Blog by Dal Stanton
The story begins when I first laid my eyes on this pipe. It was when the box containing the ‘French Lot of 50’ arrived here in Sofia, Bulgaria, from Paris, and oh my – talk about excitement! I was alerted to this online Lot by Romanian pipe man friend, Codruț (aka: Piper O’Beard), who had previously become the steward of an L. J. Peretti Oom Paul I had restored. I carefully and slowly unwrapped each pipe, relishing each moment. I had seen the pipes in a pile displayed by the seller on France’s eBay. Interestingly, when I unwrapped the ‘Gold Crown Giant Bent Billiard’ now on my worktable, I went back and looked at the eBay ‘pile’ picture with the question, how could I have missed this? I was attracted to this French Lot because of the many horn stems and several very uniquely shaped pipes – the Cutty on the top had my attention! Yet, the Gold Crown was not visible.After unpacking and cataloging all the pipes from France, each was pictured and put online in the ‘For “Pipe Dreamers” Only!’ collection where hopeful stewards search for a pipe that speaks their name. After all, as in Harry Potter’s wand lore, the pipe chooses the steward, not the other way around! Now, pipe man and friend, Cyrus, enters the story when he saw this pipe online in ‘Pipe Dreamers!’ collection. He and his wife became good friends when they served here in Bulgaria with US Peace Corp for a few years. After returning to the US, their family grew, and we stayed in touch. Cyrus was no stranger to ‘Pipe Dreamers!’ having already commissioned and received a very nice Jarl Dublin (See: Refreshing a Jarl 1545 Made in Denmark Dublin) which benefited our work here in Bulgaria with the Daughters of Bulgaria – women and girls who have been trafficked and sexually exploited. His return to Dreamers found him drawn to the Crown Giant Billiard. Here are pictures of the Giant Bent Billiard: The only markings on this pipe are on the gold band and the ‘tenon ring’. I have to be honest with full confession – when I first saw this pipe, I was excited about it thinking it might have some historical value. When it had first come out of the box, I hadn’t taken a good look at it. When I looked at it again, it was not long after restoring another pipe from this French Lot of 50 which was a treasure. The writeup was: Discovering the History with the Reclamation of this Petite EPC Majestic Bent Horn Stem Billiard, where my researched uncovered a long-forgotten French pipe manufacturer which resulted in my first submission to Pipedia: A. Pandevant & Roy Co.. The problem, which I have since come to realize more fully, is that one of the trademarks of this French company that disappeared in the late 1930s, based near Paris, was a trademark with the stamp ‘EP’. The difficulty with this is that it is also now a mark stamped on metals and it simply signifies, ‘Electro Plated’. When I pulled the acrylic stem out of the mortise and discovered the ‘tenon ring’ with ‘EP’ on it, the novelty of a ‘tenon ring’ and the ‘EP’ stamp with some sort of hallmarks created question – could this be something in line with the Petite EPC? The gold band was stamped with a crown and a very miniscule stamped letter that I couldn’t make out for certain: GG or GP? Probably ‘GP’ for gold plated. With questions in my mind about the ‘tenon ring’ and the ‘EP’, I sent my questions off to Steve, Master of Restoration, of rebornpipes.com and not too long after received his replies.
Dal: A strange but interesting huge Bent acrylic stem Billiard with no shank nomenclature and doesn’t appear to ever have been smoked appears to have a gold-plated band. There are stampings on it – a crown and a very small stamp beneath. My guess is GG or GP – but it’s so small I can’t be sure. Then, there is a solo stamp on the opposite side of the band that appears to be the same GG or GP. Of course, GP could signify Gold Plated. But perhaps that’s what I want to see! That’s the band – thoughts?
Steve: I have had gold plated bands on older Weber’s that looked the same. I concur that the GP stamp is gold plated.
Dal: Then, on the same pipe, I was surprised that when I retracted the ample acrylic stem out of the stummel, there was a band around the tenon! Have you ever seen anything like this? The alignment or fit of the stem and shank isn’t great and this band is serving to expand the fit of the tenon in the mortise. The band also has stampings which I’m assuming are faux of some sort, but the tenon band I’m assuming is an aluminum – it’s light. I first thought it might be silver, but whoever puts anything of value around a tenon? Thoughts?
Steve: I have never seen this before and I can see nothing but problems with this so-called solution. The EP stamp means it is electro plated. Could be silver but looks to like nickel and definitely an aftermarket repair. It is a nice-looking pipe though.
It’s so much fun unpacking the package of pipes, one at a time, each one wrapped with newspaper…. Christmas over and over!
After Cyrus commissioned this pipe and it was getting closer to the worktable, I took a closer look at the pipe trying to figure out its story. The bowl is huge and quite attractive. I weigh the pipe and it comes in at a hefty, 84g. It has never been smoked. The acrylic stem is pristine but needs to be cleaned and receive a fine-tuning regarding sanding and buffing. The pictures below show ripples where the finishing was not completed or not thorough.The chamber is virgin briar. The rim shows some roughness – like it wasn’t finished off as well.The craftmanship is not superior. Looking down the mortise, the airway drilling isn’t straight. Is veers off to the left so that the draft hole’s entry point is not centered, but off to the left a bit. The tenon with the ring, as Steve said, is an attempt to perfect the fit, but after taking the tenon out, I’m not able to put it back in the mortise! The stem fit from the earlier pictures shows that it’s not good – there is a large gap on the upper side of the shank. I pry the tenon ring off with a little effort with a pocketknife and try the fit in the mortise without the ring. The fit is very loose – too loose for use. Carefully I rotate the gold band off the shank with no problem. It caps the shank with a shank face overhang. I again insert the stem to see what it looks like. The sizing of the stem is in the ballpark.Then, there’s the mysterious crop of pits and ravines on the left side of the Giant’s bowl – what’s the deal with this? It’s not a crack or trauma but it appears to be very rough briar that emerged during the fashioning of the stummel from a block of briar – a block of briar that obviously showed great potential for the one crafting this Giant Bent Billiard. The severity of the briar below is in such contrast to the beauty of the briar on the rest of the pipe! Such beauty and also such despair! So much like life…. I’m giving some thought to how to approach this. My theory is that someone, probably in France, crafted this pipe. The block of briar is beautiful, but the shaping of the stummel revealed the imperfections – but too many to fill, but the crafter went with it anyway hoping for a good ending, attaching an attractive acrylic stem and gold band. Yet, at the end of the day, no one wanted this pipe with the scarring it bears. It just seems to me that the crafter of this pipe gave up on it and the fine finishing of the pipe was not worth the effort. I’m not sure the many grain faults that are in this briar patch can be removed or repaired so that there are no lingering scars, but the beauty of the rest of the pipe can offset the imperfections and scarring – off set, probably not erase fully! It reminds me of the Daughters we work with here in Bulgaria – beautiful but also broken and of great worth and worth the effort.
I decide to address the stem fitting first. As I looked at the fitting, the tenon ring and stem wobbling in the mortise, my first thought is to expand the acrylic tenon like a vulcanite stem. This method is to heat the tenon by painting it with the open flame of a Bic lighter and then inserting a slightly larger drill bit end into the softened tenon resulting in some expansion. Two questions come to mind – I’m not sure if acrylic will act like vulcanite – a rubber compound. Will it expand the same way? I’m not sure. The second question is, if it does expand, I’m not sure it will expand enough to de-wobble the current situation? After puzzling more, the solution came to me after reflecting on shank repairs that both Steve has done as well as Charles Lemon of Dad’s Pipes of utilizing inserts in the airways to connect broken shanks. The solution was staring me in the face. The nickel band that was acting as a poor ring for the tenon, could very well serve quite nicely as an insert in the mortise. It is already sized for the tenon correctly. I wondered if that was the original intent of the ring, but the crafter never got around to finishing? To test my theory, I slide the ring – now an insert – partially into the mortise, and partially insert the tenon. I believe this will work nicely. To make the insert permanent, I use BSI Maxi-Cure Extra Thick CA glue. I place some CA on the inside lip of the mortise then spread it around the circumference using a toothpick. I then insert the nickel ring and press it down firmly on the table top surface pushing the insert into the mortise. The end of the nickel ring is flush with the shank facing.The insert seats as hoped, but what the picture shows is the pressure of the insert creates a small crack on the shank on the upper left side. The good news is 3-fold. First, the crack is very small. Secondly, the insert on the inside will not expand any further and so the crack should not have additional pressure on it. Lastly, the gold band on the outside will help fully cover the crack cosmetically and provide additional external pressure to support the shank. To address the crack, I first drill a counter hole to keep the crack from expanding. First, using a sharp dental probe, I press a hole at the end of the crack to serve as a guide for the drill. Next, after mounting a 1mm drill bit on the Dremel, I drill a hole at the end of the crack keeping my hand as steady as possible! The counter-creep hole is good.With the drill bit still mounted in the Dremel, I decide also to drill counter creep holes at the ends of the two most distinct ravines in the rough briar grain patch topography. While these ravines are not cracks in the sense of a trauma related problems, treating these as cracks to guard against the ravines expanding is a good thing to do it seems. I’ve numbered them below.To prepare for drilling the counter-creep holes, I place guide holes as before using the sharp dental probe.Then I drill holes at the end of each ravine. No problems.The ravines are deep – surprisingly so! I double check in the chamber to make sure there are no corresponding ravines! I see none – it looks good. I make sure the crevasses are cleared of loose stuff that may have collected. I use a dental probe to clean what I can. I pick at the smaller grain faults as well. I finish the cleaning by wiping the ravine area and the shank crack with a cotton pad wetted with isopropyl 95%.At this point I would usually mix a batch of briar dust putty with dust and thick CA glue. Instead, I use only regular, thin CA glue on the shank since it will be covered by the band. With the ravines and the grain faults I’ll use regular thin CA glue and sprinkle them with Briar dust building the patches in steps. Using the thinner CA glue will allow penetration into the deeper parts of the crevasses forming a more sure foundation. The pictures show the progress. The night is late, I set the stummel aside for the patches to cure through the night.The next morning, what’s on my mind is seeing how the stem will react to the mortise insert. The glue will be fully cured and with the insert firmly in place, I give the stem a try. The fit tightens with the tenon inserted about halfway into the mortise. Not wishing to force the issue, I begin sanding the fat part of the tenon down first using 240 grade sanding paper. When the progress seemed to be stymied, I then resorted to using a flat needle file to help.After several re-tries and additional filing and sanding, the stem seated in the new insert. It looks good. There still seems to be a slightly larger gapping on the top, but I will wait until remounting the gold band to make a final assessment on the stem fitting.With flat needle file in hand, filing begins on the bowl patches. Since this entire area is rife with pits and crevasses, I’m not too concerned about using the needle file down to the briar surface. Usually, I transition to 240 sanding paper when the patch is close to the briar surface using the file, but with all the sanding that will be required for this project, I use the file for sake of speed.After the filing, I finish the first round of sanding with 240 grade paper. All the light areas in the area indicate that the briar is not smooth and that pitting remains. The briar dust created by the sanding packs in the holes which helps to show progress, or lack!Beginning the second round of patching, I again use the probe to excavate the compacted briar dust and then I wipe the area with a cotton pad wetted with alcohol to clean.I repeat the patching process with the same, regular thin CA glue and sprinkle the patches with briar dust.In the interest of full disclosure and brevity of describing the same process repeatedly, I repeated the patching process as described above about three more time and made slow progress eradicating the pitting. I found though, that some of the pits would resist holding the CA glue fill. After filling with CA glue, curing and sanding, the pit would remain. I started testing different approaches – I used CA glue, then kneaded the patch with a toothpick to release possible air pockets hindering the glue from filling and holding the crevasses. I also utilize an accelerator before and after applying CA.The solution that I found that seemed to work the best was not using the regular, thinner CA glue but switching to an extra-thick CA glue in combination with an accelerator. In the picture below, on this pass of patching (I’ve lost count), I’ve painted a patch of very small grain faults with the thick CA using a toothpick to spread. After using the accelerator and allowing it a few minutes to cure, I go to work on the patch with the file. I did this method several times to fill in the grain faults as much as I could.At the end of the day, perfection is not achievable. Yet, the lion’s share of faults have been filled and hugely minimized but some scarring remains. After finishing the patching and filing, I go over the area with 240 grade paper followed by 600 grade paper. I think that the area is much better, and the finishing process will continue to blend and mask the rough briar patch – I hope! I move on – finally 😊.Moving now to the top, the rim has some rough spots which are easily dispatched with the topping board. I first place a sheet of 240 grade paper on the chopping board, my topping board. I rotate the inverted stummel on it several times, checking as I go. I then switch to 600 grade paper. The rim is looking good. Moving on. Next, using sanding sponges I continue the sanding of the stummel. I use a coarse sponge, followed by a medium grade then finish with a light grade. Wow, comparing the two side in the pictures below, ugh!Moving straight away to the micromesh pad regimen, with pads 1500 to 2400 wet sanding is then followed with dry sanding with pads 3200 to 4000 and 6000 to 12000. Wow! What a piece of briar! Other than the area where the grains were pitted, the grain is absolutely striking on this goliath. Without doubt, if not for the rough patch of briar – that has been helped immensely, I would be applying Before & After Restoration Balm now and moving to the finer polishing processes. But with the rough briar patch, applying a darker dye will assist in masking the many patches. I decide to mix Fiebing’s Saddle Tan and Dark Brown – about 2 to 1 ratio. I want a darker brown hue but with the reddish hints that the Saddle Tan will brings. After ‘unwrapping’ the initial coat, I may decide to do a straight Saddle Tan overcoat. I assemble my desktop dyeing module. After mixing the dyes to the ratio I described using the large eye dropper, a cotton pad wetted with isopropyl 95% is used to clean the stummel. The end of a spring-loaded clothes pin inserted into the mortise serves as a handle. The stummel is warmed using a hot air gun to expand the briar grain helping it to be more receptive to the dye. After heated, using a folded over pipe cleaner, the dye is painted onto the stummel in swatches and then, using a lit candle, the wet dye is ‘flamed’. The aniline dye’s alcohol base combusts and leaves the hue behind in the briar grain. After methodically covering the entire stummel with dye and firing as I go, I then set the stummel on a cork in the candle holder to let it rest through the night.With the dyed stummel now on the sideline, I turn to the attractive acrylic stem. As I mentioned earlier, the stem is essentially unused, but it doesn’t appear to be in a pristine state. The finishing left ripples and some rough spots on the stem. I take a few pictures to illustrate what I’m seeing.To address these issues, I sand the entire stem using 240 grade paper then follow by wet sanding with 600 grade paper and finish this phase by applying 000 grade steel wool. I like the results! The acrylic surface has cleaned up nicely. Moving on now to the full regimen of micromesh pads, starting by wet sanding with pads 1500 to 2400 and dry sanding with 3200 to 4000 and 6000 to 12000. I apply Obsidian Oil to the stem after each set of three pads. This stem is spectacular! The shine and that acrylic translucence is eye catching. The stem will wait till the morning for the stummel to be ready to go. The next morning has arrived and I’m looking forward to ‘unwrapping’ the dyed stummel to see how the finish came out and how well it has helped mask the rough briar patch. I mount a felt cloth buffing wheel onto the Dremel, reduce the speed to the lowest possible and apply Tripoli compound to the bowl. The speed is reduced to decrease the friction and heat generated.I’ve developed this technique that works very well for me. The following pictures show the process of removing the flamed crust to reveal the grain beneath. It takes patience to move over the surface and spotting the places where dye is still thick. Usually it looks like a dark spot on the surface. When I apply additional rotations with the Tripoli on these areas the excess dye is removed revealing the different grain compositions – the softer wood absorbs the dye while the harder wood doesn’t – these are the lighter grains.After unwrapping the stummel, I wipe the surface with a cotton pad wetted with alcohol. I do this to blend the new dye as well as to lighten the hue. Lightening the hue a bit softens the finish.Next, after mounting a cotton cloth wheel and adjusting the speed of the Dremel to about 40% full power, I apply Blue Diamond to both the stummel and the rejoined stem. Yes, I am not replacing the gold band until the end of the process.After completing the compounds, I buff/wipe the pipe with a felt cloth to remove the compound dust in preparation for the wax. Not pictured is mounting another wheel, maintaining the speed, and applying carnauba wax to the pipe.I have two remaining mini projects before the final hand buffing. First, to remount the gold-plated band. I first clean the band using Tarn-X tarnish remover. It restores a very nice shine to the metal. The band fits over the shank easily about 70% of the way, but to be on the safe side, I use the hard surface cushioned by a few cotton pads to press the band fully on the shank. The band fit easily the rest of the way with a gentle push.With the band fully seated on the shank, I test fit the stem with disappointing results. In the picture below the gap at the top is huge. With the band easily moving on the shank, I partially retract the band off the shank and then reengage the stem so that the stem pushes the band over the shank. With the band pressed with the stem tenon facing, its orientation is now much more favorably aligned with the stem with the gap minimized. This looks much better as the second picture shows.The next step is to apply some CA glue to the inside of the band and repeat the same process of reseating the band using the stem itself. Using BSI Maxi-Cure Extra Thick CA glue, I place a large drop of glue on the inside of the band and then use a toothpick to spread the glue around the circumference of the inner wall of the band. Then, after slipping the band carefully over the end of the shank, I press the stem forward over the shank keeping the facing of the stem squarely on the band to avoid the gapping. When the band starts to gap, I know I’m far enough. I retract the band slightly with the stem firmly seated and essentially no gap present. Not wanting to get CA glue on the tenon, I remove the stem and set the stummel in an egg crate to allow the glue to cure. The results look good!While the CA glue is curing, I move to the final project. In order to provide the virgin briar in the chamber a good foundation to build a protective cake and for aesthetics, I mix a batch of natural yogurt and activated charcoal. This mixture is applied to the chamber wall and it hardens to provide a layer over the briar. A pipe cleaner is inserted into the airway to guard the draft hole from being blocked. When I inserted the pipe cleaner, what I remarked about earlier regarding the off-center drilling of the air way was illustrated graphically by the angle of the pipe cleaner! These pictures show what I’m seeing.I place a small amount of natural yogurt in a small dish and add activated charcoal to it and mix until it thickens enough not to drip off the spoon. With a pipe nail as a trowel, I scoop the mixture into the chamber and spread it on the chamber wall with the back side of the nail. When the wall is totally covered, I set the stummel aside allowing the mixture to dry and harden. My day has come to an end and the lights are turned off. The next morning, the gold band is solidly in place and the yogurt/charcoal coating is dry and hard. After reattaching the stem, I give the pipe a rigorous hand buffing to raise the shine.
I’m pleased with how far this unmarked, gold band Giant Billiard has come. The rough briar patch on the side of the bowl was a mess and took a lot of time to provide the healing that I see. Yet, there remains some pitting from the briar faults. The dark stain does a great job helping to mask the imperfections. Yet, as with life, this pipe will carry with it some of the scars of its past. However, the briar grain on this bowl is beautiful and it is huge! I’m very pleased with the striking difference the darker brown finish provides – it changes the disposition of the entire pipe presentation. There is now, I believe, a more striking contrast with the gold band which transition into the stem with all the same tones of color. I like it. Reseating the acrylic stem with the insert works well and the Crown Gold Giant Bent Billiard will sit very well in the palm of its new steward. Cyrus saw the potential of this Giant and commissioned it. He will have the first opportunity to claim it from The Pipe Steward Store. Thanks for joining me!