Refreshing a Leather Clad Classic Billiard

Blog by Dal Stanton

I acquired this Leather Wrapped Classic Billiard as part of what I call the French Lot of 50.  I landed 50 pipes which included some long-forgotten treasures dating back to before WWII as well as a plethora of pipes mounted with horn stems.  In this French Lot of 50 I discovered French pipe manufacturers that were all but forgotten within the pipe world.  My restoration of the petite EPC Majestic Bent Horn Stem Billiard which earned me my first contribution to the repository of pipe information on Pipedia with the research on the A. Pandevant & Roy Co. of Paris.

The next pipe to catch the eye of someone searching through the ‘Help Me!’ baskets in my For “Pipe Dreamers” Only! collection is a nice looking Leather Wrapped Classic Billiard shape which I’ve targeted with an arrow in the picture of the French Lot of 50.  Tina chose this pipe along with 2 others from the ‘Help Me!’ baskets to commission for special men in her life and to benefit our effort here in Bulgaria, Daughters of Bulgaria – women and girls who have been trafficked and sexually exploited not only here in Bulgaria but throughout Europe.  Tina was visiting us from Birmingham, Alabama, USA, with a group of other ladies.  This Leather Wrapped Billiard was chosen with her son, Matthew, in mind who’ll be graduating from college in May and has plans to utilize his degree in Landscape Design and Turf Management by moving to Big Sky, Montana working at the Moonlight Basin Resort. Tina said that he will be over a team that keeps the golf course in tip-top shape! I’m thinking that this Leather Wrapped Billiard will be a perfect partner for Mathew on the golf course!  A special gift from a proud mother for a special son soon to graduate.  I love it!  Here are pictures of the Leather Wrapped Billiard now on my work table. There is no nomenclature stamped on the pipe or identifying marks on the stem.  As with the most the other pipes that came with the French Lot of 50, there is a very good chance that this Leather Wrap also is French.  The practice of wrapping briar bowls with leather started in France as a creative and economically savvy way to sell sub-par bowls that were part and parcel of France’s austerity measures during WWII.  Pipedia’s article uncovers this bit of pipe history in the article devoted to Longchamp:

In 1948 Jean Cassegrain inherited a small shop near the French Theater on the Boulevard Poissonnière in Paris, called “Au Sultan”. Articles for smokers and fountain pens were offered there. Now, the absolute bulk of the pipes Cassegrain found in the inventory was from war-time production and due to the sharp restrictions on pipe production the French government had enforced in 1940, these pipes were of very poor quality and showed large fills. Strictly speaking, they were not marketable now that the French pipe industry produced pipes of pre-war standards again. In this situation Cassegrain had the probably most enlightened moment in his life: he took some of these pipes to a leather worker who clad bowls and shanks in leather. Only the rims of the bowls and the shanks’ faces remained blank.

E voila – the pipes looked pretty good now and were eye-catching enough to become an instant success in sale. Above all among the thousands of Allied soldiers who populated Paris in those days. The thing worked well, and even unexperieceid pipesters liked the covered pipes very much for they did not transmit the heat to the hand. Very soon Cassegrain had sold the old stock of pipes, and the leather-clad pipes became his only product. He began to place orders with renowned firms like Ropp or Butz-Choquin.

I love stories of innovation like the story of Jean Cassegrain and the creation of the Longchamp name which came from the name of a horse racing park near Paris.  Pipedia concludes the article with this comment:

After 1970 the interest in leather-clad pipes slowly diminished. The Longchamp pipes were offered for the last time in the 1978 catalog though previously placed orders were delivered until 1980.

The splendid success inspired many other renowned producers to offer their own lines RoppButz-ChoquinGubbelsGBD… Maybe Savinelli was the very last producing them for the label of the famous designer Etienne Aigner.

Without identifying markings, it’s not easily determined the origins of the Leather Wrapped Billiard on my worktable.  Yet, the origins of this type of pipe are French and it seems likely that this pipe shares this origin, but a manufacturer remains a mystery.  The pipe itself is in good shape and for this reason I’m calling it a refresher. The chamber barely has any cake build up, but the rim shows some discoloration and is need of a cleaning.  The condition of the leather wrapping the bowl looks great.  The stem has minor oxidation and negligible tooth chatter on the stem.  I do notice that the stem is a bit tight in the mortise.  We’ll see how this snugness progresses during the cleaning.  To begin refreshing the Leather Wrapped Classic Billiard, I use pipe cleaners dipped in isopropyl 95% to clean the stem’s airway.  I then add the stem to a soak of Before & After Deoxidizer along with other pipes in the queue.After several hours I fish out the Leather Wrap’s stem and I push another pipe cleaner through the airway wetted with isopropyl 95% to clear the Deoxidizer from the airway.  I then wipe off the oxidation that has surfaced through the soak using cotton pads wet with isopropyl 95%.  The Deoxidizer does a good job and much oxidation is removed.To begin the stem rejuvenation, I apply paraffin oil with a cotton pad and set the stem aside to dry and to absorb the mineral oil.Now, turning to the stummel, I first clean the chamber using the Pipnet Reaming kit I jump to the second smallest and work up to the largest blade head as I ream the chamber followed by using the Savinelli Fitsall tool.  After scraping the chamber walls with the Fitsall tool, I sand the chamber using 240 grade paper wrapped around a Sharpie Pen to give leverage and reach as I sand.  Finally, I wipe the chamber with a cotton pad wetted with isopropyl 95% to remove the carbon dust.  I inspect the chamber and it looks great – no cracks or heat fissures. Next, I clean the rim using undiluted Murphy’s Oil Soap and a cotton pad.  To work more directly on the lava flow I employ a brass wire brush and scrape the area carefully with a Buck pocket knife. I’m careful to keep the soap and work with the brush on the rim.  I don’t want to damage the leather wrap. I then rinse the rim with cool tap water. The general results of the cleaning are good, but there remains discoloration which I will address later.Now to the internals. Using pipe cleaners and cotton buds wetted with isopropyl 95%, I scrub the internal mortise and airway.  It doesn’t take long, and the buds are emerging lighter.  I’m thankful for a small skirmish!I start cleaning the stem by wet sanding using grade 600 paper and follow using 000 grade steel wool.I move directly to the micromesh regimen by wet sanding with pads 1500 to 2400 and dry sanding with pads 3200 to 4000 and pads 6000 to 12000. After each set of 3 pads I apply Obsidian Oil to condition the vulcanite.  The pop on this stem is nice. With the stem now waiting in the wings, I turn back to the stummel.  To address the residual dark area on the rim, I will give the stummel a very light topping.  I’m hopeful that this will erase the lion’s share of the scorching and refresh the rim.  I take out the chopping board and put 240 grade paper on it.  Keeping the inverted stummel firm and steady, I rotate the rim a few times on the paper. When it seems enough is taken off, I switch the paper to 600 grade paper and smooth out the 240 sanding.  There is just a bit of the darkening remaining after the topping.To dispatch the remainder of the scorched rim briar, I introduce a very mild bevel on the internal rim.  I first use a tightly rolled piece of 120 paper to cut the initial bevel.  I then follow with 240 then 600 grade papers in succession.  In each case, I pinch the tightly rolled piece of sanding paper between my thumb and the internal rim and rotate evenly around the circumference.  The result is exactly what I wanted – the rim is now clean.Next, to bring out the grain on the rim, I wet sand with micromesh pads 1500 to 2400 and follow by dry sanding with pads 3200 to 4000 and 6000 to 12000.  I’m anxious to see how the grain is teased out. As you can see in the picture immediately above, the lip of the upper leather encasing is packed with dust after the micromesh sanding.  I take a narrow dental spatula and clean the dust out by gently sliding the spatula under the leather lip.The next step is to reunite the stem and stummel to apply Blue Diamond compound.  As I noticed before, the tenon/mortise fit is too tight – taking too much pressure to seat the tenon.To address this, I sand down the tenon by wrapping it with a piece of 240 sanding paper and rotate the paper evenly around the tenon.  I sand and then test a few times to make sure I’m not taking off too much.  When the fit is appropriately snug and the tenon seats, I then switch to 600 grade paper to smooth the tenon.  Now it fits perfectly with a good snug fit, but not too tight.I now mount a cotton cloth buffing wheel to the Dremel, set at 40% of full power and I apply Blue Diamond compound to the rim and the stem.Next, I’ve been thinking about how to clean and condition the leather wrap encasing the stummel.  I use Weiman Leather Wipes to do the job.  I follow the directions by using the wipe that cleans and applies the preservative and then I buff the leather with a microfiber cloth.  Wow!  It’s looks great.  The leather darkened to a newer looking richness – very nice.  The pictures show before and after. Since my day is closing, I want to further the internal mortise cleaning by giving the bowl a kosher salt and alcohol bath.  I use the highest grade isopropyl 95% available here in Bulgaria.  I first create a ‘wick’ from twisting and stretching a cotton ball.  The wick serves to draw out the remnant of tars and oils.  I use a stiff wire to help push the end of the cotton wick down the mortise.  I then fill the bowl with kosher salt, set it in an egg carton and fill it with isopropyl 95% until it surfaces over the salt.  In a few minutes I top off the alcohol that has absorbed and set it aside and turn out the lights! The next morning, the salt and wick are soiled – the wick not as much which is good if it shows that the mortise is already clean.  I clean the chamber of the salt, wiping it out with paper towel and blowing through the mortise.  To make sure all is clean, I use one cotton bud wetted with alcohol and it demonstrates that the mortise is clean.  Moving on. I rejoin stem and stummel and mount another cotton cloth buffing wheel on the Dremel, maintain 40% speed and apply carnauba wax to the rim and stem.  To further condition the leather wrapping one more time, I apply a very light coat of paraffin oil and then rub it in well.  I follow by buffing the entire pipe with a microfiber cloth to bring out the shine of stem, leather stummel and the briar rim.

Perhaps, I should have done this before waxing the rim, but to add a starter for a new protective cake and for aesthetic reasons, I coat the chamber walls with a mixture of natural yogurt and activated charcoal.  When cured, the mixture provides a very durable surface providing a buffer for the fresh briar until a natural cake develops.  The new steward just needs to be careful not to scrape the chamber with a metal tool, but simply to rub the chamber with a folded pipe cleaner will be sufficient to clean after use.  I mix the activated charcoal and the natural yogurt until it thickens enough to not run – being too liquid. I then use the pipe nail to spread it on the chamber wall.  I then set the stummel aside for a few hours for the mix to cure. This Leather Wrapped Classic Billiard cleaned up well.  The leather is dark and rich looking and the butterscotch colored rim pops in contrast to the leather.  The fine, delicate grain of the rim is pleasing to the eye as the leather is to the touch.  This is Tina’s third commissioned pipe which she chose for her son who is soon to graduate from college.  She will have the first opportunity to acquire the pipe 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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