Tag Archives: 1938-46 Custom-Bilt Pipes

Breathing Life into a Custom-Bilt Imported Briar Panel Billiard


Blog by Steve Laug

The next pipe on the work table came to us from an antique store in Murray, Utah, USA. The pipe is a classic Custom-Bilt piece – a rusticated Panel Billiard shaped pipe with some nice grain around the bowl. The pipe is stamped on the left side of the shank and reads Custom-Bilt and below that on another smooth band it reads Imported Briar. There was a lot of grime ground into the smooth and rusticated portions of the finish on the briar. The bowl was heavily caked with an overflow of lava on the rusticated top and inner edge of the rim. The inside edges looked to be in good condition. The stem was dirty and lightly oxidized. It had tooth chatter and marks on the top and underside near the button and on the button edge. There were not markings or a logo on the saddle stem. There was also a removable stinger in the tenon end. It had promise but it was very dirty. Jeff took some photos of the pipe before he started his cleanup work. He took photos of the rim top and bowl to give a clear picture of the thickness of the cake and tobacco debris as well as the lava on the rim top rustication. He also took photos of the top and underside of the stem to show the light oxidation and the chatter and tooth marks.  He took the stem off the shank and took a photo of the stinger in the tenon end. Jeff took photos of the sides and heel of the bowl to give a picture of what the briar looked like. The rustication pattern around the bowl is instantly recognizable as done by Custom-Bilt. It is hard to see that the right and left side are flat which is what I call a panel.  The stamping on the left side of the shank is clear and readable and read as noted above. I turned to Pipephil (http://www.pipephil.eu/logos/en/logo-c8.html) to get a quick view of the brand once again. I knew that I was working with one of the older pipes and probably made by Tracy Mincer himself. He stopped making the Custom-Bilt pipes in the early 1950s. The screen capture I included below shows a brief history of the brand. I turned to Pipedia (https://pipedia.org/wiki/File:CustomBilt_Stamp1.jpg) for a quick read. The majority of the information there was two book reviews of the Custom-Bilt Story by Bill Unger.

The one line I culled was the following: “Tracy Mincer started the original Custom-Bilt pipes it appears in 1934”.

I did a screen capture of the stamping that matched the stamping on the pipe that I am working on.What I learned from that is that the stamp was used by Tracy Mincer in Indianapolis in the US from 1938-1946 and possibly in Chicago before 1938 as well. There were also some metal bits in the vulcanite and the Imported Briar stamp which made think WW2 or shortly after. So now I had a possible date for this pipe. It was an old timer and it was well worth working on.

Armed with that information I turned to work on the pipe itself.  Jeff had cleaned up the pipe with his usual penchant for thoroughness. He reamed the pipe with a PipNet pipe reamer and removed the rest of it with a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife.  He scrubbed the bowl with undiluted Murphy’s Oil Soap with a tooth brush. He rinsed it under running warm water to remove the soap and grime. He cleaned out the inside of the shank and the airway in the stem with alcohol, cotton swabs and pipe cleaners. He soaked the stem in Before & After Deoxidizer and rinsed it off with warm water. I took photos of the pipe before I started my part of the restoration work. The rim top cleaned up really well. The rim top and outer edge of the bowl look very good. The stem surface looked very good with a few small tooth marks and chatter on both sides near the button. There was a deep tooth mark on the topside of the button.    The stamping on underside of the shank is clear and readable. It is stamped as noted above.I removed the stem and took a photo of the pipe to give a sense of the whole. The tapered stem is nice and the photo shows the removable stinger.I cleaned up the inner edge of the bowl with a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper to smooth out the damage. Once I had smoothed out the edge the bowl was ready.   The bowl was in excellent condition so started by rubbing the bowl and shank down with Before & After Restoration Balm. I worked it into the surface of the bowl sides and shank with my fingertips and a horsehair shoe brush to clean, enliven and protect the briar. I let the balm sit for about 10-15 minutes and buffed with a cotton cloth to raise the shine. The grain came alive.  I set the bowl aside and turned to work on the stem. I removed the pressure fit stinger before working on the rest of the stem. I will include it with the pipe to the next owner but will not reinstall it. I also filled in the deep tooth mark on the topside of the button with clear superglue. Once the repair cured I sanded it with 220 grit sandpaper to blend it into the surface of the vulcanite. I started polishing it with 400 grit wet dry sandpaper. I polished the vulcanite stem with micromesh sanding pads – 1500-12000 grit pads. I wiped it down with Obsidian Oil after each sanding pad. I used Before & After Pipe Polish – both Fine and Extra Fine to further polish the stem. This Custom-Bilt Imported Briar Panel Billiard is a great looking pipe now that it has been restored. The style of rustication that is used around the bowl is quite beautiful and works well with both the shape and the polished vulcanite taper stem. 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 multiple coats of Conservator’s Wax 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 Custom-Bilt is another pipe that fits nicely in the hand and feels great. Give the finished pipe a look in the photos below. The dimensions of the pipe are Length: 6 inches, Height: 2 inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 ½ inches, Chamber diameter: ¾ of an inch. The weight of the pipe is 53g/1.87oz  I will be putting it on the rebornpipes store shortly. If you are interested in adding this pipe to your collection send me a message or an email. Thanks for reading this blog and my reflections on the pipe while I worked on it. There are many more to come!

Breathing Life into a Custom-Bilt Imported Briar Scoop/Bullmoose


Blog by Steve Laug

The next pipe on the work table came to us from an antique store in Chinook, Washington, USA. The pipe is a classic Custom-Bilt piece – a rusticated Scoop or Bullmoose shaped pipe with some nice grain around the bowl. The pipe is stamped on the left side of the shank and reads Custom-Bilt and on the heel of the bowl and reads Imported Briar. There was a lot of grime ground into the smooth and rusticated portions of the finish on the briar. The bowl was heavily caked with a light overflow of lava on the top and inner edge of the rim. The inside edges looked to be in good condition. The stem was lightly oxidized and had tooth chatter and marks on the top and underside near the button and on the button edge. There were not markings or a logo on the saddle stem. There was also a removable stinger in the tenon end. It had promise but it was very dirty. Jeff took some photos of the pipe before he started his cleanup work. He took photos of the rim top and bowl to give a clear picture of the thickness of the cake and tobacco debris as well as the lava on the rim top rustication. He also took photos of the top and underside of the stem to show the light oxidation and the chatter and tooth marks. Jeff took photos of the sides and heel of the bowl to give a picture of what the briar looked like. The rustication pattern around the bowl is instantly recognizable as done by Custom-Bilt.  You can also see the prominent nose or jutting chin on the bottom front of the bowl that leads me to identify it as a Bullmoose! The stamping on the left side of the shank is clear and readable and read as noted above. I turned to Pipephil (http://www.pipephil.eu/logos/en/logo-c8.html) to get a quick view of the brand once again. I knew that I was working with one of the older pipes and  probably made by Tracy Mincer himself. He stopped making the Custom-Bilt pipes in the early 1950s. The screen capture I included below shows a brief history of the brand. I turned to Pipedia (https://pipedia.org/wiki/File:CustomBilt_Stamp1.jpg) for a quick read. The majority of the information there was two book reviews of the Custom-Bilt Story by Bill Unger. The one line I culled was the following: “Tracy Mincer started the original Custom-Bilt pipes it appears in 1934”.

I did a screen capture of the stamping that matched the stamping on the pipe that I am working on. What I learned from that is that the stamp was used by Tracy Mincer in Indianapolis in the US from 1938-1946 and possibly in Chicago before 1938 as well. There were also some metal bits in the vulcanite and the Imported Briar stamp which made think WW2 or shortly after. So now I had a possible date for this pipe. It was an old timer and it was well worth working on.

Armed with that information I turned to work on the pipe itself.  Jeff had cleaned up the pipe with his usual penchant for thoroughness. He reamed the pipe with a PipNet pipe reamer and removed the rest of it with a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife.  He scrubbed the bowl with undiluted Murphy’s Oil Soap with a tooth brush. He rinsed it under running warm water to remove the soap and grime. He cleaned out the inside of the shank and the airway in the stem with alcohol, cotton swabs and pipe cleaners. He soaked the stem in Before & After Deoxidizer and rinsed it off with warm water. I took photos of the pipe before I started my part of the restoration work. The rim top cleaned up really well. The rim top and outer edge of the bowl show some damage. The stem surface looked very good with a few small tooth marks and chatter on both sides near the button. There was also a deeper tooth mark on the top button surface.    The stamping on left side of the shank is clear and readable. It is stamped as noted above.I removed the stem and took a photo of the pipe to give a sense of the whole. The saddles stem is nice and the photo shows the removable stinger. The bowl was in excellent condition so started by rubbing the bowl and shank down with Before & After Restoration Balm. I worked it into the surface of the bowl sides and shank with my fingertips and a horsehair shoe brush to clean, enliven and protect the briar. I let the balm sit for about 10-15 minutes and buffed with a cotton cloth to raise the shine. The grain came alive.  I set the bowl aside and turned to work on the stem. I removed the pressure fit stinger before working on the rest of the stem. I will include it with the pipe to the next owner but will not reinstall it. I also filled in the deep tooth mark on the topside of the button with clear superglue. Once the repair cured I sanded it smooth to blend them into the surface of the vulcanite. I also sanded out the remaining tooth chatter on both sides. I started polishing it with 400 grit wet dry sandpaper. I polished the vulcanite stem with micromesh sanding pads – 1500-12000 grit pads. I wiped it down with Obsidian Oil after each sanding pad. I used Before & After Pipe Polish – both Fine and Extra Fine to further polish the stem.   This Custom-Bilt Imported Briar Scoop/Bullmoose is a great looking pipe now that it has been restored. The style of rustication that is used around the bowl is quite beautiful and works well with both the shape and the polished vulcanite saddle stem. 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 Custom-Bilt fits nicely in the hand and feels great. Give the finished pipe a look in the photos below. The dimensions of the pipe are Length: 5 inches, Height: 1 ½ inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 2 inches, Chamber diameter: ¾ of an inch. I will be putting it on the rebornpipes store shortly. If you are interested in adding this pipe to your collection send me a message or an email. Thanks for reading this blog and my reflections on the pipe while I worked on it. There are many more to come!

Restoring a Second Custom-Bilt, a Large Billiard from My Inheritance


Blog by Paresh Deshpande

I have decided that I would now first complete all the Custom-Bilt pipes from my inheritance that I had got along with me to my place of work place and the remaining ones at my home town will be done later. I had professed my appreciation and liking for Custom-Bilt pipes for their large size, shape, hand feel and the rustic looks. The next pipe from the collection which I decided to work on was a huge Custom-Bilt briar pipe. The large size of the bowl, thick shank and large saddle stem, lends this pipe a weight which I particularly enjoy holding in my hand.

The pipe has deep and large vertical worm rustications along the entire length of the shank and height of the bowl. Within these large vertical rustications are very thin, closely stacked horizontal lines which give this pipe its unique appearance and are its trademark!! I absolutely love these pipes. These large rustications continue right up to the outer rim of the bowl. The thick rim top is covered with the same thin, closely stacked lines as seen between the vertical rustications. The worm rustications on the shank are much thin and precise as compared to the ones on the bowl and end about ¾ inch before the shank end giving a semblance of a shank end ring. These thin worm rustications can be seen at the foot of the stummel with smooth portions in between them. It is stamped on the left side of the shank as “Custom-Bilt” with a hyphen between the two words, in cursive hand. The “IMPORTED BRIAR”, a commonly observed stamp on these pipes, is seen in the smooth surface towards the front on the foot of the stummel followed by the number “3038” in the next portion towards the shank end.Having worked on a few Custom Bilt pipes in the past and researched this brand and based on the stampings seen on this pipe, I can say with an amount of certitude, that this pipe is from the period 1938-46. Here is the proof in determining the vintage based on stampings as researched by William E. Unger, Jr., PhD, which deals with the study of Custom-Bilt pipes.With this confirmation as regards to the vintage of this pipe, I move ahead with the initial visual inspection of this pipe.

INITIAL VISUAL INSPECTION
The pipe, as I received in the box, was carefully wrapped in a soft cotton cloth, stummel and stem separate!!! The condition of the stem and the stummel made me wonder if this pipe had been received after restoration/ repair work; it appears in such great condition. I thoroughly checked the entire pipe for any signs of repairs or damages. Fortunately there were none!! Only the stem appears brand new. Could it be a new replacement stem from an authorized store? No way to determine this as there are neither any receipts or documents nor any person in my family who could have confirmed this aspect.

The chamber has a thin layer of cake and does not appear to have been smoked much, may be a few bowls at the max. The condition of the inner walls of the chamber can be determined only after the cake has been completely reamed out down to the bare briar. The draught hole is dead center and at the bottom of the chamber. This should be a fantastic smoker. The thin worm rusticated rim top surface is covered in dust and grime all these years of storage. The outer and inner edges of the rim are in good condition with no damage. The craggy large vertical worm rustication with its horizontal thin line rustications within makes for a visual treat. The large vertical rustications are filled with dust and grime to such an extent that the horizontal lines lying within are barely visible. Same goes for the rim top. Though covered in dust and grime of all these years of storage, these should clean up nicely. I have seen an aluminum shank/ mortise extension fixed inside of the mortise on another very similarly sized and shaped Custom-Bilt from my Grandfather’s collection which I had restored about a year back!! This aluminum shank/ mortise extension (or should it be called a tenon?), was also seen on the previous Custom-Bilt Pot that I had restored just a couple of days back. However, this pipe has no such extension, just regular mortise and stem tenon construction. The mortise shows slight accumulation of oils and crud which has resulted in a slight gap between the stem and the shank end when seated. A thorough cleaning of the shank should address this issue. The wide straight saddle vulcanite stem is in pristine condition and seats with a slight gap in to the mortise with all the right noises. The tenon and the slot are also very clean. A polish with Blue diamond and coat of carnauba wax should suffice to deepen the shine on the stem. THE PROCESS
I started the restoration of this beautiful pipe by first reaming the chamber with my fabricated knife. I followed this reaming with sanding the chamber walls with a folded piece of 220 grit sand paper to completely remove any residual cake. This also helps to smooth the walls of the chamber. How I miss the help of Abha, my wife and Pavni, my youngest daughter who specializes in sanding the chamber walls to a smooth and even surface. I wiped the chamber with a cotton swab and alcohol to get rid of all the carbon dust and expose the bare briar of the chamber. As expected, the chamber is sans of any heat fissures/ lines. I followed up the cleaning of the chamber with that of the shank internals. With a bent dental spatula, I scrapped out the dried gunk from the mortise. Using hard and regular pipe cleaners and alcohol, I cleaned the mortise and the shank internals. A number of attempts and pipe cleaners later, the shank internals are clean and the draw is nice, smooth and even. I tried the seating of the stem in to the mortise and was pleased to note that the fit is now perfect and without any gaps. The internal cleaning was followed by external cleaning of the stummel surface using Murphy’s Oil soap and a hard bristled tooth brush. I also used a brass wired brush to diligently clean out all the dirt and grime from within the worm rustications. With a shank brush and dish washing soap, I thoroughly cleaned the shank internals and the mortise. I dried the bowl with paper napkins and soft cotton cloth and set it aside to dry out completely. With the stummel set aside to dry out naturally, it was time to move ahead with the stem restoration. I cleaned the stem internals with pipe cleaners and alcohol. With the bent flat end of a dental tool, I scrubbed the dried out oils and tars from the tenon of the stem and cleaned it with a cotton swab and alcohol. I wiped the stem with a small amount of Extra Virgin Olive oil and set it aside to be absorbed by the stem surface.While the stem was set aside to hydrate, I worked the stummel, micromesh polishing of the smooth raised surfaces on the stummel. I polished the stummel by wet sanding with 1500 to 12000 micromesh pads. With a moist cotton swab, I carefully wiped off all the sanding dust from within the worm rustications. I am pretty happy with the results!! Next, I rub a small quantity of “Before and After Restoration Balm” in to the briar with my finger tips and let it rest for a few minutes. The balm almost immediately works its magic and the briar now has a nice vibrant appearance with the beautiful worm rustication patterns on full display. I have been using this balm ever since I embarked on this journey and it is this part of restoration that I always look forward to. I further buff it with a horse hair shoe brush. On to the homestretch!! I mount a cotton cloth buffing wheel on to my hand held rotary tool and apply a coat of Blue Diamond to the stummel and the stem to polish out the minor scratches. With a cotton buffing wheel that I use for carnauba wax, I apply a coat of carnauba wax and continue to work on it till the complete coat of wax had been polished out. I mount a clean cotton cloth buffing wheel and give the entire pipe a once over buff. I finished the restoration by giving the entire pipe a rigorous hand buffing using a microfiber cloth to raise the shine further. The finished pipe looks amazingly beautiful and is now ready for its long second innings with me. I only wish it could share with me its life story of the past 70 plus years… Cheers!! P.S. These old Custom-Bilts may not be as elegant, delicate and quaint looking as most of the British pipes like say, Charatan’s, Barling’s, Comoy’s or an old Ben Wade, but there is a certain rustic charm about these pipes that appeals to me the most and of course, not to mention the size!! I am not sure if there are any serious Custom-Bilt collectors in our pipe world, but if any reader of rebornpipes.com is, I would definitely like to connect and share our common love for these magnificent pipes.

As usual, your comments and advice is requested as these will help me in my learning and improvements in future. I express my sincere gratitude to all readers who have dedicated their time to read through the write up and for being part of this journey.