Restoration of an Unbranded Bulldog

Blog by Paresh Deshpande

To date, I have completed the restorations of six Dunhill, a Stefano “Exclusive” and a no-name, but handsomely crafted, Italian bent billiards from my “Mumbai Bonanza” lot. Continuing with this lot, the pipe on my work table now is a straight Bulldog, again without any brand or COM stamping. However, the presence of a Red Dot on the stem may offer some clue about its origin. However, I must admit that unlike the previous unbranded bent billiard, this pipe does have minor quality issues. Let’s see if I am able to fix a few of them during the refurbishing process.

For those readers who haven’t been following my faltering and baby steps on this journey, I was fortunate enough to have heeded 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 brands and some mediocre brands. Overall, with seven Dunhill pipes, a Preben Holm #1, a couple of “Made in England” Pete System pipes, a couple of  Charatan’s Belvedere, Custom-Bilt, Stanwell and other assorted pipes, I would say that I had struck a decent haul!!! This is indeed my “Mumbai Bonanza”.

The pipe that I decided to work on from this find is an unbranded straight Bulldog with a diamond saddle stem, and is indicated in red colored arrow in the picture below. It is stamped on the left side of the shank as Aged over Imported Briar, in italics. The stummel is devoid of any other stampings. The only clue which may help in tracing the origins of this pipe is in the form of a Red Dot on the left surface of the diamond saddle stem. The bowl surface show four worm like rustications, which are akin to the ones seen on Wally Frank era Custombilt pipes, two each on either side roughly where one would hold the pipe while smoking. Similarly, one each worm rustication is seen on either side of the bottom surface of the diamond shank. I searched for any information on this pipe by visiting their “Logos with dots & spots” link, however, without any success. My next attempt to identify the maker of this pipe was by visiting and again I came to a naught. However, the IMPORTED BRIAR stampings are generally associated with pipes designated for American markets and this is where the trail (if at all there was any!!!) ends. If any of the readers has any viable input on this pipe, you are most welcome to share it with the community in form of comments on

There is a thin layer of cake in the chamber. In order to comment on the condition of the walls of the chamber, I need to ream the cake down to the bare briar. The rim top surface is covered with a minor overflow of lava through which the inner rim edge looks intact. A few minor dents and dings are visible on the rim top surface. The outer edge of the rim, again, is in pristine condition. There is a sweet odor to the chamber. It is here within the chamber that the first quality issue is seen; the draught hole is ever so slightly off-center towards the right side, indicated by yellow arrow.The stummel boasts of some beautiful mixed pattern of straight and cross grain all around. It is dirty with grime, oils and tars covering the stummel surface and added to this are a few dents and dings to the sides and front of the stummel. The worm rustications are filled with dust and dirt and can be seen in the pictures below. The double ring separating the cap from the rest of the stummel is intact and crisp. The end of the shank has an aluminum band which is threaded and extends in to mortise in to which fits the threaded tenon stinger. The band and internal threaded extension is nice and clean with a ‘like new’ shine. Coming to the stem, this is where the second quality issue is seen; the stem appears and feels to be made of plastic (not very sure, as I have seen such shiny vulcanite stems before). The upper and lower surfaces shows heavy tooth chatter in the bite zone, including bite marks to the button. The button on either surface will have to be sharpened and made crisp. The threaded stinger tenon is clean, with no signs of accumulated oils and tars. The condition of the stem airway can be ascertained once it is being cleaned with alcohol and pipe cleaners. The aluminum spacer, that houses the stinger, is clean. The alignment of the diamond shank end with that of the saddle stem is perfect. The third quality issue is that the shoulders around the horizontal slot appear to be sawed off. It is uneven with heavy scratches. THE PROCESS
As decided during my initial appreciation of the condition of the pipe, I start this project by tackling the stem first. I avoid flaming the stem surface with the flame of a Bic lighter to raise the tooth indentation as I am not very sure about the stem material being of plastic or vulcanite. I play it safe and sand the stem with a folded piece of 220 grit sand paper. This helps in getting rid of the oxidation while providing a smooth surface for the intended fills to reconstruct the damaged bite zone on both surfaces and also the button edges. I wiped the stem surface with a cotton swab dipped in Isopropyl alcohol. I thereafter, rub a small quantity of EVO oil to hydrate the stem and it was then that I was assured that the stem is vulcanite and my appreciation was incorrect. I cleaned out the tenon and 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 again wiped the stem surface, particularly the damaged button end, with a cotton pad and alcohol to remove any traces of dirt and grime. This was followed by sanding the horizontal slot shoulders on a piece of 220 grit sand paper to level the surface and even out the deep scratches. I shall further smooth it out during polishing the stem. I prepared a mix of CA superglue and activated charcoal and carefully applied it over the damaged bite zone on both surfaces and lip and set it aside for curing over night. Before moving ahead, I would like to mention here that I had applied this mix in sufficient thickness which would help during the filing and sanding to match the fills with the stem surface and shaping the button.While the stem repair was set aside to cure, I moved ahead to deal with the stummel cleaning. With size 3 head of a PipNet reamer, I took the cake down to bare briar. Using a folded piece of 180 grit sand paper, I sand out the last 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 gently scraping away the lava overflow from the rim top surface with my fabricated knife. I cleaned the mortise by using cue tips, pipe cleaners and shank brush dipped in isopropyl alcohol. This eliminated all traces of old smells from previous usage. The minor dents and dings to the rim top surface were addressed by topping it over 220 grit sandpaper. I followed up the internal cleaning with external refreshing of the stummel surface. Using a hard bristled tooth brush dipped in undiluted Murphy’s oil soap, I very deliberately scrubbed the stummel and the rim top to remove the overflow of lava from these surfaces. 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 clean, but the rim top surface is considerably lighter than the surrounding stummel surface.  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. 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. By the time I was through with the stem restoration, the stummel had dried out nicely. Using the micromesh pads, I complete the polishing cycle by wet sanding the surface with 1500 to 2400 grit pads and dry sanding with 3200 to 12000 girt pads. I paid special attention to the topped rim top surface during the polishing. The stummel looks great with the grains showing themselves in great splendor, though the rim top surface continues to look a shade lighter. I really like this natural finish to the briar!! I stained the rim top with a dark brown stain pen, applying it in layers and set it aside to set overnight. I deliberately stained it a bit darker as this lightens out subsequently during the buffing and polishing process.  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 about 20 minutes. The balm almost immediately works its magic and the briar now has a nice vibrant appearance with the beautiful mixed bird’s eye and cross grains on full display. I further buff it with a horse hair shoe brush. To complete the restoration, 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. With a cotton buffing wheel earmarked for Red Tripoli, which has a finer grit than White compound, I buffed the stem to a fine glossy finish. I then re-attach the stem to the stummel, 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. If only this handsome pipe could share the secret of its birth, carver and its past life with all of us……if only!! Cheers.

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