This pipeman loved huge pipes – Restoring a Huge Mario Grandi Poker

Blog by Steve Laug

I have finished many of the pipes on my desk for refurbishing or repair and decided it was time to do something a little different that was a lot less work. I turned again to the group of 42 pipes that Jeff and I purchased from a pipeman who can no longer smoke because serious illness. It is a pleasure to be able to support this Brother of the Briar in this very hard season of his life. He had some beautiful pipes in his collection and with some work we will get them cleaned up and into the hands of other pipemen and women who can carry on the legacy of the briar.

The sixth of the pipes that I am working on is a monstrously large Mario Grandi Poker that was so big I could not even wrap my hand around the bowl! It was a smooth finish with pretty amazing grain. For a block of briar this big it only had one or two small fills that were well blended into the finish. The smooth portions have great grain and the sandblast portion on the right side adds depth to the shape. It is stamped on the heel of the bowl Mario Grandi over Fatta in Italia. It is another nice piece of briar that the carver accommodated the shape to highlight. The unique saddle, vulcanite stem shifts shape from the round bead to a four sided panel in the blade of the stem. When it arrived at Jeff’s house and he opened the box he could see it was a beautifully grained and huge piece of briar. To both of us it is not a stunning carving it is rather a piece that is overwhelming by sheer size. The pipe was dirty but there was little damage to the bowl or stem. The inner bevel on the rim top had darkening and tars flowing up from the thickly caked bowl. But it did not appear to be burned or charred. The stem was in good condition – just a little dirty. There was tooth chatter on both sides of the stem near the button. Overall the large unique pipe was a beautifully grained piece that must have been enjoyed by the previous pipeman who had held it in trust. Jeff took photos of the pipe before he started his clean up work. Jeff took photos of the bowl and the rim top to show the condition of the bowl and rim. You can see the lava and darkening on the rim top. You can also see the cake in the bowl and the tobacco debris stuck to the walls.   Jeff took photos of the sides and heel of the bowl to show the condition of the finish – the pipe looked good and the grain on the sides and bottom of the bowl was very pretty. He took a photo of the stamping on the heel of the bowl. The stamping was very readable as noted above. It is a beauty!  He took some photos of the fancy cut, saddle acrylic stem surfaces to show their condition. There were not any deep tooth marks just some light chatter ahead of the button on both sides. I turned then to Pipedia to see what I could find out about Mario Grandi pipes. I read through the page to gather some information. Here is the link ( I will quote from the article.

The Mario Grandi line was created in late 2006 by Aldo Pierluigi and his family as a sub-brand of their mainstay brand Mastro Beraldi.

Mario Grandi often shows unusual and imaginative shapes – some really take getting used to. Every now and then you may find a pipe with some minor negligence concerning the workmanship. To give an example: the shank /stem junction sometimes shows a little split. Even though the quality is generally very high and you will hardly find any other (mainly) hand-crafted pipes at such affordable prices.

Outside Italy Mario Grandi pipes are officially offered by *futurepipes* on eBay. More than 2,000 pipes have been sold since December 2006. The offers change almost daily.

Now I had the information I wanted to know on the brand it was time to begin to work with it and clean it up. It really is a beautiful pipe. I am getting more and more used to Jeff cleaning up the pipes before I work on them. So much so that when I have to clean them it is a real chore! This pipe was dirty just like the other ones in the collection. I did not know what to expect when I unwrapped it from his box. He reamed it with a PipNet pipe reamer and cleaned up the reaming with a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife. He scrubbed out the internals with alcohol, pipe cleaners and cotton swabs until the pipe was clean. He scrubbed the exterior of the bowl with Murphy’s Oil Soap and a tooth brush to remove the grime and grit on the briar and the lava on the rim top. The finish looked really good once it was clean. There was no damage and the grain really stood out around the bowl. The rim top and heel showed some beautiful birdseye on the surfaces. Jeff also cleaned the stem internals and scrubbed the externals and the result looked very good. When the pipe arrived here in Vancouver for the second stop of its restoration tour it was impressive. I turned the stem over from the earlier photos so the larger saddle portion was on top and the fit against the shank was far better than previously. It aligned better than the other way. I took photos before I started my part of the work. I took some close up photos of the rim top and also of the stem surface. I wanted to show what the cleanup of the rim top looked like. It was a real beauty. The grain patterns on the rim top and beveled edge really stood out and are quite stunning! I also took close up photos of the stem to show condition it was in. It would not take a lot of work – just sanding out the light tooth chatter around the button on both sides. Once that was finished it would need to be polished with micromesh sanding pads.   I took a photo of the stamping on the shank of the pipe. On the left it read Mario Grandi over Fatta in Italia. I started my work on this pipe with the bowl. I polished the bowl and rim with worn micromesh sanding pads. I sanded it with 1500-12000 grit pads and wiped it down between pads with a soft cotton cloth. You can see the progress in the shine as you go through the photos. I worked some Before & After Restoration Balm into the briar with my fingertips to clean, enliven and protect it. I find that the balm really makes the briar come alive again. The contrasts in the layers of stain really made the grain stand out. I let the balm sit for a little while and then buffed with a cotton cloth to raise the shine. The pipe really looks good at this point. I am very happy with the way the pipe is looking at this point in the process.  You can see the size of the bowl in comparison to the jar of Restoration Balm – this is a big pipe! I set the bowl aside and turned my attention to the stem. It was interesting as I examined the stem before polishing out the tooth chatter I could see that I was correct in reversing the stem. What was the top in the before photos was flat and should have been on the underside. The underside was crowned and should have been on the topside. It was clear that it had been reversed. Now I knew how it went. I polished out the tooth chatter on the stem with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding it with 1500-12000 grit pads. I wiped it down with a damp cloth after each pad to remove the sanding debris. I polished it further with Before & After Pipe Stem Polish – both fine and extra fine. I hand buffed it with a cloth. I gave it a coat of Briarville’s No Oxy Oil even though it does not work as well on acrylic as it does on the vulcanite it was designed for. It works to give a top coat to protect and preserve the newly cleaned and polished stem. 

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