Rebirthing a Schoenleber Hand Made – #4 Opera Pipe

Blog by Steve Laug

The next pipe in the queue is another one that Alex dropped off for me to work on for him – another Schoenleber Hand Made. This one is a straight shank Opera pipe with an oval bowl and a mix of different grain around the sides and shank. Someone had given the dirty pipe a coat of varnish or shellac to give it a shine but in doing so put the coating over the grim on the rim and the bowl sides. The carver once again did a great job utilizing the block of briar to maximize the grain. The pipe is stamped on the left side of the shank and reads Schoenleber over Hand Made. On the right side of the shank it is stamped with a number 4 which is either a shape number or size designation. The taper stem is vulcanite and has a single small coral dot on the top side. I think that this will be another nice looking piece once it is cleaned up. The bowl is thickly caked with a thick overflow of lava on the rim top. The top and edges of the bowl are damaged and chipped and what was once a bevel has been almost ruined. The exterior of the briar was dirty with grime and dust. The stem has light tooth marks and chatter on both sides. It is lightly oxidized and dirty. I took photos of the pipe before my cleanup work They tell the story and give a glimpse of the promise that I see in this pipe. I took a photo of the rim top to show the thick cake in the bowl, the damage to the rim top and inner edge.  The stem was a very good fit to the shank. It was oxidized, calcified and had debris stuck to the surface of the vulcanite. It also shows the tooth marks on the stem and on the button surface.  I took photos of the sides of the shank to show the stamping. The stamping is faint but readable in the photos below and is as noted above – on the left side it reads Schoenleber Hand Made and on the right side it is stamped with the number 4 at the shank/bowl junction. The stem has a coral dot on the top of the taper.When I worked on a Schoenleber pipe for Alex in the past I had done the research on the brand. I knew that the pipe had been made for a shop in New Jersey but went back and reread the previous blog I had written on the brand. I have included the information from Pipedia that I included before. I quote the article in full (

Louis Schoenleber lived in North Arlington N.J. and was an Austrian immigrant and skilled artisan in pipe making. His hand carved pipes were available in his shop, ‘Schoenleber’s Newark Pipe Shop’, at 26 Branford Pl., Newark NJ, thought to open in the 1920’s. Schoenleber’s carried a full line of tobaccos as well as related pipe smoking accessories. It’s thought the shop operated until the late 1960’s, and Louis Schoenleber died in 1976. It’s also fairly certain they may have sold to other brands such as Jelling, also in Newark and are very similar in design and finish.

There was also an advertising card on the site that I have included below. It speaks to my assumptions about the curing process and the finishing process on the pipe. It also connects the pipe to Schoenleber’s Newark Pipe Shop in Newark, N.J. It also has a comment on the fact that pipes were made to order.I have to tell you I am spoiled with having Jeff do all the heavy clean up work on pipes. I almost forgot that on this one and started to work on the finish. I stopped myself when I realized I was working with a dirty pipe. I reamed the pipe with a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife because of the oval bowl. It is a difficult reaming because of that so it takes more time to take the cake back to bare briar.I wiped the bowl exterior down with alcohol on paper towels to remove the grime and then scrubbed the interior of the bowl shank and stem with pipe cleaners, cotton swabs and alcohol to remove the tars and oils.I turned my attention to the deep gouges on the heel of the bowl. I filled them in with clear super glue and when that repairs cured I sanded them smooth with 220 grit sandpaper and started polishing the areas with 400 grit wet dry sandpaper.I dealt with the damage to the rim top with a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper to clean up the damages and reshape the top and inner edge bevel. I forgot to take a photo of it after the clean up so I have included a photo from after I polished it with micromesh.I polished the briar with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-12000 grit pads. I worked over the rim top and edge of the bowl with the pads. I wiped the bowl down with a damp cloth after each pad to remove the sanding debris. I used a Maple Stain pen to touch up the area around the repair on the left side, heel and the inner edge of the rim.I worked some Before & After Restoration Balm into the surface of the briar with my fingertips to clean, enliven and protect it. I let the balm sit for a little while and then buffed with a cotton cloth to raise the shine. I set the bowl aside and turned my attention to the stem. I sanded it with 220 grit sandpaper to remove the oxidation and tooth chatter on both sides of the stem. I started the polishing of the surface with 400 grit wet dry sandpaper. I rubbed the stem down with Denicare Mouthpiece Polish – a red, gritty Tripoli like substance that is a paste. I rubbed it into the surface of the stem and polished it off with a cotton pad. I have found that is a great intermediary step before polishing with micromesh pads. I am not sure what I will use once the final tin I have is gone! I polished the vulcanite with micromesh sanding pads – 1500-12000 grit pads. I wiped it down with Obsidian Oil after each sanding pad. I used Before & After Pipe Polish – both Fine and Extra Fine to further polish the stem.   With both parts of the Schoenleber Opera Pipe finished, I polished the bowl and the stem with Blue Diamond polish on the buffing wheel. I gave the bowl and the stem multiple coats of carnauba wax. I buffed the pipe with a clean buffing pad to raise the shine. I hand buffed it with a microfiber cloth to deepen the shine. The pipe polished up pretty nicely. The rich oil cured finish and the grain came alive with the buffing. The finish on the briar works well with the polished black vulcanite stem. The finished pipe is a well-proportioned, nicely grained Schoenleber Opera. Have a look at it with the photos below. The dimensions are Length: 5 ¼ inches, Height: 1 ½ inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 inch wide x 1 ¼ inches, Chamber diameter: 5/8 of an inch wide x 1inch long. This Schoenleber Hand Made Straight Opera will be going back to Alex shortly. I cannot wait to hear what he thinks of it. Thanks for walking through the restoration with me on this older American Made pipe.

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