Restoring an Unbranded Italian Bent Billiard # 908

Blog by Paresh Deshpande

I had just finished restoring the sixth Dunhill from my Mumbai Bonanza find, a 1965 DUNHILL SHELL #56 F/T and now this is a no name smooth ¼ bent Billiard from the same lot. This may be a ‘no name’ pipe, but something about the pipe, like the feel in hand, quality of grain and the finish screams of quality and added to that the design elements, are all pointers to a pipe made by a reputed pipe maker.

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 brands and some mediocre brands. Overall, with seven Dunhill pipes, 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 from this find is an unbranded slightly bent billiard, and is indicated in magenta colored arrow in the picture below. It is stamped on the underside of the shank with the shape number 908 at the end of the shank and stem junction. On the right side of the shank it is stamped as IMPORTED BRIAR in a semi circle over ITALY in the center. There is no other stamping anywhere on the stummel. Even the stem is devoid of any stamping. My attempts to identify, with pinpoint accuracy, the maker of this pipe have come to a naught due to lack of any tell tale stampings hinting at the carver. However, the IMPORTED BRIAR stampings are generally associated with pipes designated for American markets and the COM stamp ITALY, is self explanatory. My appreciation is that this pipe was made by an Italian firm as a Basket pipe for an American pipe shop. 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 thick layer of cake in the chamber which has been reamed and maintained at a thickness of a dime!!! This indicates that this pipe has seen heavy usage but has also been well cared for. 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 overflowing lava through which the inner rim edge appears to be intact. Also through the overflow of lava, a few dents and dings are visible towards the right and back of the rim. Similarly, the outer edge of the rim is slightly damaged on the right side in 4 ‘O’ clock direction. There is a sweet odor to the chamber.The stummel boasts of some beautiful mixed pattern of bird’s eye 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. Surprisingly (because being an unbranded pipe, I expected more!), I could see only one fill (circled in yellow) on the left side of the stummel, another indicator to the fact that this is a quality pipe made by a quality conscious Italian carver. The stummel has an orange hued stain and appears to be coated with lacquer, both of which are not my favorite finish. These will have to go, period! I have the experience of working on a Dr. Grabow, OMEGA and it was not easy to get rid of the lacquer coating. The mortise shows heavy accumulation of dried tars mixed with ash and remnants of tobacco, making the flow of air through the mortise laborious. This will have to be cleaned and refreshed. The vulcanite stem shows major damage to the button end on both upper and lower surface. The upper surface has a through hole in the bite zone, including bite marks to the button while deep tooth marks are visible in the bite zone and button. The button on either surface will have to be sharpened and made crisp. The tenon end is crusted with dried out tars and grime. The horizontal slot shows accumulation of remnants of dried out oils and tars, blocking the air flow through the stem airway. The fit of the stem in to the mortise is loose and will need to be tightened for a nice snug fit. The stem is heavily oxidized; however, the quality of vulcanite is good. The bend on the stem does not match with the plane of the stummel and profile of the pipe. This will have to be addressed. The stem repair, then, will be a major issue to address and I shall begin this project by addressing the stem repairs first. THE PROCESS
As decided during my initial appreciation of the condition of the pipe, I start this project by tackling the stem first. I flame the stem surface with the flame of a Bic lighter to raise the tooth indentation to the surface and follow it up with sanding 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 cleaned out the tenon and the internals of the stem with hard bristled and regular pipe cleaners dipped in isopropyl alcohol. The grunge had hardened to such an extent that I had to use the dental spatula to dig out the dried out oils and tars. 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. I wiped the stem with a little Extra virgin olive oil to hydrate the stem surface. Firstly, I inserted a pipe cleaner smeared in Vaseline in to the stem air way. This prevents the mix of CA superglue and activated charcoal from permeating in to the air way and blocking it subsequently. 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 1 and 2 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. It is always a big relief to find the walls of the chamber to be 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 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. Even though the internals were nice and clean, the sweet smell in the chamber was all pervading. I shall address this issue with an alcohol bath before cleaning the external surface of the stummel. Once the cake was removed and the chamber walls cleaned, I noticed that the draught hole was not aligned to the center of the chamber, but skewed towards the right as you hold the pipe while smoking. I was in two minds; should I correct this alignment by re-drilling the air way through the mortise or let it be. The thick cake indicates that this was a fantastic smoker and a favorite of the previous steward, so should I tamper with its smoking characteristics? Well, once I am through with refurbishing, I shall load a bowl and test it for myself before deciding further course of action. Here are pictures of what I have been discussing above. It was now time for me to address the issue of the sweet smell in the pipe. I stuffed the chamber with a cotton ball. I made a wick out of one cotton ball, wound it around a folded pipe cleaner and inserted it tightly in to the mortise. Using a syringe, I topped the chamber with 99.9% pure isopropyl alcohol and set it aside on a pipe stand for the alcohol to draw out all the residual oils and tars from the mortise and the chamber. About half an hour later, I refilled the chamber with alcohol and set it over night. By next evening, the alcohol had drawn all the stubborn oils and tars from the mortise and chamber and these were trapped in the cotton ball and wick. I gave a final cleaning to the mortise using pipe cleaners and q-tips dipped in alcohol. The old smells are history and the pipe now is fresh and clean.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 orange stain now stands out prominently and so does the single fill which I had observed earlier has now increased to four!!!!!!! I checked the fills and realized that it had gone soft and would have to be filled afresh. But before that, I need to remove the orange stain and lacquer coating to let the natural briar shine through and breathe freely. Using a folded piece of 180 grit sandpaper, I sand the entire stummel surface to first remove the lacquer coating and thence the orange stain. It took a considerable time to remove the lacquer coat. At the end, I still observed a few patches on the stummel surface where the old stain was still visible. I cleaned up all these patches by wiping the entire stummel with a cotton swab dipped in pure acetone. The stummel is now completely rid of the lacquer coating and the obnoxious orange stain and beautiful swirls of bird’s eye and cross grains now peek through the rough surface. This clean up made the dents and dings to the rim top surface and the outer edge all the more prominent and these are the issues which I tackle next. On a piece of 220 grit piece of sand paper, I top the rim surface, checking frequently the progress that was being made. Once I was satisfied that the dings and dents to the rim surface has been addressed, I worked the outer rim edge to address the dents and dings visible. With a folded piece of 220 grit sand paper pinched between my thumb and index finger, I created a light bevel on the outer rim edge which masked the dents nicely. I am very pleased with the progress made so far; the stummel has been rid of the orange stain and lacquer, the internals of the stummel are clean and fresh, the dents and dings to the rim top and outer edge has been taken care of and the stem fill has hardened solid. The next issue that I tackled was the issue of newly discovered fills which hitherto fore were hidden under all the stain and lacquer coating. Using the sharp point of my fabricated knife, I gouge out the old fill and replace it with a fresh fill of CA super glue and briar dust. I always over fill the holes 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. Once the glue dried (very quickly by the way), I resorted to sanding the entire stummel surface using a folded piece of 180 grit sand paper and follow it up by further sanding with 320, 600 and 800 grit sand papers. This step addressed three issues; firstly matching and blending the fill with the rest of the surface, secondly, the dents and dings on the stummel were evened out and lastly, the annoying orange stain and lacquer coating was completely eliminated. 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. The stummel looks great with the grains showing themselves in great splendor. I really like this natural finish to the briar!!!! This is how the stummel appears 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 bird’s eye and cross grains on full display. I further buff it with a horse hair shoe brush. I was contemplating if at all I should stain this stummel or let the fills be seen as part of its past life; a friend of mine who has taken up to enjoying a pipe, dropped in and saw this pipe. He loved the grains, the shape and heft of this beauty and immediately requested it to be passed on to him. I discussed with him about the stain and he was keen to keep with the natural finish! Since this pipe was being passed on to him, his desire prevailed. This look to the stummel attracted him the most. I am sure that after the final polish and waxing, the grains will be further accentuated. 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. The next stem issue that I addressed was the loose fit of the tenon in to the mortise. To address this issue, I heated the tenon with the flame of a Bic lighter; moving the flame constantly, till the tenon was pliable. I had pre-selected a drill bit which was a tad larger than the tenon hole and gradually inserted it in to the tenon and set it aside to cool down. Once the tenon had cooled down, I removed the drill bit and tried the seating of the tenon in to the mortise. The fit was perfect.Before moving on to the final polishing and wax coating, I had to address the issue of the bend to the stem. Somehow, the existing bend does not suit the profile of the stummel. I exchanged pictures of the stem and pipe with Mr. Steve and he suggested that the stem needs to bend more. I inserted a pipe cleaner through the stem’s air way and heated the stem with a hot air gun till pliable. Using the slot end of the pipe cleaner, I bend the stem eyeballing it in to desired shape. The two precautionary measures which are required to be ensured; firstly, inserting a pipe cleaner in to the stem’s airway prevents the surface from collapsing inwards. Secondly, while bending the stem, heat only up to the place from where the bending is intended. I did try two different bend angles, but that did not seem correct. Third try was successful and the stem now has a nice bend to it and the pipe feels very comfortable in the mouth. 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; the pictures speak for themselves. I really enjoyed working on this pipe and hope that readers too enjoyed walking with me through this restoration. If only this handsome pipe could share the secret of its birth and its past life with all of us…if only!! Cheers.

PS: The freshly refurbished pipe was handed over to the new Steward (to use the term coined by my friend, Mr. Dal Stanton) who immediately loaded his favorite tobacco, LANE 1Q, and smoked it with me. He was very happy with the way it smoked and appreciated the easy and smooth draw. This reconfirmed my appreciation that I should not tamper with the alignment of the shank air way.

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