Restoration of a No Name “Genuine Briar” from Steve’s Grab Box


Blog by Paresh Deshpande

During one of the many Facetime interactions with Steve, I expressed my anxiety of ‘what after’ I had gone through restoring all of my inherited collection. Also discussed during this interaction was that I would be interested in working on pipes from various makers and with greater variety of repair works to gain more experience and learn new techniques. Since the ‘pipe culture’ in India met its last in the early 1970s, I did not have access to large lots of estate pipes as is available in Europe and USA. Steve suggested that I grab one of the grab boxes which he had in his store. I requested him to make one from an assortment of pipes that he had to which he agreed. Soon the awaited grab bag along with other pipes that I had liked arrived in my home town and was received by Abha. She sent me this picture of the pipes that were received. The one crossed in red is a Dunhill Cherrywood sitter that is added to my personal collection.There are a total of 15 pipes in the grab bag, each with different shapes, issues and requiring different skill sets to address them. This is exactly what I was looking for and that there are some nice branded ones is like an icing on the cake. This lot included pipes that Jeff, (Steve’s brother who does all the preliminary cleaning of pipes) had cleaned and sent to Steve for further restoration works.

The next pipe on my work table is a no name Pot that had been reamed, cleaned and readied for next stage of restoration by Jeff. The only visible stamping of “Genuine Briar” is on the right side of the shank. This pipe is marked in yellow arrow with the numeral 1.The pipe has some beautiful and densely packed straight and cross grains on the left side of the bowl and shank. Dark swirls adorn the rest of the stummel. The only stamping that is present on the right side of the stummel seen is “Genuine Briar”. There is no COM stamping and even the stem is devoid of any logo, in short there are no identifying marks that will help me in identifying or dating this pipe. However, this classic Pot shape and quality somehow makes me wonder that this could very well be an English made pipe. Since there is nothing that points me to the maker or country of origin or model/ shape code on this pipe, I move ahead with initial inspection of the pipe for further restoration process.INITIAL VISUAL INSPECTION
The stummel is clean and one can make out beautiful densely packed straight grains all around on the left and interspersed with dark swirls of grains on the right. There are very few minor dents and dings on the stummel surface. In all probability, I shall let these minor dents and dings remain. Maybe, sanding and further micromesh polishing will address a few of these dents and scratches. There are a few very minor fills towards the back and on the heel of the stummel. The stummel has a natural finish to the briar. The bottom of the shank is flat, making it a sitter. This is the first time that I am working on a pipe that has been cleaned by Jeff and he does amazing prep work, I say. The chamber is clean and odorless without any trace of the old cake. There is no damage to the inner walls of the chamber. A few specks of yellow paint are seen on the front of the bowl, but nothing serious to address. The rim top has the maximum damage and is peppered with numerous deep dents and dings, probably caused due to knocking the rim against a hard surface to remove dottle.  The rim top surface is darkened but not because of any overflow of lava, but maybe due to charring. There is significant damage to both the inner and outer edge of the rim all around, more so on the on the right side in 3 o’clock direction (marked in yellow arrows) due to charring. Simple topping of the bowl on a piece of 220 grit sandpaper should address this issue, however, in addressing this issue, though I absolutely hate it unfortunately, I would be losing some briar estate, a price I am willing to pay to resurrect this beauty. The shank end of the pipe is clean and so is the mortise. The draw is smooth, full and open. The vulcanite stem has minor tooth chatter on the upper and lower surface. Both upper and lower button has minor tooth marks and would need to be made crisp. The stem no oxidation and is an even black. The tenon is also clean and though the seating of the tenon in the shank is flush, attaching it is very hard and requires effort and there is a possibility of breaking the tenon if too much pressure is applied. I would need to address this issue. The air way is clear and draw is easy and smooth.THE PROCESS
Since Jeff had done the initial cleaning, I straight away get on with addressing the issues as observed during my initial inspection. The first issue that I decided to address is the fit of the tenon in to the mortise. Close examination of the mortise revealed an uneven surface and this could be the reason for the extremely tight fit. I roll a piece of 220 grit sand paper and sand the inner surface of the mortise to even out the surface. Once satisfied, I tried the fit of the stem in to the mortise. The fit is nice and snug with all the right noises! I sand the entire stummel surface with a folded piece of 220 grit sand paper. This should address the minor dents and dings on the stummel that I had initially observed and even out the entire stummel surface. I was careful around the only stamping on the shank. I absolutely detest losing any briar from the stummel, but to address the issue of uneven rim top surface and the dents and dings on the rim edges, this is a necessary evil. Thus, with a heavy heart, I began the process of topping the rim to reduce the charred surface and bring the bowl back to round. I use a square piece of 220 grit sand paper and firmly hold it with my hand on my work table. I work the rim top on the sand paper in circular motion, frequently checking the progress as I wanted to keep the briar loss to a bare minimum necessity. Once I was satisfied that the charred surface has been reduced and the roundness of the bowl has been restored to the extent possible, I created an inner edge bevel by pinching a folded piece of 180 grit sand paper between my thumb and forefinger and moving along the inner edge with a constant pressure, to minimize the charring on the inner edge of the rim. Similarly, I created a slight bevel on the outer edge of the rim. Thereafter, I moved to the next stage of polishing and revitalizing the entire rim top and the stummel. I even out stummel surface by polishing with micromesh pads, wet sanding with 1500 to 12000 grit pads. I wiped the stummel with a moist cloth after each wet pad to see the progress. I paid special attention to the rim top surface and the newly created inner and outer rim edge bevels. I rub a small quantity of “Before and After Restoration Balm” in to briar and let it rest for a few minutes. The balm almost immediately works its magic and the briar now has a nice vibrant appearance. I further buff it with a horse hair shoe brush. I ran a couple of hard bristled and regular pipe cleaners dipped in alcohol to be sure that the internals of the stem are cleaned out. A little bit of filing with a flat head needle file followed by sanding with folded pieces of 220 and 600 grit sand papers smoothed out the little damage to the buttons and the button edges are now even and crisp. I polished the stem with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500 to 12000 grit pads. I rubbed the stem down with Extra Virgin Olive Oil after each set of three pads. I set the stem aside to dry. To finish, I re-attach the stem with the stummel. I mount a cotton cloth buffing wheel on to my hand held rotary tool and applied several coats of carnauba wax over the stummel and the stem. I finished the restoration by giving the pipe a rigorous hand buffing using a microfiber cloth to raise the shine further. The completed pipe, with the natural finish and beautiful grains on the stummel contrasting with the shiny black stem looks lovely, fresh and vibrant; the photographs speak for themselves. P.S. While working on the stummel a thought to stain the stummel with either dark brown or a combination of dark brown and cherry red stain did cross my mind. I did not entertain that thought long though, as I was convinced that as the pipe is smoked, it would darken beautifully and would add to the character of the pipe.

Thank you all for walking on this journey as a part of me.

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