Fashioning a Churchwarden as a Christmas Gift for my Son


Blog by Dal Stanton

One of the advantages of having ‘The Pipe Steward’ in the immediate family is that there’s a very good probability that his gifting patterns might reflect one of his favorite pastimes – restoring pipes!  Over the years, it has given me great joy to gift my loved ones – sons and daughters(!), with pipes that I’ve restored.  There are at least two reasons for this.  First, they receive a beautiful pipe which has been given the TLC that brings it again to a pristine condition – often better than new!  They can enjoy the composite beauty of its shape, grain formations and hues.  Additionally, understanding a pipe’s story through the research and write-up that accompanies each recommissioned pipe adds to the overall appreciation for the pipe.  The pipe itself is the first part of a growing legacy.  Secondly, the fact that the gift has passed through the care and attention of my hands, restoring the pipe’s condition, adds my personal part to the pipe’s legacy.  The ‘Giver’s’ story is added to the pipe and is then associated with the pipe by the loved one that that receives the pipe, becoming its new steward.

My son, Josiah, is coming from St. Louis to join his mother and I for Christmas here in Bulgaria.  He joins his sister, Johanna and her husband, Niko, who have come to Sofia from Nashville.  Both Josiah and Johanna, our two youngest, lived here with us when they were teens.  So, they are coming ‘home’ for Christmas and this is special for them and for us.  Two additional things add to the specialness of this Christmas reunion.  First, Josiah is bringing with him a young lady for mom and dad to meet!  They met in college and have cultivated a relationship.  She’ll be coming to meet his parents….no pressure!  Secondly, Johanna and Niko are also bringing a special gift – we just found out that they are expecting their first little one to add to our growing number of grandchildren!  Gifts are special during Christmas and they come in different ways.  The greatest gift is the reason we celebrate Christmas – God’s gift of his Son, Christ, given to a dying and broken world to bring the gift of life.

For this Christmas, a Churchwarden will be fashioned for Josiah.  I enjoy repurposing forgotten bowls to give them new life by simply mounting them to a long, flowing Warden stem.  The uniqueness of the Churchwarden is that it is not primarily the style of bowl that makes it a Churchwarden, but the length and style of the stem.  From Bill Burney’s description in Pipedia we discover this information.I found two bowls in my box that held CW potential.  A petite ‘Made in England’ Bent Billiard with the shape number 950 on the shank.  No other markings.  It’s a classic petite English pipe which is attractive by itself, but so far, no one has shown interest in adopting him from the ‘For “Pipe Dreamers” Only!’ online collection where pipe men and women commission pipes for restoration benefitting our work here in Bulgaria with women and girls who have been trafficked and sexually exploited – the Daughters of Bulgaria (Incidentally, if you go to this link you will see our daughter, Johanna, a few years ago painting a picture depicting our work with the Daughters).  I believe this bowl will serve as a gift for my son-in-law, Niko – next in queue.  The other bowl is a rusticated bowl with the sloppy stamping not fitting the smooth panel on the shank’s left flank.  Here are the candidates.As I evaluated the two, I decided on the rusticated bowl for my son, that is rustic and will give the newly fashioned CW an ‘Ole World’ feel.  I take a closer look at the ‘Rustic’s’ nomenclature.  The sloppy stamping shows ‘ERMOFILTER’ – with ‘’ER” running over onto the metal stem facing and stem, [over] ‘ORTED BRIAR’ (with the ‘IAR’ running over!) [over] ‘ITALY’, the COM.  Undoubtedly, the stamping’s aim was to reveal the name, ‘Thermofilter’ which is not found in Pipedia but Pipephil.eu has this panel of information with a ‘?’ indicating the COM.  The Thermofilter on my work desk adds Italy as the country of origin.I acquired this pipe while in the US a few years back at Madeline’s Antique Store in Manchester, Tennessee, just off Interstate 24.  It was a quick stop as we were traveling through and saw the billboard and decided to stop.  It was a very fruitful detour as I found a Dunhill in the wild and purchased it for a pittance.  In the picture below, the Dunhill (see link for this restoration: Another Wedding Trip Pick: A 1961 DUNHILL EK Shell Briar Made in England 1 4S) is visible (3rd from the bottom) and reminded me that this was on the trip when Johanna and Niko were married!  The Thermofilter is barely visible on the right edge in the pipe stand.I take some pictures of the rusticated bowl to get a closer look and to mark the start. The bowl is a perfect size for a Churchwarden, which tend to be on the diminutive side.  The half bend will provide a great sweeping trajectory for the Warden stem.  The rusticated surface is dirty and needs a thorough cleaning of the crevasses. I’m attracted to the deep burgundy red finish of the briar.  It should clean up very nicely.  To begin the project, an inspection of the chamber reveals almost no cake at all, if any.  I go directly to the Savinelli Fitsall Tool to scrape the sides and then sand the chamber using 240 grade paper wrapped around a Sharpie Pen.  To clean the chamber of debris, I wipe it with a cotton pad wetted with isopropyl 95%.After cleaning the chamber, an inspection reveals no problems with heating cracks or fissures.  Yet, I discover something strange.  On opposite sides of the chamber wall I discover stampings of numbers and perhaps some letters.  I’ve never seen this before and I decide to send a note to Steve to find out if his rebornpipes experience would lend any help. Steve’s response to my inquiry was brief:

Nope never seen that. I have seen small numbers in the bottom of the bowl. Maybe heated like a branding iron. What is the nomenclature?

With no resolution to this mystery, I move on to cleaning the external surface. I clean the rusticated surface with undiluted Murphy’s Oil Soap.  A cotton pad starts the process, but I transition to a bristled toothbrush quickly to clean in the craggy cuts of the rusticated surface.   From the worktable scrubbing, I transfer the stummel to the kitchen sink where I continue to rinse the stummel with warm water and clean the internals using long shank brushes.  With warm water, I add anti-oil dish liquid soap and scrub using the shank brushes.  After rinsing again, returning to the worktable I take the following picture of the cleaned stummel.  I notice that the finish is partially removed from the smooth briar panel holding the nomenclature.To complete the removal of the finish on the panel, I wet a cotton pad with isopropyl 95% and rub the smooth briar panel as well as the smooth briar ring circling the shank end.  This will provide a distinct contrast later during the finishing stage. What I also notice from the soiled cotton pad is that the finish color appears to be an Oxblood hue.     Moving now to cleaning the internals in earnest with cotton buds and pipe cleaners wetted with isopropyl 95%, I find that the mortise is clean!  This doesn’t happen often and I’m thankful for the shortened work!I now transition to fashioning the Churchwarden stem.  The first step is to fashion the oversized tenon of the precast Warden stem.  Using the electronic caliper – which was one of the best additions to my tool chest! – I take a measurement of the mortise diameter which is 7.86mm.  This represents the eventual sizing diameter of the tenon after sanding it down to size.The next step is to cut a starting test cut on the tenon using another great addition to my tool chest – the PIMO Tenon Turning Tool that I acquired from Vermont Freehand (https://vermontfreehand.com/).  I keep the directions on the wall in front of me for easy reference!  Before using the tool, the PIMO kit provides a drill bit to pre-drill the airway of the precast stem to fit the Tool’s guide pin.  After mounting the bit on the hand drill, I drill the airway.  Next, I mount the stem onto the PIMO tool which has replaced the drill bit on the hand drill.  Opening the carbon cutting arm to just a bit smaller than the diameter of the raw tenon, I make an initial cut of the tenon for measurement purposes.  The sizing is 9.79mm.  This is the starting point for sizing down the tenon.  Generally, it’s not a good idea to cut the tenon with the PIMO tool aiming for an exact finished target size (7.86) because of the danger of taking off too much.  It is also true that each fitting tends to be different.  So, the approach is to come to the target sizing in a more patient, conservative pace.  I add about .40 mm to the target size of 7.86 which identifies what I call the ‘fat’ target to aim for with the PIMO tool then transitioning to sanding by hand.  Adding .40mm to 7.86 results in a fat target of about 8.26mm.  This means I need to remove additionally about 1.50mm (9.79 minus 8.26) with the PIMO tool.Using the Allen wrenches to adjust the carbide cutting arm to a tighter cut, I first cut a test and measure.  I want to make sure I’m not over cutting before traversing the entire length of the tenon. And I’m glad that I did the test cut!  The test cut measured 6.72 – smaller than the target size!  The second test cut measures at 8.10mm – falling between the fat target and the target size – I go with it.  I cut the entire tenon as well as cutting into the stem facing just a bit to make sure that the edge is squared and not shouldered from the original precast stem.The cut is ideal.  The tenon is still larger than the mortise so that sanding now will ease into the fit and make it more customized.It doesn’t take too long with sanding for the mortise fully to receive the newly shaped tenon.  A coarse, 120 grade paper is used initially to do the heavy lifting then 240 follows to fine tune.  The fit is good.There is no perfect union and this picture shows the shank facing extending a bit beyond the stem facing.I wrap the shank with masking tape to provide some protection to the rusticated finish as I sand to bring the shank facing and stem into alignment.  As before, focusing on the fitting first, I start with coarse 120 and follow with 240 to sand the junction.    When the junction transitions smoothly from the shank to the stem, I transition to the stem proper.  The picture below shows the casting seam down the side of the stem.  This seam as well as the ripples that are always present in a precast stem are sanded out.After some effort, and a lot of rubber dust(!), the ripples and seams are sanded with coarse 120 grade paper.  These pictures are not easy to see detail, but if ripples remained, they would be evident with the different hues on the stem.Next, I work on the bit and button shaping.  You can see the rough condition of the button and the vulcanite excess on the slot.  The darkening of the vulcanite forming a ‘V’ in the middle of the bit shows how the surface of the precast stem dips as it flares out to the stem edge. This will be filed out and the button shaped using a flat needle file.   The following two pictures show the progress of filing.  To remove the valley dip of the surface, I file down the outside valley ridges that are higher.  At the same time, the filing sharpens the button lip.  The first picture shows the initial lateral filing to bring the bit surface into a more level state.The next picture shows the leveled bit surface after the outer quadrants have been rounded and shaped toward the stem edges.The final filing for the lower bit completed.The slot is rough.  After filing the excess vulcanite to level the slot facing, I see a small divot in the inner edge of the slot which I didn’t picture!  A round pointed needle file fits nicely into the slot allowing uniform filing of the inner slot edges – upper and lower.  With the heavy-duty sanding and filing completed. I use 240 paper to fine tune the bit and button shaping.  At this point, the button perimeter is sanded.I follow the fine tune sanding of the button by sanding the entire stem with 240 grade paper.The next picture was to remind me to remark about how nasty working in rubber dust is!  It, without question, is the least desirable part of fashioning new Churchwardens!  This Bulgarian designed work cloth will be going into the soak tonight!The Warden stem is transitioned to the kitchen sink where 600 grade paper is employed to wet sand the entire stem. During the entire sanding process, the stem and stummel remain joined so that the sanding creates a perfectly uniform union with stem and shank. Before transitioning to the micromesh phase, I file the end of the tenon where excess and rough vulcanite persists.  Using the flat needle file, it is dispatched quickly.The question in my mind is whether to bend the stem now or go directly into the micromesh phase.  By leaving it unbent at this point makes continued sanding easier, and this is what I do. Using 1500 to 2400 grade micromesh pads I wet sand the stem followed by dry sanding with pads 3200 to 4000 and 6000 to 12000.  Between each set of 3 pads I apply Obsidian Oil to condition the vulcanite.  I only show one picture of this process instead of the usual 3 because capturing the detail with the long stem is not possible. I do, however, take close-ups of the upper and lower bit. The next step is to bend the Churchwarden stem.  The goal is to bend the stem so that the end of the stem, the bit, is on a parallel trajectory with the plane of the rim of the stummel.  I sketch a template to help visualize and compare.I use a hot air gun to heat the vulcanite.  I continually rotate and move the stem over the hot air to avoid scorching the stem and to heat more evenly a section of the stem.  To begin, I focus the bend more toward the middle of the stem, where the stem is thicker.  If I heat the entire stem at once the thinner portion at the end of the stem will heat and bend first creating a sharper angle – which I am trying to avoid.  A sweeping bend is what I like best.As the stem is heated, gentle pressure is applied so I know when it becomes supple enough to start bending.  The first step focusing on the middle bend is below.  After I bend it, I hold it in place until I run it under cold water in the kitchen sink to hold the bend.  As expected, the trajectory of the end of the stem is still a little high.  The next step of heating I avoid the middle of the stem and heat the section about 3/4 up the stem – the thinner section.  After heating and bending more, again I take the stem to the sink to cool the stem with water to hold the angle.  The template shows that I’m in the sweet spot.  Notice I inserted a pipe cleaner in the end of the stem to be on the safe side – guarding the integrity of the airway as it bends.  It looks good and I move on. Next, the stummel awaits attention.  After removing the freshly bent CW stem and putting it to the side, I take a fresh look at the rusticated stummel that, to me, resembles craggy tree bark.  I like it! Before addressing the stummel, I first run the smooth briar nomenclature panel and ring around the end of the shank though the full battery of micromesh pads, 1500 to 12000. I like the craggy/smooth contrast.My aim with the stummel is to refresh the hue, which appears to be a subtle Oxblood.  Using Fiebing’s Oxblood aniline dye, I will apply it like I usually do – painting and flaming with a lit candle.  Then, during the following ‘unwrapping’ stage, I will not use Tripoli compound as I usually do.  The reason for this is that the compound will get caught in the crags and that would not be fun to remove.  I think the felt buffing wheel on the Dremel will be enough by itself to effectively unwrap and abrasively buff to remove excess crusty flamed dye.  Creating more contrast in the craggy landscape of the rusticated surface and the smooth peaks of the rustication is the aim.  At least this is my hope!  I assemble my desktop staining kit.  After wiping the stummel with a cotton pad wetted with alcohol to clean it, I warm the stummel over the hot air gun to expand the pores in the briar to help it be more receptive to the dye.  Then, using a bent over pipe cleaner, I apply the Oxblood dye in sections and flame the wet dye with a lit candle.  The alcohol in the dye combusts with the flame and sets the dye in the briar surface. After working through the entire stummel painting and flaming, I set the stummel aside to rest for several hours allowing the dye to set.Later, with a cotton cloth wheel mounted onto the Dremel and the speed set to 40% full power, I apply Tripoli compound only to the smooth briar nomenclature panel and ring around the shank end.Next, I mount a felt cloth buffing wheel onto the Dremel, setting the speed to the slowest possible, and go over the entire surface working the edges of the buffing wheel in the valleys and ridges of the rusticated surface.  The slower speed is to avoid over heating – I don’t want to start a fire with the coarser buffing wheel!I also concentrate on the upper peaks of the ridges that present very small smooth briar surfaces that are buffed.I like the contrasting effect of this process – the changing hues of the Oxblood from valleys to peaks with the smooth briar and rough briar – nice.Not pictured is mounting another cotton cloth buffing wheel onto the Dremel, setting the speed at 40%, and applying Blue Diamond compound only to the smooth briar nomenclature panel and ring around the end of the shank and to the Warden stem remounted to the stummel.  Finally, with another cotton cloth buffing wheel mounted onto the Dremel, set at the same speed, I apply carnauba wax to the entire pipe – stem and stummel. Over the rusticated surface, I increase the speed of the Dremel to about 60% full power to create more heat to dissolve the wax in the rusticated landscape.  This helps in keeping the wax from caking in the rough surface. I finish the newly formed Churchwarden by hand buffing with a micromesh cloth and brushing the stummel with a horsehair brush to raise the shine.

The Oxblood coloring of this rusticated bowl came out exceptionally well. My eyes are drawn to the contrasting of the flecks of smooth reddish briar populating the rusticated landscape.  The rustic feel of the bowl is enhanced by the ring of Oxblood smooth briar transitioning from the rough bowl to the long, black Warden stem.  The Oxblood shank ring contrasting with the stem simply pops.  Of course, the long, sweeping bend of the stem is why every pipe man or woman wants at least one Churchwarden in their collection.  This Churchwarden is heading under the Christmas tree here in Bulgaria as a gift for my son. My joy is completed knowing that in the future, when he pulls it out and fills it with his favorite blend and settles in to have some moments of reflection that he will reflect on this special Christmas in Bulgaria!  Thanks for joining me!  Merry Christmas!

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