Blog by Paresh Deshpande
I have decided that I would now first complete all the Custom-Bilt pipes from my inheritance that I had got along with me to my place of work place and the remaining ones at my home town will be done later. I had professed my appreciation and liking for Custom-Bilt pipes for their large size, shape, hand feel and the rustic looks. The next pipe from the collection which I decided to work on was a huge Custom-Bilt briar pipe. The large size of the bowl, thick shank and large saddle stem, lends this pipe a weight which I particularly enjoy holding in my hand.
The pipe has deep and large vertical worm rustications along the entire length of the shank and height of the bowl. Within these large vertical rustications are very thin, closely stacked horizontal lines which give this pipe its unique appearance and are its trademark!! I absolutely love these pipes. These large rustications continue right up to the outer rim of the bowl. The thick rim top is covered with the same thin, closely stacked lines as seen between the vertical rustications. The worm rustications on the shank are much thin and precise as compared to the ones on the bowl and end about ¾ inch before the shank end giving a semblance of a shank end ring. These thin worm rustications can be seen at the foot of the stummel with smooth portions in between them. It is stamped on the left side of the shank as “Custom-Bilt” with a hyphen between the two words, in cursive hand. The “IMPORTED BRIAR”, a commonly observed stamp on these pipes, is seen in the smooth surface towards the front on the foot of the stummel followed by the number “3038” in the next portion towards the shank end.Having worked on a few Custom Bilt pipes in the past and researched this brand and based on the stampings seen on this pipe, I can say with an amount of certitude, that this pipe is from the period 1938-46. Here is the proof in determining the vintage based on stampings as researched by William E. Unger, Jr., PhD, which deals with the study of Custom-Bilt pipes.With this confirmation as regards to the vintage of this pipe, I move ahead with the initial visual inspection of this pipe.
INITIAL VISUAL INSPECTION
The pipe, as I received in the box, was carefully wrapped in a soft cotton cloth, stummel and stem separate!!! The condition of the stem and the stummel made me wonder if this pipe had been received after restoration/ repair work; it appears in such great condition. I thoroughly checked the entire pipe for any signs of repairs or damages. Fortunately there were none!! Only the stem appears brand new. Could it be a new replacement stem from an authorized store? No way to determine this as there are neither any receipts or documents nor any person in my family who could have confirmed this aspect.
The chamber has a thin layer of cake and does not appear to have been smoked much, may be a few bowls at the max. The condition of the inner walls of the chamber can be determined only after the cake has been completely reamed out down to the bare briar. The draught hole is dead center and at the bottom of the chamber. This should be a fantastic smoker. The thin worm rusticated rim top surface is covered in dust and grime all these years of storage. The outer and inner edges of the rim are in good condition with no damage. The craggy large vertical worm rustication with its horizontal thin line rustications within makes for a visual treat. The large vertical rustications are filled with dust and grime to such an extent that the horizontal lines lying within are barely visible. Same goes for the rim top. Though covered in dust and grime of all these years of storage, these should clean up nicely. I have seen an aluminum shank/ mortise extension fixed inside of the mortise on another very similarly sized and shaped Custom-Bilt from my Grandfather’s collection which I had restored about a year back!! This aluminum shank/ mortise extension (or should it be called a tenon?), was also seen on the previous Custom-Bilt Pot that I had restored just a couple of days back. However, this pipe has no such extension, just regular mortise and stem tenon construction. The mortise shows slight accumulation of oils and crud which has resulted in a slight gap between the stem and the shank end when seated. A thorough cleaning of the shank should address this issue. The wide straight saddle vulcanite stem is in pristine condition and seats with a slight gap in to the mortise with all the right noises. The tenon and the slot are also very clean. A polish with Blue diamond and coat of carnauba wax should suffice to deepen the shine on the stem. THE PROCESS
I started the restoration of this beautiful pipe by first reaming the chamber with my fabricated knife. I followed this reaming with sanding the chamber walls with a folded piece of 220 grit sand paper to completely remove any residual cake. This also helps to smooth the walls of the chamber. How I miss the help of Abha, my wife and Pavni, my youngest daughter who specializes in sanding the chamber walls to a smooth and even surface. I wiped the chamber with a cotton swab and alcohol to get rid of all the carbon dust and expose the bare briar of the chamber. As expected, the chamber is sans of any heat fissures/ lines. I followed up the cleaning of the chamber with that of the shank internals. With a bent dental spatula, I scrapped out the dried gunk from the mortise. Using hard and regular pipe cleaners and alcohol, I cleaned the mortise and the shank internals. A number of attempts and pipe cleaners later, the shank internals are clean and the draw is nice, smooth and even. I tried the seating of the stem in to the mortise and was pleased to note that the fit is now perfect and without any gaps. The internal cleaning was followed by external cleaning of the stummel surface using Murphy’s Oil soap and a hard bristled tooth brush. I also used a brass wired brush to diligently clean out all the dirt and grime from within the worm rustications. With a shank brush and dish washing soap, I thoroughly cleaned the shank internals and the mortise. I dried the bowl with paper napkins and soft cotton cloth and set it aside to dry out completely. With the stummel set aside to dry out naturally, it was time to move ahead with the stem restoration. I cleaned the stem internals with pipe cleaners and alcohol. With the bent flat end of a dental tool, I scrubbed the dried out oils and tars from the tenon of the stem and cleaned it with a cotton swab and alcohol. I wiped the stem with a small amount of Extra Virgin Olive oil and set it aside to be absorbed by the stem surface.While the stem was set aside to hydrate, I worked the stummel, micromesh polishing of the smooth raised surfaces on the stummel. I polished the stummel by wet sanding with 1500 to 12000 micromesh pads. With a moist cotton swab, I carefully wiped off all the sanding dust from within the worm rustications. I am pretty happy with the results!! 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 worm rustication patterns on full display. I have been using this balm ever since I embarked on this journey and it is this part of restoration that I always look forward to. I further buff it with a horse hair shoe brush. On to the homestretch!! I mount a cotton cloth buffing wheel on to my hand held rotary tool and apply a coat of Blue Diamond to the stummel and the stem to polish out the minor scratches. With a cotton buffing wheel that I use for carnauba wax, I apply a coat of carnauba wax and continue to work on it till the complete coat of wax had been polished out. I mount a clean cotton cloth buffing wheel and give the entire pipe a once over buff. I finished the restoration by giving the entire pipe a rigorous hand buffing using a microfiber cloth to raise the shine further. The finished pipe looks amazingly beautiful and is now ready for its long second innings with me. I only wish it could share with me its life story of the past 70 plus years… Cheers!! P.S. These old Custom-Bilts may not be as elegant, delicate and quaint looking as most of the British pipes like say, Charatan’s, Barling’s, Comoy’s or an old Ben Wade, but there is a certain rustic charm about these pipes that appeals to me the most and of course, not to mention the size!! I am not sure if there are any serious Custom-Bilt collectors in our pipe world, but if any reader of rebornpipes.com is, I would definitely like to connect and share our common love for these magnificent pipes.
As usual, your comments and advice is requested as these will help me in my learning and improvements in future. I express my sincere gratitude to all readers who have dedicated their time to read through the write up and for being part of this journey.