Cleaning up a Willmer Straight Grain AAA Standard Cup and Saucer


Blog by Steve Laug

The next pipe on the table is a shape I would call a cup and saucer or at least Willmer’s take on this shape. The pipe is stamped on the left side of the shank Willmer in script over Straight Grain over AAA over Standard. On the right side of the shank it is stamped Made in England. It is a bent cup and saucer shaped smooth briar with vulcanite saddle stem. The pipe was dusty and dull looking but had great grain around the bowl and rim. The rim top is smooth and there was some darkening and damage to the inner edge of the bowl. There was a thick cake in the bowl. The finish was in great condition under grime ground into the sides and shank. The saddle vulcanite stem was oxidized and had light tooth marks and chatter on both sides near the button. Jeff took the following photos before he started his cleanup work on the pipe. He took close-up photos of the bowl and rim top from various angles to capture the condition of the rim top and edges of the bowl. There was a little darkening around the inner edge and heavier along the back edge of the bowl. There are some scratches on the top and outer edge of the bowl as well. You can also see the cake in the bowl.He took photos of the sides and heel of the bowl to show the condition of the finish and the grain around the bowl. The pipe has some stellar grain around the bowl and shank and the carver maximized the lay of the grain with the shape of the pipe. Jeff took photos of the stamping on the sides of the shank. It reads as noted above and is clear and readable.  He also took a photo of the Willmer “W” on the left side of the stem. The next photos show the top and underside of the stem. You can see the light tooth marks right next to the button edge.I turned to Pipephil to get a quick review of the Willmer Company as it had been a long time since I had worked on one (http://www.pipephil.eu/logos/en/logo-w3.html). I quote the side bar from the site bellow.

Willmer is a brand of H. Willmer & Son Ltd. The factory closed down about 2006-07 after more then 60 years activity and two generations of makers. Gradings until the 1980s (ascending): BA, A, AA, and AAA. After this date Willmer introduced the AAAA and AAAA PRESENTATION as top grades.

The pipe I was working on has a AAA stamping on it which if the pipe came from pre-1980s was the top of the line. If it was later pipe it close to the top of the line.I turned to Pipedia to get more information on the brand (https://pipedia.org/wiki/Willmer). The first paragraph dispelled of the belief that Willmer had been a carver for Charatan in his own words. I quote a portion of the article to give a sense of the history of the brand.

Willmer was founded in London. According to the website, which doesn’t exist anymore because the Willmer factory has been closed in 2006/07, the firm was in business “for more than 60 years” by 2003. Willmer was homed then in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, so not far from the Cadogan plant.

When Willmer first started, they definitely strived to compete with brands in the high-end market. Due to the excellent quality of the pipes Willmer was frequently asked to produce private label pipes for England’s best renowned pipe retailers. So many pipes are not easily recognized as Willmers for stamped under the name of the respective shop. Willmer’s own pipes were stamped “Willmer – Made in England” and showed a sweeping “W” in white or gold on top or left side of the stem. The earlier grading had AAA as top grade followed by AA, A, AB etc.

Sometime in the 1980’s, Willmer went through some major changes. The move to Essex was already mentioned above. They continued making highly respectable freehands – often copying some of the stunning Charatan shapes of days gone by. The grading was altered. What used to be an AAA now became the additional name “Presentation” and was stamped with AAAA. Funny enough, the forth A was often larger than the three before. The other grades were changed accordingly.

Now it was time to look at it up close and personal. Jeff had done his usual thorought job in removing all of the cake in the bowl and the lava on the rim top. He had reamed the bowl with a PipNet Pipe Reamer and cleaned up the remnants with a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife. He took the cake back to bare briar so we could check the walls for damage. He scrubbed the exterior of the bowl with Murphy’s Oil Soap and a tooth brush to remove the grime on the bowl and rim and was able to remove the lava and dirt. He cleaned out the interior of the bowl and shank with pipe cleaners, cotton swabs and alcohol until they came out clean. He cleaned the stem with Soft Scrub to remove the grime on the exterior and cleaned out the airway with alcohol, cotton swabs and pipe cleaners. I took photos of the pipe before I started my part of the work. To show the damage to the inner edge of the rim and the rim top I took a close-up photo. You can see it on the right inner edge and the back edge of the bowl. The vulcanite stem had some tooth marks on both sides and there was some oxidation remaining.I took a photo of the stamping on both sides of the shank. It clearly read what was noted above. The “W” stem on the left side of the saddle stem is also readable.I removed the stem from the bowl and took photos of the parts. It really is a great looking pipe.I started my part of the restoration by addressing the damage to the rim top and inner edge of the bowl. I topped the bowl on a topping board with 220 grit sandpaper. I worked over the inside edge of the bowl with a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper.I polished the newly topped rim and the rest of the bowl with 1500-12000 grit micromesh sanding pads. I wiped the bowl down with a damp cloth after each sanding pad to remove the dust and debris. I stained the rim with a Maple Stain Pen to blend the repaired and polished rim into the rest of the bowl.I rubbed the bowl and shank down with Before & After Restoration Balm to deep clean the finish on the bowl and shank. The product works to clean, enliven and protect the briar. I worked it in with my fingertips into finish on the bowl and shank. I let it sit for 10 minutes to let it do its magic. I buffed it with a soft cloth. The briar really began to have a rich shine. I took some photos of the bowl at this point to mark the progress in the restoration. The bowl was finished so I set it aside and turned my attention to the stem. To address the oxidation and the tooth marks on the stem surface I sanded it with 220 grit sandpaper to blend in the tooth marks and to break up the oxidation. I started the polishing with 400 grit wet dry sandpaper.I started polishing the stem with Denicare Mouthpiece Polish – a red gritty paste that feels a lot like Tripoli. I find that it works well to polish out some of the more surface scratches in the vulcanite left behind by the 400 grit wet dry sandpaper. I rub it into the stem surface with my fingertips and buff it off with a cotton pad.I touched up the “W” stamp on the stem with PaperMate Liquid Paper. I pressed it into the stamp in the vulcanite with a tooth pick. Once it dried I scraped off the excess fill with the tooth pick and with micromesh sanding pads.I polished the stem with micromesh sanding pads – dry sanding with 1500-12000 grit sanding pads. I wiped the stem 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 wiped it down with a final coat of Obsidian Oil and set it aside to dry. This is a unique pipe and it is the first one I have worked on like this. It is a beauty. I put the bowl and stem back together again and buffed the bowl and the stem with Blue Diamond on the buffing wheel. I gave the bowl and the stem several coats of carnauba wax. I carefully buffed the entire pipe with a clean buffing pad to raise the shine. I finished buffing with a microfiber cloth to deepen the shine. The finished pipe looks very good. The grain is quite beautiful a mix of straight and flame around the bowl sides and birdseye on the rim top and heel. The pipe feels great in the hand. It has an interesting shape that fits well in either the right or left hand. The finished Willmer Straight Grain AAA Standard is shown in the photos below. The dimensions of the pipe are Length: 6 ½ inches, Height: 2 inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 2 inches, Chamber diameter: ¾ of an inch. This great looking Willmer Cup and Saucer pipe turned out very well. It should be a great pipe. It will be going on the rebornpipes store shortly if you are interested in adding it to your collection. Thanks for reading this blog and my reflections on the pipe while I worked on it.

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