Blog by Steve Laug
Lately I am not taking on more work for repairs from email or online requests as I am just too busy. I still get the odd referral from the local cigar and pipe shop that I feel obligated to repair or restore. They tend to be spread out a bit so I can fit them in among the other work that I am doing for estates. Earlier this week I received a phone call from a fellow who had been referred to me by the shop. In our conversation he said that he had some pipes that the stems were all loose on and he wanted to know if I would be able to help him. I have learned to not make any arrangements until I have the pipes in hand and have examined them. He came over Friday afternoon to let me have a look at the pipes. He handed me a bag and inside there were four or five extra stems that he had brought for my use. There were also three old and tired pipes. They were in very rough shape. Two were apple shaped pipes stamped VB and one was a Croydon billiard. The stems were indeed loose on two of the pipes and stuck on the third pipe. The bowls were clogged with a thick cake to the degree that I could not even get my little finger in them. The stems had a thick layer of calcification and some tooth marks. They needed a lot of work.
We talked about the pipes and that he had held them for a long time hoping for a repair. He had spoken with the cigar and pipe shop and they had led him to me. Now he could actually have a hope of smoking them again. In the course of the 30 minute or so conversation he asked me what I do for work. I told him I was a Presbyterian minister working with an NGO dealing with the sexual exploitation and trafficking of women and children in 7 countries and 12 cities around the world. We talked about that a bit then he laughed and told me he was a United Church Minister who had taught in a variety of schools as well as pastored various parishes. We had a great conversation and I took the pipes and told him we would connect again once I had them finished.
I chose the second pipe from the threesome to work on. The stem was stuck in the shank and it was locked tight. It was in rough condition but not as bad as the previous billiard. The bowl was clogged in precisely the same manner – a thick hard cake and no air would pass through the shank. The finish was worn but nowhere near as bad as the Croydon billiard. The rim top looked was in better condition with damage to the top and the inner and outer rim but still better. I put the pipe in the freezer for several hours and was able to easily remove the stem from the shank. The stem was oxidized with calcification extending for about an inch up the stem from the button. In the midst of the calcification were the same deep tooth marks that appeared to be rounded rather than sharp so I may well be able to lift them out with a lighter flame. The slot in the button was plugged with a pin hole sized airway going through it. I honestly do not know how this pipe was smoked the last time it was used. This was another of those pipes that I really dreaded working on because I just sensed that one thing would lead to another and the restoration would be almost endless. I took photos of the pipe before I started to record this anxious moment! I took some close up photos of the bowl and stem to show what I was dealing with on this pipe. You can see the density of the cake. It is not totally clear in the photo but the bowl is filled on the second half of the bowl and packed solid. The bowl also has a slant toward the rear from reaming with a knife. The rim top is rough as noted above and looking at the photos it too appears to have been used as a hammer. It is very rough to touch. The stem is a mess as can be seen. There is some oxidation and a thick coat of calcification from the button forward. That too is rock hard. Both the stem and the shank are plugged with no air passing through them.I took a photo of the stamping to show the brand on the pipe. It is a brand I have never heard of or worked on. There is little information available on it. It is stamped VB on the left side of the shank.I did some digging on the brand to see what I could find out. Finally on Pipephil’s index page (http://www.pipephil.eu/logos/en/index-en.html) I found my first and only clue. Under the section called logos with two letters I found the VB listed. It took me to a listing under Holiday pipes. There was no further information on the country of origin or on the maker other than Holiday. I checked on Pipedia as well and there was nothing. I have included a copy of the screen capture of the listing on Pipephil (http://www.pipephil.eu/logos/en/logo-h3.html#holiday).Once again I could no longer postpone starting the work on this old pipe. Since I am a pipe refurbisher I had to get started on this beast. I began the work by reaming the bowl. The old fellow had chipped away enough of the carbon to smoke a little toward the end but he had done so at an angle so there was a nice concave cup in the back wall of the bowl. I had to work carefully with the Savinelli Fitsall Knife to start the process. I poke through the clogged airway into the bowl early on because honestly I could not see where it entered the bowl. I wanted to make sure I knew where it was while I cut through the cake. I worked through the first three cutting heads of the PipNet to straighten out the walls of the bowl. I took photos to chronicle that work. You can see the growing mound of carbon under the pipe in the photos. It was quite unbelievably hard. I cleaned up the edges and bottom of the bowl with a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife. I sanded the inside of the bowl with 220 grit sandpaper wrapped around a piece of dowel to further smooth out the bowl. It was yet another of the worst cakes that I have worked on. With the bowl reamed I decided to work on the exterior of the bowl. It was unbelievably grimy and sticky. I scrubbed it with a tooth brush and undiluted Murphy’s Oil Soap. I rinsed it under warm running water to wash away the soap and debris. I repeated the process until the exterior was as clean as I was going to get it at this point. I dried it off with a cotton cloth and took photos to show the result. I cleaned the mortise and the airway in the shank and stem with pipe cleaners, cotton swabs and alcohol. I opened the airway into the bowl with a sharp straightened paper clip and used the drill bit on a KleenReem tool to clean out the “crud” (hardened tars and oils). I scraped the inside of the mortise with a pen knife. I opened the slot in the button with a dental pick and pushed pipe cleaners through the debris in the stem. I scraped away the majority of the calcification with the pen knife while I was cleaning the stem. Once I had finished – many pipe cleaners and cotton swabs later the airway was unobstructed to the bowl and the pipe had begun to smell clean. I topped the bowl on a topping board with 220 grit sandpaper and removed the damaged areas on the surface. Once I had finished the rim top was flat now I could deal with the edges of the bowl.I used a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper to smooth out the inner and outer edge of the bowl. The outer edge cleaned up really well. I was quite happy with how the rim top and edges were beginning to look.I decided to address the hollowed out back inner wall of the bowl before I called it a night. The first photo shows the damaged area before I repaired it. I mixed up a small batch of JB Weld. I blended the two parts together to a dark grey paste and used a dental spatula to apply it to the back wall of the bowl. In the morning I used a Dremel and a sanding drum to take down the excess JB Weld in the back of the bowl. I ground it down until the inside was smooth. I wiped the inside of the bowl down with alcohol on a cotton pad to remove the sanding dust.I sanded the exterior of the bowl and rim with a medium grit sanding sponge to remove the nicks, scratches and remnants of the original finish. I scraped and sanded the strange dark stains on the shank at the same time. I wet sanded with 1500-12000 grit sanding pads to smooth out the finish on the bowl and prepare it for staining. I wiped the bowl down after each pad with a damp cloth to remove the dust and debris from sanding. I worked some Before & After Restoration Balm into the finish of the bowl, the rim top and shank with my fingertips to clean, enliven and protect it. I find that the balm really makes the briar come alive again. I let the balm sit for a little while and then buffed it with a cotton cloth to raise the shine. The pipe really looks good at this point. It looks much better than when I took it out of the bag. I set the bowl aside and turned my attention to the stem. I “painted” the surface of the stem with the flame of a Bic light to raise the tooth marks. It raised them all some but two small dents remained on both sides of the stem. I forgot to take a photo of the stem after the heating. I filled in the remaining tooth marks with clear Krazy Glue and let it cure. I like the clear glue on this kind of stem as it dries clear and the black of the stem shows through making for a very good blend with the existing material.I sanded the repaired areas on both sides of the stem with 220 grit sandpaper to blend them into the surface of the stem. I followed that by sanding them with a folded piece of 400 grit wet dry sandpaper to begin the polishing.I polished the stem with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding it with 1500-12000 grit pads. I polished it further with Before & After Pipe Stem Polish – both fine and extra fine. I wiped the stem down with Briarville’s No Oxy Oil to preserve and protect the stem. This was another challenging pipe to work on and I did the heavy work without Jeff. I put the stem back on the bowl and polished the bowl and stem with Blue Diamond polish on the buffing wheel. I gave the bowl and the stem multiple coats of carnauba wax. I buffed the pipe with a clean buffing pad to raise the shine. I hand buffed it with a microfiber cloth to deepen the shine. The grain pops through enough to let us know it is there and my repairs to the rim and back of the bowl blend in really well. I am pleased with the look of the pipe. It really has exceeded my expectations for it when I first took it out of the bag it was in when dropped off. The contrast between the natural browns of the briar and the polished black vulcanite stem look very good together. The pipe feels great in my hand and I am sure that it will feel even better radiating the heat of a good smoke. It must have been a fine smoking pipe judging from the condition it was when I received it from the pipeman who dropped it off. Have a look at it with the photos below. The dimensions are Length: 5 ¾ inches, Height: 1 ¾ inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 ¼ inches, Chamber diameter: ¾ of an inch. I am looking forward to what the old clergyman thinks of his second “new” pipe. I think he will enjoy it for many years to come and perhaps it will pass to the next pipeman who will hold it in trust. Thanks to each of you who are reading this blog.