Daily Archives: March 8, 2023

Giving Life to an Old Smokewel of Mysterious Origin

Blog by Kenneth Lieblich

Next on the chopping block is a bent billiard sandblast Smokewel (one “L”), which I acquired in a lot of pipes from a gentleman living on Vancouver Island. He had quite an assortment of pipes and they ranged from utterly horrible to surprisingly beautiful – fortunately, this was of the beautiful variety. The pipe is very well made: the proportions are right, the drilling is accurate, and it just oozes competence. This is a sandblasted bent billiard, with a tapered, vulcanite stem. And what a wonderful, rugged blast on this one! On the underside of the shank, the markings read ‘Smokewel [over] London Made’, and, off to the right, the shape number ’26’. This pipe had been well-loved and well-smoked, as it arrived with some marks and general wear, and the stem was pretty nasty. There were also beautiful indications of “hand erosion” on the right-hand side, where the previous owner’s hand had lovingly rubbed the pipe over the years. There were also a couple of tiny nicks, but, fortunately, nothing overly complicated.

Identifying exactly what a “Smokewel” pipe is turned out to be a typical pipe-history morass. There are a few twists and turns in this story, so join me in wading through this mess. As you’ve seen in the photos, the pipe clearly says “Smokewel” – not “Smokewell”. I initially thought that perhaps the terminal “L” had been rubbed off, but, looking closely, one can see that “Smokewel” is perfectly centred over “London Made”, which suggests this odd spelling was not the victim of rubbing. In other words, there is no missing “L”.

There is scant information to be had on both “Smokewel” and “Smokewell” – and none of it could be linked definitively to this pipe. There is this entry on Pipephil for “Smokewell”:As you can see, it is a line of pipes from the John Redman firm of London. There are some examples of these pipes that can be found online, and I have included a photo of the markings of Redman’s “Smokewell” line: This might be significant because I have studied the letters of the markings from my pipe and Redman’s pipe, and they are the same. In addition, a John Redman catalog (supposedly) from the 1960s, lists “Smokewell” as one of their “London Made Briars” (note the wording). I have clipped the specific passage here:All of this is persuasive evidence, but not definitive. The missing “L” on my pipe causes me to pause, if only briefly, before declaring it to be a John Redman pipe. Also, the various iterations of Redman pipe usually had markings on the stem – this one has none and I don’t think it’s a replacement stem. I am aware that Wilczak and Colwell’s Who Made That Pipe? lists “Smokewell” under John Redman – but there is more.

Wilczak and Colwell also list “Smokewell” under a company called Maurice Pipes. The second “L” here could be an error from Wilczak and Colwell – the book is full of them. I also found an old advertisement for Maurice Pipes. Based in London, this firm supposedly produced very fine pipes. Superficially, this ad seems to have nothing to do with our pipe, except that it instructs the reader to use the word “Smokewel” (one “L”) in telegram and cable correspondence with the firm. The word obviously had significance to Maurice Pipes.On the PipesMagazine forums online, I read a thread about early sandblasts and one comment stuck out to me: “The mysterious Maurice was listing blast pipes in the 20’s and as a pipe company they are totally in the dusty shadows, but I’d reckon they were a fine maker, mostly because of their prices – they sold their Sandblast alongside their topline Extra for the very same price, at 16/6 and that’s a fairly high price comparatively.”

The connection between Maurice Pipes and “Smokewel” is tenuous at best, but it was my only connection to the single-L “Smokewell”. If you have information about any of the research above, I would love to hear from you. The stinger is a bit odd – does it ring any bells for you?

And speaking of the stinger, let’s clean it. I heated the stem and stinger with my heat gun and this provided just enough softening of the internal goo to allow me to pull it out. It then went for a soak in some lemon-infused isopropyl alcohol. I let it sit for several hours and then cleaned it off and it looked much improved.I wiped the outside of the stem down with Murphy’s Oil Soap on some cotton pads. Though dirty, the outside of the stem was in decent condition and the oxidation wasn’t too bad. On the other hand, the inside was another kettle of fish! I used up a good chunk of the world’s supply of pipe cleaners to clean it out – the pictures only show a fraction of what I used. Next, the stem went for an overnight soak in the Pipe Stem Oxidation Remover. The following day, I cleaned all of the de-oxidizing mess off. The oxidation had migrated to the surface and would be fairly straightforward to remove. I scrubbed with SoftScrub on some cotton pads to remove the leftover oxidation and leave the stem in a dull black colour. Finally, I used all nine Micromesh pads (1,500 through 12,000 grit) to bring out the lovely black lustre on the stem. I also used Obsidian Pipe Stem Oil in between each pad scrubbing. Now for the stummel. It was nicked on the front edge of the rim, and the rim itself had lava and general filth, so, time to work on it! I started with the KleenReem to remove the built-up cake and followed that with 220-grit sandpaper taped to a dowel to eliminate as much as I could. I took the chamber down to bare briar, as I wanted to ensure there were no hidden flaws in the wall. Fortunately, there were none. I then proceeded to clean out the insides of the shank with Q-tips, pipe cleaners, and lemon-infused isopropyl alcohol. There was an extraordinary amount of filth inside this stummel and it took an enormous amount of cotton to get it clean. I only have a photo of a small number of pipe cleaners. I can’t imagine that this pipe had ever been cleaned – or, at least, not in many decades. Because the filth in the shank was well-encrusted, I used a couple of drill bits held in a chuck, by hand (not in a drill), to try and loosen up the debris. This worked quite well. I decided to de-ghost the pipe to remove any lingering smells of the past. I thrust cotton balls into the bowl and the shank and saturated them with 99% isopropyl alcohol. I let the stummel sit overnight. This caused oils, tars and smells to leach out into the cotton.In fact, the pipe was dirty enough that I then used my pipe retort system on it. I neglected to take photos of that, but it certainly helped clean the pipe. I followed that up by cleaning the insides with some dish soap and tube brushes. I used some Murphy’s Oil Soap and a toothbrush to scrub the outside of the stummel and the lava on the rim of the pipe. I didn’t scrub too hard – I wanted to keep the nice colour on the wood. Having completed that, I was able to address the small nicks on the rim and the bowl. I used some tiny drops of cyanoacrylate adhesive to fill the nicks, and a metal brush to camouflage the repairs in the wood. Finally, I used only the last three MicroMesh pads to polish the stummel, but I was careful not to damage the sandblast. After that, a light application of Before & After Restoration Balm brought out the best in the stummel’s grain. Then off to the buffer! A tiny dose of White Diamond and a few coats of conservator’s wax were just what this pipe needed. This Smokewel looks fantastic again. It is elegant and handsome, and is ready to be enjoyed by the next owner. I am pleased to announce that this pipe is for sale! If you are interested in acquiring it for your collection, please have a look in the British pipe section of the store here on Steve’s website. You can also email me directly at kenneth@knightsofthepipe.com. The approximate dimensions of the pipe are as follows: length 5¼ in. (133 mm); height 2¾ in. (70 mm); bowl diameter 1¼ in. (32 mm); chamber diameter ¾ in. (19 mm). The weight of the pipe is 1⅛ oz. (35 g). I hope you enjoyed reading the story of this pipe’s restoration as much as I did restoring it. If you are interested in more of my work, please follow me here on Steve’s website or send me an email. Thank you very much for reading and, as always, I welcome and encourage your comments.

Cleaning up a GBD Fantasy 9643 Tomato

Blog by Mike Belarde

Hello, I hope everyone is doing well. I’m grateful to finally have an easy going Sunday to clean up a pipe. This GBD Tomato is not a shape that I have encountered often, and I was excited to win the online auction.

The pipe is an impressive piece of briar with a very wide and squat bowl. When I received it, I was pleased that it was in fairly good condition.  The stummel had been cleaned and waxed, but the pipe still looked a little grimy and dull.  The chamber and rim had a light build up of carbon. Thankfully, the stem still had a nice crisp button and was only lightly oxidized.  Below are photos of the initial condition.As you can see from the photos, it is a great looking pipe.  I really like GBD’s Fantasy and Tapestry lines with their whimsical geometric smooth panels over a black or brown sandblast.  The stamping on this pipe is still crisp.  The markings include the Colossus stamp, and the linear London England stamp.  Below these, are the GBD in an oval over the Fantasy stamp with the shape number of 9643.

The Colossus stamp indicates that this was part of GBD’s line of supersized pipes. The linear London England stamp, paired with the brass GBD rondel, dates this pipe prior to 1981 or 1982.  My guess is this pipe was made sometime in the 1970s.Eager to clean the pipe up and add it to my collection, I placed the stem in a small Tupperware to soak overnight in Briarville’s Pipe Stem Oxidation Remover solution. I then set to cleaning up the stummel. Realizing all my pipe reamers were too small for the width of the chamber, I wrapped a piece of 220 grit sandpaper around a highlighter to remove the built-up carbon.After this was done, I took the stummel to the sink and washed the exterior with Oil soap and an old toothbrush.  A light lava build up was present on the rim so I used an old green scouring pad to scrub it away. With the chamber and the exterior clean, the Tomato was looking really nice. The chamber seemed to be in good condition once the light cake had been removed.Thankfully the internals of this pipe were fairly clean and required minimal work on my part. I have to admit that cleaning the draught is my least favorite part of restoring estate pipes! I first used a 3mm wire brush to gently clean out the shank. Once done, I cleaned the internals with a handful of pipe cleaners dipped in 99% Isopropyl alcohol.After the interior of the pipe was cleaned to a satisfactory level, I prepared the pipe for de-ghosting. I put two fluffy pipe cleaners down the shank to act as a wick and then placed two cotton balls in the chamber. I soaked each cotton ball with alcohol, as I placed them one at a time in the chamber. To let the alcohol, work its magic and draw out more of the old tar and grime, I let it sit overnight. The next day I took the stem out of the Briarville solution and scrubbed the surface with a green scouring pad and some Soft Scrub.  The stem looked great, but I ran into a problem – for some reason the brass rondel came off. I’m not really sure what went wrong, but it would have to be fixed. I reattached the rondel by applying a small amount of Super Glue and used a soldering iron to apply heat. Hopeful that the heat would soften the vulcanite under the rondel and allow it to reattach as the vulcanite cooled. The process seemed to work, but I’m going to keep an eye on the rondel for possible problems down the road.

With that done, I sanded the stem with some 220 grit sandpaper and polished it with the series of micropads (1500-12000). Between each pad I wiped the stem down with stem oil. In the final step, I applied some Before and After Extra Fine Stem polish. I think the results turned out pretty well and am happy with how the stem looked. I may go back and rework some of the area around the rondel, but I am leery of disturbing the area too much and dislodging it again.Satisfied with the progress on the stem, I turned my attention to the stummel. I polished the rim and smooth panels with the progression of micromesh pads (1500-12000), wiping the areas with a damp paper towel after each pad. I lightly polished the sandblast areas with the 6000-12000 pads to avoid removing any of the original black stain. After I cleaned the stummel, I noticed a few areas that needed to be re-stained. You’ll notice the areas where the brown stain was showing through on the sandblast in the pictures below. I also noticed the transition between the shank and stem was darkened like it had been stained over with black dye. On other Fantasy pipes that I own, this transition is usually stained brown giving the pipes a nice highlight on the shank. I lightly sanded the rim with a piece of 220 grit sandpaper to remove some lingering darkening. I also lightly sanded the smooth panels and shank transition to remove some of the dark stain there. After this was done, I mixed a 1-to-3 ratio of Medium Brown and Black dyes with alcohol to thin them down. I like to apply the stain with a small hobby brush as I find the brush helps me to coat the stummel evenly. Once the stain was applied, I used a candle to fire the briar and set the dye. I let the stummel sit for 10 or 15 minutes and then removed some of the excess stain with a folded paper towel dampened with alcohol.I began to polish the stummel with the micromesh pad series (1500-12000), wiping the briar down with a damp paper towel between each pad. Once finished with the micro pads, I worked some Before and After Restoration Balm into the stummel, let it sit for about 10 minutes, and then buffed it with a cotton cloth. At this point I was very pleased with the results – the pipe looked great! For the last step, I buffed both the stummel and stem with Red Tripoli and Blue Diamond. I gave both several coats of Carnauba wax and buffed them with a cotton cloth.

I’m really happy how this pipe turned out! It is a great shape and the size of the bowl just dominates one’s palm.  The overall length of the pipe is 5.25”, with the outside diameter of the bowl coming in at 2.13”. The chamber itself is a generous 1”, while the entire bowl stands at a modest 1.13”. The pipe weighs a noticeable 2.20oz, and its haft and size just feel nice in one’s hand.   It should be a nice smoking pipe, and I’m happy that I can add it to my collection. Thank you for taking the time to read this blog!