Repairing and restoring a Unique Tom Spanu Freehand Dublin


Blog by Steve Laug

The next pipe I have chosen is smooth finished Dublin with a plateau top and a horn shank end. The stem is acrylic with a briar saddle and two strips of briar running down the sides. It came to us on September, 2020 from a lady in Salina, Kansas USA. The contrast of the brown and black stains make the grain stand out. It was stamped at an angle on the left side of the shank and read Tom Spanu. On the underside it is stamped F 3 followed by S P. The pipe was very dirty in the plateau on the rim top. All of the grooves were filled in with a thick coat of lava. The bowl was heavily caked so it was hard to know for sure what the condition of the edges was under the lava. The interesting stem with briar inlays was good in the saddle and inlaid sides. The acrylic blade of the stem had tooth chatter and deep marks on the top and underside on and near the button. Jeff took photos of the pipe before his cleanup work. They tell the story and give a glimpse of the pipe. Jeff took photos of the rim top and stem to show the general condition of the pipe. The bowl is heavily caked with a thick overflow of lava on the top and edges fills in the plateau finish. The stem has deep tooth marks and chatter on the top and underside near the button. Jeff took photos of the bowl sides and heel to show the grain and around this bowl. Underneath all the grime it is a nice looking pipe. He took photos of the left side and underside of the shank to show the stamping. The stamping is readable in the photos below and is as noted above. He also included a photo of the inlaid silver dot in an acrylic ring on the topside of the stem to show the condition. To get a short history reminder about the brand I turned to Pipephil’ sites to read what he had written there in the side bar (http://pipephil.eu/logos/en/logo-t7.html#tomspanu). I quote below and also include a screen capture of the pertinent section.

Artisan: Tommaso Spanu (born 1944 in Chiaramonti Sardinia) is an independant pipe maker since 1979. He was established in Laerru (Sardinia) from 1979 to 1999 where he used to harvest, cut and condition his own ebauchons. During this period he often worked for Paronelli. The workshop moved to Sassari (Sardinia) in 1999. He crafts Briar but also Lemonwood, Olivewood, Boxwood, Juniper, Oak and even Cork Oak.I turned to Pipedia for more information (https://pipedia.org/wiki/Spanu). I quote below:

Novarte S.N.C. di Spanu Tommaso

Update: We are sad to report that it has come to our attention that Tommaso Spanu passed from this World in the Fall of 2015 to join the many great Italian pipe makers that came before him. Our hope is that Tommoso’s sons and brother will continue the Spanu pipe making tradition. We can also enjoy the legacy he leaves in the many pipes he has made over the years.

In 1963 Tommaso Spanu left his home in Sardinia and wandered to Northern Italy to become a pipemaker. His uncle had managed an apprenticeship for him in Gavirate, in the province of Varese, with it’s many pipe manufactures. His exceptional talent soon attracted the attention of Alberto Paronelli (→ Paronelli), the grand seigneur of Italian pipe business. Paronelli, a famed pipe designer himself, arranged that the best pipe craftsmen schooled his young fosterling and personally taught him in pipe design and styles. Soon Spanu reached a remarkable level of skills and began to work on the Clairmont pipes, a high-grade brand produced for and distributed by Paronelli. A little later the bulk of the Clairmonts was made by Spanu who was even allowed to stamp them with his own name additionally.

All in all Tom Spanu spent 16 years in the North where he worked with many other famous pipemakers like Guiseppe Ascorti and Luige Radice e.g. In 1979 he finally felt it was time now to continue on his own. So he returned to Sardinia where he established his own workshop with some help from his brothers. A firm was founded to market the pipes, the Novarte S.N.C. di Spanu Tommaso. Furthermore he purchased a licence from the local government and following Spanu is the only pipemaker worldwide who grows, harvests, mills and conditions his own briar!

Today his brother and two sons carry on the family tradition, making more than a thousand pipes a year. Mostly more classic models for Italy, but also a good amount of more stylish designs for the foreign markets. Now, if it comes to talking about “entirely handmade pipes” … Just as when Tommaso started carving pipes, only hand tools are used. Not a lathe or drill is to be found in his workshop!

Around 1997 Spanu was approached by Mercedes-Benz and asked to design briar-burl dashboards for their most luxurious sedans. And he replied “Maybe tomorrow!” We can assume that the envoys looked quite dumbfounded to be turned down that way, and so Spanu explained that while the project would be fun, his first love was pipes, and only once he was not making as many pipes he would consider it. Mercedes-Benz is said to have taken the rebuff in good nature, and even this automobile manufacturing giant is still waiting on Mr. Spanu to finish some pipes.

Beside the all-briar pipes Spanu loves to work with a wide variety of others woods ranging from the traditional olivewood to beech, oak, boxwood and juniper. He often produces hybrids composing different woods.

Jeff had done a great job cleaning up the pipe as usual. He reamed the pipe with a PipNet reamer and cut back the cake back to the bare briar. He cleaned up the walls with a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife. He scrubbed the interior of the bowl and shank with pipe cleaners, cotton swabs and alcohol to remove the tars and oils. He scrubbed the exterior of the pipe with Murphy’s Oil Soap and a tooth brush to remove the grime from the finish. He worked on the rim top lava with the soap and tooth brush. He scrubbed the inside of the stem with alcohol and pipe cleaners. He scrubbed the exterior with Soft. He rinsed it off with warm water to remove the Deoxidizer. It looked very good when I brought it to the worktable.   I took close up photos of the rim top and the stem surface. I wanted to show how well it had cleaned up. The rim top looked very good. The beveled inner edge had some damage on the right side toward the front that would need to be cleaned up in the process. I took photos of the stem to show the tooth marks on the surface ahead of the button and on the sharp edge of the button itself. I took a photo of the stamping on the left side and the underside of the shank. You can see that it is stamped as noted above. It is clear and readable. I took the pipe apart and took a photo of the pipe. It is a good looking pipe and has a few deep scratches around the bowl and shank. There were three small worm holes I the horn shank band where it met the briar stem. They were round and quite deep. They would need to be filled in and repaired to make the band round and smooth once more.I began my work on the pipe by dealing with worm holes in the horn shank band. I filled them in with clear super glue. I repeated the fill until the surface was smooth. I blended the repairs into the surrounding horn and it looked good. I put the stem on the shank and sanded the junction as well. I worked on the beveled inner edge of the bowl with a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper to smooth it our and lessen the darkening. It cleaned up well and looked very good.I worked on the deep cuts in the left side of the bowl with sandpaper and filled them in with clear CA glue. I sanded the repaired areas with 220 grit sandpaper to smooth them out. I polished the repairs with 400 grit wet dry sandpaper.I polished the briar with micromesh sanding pads – dry sanding with 1500-12000 grit pads. I wiped the bowl down after each pad with a damp cloth to remove the sanding dust. By the end of the process they looked very good. I worked some Before & After Restoration Balm into the surface of the briar and plateau rim top with my fingertips and a horsehair shoe brush to clean, enliven and protect the briar. I let the balm sit for 15 minutes and then buffed with a cotton cloth to raise the shine. The photos show the bowl at this point in the restoration process. I set the bowl aside and worked on the stem. I filled in the deep tooth marks on the stem sides with black super glue and set it aside to cure. When it cured I flattened the repairs with a small file. I sanded out the repaired areas with 200 grit sandpaper to blend them into the surface. I started the polishing with 400 grit wet dry sandpaper. I polished the stem with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-12000 grit sanding pads. I wiped it down after each sanding pad with Obsidian Oil. I polished it with Before & After Pipe Stem Polish – both Fine and Extra Fine. I am excited to finish this Tom Spanu F3 SP Freehand Dublin with a Plateau Rim Top. I put the pipe back together and buffed it with Blue Diamond on the buffing wheel. I gave the bowl multiple coats of Conservator’s Wax and the stem multiple coats of carnauba wax. I buffed the pipe with a clean buffing pad to raise the shine and hand buffed it with a microfibre cloth to deepen the shine. It is fun to see what the polished bowl looks like with the rugged rustication all around it. Added to that the polished triple brass and emerald acrylic band and the black vulcanite stem was beautiful. This Spanu Freehand Dublin is nice looking and the pipe feels great in my hand. It is light and well balanced. Have a look at it with the photos below. The dimensions are Length: 6 ½ inches, Height: 2 inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 2 ¼ inches, Chamber diameter: 1 inch. The weight of the pipe is 76 grams/2.68 ounces. It is a beautiful pipe and one that will be on the Italian Pipe Makers Section of the rebornpipes store soon. If you are interested in adding it to your collection let me know. Thanks for walking through the restoration with me as I worked over this pipe. Thanks to each of you who are reading this blog.

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