Blog by Kenneth Lieblich
Sometimes, the most satisfying restorations are the ones that have the most dramatic difference between start and finish. This is the story of one of those. A friend, knowing of my new pipe-restoration hobby, contacted me recently to see if I could ‘clean up’ a family pipe for him. I told him that I would be happy to. He explained that perhaps the pipe once belonged to his grandfather, perhaps to an uncle – he was not really sure. Imagine my shock when he dropped off this little paneled Nelson apple.Oof! My immediate thought was ‘Nelson got gouged’! You want me to clean up this pipe? How about raise this pipe from the dead? Actually, my first order of business was ascertaining the actual brand name. At first, I thought it was ‘Delson’ (or something similar), but, after rubbing chalk on the shank, I could see that it was, in fact, ‘Nelson’.So, I set about disassembling the pipe to see what needed to be done – beyond dealing with the obvious gouges. The insides of the bowl and stem were actually quite clean, but I set about giving them a thorough cleaning nonetheless. Using isopropyl alcohol in combination with Q-tips and pipe cleaners, I then proceeded to clean out the insides of both the shank and stem. I also added some Murphy’s Oil Soap to remove the external grime, just for good measure.
I removed the metal band around the shank to discover that, not only had the band corroded, but it had also leached into the wood at the end of the shank.Using oxalic acid, I carefully scrubbed the shank end to remove as much of the staining as possible – and I think it worked quite well.I feared the prospect of having to deal with the scratches, holes, gouges, etc. on the bowl, so I thought I would move on to the stem first. I took a BIC lighter and ‘painted’ the stem with its flame in order to remove the light tooth marks. This was quite successful in raising the dents. Once this process was done, the stem went for a soak in the Before & After Hard Rubber Deoxidizer. This soak caused the oxidation to migrate to the surface. I used 220, 400, and 600 grit wet/dry sandpapers to remove the oxidation from the stem. I then used all nine Micromesh pads (1,500 through 12,000 grit) to bring out the lovely black lustre on the stem. I also used Obsidian Pipe Stem Oil in between each pad scrubbing. Now, on to the biggest problem of all: the bowl. What were we going to do? No matter what, the wood needed to be stripped and sanded down, and so I set myself to the task. I had a long discussion with Steve about what to do and he suggested that this pipe was a perfect candidate for rustication. I agreed and thought it would be a good experiment for me to try out the process of rusticating a stummel. I approached my friend with the idea and, although he was open to it, I sensed that he would prefer to keep the pipe as close to its original form as possible. So, going back to Steve for advice, he proposed using an iron and a damp cloth to try and raise the scratches. I expected some limited success, but I was stunned at how well it worked. The vast majority of the gouges were lifted. The small number that were not, were easily filled with cyanoacrylate adhesive. Just like the stem, I used all nine Micromesh pads (1,500 through 12,000 grit) to sand everything smooth. A light application of Before & After Restoration Balm brought out the best in the stummel’s grain.
A new metal band was also needed for this pipe. Although I considered the idea of trying to remove the corrosion from the existing band, ultimately this was an exercise in futility. I went to my jar of bands and found one that was less wide than the original, but actually looked better than the original. I sanded and polished the band until it shone like the sun.
Now I had to do something about the distinct lack of rich colour in this pipe. The solution, as always, came from Steve: aniline dye. I cautiously applied a wee bit of Fiebing’s Medium Brown Leather Dye and then applied flame in order to set the colour. Since it is an alcohol-based dye, I as able to lighten the colour by applying my own isopropyl alcohol to the colour.I applied more Before & After Restoration Balm and some Paragon Wax. I polished it by hand with a microfibre cloth and I could not believe how good it looked! This modest pipe had started its time with me as a candidate for the fireplace and ended up as a lovely pipe whose owner will be able to enjoy it for many years to come. The dimensions of the pipe are as follows: length 5¾ inches (14.6 cm); height 1⅜ inches (3.5 cm); bowl diameter 1¼ inches (3.2 cm); chamber diameter: ¾ of an inch (1.9 cm). The weight of the pipe is ¾ of an ounce (or 24 grams of mass).