A ‘Mobile’ Colorado to Florida Quick Clean Up of a ‘Dragon Skin’ Fabric/Resin Applique Bent Billiard

Blog by Dal Stanton

With Christmas vacation before me I decide to take The Pipe Steward work desk on the road!  I’ve never done this before, but the holidays give the opportunity to think through what packing up would look like.  In the end, with the rotary tool as the workhorse of my pipe restoration operation, I was able to consolidate the essentials.To see this great country and more safely visit loved ones amid COVID concerns, we acquired a small travel trailer called an R-pod to pull with the car.  We make a 5-day trek camping from Golden, Colorado, to Port St. Lucie, Florida, to spend a WARMER Christmas with my mother on the ‘Gold Coast’ of Florida.  The Pod is pictured below at our wintry first night’s stop near Pueblo, Colorado, with snow-covered mountains in the background! An interesting pipe occupies the mobile worktable now.  It is the final pipe that Daniel chose from the For “Pipe Dreamers” Only! Collection to form his trove of 7 pipes all benefiting the Daughters of Bulgaria.  I shared with Daniel that I was going mobile and that all the pipes he commissioned would be coming with me.  Hopefully, I’ll finish this last pipe and get them in the mail to him by Christmas!  I acquired this final pipe in 2018 from the French eBay auction block in a lot of 50 pipes.  It is difficult to make out without the help of the arrow in the picture below.  This French Lot of 50 has provided some great treasures and unique pipes.  There were a few pipes in the Lot of the genre of the pipe on the worktable now.  What makes these pipes unique is that the surface texture isn’t briar, but a fabric wrap-around the briar stummel.  It is a technique that emulates carbon fiber – a fabric/resin that is wrapped around the briar.  This technique started as a fad, but these pipes have increased in value and are more of a niche collectible.  This pipe is on the ‘bling’ side of things with a ‘spigot’ or military mount and the carbon fiber wrap adheres nicely to the contouring of the Bent Billiard stummel now on the worktable.  Here are the pictures of the Dragon Skin Applique Bent Billiard.   There are no markings on the pipe.  The spotted fabric design reminds me of ‘Dragon Skin’ and adding the metal of the nickel shank band and stem extender/spacer of the spigot or military mount fancy stem – well, I call this bling. I believe this could also be described as a spigot mount.  The tenon is also different – it’s made of clear acrylic.  The chamber also is interesting.  It appears to be a metal lining or cup with the draft hole at the center of the chamber floor.  I have never smoked a pipe of this genre and I’ve only worked on one before this – a Paronelli Cobalt Rhodesian of Italy which also came to me with the French Lot of 50.  The Paronelli only needed a cleaning so I didn’t do a write-up but did take some pictures of the process to show them to Michael from Pennsylvania, who commissioned this beautiful and unique pipe.The fabric wrapping the stummel is fascinating.  When I worked on the Paronelli, it was my first exposure to this wrapped genre.  I wrote to Steve with the question of what this material was and how to work with it?  His response was helpful which included a link discussing this genre.  Steve wrote:

To me it looks similar to one that Chacom made that was a fabric/resin applique put over briar. Seemed to be a fad for a while..

Steve also provided a link on Reddit where there was a discussion about this pipe genre titled, Can Someone Give Me An Info About This Pipe? Brand Paronelli, Model 62. It Feels So Weird In My Hands That I Don’t Even Know If It’s Made Of Wood.  The discussion centered around the makeup of the carbon fiber pipes and whether or not one has a carbon fiber pipe:

Nastyboots: Mostly the way it stretches around the bottom. Real cf typically comes in a roll and feels almost like canvas – it’s a tough fabric that has a little stretch or give, but not a lot. If that were real carbon fiber that checkered pattern would remain more consistent around the curves and not look so warped. Look at the front wing on a formula 1 car to see carbon fiber over some really crazy geometries and notice how consistent the pattern is.

The kicker is that real carbon fiber is impregnated with a resin. that’s what makes it a composite – a fabric and a resin come together to make a product that is greater than the sum of its parts. This resin is usually polished to a high gloss, giving it a deep, sexy, shine that, with the carbon fiber weave underneath, has an almost holographic look in the light. Vinyl wraps and hydro paint dips (which I’m sure yours is) look great but never really gets that wet glossy shimmery look.

Lorezo_InsigneWow, thanks for the info. I heard that Chacom was also making carbon fiber pipes, but by your answer I assume isn’t actually made with carbon fiber. Guess mine it’s just finished with a material that resembles cf then. Once again, many thanks!

Whether the Dragon Skin Bent Billiard on the worktable is a carbon fiber pipe, I cannot say for certain.  Yet, there is no doubt that the more general words of Steve, that it’s a ‘fabric/resin applique’ pipe, are spot on.

After disassembling the pipe, I take a picture to show the parts.  The acrylic tenon seems to function as an air restrictor.  With the removal of the tenon, a 9mm filter will fit the stem if one chooses. I’m calling this a simple ‘Clean Up’ because there is little to do to enhance the bling factor of the pipe. Cleaning the external surface of the pipe and shining the nickel shank cover and band will spruce things up.  The stem appears to have lost its shine as well, even though the pipe appears never to have been smoked.  I begin by cleaning the stem airway.  Using pipe cleaners dipped in isopropyl 99% I go to work.  It doesn’t take long into what I thought would be a simple clean-up, to discover that I cannot run a pipe cleaner through the airway.  After several failed attempts from both ends of the stem, I switch from pipe cleaners to a small diameter shank brush which has a wire stem.  This also was unsuccessful. I take some pictures to see if I can locate the airway.  I can blow through the stem, so I know there’s some opening somewhere.  Nothing jumps out looking at the picture of the inverted stem.  The bend of the stem appears to have crimped down on the airway.  It is not an option, I like to certify a pipe as restored and not be able to do the basic functions of cleaning the pipe.  To try to remedy the problem – to open the airway so that a pipe cleaner can navigate it, I heat the stem with a hairdryer to unbend the stem.  I’m hopeful this will do the trick.With permission to use my wife’s travel hair dryer as the ‘hot gun’, I heat the stem to soften the vulcanite so that it will unbend.I heat the stem for some time and apply pressure to encourage the vulcanite stem to unbend as the material becomes supple.  To my surprise, the material did not become supple in the time and with the temperature that should start seeing results.  In the end, I discover that the stem is not vulcanite but some sort of a plastic composite.  I confirm my suspicions of this by finding a seam on the side.  Warming the stem did not bend as a vulcanite stem.  I’m not sure, but it would probably melt if the stem got hot enough instead of becoming pliable.  Unfortunately, the cleaning of the stem will be more of a challenge having to come in from both ends as best as one can.I turn now to polishing the nickel shank cover and the stem band or extender.  Using Tarn-X Tarnish Remover on a cotton pad, I wipe on the Tarn-X and after rubbing it in, it is rinsed off with a cotton pad and water.  The Remover does a great job.To clean the fabric/resin applique Dragon Skin, I simply wipe it with a cotton pad wetted with water.  Next, after using the Tarn-X Tarnish Remover on the nickel shank cap and band, I apply Blue Diamond compound as well to increase the shine on the nickel.  A cotton cloth buffing wheel dedicated to Blue Diamond and nickel metal is mounted onto the rotary tool.  The rule of thumb is that each different kind of application has its own dedicated buffing wheel.  When the nickel is buffed with Blue Diamond, it produces a black residue that will stain the surrounding material.  I’ve learned the hard way that the black stuff will stain briar.  With the rotary tool set at about 40% full power, I’m careful to apply the Blue Diamond onto the metal with no runoff on the fabric/resin applique Dragon Skin.  After applying Blue Diamond, the metal is cleaned/buffed with a cotton cloth.  Wow!  This truly shined up the cap and band very nicely.  Next, after loading another cotton cloth buffing wheel to the rotary tool, with the speed set at about 40% full power, I apply Blue Diamond compound to the composite plastic stem.  I begin gingerly on the hidden, inserted part of the stem to make sure that the high-speed buffing/abrasion of the compound wasn’t going to melt or ripple the material.  It received the buffing nicely, so I continue with the rest of the stem.  Without doubt, this stem looks better now than new with the TLC provided. After applying the compound, the stem is wiped with a felt cloth to remove the residual compound dust before application of the wax.After attaching another cotton cloth buffing wheel, since it was new, I purge the wheel before using to remove the loose cotton strands.  I do this by inserting the rotary tool extension arm end into a plastic bag and turn on the rotary tool.  As the tool does its RPMs, I press a metal adjustment wrench into the cotton cloth of the wheel.  Much of the loose cotton fibers spin off and are captured in the bag.  After turning the power off, I then manually pluck the remaining lose fibers from the wheel.  I do this each time I put a new wheel into service.  It doesn’t remove all the ‘fly off’ but it reduces it by 90+ percent!    After the new wheel is purged, the speed maintained at about 40% full power, and carnauba wax is applied to the stem and the fabric/resin applique Dragon Skin stummel.  At first, I proceed very slowly to observe how the Dragon Skin applique receives the wax.  After seeing that it receives it quite nicely, I continue by applying a light coat of wax to the stummel.  When the carnauba wax is applied, the entire pipe is given a rigorous hand buffing to remove excess wax and to raise the shine.For an easy clean-up, this pipe threw in a few curve balls with the stem.  Even so, the results are good.  The unique Dragon Skin fabric/resin applique looks great and the nickel shank cap and stem extender add a nice touch of bling.  This system pipe is different with the metal bowl and draft hole in the center. The acrylic tenon or air restrictor fits well with this genre of pipe.  This is the last of the pipes that Daniel commissioned, and he will have the first opportunity to acquire it from The Pipe Steward Store benefiting the Daughters of Bulgaria – women and girls who have been trafficked and sexually exploited.  We made it safely to Port St. Lucy and I complete my first ‘mobile restoration’ with more to come.  I commemorate this by enjoying a bowl at the beach!  Thanks for joining me!

3 thoughts on “A ‘Mobile’ Colorado to Florida Quick Clean Up of a ‘Dragon Skin’ Fabric/Resin Applique Bent Billiard

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