Blog by Steve Laug
Over the years I have owned and worked on quite a few Custom-Bilt pipes from the hands of Tracy Mincer and also the various iterations that followed his demise – Wally Frank, Holco Rohr to mention a few. The stamping on this particular pipe identifies it to the Wally Frank Period. There is just something about the brand and the large rustic carving of the pipe that captures a lot of people’s imagination. This particular Custombilt is what I would call a Bent Scoop. It has a taper stem and is quite chunky. It is stamped both on the left and right side of the shank. On the left side it is stamped with the Custombilt over Imported Briar. On the right side it is stamped with the letter R in a circle. It was dirty and the fills in the briar really stood out with the finish as dull and lifeless as it was. There was a moderated cake in the bowl and a lava coat on the rim top and the inner edge. The pipe had a rich medium brown stain that highlighted nice grain on the bowl sides under the grime and the finish appeared to be in good condition. A lot would be revealed once Jeff had worked his magic on it. The vulcanite taper stem was in good condition with some oxidation and light tooth chatter and marks on both sides ahead of the button and on the button surface itself. Jeff took photos of the pipe before he started his cleanup work. Jeff captured the condition of the bowl and rim top with the next series of photos. You can see the work that is ahead of us in terms of the lava and grime on the rim and the cake in the bowl. The rustication patterns around the sides of the bowl and the contrasting smooth areas look very “Mincerlike”. Jeff took some photos showing what is underneath the grime and debris of time and use. He captured the stamping on the sides of the. The Custombilt stamp is faint but readable. The Imported Briar stamp is clear and the R circle stamp on the right side is also readable.The photos of the stem show the stem surface. It is dirty and has pitting, light tooth marks and chatter on both sides ahead of the button.I turned to Pipedia to the specific section on Custombilt pipes to try and establish a time frame for this pipe (https://pipedia.org/wiki/Custom-Bilt). I did a screen capture of the section showing the style of stamp that the pipe I have on the table. From that information I knew that the pipe I had was made during the Wally Frank years of Custombilt history. I quote a pertinent portion of the article on this particular era of the history
…In the early 1970s, Wally Frank Co. bought the Custombilt trademark and began to produce their version of the pipe in 1974 or 1975. Hollco Rohr owned the Weber pipe factory, located in New Jersey, and produced the Custombilt pipes there. In 1987, the pipes were made out of the Butz-Choquin factory (France) and then Mexico until the late 1990s.
So it appears that this pipe was made in the early 1970s and before Wally Frank sold the company in 1974 or 1975. So at least I have narrowed down the time period to a few years between 1970-1975.
Now it was time to work on the pipe itself. Jeff had cleaned the pipe with his usual penchant for thoroughness that I really appreciate. He reamed the bowl with a PipNet Pipe reamer and took the cake back to bare briar. He cleaned up the bowl walls 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 beveled rim top. The finish looks very good with good looking grain around the bowl and shank. Jeff scrubbed the stem with Soft Scrub and then soaked it in Before & After Deoxidizer to remove the oxidation on the rubber. When the pipe arrived here in Vancouver for the second stop of its restoration tour it looked very good. I took photos before I started my part of the work. I took some photos of the rim top and stem. Once Jeff removed the lava on the top and inside of the rim top all that remained was a little darkening that should be able to be polished off. Both the inner and the outer edge of the bowl look good. The close up photos of the stem shows that is it very clean and there is some tooth chatter and marks on the button surface and just ahead of the button.I took the stem off the shank and took a picture of the pipe. It really is nice looking pipe with rugged rustication. After the clean up the fills blended back into the surface of the briar.I was happy with the way the rim top and edges looked so I did not need to do anymore except to polish them. I polished the briar with micromesh sanding pads – dry sanding with 1500-12000 grit pads. I wiped the bowl down after each pad with a damp cloth. The grain really began to stand out and the finish took on a shine by the last sanding pad. The photos tell the story! I worked some Before & After Restoration Balm into the surface of the briar with my fingertips. The product works to clean, enliven and protect the briar. I let the balm sit for about ten minutes and then buffed with a cotton cloth to raise the shine. The photos show the bowl at this point in the restoration process. I set the bowl aside at this point and turned my attention to the stem. I filled in the tooth marks on the button edge and along the edge on both sides with clear super glue. Once the repair cured I blended it into the surface of the stem with 220 grit sandpaper and started the polishing with 400 grit wet dry sandpaper. I continued the polishing using Denicare Mouthpiece polish. It is a red gritty paste that feels a lot like Tripoli to me. It works very well to polish out remnants of oxidation and smooth out fine scratches in the rubber stem.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. This Custombilt from the earlier 70s is a handful just like all Custombilts or Custom-Bilt pipes that I have worked on. It is a big piece of briar that has great grain on the rim top. The shaping and carving is interestingly done and minimizes the flaws in the briar. The finish on the pipe is in excellent condition and the contrasting stains work well to highlight the stunning grain on the pipe. The black vulcanite saddle stem just adds to the mix. With the grime and debris gone from the finish and the bowl it was a beauty and the grain just pops at this point. I put the stem back on the bowl and buffed the pipe with Blue Diamond on the buffing wheel. I carefully avoided the stamping on the shank and stem during the process. I gave the bowl and the stem multiple coats of carnauba wax on the buffing wheel (lightly in the rustications) and followed that by buffing it with a clean buffing pad on the buffer. I hand buffed the pipe with a microfiber cloth to deepen the shine. The finished Bent Pot is quite nice and has the instantly recognizable look of a Custombilt. The finish on the bowl combines various stains to give it depth. It is very well done. Give the finished pipe a look in the photos below. I can only tell you that it is much prettier in person than the photos capture. The dimensions of the pipe are Length: 6 inches, Height: 1 ¾ inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 2 inches, Chamber diameter: 7/8 of an inch. Thanks for walking through the restoration with me as I worked over another interesting pipe. This pipe will be added to the rebornpipes store soon. If you want to add it to your collection send me an email or a message! Thanks for your time.