A Decorated Veteran

Blog by Kenneth Lieblich

Next on the chopping block is this superb Ropp Six. It comes from a group of pipes I purchased from France. I love this pipe. I have a particular interest in French pipes and pipeworks, and I grabbed this one to restore for my collection. This is an old, old pipe with a few wounds (i.e. a veteran pipe with decorations) and needs just a little help to come back to life. This pipe was made by the venerable French pipe company, Ropp. Ropp has been around for a long time and their early pipes are really quite wonderful (the less said about their modern pipes, the better). The markings on the left-hand side of the shank read Ropp [over] Six. The right-hand side of the shank reads 886, presumably the shape number. Also, on the stem, there is the Ropp logo: Ropp, encircled in an oval.This pipe shape is a Rhodesian – a variation of the classic Bulldog. A Rhodesian will have a cylindrical shaped shank, not a diamond shank like the Bulldog. This is a really pretty pipe and feels very comfortable in the hand.

From Pipedia, here is a very brief history of the Ropp company:

Eugène-Léon Ropp (1830–1907) acquired a patent for the cherrywood pipe in 1869. In 1870, he established a workshop to manufacture such pipes in Bussang, in the Vosges mountains. Around 1893, his business moved into the former mill of Sicard (part of the community of Baume-les-Dames in Upper Burgundy. The pipes were a big success in export as well. Shortly before 1914, Ropp designated A. Frankau & Co. (BBB) to be the exclusive distributor in the UK and its colonies. Probably in 1917, a workshop in Saint-Claude in the rue du Plan du Moulin was acquired to start the fabrication of briar pipes. In 1923, another small building in Saint-Claude, serving as a workshop for polishing, was added. Cherrywood pipes were the mainstay of Ropp until the company finally closed down in September 1991. The company was taken over by Cuty-Fort Entreprises in 1994. On to the pipe: it was in decent shape, but it had a few issues. The stem had a bit of oxidation and calcification, but – mostly notably – it had substantial bite marks, top and bottom. The stummel also had a few issues. The outside of the bowl had some scratches and a couple of fills that needed to be addressed. These are the “decorations” I referred to in the title of this article. There was lava and debris on the rim, and a few burn marks too. The inside was pretty dirty too – it would need a thorough cleaning. 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 my heat gun 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 looked much improved. I then finished it with some metal polish and moved on. I wiped down the outside of the stem with Murphy’s Oil Soap on some cotton pads. I also took a BIC lighter and ‘painted’ the stem with its flame in order to lift the bite marks and dents. This was not successful at all in raising the damage. More work would need to be done. Then, I cleaned out the insides with pipe cleaners and isopropyl alcohol. Even the bore was clogged with debris! It took an awful lot of work to get this clean! Once this process was done, the stem went for an overnight soak in the Pipe Stem Oxidation Remover. The following day, I cleaned all of the de-oxidizing mess off with alcohol, pipe cleaners, et cetera. The oxidation had migrated to the surface and would be fairly straightforward to remove. I scrubbed with SoftScrub on some cotton pads to remove the leftover oxidation. After this, I used some nail polish to restore the Ropp logo on the stem. I painted the area carefully and let it fully set before proceeding. I built up the dents on the stem with cyanoacrylate adhesive and let them fully cure. On this occasion, I actually built up several layers of the glue over a few days. I must admit, it was an annoying and frustrating process because, at this stage, it never looked quite right. I then sanded the adhesive down – first with a small file – then with 220-, 400-, and 600-grit sandpapers to meld seamlessly into the stem. 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. On to the stummel, and the usual cleaning procedures were in order for this pipe. This stummel was a bit of a mess inside, so 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 the bowl down to bare briar, as I wanted to ensure there were no hidden flaws in the walls of the bowl. There were some very thin craze lines inside the bowl, but they were small enough that I elected to leave them as they were. I then proceeded to clean out the insides of the shank with Q-tips, pipe cleaners, and isopropyl alcohol. There was considerable filth inside this stummel and it took a lot of cotton to get it clean. I followed that up by cleaning the insides with some dish soap and tube brushes.

I used a small butter knife to gently chip away at the lava on the rim. I then used more Murphy’s with a scrub brush to remove any remainder. This actually worked quite well. I then moved on to cleaning the outside of the stummel with Murphy’s Oil Soap and some cotton pads. That removed any latent dirt that blighted the wood.

In order to remove the remaining burns and nicks on the rim, 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 damage, without altering the look of the pipe.Having completed that, I was able to address the small nicks on the stummel. I dug out my iron and a damp cloth to try and raise the nicks. The hot and moist steam can often cause the wood to swell slightly and return to shape. There was some movement – not a lot, but it was better than doing nothing. The repair was not perfect, but the remaining scratches would be improved by sanding.I lined the fills with cyanoacrylate adhesive and briar dust. After letting them cure, I sanded the fill repairs down with 200-, 400-, and 600-grit sandpaper. I then used all nine Micromesh pads (1,500 through 12,000 grit) on the stummel to finish it off. After that, a light application of Before & After Restoration Balm brought out the best in the stummel’s grain. There is some beautiful wood after all. It is a very handsome, decorated veteran. In order to accentuate the external beauty of this pipe, I opted for aniline dye. I applied some of Fiebing’s Medium Brown Leather Dye. As usual, I applied flame from a BIC lighter in order to set the colour. I then added a second coat – just to make sure. What a difference that made! It looked so much better with a fresh coat of stain. I applied some 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 carnauba wax were just what this pipe needed. The lovely shine made the wood very attractive. This is a very handsome pipe and will provide many years of smoking pleasure. This is a wonderfully crafted pipe and has a very elegant feel to it. It took some work, but I am proud of it and the final product suits me to a T. It retains some wounds from battle, but, as Steve would say, they are part of this pipe’s story. This is one pipe that I am keeping for myself and adding to my collection. I am sure that I will be enjoying this one for many years to come. I hope you enjoyed reading the story of this pipe 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 email me directly at kenneth@knightsofthepipe.com. Thank you very much for reading and, as always, I welcome and encourage your comments.

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