Daily Archives: November 4, 2021

How Long Can A Canadian Be?


Blog by Kenneth Lieblich

Next on the chopping block is one of the longest pipes I have ever worked on (excluding churchwardens, etc.). It is a wonderful, rusticated Canadian-shape, with the name Castleton marked on it. Its strong, light, and rugged nature seemed to fit its Canadian moniker perfectly. I acquired a small collection of pipes from West Virginia off of Facebook a few months back and I am just beginning to work my way through them. There were a lot of very interesting pipes there and this one was certainly no exception. I like the look of Canadian pipes in general, and the length of this one was certainly notable– it is nearly eight inches long, yet incredibly light! As it turned out, this pipe ended up beautifully, but it required much more toil that I had initially anticipated. This pipe had only two markings: Castleton on top of the shank; and Imported Briar on the underside of the shank. No logos, nothing else. The name, Castleton, was a bit of a problem. Herb Wilczak and Tom Colwell’s book, Who Made That Pipe?, mentions the name, Castleton, in connection with Comoy’s. Pipedia also confirms that Castleton was a model of Comoy’s. The only problem is that I am fairly sure this pipe is not from Comoy’s. The pipe does not say Comoy’s and does not have the logo – nor does it have a Comoy’s feel about it. Sadly, Steve does not have a Castleton pipe listed on Reborn Pipes, so I did not have a reference there. There are several towns called Castleton – one in Ontario, one in Vermont, one in England (and doubtless others) – but these do not seem related to the pipe. However, Pipephil has a tantalizing bit of information on its site:The lettering of the word Castleton on Pipephil is identical to that on my pipe. Although the lettering of Imported Briar is not identical, the words themselves obviously are and the only difference in the lettering is the italicization on my pipe. Pipephil does not offer any information about this pipe’s country of origin. However, I did a little supplementary research (which I will not bore you with) which suggests that the pipe is probably of English origin, using French briar.Anyway, on to the pipe – and what an attractive pipe it was! However, it was not without its issues. The stummel had the following problems: lava on the rim, notable burns to the bowl and shank, plenty of cake in the bowl, a few scratches here-and-there, and lots of small gouges to the rim. The staining of the wood needed to be revivified too. Meanwhile, the stem had a few problems of its own: there was some oxidation and calcification, and minor tooth marks and dents. This pipe was going to require some considerable elbow grease, but I was particularly looking forward to working on this one. It is a pipe that still has many decades of use in it. The stem was first on my list. This stem has a stinger in it – and it was being quite stubborn about coming out of the tenon! I opted to warm the stem and stinger with a hair dryer and this provided just enough softening of the internal goo to allow me to pull it out. The stinger then went for a soak in some lemon-infused isopropyl alcohol. I let it set for several hours and then cleaned it off and it looks much improved. I wiped down the outside of the stem with Murphy’s Oil Soap on some cotton pads. Then, I cleaned out the insides with pipe cleaners and isopropyl alcohol. Once this process was done, the stem went for an overnight soak in the Before & After Hard Rubber Deoxidizer. The following day, I cleaned all of the de-oxidizing sludge off with alcohol, pipe cleaners, et cetera. The oxidation had migrated to the surface and would be fairly straightforward to remove. I scrubbed vigorously with SoftScrub on cotton pads to remove the leftover oxidation. Before I moved on to the Micromesh pads, I built up some tiny dents on the stem with cyanoacrylate adhesive and let it fully cure. I then sanded it down with 220-, 400-, and 600-grit sandpapers to meld seamlessly into the stem. I will come back to the stem in a bit, but there are other issues to be addressed first!This stummel was quite a mess. I first decided to ream out the bowl. I used both the PipNet Reamer and the KleenReem to remove the built-up cake and followed that with 220-grit sandpaper to eliminate as much as I could. I took it down to bare briar, as I wanted to ensure there were no hidden flaws in the walls of the bowl. Fortunately, there were none. I then proceeded to clean out the insides of the shank with Q-tips, pipe cleaners, and isopropyl alcohol. There was a lot of nastiness inside this stummel and – boy-oh-boy – it took a lot of cotton to get this thing clean! In fact, this pipe’s great length proved to be a problem because I could not get the pipe cleaners all the way down the shank (and I did not, at that time, have churchwarden pipe cleaners). So, channeling my inner MacGyver, I tried to build myself some contraptions which would allow me to clean all the way down the shank. Unfortunately, these worked with very limited success.I was not to be deterred. I decided to build my own pipe retort system. This system uses boiling isopropyl alcohol and a vacuum (a void space, not the household item) to clean the interior wood of a pipe. I won’t describe the whole thing, but you can read Steve’s article about it here. As you can see by the revolting colour of the alcohol, the retort worked very well. I managed to extract lots of otherwise inaccessible filth from inside the pipe. After the retort (definitely not before), 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.I then moved on to cleaning the outside of the stummel with Murphy’s Oil Soap on some cotton pads and also used a tooth brush to get into the crevasses. I actually soaked the rim in Murphy’s for a while just to loosen up the lava. I followed that up by cleaning the insides with some dish soap and tube brushes.As I mentioned earlier, there were many nicks on the rim of the stummel that also needed to be addressed. In order to remove the lingering bits of lava and fix the nicks, I “topped” the pipe – that is to say, I gently and evenly sanded down the rim on a piece of 220-grit sandpaper. This effectively removed the lava and the damage, without altering the look of the pipe.As I also mentioned, there was a burn on the side of the bowl and a burn on the shank that also needed to be addressed. I took some oxalic acid, used several Q-tips, and rubbed and rubbed. The burn did improve considerably but never fully disappeared. I gently poked at it with a dental tool in order to assess the wood. I took solace from the fact that the burn was very superficial and did not affect the integrity of the wood at all. A light application of Before & After Restoration Balm brought out the best in the stummel. What a difference that made! There is some beautiful wood under the grime!Since this pipe is rusticated, I was not going to sand down the stummel with my Micromesh pads, but I did do it to the small sections that were smooth (e.g. where the markings were located). In order to avoid disturbing the rusticated sections, I masked these areas off with painter’s tape. This simplified the process a great deal.On to another problem: the colour. During the course of its previous life and my vigorous cleaning, this pipe had lost some vibrancy of colour. So, in order to accentuate the external beauty to this pipe, I opted for aniline dye. In this case, I did it in two stages. I first applied some of Fiebing’s Black Leather Dye (diluted with isopropyl alcohol) with a dauber to act as a sort of “wash” for the pipe. I wanted the dark colour to remain in the recessed areas of the stummel to contrast with the primary colour. As usual, I applied flame from a BIC lighter in order to set the colour.The following day, I wiped down the stummel with cotton pads dipped in isopropyl alcohol to remove any blackness from the high points. I then applied some of Fiebing’s Medium Brown Leather Dye with a dauber and removed the excess with cotton pads dipped in isopropyl alcohol. Once again, I applied flame from a BIC lighter in order to set the colour and let it sit overnight. Oof – it is really looking good! The contrast in colours worked just as I had hoped. I applied more Before & After Restoration Balm and then it was off for a trip to the buffer. A dose of White Diamond and a few coats of Halcyon II wax were just what this pipe needed. The lovely shine made the wood very attractive. This Castleton was in need of a reminder of its original beauty. The pipe began its restoration journey looking as though it had been left for firewood. Now, it can show its true self – a very handsome Canadian pipe.This Castleton is back to its old glory and ready to be enjoyed again by the next owner. I am pleased to announce that this pipe is for sale! If you are interested in acquiring it for your collection, please have a look in the ‘British’ pipe section of the store here on Steve’s website. You can also email me directly at kenneth@knightsofthepipe.com. The approximate dimensions of the pipe are as follows: length 197 mm/7 3/4 inches; height 56 mm/2 13/64 inches; bowl diameter 34 mm/1 11/32 inches; chamber diameter 21 mm/3/4 of an inch. The mass of the pipe is 37 grams/1.30 ounces. I hope you enjoyed reading the story of this pipe’s restoration as much I as I did restoring it. If you are interested in more of my work, please follow me here on Steve’s website or send me an email. Thank you very much for reading and, as always, I welcome and encourage your comments.

Breathing Life into a Custom-Bilt Panel Billiard


Blog by Steve Laug

The next pipe on the work table came to us on 06/01/19 from an auction in New Castle, Indiana, USA. The pipe is a classic Custom-Bilt piece – a rusticated Panel Billiard shaped pipe with some nice grain around the bowl. The pipe is stamped on the left side of the shank and reads Custom-Bilt. Next to the stem on the underside is a triangle that appears on many of the Custom-Bilt pipes. There was a lot of grime ground into the smooth and rusticated portions of the finish on the briar. The bowl was heavily caked with an overflow of lava on the rusticated top and inner edge of the rim. The inside edges looked to be in good condition. The stem was dirty and lightly oxidized. It had tooth chatter and marks on the top and underside near the button and on the button edge. There were not markings or a logo on the taper stem. It had promise but it was very dirty. Jeff took some photos of the pipe before he started his cleanup work. He took photos of the rim top and bowl to give a clear picture of the thickness of the cake and tobacco debris as well as the lava on the rim top rustication. He also took photos of the top and underside of the stem to show the light oxidation and the chatter and tooth marks. Jeff took photos of the sides and heel of the bowl to give a picture of what the briar looked like. The rustication pattern around the bowl is instantly recognizable as done by Custom-Bilt. It is hard to see that the front, back, right and left side are flat which is what I call a panel. The stamping on the left side of the shank is clear and readable and read as noted above. I turned to Pipephil (http://www.pipephil.eu/logos/en/logo-c8.html) to get a quick view of the brand once again. I knew that I was working with one of the older pipes and probably made by Tracy Mincer himself. He stopped making the Custom-Bilt pipes in the early 1950s. The screen capture I included below shows a brief history of the brand. I turned to Pipedia (https://pipedia.org/wiki/File:CustomBilt_Stamp1.jpg) for a quick read. The majority of the information there was two book reviews of the Custom-Bilt Story by Bill Unger.

The one line I culled was the following: “Tracy Mincer started the original Custom-Bilt pipes it appears in 1934”.

I did a screen capture of the stamping that matched the stamping on the pipe that I am working on. What I learned from that is that the stamp was used by Tracy Mincer in Indianapolis in the US from 1938-1946 and possibly in Chicago before 1938 as well. There were also some metal bits in the vulcanite and the Imported Briar stamp which made think WW2 or shortly after. So now I had a possible date for this pipe. It was an old timer and it was well worth working on.

Armed with that information I turned to work on the pipe itself.  Jeff had cleaned up the pipe with his usual penchant for thoroughness. He reamed the pipe with a PipNet pipe reamer and removed the rest of it with a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife.  He scrubbed the bowl with undiluted Murphy’s Oil Soap with a tooth brush. He rinsed it under running warm water to remove the soap and grime. He cleaned out the inside of the shank and the airway in the stem with alcohol, cotton swabs and pipe cleaners. He soaked the stem in Before & After Deoxidizer and rinsed it off with warm water. I took photos of the pipe before I started my part of the restoration work. The rim top cleaned up really well. The rim top and outer edge of the bowl look very good. The stem surface looked very good with a few small tooth marks and chatter on both sides near the button. There was a deep tooth mark on the topside of the button. The stamping on left side of the shank is clear and readable. It is stamped as noted above.I removed the stem and took a photo of the pipe to give a sense of the whole. The tapered stem is very nice.I cleaned up the darkening on the back side of the rim top and the grooves in the rustication with a brass bristle wire brush. I was able to clean it up nicely and it looked very good.   The bowl was in excellent condition so started by rubbing the bowl and shank down with Before & After Restoration Balm. I worked it into the surface of the bowl sides and shank with my fingertips and a horsehair shoe brush to clean, enliven and protect the briar. I let the balm sit for about 10-15 minutes and buffed with a cotton cloth to raise the shine. The grain came alive. I set the bowl aside and turned to work on the stem. I sanded out the tooth chatter and light tooth marks with 220 grit sandpaper to blend them into the surface of the vulcanite. I started polishing it with 400 grit wet dry sandpaper.  I polished the vulcanite stem with micromesh sanding pads – 1500-12000 grit pads. I wiped it down with Obsidian Oil after each sanding pad. I used Before & After Pipe Polish – both Fine and Extra Fine to further polish the stem. This Custom-Bilt Panel Billiard is a great looking pipe now that it has been restored. The style of rustication that is used around the bowl is quite beautiful and works well with both the shape and the polished vulcanite taper stem. I put the stem back on the bowl and carefully buffed the pipe with Blue Diamond on the buffing wheel using a light touch on the briar. I gave the bowl multiple coats of Conservator’s Wax and the stem multiple coats of carnauba wax on the buffing wheel and followed that by buffing the entire pipe with a clean buffing pad. I hand buffed the pipe with a microfiber cloth to deepen the shine. The finished Custom-Bilt is another pipe that fits nicely in the hand and feels great. Give the finished pipe a look in the photos below. The dimensions of the pipe are Length: 5 ½ inches, Height: 2 inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 ½ inches x 1 ½ inches, Chamber diameter: ¾ of an inch. The weight of the pipe is 61g/2.15oz  I will be putting it on the rebornpipes store shortly. If you are interested in adding this pipe to your collection send me a message or an email. Thanks for reading this blog and my reflections on the pipe while I worked on it. There are many more to come!