Blog by Steve Laug
I thought it might be helpful to take you through my process of working on each pipe that we purchase. Jeff has set up a spread sheet to track where the pipe came from, the date of purchase and what we paid for it so that we know what we have invested in the pipe before we even work on it. This takes a lot of the guess work out of the process. This particular pipe was purchased on 03/30/2023 as part of an estate we purchased from Plano, Texas, USA. I also want you to understand why we take the photos we do. If you have followed for a while then you will see the familiar pattern of the photos we include both in the before and midstream process of working on a pipe. It is not accidental as the photos have been taken to help me make an assessment of the pipe Jeff sees before he starts his clean up work. We do this to record the condition that the pipe was in when received it and to assess what kind of work will need to be done on. When I look at these photos this is what I see.
- The first thing I see is a classic Italian Made Castello Sea Rock Briar canted Billiard with an acrylic stem. It is well proportioned and well made with a great classic Castello shape.
- The finish is dirty and there is grime and grit ground into the rugged rustication on the sides of the bowl and shank. It is dusty and dull looking but under the grime the pipe looks good.
- The rim top has some lava and debris in the valleys of the rustication on the top and the edges. It is dirty looking but cleaning will reveal a real beauty.
- The bowl has a thick cake and debris on the walls that hides the walls and some grime on the inner edge of the bowl but once it is clean we will know what the bowl and edges really look like. The outer edges look good and there does not appear to be any obvious burn damage to the top or bowl edges.
- The acrylic stem is in good condition – dirty and has tooth chatter and marks on both sides ahead of button. There are some deeper tooth marks on the underside near the button. There is a crinkled/Diamond insert logo on the left side of the stem.
Overall my impressions of this pipe is that it is a beauty that once cleaned up will look pretty amazing. I love the tactile rustication on the Sea Rock Briars and have found nothing that comes close to it. The photos below confirm the assessment above. Jeff took close up photos so that I could have a clearer picture of the condition of the bowl, rim edges and top. The rim top photos confirm my assessment above. The cake in the bowl is thick but broken in some parts with tobacco debris stuck on the walls. The rim top has quite a bit of lava, grime and debris in the rusticated surface. You can also see the condition of the outer edge and the inner edge is in great condition. This is what I look for when assessing a pipe. There is no visible burn damage at this point. The bowl is still round and other than being in a used condition it is in great shape.The photos of the acrylic stem surface from various angles confirmed my assessment of its condition. You can see that it is dirty in the first photo below. The stem has some deeper tooth marks on the underside near the button and a lot of chatter. Instead of telling you what I see in the next photos of the sides of the bowl and the heel I want to hear from you. Tell me what you see? What does the finish look like to you? Are there any visible problems or issues that stand out to you? Are the cracks or scratches in the valleys of the rustication or the high spots? Are there visible flaws or fissures in the briar? How random does the deep rustication look? Is there a pattern to it? Any visible issues on the heel of the bowl? These questions should help you to see what I am looking for when I see these photos. He took photos of the stamping on the underside of the shank. On the heel of the bowl is stamped Castello [over] Sea Rock Briar. That is followed by the shape number for a 1/8 Canted Billiard -19. Next to that it is stamped with KKKK in an oval designating the sized of the pipe. It is then stamped Made in Cantu [over]. Next to the shank/stem union it is stamped Carlo Scotti in and oval. The acrylic stem is stamped on the underside and reads HAND MADE [over] Castello [over] the number 5. What stands out for you in the photos of the stamping on the pipe? What do you look for in the stamping? I know it is dirty but what do you see underneath the grime on the surface of the briar and the acrylic? I thought I would include a link to a great shape chart for Castello pipes on Maxim Engel’s Pipes2Smoke site. It is very helpful in that includes photos of the shapes and makes identification quite simple. Here is the link (https://pipes2smoke.com/pages/castello-shape-guide).
When I am working on Castello pipes the stamping always eludes my memory. I have partial recall but not clear on all the details. I find that getting the stamping clear in my head is an important part of restoring a pipe for me. I have several sites that I always check for information. I turned first to the Pipephil site (http://www.pipephil.eu/logos/en/logo-castello.html) because of the general quick summary of information I get there. I quote:
Castello PIPA CASTELLO di Carlo Scotti & C. was founded in 1947 by Carlo Scotti († 1988). Franco Coppo (AKA “Kino”) who married Carlo Scotti’s daughter Savina, manages (2012) the corporate since 1985.
The site also gave a good summary of the grading and sizes of the pipes. I quote that in full.
1K to 4K, G (Giant) and GG (Extra large)
Rusticated grading: SEA ROCK, OLD SEA ROCK, NATURAL VIRGIN,
Sandblasted grading: ANTIQUARI, OLD ANTIQUARI
Smooth grading (ascending): TRADEMARK, CASTELLO, COLLECTION
Other stampings: Great Line (Non-standard or freestyle) Fiammata (Straight grain)
Production (2012): ~4000 pipes / year
I also found a note on the page that the Rhinestone logo was originally on pipes for the US market. It is occasionally used now.
I turned then to Pipedia for more information on the brand (https://pipedia.org/wiki/Castello). The majority of the information was what was already quoted above in abbreviated form. However there was a link to an article by Bob Hamlin that gave some interesting bits of information that I found helpful (http://www.pipes.org/BURST/FORMATTED/196.016.html). I quote in part from that article.
SEA ROCK [Carved Black or dark brown]: This is the lowest grade of the Castello line and is the most common in the USA. Sea Rocks are produced by taking a smooth bowl that has not been “final finished” and surface carving the finish with tools. This “carved” finish is then evened out using a steel wire brush, stained and then waxed. The Natural Vergin carved finish is left unstained and unwaxed as a rule, although we have seen waxed and partially waxed “Vergins”.
All carved Castello pipes are graded by the number of K’s that are stamped on each piece and are K-graded by SIZE. 1K is the smallest and fairly rare, 2K is small to medium, with 3K or 4K being the most common and ranges from medium to medium large. Large pieces are stamped “G” for giant and extra large pieces are stamped “GG” for double giant. In addition to the number of K’s on a carved Sea Rock piece the shape number is almost always added. As a rule a Sea Rock Castello is stained Black, although recently there have been quite a few coming in stained deep brown and still stamped “Sea Rock”. American Logo’d Sea Rocks are all priced the same to the consumer, although most are 2 or 3 K’ed models. G/GG models are charged at a higher price on American pieces and are basically the same as their European counterparts.
The Castello Sea Rock briar I was working on did a 4 K stamping so it was on the larger side. It definitely was made for the American Market with the Rhinestone in the stem. It had the black finish. The shape number is a 19 or a 1/8 Canted Billiard.
Pipedia also gave a link to Mike’s Briar Blues site for help in dating and determining shapes (http://www.briarblues.com/castello.htm). Give it a read for some helpful information.
Now it was time to do my part on the restoration…
When Jeff sent me the box of pipes for my restoration work. The Castello was in a well used Castello box and included all of the marketing materials – a signed card, a pipe sock and a package of pipe straws for use as filters in the shank. Here are some photos of the pipe and box. When I took the pipe out of the box it is a clean pipe and I go over it keeping in mind my assessment shared in the opening paragraph above. Now that I have it in hand I am looking for confirmation of what I saw in the photos as well as any significant structural changes in the bowl and finish as I go over it.
- The classic Castello Sea Rock Briar Canted Billiard looks amazing. The rustication is beautiful and the acrylic stem works very well on the pipe.
- The finish is clean and the grime and grit have been removed from the finish on the bowl. The rustication and depth in the valleys has just come alive around the bowl sides.
- The lava, grime and dust on the rim top has been removed and it looks to be in good condition on the top and edges of the bowl.
- The walls of the bowl are clean and I do not see any checking or burn damage. The inner edge of the bowl looks good. The outer edges look good and there does not appear to be any obvious burn damage there.
- The acrylic stem is clean and has tooth chatter and marks on both sides. The Rhinestone/Diamond logo on the side of the stem looks very good.
Hopefully the steps above show you both what I look for when I go over the pipe when I bring it to the work table and also what I see when I look at the pipe in my hands. They also clearly spell out a restoration plan in short form. My work is clear and addressing it will be the next steps. I took photos of the whole pipe to give you a picture of what I see when I have it on the table. This is important to me in that it also shows that there was no damage done during the clean up work or the transit of the pipe from Idaho to here in Vancouver. I carefully went over the bowl and rim top to get a sense of what is happening there. In this case once the rim top and edges were cleaned, they looked very good. There was no damage on the edges or the top of the rim. It is clean should come back to its original beauty quite easily. I also go over the stem carefully. There were some tooth marks chatter on the surface of the stem. I took photos of the rim top and stem sides to show as best as I can what I see when I look at them.I always check to make sure that the clean up work did not damage the stamping on the shank in any way. It is in excellent condition and is very clear and readable. I really like the way that the carvers at Castello do the Sea Rock rustication. To me it stunning and very tactile. I love just looking at the beauty of the lay of the pipe and the proportion of the hand made pipes. I like to remove the stem from the shank to get a sense of what was in the mind of the pipe maker when he crafted the pipe. It is a beauty in flow and shape. When a rusticated finish is in as nice a condition as this one is immediately apply Before & After Restoration Balm to the briar. It is a paste/balm that is rubbed into the surface of the briar. The product works to deep clean the nooks and crannies of finish, enliven and protect the briar. I worked it into the briar with my finger tips and a horse hair shoe brush. I let it sit for 10 minutes to do its work. I wiped it off with a soft cloth then buffed it with a cotton cloth. The briar really began to have a deep shine in the briar and the grain shone through. The photos I took of the bowl at this point mark the progress in the restoration. It is a gorgeous pipe. I set the bowl aside and turn to work on the stem. I sanded out the tooth marks and chatter with 220 grit sandpaper and was able to blend them all into the surface of the acrylic. I started the polishing with 600 grit wet dry sandpaper. I wiped the stem down with some Obsidian Oil in preparation for polishing.I polished out the scratches left by the sand paper with micromesh sanding pads – 1500-12000 grit sanding pads and water to wet sand the stem. I wiped it down after each sanding pad with Obsidian Oil on a cotton rag after each sanding pad even though people say it does nothing for acrylic stems. I find it does two things – first it gives some protection to the stem and second it give the sanding pads bite in the polishing process. After finishing with the micromesh pads I rub the stem down with Before & After Fine and Extra Fine stem polish as it seems to really remove the fine scratches in the acrylic. I rub the Fine Polish on the stem and wipe it off with a paper towel and then repeat the process with the extra fine polish. I finish the polishing of the stem down with a final coat of Obsidian Oil and set the stem aside to let the oil absorb. This process gives the stem a shine and also a bit of protection. The final steps in my process involve using the buffer. I don’t buff a rusticated pipe with Blue Diamond as it can build up in the deep grooves of the finish. I used it on the stem and find that it works very well to polish out the light scratches in the acrylic. I finished with the Blue Diamond and moved on to buffing the pipe – I gave the bowl multiple coats of Conservator’s Wax and the stem multiple coats of carnauba wax. Once I have a good shine in the briar and vulcanite. I have found that I can get a deeper shine if I following up the wax buff with a clean buffing pad. It works to raise the shine and then I follow that up with a hand buff with a microfiber cloth to deepen the shine. It is always fun for me to see what the polished bowl looks like with the polished acrylic stem. It really is a beautiful pipe. The rusticated finish around the bowl sides and shank has some amazing depth and contrast with the rich black and dark brown stains. Castello Sea Rock Briar 19 KKKK 1/8 Canted Billiard 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 inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 ¼ inch, Chamber diameter: ¾ of an inch. The weight of the pipe is 1.32 ounces/41 grams. It is a beautiful pipe one I will be adding to the rebornpipes store in the Italian Pipe Makers Section. If you are interested in adding it to your collection let me know.
Hopefully the style of writing of this blog is helpful to you in some way. In it I wanted to show both what I am looking for and how I move forward in addressing what I see when work on a pipe. Let me know if it is helpful to you. It is probably the most straightforward detailed description of my work process that I have done. As always I encourage your questions and comments as you read the blog. Thanks to each of you who are reading this blog. Remember we are not pipe owners; we are pipe men and women who hold our pipes in trust until they pass on into the trust of those who follow us.