Half ’n Half: An Amazing Transformation Of A St. Claude Bent Billiard


Blog by Paresh

On one of my online hunts for pipes on http://www.Etsy.com/fr (French) site, I came across this beautiful full bent chubby billiard that I really liked. In fact, this pipe called out to my heart. However, the condition of the pipe was such that spending even the paltry sum the pipe commanded, did not make for a sound purchase decision and I moved ahead. A few weeks later, this same pipe again popped on my notification alert and the Seller had further offered a discount. This time around, I made the purchase and within 20 days (that’s a record speed of shipping!!), it was received by Abha and she loved the shape and its chubbiness (??). Here are a few pictures of the pipe that Abha sent me after she had received the pipe… The pipe is stamped on the left side of the shank as “ST. CLAUDE” in cursive over “BRUYERE” in capital letters. The tapered bent high quality stem is stamped as “RW” which is faintly discernible through the thick layer of oxidation that is seen on this stem.At the back of my mind I knew that St Claude is a region in France that is well known for making briar pipes. To get a more accurate and detailed knowledge of the region and the society of all pipe makers in the region, I visited pipedia.org and here is what I learned (Saint-Claude – Pipedia)

Saint-Claude is a commune in the Jura department in the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region in eastern France and was the world capital of wooden smoking pipes crafted by hand from the mid 19th century all the way to the mid 20th century.[1]

As early as the Middle Ages an established place of pilgrimage in Eastern France was the monastery of abbot Saint Claudius. In medieval iconography Saint Claudius was the patron saint of toymakers. The town that grew servicing the pilgrims was Saint-Claude. The pilgrims arrived from all over the Christian world, and the towns people made mementos for sale and lived off business from the pilgrims. The town also produced snuff and pipe stems made of boxwood, bone, horn and amber which they sold to Switzerland, Germany, and Austria. In time Saint-Claude became a thriving centre of wooden souvenirs, gem-setting, and luxuriously-carved pipe stems. According to local legend a Saint-Claude turner named David is credited with the making the first briar pipe. The souvenir industry of Saint-Claude supplied all the manufacturing preconditions for the making of the briar pipe. The firm of Jeantet, as early as 1807, was making and selling German type porcelain pipes, Ulm-type wood pipes and meerschaums from local wood and horn. The contemporary technology determined the shape of the pipes, and they were typically composed of wood-turned parts. Local records indicate that in 1841 there were three pipe-making firms employing twenty workers. 1854 is the year ascribed to the beginning of pipes made from briar.

Further down, the article gives out the changes in the name of the organization and it’s functioning up to 2007!!! The article has a single line on the stamp “Saint- Claude”……..

Stamp “Saint-Claude”
Pipe likely made by Butz-Choquin with JP on stem.

But on my pipe, the stamping on the stem is “R.W.” and so no headway in establishing the provenance of this beauty with piece of information!!

Towards the end, however, there was some information along with a couple of pictures that really caught my attention. Here is what it says…

Saint-Claude Briar Pipe, c. 1855
The pipe illustrated here is one of those early briar pipes made from wood turnings with the same construction as the contemporary pipe stems. It appears that this pipe was marketed to the pilgrim trade. We conclude this because of its lack of finish: the horn mouthpiece is not polished and shows file marks, the grade of the briar is low with large pits whose fillings have since fallen out, the wood is enameled not polished and all the connectors are wooden or horn screws. Of interest is the lip on the horn bit, it is a button lip.Though completely unrelated to the pipe currently on my work table, it is definitely closely related to a pipe that Steve, Jeff and my family had restored during their visit to India a couple of years back. Here is a link to that particular write-up on rebornpipes.com. The similarity is there for you to see. The Final Restoration while in Pune, India – a no name Cavalier | rebornpipes

I would really appreciate if I could be helped with establishing the provenance of this pipe.

Initial Visual Inspection
Abha, my wife, had sent me a lot of 40-45 pipes that she had cleaned up and all ready for my part of restoration process and since she had liked this pipe, it naturally found its way up in to this lot. From the images that Abha had sent, the pipe appeared to be reamed and with no serious damage to the stem, save for heavy oxidation. It was the stummel that is peppered with fills and would need a ton of work.

There are no pictures that were taken to clearly show the condition of each part of the pipe, however, as I had said earlier and the pictures that I have included above, the pipe had been reamed, the mortise had been cleaned, the stem was deeply oxidized but with no serious damage. The stummel had far too many fills on right side for my liking while the left side had a couple.

Initial Cleaning By Abha…
The initial cleaning on this pipe was done by Abha, my wife. She reamed out the complete cake and further smoothened out the chamber walls with a folded piece of 220 grit sand paper. She further cleaned out the internals of the shank with pipe cleaners and alcohol and cotton buds. She followed the internal cleaning of the shank with external cleaning of the stummel using Murphy’s Oil soap and hard bristled tooth brush and dried it with paper napkins and cotton cloth.

Next she cleaned out the internals of the stem air way and immersed it in “Before and After Deoxidizer” solution (pipe is marked in yellow arrow) along with the stem of other pipes in line for restoration. Once the stem had soaked overnight, she cleaned the stem under running warm water and scrubbed the raised oxidation from the stem surface using Scotch Brite pad. She further removed the oxidation by scrubbing the stem with 0000 grade steel wool and applied a little olive oil to rehydrate the stem.Once The Pipe Is On My Work Table…
The cleaned up pipe presents a very clear picture of what needs to be done to restore this pipe to a decent and smoke worthy condition. I really cannot thank Abha, my wife, enough for all the help and support that she extends in my pursuance of this hobby. I proceed to carry out my appreciation of the work that needs to be done on this pipe to restore it. The cleaned up pipe, as I received it, is shown below. The chamber walls are without any heat fissures or pits and that’s a big relief. The rim top surface is peppered with dents and dings. The inner rim edge shows charring at 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock direction (encircled in yellow) and should be addressed, to an extent, by topping on a piece of 220 grit sand paper. There are some minute chipped spots on the outer edge and fills over the rim top surface (encircled in blue). The condition of the chamber is good and will not require much repair work. There are no ghost smells in the chamber.The stummel surface is nice and clean and this cleaned up surface makes shiver my timbers… The right side of the stummel has the semblance of aftermath of a trench warfare battle during WW1! The surface has a large number of fills, many of which have fallen away when the stummel was cleaned. However, the right side has only a couple minor fills with some decent Bird’s eye grains seen over the surface. This clear division of surface, poor on half the left, front and heel and a decent one to the half right has me in a bit of a quandary. Should I rusticate the entire stummel surface or refresh all the fills, stain it dark, polish it and that’s it? Well, I shall cross the bridge once I reach it. The mortise is clean and air flow is smooth. Abha had cleaned the sump in the shank thoroughly and there are no traces of residual oils or tars/ gunk. The tapered vulcanite stem had cleaned up nicely. The surface still has some deep seated oxidation that will have to be removed. The upper stem surface has a couple of deep bite marks at the base of the button and also in the bite zone. The lower surface has some minor tooth indentations in the bite zone. The button edges on both the surfaces need to be sharpened. The aluminum stinger is clean on the exterior but has traces of residual oils and gunk on the inside. The seating of the stem in to the mortise is loose. The Process
The first issue that I addressed in this project was that of the stem repairs. I painted both surfaces of the stem with the flame of a lighter to raise the tooth chatter and bite marks to the surface. This also helps in loosening minor oxidation from the stem surface. I sand the entire stem surface with a folded piece of a 220 grit sand paper to remove the loosened oxidation. I wiped the stem with a cotton swab and Murphy’s oil soap to further clean the surface. Even though most of the tooth indentations have been eliminated by heating the damaged stem portion, one deep indention is still seen on upper and lower surfaces in the bite zone of the stem surface. I filled the tooth indentation in the button edge on both the lower and upper stem surfaces with a mix of activated charcoal and CA superglue and set it aside for the fill to cure. With the stem fills set aside for curing, I decided to work the stummel. The other day during a Face Time video call with Steve, we discussed the best way to transform this stummel. The long and short of the discussion was that it was decided to rusticate the stummel. This would help to mask the fills and provide a very tactile feel while smoking. However, when I held the stummel and saw the beautiful Bird’s eye grains on the left, I waivered from the plan of rusticating the entire stummel. I wanted to preserve and highlight these beautiful grains while the right side was a complete mess. A thought struck me, “why not rusticate the right half while leaving the left side smooth surfaced?” I had worked on a Bari Matador Freehand that had left side sandblasted while the right was smooth and the pipe looked awesome. Here is the link to the write up for the Readers to appreciate the beauty of this pipe. A Simple Refurbishing of a Bari “Matador” | rebornpipes

Though sandblasting is not feasible given that I do not have the necessary wherewithal to do so, I thought of doing something that was within my resources and capabilities…I would rusticate the right side while leaving the left side smooth. In case the end result is not to my liking, I could always rusticate the entire stummel. With this decision finalized, I proceed with rusticating the right half of the stummel.

I drew a mental map on the look/ pattern of rustications over the stummel surface that I desired. I decided to maintain a smooth ring atop the rustication below the outer edge of the rim and also at the shank end. I used a white paper and transparent tape to mask the entire left half of the stummel, the rim top about quarter of an inch below the rim outer edge and a thin band at the shank end that I wanted to keep smooth. Covering the entire left half also covered the faint stampings seen on this pipe. From my experience, I knew that this is a very essential step as I have realized that during rusticating it is very easy to lose track and transgress over the areas and stampings which you wish to preserve. To rusticate, I firmly held the stummel in my left hand and with my right hand and began gouging out the briar. The technique is to firmly press the pointed four prongs of the modified Philips screwdriver in to the surface, rotate and gouge out the removed chunk of briar. I worked diligently till I was satisfied with the rustication and the appearance of the stummel. I cleaned the stummel surface with a brass wired brush to clear all the debris from the rustication. I decided to take a break from further rusticating the surface as the process is tiring and painful. This makes me want a better and efficient rusticating tool. I removed the demarcating tape and took stock of the progress made. I felt that the symmetry between the rusticated and the smooth surface is biased towards the smooth and also the pits and fills on the right side of the stummel are still aplenty. With a marker pen, I marked the area that would need to be rusticated further to address both the issues.  So, I got back to rusticating the remaining stummel surface along the marked line with my tool. I was extra careful not to cross the drawn line.Continuing with the stummel repairs, I removed the few old fills from the left smooth surface using a sharp dental tool and refreshed these with CA superglue and briar dust. Once satisfied that all the fills have been refreshed, I set the stummel aside for these fills to cure. While giving my right hand a rest from this task of rustication, I decided to work on the stem. The fill has cured nicely and with a flat head needle file, I sand the fill to achieve a rough match with the surrounding surface. To achieve a perfect match, I sand the filled stem surface with a 220 grit paper. Once this was achieved, I progressively moved to polishing the stem through 320, 400, 600, and 800 and finished with a 1000 grit sand paper. As expected, a clean and neat looking stem stared back at me. I rub a little Extra Virgin Olive oil into the stem surface to hydrate it and set it aside to be absorbed in to the vulcanite. Turning my attention back to the stummel, I sand down the jagged high points in the rustication to a smooth and even surface without compromising on the tactile feel to the hand. The fills too had cured and set solid. With a flat head needle file, I sand the filled spots and roughly match it with the rest of the surface. I followed it by sanding the entire left smooth surface with a folded piece of 220 grit sand paper to blend in the fills with the rest of the stummel surface.Next I decided to work on the damage to the rim top and edges. I topped the rim on a piece of 220 grit sand paper, checking frequently till I was satisfied that the darkened surface is addressed to a great extent and the rim top surface is nice, smooth and even. The inner and outer edges are still uneven, though much better than before topping, and shall be addressed subsequently.With a folded piece of a 220 grit sand paper pinched between my thumb and forefinger, I created a delicate bevel on the inner and outer edges of the rim top surface. This helps to mask and address the minor dents and dings that had remained on the rim edges after topping. I was careful so as not to alter the profile of the stummel by excessive topping or creation of the bevels. I am pretty pleased with the appearance of the rim top and edges at this stage.To further define and demarcate the rusticated surface from the smooth, I picked up a trick which Steve had used few months back when he had rusticated a bald spot in the briar and cut smart grooves around the rusticated portion. The results were fantastic. Here is the link. Rusticating a Bald Spot on the Briar on a Bjarne Bent Apple | rebornpipes

Just as I had read, I mounted a thick burr on to my rotary tool to create a broad groove between the two surfaces. However, it was easier said than done! The burr just bounced off the stummel surface and no matter how firmly I pressed down on the burr, it wouldn’t cut a groove. Another Face Time video call with Steve and the issue was resolved. The trick is to hold the burr at an angle to the surface and start at slower speeds of the tool. I followed the advice and it worked. I cut a sharp groove at the shank end, along the center of the stummel and under the outer rim edge. Looks pretty cool now! Next I polished the rim top and the smooth surfaces of the stummel using micromesh pads, wet sanding with 1500 to 12000 grit pads. I also polished the high spots in the rustication with the micromesh pads. I wiped the bowl with a moist cloth after each pad to clean the surface. I am happy with the appearance of the stummel at this point in the restoration. The stummel is now ready for a fresh coat of stain. I wanted to highlight the difference between the rusticated and the smooth stummel surface. I decided to stain the rusticated surface with a black dye which would contrast beautifully with the browns of the rim top, shank band and the rest of the smooth surface. I heated the rusticated portion of the stummel surface with my heat gun to open up the pores on the stummel so that the stain is well absorbed. I mixed black stain powder with isopropyl alcohol and liberally apply it over the heated surface, flaming it with the flame of a lighter as I went ahead to different self designated zones of the surface. This helps in the setting of the stain in the grain of the briar. I ensured that every inch of the rusticated surface is coated with the dye while the smooth surfaces are not stained. I set the stummel aside for a day to set the dye in to the briar surface. Once the stain has set in well, I again warm the stummel with my heat gun. This helps the stain to be absorbed and set further into the briar. I mounted a felt cloth buffing wheel on my rotary tool and gently buff the entire stummel surface using Red Tripoli to remove the stain crust. I wiped the stummel with a cotton swab and alcohol to remove any excess stain and followed it up by sanding the raised rustication with a folded piece of 220 grit sand paper. This is followed up by careful dry sanding of the entire stummel, especially the raised rustications with 1500 to 12000 grit micromesh pads. This lightens and highlights the high spots in the rustications.Next, I rub a small quantity of “Before and After Restoration Balm” in to the briar with my finger tips, work it deep in to the sandblasts and let it rest for a few minutes. The balm almost immediately works its magic and the briar now has a nice vibrant appearance over the smooth surface with the beautiful rusticated patterns on full display on the other half. I further buff it with a horse hair shoe brush.With the stummel set aside, I turned my attention to the stem polishing. Using the micromesh pads, I complete the polishing cycle by wet sanding the surface with 1500 to 12000 grit pads. The stem looks great with the fills nicely matched with the rest of the surface. I polish the stem with a little Extra Fine stem polish compound that has been developed by Mark Hoover to remove the last minor scratches. I rub a little quantity of Extra Virgin Olive oil in to the stem surface and set it aside to be absorbed by the vulcanite. The only issue that remains unaddressed at this stage is the issue of loose seating of the stem in to the mortise. With the flame of a lighter, I heated the tenon with the flame of a lighter till it was pliable and inserted a drill bit that was a bit larger in diameter than the tenon opening. This helps in expanding the pliable vulcanite for a snug fit. I held the tenon under cold tap water for the tenon to cool down and set the increased diameter. I also refreshed the stem stamping with a white correction pen.  To complete the restoration, I first mounted a cotton cloth buffing wheel that is dedicated for use with Blue Diamond, on to my hand held rotary tool.  I set the speed at about half of the full power and polished the entire pipe after the stem and stummel were united. The Blue Diamond compound helps to erase the minor scratches that are left behind even after micromesh polishing cycle. I followed the Blue Diamond polishing by applying several coats of carnauba wax with a cotton cloth buffing wheel dedicated to Carnauba Wax. I finished the restoration by giving the entire pipe a rigorous hand buffing using a microfiber cloth to deepen the shine further. The finished pipe looks amazingly beautiful and has undergone quite a transformation. With its perfectly balanced weight, a nice full bent shape and light weight, this is a perfect pipe for clenching while I am working in my office. This is one pipe that will make its way in to my rotation. I wish to thank our esteemed readers for sparing their valuable time to read through and any input or advice is always welcome.

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