chamber walls appear to be sans any damage. The chamber smells of a strong aromatic tobacco and needs to be addressed.The stummel is stained in an orange dye which has worn out in time. At places, it appears like a patch work. The stummel surface is peppered with numerous dents and dings, and a large number of huge fills on the right side of the stummel and the shank. These fills need to be refreshed. I intend to sand the stummel surface with grit papers with two-fold aim; first is to get rid of the orange stain color and second is to minimize the dents and dings from the surface. The plateau rim top surface has little traces of lava overflow and should be easy to deal with. The mortise is surprisingly filthy given how clean the chamber and the rim top appear to be. The vulcanite stem shows significant damage to the upper button, side wall and the round slot, but it is not oxidized. The pseudo p-lip style bit has a through and through hole exposing the airway. This will require major repairs. The quality of vulcanite is good.
Since the stem has significant damage, and from my experience of stem repairs this will be the most time consuming and laborious part of this restoration, I start this project by tackling the stem first. I was faced with two options in my approach to this stem repair; first was to recreate a new button around the broken part and maintain the existing stem profile with a round slot and the second option was to cut away the damaged button and reconstruct an entirely new button with a straight horizontal slot, sacrificing the P-lip shape. I decided to take the former approach. This decision was partly dictated by the fact that I do not have a rotary cutting blade to cut the damaged button end and partly to my innate desire to maintain the originality of any pipe.
Now that I was clear about the path to be followed, I cleaned out the internals of the stem with hard bristled and regular pipe cleaners dipped in isopropyl alcohol. I also cleaned the wide tenon with q-tips dipped in alcohol. Once I was satisfied with the internal cleaning, I wiped the stem surface, particularly the damaged button end, with a cotton pad and alcohol to remove any traces of dirt and grime. To begin the stem repairs, I smeared a pipe cleaner with petroleum jelly and inserted it in to the stem airway. I prepared a mix of CA superglue and activated charcoal and generously applied it over the gaping hole in the button of the stem and set it aside for curing over night. Before moving ahead, I would like to mention here that I had applied this mix in layers, over the week, to achieve sufficient thickness which would help during the filing and sanding while shaping the button.While the stem repair was progressing at its own pace, I moved ahead to deal with the stummel repairs. Given the size of the chamber, I reamed the chamber with size 4 head of a PipNet reamer. I used my fabricated knife and scraped out all the remaining cake. The amount of cake reamed out of the chamber really surprised me as I was expecting minimum 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. 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 plateau rim top surface with a sharp knife to remove the lava overflow. This was followed by cleaning the mortise with cue tips, pipe cleaners and shank brush dipped in isopropyl alcohol. This further eliminated traces of old smells from previous usage. The old smell was still strong, though. Continuing the cleaning regime, 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 plateau rim top with a brass wired brush. The original orange dye was also washed away to some extent. The stummel and rim top was dried using paper napkins and soft cotton cloth. The old fills are now clearly visible and appear like festering flesh wound, ugly in appearance. This will have to be addressed. I set the stummel aside to dry out naturally. To completely eliminate the smell, I decided to resort to alcohol bath. I packed the chamber, just below the rim, with cotton balls. I stretched a cotton ball into a thick wick, tapering at one end, and inserted it in to the shank and pushed it as far inside as I could along with a regular pipe cleaner. I topped the bowl with isopropyl alcohol using a syringe. I know that it is generally a practice to use Kosher salt for this procedure, but since Kosher salt is not easily available here, and when available, it’s very expensive, I use cotton balls. I find that cotton balls work just fine in drawing out all the tars and smells from the mortise and the bowl. I topped the bowl with alcohol again after 30 minutes when the alcohol level had gone down and set it aside overnight for the cotton and alcohol to do its intended job. The next day, the cotton and alcohol had fulfilled its intended task. The pipe cleaner had also drawn out all the stain from within the mortise. I removed the cotton balls and ran pipe cleaners through the mortise to clean out all the loosened tars and gunk. The internals of the stummel is now clean and fresh and the ghost smells are history too.The stage is now set for repairs to the stummel surface. I address the fills, first by gouging out the old fills with a sharp knife and cleaning the surface with a cotton pad dipped in isopropyl alcohol. This was followed by filling these gouges with a mix of briar dust and CA superglue. I always over fill the gouges so that when I sand them down they are smooth and I can feather in the fills with the rest of the briar. I set the stummel aside to cure overnight. I would like to remind the readers that all these days, layering of the stem button with charcoal and superglue had been in progress and now I was satisfied with the thickness of the layering. Using a needle file, I sand the filling to match the surface of the stem. However, disaster struck within a few moments of filing!! The filling broke away from the intact portion of the button. It was, in all probability, due to higher content ratio of activated charcoal in the mix (though I am not convinced entirely) or could be lack of adequate curing (most likely). The bottom line remains that I had to repeat the entire layering process on the button end again…..frustrating to say the least, thus NO PICTURES OF THE DISASTER TAKEN!!Well, what was to happen has happened!! Moving on, the stummel fills had cured and I proceeded to sand the fills with a flat head needle file and 180 and 220 grit sand papers to achieve a rough blend of the fills with the rest of the stummel. For a better blending, I further sanded the entire stummel with 220 followed by 400 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, 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 stummel with a moist cloth after each wet pad. The fills are still looking ugly and somehow I have a gut feeling that this pipe is not yet done with me!! This pipe is really testing my skills and patience!! I rub a small quantity of “Before and After Restoration Balm” in to the briar with my finger tips and let it rest for a few minutes. The balm almost immediately works its magic and the briar now has a nice vibrant appearance. I further buff it with a horse hair shoe brush. This is when I observed that there are air pockets in two fills (marked in yellow circle) and the plateau rim top is still not clean! Aargh…both my faults, I know. I will address them all over again. I would like to remind the readers that all this while the layering of stem is still a work in progress!! I spot fill these air pockets with superglue and let it cure for complete two days. Finally, the button construction appears solid and I progress with filing with a flat head needle file and followed it up with sanding and finer shaping using 220, 320, 600 and 800 grit sand papers. I shaped the round slot by gentle use of a round needle file. I liberally rub some Extra Virgin Olive oil to rehydrate the vulcanite stem. But readers please do not rejoice just yet!! The repairs show a white edge in the repairs near the round slot indicating that the repair is not solid and likely to fall apart and also presence of the dreaded air pockets!! This pipe is just not willing to take repairs. It’s now becoming a fight of WILLS between us. I kept up the self conviction and self confidence, which was constantly assuaged by the encouraging words of my mentor, Mr. Steve. I persisted with the repairs and filled these areas with clear superglue and keep it aside for curing. Not wanting to waste time, I picked up the stummel again and went through the complete process of filing and sanding the fills and ending with the micromesh cycle. The fills are nice, solid and even. I even cleaned up the plateau rim top by scrubbing it with a dry brass wired brush till clean. Here is the picture of the fill at this stage. Now the only thing that remains is to blend these fills with the rest of the stummel. I intend to stain it in dark brown dye.I use the powder variety of stain and mix it with 99% isopropyl alcohol. I heated the stummel surface with a heat gun and applied the stain with a folded pipe cleaner. As I paint the stummel with stain over sections at a time, I burn the dye using a Bic lighter that combusts the alcohol in the aniline dye and sets the dye pigmentation in the wood. After fully saturating the stummel and covering the whole surface, including the plateau rim top, I set the stummel aside to rest for several hours. Now with the stummel surface absorbing the stain, I turn towards the stem repair again. I followed the complete regime, as previously described, till I reached the stage which required micromesh sanding to bring deep shine to the vulcanite. All looked good till this stage. I sand the entire stem with 220 followed by 400 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, 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 pad and rubbed it down with Extra Virgin Olive oil. Once I was through with the micromesh cycle, this is what I saw…DO NOT LOOSE HEART, I kept reminding myself and proceed to redo the entire button repair again for… I do not even remember the number of times!!! After going through the entire stages again, these repairs turn out to be good enough. But I forgot to take pictures!!!
Once the stem repair was completed, I turned my attention to the stummel. The stain had set nicely. I mount a cotton cloth buffing wheel (because I do not have felt cloth buffing wheels!!) on the Dremel and set the speed at about 40% of full RPM and apply red compound to the stummel. This does help in revealing the grains gradually while masking the darker fills.
To finish, I re-attach the stem with the stummel. I mounted 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 little pipe. Thank you for having the patience to reach this far while reading the write up, which I felt was boring and a drag while typing. So these thanks are well deserved for you. PS: – I agree with all who have observed that the stummel fills are still visible. I have observed it too, but no amount of stain pen usage, re-staining and polishing made any difference. Some fills just do not blend for whatever reason. An interesting definition of a Fill in glossary page on pipedia.org means: “A void, pit or flaw in the briar which is made level with the surface of the pipe with either putty or a mix of briar dust and cyanoacrylate glue and which, despite staining, is often visible on close inspection”.