Blog by Steve Laug
I have a few pipes that I am working on for local folks who either have dropped them off or who are friends that I am catching up with. The next pipe on the worktable is another one that belongs to an old friend of mine who is in the process of moving. He stopped by and asked me to clean up a few more of his favourite pipes. The next one is an interesting full bent freehand with plateau rim top and shank end. I use the term shank end loosely as rim top and shank are side by side and the plateau carries across them. There is also plateau on the heel of the bowl. The stamping, or rather etching on the back of the bowl under the shank is clear and readable. It reads Whidbey [over] Hand Cut. To the right of that it is signed C.W. ’76. Underneath that near the heel of the bowl it is stamped with my friends name. The bowl is an octagonal cone with almost fluted sides. The shank is literally a part of the back wall of the bowl. It has some stunning grain around the bowl and shank even in its unpolished condition. There was a thin cake in the bowl and the top and edges of the rim had some darkening on the left back edge. The freehand vulcanite stem is square at the shank end then has a twist that was interesting. It was lightly oxidized and had some calcification ahead of the button on both sides. There were light tooth marks on the surface. I took some photos of the pipe before I started my work. I took close up photos of the bowl and the stem. You can see the light cake in the bowl and the darkening on the rim top and the left and back edge. The stem surface was lightly oxidized and had some calcification on the end ahead of the button. There were light tooth marks and chatter on both sides on and ahead of the button.I took a photo of the back of the bowl to show the stamping. I have purposely left off the name of the person the pipe was made for as my friend asked to remain anonymous. You get the idea of the etched stamp on the pipe. It is clear and readable.I removed the stem from the shank and took a photo to give a sense of what the pipe looks like. It is an interesting looking piece.Before working on it I decided to see what I could learn about the brand. I found a listing on Pipedia for Whidbey Islander Pipes (https://pipedia.org/wiki/Whidbey_Islander_Pipes). I quote the information from that site below. It is brief but quite interesting to read. I quote it in full.
Whidbey Islander Pipes are high-praised, but very rarely seen freehand pipes. Hand-cut Briars by Master Pipe Maker Travers LaRue were made and sold in his shop “Virginia Tobacco and Pipe Shoppe ” in Langley on Whidbey Island, Washington between 1972-1983. LaRue died in 1983. He used 125 year old Sardinian briar and 150 year old Grecian Plateau briar with or without burl top. Trav custom designed ” free-hands ” or classic shapes. A sterling dot on the shank along with his signature marked his one of a kind designs and possibly one of the best smoking pipes around. Trav taught his son-in-law Charles Whitmore the trade and soon he became a pipe maker too. The shop produced a hand-cut from 75 year old Italian briar known as the ” Whidbey Islander “. These were mostly made by Chuck Whitmore that could be ordered with your own name inscribed. The shop was also known for hand blended pipe tobacco that was 100% pure premium quality American and imported tobaccos. The most famous being ” Brown Crock “. The 1936 Hollywood Pipe Shop recipe that Bing Crosby smoked exclusively and loved by many. The family still owns the recipe. Travers pipes are few and precious. You’re lucky if you own one.
Judging from the description above I believe that I am working on a pipe made on Whidbey Island, Washington made by Chuck Whitmore between 1972-1983. It is a very interesting hand cut Freehand pipe with great straight grain and a fancy vulcanite stem. Now it was time to work on the pipe.
I decided to address the damage to the inner edge of the bowl first. I used a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper to give the inner edge of the bowl a slight bevel on the inner edge to remove burned areas and blend them into the surrounding briar. It began to really look better.I reamed the light cake from the bowl with a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife and then cleaned the internals of the shank and airway in the stem with isopropyl alcohol, cotton swabs and pipe cleaners. I polished the rim top, the repaired areas and the rest of the briar with micromesh sanding pads – dry sanding with 1500-12000 grit sanding pads. I wiped the bowl down with a damp cloth after each sanding pad. The briar began to come alive. The repairs looked better than I expected and would not need to be stained. I worked some Before & After Restoration Balm into the surface of the briar with my fingertips and into the plateau with a horsehair shoe brush polished the stem with micromesh sanding pads – dry sanding it with 1500-12000 grit pads. I wiped the stem down with Obsidian Oil after each pad. I polished it with Before & After Pipe Polish – both Fine and Extra Fine and gave it a final coat and set it aside to dry. . It works to clean, enliven and protect the briar. I let it sit for 15 minutes then buffed it off with a soft cloth and raised the shine. The bowl looks great at this point. I set the bowl aside and turned my attention to the stem. I sanded the oxidation and calcification on the stem end with 220 grit sandpaper to blend them into the surface of the vulcanite. I started polishing the stem by wet sanding it with 400 grit wet dry sandpaper.I polished the stem with micromesh sanding pads – dry sanding it with 1500-12000 grit pads. I wiped the stem down with Obsidian Oil after each pad. I polished it with Before & After Pipe Polish – both Fine and Extra Fine and gave it a final coat and set it aside to dry. I am excited to finish this Chuck Whitmore made Whidbey Hand Cut Freehand. I put the pipe back together and buffed it with Blue Diamond on the buffing wheel. I gave the bowl and the stem multiple coats of carnauba wax. I hand buffed the pipe with a clean buffing pad to raise the shine. It is fun to see what the polished bowl looks like with beautiful flame grain all around it. Added to that the black vulcanite stem was beautiful. This smooth Whidbey Hand Cut Freehand is great 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 inches, Height: 2 ¾ inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 ½ inches, Chamber diameter: ¾ of an inch. The weight of the pipe is 70 grams/2.47 ounces. It is a beautiful pipe and I will giving it back to my friend once I clean up his second pipe. Thanks for walking through the restoration with me as I worked over this pipe. Thanks to each of you who are reading this blog.