Gifting My Dear Friend, Dal Stanton, an Alexander Zavvos Hygrosystem Pipe

Blog by Paresh Deshpande

Steve, his brother, Jeff and Dal Stanton, The Pipe Steward, were on a visit to India in early May 2019. It was a fun filled week and also a great learning. I have always admired the finish that Dal imparts to the pipes he restores while I am amazed at the speed, the measured quantum of work that Steve puts in his restoration processes and also the profound knowledge that he has on all things pipes!! I was fortunate to see and learn these nuances first hand. I had a desire that there should be a unique pipe which all three of us should have (Jeff being a non smoker) and had laid down for myself, the following parameters for identifying THAT PIPE!

(a) Both should not be having this pipe in their personal collection (knowing well that this would be a very tall order!!)

(b) The pipe must have some historical significance and should have made a contribution to the world’s pipe history.

(c) It must come from a well known carver or manufacturer.

The pipe selected is an ALEXANDER ZAVVOS HYGROSYSTEM, PAT.No 87033, made in the 1970s-80s. What followed was an extensive and prolonged hunt for two such pipes of which the first one was purchased from one seller on Pinterest and the second was on eBay. These pipes were received separately and the last delivery materialized a couple of days prior to the arrival of these esteemed guests. Here are both the pipes as I received them.Since Mr. Dal was the first to arrive in India, he was given a choice between the two. He selected one with an Apple shape and the remaining willy-nilly came to Steve. At that point in time, both Dal and I discussed that it would be the Apple shape that Steve would have selected but… It’s Dal’s pipe now. The stamping on the Apple is crisp and easy to make out. It reads on the left of the shank as “ALEXANDER” over “HYGROSYSTEM” over a square with letter “Zb” over “GREECE”. The right side of the shank is marked as “EX # 207- *”, denoting the shape code, size and grade (?). The bottom of the shank bears the stamping “PAT No. 87033” over “06/ 89”, which I believe is the date code indicating that the pipe was made in June of 1989. I re-searched this pipe on and reproduce excerpts of information on this pipe carver, in his own words, and his immense contributions to the Greek pipe industry in particular and entire world’s pipe community.

I am Alexandros Zavvos, born in Molos, Thermopylae, near Lamia. Since I was a child I had an inclination for art, starting with painting. I studied Radio-electronics, and at age 23 I got involved with commerce with a capital of 150.000 drs. in 1962.

I entered the pipe business where I met, by total chance, with Mr. Libero G. Albanese, first technician and producer of briar-wood models in Kalabria, Italy. When I told him that I am Greek, he almost prayed, saying that we Greeks have the best briar in the world for pipe-making! From that moment on I understood that this fellow is in love with his work – and he transmitted that to me instantly!

From mid-1962 to 1963 I searched all over the world for a college or a school in order to be taught the art of pipe-making, but in vain – there were none. Moreover, I wasn’t able to make it through the big European pipe-makers of that time (British, Italian, Danish). I was convinced that only through experience there was a chance of me becoming what I wanted.

In 1964 I started the commercial briar-wood model production, in 1965 I constructed empirically my first pipe and in 1967 I started the vertical production (this is from the briar Greek woods to the consumer) – maybe there is no other factory in the world producing smoking pipes vertically.

In 1970 I started the research, which was accomplished in 1984, on the 1st generation hygrostatic system. In that same period we founded, my brother and I, our factory in Lamia for the production of ebony epistomes.

Today, 40 years later, I have successfully arrived at the production of the 5th generation hygrostatic pipe. I will finish by saying that this pipe, to what concerns the pleasure it provides, has nothing to do with that pipe for peace, offered by American Indians.        

Update:Today I am saddened by the news that Alexander passed away on February 10th, 2015. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends. We are very thankful for his contributions to the World of pipes. —sethile (talk) 21:00, 12 February 2015 (UTC). 

The description given by the seller on eBay was equally informative and I reproduce the same for the readers to get a fair idea of the famed Hygrosystem that has been incorporated into the construction of this pipe.

A patented Hygro-system pipe by the greatest and most known (now deceased) Greek pipe manufacturer Alexander (Zabos / Zavvos). His old pieces are by now becoming rare and sought after, as his son who took over the business is not equal to the father. His stamp (Z with a B lower) comes from the two consonants in his name the way it is spelled in Greek. Very big and well known European pipe makers have purchased top briars from Alexander Zavvos, since the Greek briars are among the best in the world.

A few things about Alexader Zabos’s patent : The hygrostatic system  is the result of 35 years research and experience. It is based on the Bernoulli principle, has been allowed to be patterned (No 87833) by the Greek Ministry of Industry and Energy. Unlike most filter or no-filter pipes, the Alexander Hygrostatic Pipe reduces drastically moisture and other heavy residue (such as tar etc), which otherwise could be inhaled into our lungs and extinguishes a bitterness and a burning on the tongue.

Alexander Zavvos’s Hygrosystem pipes were quite expensive if bought new (the cheapest had a value of 160-170 euros) and have become highly collectible after the death of the manufacturer.

From the above information, it is safe to infer that this pipe is from the first generation of the hygrosystem pipes from Alexander Zavvos and made in March 1989.

I have given a detailed description on deconstructing this line of pipes and also a detailed explanation, as I understood it, on the application of the principle employed in the hygrosystem for which these pipes became famous, in my previous write up on a similar pipe which is on its way to Steve in Vancouver, Canada. Here is the link to that article,

This is a very ornate and beautiful pipe with a perfect shape, size and hand feel with a delicate and a smallish stem. The forward heavy weight of the pipe does not lend itself to clenching and would best be enjoyed while being held in the hand. The brass band at the shank end, the vulcanite band at the shank end of the aluminum shank extension and again a brass band at the tenon end of this shank extension should add a nice classy touch to the pipe’s appearance once polished and it also helps to break the monotony of the briar. The stummel has beautiful mixed grain with a combination of straight on the sides and front with bird’s eye and swirls over the heel and shank. All this beauty is hidden under the accumulation of dirt and grime over the years. The stummel has numerous dents and ding over the entire surface. However, save for one large fill (marked in yellow arrow) and unlike the pipe which will be going to Steve, there are no major issues of fills or cracks that I foresee on this stummel. The outer rim edge curves inwards to form a narrow rim top surface  and shows a slight overflow of lava on the rim top and the surface itself is peppered with numerous dents and dings which should be easy to sort out by sanding the rim top with a piece of 220 grit sand paper.The chamber has a thick and even layer of cake which shrouds the condition of the walls of the chamber. However, the feel of the bowl is solid and I hope there are no major surprises here. There is a brass ring at the shank end which extends inside the shank with threads on to which the aluminum shank extension is screwed in. This brass ring should add a bit of glitz to the pipe appearance once polished. The mortise is clogged and heavy crust of dried oils and tars are clearly visible. This will take some effort to clean out.The screw-in aluminum shank extension that houses a filter is covered in oils and tars. Also the smaller aperture pipe protrusion at the stem end is covered in gunk and tars. The vulcanite band at the shank end and the brass band at the tenon end will need to be polished. The briar at the tenon end is nice and solid with no damage, and that’s a big relief having experienced the challenges firsthand with Steve’s pipe, how difficult it is to address issues on this part of the pipe. The wood gasket which is housed in the tenon end of the shank extension has been dislodged from its place and is stuck on to the tenon. The vulcanite stem with its fused briar at the tenon end is generally in good shape, save for the broken and missing nearly half of the stem. The break is at an angle and only a tiny portion of the button end on one side is available to me as a reference. This should be more than sufficient for me to undertake a complete rebuild of the missing portion of the stem. The stem is very lightly oxidized and the fused and decorative briar saddle, though covered in oils, tars and grime, is intact. The tenon is dirty and clogged with all the gunk and dried oils and tars left behind by the previous owner of this pipe. I took a few close-up pictures of the stem and broken edge of the stem for the readers to better assimilate what I would be dealing with during the stem rebuild. I have the option of cutting off the stem at the point of break and thereafter rebuild and shape a new button on either side, but this would drastically shorten the already short stem and toss the symmetry of this beautiful pipe right through the window. And remember, my dear readers, that this pipe is being sent to my dear friend and a pipe restorer par excellence, Dal!! He is a perfectionist, to say the least. I intend to use the intact part of the stem as a guide for determining the length of the stem, the flare at the button end and the length of the slot and I would be attempting all this by eyeballing all the measurements as I do not have any Vernier calipers for exact measurements. I know, that’s hell of a lot of eyeballing that I would be doing during the restoration.THE PROCESS
It is the stem reconstruction that takes the most amount of time what with all the curing, sanding, refilling if needed, shaping and polishing and, therefore, I always prefer to start with repairs to the stem. Firstly, I sand off the area of intended fill with a piece of 220 grit sand paper. This not only evens out the surface for the fill but also gets rid of the oxidation which would otherwise show itself through the fills as a brown patch after polishing. This was followed by cleaning up the internals of the stem and the tenon with regular and bristled pipe cleaners dipped in 99% pure isopropyl alcohol. With a dental pick, I scrubbed out the dried gunk from the tenon and from along the broken button end edges. I had seen Dal use a folded triangular index card while reconstructing a broken button end whereas I always used a petroleum jelly (Vaseline) coated pipe cleaner inserted in to the air way to keep it open. My method, though effective, was time consuming as I had to completely reshape the slot thereafter. However, in this instance, since there was nothing to support or hold the folded index card on the other side, I perforce had to fall back on my time tested method of using a pipe cleaner coated with petroleum jelly (Vaseline). I prepared a slightly thin (just thick enough to form a drop but not runny enough to fall down) mix of CA superglue and food grade activated charcoal and applied it over the broken stem area. I also applied this mix over the intact side lip edge to make it even. To get the flare which was evident on the intact side of the stem, I applied a thick blob of this mix and held it sideways so that the mix forms a droplet. Thereafter I maneuvered the drop to the desired shape till it hardens and harden it does so quite rapidly. Once this layer had cured, I applied another layer of the mix. The trick here is that this type of reconstruction needs to be done in layers to a thickness more than the adjoining stem surface. This, thereafter, can be filed and sanded down to match the stem surface. I did exactly as described above and set the stem aside to cure. The following pictures will give you a general idea of what I have described above. Once the mix had cured hard, I went about shaping these fills to match the overall profile of the stem, with a flat head needle file. I was very careful with my use of the needle file, eyeballing the profile frequently. An hour later and I had achieved a rough match profile to the original stem as it would have been before the break. I even had a rough button profile shaped out in conjunction with the intact button edge. Eager to use my newly acquired slot shaping tool, this was an ideal candidate to use it for the first time. Well, this tool is much more effective than using a tightly folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper to shape the slot. I am very happy with the progress being made. From my experience (and I have done many!!) it usually takes a week to reach this stage and here I was on only my third day of working on the stem!!And then a set back! As I was shaping the slot, a chunk of the fill did not feel like staying and just left its place, leaving behind a gaping hole. It is marked in yellow arrow.Such chipping is to be expected and undaunted I again prepared a mix of superglue and activated charcoal, this time more glue and lesser of charcoal. Since I now had both the edges of the slot, I decided to use the folded index card. Once the index card was in place, I applied this mix over the chipped area and set it aside to cure. I also took this opportunity to fill in a few air pockets which were beginning to show as well as increase the button edges on either side.A curing time of nearly 12 hours later, the fill was nicely set and hard enough to start reshaping the slot and the button edge and further fine tune the stem profile and finish. Using a flat head needle file, I file away at the fill and roughly shape the button edge on either side of the stem. I am comfortably placed with the progress being made so far, so to say. As expected, I observed a couple of air pockets and also that one of the lip edge had been filed down more than the other and was dotted with many air pockets. I addressed these issues with a layer of superglue and charcoal powder mix. However, in this mix, the percentage of superglue was higher than the charcoal powder. I set the stem aside to cure. I would have ideally applied black CA glue, but…don’t have it.Moving ahead, I reamed the chamber with size 2 head of the PipNet reamer. Using my smaller sized fabricated knife, I further reamed out the cake from places where the PipNet reamer could not reach. I gently scrapped out the lava overflow from the thin rim top surface and followed it with sanding the chamber walls with a 220 grit sand paper. How I miss my younger daughter, Pavni, who specializes in smoothing the chamber walls and removing every trace of the old cake. Dal, I know you would have loved to have a pipe that your “Bollywood Queen” had worked on, but hope I have come close to her finesse!! Once the cake was taken down to bare briar, the walls of the chamber were found to be smooth and flawless. The draught hole is dead center and at the bottom of the chamber. I am sure that this will be a nice smoker! Removing the overflow of lava from the rim top revealed a thin surface that is peppered with numerous dents and dings. I continued with cleaning of the stummel and worked the mortise using the smaller fabricated knife first to scrap out the dried out gunk, oils and tars left behind by the previous steward. The amount of grime scrapped out is a testimony to the efficacy of this Hygrosystem, I say. A few pipe cleaners dipped in alcohol later, the shank is clean. Now that the chamber and shank internals are clean, I move ahead with the external cleaning of the stummel.I cleaned the externals of the stummel with Murphy’s oil soap and toothbrush. Rinsing under tap water (remember, I am in India and its hot here and even the tap water is equally warm!!) revealed just a few fills in the briar on left back side of the stummel and nearer to the rim top and these have been marked by yellow arrows. To be honest, I feared a rerun of the nightmare that I just went through while restoring Steve’s Alexander Zavvos Hygrosystem pipe! Not the case this time around, Thank God for such mercies!!! The stummel has a number of small dents and dings, which should be addressed when I sand the stummel with a piece of 220 grit sand paper followed by complete micromesh pad polishing cycle. I do not intend to be overly aggressive with the 220 grit sandpaper as I wish to preserve as much of the old patina as I can. Beautiful straight and mixed grains are now clearly visible. This should turn out to be a beautiful looking pipe, I think. I began removing the old fills and preparing the stummel for a fresh fill. Using my dental tools, I progressed to removing the fills. The fill on the left back side of the stummel was large and deep while the two on the rim top were smaller in size but deep.At this point in the restoration, I decided to address the issue of old odors in the chamber and shank by subjecting it to a cotton and alcohol bath. I wrapped some cotton around a folded pipe cleaner, keeping the tip of the pipe cleaner free of wrapped cotton as this would be inserted through the draught hole in to the chamber. This would form the wick for the shank. I tightly packed the chamber with cotton balls and filled it with 99% pure isopropyl alcohol using a syringe and set it aside. By next day, the cotton and alcohol had drawn out the all the old tars and oils from the chamber and max from the shank. I let the stummel fills dry out completely and after all the alcohol had evaporated, proceeded to fill the deep gouges with CA superglue and briar dust using the layering technique where I put down a thin layer of superglue in to the fill and press briar dust in to this fill over the glue. I continue with this till the fill rises above rest of the stummel surface. Once all the gouges were filled up, I set the stummel aside to cure for the next 24 hours.I file the raised mounds of the patched fills with a flat needle file. The only drawback of the layering technique is that a number of air pockets are revealed after the filing. This time was no exception and I refilled the exposed air pockets only with superglue and set it aside to cure.Since there was still time before I hit the bed, I decided to address the stem. I sand the fill with a needle file to a rough match with the surface of the stem. For a better match, I further sand the entire stem with a folded piece of 220 grit sand paper. I topped the slot on a piece of 220 grit sand paper to even it out. The repairs looked good at this stage.With the stummel fills nicely cured, it was time again to work on it. Using a flat head needle file, I sanded the fills and followed it by sanding with worn out folded piece of 150 grit sand paper. The fill has blended in quite well. However, I shall strive to further achieve a near perfect blend during further sanding and polishing with micromesh pads.I again worked on the stem, filing with a needle file and followed with sanding with a piece of 220 grit sand paper. With my slot tool, I carved out and shaped the slot. Here, the intact part of the stem gave me an idea of the extent of the spread of the slot from the edge. I achieved the desired shape and size by just visual estimations. I sand the slot end on a piece of 220 grit sand paper. I am happy with the way the stem reconstruction including the buttons and the slot, has shaped up till this point. I rubbed a little Extra Virgin Olive oil in to the stem surface for it to be absorbed and hydrate the vulcanite and set it aside. With the stem repairs well under control and progressing steadily, I turn my attention to the stummel once again. I address the dents and dings with further sanding of the entire stummel and the thin rim top using a worn out piece of folded 150 grit sand paper followed by a 220 grit paper. The dents and dings on the stummel and rim top are addressed to a large extent. What dents and dings remained, I let them be as a part of the history associated with the pipe and its previous owner. While going through with the micromesh polishing cycle, I extend this care to the brass band at the shank end. The now nicely shining brass band adds a touch of class to the pipe and helps in breaking the monotony of the pipe.I rubbed some “Before and After” restoration balm. This product has been developed by Mark Hoover and it helps to enrich and enliven the briar. For me it is an absolute “must have” item in my list of items for pipe restorations. I rub this balm in to the briar and set it aside for some time. I turned my attention back to the stem. I sanded the stem, including the briar insert at the tenon end with a 220 grit paper and progressively moving to 600 and 800 grit sand papers. As expected, a clean and neat looking stem stared back at me. I rubbed a little Extra Virgin Olive oil in to the stem surface to hydrate it and set it aside to be absorbed in to the vulcanite.I was satisfied with the way the stem has now turned out. I finished the stem reconstruction by polishing the stem with micromesh pads, wet sanding with 1500 to 12000 grit pads. I applied a small quantity of Extra Virgin Olive oil to the vulcanite stem and rubbed some “Before and After” restoration balm before setting it aside.I had undertaken restoration of two of the three parts of this pipe, the stem and the stummel, and now turned my attention to the third and last part, the aluminum shank extension. This part was in pristine condition, save for the accumulated oils, tars and gunk which I had already cleaned out from the aluminum tube, the smaller aperture tube and the wide shank extension at the stem end, and yes, I had missed out on taking pictures and documenting this step. I went through sanding the vulcanite band and the briar insert with a folded piece of 220, 400 and 600 grit sand papers in that order. I cleaned the aluminum tube protrusion and the threading with a brass wire brush. I further polished it with a 0000 grade steel wool followed by dry sanding with all the nine pads of micromesh. The aluminum tube is now clean and shining. I finished the cleaning regime of the tube and threads in the shank extension by polishing it with a multipurpose liquid polish.This was followed by micromesh polishing cycle, wet sanding these components of the shank extension, including the brass band, with 1500 to 12000 grit pads. I rubbed some “Before and After” restoration balm and set it aside. This part definitely adds some nice class to the overall appearance of the pipe.I cleaned out the wood gasket which makes the fit of the tenon in to the shank extension airtight with cotton buds dipped in alcohol. I applied a little Extra Virgin Olive oil to this gasket, inside and outer surface to hydrate the wood and set it aside to be absorbed by the wood. When I had initially dismantled the pipe, this gasket came out attached to the tenon. However, close observation of the outer surface of the gasket points to the fact that the gasket was stuck inside the shank extension towards the stem end. I did not sand the outer surface to a smooth finish as I wanted to keep the surface rough when I applied superglue and reaffixed it inside the shank extension.Nearing the home run, I decided to stain the stummel and the rim top surface with a dark brown stain in the hope that it would help in a nice blending of the one and only major stummel fill. I heated the stummel surface with my heat gun to open up the pores on the stummel so that the stain is well set while being careful that I do not overheat the fill, a lesson learned while restoring Steve’s Alexander Zavvos pipe. I dipped a folded pipe cleaner in Feibing’s Dark Brown leather dye and liberally applied it over the heated surface, flaming it with the flame of a lighter as I went ahead to different self designated zones of the surface. This helps in the setting of the stain in the grain of the briar.I was not very comfortable in heating the aluminum shank extension and the briar insert on the stem as this could result in warping of the vulcanite band and the briar inserts on the shank extension and stem. I decided to use a dark brown stain pen instead. I applied the dark brown stain over the briar inserts of the shank extension and stem. I set both the stummel and shank extension aside for the stain to dry and get completely absorbed in the surface.The next evening, approximately 18 hours later, as Dal describes, I began to unwrap the stain in the hope to see beautiful grains. I mount a felt cloth buffing wheel on my hand held rotary tool and setting the tool at its slowest speed, again my recent experience while working on Steve’s pipe came in handy and the damage that can be caused due to heating while using the felt buffing wheel still fresh in my memory; I began to peel off the stain from the stummel surface first. The stain was peeled out gradually. This was followed with wiping the stummel with a cotton swab and alcohol to lighten the stain a little as it was too dark for my liking. This also helps in cleaning the surface of all the residual stain and highlighting the grain. Now, the fear that besieged me was the stain running down Dal’s hand as he smoked the pipe and so I set the stain by again heating the stummel surface with the heat gun. Unfortunately in my exuberance, I missed out on taking pictures of this step.

I felt as though the stummel, shank extension and the stem appeared patchy, though when I shared pictures with Abha, my wife, she found them to be nice, smooth and shiny. However, I decided to go with my instinct and dry sanded the entire pipe with 1500 to 12000 grit micromesh pads, aluminum tubing and brass bands included. Now I am satisfied by the appearance of the pipe at this stage and ready to move on to the final stage of polishing. Next, I mount a cotton cloth buffing wheel and setting the speed to ¼ of the full power, I applied a thick coat of carnauba wax over the stummel, aluminum shank extension and the stem. I worked the complete pipe till the time all the wax was absorbed by the briar. The pipe now boasts of a beautiful and lustrous shine. I vigorously rubbed the pipe with a microfiber cloth to deepen the shine and also clean away any residual wax that had been left behind. I am very happy with the way this beauty has turned out.Before re-assembling the pipe, I once again thoroughly cleaned the internals of the shank, aluminum shank extension and the stem airway with pipe cleaners and ear buds dipped in isopropyl alcohol. I also fixed the wooden gasket with superglue in to the stem end of the shank extension. I checked the draw to make sure that the airways in the shank, extension and stem are open. The draw is nice, smooth and open and somewhat similar to the draw experienced on a Peterson’s P-lip stem. I also applied a little Vaseline over the threads of the aluminum shank extension and the wood gasket to protect and keep it soft.To finish, I reassembled the complete pipe and gave it a final buff with a microfiber cloth to deepen the shine. This dude has come a long way when it started its journey in June 1989 and now 30 years later, it shall soon be traveling all the way to Bulgaria to serve my dear friend and fellow pipe restorer, Dal Stanton while he reminisces about his visit to me, Abha, Mudra and his Bollywood Queen!! I sincerely thank all the readers to have spared their valuable time in going through this write up. P.S. This project has been very close to my heart as this pipe is intended to be with my friend and guide, Dal as a memento of his visit to my family in India, fond memories of which will always stay with me. I hope that whenever he sits down with this pipe, packs it with his favorite tobacco, LANE BCA and fires it up, the first whiff reminds him of us here in India.

Some readers must have observed that the fill still stands out as a sore thumb, but I would like to assure you that it’s the smooth glossy surface of the highly polished superglue that reflects more light than the surrounding and hence is more prominent. To the naked eye, however, it is not so evident. Any inputs and suggestions are always valuable to me and most appreciated as they help me grow and improve.

Lastly, I thank everyone for sharing the joy that I experienced while working on this pipe.




3 thoughts on “Gifting My Dear Friend, Dal Stanton, an Alexander Zavvos Hygrosystem Pipe

  1. ThePipeSteward - Dal in Bulgaria

    Reblogged this on The Pipe Steward and commented:
    I’m reposting this write-up that Paresh did of a pipe he restored as a gift for me commemorating when Steve, Jeff and I visited Paresh and his family in Pune, India. Thanks, Paresh!

  2. ThePipeSteward - Dal in Bulgaria

    Paresh, what a huge amount of work to bring this Zavvos back to life! Oh my! Bollywood Queen or naught (tell her I said ‘Hi!’), you did a stellar job on a pipe that had huge issues. I’m amazed how the button rebuild finished – it is definitely reflecting it’s former pre-destruction state. The fills are difficult when they’re that large, but the reality is, they point to the story of its past – which we’ll not know. We all carry our scars of the past and yet, through family and friendship, we find a degree of healing and wholeness. Thank you for this wonderful gift that will always remind me of our time with you and your beautiful family when Steve, Jeff and I visited – not knowing quite how our time would unfold. The pipe is a wonderful gift, but your friendship and that of your family’s is the greater gift. I’ll be watching my mailbox here in Bulgaria for the Zavvos to arrive!


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