Blog by Steve Laug
Jeff and I picked up this older BBB Cased Billiard in a group of pipes we purchased not too long ago. It is quite unique. I have worked on a lot of BBB pipes over the years as they are one of my favourite brands and I have quite a few in my collection. This one is a bit different in that it has very little that gives a clue to its age. It is a nice briar with a silver band that is stamped with BBB in the Diamond and Sterling Silver. There were no hallmarks on the band to pin down a date. It is stamped on the inside of the case with the BBB Diamond logo. The left side of the shank itself is stamped with the BBB Diamond logo. The stem in golden Ambroid and has a bone tenon that screws into the briar shank. It came in a worn black leather covered case lined with black chamois. The case has a brass clasp on the front and brass hinges on the back. It was obviously custom made for this pipe.Jeff opened the case and this was what the pipe that was inside looked like. It was a nice looking classic billiard that is for sure but it was also very dirty. The bowl and shank were a rich medium brown that was very dirty. The stem was golden Ambroid material. The exterior of the bowl was very dirty and had tars and oils ground into the finish and sticky spots on the finish. There was a chip missing on the outer edge at the back of the bowl. The rim top was a mess with lava overflowing out of the thick cake in the bowl. I am sure once it was out of the case it would become clear how dirty it really was.Jeff took it out of the case to have a better look at the condition of the pipe. It was a very classic billiard with a silver band and golden stem. It looked like it would cleanup really well and look great when finished. The finish on the briar bowl looked like it would be great once it was clean. He took some close-up photos of the bowl and rim top. There was a thick cake in the bowl that was hard and uneven. The lava overflowed over the rim top but it looked like the inner edge of the bowl was in good condition. The outer edge had some large nicks and gouges – chunks of briar missing on the back edge. Jeff took photos of the sides of the bowl and heel to show the grain and condition of the finish around the bowl. The pipe has some great grain around the sides. In terms of stamping the only identifying marks on the pipe were the gold BBB Diamond logo on the inside of the case lid, the same stamped on the left side of the shank and again on the silver band. Jeff captured those marks in the next set of photos. The logo on the inside lid of the case was worn and but still readable. Jeff took photos of the stamping on the left side of the shank and the band. He took photos of the stem off the shank/base. The stem has a threaded bone tenon that was filthy with oils and tars. The internals of the pipe were very dirty.Jeff took photos of the stem to show the general condition of the stem shape. The Ambroid stem is well gnawed on both sides around the button. The first photo shows the profile of the straight narrow stem. He took photos of the top and underside of the stem to show the damage and bite marks on both sides up the stem from the button.In 2009 Briar Books Press published a reprint of the 1912 BBB Catalogue No.XX from Adolph Frankau & Co, Ltd.London, E.C. I purchased a copy of the book when it came out and enjoyed reading through it and dreaming about the various pipes that were pictured there. I remembered that there was a section of pipes in the catalogue –Section E called pipes in Cases and it had individually cased pipes with Ambroid stems. I turned to that section in the catalogue and read through the various descriptions and looked at the pictures and sure enough I found this pipe. The only variation was that the one in the drawing had hallmarks on the silver but the rest was identical including the case and stamping on the lid. The top pipe on the right side of the page photo below looks like the one that I am working on.It is described in the title of the page a Best Ambroid Briars Silver Mounted in Cases and available in a variety of sizes. Now I knew the pipe I was working on and that there was at least some variation of it available in the 1912 BBB Catalogue.
It was time to work on it now and do my part of the restoration. I took the leather case from the box that Jeff had shipped to me and brought it to the work table. I opened it up and took photos of the case and the pipe in the case before taking it out and examining it thoroughly to see what I needed to do. You can see the definite similarity between this pipe and the on in the drawing on the top right of the photo above.The pipe looked very clean. The bowl had been reamed back with a PipNet reamer and cleaned up with a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife. The internals of the shank and stem had been cleaned with alcohol, cotton swabs and pipe cleaners. The exterior of the bowl had been scrubbed with a tooth brush and undiluted Murphy’s Oil Soap. The silver band had been cleaned and the tarnish removed. The stem was clean and the damage to the Ambroid was very visible and ready to repair. Jeff had done his usual great job on the clean up. I took photos of the pipe before I started my part of the work. I took some close up photos of the bowl and rim top as well as the stem to show the areas that I would need to address. You can see the that the bowl and rim are very clean. The inner edge of the rim has some damage as do the top and outer edge. There is general darkening to the rim top and scratches and nicks on the surface. The stem is also very clean and the gouges on the top and underside near the button are visible and ready for repair.I took a photo of the stamping on the left side of the shank. I also wanted to show that the band had turned on the shank so that the BBB Diamond was now on the topside so I took a second photo to capture that. I would need to realign the band and glue it in place.I unscrewed the stem from the shank and took photos of the parts. The bone tenon that connects the stem to the shank is visible.I decided to begin my part of the restoration by addressing the issues with the rim top and edges. I topped the bowl with 220 grit sandpaper on the topping board to smooth out the damage on the rim top and the immediate damage on the inner and outer edges. Once I had it smooth I used clear super glue and briar dust to repair the deep gouges in the back outer edge of the bowl. I took a photo of the rim top at this point to show how good the inner edge and top looked. You can also see the repair on the back outer edge of the bowl that still needs to be sanded. I sanded the repair with a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper to blend it into the surrounding briar and then took a photo of the bowl looking down at the edges. I am happy with the state of the rim and edges at this point in the process. I removed the band from the shank before moving on to polish the briar with micromesh sanding pads. I sanded the old glue off the shank to make it smooth for the refit. I polished the bowl, rim and shank with 1500-12000 grit micromesh pads wiping it down between pads with a damp cloth. The way in which the rim top colour was blending in with the rest of the briar was perfect and would not need to be stained. I worked some Before & After Restoration Balm into the briar with my fingertips to clean, enliven and preserve the briar. I find that it adds a depth to the polish that I really have come to appreciate. All that remains at this point is to wax and polish the bowl. The bowl looked very good at this point. I was able to preserve the old patina and through polishing blend the rim top into the rest of the finish. It was time to put the band back in place. I used a dental spatula to apply all-purpose white glue to the shank and aligned the band and pressed it in place. I wanted the BBB Diamonds on the shank and band to match as I had seen in photos on line. I wiped away the excess glue with a damp cotton pad.I set the bowl aside and turned to address the issues with the stem. I used a clear CA glue to fill in the deep tooth marks on both sides of the stem and to rebuild the button. I had to layer the glue and let it harden between applications to get a smooth fill on the stem.Once the repairs had cured I used a needle file to cut the sharp edge of the button and to smooth out the repairs.I smoothed out the repairs with a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper. I started the polishing with a folded piece of 400 grit wet dry sandpaper.I polished the stem with micromesh sanding pads – dry sanding with 1500-12000 grit sanding pads. I wiped it down after each sanding pad with a cloth containing some Obsidian Oil. I finished polishing it with Before & After Pipe Stem Polish – both Fine and Extra Fine and buffed it off with a cotton cloth. I put the bowl and stem back together and carefully buffed the pipe with Blue Diamond polish on the buffing wheel. I gave the bowl and stem multiple coats of Carnauba wax on the buffing wheel and buffed it with a clean buffing pad. I hand buffed the entirety of the pipe with a microfiber cloth. The pipe was alive now and looked great to me. The patina of the older BBB shines through and the repaired Ambroid stem – though far from it pristine beginnings – looks very good. This pipe is well balanced feels great in my hand. The finished pipe is shown in the photos below. The dimensions of the pipe are Length: 6 inches, Height: 1 ¾ inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 ¼ inches, Chamber diameter: ¾ of an inch. This older BBB Best Ambroid Cased Briar pipe is a beauty and the Ambroid Stem, Sterling Silver Band and old patina briar look stunning together. It is an old BBB pipe so of course it is one that will be staying in my BBB collection. It will be a great addition to my collection of that classic English Brand. Thanks for reading this blog and my reflections on the pipe while I worked on it.