Blog by Paresh Deshpande
A few weeks ago, Steve had worked on a BBB Own Make 693 Canadian with some really gorgeous grains to boast about. As I was reading the blog, I remembered the BBBs that Abha had cleaned and sent across for further restoration along with 40 other pipes. However, since I was working on a Thorburn Clark pipe from my inheritance, I had postponed work on this BBB. With the Thorburn Clark completed, I rummaged through the pile and separated all the BBBs that she had sent. This is the one that caught my attention. The note in the package, along with the issues observed by Abha while cleaning the pipe, said that it was from my grandfather’s collection!! I had to work on this BBB.
This BBB in bent Apple shape with a saddle stem has stunning grains and it appears that the grain on the block of briar dictated the shape to the carver. The stummel boasts of beautiful tightly packed straight grains to the front, sides, back and along the sides of the shank. The foot of the stummel, bottom and top of the shank has the most beautiful and distinct bird’s eye that you would ever see. The transition from bird’s eye at the foot of the stummel to the straight grain all around is very well defined and seamless. The stummel is stamped on the left shank surface, close to the shank end, in trademark rhombus as “BBB” over two Stars (**) on either side of the lower part of the rhombus over “SPECIAL”. On the left shank surface, it is stamped as “LONDON ENGLAND” over the shape code “395”. The bottom of the shank bears the numeral “0” very close to the shank end. Inlaid BBB brass diamond logo on the saddle adorns the vulcanite stem. If you are interested to know anything about BBB pipes, look no further than rebornpipes.com!! This is Steve’s favorite brand and he has been researching and collecting BBB pipes for decades. I visited rebornpipes and sure enough there was a write up on “History of BBB Pipes”! Here is the link to the blog: https://rebornpipes.com/2012/08/05/history-of-bbb-pipes/
I was more interested in background information of the brand and later in the dating of this pipe. Here is what I found interesting;
Adolph Frankau arrived in London in 1847 and quickly grasped the opportunities which the enlarging tobacco market introduced. He started “Adolph Frankau and Co.” and began importing meerschaum pipes and tobacco supplies. The Company took a young 14 year-old boy, Louis Blumfeld under its wing. The Company quickly thrived and did so until the untimely death of Adolph Frankau in 1856. His widow decided to sell the company.
Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), author of “Hero and worship of the heroes” came on the scene at this point. He recommended that the widow Frankau not sell, but rather that she should entrust the future of the company into the hands of young Louis Blumfeld, then 18 years old. Carlyle had to have had a very high opinion of the young Louis to make this recommendation, and his trust proved to be justified as Blumfield took care of the company with enthusiasm and bottomless energy. Louis quickly realized, as others had before him, the potential of the newly acknowledged pipes made of briar.
Louis Blumfeld developed important international trade relations from the beginning, and had particular success in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, Europe, as well as Switzerland and Denmark. The USA had never been an extraordinary market for the company, but nonetheless a subsidiary was opened in New York. His commercial strategy focused on the countries of British Empire.
In the 1930s, the top pipe of the line was “BBB Best Make” with variants such as “Great Dam” and “Ultonia Thule”. The BBB Carlton, sold retail in 1938, was endowed with a complicated stinger system; the same system was also used on the BBB London Dry. The Blue Peter was not stamped BBB but BBB Ultonia, and BBB Two Star (**) was the stamping on lesser quality pipes.
Shapes of BBB pipe were typical of other companies pipes made in this era: half were billiards, some princes and bullcaps, bulldogs and some bents. It is also in this period that the inlaid metal BBB was put on more upscale pipes, while series of lesser quality had only the stamped BBB on the stem.
During the middle of 1950s and 1960s, BBB lines were comparatively stable. The top pipes of the line were stamped Own Make “Rare Grain”, followed by Own Make “Virgin”, Own Make “Walnut” and finally Own Make “Thorneycroft”.
From the above, it is evident that the BBB on my work table is from the period 1930 to 1950.
INITIAL VISUAL INSPECTION
The chamber had a thick layer of cake, but not as thick as seen in some of his pipes. As expected, the rim top surface is covered with overflow of lava. The beveled inner edge of the rim in 11 ‘O’ clock direction is badly damaged which could probably be caused as a result of hitting against a hard surface to remove the dottle. The outer rim edge too has dents and dings around. The condition of the walls can be commented upon only once the cake has been taken down to the bare briar. This chamber has some pretty strong ghost smells. The stummel surface is pebbled with numerous dents, dings and scratches. However, there is not a single fill in the stummel surface!! Significant damage was seen to the front of the stummel and around the rim. This damage, in all probability, has been caused due to uncared for storage and it having rubbed against some hard object. The briar had taken on a nice aged patina and I shall try to preserve it. However, the kind of damage to the stummel would necessitate a few invasive methods to address these issues which are detrimental to preservation of aged patina. Let’s see how the restoration pans out!! The mortise showed dried accumulated gunk with a blocked draught hole. Air flow was very laborious to say the least.The stem is heavily oxidized with a deep gouge on either side of the saddle of the stem. This and other stummel damage could have been due to uncared for storage for the last 40 odd years. There is no significant damage to the button or in the bite zone, save for a few very minor tooth marks to button edges and tooth chatter in the bite zone. This was surprising as I have observed that the stem was the most damaged part in most of my inherited collection. Maybe my grandfather did not like the smoking character of this pipe or the shape or the hand feel or the clench or could be that he did not like the size of this pipe (most probable cause since he preferred large sized ones!!) The tenon is covered in dried gunk. INITIAL CLEANING BY ABHA…
The initial cleaning on this pipe was done by Abha, my wife (she has cleaned up around 40-50 pipes and these have now reached me for further restoration). She reamed out the complete cake and further smoothed out the chamber walls with a folded piece of 220 grit sand paper. She further cleaned out the internals of the shank with pipe cleaners and alcohol and cotton buds. In the note that she had packed with pipe, she mentioned that getting a pipe cleaner out through the draught hole was not easy. She followed the internal cleaning of the shank with external cleaning of the stummel using Murphy’s Oil soap and hard bristled tooth brush and dried it with paper napkins and cotton cloth.
Next she cleaned out the internals of the stem air way. She covered the inlaid brass stem logo with petroleum jelly (helps protect the metal from corrosion due the solution) and immersed it in “Before and After Deoxidizer” solution along with the stem of other pipes in line for restoration. Once the stem had soaked overnight, she cleaned the stem under running warm water and scrubbed the raised oxidation from the stem surface using Scotch Brite pad. She further removed the oxidation by scrubbing the stem with 0000 grade steel wool and applied a little olive oil to rehydrate the stem.
ONCE THE PIPE IS ON MY WORK TABLE…
The initial cleaning by Abha, my wife, is thorough and while saving me time, it also provides a clear picture of all the issues that needs to be addressed during the restoration process. She also makes a note of all the issues that she observed during initial cleaning for me to address and includes this note with each pipe that she packs. It’s a big saving on the time factor and I am really thankful to her for indulging me.
The chamber walls are solid without any signs of damage. The smooth and thin rim top surface is where all the action is on this pipe with an added bonus of an equally damaged beveled inner rim edge. At this point, the damage to the outer rim edge does not appear to be a major issue and should be easy to address. The ghost smells are greatly reduced, but still offending to the olfactory nerves. One major cause of concern is in the heel of the stummel. There is a dip at the bottom that forms a channel from the draught hole to the heel with raised shoulders along the sides (marked in yellow arrows). If this issue is not addressed now, prolonged further use may subsequently lead to a burnout at the foot of the stummel. However, as things stand now, the external surface at the foot appears solid. As observed earlier, there is not a single fill in the entire stummel. The reasoning for giving it a 2 Star, denoting lesser grade, fails me completely!! Abha had nicely cleaned the stummel surface. The surface is solid to the touch but has a number of dents and dings over the stummel, notably to the front, sides and a couple at the foot of the stummel (marked in yellow circles and arrows). Is it a figment of my imagination or a reality, I am not sure, but I think I saw a very slightly darkened spot at the bottom of the foot (circled in green), which was strongly refuted by anyone and everyone I happened to show it to. Just to be sure, I gently tapped it with the back of a screw driver for a shallow sound, but nothing!! I checked the entire stummel for sound and it all sounded the same. The stummel is solid throughout. In the note that Abha had enclosed in the packet containing this pipe, she had mentioned that she could not get a pipe cleaner through the mortise and the draught hole and as such she had left it alone. I would need to check it and further clean the mortise. The stem is free of any major tooth indentations/ bite marks. Minor light tooth chatter, however, is seen on both the stem surfaces in the bite zone. The lip edges needs to be sharpened and evened out. The stem still has signs of deep oxidation. The otherwise good condition of the stem is marred by deep gouges on either sides of the saddle of the stem. THE PROCESS
The first issue that I decided to address was that of the blocked air way in the mortise. With the bent flat dental tool, I scraped the walls of the mortise and removed as much of the dried gunk as I could. Using a round needle file, I tried to pry at the blockage, but to no avail. What I found unusual was that an upward movement of the needle file had a little give, however, when I tried to push it in straight, I hit a hard and solid block. Using shank brush and dish washing soap, I scrubbed the shank internals clean. This helped in getting a better idea of what lurked within the mortise that was preventing the pipe cleaner from coming out of the draught hole.I checked the mortise internals under a torch light and what I saw surprised me no end!! Straight away, I could not see the draught hole straight ahead and all that I saw was a reservoir like the one seen on a Pete System pipe. Closer observation around the mortise revealed the opening for the draught hole that was aligned towards the top side and that too was at a weird angle to the rest of the mortise. Here is how the internal of the mortise looked and will present a clearer picture of what I have been trying to explain.Well, this could very well be a flaw in the drilling of the mortise or could be a design element for a better smoke (HIGHLY IMPROBABLE!!), I really cannot tell. Continuing with the internal cleaning of the bowl, I subject the chamber to salt and alcohol treatment to get rid of the strong ghost smells. I insert a folded pipe cleaner through the mortise and out of the draught hole in to the chamber. Thereafter, I tightly pack cotton balls in the mortise, pushing it deep with a dental tool. Next I tightly pack cotton balls in to the chamber, slightly below the rim edge. Once this set up is ready, I pour 99.9% pure isopropyl alcohol in to the chamber and mortise, using a syringe. I let the alcohol settle down and top it again after about an hour. I set the stummel aside for the night to let the alcohol loosen up the grime, draw out all the entrenched oils and be trapped in the cotton. By next afternoon, the cotton and alcohol had drawn out the old oils and tars from the chamber and mortise. I removed the cotton from the chamber and the mortise. I scraped out the loosened crud from the mortise with my dental tools and further cleaned the mortise using hard bristled and regular pipe cleaners. However, on close scrutiny of the mortise under a torch light, I realized that the mortise was still not clean. While removing the loosened cake from the chamber, I gently scraped the shoulders that had formed at the heel near the draught hole. Lucky me, the shoulder that was formed was nothing but hardened cake and was easily removed due to the softening during the salt and alcohol bath. Using my dental tools, I scraped out all the crud that I could and followed it up with a cleaning using q-tips and alcohol. Though the mortise cleaned up pretty nicely, the smells were still strong. I decided to subject the chamber and the mortise to a second salt and alcohol bath. I followed the procedure for the bath explained above and set the stummel aside for the bath to work its magic. The next day, all the remaining oils and tars were drawn out and trapped in the pipe cleaner and cotton. I cleaned the mortise again using pipe cleaners and dental tools. I am happy with the way the mortise cleaned up this time. The pipe smells clean and fresh. Next, I decided to address the dents and dings on the stummel surface and on the rim outer edge. Using a whitener pen, I marked all the major areas with dents and dings and decided to leave the minor ones as they were. I heated my fabricated knife over the flame of a candle, placed a wet Turkish hand towel over the marked areas and steamed out the dents by placing the heated knife over the towel. Though some dents were still observed, these were greatly reduced when compared to before the steaming. Steaming out the dents and dings from the stummel surface had necessitated that the surface of the stummel be evened out by sanding. Using a folded piece of 220 grit sand paper, I sand the entire stummel surface taking care to preserve the stampings on this pipe. To address the damaged inner beveled edge of the rim as well as the dents and dings and darkening of the thin rim top surface, I topped the rim top on 180 grit sand paper. I took a piece of used and worn 180 grit sand paper, folded it and pinching it between my thumb and forefinger, freshened the inner bevel on the inner edge of the rim. Both the rim top and inner edge look much better than before. Staying with the stummel restoration, I polished the stummel with micromesh pads, dry sanding with 1500 to 12000 pads. I polished the freshly topped rim surface and the newly created inner rim bevel. I wiped the surface with a soft cloth at the end of the micromesh cycle. The stummel looks amazing with a deep shine and beautiful grains popping over the stummel surface. I am surprised that the rim top surface has the same deep brown coloration as the rest of the stummel surface and use of stain pen was not required. Also the supposed dark spot at the foot of the stummel was indeed a figment of my imagination and was nothing but the eye in the bird’s eye grain, whew!! The next step is the application of the “Before and After Restoration Balm”, developed by Mark Hoover and a must have for restorations. This product not only protects and enlivens the briar but also highlights the grains on the surface. I rubbed a small quantity of the balm into the briar surface with my fingers and set it aside for about 20 minutes. The transformation is almost immediate and I polished the surface with a microfiber cloth to bring out a deep shine on the stummel. The bird’s eye and straight grains look awesome. The following pictures speak for themselves. Now with the stummel refurbished, I turned my attention to the stem. I start with addressing the issue of deep gouges to the either sides of the saddle by heating the damaged surface with the flame of a lighter. The heat from the flame expands the vulcanite and raises it to the surface. The results are pretty satisfactory.Next I sand the entire stem surface with a folded piece of worn out 180 grit sand paper followed by a 220 grit sand paper. This addresses two issues; firstly the minor tooth chatter in the bite zone and the raised gouges are evened out and secondly, the residual oxidation is sanded out. I follow it up with sharpening of the lip edges with a flat head needle file. To finish the stem repairs, I wiped out the raised oxidation and dust from the surface with Murphy’s Oil soap and cotton swab.To bring a deep shine to the vulcanite stem, I went through the complete set of micromesh pads, wet sanding with 1500 to 12000 grit pads. I wiped the stem with a moist cloth after each pad. Another Mark Hoover product which I had recently ordered is the “Before and After Extra Fine” stem polish. I applied a small quantity of this polish and rubbed it deep in to the vulcanite stem. This polish, purportedly, is supposed to remove the finer sanding marks left behind by the abrasive grit papers. The pictures of the process and final results are shown below.Only the brass BBB stem logo remains to be polished. Abha, my wife, had suggested that I should try using Colgate toothpowder to bring back the shine on the metal logo. She had tried this on her jewelry with amazing results. I rubbed the brass logo with Colgate toothpowder and the results are truly amazing.To apply the finishing touches, 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. This is a truly beautiful pipe with a classic bent Apple shape boasting of stunning straight grains all round the stummel and shank and bird’s eye grains at the bottom of the entire stummel. Just to be on the safe side, I decided to protect the chamber walls and the heel of the stummel by giving it a bowl coating of activated charcoal and yogurt. This not only protects the walls from direct contact with the burning tobacco but also helps in speeding up the formation of cake. Now the pipe is completed aesthetically as well as functionally.P.S. The only aspect that was bothering me with this pipe is the alignment of the opening of the draught hole in to the mortise. I shared my concerns and pictures of the skewed alignment with my Guru and mentor, Steve. He suggested that this issue, to be addressed, may necessitate funneling the tenon end. He also suggested that I should first smoke this pipe and if the draw is smooth, even and full, funneling the tenon may not be necessary.
I dry tested the draw and found it to be smooth even and full without any whistling sounds. Thus, I can safely expect that the pipe should be a good smoker. I shall eventually get around to enjoying my first smoke in this beauty, but for now, the confidence that this one will be good smoke has me satisfied.
Truth be told, this project was completed by 16 October 2019, however, thereafter I proceeded on leave for my home and got around to complete the write up only after rejoining from leave.
I earnestly thank all the readers for sparing their valuable time in following this write up and hope to learn from your comments on this post.