Daily Archives: May 15, 2022

Breathing Life into a Custom-Bilt Rhodesian


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 Diamond shank Rhodesian shaped pipe with some deep carving around the bowl. The pipe is stamped on the left underside of the shank and reads Custom-Bilt [over] Imported Briar. On the right underside of the shank it bears a carved square near the stem/shank junction. The bowl was heavily caked with a an overflow of lava on the smooth rim top toward the back and on the inner edge. The inside edges looked to be in good condition. The finish was dirty but the pipe still has a sense of charm. The stem was dirty and lightly oxidized. It had tooth chatter and marks on the top and underside near the button. The was a chipped area on the topside edge of 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 smooth rim top. He also took photos of the top and underside of the stem to show the oxidation and the chatter and tooth marks. The photo of the topside of the stem also shows the chipped edge of the button. 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. The stamping on the left underside of the shank and the right underside 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. It also has a comment on the symbols stamped on the shank near the stem including the square that is stamped on this one.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 and 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 biggest issue was the chipped button on the tops side.    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 darkening on the rim top and cleaning up the damage to the inner edge of the rim. I used a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper to reshape the edge and to clean up the rim top. The finished rim top and edge looks better.    I polished the rim top with micromesh sanding pads – dry sanding with 1500-12000 grit pads to develop a deep shine on the smooth portions of the bowl. I wiped the bowl down after each pad with a damp cloth to remove the sanding debris.   The bowl looked good at this point so I rubbed it 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 rebuilt the chipped button with black rubberized super glue. It was not a large chip and the glue would do the trick with it. I folded a pipe cleaner and greased it with Vaseline. I slipped it in place in the slot under the chipped area. I filled the chip in with the super glue. I rebuilt the inside edge using a tooth pick. I filled in the deep tooth marks with black super glue at the same time.  Once the repair cured I used a pottery trimmer blade to shape the inside of the slot. I need to do some light patching still to take care of some air bubbles in the inside edge. I also flattened the repair on the topside and shaped the button edge on both sides with a small flat file. It is starting to look very good.I sanded the button edges and the repairs on the stem 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 Rhodesian 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 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: 1 ½ inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 ¾ inches, Chamber diameter: 7/8 of an inch. The weight of the pipe is 40 grams/1.41 ounces. 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!

An interesting challenge – joining a broken shank and bowl on a Manx Meerschaum


Blog by Steve Laug

Yesterday afternoon a fellow stopped by for a visit and to show me his collection of Manx  Meerschaum pipes from the Isle of Man. It turned out that his great uncle had worked at the Laxey Pipe Factory which closed in 2002 so he had some of his pipes and some others that he had collected over time. He also wanted to show me sad victim or circumstance – a Manx Billiard that a friend had knocked out of his hand/mouth the night before. The shank had snapped off at the bowl. The break was very clean and there were no extraneous pieces to deal with. It was complete in the two parts. The stem and tenon were undamaged. Fortunately as he transported it to my porch wrapped in a scarf it did not chip or incur further damage. I took photos of it this morning when I brought it to my work table. I had a short piece of metal tubing. It is harder than the average aluminum inner tube and also a bit larger in diameter. It fit well in both sides of the broken airway. I was going to use super glue to anchor it in the bowl half first and let it harden very well. I did not want any slippage back and forth in the airway. I set the bowl aside to let the glue cure on the tube. I filed the tube to roughen it up and to make the fit in the shank part of the break work well. I slide it in place and took a photo of the fit of the shank to the bowl. It looks quite good. I will need to glue it to get a solid repair but it looks like it will work well with no gaps once it is glued.With the restoration going on in my basement shop area I could not put my hands on my epoxy so I went to the local tool shop near my house and chatted with one of the gents there about what I was working on. They had some JB Weld but he recommended a product called Weld Bond. It is good for repairing cracked pottery, stone and even wood. It dries rock hard in 24 hours and is clear once it dries (a bonus on this pipe). I spread the glue on both halves of the broken pipe and painted it on the surface of the tube as well with a tooth pick and worked it into the grooves of the break. I slid the shank piece on to the tube and lined the break up. I pressed the parts together and wiped off the excess glue with a cloth. I held it in place until it bonded the parts together. I pressed the parts together and bound it together with green tape. I wrapped the tape around the entire bowl and shank to hold it tightly in place while the glue cured. I set the bowl aside for 24 hours to let that happen. That is always the hardest part for me as I am impatient and want to move onto the next part. But the wait is on and I am gritting my teeth while I wait.  I set the bowl aside and turned my attention to work on the stem. It had a lot of tooth chatter and light marks on the surface on both sides. I had originally thought the stem was acrylic but it was a nice vulcanite. I “painted’ the surface of the stem with the flame of a Bic lighter to lift them as much as possible. The marks on the underside lifted well. The majority of the top side also lifted. I had a few deeper ones that need a spot of super glue to smooth them out. Once the repair cured I sanded the repairs on the stem 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. I removed the tape holding the repaired shank/stem repair together. It was solid. The crack was only visible on the lower right side and part of the underside. It is filled in but can be seen if you look for it. I filled in the remaining crack in the surface of the meer on the right lower/underside with the Weld Bond glue I used to bind it together. It dries clear so I am looking forward to seeing how it looks afterward.I reamed the pipe with a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife. I cleaned the rim top with the tip of a knife and a brass bristle wire brush. I was able to get back some of the rustication on the top. I have had good success with Before & After Restoration Balm on Meerschaum so I worked it into the surface of the bowl and shank with my finger tips and a shoe brush to clean, enliven and protect the rusticated surface of the meerschaum. I let it sit for 15 minutes and then buffed it off with a soft cloth. It looked very good. This Manx Made Meerschaum Rusticated Billiard is a great looking pipe now that it has been restored. The style of rustication that is used around the bowl is classic Isle of Man rustication from the Laxley Pipe Company. It works well with both the shape and the polished vulcanite stem. I put the stem back on the bowl and carefully hand buffed the pipe with a microfiber cloth to deepen the shine. The finished Manx Made Meerschaum Billiard 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: 6 inches, Height: 2 inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 ¼ inches, Chamber diameter: ¾ of an inch. The weight of the pipe is 61 grams/2.15 ounces. I will be giving the fellow a call who dropped it off. I think he will enjoy the repair of one of his favourite pipes. Thanks for reading this blog and my reflections on the pipe while I worked on it. There are many more to come!