Blog by Paresh Deshpande
I love my classic shaped pipes and one such pipe from my inheritance is now on my work table. It’s a classic saddle stem Billiard with a deep scraggy sandblasted stummel. The moment I picked it up, I thought this could be a Barling’s “Fossil” or some English brand. However, when I saw the stampings, it was not English but a US brand. The sandblast, quality of the stem and the briar all oozed quality.
The pipe is a classic Billiard shaped sitter with deep craggy sandblast that feels tactile in the hand. It’s medium sized with a very light weight. This pipe is stamped on the bottom smooth surface of the shank with shape code # 75 at the foot followed by “WALLY FRANK LTD” over “BLACKTHORNE” in block capital letters. The stampings appear faint due to accumulation of dirt and grime over the surface. The high quality vulcanite saddle stem is sans any stampings. I had read about Wally Frank while researching a Wally Frank era Custombilt sitter pipe about 2 years back and had a faint recollection of Wally Frank being an old Tobacconist from around New York City in US who also sold English made pipes under his name. To chronicle specific and detailed information about the brand, I first turned to Reborn pipes, which happens to be my first go to site whenever I need information on any pipe maker or brand. Sure enough, there was detailed information on the brand and a shape chart to boot!! Here is the link to the write up…. https://rebornpipes.com/2019/07/27/i-just-had-to-work-on-this-one-next-a-wally-frank-ltd-liverpool/
I visited pipedia.org to get the shape chart, pictures and other relevant information pertaining to the pipe on my work table.
Wally Frank, Ltd. was one of America’s oldest and most respected names in pipes and tobaccos, beginning in the early 1930’s. Wally Frank operated a chain of tobacco stores in New York City (the flagship store was in Lexington Avenue) and had a vast catalog business for pipes and pipe tobaccos. Their numerous private-label pipes were made by many makers, including Charatan, Sasieni, Weber, and many others. Wally Frank, Ltd. also owned the Pioneer brand of meerschaum pipes, made from both Turkish and African meerschaum. In addition to importing pipes, he had many pipes made in his own name and also employed pipemakers like Peter Stokkebye, Svend Bang, and Ed Burak (who later became the owner of Connoisseur). As a result, each Wally Frank pipe must be individually evaluated on its own merit.
Here are two sample pictures of BLACKTHORNE pipes from Wally Frank that I got from pipedia.org which were uploaded by Doug Valitchka. Also shown below is the shape chart that Steve had referred to in his above write up. I have marked the pipe on my work table in red on this chart. The shape chart is from the 1943 catalogue! The shape code # 75 as described in the chart is MILITARY “SADDLE BIT” which corresponds to my pipe. With the provenance of the pipe now established and I move ahead with my initial visual inspection.
Initial Visual Inspection
The deeply sandblasted saddle stem sitter is covered in dirt, dust and grime. There is a decent layer of cake in the chamber and the flow of air through the mortise is not very smooth and full. The saddle stem is heavily oxidized and the bite zone is peppered with deep bite marks and minor tooth chatter on both the surfaces. Here is how the pipe appears as it sits on my work table. Detailed Inspection Of The Pipe And Observations
The bowl is nicely rounded and wide at the rim with a depth of about 2 inches. The chamber has an even layer of medium cake. The sandblasted rim top surface is covered in lava overflow and dirt and grime from previous usage and subsequent storage. The inner and outer rim is in pristine condition. The condition of the inner walls of the chamber can be commented upon after the cake has been taken down to the bare briar. The chamber has very strong smells from the old tobaccos. The draught hole is dead center and at the bottom of the chamber and that makes me believe that it should smoke smooth. The stummel all around appears solid to the touch and hence I do not foresee any serious damage to the walls in the form of burnout/ deep heat fissures/ lines or pits. I may have to resort to the salt and alcohol treatment of the chamber if the ghost smells are not reduced after the cake has been removed and the shank internals are thoroughly cleaned. As is commonly seen on rusticated or sandblasted pipes with some serious age on them, the crevices in such sandblasted surfaces are always filled with dust, dirt, oils, tars and grime from all the years of smoking and storage. This one is no exception to this observation. The grooves of the deep craggy sandblast are filled with dust while the smooth bottom shank which bears the stamping is covered in dust and grime. The fact that the grooved patterns are dusty and filled with dirt is accentuated more due to the brown and black hues on the stummel and the shank. The briar is looking lifeless and bone dry and has taken on dirty grey hues. I need to be careful while cleaning the shank bottom surface to preserve the stampings on this pipe. Thorough cleaning and rising under warm water of the stummel surface should highlight the grain patterns, depth and cragginess of the sandblast. The mortise shows accumulation of oils, tars and gunk and the air flow is not full and smooth. The high quality straight vulcanite saddle stem is so heavily oxidized that it appears brownish green in color! Some minor tooth chatter and deep bite marks are seen on both surfaces of the stem. This issue should not be a major headache to address. The lip edge on both sides has bite marks and would need to be reconstructed and reshaped. The tenon has accumulated ash and oils/ tars that have dried out on the inside as well as on the outside. The horizontal slot has calcium deposits which will have to be cleaned. The tooth chatter and the bite marks will be raised to the surface by heating and the deeper tooth indentations will be filled using charcoal and CA superglue mix. THE PROCESS
I started the restoration of this pipe by first cleaning the internals of the stem with bristled pipe cleaners and 99.9% pure isopropyl alcohol. I scraped out the dried oils and tars from the tenon end with my fabricated knife and also removed the calcified deposits from the slot end. I followed it up by sanding the entire stem with a folded piece of 220 grit sand paper to remove the surface oxidation. It has been our (Abha, my wife and self) experience that sanding a stem before dunking it in to the deoxidizer solution helps in bringing the deep seated oxidation to the surface which in turn make further cleaning a breeze with fantastic result.I dropped 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. The initial sanding helps to draw out the complete oxidation as the sanding opens up the stem surface that has been initially covered with oxidation. I usually dunk stems of 4-5 pipes that are in-line for restoration and this pipe is marked in green arrow. I generally allow the stems to soak in this solution overnight to do its work. While the stem was soaking in the deoxidizer solution, I worked on the stummel by first reaming the chamber with size 1, 2 and 3 Castleford reamer heads. I further scraped the chamber walls with my fabricated knife to remove the remaining carbon deposits. Once the cake was reamed back to the bare briar, I used a 150 grit sand paper followed by 220 grit sand paper to remove all the traces of remaining cake and also to smoothen out the inner walls of the chamber surface. Finally, to remove the residual carbon dust, I wiped the chamber with a cotton pad wetted with 99.9% pure isopropyl alcohol. The chamber walls are sans any damage, though a single minor superficial vertical heat line to the front and back of the stummel is seen. I may resort to coating the bowl with a mix of charcoal and yogurt to further protect the walls. The smells from the chamber are still very strong. I will have to resort to salt and alcohol treatment to get rid of the ghost smells. This was followed by cleaning the mortise with cue tips, pipe cleaners and shank brush dipped in isopropyl alcohol. I scraped the walls of the mortise with my fabricated knife to remove the dried oils and tars. The heap of gunk scraped out and the number of pipe cleaners and q-tips tell the sordid saga of the condition of the shank internals. Though this further eliminated trace of old smells from previous usage, however, I must admit that I was still not very happy with the internal cleaning of the stummel and shank. The old smell was still very prevalent and called for more invasive methods to completely eliminate it. To completely eliminate the smell, I decided to resort to salt and alcohol bath. I packed the chamber, just below the rim, with cotton balls. I stretched a cotton ball into a thick wick, tapering at one end and wound it around a folded pipe cleaner. I inserted it in to the shank and pushed it as far inside as I could so that the tip of the pipe cleaner came out through the draught hole and in to the chamber. I topped the bowl with isopropyl alcohol using an ink dropper. I know that it is generally a practice to use Kosher salt for this procedure, but since Kosher salt is not easily available here, and when available, it’s very expensive, I use cotton balls. I find that cotton balls work just fine in drawing out all the tars and smells from the mortise and the bowl. I topped the bowl with alcohol again after 20 minutes when the alcohol level had gone down and set it aside overnight for the soak to do its intended job. The next day, the cotton and alcohol had turned a dirty brown. I removed the cotton balls and ran pipe cleaners through the mortise to clean out all the loosened tars and gunk. I set the stummel aside to dry out all the alcohol from the walls of the chamber. The internals of the stummel is now clean and fresh. While the chamber was soaking overnight in the salt and alcohol bath, the next morning, Abha removed the stems that had been soaking in the deoxidizer solution overnight. She cleaned the stem and the stem airway under running warm water and scrubbed the raised oxidation from the stem surface using a Scotch Brite pad and the airway with a thin shank brush. She further removed the oxidation by scrubbing the stem with 0000 grade steel wool and applied a little EVO to rehydrate the stem. This now gives a clearer picture of the extent of depth of the bite marks as can be seen in the pictures below. These will definitely require a fill. The oxidation is deep and stubborn and can be seen over the stem surface as dirty green coloration. I need to further sand the stem to completely remove the oxidation.I used a 220 grit sand paper to sand the stem and remove all the oxidation that was raised to the surface. This step further reduced the tooth chatter and bite marks present on the stem. I wiped the stem with Murphy’s Oil soap on a cotton swab. This helps in cleaning the stem surface while removing the loosened oxidation. Using a lighter, I flamed the surface of the stem. This helped in raising some of the tooth chatter and bite marks to the surface as vulcanite has a property to regain its original shape on heating. The remaining tooth chatter and bite marks would be addressed subsequently.I addressed the deeper tooth chatter and bite marks by filling them up with a mix of activated charcoal and CA superglue. I applied a slightly thick layer over the lip which I will later sand down to create a defined edge. Once I had applied the mix, I set it aside to cure overnight. Once the fill has hardened, I shall file and sand the fills to match the surface of the stem and sharpen the button edges on either surface. With the bowl internals clean, I move to clean the exterior of the stummel. I generously applied “Briar Cleaner”, a product that has been developed by my friend Mark Hoover, to the external surface of the bowl and the sandblasted rim top surface. It works similar to Murphy’s oil soap and needs to be applied to the stummel surface and set aside for 5- 10 minutes. The product pulls out all the dirt and grime to the surface making further cleaning easy. I am quite happy with this product. I used a hard bristled tooth brush to scrub the stummel and rim top with the solution. After the scrub with Briar cleaner solution, I washed the stummel under running warm water with anti oil dish washing detergent till the stummel surface was clean and dried it using paper towels and soft cotton cloth. I deliberately cleaned the sandblasted rim top with hard bristled toothbrush and set the stummel aside to dry out naturally. I simultaneously cleaned the shank internals with the detergent and hard bristled shank brush. The stummel surface has cleaned up nicely with the intricate sandblast patterns on full display. The brown hues of the raised portions of the sandblast contrast beautifully with the black of the rest of the stummel. These brown hues will darken considerably once the stummel briar is rehydrated and rejuvenated using the balm and subsequent wax polishing. Next, I rubbed a small quantity of “Before and After Restoration Balm” in to the briar with my finger tips, working it deep in to the sandblasts and let it rest for a few minutes. I generously rubbed the balm in to the sandblasted rim top surface. The balm almost immediately works its magic and the briar now has a nice vibrant appearance with the beautiful sandblast patterns displayed in their complete splendor. The contrast of the dark browns of the raised sandblast with the dark black of the rest of the stummel adds an interesting dimension to the appearance of the stummel which may be insufficiently described in words and be rather seen in person. I further buffed it with a horse hair brush. With the stummel rejuvenation almost complete, save for the final wax polish, I worked the stem. The fill had cured and with a flat head needle file, I worked on the filling till I had achieved a rough match with the surrounding surface and had sufficiently sharpened the button edges. For a better blending, I further sand the entire stem with 220 followed by 400, 600 and 800 grit sand paper. This helps to reduce the scratch marks left behind by the more abrasive 220 grit paper. To bring a deep shine to the vulcanite stem, I went through the complete set of micromesh pads, wet sanding with 1500 to 2000 grit sandpapers and dry sanding with 3200 to 12000 grit pads. I wiped the stem with moist cloth after each pad and rubbed it down with Extra Virgin Olive oil to rejuvenate the vulcanite. The finished stem is shown below. To complete the restoration, I mounted a cotton cloth buffing wheel on to my hand held rotary tool and applied several coats of carnauba wax. I finished the restoration by giving the entire pipe a rigorous hand buffing using a microfiber cloth to raise the shine further and remove any residual wax from in between the sandblasts. The finished pipe looks amazingly beautiful and is now ready for its long second innings with me. I only wish it could share with me its life story of the past years while I enjoy smoking my favorite Virginia blend in it or maybe an English blend or maybe just keep admiring it!! The finished pipe is as shown below.