Breathing Life into The Tinder Box Unique Saddle Stem English Billiard

Blog by Steve Laug

The next pipe on the work table came to us from the large estate purchase of pipes that Jeff and I bought in 2019.  It has been around for over a year waiting to be worked on. Jeff did the original photographs of the pipe in March 2019. It is a beautifully grained large saddle stem billiard that is really quite nice. The shape of the bowl and pipe reminds me of Charatan’s Make billiards that I have worked on in the past. The pipe has cross grain and birdseye grain around the sides of the bowl and shank. The stamping is the readable. It is stamped on the left side of the shank and reads The Tinder Box arched over Unique [over] Made in England. The smooth finish had a lot of grime ground into the bowl and some darkening around the sides of the bowl. The bowl was heavily caked and had some darkening and damage to the inner edge of the bowl and the top of the rim. Overall it appeared that the rim top and inner edge of the bowl looked to be in good shape other than a burned area on the back right edge of the rim. The vulcanite saddle stem was lightly oxidized and had light tooth chatter on the top and underside. The pipe had promise but it was very dirty. Jeff took photos of the pipe before he started his cleanup work. He took photos of the rim top and bowl to give a clear picture of the thickness of the cake and the light overflow of lava on the rim top. He also took photos of the top and underside of the stem to show the oxidation and light chatter and tooth marks on the surface. Jeff took photos of the sides and heel of the bowl to give a picture of what the briar around the pipe looked like. There is some interesting grain under the grime.      He took a photo of the stamping on the left side of the shank. It read as noted above.   To learn about the brand I turned to Pipephil’s website ( I did a screen capture of the information on the site and it appears that The Tinder Box had pipes made in Italy and England. The one I am working on is a Unique and it is not listed. To me it looks like a Charatan made pipe. This is going to take some more work.I turned to Pipedia ( for more information. I quote in full the brief article below:

The Tinder Box was the chain of tobacco stores started by Edward Kolpin, Sr., who carved Ed’s Hand Made pipes. The store, eventually sold to a Canadian conglomerate, eventually reached 200 retail outlets by 2007, and in the 40 years it operated on a large scale a great number of pipes were made for The Tinder Box by well respected makers. A few include the Tinder Box Unique, made by Charatan, Christmas Pipes by Ascorti, and the Tinder Box Noble and Exotica, made by Shalom Pipe Factory, Mauro Armellini did make the Verona and Napoli lines.

The article confirms a large number of different pipemakers who made pipes for the Tinder Box. The interesting thing is that Charatan did make the Unique for them. My eye was right – I was dealing with a Charatan Make Unique. Now it was time to work on the pipe.

Since Jeff follows the same pattern of work in his cleanup we do not include photos but rather just a simple summary. Jeff reamed the bowl with a PipNet pipe reamer and followed up with a Savinelli Fitsall pipe knife to remove the cake. He scrubbed out the mortise and the airway in the shank and the stem with alcohol, cotton swabs and pipe cleaners. He scrubbed the exterior of the bowl, rim, shank and stem with a tooth brush and Murphy’s Oil Soap to remove the oils and tars on the rim and the grime on the finish of the bowl. He rinsed it under running water. He dried it off with a soft cloth. He was able to remove the lava build up on the rim top and you could see the damages to the top and edges of the rim. I think this pipe may well been before we worked with Mark Hoover’s Before & After Deoxidizer so he cleaned the internals and externals. The stem was clean but lightly oxidized. I took photos of what the pipe looked like when I brought to my worktable.   The rim top cleaned up really well. The lava coat was removed and there was some darkening and burn damage left behind on the back side of the rim top. Other than that the edges were in good condition. The stem surface looked very good with some light tooth chatter and marks on both sides ahead of the button. I took photos of the stamping on the left side of the shank. The stamping was clear and readable.I removed the stem and took a photo of the pipe to give a sense of the well shaped saddle stem billiard. To remove the damage on the rim top and the inner edge of the rim I began by topping the bowl on a topping board with 220 grit sandpaper. I used a folded piece of sandpaper to give the inner edge of the bowl a slight bevel to remove the damaged area.     I polished the bowl and the rim top, sides and shank with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-12000 grit pads and wiping it down after each pad with a damp cloth. I carefully avoided the stamping on the top and underside of the shank so as not to damage the already faint stamping. I paused after the 2400 grit sanding pad and used an Oak Stain Pen to touch up the rim top to match the rest of the bowl. I finished sanding with the rest of the pads -3200-12000 grit pads.  I rubbed the bowl and shank down with Before & After Restoration Balm. I worked it into the surface of the bowl sides and shank with my fingertips to clean, enliven and protect the briar. 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. It was in very good condition so I did not have to do any repairs or preliminary sanding. I began by working with micromesh sanding pads – 1500-12000 grit pads. I wiped the stem down with Obsidian Oil after each sanding pad. I used Before & After Pipe Polish – both Fine and Extra Fine to further polish the stem.     This well made, classic Chartan Made The Tinder Box Unique Saddle Stem Billiard is a great looking pipe now that it has been restored. The rich brown finish that was used came alive with the polishing and waxing. The small sandpit/fills are virtually invisible. I put the stem back on the bowl and carefully buffed the pipe with Blue Diamond on the buffing wheel using a light touch on the briar. I gave the bowl and the 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 Unique Billiard is a beauty with combination of great grain and rich stain. It fits nicely in the hand and looks very good. Give the finished pipe a look in the photos below. The dimensions of the pipe are Length: 5 ½ inches, Height: 2 inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 ½ inches, Chamber diameter: 7/8 of an inch. If you are interested in adding this pipe to your collection send me a message or an email. Thanks for reading this blog and my reflections on the pipe while I worked on it. There are many more to come!


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