Refreshing a Friend’s First Purchased Pipe – A French Courrieu Straight Grain Billiard

Blog by Steve Laug

The next pipe I am working on is the second one that came from a friend, Lee who lives in the US. It is a gorgeous Straight Grain French Made Billiard. It is stamped on the left side of the shank and reads Vieille Bruyere [arched over] Courrieu [over] Cogolin. On the right side it is stamped Straight Grain [over] Grand Luxe. He sent me an email detailing what he saw in the pipe and gave his assessment as well as several pictures of the pipe. He wrote and opening paragraph and then a list of his request:

The second pipe I’ll be sending is my first pipe, a French Courrieu, billiard shape, straight grain. While it’s just fine, I’d like to see if you can remove the burning/charring on the bowl’s edge (due to me being a total newbie at the time), bowl clean, and a wood buff if possible. Again, deep sentimental value with this French pipe, so want it to be in great shape.

  1. First pipe ever purchased. Purchased from the mfg after a fascinating tour (I’m a mfg guy, so seeing how they do things both fascinated and horrified me!)
  2. I know this piece is in good shape, but the scorching on the rim due to ignorance/newbie-stumbles irritates me (I really don’t need to be reminded with every bowl of Semois how badly I’ve treated this thing); if you can assist, please do what you can to remove, even if it means sanding off the top of the bowl.
  3. My only ’need’ is you match the original stain, best you can. If that requires sanding the entire bowl and working up from there with another stain (a close match), I’m fine with that call. Again, this is a sentimental piece (unlike the Peterson – for now), so I’m not concerned about the labor required to get it the best it should be. Merci –

Once the pipe arrived I spent some time going over it to assess what I thought needed to be done to bring it back the flare to the finish of Lee’s first pipe. This Courrrieu Straight Grain Billiard really is a very beautiful pipe with some stunning grain. This is the list that I sent to him via email.

  1. Bowl exterior is in good condition. There are no deep scratches or marks in the briar.
  2. Rim top shows some scratches and marks on the surface. There is darkening around the inner edge of the bowl and on the front, back and left side of the top. The inner edge is also damaged on the front edge and rear left edge with what looks like some charring. Definitely worse on the front than the back of the rim. Bowl is slightly out of round due to that.
  3. Bowl internals are good – light cake. Do you want that cut back to bare briar again or just leave it and lightly clean it?? I ask because taking it back some will make the rim cleanup easier to manage.
  4. The stem is in relatively good condition with tooth chatter on the underside ahead of the button and on the button surface itself. A few tooth marks on the underside and on the underside of the button.

I took photos of the pipe before I started the work on the pipe. It is a beauty. The grain is beautiful and the pipe is in very good condition other than the burn marks on the rim top. The photos tell the story of pipe’s condition.  I took some photos of the rim top and stem surfaces to capture their condition. The photo of the rim top shows the darkening on the top of the rim and the damage to the inner edge of the rim. It is more pronounced on the front inner edge than the rear. It is solid but definitely burned. The bowl is slightly out of round. The stem surface is pretty clean. There are light tooth marks on the top and underside as well as on the button surface itself.   I took photos of the stamping on both sides of the shank. It is clear and readable as noted above. The stamping on the left side of the stem is a rooster. I took the stem off the shank to give a clear picture of the pipe as a whole. The flow of the bowl, shank and the taper stem contribute to the overall beauty of the pipe.I wanted to gather some background information on the Courrieu brand as this is the first pipe of this brand that I have worked on. I turned to Pipephil to get a quick overview of the brand and was not disappointed ( I have included a screen capture of the section on the brand. I also quote from the side bar below the screen capture.Ulysse Courrieu started carving pipes in Cogolin in 1802. Courrieu certainly is the oldest french briar pipe factory. The family corporate is managed (2009) by René Salvestrini who married a Courrieu daughter.

Armed with the information on the pipe maker I turned to work on the damage to the rim top and inner edges of the bowl. I sanded the damaged edge and gave it a slight inward bevel to alleviate the damage. I sanded out the burn marks as much as possible on the top of the rim with a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper. I was able to minimize the damage on the top surface and the rim edge. I started polishing the edge and the top of the bowl with a 1500 grit micromesh sanding pad.  I polished the rim top of the rim with micromesh sanding pads. I wet sanded it with 1500-12000 grit pads and wiped the rim down after each sanding pad. The rim began to take on a good shine. After polishing it with the 4000 grit pad I restained the rim top with a Maple stain pen. I finished polishing the rim with 6000-12000 grit pads. I wiped the rim down with a damp cloth. I worked some Before & After Restoration Balm into the surface of the briar with my fingertips and a horsehair shoe brush to clean, enliven and protect the briar. I let the balm sit for about 15-20 minutes and then buffed it with a cotton cloth to raise the shine. The photos show the bowl at this point in the restoration process. With that done the bowl was finished other than a final buffing.  I set it aside and turned my attention to the stem. I polished the stem with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-12000 grit sanding pads. I wiped it down after each sanding pad with Obsidian Oil. I polished it with Before & After Pipe Stem Polish – both Fine and Extra Fine.     I am excited to finish this beautifully grained Courrieu Vieille Bruyere Straight Grain Billiard. I put the pipe back together and buffed it with Blue Diamond on the buffing wheel. I gave the bowl and the stem multiple coats of carnauba wax. I buffed it with a clean buffing pad to raise the shine and followed that with a quick hand buff with a microfibre cloth to deepen the shine. It is fun to see what the polished bowl looks like with the polished black vulcanite stem. This Courrieu Billiard is a great looking pipe and it feels great in my hand. It is light and well balanced. Have a look at it with the photos below. The dimensions are Length: 6 inches, Height: 2 inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 ½ inches, Chamber diameter: 7/8 of an inch. It is a beautiful pipe. Thanks for walking through the restoration with me as I worked over this pipe. I am looking forward to seeing what my friend Lee thinks of the pipe after the restoration. Now that both of the pipes have been restored I will mail them back to them. Thanks to each of you who are reading this blog. Remember we are not pipe owners; we are pipemen and women who hold our pipes in trust until they pass on into the trust of the next pipeman or woman. 

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