Restemming and Restoring a Svendborg Sandblast Freehand


Blog by Steve Laug

There is something about Freehand pipes that catches Jeff and my eye when we come across them. This stemless one was no exception as it quite captured our attention. The combination of sandblast, carved rim top to look like plateau, the horn shank extension all worked together to make this a stunning looking pipe. Jeff purchased the stummel on 06/16/22 from a seller in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, USA. The pipe was stamped on a smooth panel on the underside of the shank and read Svendborg [over] Danish [over] Hand Made. The rich reddish brown overstain on an undercoat of black stain on the sandblast finish looked very good. It had a lot of dust and debris in the grooves of the sandblast. The bowl had a thick cake in it and it overflowed into the carved plateau style rim top. It was dirty but very interesting looking. The horn shank extension was dry but in good condition and flared out to receive a freehand stem. It had long before been separated from the bowl and there was no memory of what it may have looked like when it was present. Jeff took photos of the bowl before his clean up work to give a sense of its beauty and the filthiness of its current condition. It is an interesting and beautiful looking bowl. He took photos of the rim top and bowl to show clearly the cake in the bowl and the overflow of lava in the rustication of the faux plateau rim top. It is quite remarkable. The next photos capture the sandblast in the briar on the sides and heel of the bowl. It is a beautiful blast that shows the grain around bowl sides and the heel. It is a beautiful blast that truly shows the quality of the briar.  He captured the stamping on the underside of the shank and the shape of the horn stem in the next photos. The stamping is clear and readable and reads as is noted above. The horn is solid and has no damage or worm holes.   I looked first on the Pipephil website (http://www.pipephil.eu/logos/en/logo-s14.html) to see what I could find. I have found through the years that it gives me a good summary of the information available and some pictures of some of the pipes from the brand. I have included a screen capture of the pipes in the listing and the stamping that is on the underside of the shank. The one I am working on is stamped like the first pipe below but without the C grade stamp.The sidebar on Pipephil included the following information on the brand. It is a helpful summary.

“Brand founded in 1970s by Henrik Jørgensen, Poul Ilsted and Tao Nielsen. They bought an old factory (Nordisc Pibefabriker) in Svendborg on Funen Island. Poul and Tao gradually bowed out from machine manufactured pipes (1982) and Henrik Jørgensen manages the brand until its takeover by Design Berlin (D) in the late 90ies. Kaj C. Rasmussen jointed the firm for several years. 17 employees worked for this brand under Henrik Jørgensen direction.

That link gave me a bit of information on the brand – a joint venture of Henrik Jorgensen, Poul Ilsted and Tao Nielsen. I could see from the information that usually the carvers stamped their names on the shank of the pipe. In the case of the one I have there is no name stamp. My assumption is that the pipe was made after Ilsted and Nielsen bowed out which would put the date of the carving between 1982 and the late 90’s when Design Berlin took over. The Danish Hand Made stamping also confirms that assumption.

Next I turned to Pipedia for more information and detail (https://pipedia.org/wiki/Svendborg). I find that the articles there fill in some interesting information on the relationships and history of a given brand. In this case I found that also true. I quote pertinent pieces of the article. If you would like more information follow the above link.

Jens Tao Nielsen and Poul Ilsted Bech met each other when working together for Erik Nørding and soon became close friends. Both felt a bit tired to make nothing but bizarre fancy shapes and agreed they wanted to produce pipes of more style and more classicism. They decided to establish their own brand “Tao & Ilsted” – But how to do it?

A good fortune brought them in contact with Henrik Jørgensen, a passionate pipe lover and a wealthy Copenhagen banker who was willing to retire from bank business and change his career to become a pipemaker. The trio joined in 1969 and decided to start a new pipe brand together. Nielsen and Ilsted started to search for a suitable workshop while Jørgensen took care of the finances. In early 1970 the partners found an old, closed down pipe factory in Svendborg on Funen, and bought it shortly after for a mere 16.500 Danish Kroner. It was the earlier Nordic Pipe Factory – Nordisc Pibefabriker – maybe the oldest Danish pipe factory. And now it became the home of Svendborg Piber…

…But in spite of it’s magnificent success the trio fell apart after less than two years, when wilful Poul Ilsted stepped out declaring he didn’t want to make serial pipes anymore, but wanted to make individual specimens… Strange enough, he approached this aim returning to Nørding!

Ilsted’s argumentation doesn’t seem to be absolutely fair: even though Svendborg turned to produce mainly serial pipes under Seiffert’s influence each of the three partners was free to work on his very own one of a kind pieces as well! Since it was Seiffert’s basic idea to profit from – especially – Tao ‘s and Ilsted’s creativity to design new shapes. There are many knowledgeable collectors who confirm that these early Svendsborg pipes class among the most individual, innovating and exciting designs Danish pipecrafters created at that time…

The firm developed well and prospered throughout the 1970’s but around 1980 dissensions between Tao and Jørgensen occured. Tao: “Most pipes were delivered to the United States and whereby the Americans tried to dictate us the conditions. It was not only so that their taste and their view on aesthetics were simply horrible – no, moreover they wanted that the pipes should be as cheap as possible. That did not suit my plans at all, for I strove for high quality and artistic freedom in the end.”

Tao and Jørgensen, who tended to accommodate the US customers’ wishes, could not find a compromise on their different opinions, and so Tao left the firm in 1981 and opened his own pipe workshop near the harbour of Svendborg.

…Henrik Jørgensen continued Svendborg Piber bravely for more than a decade on his own until he finally sold the brand to Seiffert around the midst of the 1990’s. Seiffert, focusing on their mainstay brand Sillem’s, sold Svendborg – a ghost brand now – again before 2000 and the current owner is Planta’s Design Berlin.

The article also included this set of pages from a catalogue that were interesting as they included the Handcarved line. The philosophy that drove the brand is also there to read.

Catalog page, courtesy Doug Valitchka

That gives a good picture of the history and development of the Svendborg brand and the connection to some of the great carvers of Danish pipe history. Armed with that information I turned to work on the pipe in hand.

It is really a beautiful piece. Jeff had done a great cleanup on the pipe. He reamed the bowl with a PipNet pipe reamer and followed up with a Savinelli Fitsall pipe knife to remove the cake. He scrubbed out the mortise and the airway in the shank and the stem with alcohol, cotton swabs and pipe cleaners. He scrubbed the bowl exterior with a tooth brush and Murphy’s Oil Soap to remove the grime on the finish of the bowl and the lava from the rim top. He rinsed it under running water. He dried it off with a soft cloth. I took photos of the pipe as I saw it when I put it on the table. I took photos of the rim top and horn shank end to show the condition. The rim top carvings and plateau look much better. The horn shank extension looked very good.  I cleaned up the remaining lava on the rim top with a brass bristle brush. It looked much better with the brushing and you can see the grooves in the rim top carving.I polished the horn shank extension with micromesh sanding pads – 1500-12000 grit pads. I wiped the bowl down between pads with a damp cloth to remove the debris.  I rubbed the bowl and shank down with Before & After Restoration Balm. I worked it into the surface of the bowl sides and horn shank extension with my fingertips and a horsehair shoe brush to clean, enliven and protect the briar. I let the balm sit for 10 minutes, then buffed with a cotton cloth to raise the shine. The Balm did its magic and the grain stood out on the briar.   I set the bowl aside and turned my attention to the stem I had chosen. I took a photo of the bowl with the stem below it. (I had started to remove the excess  vulcanite on the tenon with my Dremel then remembered to take the photo.)  With that much done I drilled the airway with a small drill bit to fit the guide pin on the tenon turning tool. I used the tenon turning tool to take back the diameter of the tenon so that it would fit the shank. I would need to reduce I a bit more but the overall look is what I was looking for.I used a flat file to make the final adjustments to the shoulder of the stem at the tenon end. I flattened out the edge and then smoothed out the fit in the shank with the file and 220 grit sandpaper.With the tenon the right size I put the stem in the shank and took photos of the pipe from each side to show what the new stem looked like in place. I still needed to bend it and fit it well but it was going to work well. I decided to use my old school method of bending the stem. I filled a mug half full of water and placed the stem in it. I put it in the microwave for 2 minutes and removed it from the cup. The vulcanite was pliable and I bent the stem to the proper angle for the pipe. I cooled it with cold water to set the bend. I put the stem on the pipe and took photos of the pipe and the new stem at this point in the process. I was liking what I saw!  I removed the stem and worked on the shape of it with a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper. I wanted the transition between the tenon and the bulge in the saddle to be smooth so I worked on that until the saddle and tenon began to take shape. I started polishing the stem with 400 grit wet dry sandpaper.  I polished the stem with micromesh sanding pads – 1500-12000 grit pads. I wiped it down with Obsidian Oil after each sanding pad. I finished the polishing with Before & After Polishes – both Fine and Extra Fine. I gave it a final rub down with Obsidian Oil and set it aside to dry.   This Svendborg Danish Hand Made Freehand with its newly fit fancy, vulcanite saddle stem is a beautiful  sandblast pipe with a flowing shape that looks great . The rich browns and blacks of the contrasting stain makes the grain come alive with the polishing and waxing. 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 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 Svendborg Danish Freehand really is a beauty and fits nicely in the hand and looks very good. Give the finished pipe a look in the photos below. The dimensions of the pipe are Length: 7 inches, Height: 2 ¼ inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 2 inches, Chamber diameter: 1 inch. The weight of the pipe is 2.93 ounces/83 grams. This pipe will soon be on the Danish Pipe Makers Section of the rebornpipes store if you would like to add it to your collection. Thanks for reading this blog and my reflections on the pipe while I worked on it.

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