Cleaning up a Real Briar Root Opera Pipe with a long stem


Blog by Steve Laug

The next pipe on the work table came to us from one of Pipe Hunts. Between us we pick up quite a few pipes for restoration. I try to work them into the restoration queue so that I can keep them moving. The next one is an interesting long stemmed Opera pipe. The oval bowl on the pipe is typical of the Opera pipe but the long stem is atypical. These pipes were made to fit nicely in the pocket of the Opera goer but the stem on this one makes that unlikely. It seems more like a “Bing Crosby” style Opera pipe. There is a mix of grains around the bowl and a fill on the lower left side of the bowl. It was stamped on the left side of the shank. It is stamped Real [over] Briar [over] Root. The right side was unstamped. The finish was dirty with dust and grime ground into the bowl sides. There was a thick cake in the bowl and lava overflow on the rim top. The inner edge of the rim had some darkening and damage. The vulcanite stem was oxidized and had tooth marks and chatter ahead of the button on both sides. The tenon had been broken and filled to fit the shank.  I did some searching on Pipedia and Pipephil’s site to hunt down the Real Briar Root brand but there was nothing on that brand on either site.

Jeff cleaned the pipes with his usual penchant for thoroughness that I really appreciate. This one was filthy so I was surprised to see how well it turned out. He reamed it with a PipNet pipe reamer and cleaned up the reaming 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 rim top. The finish looks very good with good looking grain around the bowl and shank. Jeff scrubbed it with Soft Scrub and 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 a lot better. I took photos before I started my part of the work. I took some close up photos of the rim top and the stem surface. I wanted to show what cleaned bowl and rim top looked like. The rim top shows some damage on the inner edge of the bowl and on the left outer edge and rim top. I also took close up photos of the stem to show the tooth marks and the remaining oxidation on the stem surface.    I took a photo of the stamping on the left side of the shank and it is clear and readable. It is stamped as noted above. I removed the stem for the shank and took a photo of the bowl and stem to give a picture of what it looked like.When I examined it with a lens I could see that there was a crack in the shank on the right side. I cleaned up the area around the crack and put a drop of glue in the crack and clamped it together until it dried. I put a line of all-purpose glue on the shank end and pressed a brass end cap/band on the shank end. I sanded the inner edge of the bowl with a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper to smooth out the rough edges. I sanded the briar with 220 git sandpaper to smooth out the filled area and then polish it with a piece of 400 grit wet dry sandpaper.I topped the bowl with 220 grit sandpaper to remove the damaged on the rim top and outer edges of the bowl.I sanded the bowl with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-2400 grit pads to prepare it for staining. I wiped the briar down with a damp cloth after each sanding pad.  I stained the pipe with a dark brown aniline stain. I applied the stain with a dauber and flamed it with the flame of a Bic lighter. I applied it and repeated the process until I had a good coverage on the briar. I continued polishing the stained briar with 3200-12000 micromesh pads. By the time I had worked through the sanding pads the bowl began to take on a shine and the pipe looked much better. The fill on the left side of the bowl was still visible but blended in better than before. I rubbed the bowl down with Before & After Restoration Balm. I worked it 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 and shoe brush to raise the shine. With the bowl finished I set it aside and turned my attention to the stem. The tenon was broken off and damaged but the stem was long enough to allow me to turn the tenon on the stem. I used a PIMO tenon turning tool to add another quarter inch to the depth of the tenon.  The second photo shows the first turn on of the stem. I turned it further until I had a full ½ inch deep tenon.I sanded the stem with 220 grit sandpaper and started polishing it with 400 grit wet dry sandpaper. It did not take too much to remove the tooth marks and chatter.I polished the vulcanite with micromesh sanding pads – 1500-12000 grit pads. I wiped it down with a damp cloth after each sanding pad. I used Before & After Pipe Polish – both Fine and Extra Fine to further polish the stem.  I left a little oxidation around the stamp so as not to damage it more.    This long stemmed Real Briar Root Opera is a beauty. The restored and reworked Opera turned out to be a great looking pipe. The dark brown stain on the pipe worked really well with the polished vulcanite taper stem. I put the stem back on the bowl and carefully buffed the pipe with Blue Diamond on the buffing wheel. I gave the bowl and stem multiple coats of carnauba wax on the buffing wheel and followed that by buffing the entire pipe with a clean buffing pad. I hand buffed the pipe with a microfiber cloth to deepen the shine. The finished Opera is thin and fits well in the hand. The feel of the pipe in hand is good and I think as it heats up it will be even better. Give the finished pipe a look in the photos below. The dimensions of the pipe are Length: 6 ¼ inches, Height: 1 ½ inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 inch wide x 1 ¼ inches long, Chamber diameter: ½ inch wide x 1 inch long. If you are interested in carrying on the previous pipe man’s legacy with this pipe send me a message or an email. I have more to work on of various brands. Perhaps one of those will catch your attention. Thanks for reading this blog and my reflections on the pipe while I worked on it.

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