Blog by Steve Laug
I am pretty sure that I am a sucker for both a good story and a badly damaged pipe. The next pipe on the table came with both. I received an email from Dewey in Iowa about a pipe he bought over 20 years ago. It was one of his favourite pipes and it had a serious crack in the exterior of the bowl. He wrote asking what he could do about it. Here is what he wrote:
I have owned a Karl Erik pipe for over 20 years. Bought it from the National Cigar Store in Waterloo, Iowa…..it is my favorite pipe…
just yesterday I found a large crack has appeared on the bottom of the pipe. It still smokes fine but is there anything that can be done to stop it from cracking further and can the crack be filled? …The crack does extend up the front of the pipe into a small design where a short second crack is present…wow…
I was going to send pics but don’t know how to add them here
Thank you so much for your time and consideration.
I wrote him back and asked him to send the photos to my email account. He sent three photos of the pipe. I think that the first two are teasers to get my interest before he hits me with the photo of the damage to the bowl. He obviously took photos mid smoke. It is a uniquely shaped pipe and one that he really loves to smoke. You can see from the photos above what I saw. The pipe was obviously heavily caked and the plateau on the rim top was filled in with lava overflow. The stem was chomped and had deep tooth marks visible on the topside. But so far it looked no different than any other pipes that I have worked on. It was a nice looking Karl Erik pipe that had been thoroughly enjoyed for over 20 years. Then came the next picture of the damage in question. Wow!He also added that there was more damage. I have included our further email conversation below.
Steve, the crack does extend up the front of the pipe into a small design where a short second crack is present…wow…
…there is also a very small crack extending below the stem hole…but it has been there for quite a while now and doesn’t seem to be growing larger.
So now I knew what we were talking about. A crack in the heel of the bowl and up the front into the carved design with a second smaller crack in the design itself. There was also a small crack on the shank end extending downward from the mortise. I wrote Dewey back about what he could do with the crack in terms of self repair. His response was to ask if I would do the repair. We wrote back and forth for a while and finally I agreed to take on the project. I wanted to make sure that he understood that the repair would be solid but that it could possibly crack again. He was fine with that and reiterated that he was in no hurry with the pipe. Several weeks went by and the pipe arrived in Vancouver. Here is what I saw. The pipe was far dirtier than I could see from the photos. When the package arrived and my wife brought it in I could smell the sweet, smoky aroma of the pipe through the padded envelope. My wife handed it to me we the short declaration “IT STINKS”. I had to admit that it did. The bowl had a lot of oils and grime ground into the surface of the briar that all but hid the grain on the bowl. The plateau rim top was almost smooth with the filled in lava overflow and there was a thick cake in the bowl. The stem was oxidized, calcified and chomped with heavy tooth marks on both sides ahead of the button. When I removed the stem the mortise and airway were reduced from the tars and the airflow through the shank and stem were restricted. The pipe would need a serious ream and clean before I could assess the damage from the crack. I would need to ream it back to bare briar to see if the cracks went into the chamber. It was impossible to see the condition of the chamber.
I took close up photos of the rim top and bowl and the stem before I started my clean up work so that I could document the condition of the pipe when I started my work on it.The stamping on the underside of the shank is quite filled in with the grime but reads Karl Erik [over] Hand Made in Denmark [over] A which is the grade stamp.I took photos of the crack in the heel of the bowl and up the front side into the carving. It is quite long and large and the crack is singular. It has not taken off in other directions. That is the good news with this damaged bowl.I removed the stem from the shank and took a photo of the look of the pipe. It is an interesting shaped pipe with a jutting chin on the front.In order to move forward with the examination of the bowl I needed to clean it up. To inspect the inside walls of the chamber and the base of the chamber to see if the crack goes into the chamber I needed to remove all of the cake. It needed to be smooth if I was going to be able to examine it properly. I reamed the bowl with a PipNet pipe reamer and cleaned up the remnants in the chamber with a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife. I wrapped a dowel with 220 grit sandpaper and sanded the walls and bottom of the bowl to further clean it up.At this point I examined the bowl with a flashlight and a dental probe and I could not see any cracking on the bottom of the bowl or the sides parallel to the crack on the heel and the front of the bowl in the carving. That was a wonderful discovery! I knew now that I was dealing with a crack on the exterior of the bowl that had not proceeded inside. I am wondering at this point if Dewey had dropped the pipe on a hard surface as that would explain what we were dealing with.
I decided to clean up the exterior of the bowl next. I scrubbed it with undiluted Murphy’s Oil Soap, a tooth brush and a brass bristle brush for the plateau. I scrubbed it with the soap and the brushes until it was a mess and rinsed it off with warm running water. I repeated the process until I was convinced I had removed the thick grime coat and lava on the rim top. I took photos of the cleaned bowl at this point. It is nice to see the grain poking through. It is a really nicely grained pipe. I am thinking that the characteristic carved patterns around the bowl and shank were done to deal with flaws in the briar. I wonder if the crack started in the carved area and proceeded downward? I focused some of the cleaning on the crack on the front carving where it appeared that there were two cracks. I have circled the crack in the second photo and have red arrows pointing to the damaged spots. I also cleaned the crack down into the heel of the bowl. I wanted it to be free of grime and oils so that the repair would be solid.With the externals clean and the bowl reamed it was time to clean out the mortise and the airway in the shank and the stem. I scrubbed them with 99% isopropyl alcohol, cotton swabs and pipe cleaners until they came out clean. The pipe was finally beginning to smell less sour.With the pipe clean it was now time to work on the cracks. I drilled a small micro pin hole at each end of the crack to stop it from spreading further. I filled in the pin holes and the crack with briar dust and clear super glue. I layered the repair using a dental spatula to pressed the dust deep in the cracked area. I did the same thing with the small hairline crack on the shank end.Once the repair had cured I sanded the heel of the bowl, the front of the repair and the chin edge with 220 grit sandpaper to smooth out the repaired area and blend it into the surrounding briar.I used a black stain pen to fill in the crevices of each of the carved areas around the bowl and shank sides as well as those in the plateau areas on the rim top and shank end. It appeared that this is what it looked like originally and I like the sense of contrast and depth that it gives those areas once the bowl is polished.I stained the repaired areas with a Maple stain pen to match the surrounding briar. It involved staining the heel of the bowl, the nose and carved area on the front of the bowl, the rim top high points on the plateau and the high points on the plateau on the shank end. The pipe is beginning to take shape and look better.With the staining finished I polished the briar with micromesh sanding pads – dry sanding with 1500-12000 grit pads. I wiped the bowl down between the pads with a damp cloth to remove the debris. By the end o f the process the bowl began to take on a rich shine. The repairs, while still visible were less so than when I started the polishing. I rubbed the bowl down with some Before & After Restoration Balm. I worked it into the briar with my finger tips to clean, preserve and protect the briar. I let it sit for 10-15 minutes then buffed it off with a cotton cloth. I set the bowl aside and turned my attention to the stem. I scrubbed the stem with Soft Scrub and cotton pads to remove the oxidation and calcification which seemed to reside on the surface of the vulcanite. I scrubbed out the tooth marks at the same time working the scrub deep into them. I was amazed at how clean it was when I had finished. I “painted” the tooth marks with the flame of a lighter to lift them to the surface. The heat raised them significantly but not completely. I filled in the remaining marks with clear super glue and once it had cured flattened the repairs with a file and also recut the button edges. I sanded the stem with 220 grit sandpaper to blend the repairs into the surface and started polishing the stem with 400 grit wet dry sandpaper. I polished the stem with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanding with 3200-12000 grit pads. I wiped the stem down after each pad with Obsidian Oil which cleans and protects the vulcanite. I polished it further with Before & After Pipe Stem Polish – both Fine and Extra Fine. I gave it a final wipe of Obsidian Oil and set it aside to dry. It was good to be finished with this labour of love. I would be glad to pack it up and send it back to Dewey. It looks amazingly good considering where it was when I started. Some may not agree with my method of repair but it has worked for me for many years. The cracks in the exterior of the briar were repaired and filled in. The bowl been restained and polished. I buffed the bowl and stem with Blue Diamond on the buffing wheel and the bowl began to shine. The Karl Erik A Hand Made Freehand looked almost like new (minus the dark line of the crack repair). The dimensions of the pipe are Length: 7 inches, Height: 2 ½ inches, Outer diameter of the bowl:1 ¾ inches, Chamber diameter: 7/8 of an inch. I know Dewey will be excited to get this back when I send it out next week. It is a beautiful pipe and with the repair and restoration it should continue to serve Dewey for a long time to come. Thanks for walking through this repair with me.