Restemming and Rebirthing a Burl King Freehand Bowl


Blog by Steve Laug

The next pipe in the queue came to us from a recent pipe hunt that Jeff and his wife did in Utah. It is an interesting Freehand bowl that has a bridge over the top of the shank that forms a hole for the thumb when smoking. It has a smooth finish with a plateau on the top of the shank and bowl. I would need to find a fancy turned stem that would work with the bowl. The pipe is stamped on the left corner of the shank and clearly reads Burl King. On the underside of the shank it is stamped Israel. I think that this will be another nice looking piece once it is cleaned up and restemmed. The bowl is thickly caked with an overflow of lava on the rim top. There were some rustications or blasted areas on the left heel of the bowl and the top right side toward the front of the bowl. The top and edges of the bowl look good but I would be more certain once I reamed and cleaned it. The exterior of the briar was dirty with grime and dust. Jeff took photos of the pipe before my cleanup work. They tell the story and give a glimpse of the promise that we see in this pipe. He took a photo of the plateau rim top to show the cake in the bowl, the lava on the rim top and the inner edge.  There was also a varnish coat on the briar around the bowl and rim top.The next photos show the rustication/blasted portions of the bowl. There seems to be some putty in the rustication on the right side of the bowl top.    He took photos of the stamping on the left corner of the shank and the underside. It is faint but readable in the photo below and is as noted above.I turned to Pipedia to read about Burl King pipes (https://pipedia.org/wiki/Burl_King). I quote the entirety of the article and have included the advertisement that connects the pipe to Borkum Riff tobacco.

We need more information about Burl King. We can confirm that it was at one time a pipe used for promotion of Borkum Riff tobacco, as reported by Bob Taylor of the Seattle Pipe Club, who mailed in a coupon and received the pipe with a Postmark of Jan. 11, ’78, and a return address of Sparta, N. C., which indicates it may have come from the Dr. Grabow/Sparta Industries plant.

Bob recently noticed his “Burl King” was also marked, made in Israel, so it was likely made by the Shalom Pipe Factory, though apparently distributed through Sparta Industries. The box shipped for 50 cents and the return address said “After 5 days return to P. O. Box 21882 Greensboro, N. CC. 27240.” So apparently these pipes were made by Shalom, but distributed for Borkum Riff by Sparta Industries.

Others have indicated Burl King pipes were also made by Wally Frank.

I love the description as it truly captures the shape and beauty of this freehand pipe. The article above stated that the pipe is handcrafted by artists so that each one is a unique piece. It is cut from the plateau to leave that exposed on the top of the rim and down the shank to the end. It has a thumb hole cut for comfort in holding it while smoking. It is suggested that pipe sold for $60. Now to work on the pipe.

Jeff had cleaned up the pipe with his usual penchant for thoroughness. He reamed the pipe with a PipNet pipe reamer and removed the rest of it with a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife.  He scrubbed the bowl with undiluted Murphy’s Oil Soap with a tooth brush. He rinsed it under running warm water to remove the soap and grime. He cleaned out the inside of the shank and the airway in the stem with alcohol, cotton swabs and pipe cleaners. He soaked the stem in Before & After Deoxidizer and rinsed it off with warm water. I took photos of the pipe once I received it.     I took a close up photo of the rim top to show the general condition. You can see the darkening around the inner edge but otherwise it looks good. The plateau extends all the way down the shank bridge and ends at the mortise end.I found two different fancy stems in my stem can that were potential candidates for the pipe. The first one had a tenon that was too small. The second was a bit larger and would need to be turned to sit in the mortise properly. I drilled out the airway to hold the pin on the PIMO tool and then used the PIMO tenon turning tool and took the tenon down until it had a snug fit in the mortise. Once I had the tenon turned I inserted it in the mortise and took photos of the pipe at this point. I polished the briar with micromesh sanding pads to clean up the finish and give it a shine. I wet sanded with 1500-12000 grit pads and wiped the bowl down after each pad with a damp cotton cloth. The photos tell the story. I worked some Before & After Restoration Balm into the surface of the briar with my fingertips and a horse hair shoe brush 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 out the tooth chatter on the stem surface and the light oxidation with 220 grit sandpaper and then started polishing the stem with 400 grit wet dry sandpaper. The tenon is still rough at this point. I sanded out the ridges and bumps left behind when I turned it but there is still work to do on it.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 this unique Burl King Freehand 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 mix of grain on the bowl 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 Burl King Freehand. Have a look at it with the photos below. The dimensions are Length: 7 inches, Height: 2 ¾ inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 ¾ inches, Chamber diameter: ¾ of an inch. This interestingly made Freehand will be going onto the rebornpipes store very soon. If you would like to purchase it and carry on the legacy of the previous pipe smoke send a message or an email to me. Thanks for walking through the restoration with me on this older Shalom Pipe Factory, Israel pipe.

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