Blog by Steve Laug
The next pipe on the work table came to us on 10/14/2017 from now closed antique shop in Pocatello, Idaho, USA. The pipe is a classic Custom-Bilt piece – a rusticated long shank Pot shaped pipe with some deep carving around the bowl. The pipe is stamped on the left side of the shank and reads Custom-Bilt. On the heel of the bowl it is stamped Imported Briar. On the right side of the shank there is an “O” stamped at the shank/stem junction. 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 a heavy overflow of lava on the rusticated top and inner edge of the rim. The inside edges looked to be in good condition. The finish was dirty and there appeared to be a burn mark on the right side toward the top that looked like the pipe have been set in an ashtray with cigarettes and suffered the consequences. The stem was dirty and lightly oxidized. It had tooth chatter and marks on the top and underside near the button. There were no markings or a logo on the saddle 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 a photo of the 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.He took a photo of the burn mark on the right side of the bowl. The inside of the bowl is clear so it is not a burn through. It is an obvious burn from being laid in an ashtray.The stamping on the left side of the shank, the heel of the bowl and the right side at the shank/stem joint 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 included 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. 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 scrubbed the stem with Soft Scrub and a tooth brush 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 inner edge had some darkening and wear that would need to be addressed. The outer edge of the bowl look very good. The stem surface looked good with a few small tooth marks and chatter on both sides near the button. The stamping on left side of the shank is clear and readable. I failed to take photos of the stamping on the heel and right side but they to are clear. It is stamped as noted above.I removed the stem and took a photo of the pipe to give a sense of the whole. It is a proportionally pleasing pipe.I started my work on the pipe by addressing the dark burn mark on the right side of the bowl in the worm trail toward the back. I worked over the burn mark the darkening on the rim top with a brass bristle wire brush. I was able to clean it up nicely and it looked better. I scrubbed the bowl with Murphy’s Oil Soap and a tooth brush to remove the debris I had loosened with the wire brushes. I filled in the burned spot on the right side with briar dust and super glue. Once the repair cured I worked over the area with the brass bristle wire brush to remove the excess. With that repair done the burned spot looked much better. Next I worked on the damaged and darkened inner edge of the rim with a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper. It looked much better. With all the repairs and shaping finished I decided to stain the pipe to mask the darkening where the burn mark had been as well as on the rim top. I chose a light brown aniline stain, though once it was on the bowl it looked very dark to me. I would have to deal with that shortly. To lighten the stain and make it more transparent I wiped the bowl down with alcohol on paper towels and cotton pads. I took a lot of the stain off the bowl but it still was too dark to my liking. I sanded the high spots around the bowl with a 1200 grit micromesh pad to remove some more of the dark stain. I liked the overall effect of the new stain and the pattern the sanding created. 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. 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 Long Shank Pot is a great looking pipe now that it has been restored. The style of rustication that is used around the bowl is highlighted by the stain application and works well with both the shape and the polished vulcanite saddle 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 inches, Height: 1 ½ inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 ½ inches, Chamber diameter: 7/8 of an inch. The weight of the pipe is 39g/1.38oz. I will be putting it on the rebornpipes store in the American Pipemakers Section 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!