Daily Archives: October 12, 2021

An Amazing Transformation Of a “Capitol” Hand Made # 81 Pipe


Blog by Paresh Deshpande

This horn stemmed billiard had been around for so long a time that I do not even remember where it came from. It is really a beautifully shaped billiard with perfectly proportioned size and shape. I would call the bowl an average sized one. There are a few fills in the briar and remnants of what appear to a lacquer coat on the surface which has been worn out over time or could be that attempts were made to get rid of it. There is a brass band at the shank end and covers the shank end face. The stem is a tapered bone with some damage to the bite zone on either surface. The pipe as it sits on my work table is shown below: The pipe is stamped on the left shank as “CAPITOL” in capital letters in gold while the right side is stamped as “HAND MADE” also in capital gold letters followed by shape code “81” which I initial had thought to be 1 (indicated with red arrow) but during the course of my initial inspection the brass band came off revealing “8” (indicated with yellow arrow). It also provided me an opportunity to inspect the shank end face to check for any cracks or damage and was happy to note that there was none. Also, the letter “C” (again indicated with red arrow) in gold was embossed on the left side of the horn stem and revealed when I polished the stem with micromesh pads. When I had read about Savinelli pipes while working on the Savinelli Dry System pipe, I recollected having read that CAPITOL was a Savinelli second/ Sub brand. However, the lack of COM stamp and the trade mark Savinelli shield raised doubts in my mind and I decided to research further. I visited pipephil.eu site and searched the index for stem logo with one letter. I found both the letter C as well as brand CAPITOL both of which matched the stampings on the pipe in front of me (Pipes : 1 letter on the stem (pipephil.eu). Further exploration took me to the page that had the information about the pipe I desired (Can-Car — Pipes : Logos & Markings (pipephil.eu)). I have reproduced a screenshot of the page below.The stampings shown above perfectly match those of the pipe currently on my work table. Thus far, the only thing I have learned is that this pipe could be either from R M Littaur & Co, Great Britain, or KB & B.

Thus the provenance of this pipe is ambiguous and through informed guess work, I would place this pipe as being sold by R M Littaur & Co of Great Britain.

Initial Visual Inspection
The chamber has a thin layer of carbon cake and appears to have been reamed recently. There are a couple of scratches and dings over the smooth rim top surface (encircled in red). The draught hole is dead center and at the bottom of the bowl and this geometry should make it a good smoker. The chamber walls are solid to the touch and I do not foresee any major issues with the walls of the chamber. The stummel displays some beautiful cross grain on the front and aft of the bowl and also over the upper and lower shank surfaces. However, the beauty of the stummel is marred by a few fills (indicated with yellow arrows). There are scrub marks all over the stummel, noticeably more over the shank surfaces and at the foot of the stummel (encircled in green). The dark shiny clear coat of lacquer is blotchy over the stummel surface but completely removed from the shank surfaces and the foot of the stummel. Playing Sherlock Holmes, it is most likely that a start for restoring this pipe was undertaken, but for reasons best known to the person it was shelved. The mortise has a layer of something akin to a parchment paper that is beginning to turn in to white powder like substance. This was placed to ensure a snug fit of the tenon in to the mortise. Since this packing was crumbling, I would be removing it completely. The tapered horn stem is in a relatively good shape. There are a few bite marks at the base of the button edge in the bite zone on both upper and lower surfaces. This has exposed the tissue fibers and it has been my experiences that filling it with clear superglue always leaves behind a patchy white clump of tissue fiber peeking out from under the fill after the stem has been polished. The aluminum tenon is threaded and has a screw-in flat stinger. The horizontal slot is clean but has the airway opening skewed to the extreme right of the stem slot (indicated by a green arrow). Though this did not affect the usability of the pipe itself, but the draw was laborious and not smooth. This would need to be addressed. The stem airway is clean and so are the aluminum stinger and tenon. The contrasting dark and light tissue strands will be a visual treat once the stem has been polished. The Process
I first decided to tackle the stummel as the repairs to the fills would require additional time for filling, curing and shaping. As I had noted earlier, the chamber appeared to have been reamed and a thin layer of cake was left behind. With my fabricated knife, I removed all the cake and took it down to the bare briar. I further sand the chamber walls with a folded piece of 180 grit sandpaper to smooth out the walls and remove the last bit of stubborn carbon stuck to the walls. To finish the reaming process, I wiped the chamber walls with a cotton swab dipped in alcohol to clean the last traces of residual carbon dust. I was happy to note a clean solid chamber with no signs of any heat lines or fissures. Next I cleaned out the shank internals. I scraped out all the dried and crumbly parchment paper like packing with my fabricated tool. I cleaned out the mortise and shank walls with q-tips and pipe cleaners dipped in alcohol. I shall continue further cleaning of the shank and mortise while going through the other processes.Staying with the internal cleaning of the stummel, I subjected the chamber and shank internals to a cotton and alcohol bath and left it overnight to allow the alcohol to draw out the old oils and tars and the cotton to trap them. By next day evening, the cotton and alcohol had fulfilled its intended task. I ran a couple of hard bristled pipe cleaners to remove the moist and loosened out gunk and now the chamber and shank smells fresh and clean and looks it too. While the stummel was soaking in the cotton and alcohol bath, I used the time to address the stem issues. I separated the threaded stinger from the tenon and ran a couple of pipe cleaners dipped in alcohol through the stem airway. The pipe cleaners came out quite clean. With a sharp dental tool, I scraped out the little dried oils and gunk from the slot end.Next I addressed the tooth chatter and the issue of exposed tissue fiber in the bite zone. As brought out earlier, repairs using CA superglue leaves behind clumps of dirty grey fibers visible through the shine and thus I decided to sand the tooth indentations down till I reached the intact surface below. That the stem was adequately thick in the bite zone also helped in making this decision. With a flat head needle file, I went to town sanding the exposed fibers on either surface till they were eliminated. I followed it up by sanding the bite zone with a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper to evenly match the bite zone surface with the rest of the stem surface. I finished the stem refurbishing by wet sanding the entire stem surface with 1500 to 12000 grit micromesh pads. It helps to keep wiping the surface intermittently with a moist cloth to remove the sanding dust and gauge the progress being made. I applied a little EVO to the surface and set the stem aside for the oil to be absorbed. The finished stem is amazingly beautiful as can be seen in the pictures below.With the stem refurbishing completed and the stummel internals all cleaned up, it was time for the external cleaning of the stummel surface. I cleaned the external surface with a hard bristled toothbrush and Murphy’s Oil soap and rinsed it under running warm water. Using a shank brush and anti-oil dish washing soap, I cleaned the mortise and shank internals till all I had was white foam. I used a Scotch Brite pad with dish washing soap and diligently scrubbed the stummel surface. This helped in removing the residual lacquer coat from over the stummel surface to a great extent. I dried the stummel internals and externals with paper towels and soft absorbent cotton cloth and set it aside overnight to completely dry out before I worked on it any further. By next afternoon, the stummel had dried out and I decided to address the issue of fills over the surface. With a sharp dental tool, I extracted the old and loosened fills and cleaned the area with a cotton swab and alcohol. I masked the stampings on either side of the shank surface with a tape as one of the fills was frighteningly close to the stamping and it was best to take precautions now rather than repent later. Using a mix of CA superglue and briar dust, I filled up the pits over the stummel surface and set it aside to cure. While the stummel fills were set aside to harden, there was one issue that needed attention. The brass band at the shank end (for adornment purpose only) was masking the model/ shape code. I addressed this issue by sanding the band over a piece of 180 grit sandpaper to a width which did not cover the shape code. I checked and confirmed that the shape code is visible and set the band aside for fixing it subsequently.Once the fill had hardened, I first sand the fills with a needle file to roughly match the fill with the rest of the surface. I further sand the entire stummel surface with a 220 grit sandpaper and achieved three aims in the process; firstly, blend the fills with the rest of the surface, secondly, completely remove the lacquer coat and lastly, eliminate the minor scratches and dings from the surface. I was careful to remove the scratches and minor dings from the rim top surface. A couple of slightly deep scratches are still visible, but I shall let them be as is.I followed the sanding by the 220 grit sandpaper with further dry sanding using 400, 600, 800 and wet sanding with 1000 grit sand papers. I completed the polishing cycle by wet sanding with 1500 to 12000 grit micromesh pads. I rubbed a small quantity of “Before and After Restoration Balm” deep in to the briar with my finger tips and let it rest for a few minutes. The balm almost immediately works its magic and the briar now has a nice vibrant appearance with the beautiful grain patterns displayed in their complete splendor. I further buffed it with a horse hair brush and gave a vigorous buff with a microfiber cloth to deepen the shine. The dark brown hues of the stummel with its nearly black grains across the stummel look striking and blend the fresh fills nicely. In fact, to the naked eye, the fills are not made out easily. Now it was time to fix the brass band and refresh the gold lettered stampings as seen before the start of the project. I applied Favicol wood adhesive along the shank end and press fitted the band in to place and held it for a few minutes till the adhesive had cured a bit. Using a metallic gold acrylic paint marker, I coated the stampings on either sides of the shank and after a few minutes, I removed the excess paint with a toothpick. I applied the same process to refresh the stem logo C. With this I come to the final polishing of the entire pipe that removes the very fine scratches that remain and enhance the shine and gloss to the stummel and stem. I first mount cotton buffing wheel that I have earmarked for Blue Diamond, on to my hand held rotary tool and polish the entire pipe. This compound is abrasive enough to remove the very fine minor scratches that remain over the stummel and stem surface while imparting a deep shine to the surface. Next, I mount the cotton buffing wheel that has been earmarked for Carnauba Wax and apply a coat over the stem and stummel surface and buff it till the entire wax has been used up to polish the surfaces. I give a once over buff to the entire pipe with a fresh plain cotton buffing wheel to remove any residual wax while imparting a fine glaze to the stem and stummel surface. I finished the restoration by giving the entire pipe a rigorous hand buffing using a microfiber cloth to raise the shine further. The finished pipe looks amazing with a nice deep dark brown color to the stummel with the contrasting shining bone stem with its dark tissue fiber providing a contrast within the stem surface. This pipe is all set and ready for a long second inning and if the beauty of this pipe tugs at your heart, you may like to let me know in the comments section along with your email address. Here are a few pictures of the completed pipe. P.S.- This is one handsome pipe for sure. In the above pictures, the fills are visible, but in person, these fills are well blended in with the rest of the stummel surface. I did have, and still do, the option to stain the stummel with a dark brown stain but that would be over kill and so I have decided to leave it be. However, if you are interested to make it your own and want it stained, I shall be glad to accommodate your request.

Thank you for sparing your valuable time in reading through the write up thus far and being an integral companion through my journeys through the pipe world.

Praying for you and your loved ones always…

A Pipe That Called Out To A Fine Gentleman…Restoring A James Upshall “Tilshead”


Blog by Paresh Deshpande

At the beginning of this month I had posted a write up on a briar calabash pipe with a bone stem (Resurrecting A Dreary No Name Briar Calabash Shaped Pipe | rebornpipes) that called out to Lance Dahl (remember the three beautiful cased D.P. Ehrlich Co, Boston Made Meerschaum that Steve had restored last month?). While exchanging emails, I shared a couple of pictures about the pipes that were seeking new ownership and Lance selected one. From what I have seen of Lance, he is one person with an exquisite taste for unique and quality pipes.

The pipe that Lance has selected and currently on my work table is stamped on the left of the shank as “TILSHEAD” over “ENGLAND”, all in block capital letters. The right side of the shank surface bears the stamp “MADE BY HAND” The high quality vulcanite tapered stem is without any stamp/ logo.I knew TILSHEAD to be the entry level pipe from James Upshall, but that was all I knew about the pipe company!! To get a better understanding of the brand and this grade in particular, I first visited James Upshall – Pipedia.

The entire article makes for an interesting read; however, I have reproduced only the relevant information on the grade of the pipe from the pipe company and particularly the grade of the pipe on my work table:

Grading & Sizing Information

James Upshall pipes are graded by various finishes, i.e. bark, sandblast, black dress and smooth etc. Then by cross grain, flame grain, straight grain and, last but not least, the perfect high grade, which consists of dense straight grain to the bowl and shank. The latter being extremely rare. In addition, the price varies according to group size, i.e. from 3-4-5-6 cm high approximately Extra Large. We also have the Empire Series which are basically the giant size, individually hand crafted pipes which come in all finishes and categories of grain. All our pipes are individually hand carved from the highest quality, naturally dried Greek briar. In order to simplify our grading system, let me divide our pipes into 4 basic categories.

  1. It begins with the Tilshead pipe, which smokes every bit as good as the James Upshall but has a slight imperfection in the briar. In the same category price wise you will find the James Upshall Bark and Sandblast finish pipes, which fill and smoke as well as the high grades.
  2. In this category we have the best “root quality” which means that the grain is either cross, flame or straight, which is very much apparent through the transparent differing color finishes. This group will qualify as the “S”- Mahogany Red, “A” – Chestnut Tan and “P” – Walnut. The latter having the straighter grain.
  3. Here you have only straight grain, high grade pipes, which run from the “B”, “G”, “E”, “X” and “XX”. The latter will be the supreme high grade. Considering the straightness of the grain the latter category is also the rarest. Usually no more than 1% of the production will qualify.
  4. Lastly, we have the Empire Series. These are basically Limited Edition gigantic individually hand crafted pieces, which again are extremely rare due to the scarcity of large, superior briar blocks.

Believe you me Readers, the slight imperfections which destined this pipe to be categorized as TILSHEAD has me in awe of the very high quality standards set by the pipe company. There is not a single fill in the entire stummel surface and the grain is beautiful all around. All in all, this is a beautiful pipe with a quality that would equal or surpass any of the highest grades of line production pipe!

Initial Visual Inspection
The pipe that is currently on my work table has a Dublin shape (though not a classic Dublin but more of a freehand, the carver’s take on the classic shape while following the grain of the briar block) with thick walls. The stummel has a natural stain and is covered in dirt and grime through which beautiful angel hair grain can be seen all around with loosely packed Bird’s eye grain over the rim top surface. There is a thin layer of cake in the chamber and the outward sloping rim top surface is clean. The rim’s inner and outer edge surfaces is pristine. The vulcanite tapered stem is oxidized with severe damage to the bite zone on either surface. The buttons on both surfaces show bite marks with the upper half button missing. The following pictures will give the Readers an idea of the overall condition of the pipe as it sits on my work table. Overall, the thin layer of cake and excellent condition of the stummel are pointers to the fact that the pipe seems to be well looked after, though the stem damages are a proof of the previous owner’s cavalier chomping of the stem. It should be an easy restoration project, unless some gremlins pop up during the process. Detailed Visual Inspection
A thin and even layer of cake is seen in the chamber; however, the cake is very hard. The rim top surface is sans any overflow of lava, dirt, dust and grime, though a number of dents and dings (indicated with pastel blue circles and arrows) can be seen on the outward sloping rim surface. The exact condition of the inner walls of the chamber will be known once the cake has been taken down to bare briar. The chamber odor is strong and should be addressed to some extent once the cake has been taken down and the shank internals have been thoroughly cleaned. The stummel feels solid to the touch and I do not foresee any major issues with the condition of the chamber walls. To be honest with you, this pipe being at the start of the ascending order of grading for James Upshall pipes, I had expected to find a few fills and some non-descript graining on the stummel briar. However, I was surprised to note that there are absolutely no fills on the stummel surface and it boasts of some beautiful angel hair flame grains around the sides, front and aft of the stummel surface while loosely packed Bird’s eye adorns the outward sloping rim top. The stummel surface is covered in dirt and grime giving the stummel a dull and dirty appearance. The stummel surface shows a few dents and dings (indicated by yellow arrows). It does have a quality which is seen on some very high end pipes. The mortise shows accumulation of old oils and tars which would need to be cleaned. The dents and dings to the rim surface and over the stummel surface would be addressed by steaming and sanding the surface. A nice polish with micromesh grit pads will bring a nice shine to the stummel and highlight the grains. The vulcanite stem is oxidized and severely damaged. The bite zone on either surface shows some severe tooth indentations with deformed button on either surface. The upper stem surface has a portion of the button lip missing (encircled in green) and would need to be built up again. The lower surface has a very deep bite mark, the causative pressure of which has resulted in a crack (indicated with yellow arrows) that extends over the lower button edge and up to the horizontal slot. The tenon and slot end are clean. All in all, the stem presents the most major damage on this pipe.The Process
Since the stem on this pipe was most severely damaged and would demand most efforts, I started the restoration process with the stem repairs. I ran a pipe cleaner dipped in alcohol through the stem airway and was pleasantly surprised to find a nice clean pipe cleaner emerge from the other end. There is no doubt that the pipe was kept nice and clean by the previous owner. I flamed the bite zone of either surface over a lit candle to heat and expand the tooth indentation to the surface. It was well worth the try and the surface evenness is much improved than earlier.This step was followed by sanding the entire stem surface with a folded piece of 220 grit sand paper to remove the oxidation from the surface. I wiped the stem with a cotton pad and isopropyl alcohol to clean the surface in preparation for reconstruction of the button edge. I placed a triangulated index card, which has been wrapped in cello tape, into the slot. The tape prevents the superglue from sticking and makes for easy extraction after the glue has cured. I mixed CA superglue with activated charcoal and applied it over the area to be rebuilt / repaired. I set the stem aside for the mix to harden before I could further work on the fill. Little did I know at this stage that this stem was to be such a pain to restore and would lead to a delay of many a day…and yet the end result is not what I usually achieve with my stem rebuilds. While I was working on the stem, Abha cleaned out the chamber of the stummel.  With a fabricated knife, she scraped the chamber walls to remove the thin, hard carbon deposits and also scraped out the lava overflow from the rim inner edge, though there was not much! Once the cake was reamed back to the bare briar, she used a 220 grit sand paper to remove all the traces of remaining cake and also to smooth out the inner walls of the chamber surface. Finally, to remove the residual carbon dust, she wiped the chamber with a cotton pad wetted with 99.9% pure isopropyl alcohol. Next, I cleaned out the internals of the shank and mortise. Using my dental tool, I scraped out all the dried oils, tars and gunk that had accumulated in the draught hole and on the walls of the mortise. I finished the cleaning by running a few pipe cleaners dipped in isopropyl alcohol through the mortise. I shall continue with further cleaning of the shank internals when I clean the internals with cotton and alcohol bath and further during external cleaning of the stummel surface.I continued the cleaning of the chamber and shank internals with a salt and alcohol bath. I used cotton balls which are an at par substitute as I have realized over the years. I drew out a wick from the cotton and along with a folded regular pipe cleaner; inserted it into the mortise and through the draught hole into the chamber. Thereafter, I packed the chamber with cotton balls to about quarter of an inch below the inner rim edge and soaked the cotton balls with isopropyl alcohol up to the brim. About half an hour later, the level of alcohol had gone down, having being absorbed by the cotton. I topped it up once again and set it aside overnight. By next morning, the cotton and alcohol had drawn out all the remaining oils and tars from the chamber and mortise, fulfilling it’s intended task. I removed the cotton balls and ran pipe cleaners through the mortise to clean out all the loosened tars and gunk and further cleaned it with alcohol and q-tips. The chamber now smelled clean and fresh. I set aside the stummel to dry out naturally. With the bowl internals clean, I moved to clean the exterior of the stummel. I used a hard bristled tooth brush and Murphy’s Oil soap to scrub the stummel and rim top. I rinsed the stummel under running warm water with anti oil dish washing detergent till the stummel surface was clean and dried it using paper towels and soft cotton cloth. I simultaneously cleaned the shank internals with the detergent and hard bristled shank brush and set the stummel aside to dry out naturally. Now that the stummel surface was nicely cleaned up and the beautiful angel hair grains exposed, the flip side was that the damages too are exposed! The dents and dings to the rim top surface were now plainly visible and I marked the areas with black sharpie pen as it helps in identifying and placing of the towel while steaming. I steamed out all the minor dents and dings by heating my fabricated knife on a candle and placing it on a wet towel covering the dents. The generated steam pulls the dents to the surface. Most of the dents have been raised to the surface, however, a couple of ones that remain, will be addressed by sanding with a folded piece of 320 grit sand paper. With this, I handed over the stummel to Abha for further polishing and turned my attention to the stem repairs. The stem repairs had hardened considerably over the past 18 odd hours. I used a flat head needle file to achieve a rough match of the patch with the rest of the stem surface. I further evened out the patch with a folded piece of 220 grit sand paper. And it was at this stage in the restoration that my nightmares began! The sanding had revealed what every pipe restorer fears during stem repairs and that is air pockets in the repaired patch. Also I could clearly make out the crack over the button edge on the lower surface of the stem. I had to mix CA superglue and activated charcoal again and apply over the repaired area with a hope and prayer that the air pockets are filled. In all, I had to repeat the process five times and even changed the glue as well as charcoal powder. I even went through the entire process of sanding with sandpapers and polishing with micromesh pads. However, the repairs were not up to my acceptable standards. The following pictures will give the readers an idea of the entire process. After I had been through the entire process of sanding and polishing, the issues of air pockets and visibility of the crack on the lower surface were still apparent and I went to town filing away the repair work with needle file till I reached the bottom of the patch. I reapplied the mix of CA superglue and charcoal powder for the sixth time. On sixth attempt I decided to accept the minor flaws in the aesthetics of the repairs as long as the repairs are solid and lasting. The stem after sixth attempt at repairs is shown in the last two pictures after it was sanded and polished. During the course of my battle with the stem repairs, Abha had been unobtrusively working on the stummel. She sanded the entire stummel with a piece of 320 grit sand paper to remove the minor dings and scratches from the rim top and rest of the stummel surface. She followed it up by wet sanding the stummel with 1500 to 12000 grit micromesh pads to a nice even shine. She wiped the stummel with a moist cloth after every grit pad to remove the sanding dust left behind by the pads. This also helps in monitoring the progress being made and provides an opportunity to take early corrective action, if required. Next, she rubbed a small quantity of “Before and After Restoration Balm” into the briar with her finger tips and worked it deep in to the surface and let it rest for a few minutes. The balm almost immediately works its magic and the briar now has a nice vibrant appearance with the beautiful angel hair flame grains and Bird’s eye grain patterns over the rim top, on full display. The contrast of the dark browns of the grain with the light natural hues of the rest of the stummel adds an interesting dimension to the appearance of the stummel. She further buffed it with a horse hair brush to further deepen the shine. To put the finishing touches, I mounted a cotton cloth buffing wheel on to my hand held rotary tool and polished the stummel and stem with Blue Diamond compound. This compound helps to remove the minor scratch marks that remain from the sanding.Next, I mounted another cotton buffing wheel that I have earmarked for carnauba wax and applied several coats of the wax. I mounted a clean cotton cloth buffing wheel and gave the entire pipe a once over buff. I finished the restoration by giving the entire pipe a rigorous hand buffing using a microfiber cloth to raise the shine further. The finished pipe looks amazingly beautiful and is now on its way to Lance, all ready for its long second innings with him. P.S.- I had tried my level best in addressing and blending in the repairs to the stem with the surrounding surface but to no avail. It would be immensely helpful if our esteemed readers could share a trick or two that I could learn and adopt.

However, I feel the repairs are solid and Lance, if you are reading this, should the stem give you any troubles, just send the pipe back and I shall replace the complete stem at no cost, including shipping! I hope you enjoy the pipes that have traveled across the seas…

Praying for the health and safety of all the readers and their loved ones in these troubled times…