Reconstructing a Broken Stem on a 1964 Dunhill Shell 253 f/t

Blog by Paresh Despande

I had just finished a second of the 30 pipes from my Mumbai Bonanza find, a 1979 DUNHILL BRUYERE 51671; here is the link to the write up;

I was fortunate enough to have heeded to the advice of my dear friend and mentor, Mr. Steve, and struck a deal with a trash collector from Mumbai. He did not know what he was selling and I did not know what I was buying as we reside in different cities!! The argument that Mr. Steve presented was that if not anything, I shall at least have some spares and this was logical. I struck a deal and here are pictures of the pipes that I received in this lot. This lot contains 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, Custom-Bilt, Stanwell 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 next from this find is another Dunhill, a 1964 Shell Briar billiard, and is marked in an indigo circle in the picture below. It is stamped on the heel and the underside of the shank with the shape number 253 over a star followed by F/T followed by DUNHILL over Shell Briar over the COM stamp Made in England 4 which dates it as being made in 1964. This is followed by Group size number 4 in a circle and letter S for Shell. Dunhill White Dot adorns the top of the vulcanite stem. The stampings are deep, crisp and clear. I tried to search on for the significance of the star on the heel. However, the information available did not match with the stampings on the pipe on my worktable. I approached members in my group on FB. Their learned response indicated that Dunhill stamped their replacement stummel with a star at the bottom of the heel. They also assured me that these replacement bowls are intrinsically original with same quality as the original and that this does not affect the value of this pipe.

With assurance, I move ahead with the restoration of this beautiful medium sized and sandblasted Dunhill billiard.

The chamber is clean with a thin layer of cake which indicates that the pipe has been kept clean by its previous Steward. From what I can see, the chamber walls appear to be without any damage. The chamber is odorless. There is an overflow of lava on the rim top surface. The inner rim edge show minor unevenness which should be easy to address. It is the outer rim edge that shows significant damage in the form of dents, dings and scratches, all along the circumference. This must have been caused due to hammering of the edge against a hard surface to remove dottle!!!!! This being a Dunhill Shell, it will be a challenge for me to fix these dents. The mortise is clean and so is the shank airway. The condition of this pipe is very similar to the earlier Dunhill Bruyere that I have restored and makes me wonder if these could have come from the collection of the same Steward. The stummel boasts of some beautiful sandblast patterns, a mix of straight and cross grain all around. It is dirty with grime and tar filling in much of the craggy finish. The briar looks lifeless and dull which is nothing serious to address. The round shank of the Billiard flows into a long tapered stem which has a flare, like a fish tail, at the button end and hence the stamp F/T. The vulcanite stem shows significant damage to the button end, in fact, there is no button at all, similar to the Dunhill Bruyere that was restored earlier!!!!! This convinces me that there is a high probability that these have been previously enjoyed by the same Steward. The stem end is missing, well, about an inch of vulcanite. This pipe would have been his favorite and he had continued to enjoy bowls of his favorite tobacco long after the button end had been chewed off. This is evident from the significant tooth chatter on both the surfaces of the stem. I intend to reconstruct/ rebuild this portion of the stem, including the slot, while maintaining the stem and general profile of the pipe. This will require major repairs. The quality of vulcanite is good. The condenser tube inside the stem however will have to be cleaned and sanitized. In this project, repairs to the damaged outer edge and stem rebuild will be a major challenge, the stem more so, as achieving the fish tailed profile of the stem will need to be adhered to for overall aesthetic appeal of this piece of briar. Having just finished the tedious restoration of the Dunhill Bruyere, I am aware of the challenges this restoration will present en-route.

Since the stem has significant damage, and from my experience of stem repairs this will be time consuming and laborious part, I start this project by tackling the stem first. I had decided to rebuild the entire stem including the button and the slot, while giving the button end a slight flare which is the trademark of a fish tail stem. 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 the pipe. It’s a Dunhill after all!!

Now that I was clear about the path to be followed, I first flame both the surfaces of the stem with a Bic lighter. The heat from the flame raises the vulcanite to the surface and takes care of the tooth chatter that was seen earlier. I sand the stem end with a folded piece of 220 grit sand paper to erase the scratches and provide a smooth surface for the intended fill. I cleaned out the internals of the stem with hard bristled and regular pipe cleaners dipped in isopropyl 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 folded 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 and extending beyond the broken surface and set it aside for curing over night. I have not researched and measured the exact length that I had to reconstruct, but eyeballed the length using the longer right side of the stem where a portion of the button was still intact. 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 and achieving the correct stem profile. While the stem repair was set aside to cure, I moved ahead to deal with the stummel repairs. There was practically no cake in the chamber and so I directly used a folded piece of 180 grit sand paper to sand out the traces of 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. This was followed by cleaning the mortise by scraping away at the dried gunk with my fabricated spatula and followed it up with further cleaning using cue tips, pipe cleaners and shank brush dipped in isopropyl alcohol. This eliminated all traces of old smells from previous usage.Continuing with the cleaning regimen, using a soft brass wired brush I gently scraped away the thick lava coat in the blast of the rim. With a hard bristled tooth brush and dipped in undiluted Murphy’s oil soap, I very deliberately scrubbed the sandblast finish on the stummel and the rim top. The stummel and rim top was dried using paper napkins and soft cotton cloth and set it aside to dry out naturally. The stummel looks fresh and clean. The damages to the outer rim edge are now clearly visible in the above pictures after the cleaning. At this point in the restoration, I was faced with the dilemma of whether or not should I top the bowl to address the rim damage. The issue was recreating the sandblast on the rim top after topping. I put this question to my friends from pipe restoration community on FB. Mr. Steve and Mr. Mark Domingues suggested that I stain the damaged areas with a stain pen and if this does not work, topping is the only recourse available. I went ahead with the suggestion and stained the damaged rim edges and rim top using Mahogany color stain pen. After it had dried completely, I again stained it with dark brown stain pen to darken it further. I set it aside for several hours before working on it any further. Here is how the rim appeared at this stage. Next, 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 with the beautiful contrasting hues colors that are unique to this sandblast pipe, on full display. I further buff it with a horse hair shoe brush. I had hoped that the balm would work its magic on the filled area and help in blending it a bit, and in this instance, the blend was perfect. The damaged surface has blended to an extent that it appears like a sandblasted surface. Sometimes in life, the most difficult issues have the simplest solutions!! I set the stummel aside and turned my attention to the stem repair. The fill had cured nicely and I moved ahead and began the process of filing and shaping the button end with a flat head needle file. This time around it was more  challenging as I had set for my self the aim of creating a fish tail shape (or rather as close a match to fish tail as possible), a straight thin slot and a concave shape to the button end as seen on original stems. Learning from past mistakes, I marked a straight line for the slot orientation and using only the tip of the pointed needle file, I carved out the slot. I followed it up by sanding with folded pieces of 180 grit sand papers to laboriously shape and widen the slot, always taking care to maintain a straight line. Once I was satisfied with the profile of the slot, I went ahead and shaped the button by first achieving a rough shape with a flat head needle file and there after fine tuning it by sanding it down with a 220 grit sand paper. Unfortunately, being so engrossed in this process made me forget to take pictures of the progess of these stages.

For a better blending, 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 pad and rubbed it down with Extra Virgin Olive oil to rehydrate the vulcanite. The repairs have blended in very well and the stem now looks shiny black and beautiful. The internals of the stem was once again cleaned out using alcohol and pipe cleaners to clear the airway of all the debris resulting due to the sanding. The finished stem is shown below. To finish, I re-attach the stem with the stummel. I mounted a cotton cloth buffing wheel to my local machine which is similar to the Dremel.  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. I cannot thank enough my friends Mr. Dal Stanton, Mr. Sam Vior, Mr. Victor Naddeo and Mr. Steve for helping me to research and complete this lovely 1964 made Dunhill Shell billiard.


1 thought on “Reconstructing a Broken Stem on a 1964 Dunhill Shell 253 f/t

  1. Dave

    Paresh, you bought a great group of pipes. The work on the Dunhill rim turned out very good, and the stem “rebuild” is excellent. Well done.


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