Breathing Life into a Brigham 4W6 Freehand


Blog by Steve Laug

I chose to work another Canadian Made Brigham to work on next. The pipe is a paneled sitter with a rustication finish and a faux plateau rim top. It is a neat looking pipe with real character. The shape of the bowl reminded me of the Norseman Line from Brigham but I would know more once I did the research on it. It is stamped Brigham on the underside of the shank and has the shape number 4W6 stamped to the left of that. The stem has four brass pins on the left side of the half saddle. There was a heavy cake in the bowl and a lot of lava overflow on the rim top and edges. The rustication on the rim top is a faux plateau look and it has the classic Brigham rustication around the bowl and shank. I think that there was a beautiful pipe underneath all of the buildup of years of use. The stem was oxidized and had almost half of the button broken off on the right side. It was a mess. Jeff took photos of the pipe before he started his cleanup work on it. Jeff took photos of the bowl and rim top to show the condition of the bowl with the thick cake in the bowl and a thick overflow of lava on the rim top. He took photos of the top and underside of the stem showing the broken portion of the stem on the right side.   Jeff took photos of the sides and heel of the bowl to show the rustic condition of the finish. The rustication is well done and rugged in the spots on the bowl and rim. Even under the dirt and debris of the years it looked very good. The stamping is very clear and reads as noted above. He included a pic of the 4 brass dots on the stem. For the needed background I am including the information from Pipedia on Brigham pipes. It is a great read in terms of the history of the brand (https://pipedia.org/wiki/Brigham_Pipes). Charles Lemon (Dadspipes) is currently working on a book on the history of the brand. Until that is complete this article is a good summary. I have included it below.

Roy Brigham, after serving an apprenticeship under an Austrian pipesmith, started his own pipe repair shop in Toronto, in 1906. By 1918 the business had grown to include five other craftsmen and had developed a reputation across Canada for the high quality of workmanship. After repairing many different brands of pipes over the years, Roy noted certain recurring complaints by pipe smokers, the most common referred to as “tongue bite”. Tongue bite is a burning sensation on the smoker’s tongue, previously thought to be due to the heat of the smoke (i.e. a “hot smoking pipe”).

He soon began manufacturing his own pipes, which were lightweight, yet featured a more rugged construction, strengthening the weak points observed in other pipes. The problem of tongue bite intrigued him, and he decided to make overcoming it a future goal.

About 1938, Roy’s son Herb joined him to assist in the business. The business barely survived the great depression because pipes were considered to be a luxury, not a necessity, and selling pipes was difficult indeed. In approximately 1937 [1], after some experimentation, Roy and Herb discovered that tongue bite was in fact a form of mild chemical burn to the tongue, caused by tars and acids in the smoke. They found that by filtering the smoke, it was possible to retain the flavour of the tobacco and yet remove these impurities and thereby stop the tongue bite.

Just as Thomas Edison had searched far and wide for the perfect material from which to make the first electric light bulb filaments, Roy & Herb began experimenting with many materials, both common and exotic, in the quest for the perfect pipe filter. Results varied wildly. Most of the materials didn’t work at all and some actually imparted their own flavour into the smoke. They eventually found just two materials that were satisfactory in pipes: bamboo and rock maple. As bamboo was obviously not as readily available, rock maple then became the logical choice.

They were able to manufacture a replaceable hollow wooden tube made from rock maple dowelling, which when inserted into a specially made pipe, caused absolutely no restriction to the draw of the pipe, yet extracted many of the impurities which had caused tongue bite. The result was indeed a truly better smoking pipe…

I sent Charles a quick email asking him about this pipe and sent along a photo of the pipe. I have included his response below.

Brigham Freehand 4W6 – this is an example of a pipe made from surplus stummels left over when the Norseman and Valhalla lines were discontinued in about 1980, using a variation on the Norseman shape stamp. In this case, “4W6” indicates a 4-Dot grade in a Norseman shape 6, which was a sort of a Bent Dublin-ish sitter. Many were fitted with a standard taper stem or a half-saddle stem like your pipe and pinned as 4 Dot or 5-Dot pipes. These pipes were not really part of the standard Brigham products at the time. but were an effective way to move old stock. My guess is that it is stamped with either “Brigham” over “Canada” (indicating a roughly 1980s production)  or simply “Brigham” (used in the 1990s).

With the information from Charles’ I knew what I was dealing with in terms of the stamping and the age of this pipe. I learned that the pipe was originally carved from surplus stummels left over from the Norseman and Valhalla lines. It was made in the 1990s because of the stamping on the shank. Now it was time to work on the pipe.

I am really happy to have Jeff’s help on cleaning up the pipes that we pick up along the way. He cleaned this filthy pipe with his usual penchant for thoroughness that I really appreciate. This one was a real mess and I did not know what to expect when I unwrapped it from his box. He reamed it with a PipNet pipe reamer and cleaned up the reaming with a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife. He scrubbed out the internals with alcohol, pipe cleaners and cotton swabs until the pipe was clean. He scrubbed the exterior of the bowl with Murphy’s Oil Soap and a tooth brush to remove the grime and grit on the briar and the lava on the rim top. The finish looks very good with great looking grain around the top half of the bowl and great rustication on the rest of the bowl and shank. Jeff soaked the stem in Before & After Deoxidizer to remove the oxidation on the rubber. He scrubbed it with Soft Scrub All Purpose Cleaner to remove the majority of the oxidation. When the pipe arrived here in Vancouver it looked very good. I took some close up photos of the pipe before I started my part of the restoration. I took photos of the bowl and rim top as well as both sides of the stem to show its condition. The rim top and edges show a darkening and the damage on the inner edge. I took close up photos of the stem to show the damage on the right side of the button top and bottom.   I took a photo of the stamping on the underside of the shank. You can see that it is stamped as noted above. It is messy but still readable.I took the pipe apart and took a photo of the pipe. It is an interesting pipe that you can see the rustic finish on in the photo below. I decided to start my restoration work on this one by cleaning up the rim top and edges of the bowl with a brass bristle wire brush. I scrubbed it to remove more of the debris and darkening. When I had finished it looked much better.   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 the briar. I let the balm sit for 15 minutes and then buffed 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 the final buffing. I set it aside and turned my attention to the stem. The extent of the damage to the stem surface and button was equivalent of over half of it missing. I decided to remove the damage and start over. I cut off the damaged portion of the stem with a Dremel and sanding drum. I cut off a little less than a ¼ inch to get to the solid vulcanite.   I rebuilt the button with black super glue. I started with Stewart MacDonald Black but it was too brittle and it quickly chipped as I was shaping it. So I reworked it with Loctite 380 which is a CA glue mixed with rubber to make it more flexible and stronger. I should have started with that in the first place but live and learn. I have often rebuilt the button with charcoal powder and super glue but have found that this extensive of a repair often dries brittle and chips easily. I have also found the air bubbles in the repair tedious to deal with and clean up. Thus I am experimenting with the rubberized CA. Once the repair cured I reshaped the slot with a small clay saw and a needle file. I would need to do some more work on it but it was workable. I also recut the edge of the button and flatten the end of the button with a file.   I shaped the button and slot edges with 220 grit sandpaper to give it clear definition. I started the polishing of the stem with 400 grit wet dry sandpaper. The button is taking shape. More work to do but it is looking quite good.   Before I finished the polishing stem I fit the clean stem with a new Rock Maple Distillator.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 Brigham 4W6 – an interesting looking pipe that was on the market as a means of using up extra stummels from the Norseman and Vahalla lines that Brigham made. It has a unique Brigham look that is different from any other pipe making company. 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. I hand buffed the pipe with a microfiber cloth to deepen it. It is fun to see what the polished bowl looks like with the grain popping through on the bowl and shank. Added to that the polished, rebuilt black vulcanite stem with four shining brass pins was beautiful. This Brigham 4W6 Freehand Sitter is nice looking and the pipe 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 ¾ inches wide x 2 inches long, Chamber diameter: 7/8 of an inch. The weight of the pipe is 64grams/2.26ounces. It is a beautiful pipe and one that will be on the rebornpipes store soon. If you are interested in adding it to your collection let me know. Thanks for walking through the restoration with me as I worked over this pipe. Thanks to each of you who are reading this blog.

2 thoughts on “Breathing Life into a Brigham 4W6 Freehand

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