Blog by Dal Stanton
Last Christmas, my wife and I made the trek from Bulgaria to Denver to celebrate the holidays with our family – renewing relationships with our growing number of grandchildren in the US! Living and serving in Bulgaria is a deeply fulfilling life, but we miss our family and this Christmas reunion was a wonderful close to the year. One of the highlight activities with the ‘Ole Man’ (that would be me) is to go pipe picking at the various secondhand stores and antique shops in the Denver area. My main aim during these picking expeditions is to add pipes to the ‘For “Pipe Dreamers” Only!’ collection to benefit our work with the Daughters of Bulgaria – women and girls who have been trafficked and sexually exploited. One of the favorite spots I’ve picked before is the huge Brass Armadillo Antique Mall where you can spend hours and we did. There were many pipes, but few were priced favorably enough for me to justify acquiring for the Daughters, but I did see one particular pipe that I ‘ooooo’d and ahhhh’d’ over and my Denver-based daughter, Jocelyn, and her husband, Jordan, were watching me closely 😊. Yes, you guessed it, the Karl Erik Handmade in Denmark B Freehand that I was drooling over, but was stressing my pocketbook too much, had been secretly squirrelled away from the Brass Armadillo. I discovered it a few days late under the tree on Christmas morning – woohoo! When you have a dad who does what I do, gift giving is never a problem! This Dad has made out quite well from Jocelyn and Jordan’s gift-giving. Along with the Karl Erik Handmade, a few years ago they gifted me the pictured unbelievable 1907 McLardy Silver Ferruled Gourd Calabash which I restored (see LINK) and have enjoyed as a treasure in my collection. The McLardy was enjoying their fire pit in Jocelyn and Jordan’s back yard while I enjoyed the very mellow McClelland Dark Star loaded in the McLardy. Rebornpipes’, very own Steve Laug, suggested Dark Star as a good way to inaugurate the McLardy Gourd Calabash. As usual, Steve was on the money! I love my family and I’m thankful to God for each one of our 5 children and the spouses they’ve found (one is still working on that!) and the now, 5 grandchildren they have brought into the world. My younger daughter from Nashville, and her husband, Niko, joined me out by the firepit while we each enjoyed a Christmas bowl together at the foot of the Rocky Mountains – trying to stay warm!The Karl Erik is now on the worktable back in Bulgaria and was pulled out of my personal collection ‘Help Me!’ basket to restore. Now Summer, mid-July, my wife and I will be heading to the Black Sea coast for a few days of R&R and I want to bring the Karl Erik with me! He’s been waiting patiently for me in the basket and now on the worktable, I take some additional pictures to get a closer look at this striking Christmas gift. The nomenclature is located on the lower shank, just below the shank facing plateau. Stamped there in cursive script is the name, ‘Karl Erik’ [over] HANDMADE IN DENMARK [over] B. Not long ago I worked on a Karl Erik, Knute of Denmark Freehand, that I gifted to my son, Josiah, upon his graduation with a Master’s Degree in counseling (see LINK). The Freehand style was given to the pipe world by the Danish and Karl Erik was a major contributor. Pipedia’s article gives the basic history which has been repeated many times – one more time for this Karl Erik on my worktable (https://pipedia.org/wiki/Karl_Erik):
Karl Erik Ottendahl (1942 – 2004) was born in Aalborg (Jutland), just a few miles from the very northernmost tip of Denmark. He began smoking a pipe when he was 14 and upon leaving school he started an apprenticeship in the craft as a lithographer at the age of 16. While working as an apprentice he began hand carving pipes as a hobby. Many were given as gifts to his more senior colleagues. Upon completion of his apprenticeship he moved to Nairobi, Kenya to work as a lithographer during the 1962 war. While in that war-torn country, he was unable to procure pipes for himself. In the face of such a predicament, he chose to continue to make pipes for his own use rather than go without.
Returning to Denmark after three years he couldn’t find a well paid occupation in his job, and so he began making a few pipes on the side to boost his income choosing his prenames “Karl Erik” – logo “KE” – for his label. When he managed to find some major Copenhagen pipe stores willing to sell his pieces his reputation grew little by little and he was finally able to purchase more and better machinery and began working full time as a pipe maker.
One other paragraph from the Karl Erik article in Pipedia referenced above is noteworthy in understanding this pipe man who died in 2004:
As one of the few notable Danes Karl Erik Ottendahl dedicated himself to the needs of the normal pipe smoker with a normal income. In the end he was one of the last of this tier. He never made any pretense of the fact that his “hand mades” were prefabricated to a large extent on automated machines and only the last steps of fine-shaping and finishing were carefully made by hand. But he never employed a copy milling, so many KE pipes may look very similar but not two are identical. As well the bulk of the stems was supplied by Stanwell in a close-to-finished state. Stanwell also did the sand blasting for KE to a large extent.
One more bit of information from Pipedia helped me understand the “B” in the nomenclature. Regarding the grading system for Karl Erik pipes it said:
KE’s new grading used numbers ascending from D to A. The unique “Ekstravagant” pipes C, B, A, AA to AAA. These superb pieces of remarkable quality were, almost certainly, the least expensive high- quality handmade pipes coming from Denmark today!
What this tells me is that the ‘B’ rating is just under the best, ‘A’ rating regarding quality. My Black Sea beach bound Karl Erik got my attention at the Brass Armadillo in Denver because of the sweeping vertical grain that defines and encircles the Freehand bowl – reaching upward to the expressive plateau. I’m thankful that he doesn’t need too much attention to be recommissioned! The chamber has light cake buildup and the plateau surfaces, bowl and shank facing, are dirty. The smooth briar is in great shape and only needs cleaning. The grain is pristine – I detect few very small scratches from normal wear and no fills, which one would expect with a Karl Erik higher grade I suppose! The stem has very mild tooth chatter on the upper and lower bit and a small compression on the upper lip. To begin, to address the very mild oxidation, I add the Karl Erik fancy stem to a soak of Before and After Deoxidizer with other pipes in the queue. I first clean the airway with pipe cleaners wetted with isopropyl 95%. After a few hours soaking, I fish out the KE stem and after draining the Deoxidizer, I wipe the stem with a cotton pad wetted with alcohol to remove the raised oxidation. I also run another pipe cleaner wetted with isopropyl 95% through the stem to clear the Deoxidizer liquid. To continue to rejuvenate the stem, I then add a coat of paraffin oil to the vulcanite and put it aside.Turning now to the Handmade’s stummel, I take a closeup showing the chamber and the mild carbon cake build up. To remove the cake to give the briar a fresh start, I use the Pipnet Reaming Kit to start the job. After putting paper towel down to help in clean up, I start by using the smallest blade head and then quickly graduate through two additional blade heads. I then transition to using the Savinelli Fitsall tool and this does a great job getting down into the chamber’s hard-to-reach recesses. Finally, I wrap a piece of 240 grade sanding paper around a Sharpie Pen and sand the chamber and follow by wiping it with a cotton pad wetted with alcohol to clean it. After an inspection of the cleaned chamber, I see no problems with burning or heating. Moving on to the external briar surface, I use undiluted Murphy’s Oil Soap to scrub the briar with a cotton pad. I also use a bristled toothbrush and a bit of a brass wire brush to clean the plateaus – bowl and shank facing. After the scrubbing, I take the stummel to the sink and continue the cleaning by using a shank brush and kitchen dish soap to scrub the mortise using hot water. After scrubbing, I rinse the stummel thoroughly. Now, moving to the internals I use cotton buds and pipe cleaners dipped in isopropyl 95% to start the cleaning. Happily, I find that the internals are clean after the previous scrubbing with dish soap and shank brushes – I move on!I move on to applying the full regimen of micromesh pads to the stummel. I start by wet sanding with pads 1500 to 2400 and follow with dry sanding with pads 3200 to 4000 and 6000 to 12000. I absolutely love the way the micromesh pads coax and tease out the grain. Beautiful vertical grain – possibly called ‘fire grain’! Before turning again to the stem, I apply Before & After Restoration Balm to the stummel. The B&A Balm does a great job pulling out the subtle hues of the grain. I put some Balm on my fingers, and I work it into the briar surface. For now, I do not apply it to the plateaus because I first need to do some further work. I put the stummel aside for about 20 minutes to allow the Balm to do its thing.After about 20 minutes, I wipe off the excess Balm with a cotton cloth and then buff it with a microfiber cloth. Not bad! I’m loving my Christmas gift!With the stummel on the sidelines for a time, I turn again to the Karl Erik fancy stem. The light tooth chatter should be addressed easily. I start using the heating method by painting the chatter with the flame of a Bic lighter. The characteristics of the vulcanite expands as its heated to reclaim its original shape – or at least in part. After painting with the Bic flame, I do a before and after picture for the upper and then lower. There is a notable difference!
Upper before and after:Lower bit before and after:I continue using 240 grade sanding paper to dispatch the remaining chatter and compression on the upper button lip. I also use the flat needle file to freshen the button. I follow that with wet sanding the entire stem with 600 grade paper and finishing this phase of sanding with 000 steel wool – upper then lower: Next, in order to recondition the stem, I apply Before & After Fine and Extra Fine Polishes in succession. For each, I apply using my fingers – rubbing the polish into the vulcanite and then putting aside for a few minutes to do its thing. I then wipe the excess polish off with a paper towel and then buff the stem with a cloth.Turning again to the Karl Erik Handmade stummel, my next step is to freshen the plateau presentations. Looking at examples of Karl Erik Freehand pipes, the treatment of the plateaus is even between leaving the plateaus the natural hue and darkening the plateau moonscape to provide a contrasting perspective. With this Karl Erik, it appears that the plateau had color previously and so I decide to go in this direction. The next two pictures mark the starting point for each plateau. The first step is to apply an Italian dye stick labeled Medio Noce, which is a very dark shade of brown that almost appears black. I apply this in random ways along the ridges and valleys of both the rim and shank facing plateaus. Then, more sparingly, I use a black Sharpie Pen to darken the more distinctive valleys. I do this to give slight, subtle contrast in hues. Forgetting to picture, I also use a fine point Sharpie to darken and accent to two small sculptings on the side of the stummel.Then to add more contrast, I use micromesh pads 1500 to 2400 to ‘feather’ sand off the peaks of the ridges. I like this contrasting effect – providing a rustic look that is attractive.I then apply some Before & After Restoration Balm to the plateaus and put the stummel aside to absorb.Back to the stem with the full regimen of 9 micromesh pads. I start by wet sanding with pads 1500 to 2400 and follow with pads 3200 to 4000 and 6000 to 12000. Between each set of 3 pads I apply a coat of Obsidian Oil to further condition the vulcanite. The stem is looking great! With the stem ready to go, I mount a cotton cloth buffing wheel to the Dremel and set the speed at about 40% full power. I then apply Blue Diamond compound to both the stem and the stummel of the Karl Erik Handmade. I keep the stem and stummel separated because it’s easier to rotate each piece individually.While applying the compound and working on the rim plateau, I realized that I was missing a great opportunity to release more grain to enjoy. With a peaked Freehand style, I find that the inside wall of the plateau crest provides additional aesthetic enjoyment when it is sanded, and this allows a grain presentation on the chamber side. I forgot to take a picture but borrow the previous picture during the B&A Balm to show the inside chamber wall – darkened and ignored.I decide to coax out this grain and use 240 and 320 grade papers in succession wrapped around the Sharpie Pen to sand this area.Following this, I use 600 grade paper wrapped around the Sharpie Pen. I keep the sanding parallel to the chamber wall – I don’t want to bevel the internal lip eating into the plateau. I follow the 600 grade paper by sanding the area through each of 9 micromesh pads – 1500 to 12000.The final step is to apply Blue Diamond compound to the chamber wall. I like it. It’s a small enhancement but I think it adds a classiness to an already very classy Karl Erik.With the application of the Blue Diamond compound completed, I wipe/buff the stem and stummel with a felt cloth to remove any residue compound dust in preparation of applying wax. I mount another cotton cloth buffing wheel to the Dremel, maintain 40% power and apply a few coats of carnauba wax to stem and stummel. After completing the application of the wax, I give stem and stummel (separately) a rigorous hand buffing with a microfiber cloth to make sure all the excess wax is removed and to raise the shine even more.
This Karl Erik Handmade in Denmark is stunning, and a wonderful gift: Thanks Jocelyn and Jordan! I’m pleased to add it to my collection! He came along to the Black Sea and here I’m inaugurating his recommissioning with a bowl of my favorite blend, Lane BCA. Thanks for joining me!