Restemming and Restoring a Bill Lator Handmade Bent Dublin

Blog by Steve Laug

A fellow Vancouver Pipeman named Alex has been keeping me busy with working on the pipes he is picking up. He has picked up some interesting American and English made pipes. One of those is this Dublin that is engraved on the left side and underside of the shank. On the left side it reads Crafted Expressly for Roy Garrett. On the underside it reads Lator Handcrafted. It is a nice piece but has some unique features that are visible in the photos that follow. It has a sculpted/rusticated portion on the left side of the bowl and a crowned rim top. There was a thick cake in the bowl and lava overflowing onto the rim top. The rim top has some scratching and dents that will be more visible once the lava coat is gone. It appears that the edges of the bowl are in good shape – both inner and outer. The finish was very dirty with grime and oils ground into the smooth and rusticated portions. The stem did not fit well in the shank and appeared to be a replacement stem. The diameter of the stem was less than that of the bowl and left a large edge exposed on the shank end. I believe that the pipe originally had a taper stem rather than the fancy, damaged turned one that was on it when I received it. To my mind it would need to have a new stem fit to the shank. Here are some photos of the pipe when I first received it.I took a close-up photo of the rim to show the condition of the rim top and the inner edge of the bowl. The rim top had some dents and damage to it and the inner edge appeared to have some charring and darkening. The stem was an obvious replacement of necessity. It did not fit the shank and it was actually quite worn out with a chip out of the button and stem on the top side. I would need to fit a replacement.  The engraving on the left side and the underside of the shank are shown in the photos below. It reads as noted above.    I removed the stem from the shank and took a photo of the flow of the pipe. When I crafted a new stem for it I would work with the same angles to get the same look.When Alex dropped it off the first of the Lator pipes that he wanted me to work on I asked him to do a bit of research on the brand and see what he could find out about the pipemaker and the brand. He said he would and over the next couple of days sent me several emails with information that he had found out about the pipe. Here is a link to the first blog on the Canadian that is referred to in the following information (

The first email was the description given of the pipe on the SATX Pipes site – the company he purchased it from. They gave a pretty detailed description of the pipe and the stamping on the pipe.

This is a very rare handmade Canadian by Bill Lator. In addition, it bears the customer’s name on it that it was commissioned for. Bill Lator was a pipe maker from Indiana who operated two small pipe shops with his family. This particular Lator is in fine shape. Stem is shiny black and free from any chatter. Beautiful grain and color is offset by a sterling silver band. This is a non-filtered pipe. Pipe has been sanitized, polished and waxed, and comes ready to smoke. Pipe Dimensions: Length Overall: 6 1/8″ Height Overall: 1 3/4″ Width Overall: 1 1/4″ Chamber Width: 7/8″ Chamber Depth: 1 5/8″ Weight: 1.1 oz

Alex also sent along picture of a Magazine cover showing …Bing with a BL Canadian on the cover of a magazine.He also included an excerpt from a local newspaper article about the Lators from 1976:

Pipemaking is a family affair for the Bill Lator family. The family owns and operates “The Pipemaker,” 109 N. Broad. Father Bill, Sr. and all three sons, Paul, 28, Bill, Jr., 20 and Kurt, 14 have taken up the rare trade of pipemaking. According to Lator, there are only about 20 pipemakers in the United States. “And three of them are in Griffith,” he quipped. Lator said his pipe making started as a hobby, “a way to relax after a busy day as an executive.” Lator also began doing extensive research into pipe making going through a number of west coast libraries and learning everything he could. About a year ago, his friends started suggesting he open a pipe shop and after more urging by his son Paul, Lator moved to Griffith. The fame of his handmade briar pipes combined with the skills of his wife, Hellen, in blending pipe tobacco made the shop an instant success. Lator said his oldest son turns out artistic pipes, “he is the artist in the family-Son, Bill is the “perfectionist.” His creations have a machined perfection according to his father, “which appeals to certain customers.” The youngest, Kurt, is still an apprentice, learning the trade of pipemaking with the discards and making tampers. Mrs. Lator has gained a reputation as a master tobacco blender.

Alex sent a follow-up email and included a paragraph from Bill Lator’s obituary: “Bill was very artistic and in 1973 found he could make beautiful smoking pipes carved of briar. In 1975 he along with his 2 sons, Paul and Bill, opened The Pipemaker Pipe and Tobacco Shop in Griffith, Indiana. He loved that shop and all the customers. He made a very successful business that lasted 13 years. In 1986 he decided it was time for him to retire…”

From this I know that the pipe came from Bill Lator’s Griffith, Indiana Shop – The Pipemaker Pipe and Tobacco Shop. It had been made between 1975 and 1986 when Bill retired.

Now it was time to work on the pipe itself. I reamed the thick cake back to the walls with a PipNet pipe reamer using the first two cutting heads. I followed up – cleaning the remnants of cake on the walls with a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife. The final step for me to assess the condition of the walls of the bowl is to sand it with 220 grit sandpaper on a piece of dowel. I sanded the walls smooth. I was happy with the condition of the inside walls of the chamber.  I scrubbed the exterior of the bowl with a tooth brush and undiluted Murphy’s Oil Soap to get the grime and debris out of the briar. I rinsed it with running water and dried it off with a towel. With that the outside was clean… progress!   I worked on the damage to the rim top to remove the darkening, charring and dents and nicks. I sanded it with 220 grit sandpaper and started polishing it with 400 grit sandpaper. The top is looking much better at this point.I cleaned out the shank and airway in the bowl with pipe cleaners, cotton swabs and 99% isopropyl alcohol. I would do the stem once had the replacement shaped and fit.I polished the briar with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-12000 grit pads and wiping the bowl down with a damp cloth after each pad. The grain is really beginning to stand out and the rim top is blending in quite well.     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. The following photos show the bowl at this point in the restoration process. I am very happy with the results.      I set the bowl aside and went through my stems to find one that would fit well. There was a nice acrylic stem without a tenon that was the right diameter as the shank end. I took a photo of the new stem with the one that came with the pipe. I took a photo of the tenon that would work on the stem and in the shank.  I repaired the tooth marks in the acrylic with the new Black Loctite 380 Adhesive. I set the stem aside to let the repairs cure.      I glued the new tenon in place in the stem with clear super glue. The tenon looks long but it is the same length as the mortise.I used a needle file to recut the edges of the button and flatten out the repairs. I sanded them with 220 grit sandpaper to smooth them out and blend them into the surface. I started the polishing with 400 grit wet dry sandpaper.Bending this stem was a challenge! I heated it with a heat gun and was unable to bend it. I heated it in boiling water for over 5 minutes and the bend I was able to achieve was not as much as I wanted. I repeated the process multiple times and the photo below shows what I accomplished.I am not happy with the bend. It had taken a lot of work to get to this point but I did not like what I was seeing. I went back through my can of stems to find a different stem that would work better. I found one that would work, it had the correct bend  but needed to be cleaned up and polished.I sanded the stem with 220 grit sandpaper and 340 grit sandpaper paying particular attention to the tenon and the curve of the saddle stem.       I polished the stem with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-12000 grit sanding pads and wiping it down after each pad with a damp cloth.   This Lator Bent Dublin with a new fit acrylic saddle stem turned out to be a real beauty. It has a unique carved rustication on the left side of the bowl and a crowned rim top that rolls from the outer edge into the bowl. Lator really maximized the grain with the shape of the pipe. Everything about the pipe – the rustication on the side, the crowned rim top and the cut of the briar work well to highlight the shape of the bowl. I polished stem and the bowl with Blue Diamond polish on the buffing wheel and the finish just popped and came alive. 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 pipe took on life with the buffing. The rich brown finish works well with the polished acrylic stem. The finished pipe has a rich look that is quite catching. Have a look at it with the photos below. The shape, finish and flow of the pipe and stem are very well done. The dimensions are Length: 5 ½ inches, Height: 2 inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 ½ inches, Chamber diameter: 7/8 of an inch. The pipe will back in the box of pipes that I am working on fro Alex. I am looking forward to what he will think of this one. Thanks for walking through the restoration with me as I worked over another estate pipe.

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