A Pipe Restorer’s Nightmare

Blog by Steve Laug

I think that it is very good for me too acknowledge issues that come up with pipes that I have restored and sold. I have done it before and will continue to do so to maintain both my integrity and humility! My Mom used to say that confession is good for the soul. She has been proved right over and over again. However, this confession is one that I have never had to do before. Thankfully, I have had this particular “mess” happen to me only once in 30+ years. I sold a Peterson Irish Second 05 Calabash to a fellow in Michigan. It was a hefty piece of briar and quite beautiful even with the flaws and fills around the bowl. He fell in love with it and wanted it. As is my habit, I went over it carefully before I sent it to make sure that it was sound both inside and out. I was happy with it, so I packed it up and sent it out to him. A few days after he received it I got an email from him asking me to give him a call as he wanted to chat about his pipes.

I called and after the normal pleasantries were exchanged, he told me what had happened. He had smoked the pipe twice and on the second smoke he noticed smoke coming out of a crack under his thumb on the back side of the bowl. That made him notice that it was also coming out  of a crack on the left and front of the bowl. He examined them and saw some cracks that had formed in those places during his smoke.

I was blown away as I had carefully checked it over both inside and out and did not find anything even close to cracks. This is why I ream the bowl back to bare briar to check it carefully! The best that we could figure out was that the removal of the cake had allowed the heat from the burning tobacco to open cracks that were not visible before. From his description they seemed to be quite large and long. I offered him a replacement and suggested that he use this one for firewood but he would not be persuaded. He wanted me to repair the pipe so he could keep smoking it! He was quite certain this was the course of action he wanted. I sent him the replacement anyway and asked that he mark the cracks for me when he sent it back so I could make sure I was not missing anything. He agreed and said he would have it out that week.

Let me tell you waiting for that pipe to arrive seemed like it would never end. Finally after at least 10 days his package arrived. I had to laugh when I saw the package. The box he chose was great. It was printed with Dr. Sasquatch smoking a pipe and wearing a great smoking jacket. I took it to the worktable and opened the box. I unpacked the well packed pipe from its protective wrappings. True to his word he had marked the areas on the bowl with yellow chalk so I would not miss them. I took photos of the bowl when it arrived. I include those below. I went over the entire bowl with a bright light and a lens. I checked the inside of the bowl for cracks and crevices as well as the outside. I marked the ends of each crack that I found on the outside of the bowl with a black Sharpie pen. When I finished there were 16 marks on the briar both within and on the edges of the yellow chalked areas.I double and triple checked the briar to make sure I found them all. The good news was I had! I then used a microdrill bit in my Dremel to drill a small pilot hole at the end of each crack to keep it from spreading further. These cracks seem to have spidered with the heat and I was hoping to stop that process from continuing. I used a dental pick to trace the cracks along the surface of the briar. I filled in the cracks and the pilot holes with briar dust and clear super glue. I used a dental spatula to press the dust into the holes and the cracks. The process is pretty simple – I spread a little CA glue first and then use the spatula to push the dust into the glued areas. At this point in the process I dropped the ball and forgot to take photos! My words will have to tell the story. I sanded the repaired areas with 220 grit sandpaper to smooth them out and blend them into the surrounding briar. I polished the bowl with micromesh sanding pads to polish the areas. At this point I was not trying to hide them just smooth them out. Once I finished I rubbed the bowl down with some Before & After Restoration Balm and let it sit for ten minutes then buffed it off with a soft cloth. The bowl looked pretty good.

Now it was time to address the inside of the bowl. I needed to fill in the cracks in the bowl walls and the only way I know that works is to use JB Weld. It dries hard and does not gas off in heat. It is neutral and provides a good heat barrier when smoking the pipe. I wiped out the inside of the bowl with alcohol and cotton pads to make sure it was clean.I mixed up a batch of JB Weld on a piece of paper using a small tooth pick to combine the two parts of the product. I put a pipe cleaner in the airway to keep it clear of the product and to make sure I did not fill in the airway with it. I then applied it to the walls of the bowl with a dental spatula.I checked the coverage on the inside of the bowl with a bright light. It had been evenly applied to walls and the bottom of the bowl. Now it had to cure. I set it aside in a pipe rest for two days until it had hardened. Once the repair had cured and was hard I sanded it with my Dremel and a sanding drum. I took it back so that the JB Weld was in the cracks and crevices and the briar around was smooth. I sanded it further with a piece of dowel wrapped with 220 grit sandpaper. I wanted the bowl surface to be smooth touch but rough enough that a cake would build and adhere to it. It is hard to describe but I know what it feels like. I wiped the bowl down with a cotton pad and alcohol to remove the sanding debris.Once the bowl was clean – more clean than the above photo! I mixed up a batch of my bowl coating. I used sour cream and charcoal powder. I mix them together into a black paste. I use two capsules of charcoal for one teaspoon of sour cream. This coating, as strange as it sounds, dries without a smell and facilitates the build up of a natural cake. I put a pipe cleaner in the airway and use a folded pipe cleaner to paint the walls and bottom of the bowl with mixture. I set the bowl in a pipe rest and let the coating dry.The beauty of the mixture is that as it dries it turns black. Once it had cured to touch I took the following photos to show what it looks like. You can still see the light grey streaks in it so it is not completely hardened yet but once it is these disappear. I gave the pipe multiple coats of carnauba wax and buffed it with a clean buffing pad to raise a shine. I had buffed it with a microfibre cloth to deepen the shine. I will let it sit for a few more days to thoroughly dry and then it will be on its way to Michigan for my patient customer to smoke again and enjoy.

3 thoughts on “A Pipe Restorer’s Nightmare

  1. Jeffrey Howll

    Thanks for showing your “warts”… It just goes to show “the best laid plans…” And at the same time reminds “It doesn’t matter how many times you fall, what matters is how many times you get back up”. I too have had to go back and correct “mistakes” that I didn’t make – but, there is a special sense of accomplishment in “taming the savage beast” -jeff (have no idea why I am thinking in quotations today…)

  2. ThePipeSteward

    Unbelievable! Steve, normally, this guy would have been fodder. For heat to have expanded the cracks so decisively after initially heating up is bizarre. There’s no doubt that something happened, but the expansiveness of the cracks is mysterious. Great job resurrecting this guy. I would have been tempted to take it for a test run 😊!


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