Refurbishing A Preben Holm # 3 Freehand Pipe

Blog by Paresh Deshpande

The first ever Preben Holm in my collection was from eBay about two years back. It came to me with a broken stem and tenon stuck in to the mortise. This pipe received a new lease on life in the month of May last year when Steve, Jeff and Dal Stanton visited me here in India. I learned the process of tenon replacement along with many other tips and processes in pipe restoration. Here is the link to the informative write up by Steve on this pipe;

The second Preben Holm in my collection came from my Mumbai Bonanza, which I really enjoyed working on; ( .

The Preben Holm, currently on my work table, came to me from a seller on eBay along with another Preben Holm. Both these pipes had some serious stem issues which really kept other buyers away from placing their bids and lucky me, I got both these pipes for a really good price. Even though both pipes came to me together, I shall be working on them separately since they each have different set of issues involved.

The first PH that I selected to work on is a beautiful freehand with some great flame grains all around the stummel and shank and bird’s eye at the foot of the stummel. The shank end has a nice large outward flare with a flattened lower edge, akin to a large whale tail fin. The rim top is a nice plateau with the shank end flare showing minor plateau along the upper outer edge, similar to the scars on a tail fin of a whale that has seen a few skirmishes in its lifetime. Here are the pictures of the pipe as it sits on my work table.   The pipe is stamped on the bottom of the flared shank end as “PREBEN HOLM” in block capital letters over “Hand Cut” in a cursive artistic hand over “COPENHAGEN” over “DENMARK”, all in block capitals. The left side of the shank bears the encircled numeral “3”. All the stampings are crisp and easily readable. The fancy vulcanite stem is devoid of any stampings.There is a lot of interesting information on the carver, Preben Holm, on (,_Preben) which makes for an interesting read, however, as before when I had worked on a PH from my Mumbai Bonanza, I still could not find any information on dating this particular piece of briar and also the significance of the # 3!!   I had made a humble appeal to all the readers then and making one again, to please share any information on this system of numbering followed by Preben Holm and also method of dating PH pipes.

Initial Visual Inspection
I am making a slight deviation from my usual process that I follow for my write ups in that, in this case, I shall first address an issue that I was aware of from the description given by the seller and thereafter continue with my initial inspection. The seller had advertised that the stem was stuck in to the pipe (mortise) and would not budge. True enough, when the pipe arrived, the stem was firmly stuck in to the mortise and no amount of twists and turns loosened the seating of the stem. I did not wrestle too hard with it as I did not want to have another broken tenon on my hands. I chucked the complete pipe in to the freezer and let it sit for 3-4 hours. Once I removed the pipe from the freezer, I heated the shank a little with my heat gun and gave it a gentle twist and the stem came out intact quite easily. I was very pleased with this progress. I sincerely apologize for not taking any pictures of this process. Now that the stem has been separated from the mortise, I proceed to complete my initial inspection.

The chamber has a thick layer of dry and hard cake with heavy overflow of lava on to the platue rim top surface. The slightly outward flared inner rim edge is covered in oils and tars, but there are no apparent signs of charring. The condition of the inner walls of the chamber can be checked and ascertained only after the cake has been taken down to the bare briar. The stummel boasts of beautiful flame grains all around and extends over the shank surface too!! The surface is relatively clean and without any fills save for a few scratches that could have been caused during routine use. The flared end of the shank is clean with the partial plateau top edge showing accumulated dust and dirt which should be a breeze to clean. The foot of the stummel shows beautiful bird’s eye grains and is sans any damage. Overall, the stummel presents a well cared for pipe. The mortise is clogged with accumulated oils and tars. That the draw is not as smooth and full was expected, given that the stem was firmly stuck in. With a through leaning, this issue should be resolved.The fancy vulcanite stem is where maximum damage is seen on this pipe. It is heavily oxidized and is peppered with deep tooth chatter/ indentations on either surface of the stem. The lower button edge has a bite through and will need to be repaired. The horizontal slot end of the stem is heavily oxidized to a dark brown coloration while the tenon end is covered in dried oils and tars. The button edges on either surface have worn down and will need to be sharpened. The fancy stem, though looks beautiful when black and shiny, is a bear to clean with all the dips and narrow gaps between the beads and rings etc.The Process
I began the process of refurbishing this pipe with cleaning the internals of the stem using pipe cleaners with isopropyl alcohol (99.9% pure) and dunking the stem in to “Before and After Deoxidizer” solution developed by my friend Mark Hoover. The solution helps to draw out heavy oxidation to the surface making its further removal a breeze, while the minor oxidation is eliminated to a very great extent. I usually dunk stems of 5-7 pipes that are in-line for restoration and this pipe is marked in pastel pink arrow. I generally allow the stems to soak in this solution overnight for the solution to do its work.With the stem soaking in the deoxidizer solution, I worked the stummel starting with reaming the chamber with a Castleford reamer tool, using the second, third and fourth head of the tool. Using my fabricated knife; I further take the cake down to the bare briar. With a 150 grit sand paper, the walls of the chamber were rid of all the remnants of the cake, revealing smooth and solid chamber walls. I further wiped the chamber with a cotton swab wetted with isopropyl alcohol to completely remove the sanding dust. Next, I tried cleaning the mortise with hard bristled and regular pipe cleaners dipped in isopropyl alcohol. However, the pipe cleaners would not pass through the draught hole and in to the chamber. I used my fabricated tool, a simple straightened cloth hanger, and pried clear the chunk of dried gunk. This was followed by cleaning the shank internals with pipe cleaners and isopropyl alcohol. I further scrapped out the entire moistened gunk with a dental tool. The shank internals cleaned up nicely with a smooth and full draw.I scrubbed the external surface of the bowl with undiluted Murphy’s oil soap and hard bristled tooth brush and dried it using paper towels and soft cotton cloth. I deliberately cleaned the plateau rim top to clean the entire lava overflow from the surface. The entire stummel cleaned up nicely. I set the stummel aside to dry out naturally. Staying with the stummel restoration, I polished the stummel with micromesh pads, wet sanding with 1500 to 12000 pads. I polished the raised surfaces on the plateau rim top surface. 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. However, I am not very happy with the way the rim top appears at this stage. No amount of wiping with a moist cloth could address this issue. If I wash it again with Murphy’s oil soap, it will be like going back to square one!! I would request all the esteemed readers to suggest remedial methods to this issue and help me learn. I rubbed a small quantity of “Before and After Restoration Balm” in to briar. I rubbed this balm deep in to the nooks and crannies of the plateau rim top surface with my fingers and let it rest for a few minutes. The balm almost immediately works its magic and the briar now has a nice vibrant appearance with the dark brown hues of the grain contrasting with the rest of the stummel surface. I further buff it with a horse hair shoe brush. The rim top has now taken on dark hues which is an eye sore at this stage. As mentioned in the write up on refurbishing S & R, Donegal Rocky # 999 and Countryman, I had worked on all the stems that had been soaking in the deoxidizer solution overnight. I fished out all the stems and cleaned them under running warm water and scrubbed the raised oxidation from the stem surface using Scotch Brite pad. I further removed the oxidation by scrubbing the stems with 0000 grade steel wool and applied a little olive oil to rehydrate the stems and set them aside for the oil to be absorbed. Unfortunately, I did not click any pictures of these stems at this stage.

This is how the stem of this pipe came out after the stem cleaning described above. Deep tooth indentations are visible at the base of upper and lower button edges with heavy tooth chatter visible in the bite zone on the lower surface. Complete oxidation was removed on this stem by the process described above.

I painted both surfaces of the stem with the flame of a lighter to raise the tooth indentations to the surface. This also helps in loosening minor oxidation from the stem surface. I sand the entire stem surface with a folded piece of a 220 grit sand paper to even out the raised tooth chatter and the tooth indentations to a degree and also to remove the loosened oxidation. I wiped the stem with a cotton swab and Murphy’s oil soap to further remove the oxidation. Even though the most of the tooth chatter has been addressed by heating the damaged stem portion with the flame of a lighter, couple of deeper indentations and bite marks/ deformation to the button edges is still visible on both upper and lower surface in the bite zone. At this stage in stem repairs, I now had a clear idea as to the extent of the through hole in the bottom surface of the stem. I also realized that the surrounding stem surface around the hole has thinned out and is brittle. However, I am happy with the way this stem appears at this stage and also with the deoxidizer solution. I filled the tooth indentation in the button edge on both lower and upper stem surfaces with a mix of activated charcoal and CA superglue and set it aside for the fill to cure. Once the fill had cured sufficiently, with flat needle file I sanded the fills to match with rest of the stem surface. With the same file, I sharpened the button edge on both the upper and lower surface. I fine tuned the blending of the fill with the rest of the stem surface using a 220 grit sand paper and also sanded down the entire stem to remove the stubborn residual oxidation. I further sand the stem with 600 and 800 grit sand paper and wiped the stem with cotton pad dipped in alcohol to remove the resultant dust. I rubbed some extra virgin olive oil in to the stem and set it aside to be absorbed in to stem. I polished the stem with micromesh pads, wet sanding with 1500 to 12000 grit pads. I rubbed a little extra virgin olive oil in to the stem at the end of the micromesh pads polishing cycle. I completed the polishing regime of the stem by rubbing a small quantity of Paragon wax and giving it a final polish with a soft cotton cloth. The stem is now nice, smooth and shiny.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 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 to the stummel and stem and continued to work on it till the complete coat of wax had been polished out. I mount a clean cotton cloth buffing wheel and gave 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 deepen the shine further. The finished pipe is shown below. P.S. – This was an indeed an easy restoration. The issue of the stem being stuck inside the mortise had driven bidders away from this beautiful pipe and it proved to be my gain. I am really fortunate to be in the process of learning the nuances of pipe restoration and cannot thank Steve enough for his support and guidance.

I wish to request all the experienced readers to shed some light on the numbering system followed on Preben Holm pipes and also on dating these pipes for the larger good of our fraternity.

Thanks for your patience and looking forward to input about the write up. Cheers…

3 thoughts on “Refurbishing A Preben Holm # 3 Freehand Pipe

  1. Pingback: My First Ever Tenon Replacement and it’s on a Preben Holm # 7 Freehand Pickaxe Pipe!! | rebornpipes

    1. Paresh

      Hi Sir,
      Thank you for your encouraging words and clarification on the grading system adopted for PH pipes during the period 1968 to 1970.
      The link to the read provided by you, unfortunately couldn’t open today. Will definitely try again.


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