The Volkswagen Beetle of Pipes

Blog by Kenneth Lieblich

I was very flattered by all the attention that the first restoration of my grandfather’s Dunhill received on this blog. Your kind words gave me the encouragement to carry on publishing the stories of my pipe restorations. Indeed, I will be posting restorations of my grandfather’s other pipes in the weeks ahead. Today’s pipe is not from my grandfather, but from eBay. This Brigham Two-Dot Algonquin (254) is a straight-stemmed pot billiard. It is much more modest than my grandfather’s Dunhill, but it is a charming pipe with its own story to tell. As usual, Steve’s advice was invaluable and – also as usual – any compliments on this restoration are for him; any criticisms are for me. I gave this story the title that I did because this pipe reminds me of the old Volkswagen Beetle: solid, hard-working, reliable, practical – but not very pretty. The very first lot of pipes that I purchased on eBay came from Sudbury, Ontario – the nickel capital of the world. This group of pipes had a little bit of everything in it (you will see some others in the coming weeks), but the one thing these pipes had in common was their filth. Perhaps they all sat at the bottom of a nickel mine and accumulated this filth over the years. Who knows? I started with this pipe because it was the least dirty and least blemished of the bunch. I figured this might be a relatively straightforward restoration – and so it was. The pictures you see here do not do justice to the filth. I may have wiped this pipe down a bit before starting, so you will just have to take my word for it. Fortunately, there were no major structural problems with this pipe. There were scratches on the stummel, some lava on the rim, plenty of cake in the bowl, lots of tooth marks on the stem, and an overall sense of fatigue. The pipe just felt lethargic somehow. By the way, I apologize for the lack of variety of photographs on this pipe. It was being restored while my mind was on other things and I did not snap the pictures quite as often as I should have.

Anyway, to work! Naturally, the first steps involved reaming out the pipe. This pipe has quite a wide bowl and it required both the PipNet Reamer and the KleenReem. I took it down to bare briar, as I wanted to ensure there were no hidden flaws in the walls of the bowl. Fortunately, there were none. I then proceeded to clean out the insides of both the shank and stem with Q-tips, pipe cleaners, and a lemon-infused isopropyl alcohol. Now, I know that sounds more like something you would find in a ladies’ beauty salon, but, in fact, it is a pretty impressive cleaner (more about that perhaps in a future post). I took a BIC lighter and (to quote Steve) ‘painted’ the stem with its flame. This was fairly successful in raising some of the dents. One dent remained, but I dealt with that later. Once this process was done, the stem went for an overnight soak in the Before & After Hard Rubber Deoxidizer. I then moved on to cleaning the outside of the stummel with Murphy’s Oil Soap and an old toothbrush. My father is a dentist, so I know I have a good place from which to source my dental supplies! Actually, that cleaning with the brush tipped the balance of this pipe from a sorry, Sudbury sojourner to a pipe with character and purpose. I followed that up with a smear of Before & After Restoration Balm. That always makes everything look better – even a Volkswagen Beetle pipe. Perhaps applying some on my ugly mug would help, but I digress… The time had come to deal with this pipe’s biggest problem – a problem that pictures will not convey: the stench. The previous owner had clearly enjoyed a very floral, perfumy aromatic tobacco. How shall I put this delicately? It was not to my taste. It took four (or maybe even five) de-ghosting sessions to rid this pipe of the aromatic fetor. This de-ghosting consisted of thrusting cotton balls in the bowl and the shank, and saturating them with 99% isopropyl alcohol. This causes the tars and dreadful smells to leech out into the cotton. Finally, a relatively clean and fresh-smelling bowl emerged. I went back to the stem and cleaned all of the de-oxidizing goop (technical term) off with alcohol, pipe cleaners, et cetera. The oxidation had migrated to the surface and would be fairly easy to remove. Following in the footsteps of Steve the Master, I used 220, 400, and 600 grit sandpapers to address this issue. Before I moved on to the Micromesh pads, I filled the remaining tooth dent in the stem with cyanoacrylate adhesive, let it fully cure, and then sanded it down to meld seamlessly into the stem. Once complete, I used all nine Micromesh pads (1,500 through 12,000 grit) to bring out the lovely lustre on the stem. Naturally, I used Obsidian Pipe Stem Oil in between each pad. I was particularly pleased with how nicely the two Brigham dots gleamed after the Micromesh pads. Back to the stummel. The three patches of rustication (on the rim and the outside) needed a little attention. They did not look quite like Brigham rustication would have looked. I took some stain and applied it to the crevasses of the rustication, carefully avoiding the high spots wherever possible. I also applied some Before & After Restoration Balm to help blend everything together. This looked a lot better and restored a real ‘Brigham’ look to the stummel. The Before & After Restoration Balm had really brought out the best of the wood, but the little nicks and scratches that occur over time had removed some of the charm from this pipe. Lazy Me was hoping that I could get away with just buffing the thing and leaving it at that, but Perfectionist Me knew that that was not going to happen. So, I pulled out all nine Micromesh pads again and went from proverbial stem to stern over the stummel to try and coax some beauty out of this Volkswagen Beetle. It worked! Some beauty was found! I applied more Before & After Restoration Balm and Paragon II Wax. I polished it by hand with a microfibre cloth (deliberately avoiding an electric buffer) and voilà! I now have a Brigham pipe of my very own. This Algonquin Two-Dot pot billiard is never going to win a swimsuit competition, but that does not matter. It is a good, solid pipe that does what it is supposed to do. What more can you ask for? The dimensions of the pipe are as follows: length 6 inches (15.5 cm); height 1¾ inches (4.2 cm); bowl diameter 1½ inches (4 cm); chamber diameter: ⅞ of an inch (2.3 cm). The weight of the pipe is 1⅝ ounces (or 48 grams of mass).

Thank you very much for reading and, once again, I welcome and encourage your comments.

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