A Gift for a US Coast Guard Man – A Carved Bearded Sailor, ‘Ole Crusty’

Blog by Dal Stanton

Tina commissioned the restoration of 3 pipes and one Churchwarden project by repurposing a bowl.  Her purpose was to benefit the Daughters of Bulgaria while at the same time purchasing great vintage pipes that would be gifted to special men in her life.  The first of these pipes, the Lindbergh Select Poker, which came out beautifully, is for Tina’s brother who served as a naval aviator and flew on P3 airplanes flying over different bodies of water to do reconnaissance missions and who has many stories of his adventures.  I’m now looking at the Carved Bearded Sailor – my first try at restoring a sculpted face.  There are no identifying marks on the pipe, and I’ve searched closely with a magnifying glass.  I acquired the Carved Bearded Sailor from a Lot I snagged on French eBay, so my assumption is that this pipe has a French origin – it’s a good guess!  When Tina saw this pipe, she immediately took it in hand and said she knew who would receive this pipe – her older brother who started in the Army but later spent 25 years in the US Coast Guard as a helicopter pilot involved in such activities as law enforcement (boarding and inspecting ships) and search and rescue – aiding vessels in trouble on the high seas regardless of the flags they flew.  Here are the pictures I took of the Carved Bearded Sailor commissioned for the ‘Coastie’ on my work table: I love the old crusty look of the sailor’s face encased in this carving.  What I like most of all is that it is a nice carving, but the thick varnish makes it look like a tourist trinket pipe to me.  It is apparent that the steward who had this pipe smoked him well!  The moderate cake buildup in the chamber and the signs of lava and grime on the ‘cap’ – we don’t have a rim with this guy, we have a cap! – point to a pipe that was used and not put on a shelf to collect dust.  He’s got some history, but I can’t say how much and I’m guessing that his COM is France.  The only thing I’m not excited about with this crusty sailor pipe is the varnished finish – I’m not a fan of a heavy varnish, candy apple gloss finishes.  The challenge would be, if I were to remove the varnish as part of the restoration, and dive into polishing and buffing the nooks and crannies of the carving, it might prove to be a daunting task.  Another factor would be to maintain the roughness that gives it a rustic uniqueness.  The carving is not a porcelain doll smoothness – its crusty like the sailor depicted!  I want to clean up the carving but not lose the rustic, roughness that is to me, what makes it special.  The stem has some oxidation and tooth chatter but not much of an issue.

I begin the restoration of the Carved Bearded Sailor by wetting a pipe cleaner with isopropyl 95% and cleaning the airway of the stem.  I then place the stem in a soak of Before & After Deoxidizer with other pipes in The Pipe Steward queue.After several hours, I take the Sailor’s stem out and let the Before & After Deoxidizer drain off the stem.  I then run another pipe cleaner wetted with alcohol through the stem’s airway to clean it of the Deoxidizer.  I also wipe off the raised oxidation with a cotton pad wetted with isopropyl 95%.  The Deoxidizer does a good job.I then apply paraffin oil to the stem to begin revitalizing the vulcanite.I haven’t yet decided how exactly I will approach the restoration of the stummel, but I decide to simply clean it the normal way first and see how things look.  The chamber is small, only 5/8 inches wide, and this is too small for the Pipnet Reaming heads.  So, I employ the Savinelli Fitsall tool to scrape the chamber walls in close quarters. As I scrape the chamber walls I find that there’s a good bit of cake build-up in the chamber.  After a while, I notice that there appears to be no draft hole at the bottom of the chamber.  Hmmm, not sure about this!  I try to push a pipe cleaner through the airway via the mortise and it is a no go.  I take a sharp dental probe and dig a bit at the floor of the chamber and a bit of cake crumbles revealing a hole, not where I was looking for it, but more toward the bottom.  I keep digging and another hole appears – forward of the other.  With the help of a stiff wire, I’m able to punch through the blockage allowing me to insert a pipe cleaner.  I take a picture to show what I’m seeing.  At first, I thought that what I was seeing was a cavity underneath what appears now to be a bridge of carbon cake between the two holes.  I continue to dig with the dental probe, and it appears that what I’m looking at is metal.  It appears to be a metal insert with two holes allowing air to pass through.  Interesting – I’ve never seen this before.  I’m not able to see anything through the mortise that looks like metal.I continue the cleanup of the chamber by sanding the chamber with 240 grade paper wrapped around a Sharpie Pen.  I then wipe the chamber with a cotton cloth wetted with alcohol to clean the carbon dust. It seems that it is a 2-holed metal insert – like an internal stinger, which pushes my thinking more toward a French invention, but still only guessing.  Other than the interesting two-holed insert, the chamber appears to be in good shape with no heating problems.Next, to clean the external surface of the carving, I use undiluted Murphy’s Oil Soap and scrub with a cotton pad and bristled tooth brush to get into the curves, nooks and crannies of the carving, I use as well a bristled brass wire brush to work on the lava and discoloration on the cap. I then rinse the stummel with cool tap water.  The surface of the carving cleans up nicely as well as the rim/cap. Next, the internal cleaning.  Using pipe cleaners and cotton buds wetted with isopropyl 95%, I go to work. The design of the internal metal insert is interesting.  The airflow is pulled downwardly to the two holes that are on the floor of the chamber, not where the draft hole is normally located. I scrape the sides of the mortise with a dental spatula to excavate tars and oils.  I also employ a drill bit to reach into the chamber created by the metal insert below the chamber floor.  I hand turn the drill bit which pulls the crud out.  The internals are pretty nasty overall.  Eventually, buds begin to surface cleaner until I’m satisfied that the internals are clean.  I arrive at a decision point.  The question is, do I keep the thick varnish finish and work with it or do I remove it and figure out a different approach to the external surface – natural briar or dye?  In principle, I don’t like the shiny finish that varnish produces.  Why? You’re not looking at the shine of the briar, but the shine produced by the varnish.  I can understand, with a carving like this, it’s an easier and quicker way to produce a ‘finished’ shine, but to me it’s mediocre. The other problem is that when the finish is thicker, it can chip and leave portals to the raw wood which will obviously be a different hue and texture – mess.  I see evidence of this as I scan the carved surface.  In the end, my dislike of mediocrity when restoring pipes took over and I decide to renew finish on the Sailor so that hopefully, it doesn’t lose its quaint roughness but cleans and sharpens it so that the carving is enhanced not stifled!  So my plan is ratified taking some last pictures of the candy apple finish! To start over, I put the stummel in an acetone soak to remove all the old finish from the craggy and carved surface.  I leave it in the soak overnight.  Time to turn out the lights.The next day, I fish ‘Old Crusty’ out of the acetone soak.  The finish is partially removed but most is loosened.  I use 000 steel wool in combination with the brass wire brush to remove the residual varnish from the stummel surface. Parts of the old finish I scrape off with my thumb nail and it’s like congealed meat fat.  I use a dental probe as well to dig into the crevices to remove dirt and gummed up varnish.  Finally, most of the removal is completed – all that I can see of the old varnish is removed.  I take a picture to show the progress to this point.Next, I continue cleaning and clearing the surface by focusing the steel wool on areas of smooth briar to sand and buff up.  I aim for the flat surfaces to tease out the grain – which I find are many!  The obvious smooth surface is the cap and bill, but there are also the eyebrows, the nose and nose bridge, the cheek tops, the mustache, the top of the beard, the cheeks…  As I buff with the 000 steel wool on these surfaces, the carved face begins to emerge as a more distinct image.  I reach into all the major crevasses as well.  I’m please with the results of this stage.  I take pictures at the conclusion of the steel wool buffing sanding and shaping. After using the steel wool, I sand with the micromesh pads.  I start by wet sanding with pads 1500 to 2400 then dry sanding with pads 3200 to 4000 and 6000 to 12000.   With each phase, I take a picture offering a different perspective of the face that emerges through the micromesh process.  I watch amazed! Before switching to the stem, I come to another decision point.  I had been thinking that I would apply a dye – probably a light Fiebing’s Saddle Tan hue to bring out more pop. After completing the micromesh pad process, the briar of this stummel needs no help with ‘pop’!  I decide to stay with the natural grain that has emerged and to deepen it, I apply Before & After Restoration Balm to the carved stummel.  I’m anxious to see how the Balm acts on the carved surface – how it will enhance the carved face.  I put some Balm on my fingers and work it into the briar.  It takes some effort and the help of a cotton bud and a toothpick to push the Balm into the crevasses of the sculpting.  After applying the Balm throughout and working it in thoroughly, after about 20 minutes, I use a cotton pad to start wiping off the excess Balm and again, reaching into the crevasses to remove Balm.  The Balm eventually dissolves and is absorbed.  I finish by buffing the stummel with a microfiber cloth.  Wow!  The Balm did a great job deepening the tone of the briar.  I’m already loving the profound difference between the buffed sheen and texture of natural briar and the candy apple varnish finish that I started with.Letting Ole Crusty rest awhile, I now turn to the stem.  The stem is generally in good shape – negligible tooth impact is found on the bit.  The button has one compression that will be easily addressed with sanding.  The only thing I notice that is not what I like is that the entire stem has a very rough texture to it.  The Before & After Deoxidizer did a great job removing the oxidation, but the resulting texture needs addressing.I use 240 grade paper to sand out the minor bit and button issues.  I also sand the entire stem to remove the roughness.  To avoid shouldering the stem shank facing, I use a plastic disk on the end to butt up against as I sand.I follow the 240 grade by wet sanding the entire stem with 600 grade paper and then using 0000 steel wool.I move straight away to sanding with micromesh pads by wet sanding with pads 1500 to 2400, followed by dry sanding with pads 3200 to 4000 and 6000 to 12000.  After each set of three pads I apply Obsidian Oil to rejuvenate the vulcanite. Now, on the homestretch.  I reunite stem and stummel and mount the Dremel with a cotton cloth buffing wheel and I apply Blue Diamond compound to stem and stummel.  In order not to load the crevasses with compound which would be a pure nightmare to clean out, I keep the buffing wheel on the high briar points where there is smoother briar.  What I discover though, after starting the Blue Diamond application, is that the troughs of the carving are wide enough that I leave behind no compound as I work the wheel in these areas.  I think that using a Dremel with it’s miniature buffing wheels, gives me an edge in situations like these.  After finishing application of the compound, I transition to applying carnauba wax in the same way.  I mount another cotton cloth wheel to the Dremel, maintain a speed of about 40% full power and apply the wax over stem and carved stummel. After application of the wax, I give the pipe a rigorous hand-buffing with a microfiber cloth to raise the intricate shine and to make sure there’s no wax caked up in the crevasses.

When I began this project, I had no idea what I would be able to do to improve the presentation of the carved sailor’s face.  I wanted to retain the rustic, rough feel but bring out more of the grain and contours of the face carving.  This is my first restoration of a carved figure and I’m very pleased with the huge difference in the quality of the carved presentation by uncovering it or freeing it from the thick candy apple glaze that entrapped it.  The minute appearances of briar grain have been teased out and now highlight the various facial components of the carving in a satisfying and attractive way.  In my view, the restoration took the Carved Bearded Sailor from a trinket-like feel to an expression of artistic beauty and creativity.  I started calling the bearded sailor, ‘Ole Crusty’, during the process of getting to know him better and helping him come out!  I think the name fits the image of the old bearded sailor who was weathered by life, that the carver was seeking to capture and bring to life in this pipe.  Tina commissioned this pipe for her brother, a Coast Guard man, and I trust that she and he will like ‘Ole Crusty’ as well I do!  Tina commissioned this pipe from the For “Pipe Dreamers” Only! collection and will have the first opportunity to acquire ‘Ole Crusty’ 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!  I begin with a Before & After of Ole Crusty:

3 thoughts on “A Gift for a US Coast Guard Man – A Carved Bearded Sailor, ‘Ole Crusty’

  1. pappymac

    Great work on restoring the Carved Bearded Sailor. As a retired U.S. Coast Guardsman (Guardsman is one word, not two.) I applaud her decision to give the pipe to her brother. Hopefully he will enjoy smoking it.

    1. ThePipeSteward - Dal in Bulgaria

      Sorry about the misspelling! Thank you for your service. I think it came out well and I’m sure he’ll enjoy it – I know that I would!


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