Blog by Steve Laug
With this Dunhill Root Briar my ongoing work on Bob Kerr’s is taking a turn to the smooth finished pipes in the collection. This is the first of the smooth pipes in his Dunhill Collection. I am cleaning them for the family and moving them out into the hands of pipemen and women who will carry on the trust that began with Bob and in some pipes was carried on by Bob. In the collection along with the Dunhills are a good bevy of Petersons, some Comoy’s and Barlings as well as a lot of other pipes – a total of 125 pipes along with a box of parts. This is the largest estate that I have had the opportunity to work on. I put together a spread sheet of the pipes and stampings to create an invoice. I was taking on what would take me a fair amount of time to clean up. I could not pass up the opportunity to work on these pipes though. They were just too tempting.
I sorted the pipes into groups of the various brands and had a box of 25 different Dunhill pipes in different shapes, styles and sizes. I decided to work on the Dunhills first. It was a great chance to see the shape variety up close and personal. The photo below shows the box of Dunhill pipes.With the completion of the restoration on this one there are only 11 more Dunhills of the original 25 left to work on – all smooth finished pipes in a variety of shapes. I went through the box of the remaining smooth Dunhills shown above and chose the 15th and first smooth finish pipe to work on – a smooth Root Briar Bent Billiard. It is stamped on the left side of the shank with the shape number 51021 followed by Dunhill over Root Briar. On the right side of the shank it is stamped Made in England 21 which tells me it is made in 1982. The 5 digit stamping gives a lot of pertinent information about the pipe. The first digit, 5 says that the size of the pipe is a Group 5. The second digit 1 identifies the pipe as having a tapered stem. The 02 identifies it as a bent pipe and the final 1 says it is a billiard. The bent round shank flows into a tapered stem that is oxidized and has tooth marks and chatter near the button. There is some calcification on the first inch of the stem ahead of the button and there is some light damage to the top of the button. The smooth Root Briar finish is dirty but like the other pipes in Bob’s collection there is something quite beautiful about the cross grain on the pipe. The bowl had a thick cake and thick lava overflow on the rim top. The bowl appears to be a little out of round with slight damage on the front inner edge of the rim. After cleaning I will know more. I took pictures of the pipe before I started working on it. I took some close up photos of the rim top and the stem to show what I was dealing with. This Root Briar Bent Billiard had some damage on the inner edge of the bowl toward the front as can be seen in the photo. The cake in the bowl was quite thick and the lava on the rim top was also thick. You can see the cake and tobacco in the bowl. The stem was dirty, oxidized, calcified and had a lot of tooth chatter on the top and underside for about an inch ahead of the button.I took a photo of the stamping on both sides of the shank. Part of the stamping was very sharp and readable and other parts were fainter and needed bright light.Since this is the 15th pipe from Bob’s estate I am sure you have read at least some of the other restoration work that has been done on the 14 previous pipes. You have also read what I have included about Bob Kerr, the pipeman who held these pipes in trust before I came to work on them. Also, if you have followed the blog for long you will already know that I like to include background information on the pipeman whose pipes I am restoring. For me, when I am working on an estate I really like to have a sense of the person who held the pipes in trust before I worked on them. It gives me another dimension of the restoration work. I asked Brian if he or his wife would like to write a brief biographical tribute to her father, Bob. His daughter worked on it and I received the following short write up on him and some pictures to go along with the words. Once again I thank you Brian and tell your wife thank you as well.
I am delighted to pass on these beloved pipes of my father’s. I hope each user gets many hours of contemplative pleasure as he did. I remember the aroma of tobacco in the rec room, as he put up his feet on his lazy boy. He’d be first at the paper then, no one could touch it before him. Maybe there would be a movie on with an actor smoking a pipe. He would have very definite opinions on whether the performer was a ‘real’ smoker or not, a distinction which I could never see but it would be very clear to him. He worked by day as a sales manager of a paper products company, a job he hated. What he longed for was the life of an artist, so on the weekends and sometimes mid-week evenings he would journey to his workshop and come out with wood sculptures, all of which he declared as crap but every one of them treasured by my sister and myself. Enjoy the pipes, and maybe a little of his creative spirit will enter you!
I have included one of Bob’s wood carvings to give you an idea of what he daughter wrote about above. You can see his artistry in the carving that is patterned after British Columbia’s Coastal First Nations people. To me this is a sea otter but perhaps a reader may enlighten us.
Having already worked on 15 other pipes from Bob’s estate I think I understood how he used and viewed his pipes. I am just starting my work on the smooth finished pipes with this Root Briar. I had learned to tell which pipes were his favoured ones and which were his work horses. He really loved his billiards. I could get a sense of the ones that accompanied him into his carving shop. I think this would have been one of his resting pipes – not a shop pipe. In many ways it was as if he was standing over my shoulder while I cleaned up his pipes.
With that in mind I turned to work on the 15th pipe. I reamed the bowl to remove the cake on the walls and the debris of tobacco shards that still remained. I used a PipNet pipe reamer to start the process. I followed that with a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife to clean up the remaining cake in the conical bottom of the bowl. I sanded the bowl with 220 grit sandpaper wrapped around a piece of dowel. It smooths out the walls and also helps bring the inner edges back to round. I cleaned up the rim top and removed the thick lava coat in the rim. I used the Savinelli Fitsall knife to scrape away the high spots of lava and some worn 220 grit sandpaper and a 1500 grit micromesh pad to work on the rim top and remove the buildup there. I worked over the damaged inner edge of the rim with 220 grit sandpaper to bring the bowl back to round and remove the damage. I polished the rim top with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanding with 3200-12000 grit pads. Each successive pad brought more shine to the rim top. I wiped the rim down with a damp cotton pad after each sanding pad. I used an Oak coloured stain pen to blend the polished rim top into the rest of the briar. The oak colour was a perfect match for the colour of the bowl.I worked some Before & After Restoration Balm into the finish of the bowl and the rim top. I worked it into the surface with my fingertips to clean, enliven and protect the wood. I let the balm sit for about 20 minutes and buffed it off with a soft cotton cloth. I took photos of the pipe at this point in the process to show what the bowl looked like at this point. I scraped out the inside of the mortise with a dental spatula to break away the tarry buildup on the walls of the shank. (Sometimes I use a pen knife and sometimes a dental spatula depending on the diameter of the mortise.) I cleaned out the internals of the bowl, shank and the airway in the shank and the stem with alcohol, pipe cleaners and cotton swabs until they came out clean. It was very dirty in the shank and stem but now it not only looks clean but smells clean. I set the bowl aside and turned my attention to the stem. I cleaned off the stem with a light sanding to remove the oxidation near the tooth marks. I filled in the deep tooth marks on the topside next to the button and the one on the underside as well with black super glue and set the stem aside so the glue could cure.When the repair had cured I used a needle file to redefine the sharp edge of the button and flatten out the patches. I sanded the repaired areas to blend them into the surface of the stem. I also sanded out the tooth marks and chatter on the surface of the vulcanite with a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper. I followed the 220 grit sandpaper with 400 grit wet dry sandpaper to minimize the scratching. The two papers combined did a pretty decent job of getting rid of the tooth marks and chatter as well as the oxidation and calcification. I polished the stem with Denicare Mouthpiece Polish to take out the oxidation at the button edge and on the end of the mouthpiece. I also worked hard to scrub it from the surface of the stem at the tenon end. I polished out the scratches with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanding with 3200-12000 grit pads. I wiped the stem down after each sanding pad with Obsidian Oil. I polished it with Before & After Pipe Stem Polish – both Fine and Extra Fine. Once I had finished the polishing I gave it a final coat of oil and set it aside to dry. I put the bowl and stem back together. I polished the bowl and stem with Blue Diamond to polish out the scratches in the briar and the vulcanite. I gave the bowl and the stem multiple coats of carnauba wax. I buffed the pipe with a clean buffing pad to raise the shine. I hand buffed it with a microfiber cloth to deepen the shine. The pipe polished up pretty nicely. The cross grain and birdseye grain that show up in the polished bowl looked good with the polished black vulcanite. This Dunhill Root Briar 51021 Bent Billiard will soon heading off to India to join Paresh’s rotation. It really has that classic Dunhill Bent Billiard look that catches the eye. The finished pipe is shown in the photos below. The dimensions of the pipe are Length: 6 1/2 inches, Height: 2 1/8 inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 ¼ inches, Chamber diameter: 3/4 of an inch. This is the 15th Dunhill Briar from the many pipes that will be coming onto the work table from the estate. With this one I have begun my work on the smooth Dunhill Pipes. What will follow is 10 more smooth finished Dunhills – Root Briar, Bruyere etc. Thanks for reading this blog and my reflections on the pipe while I worked on it. I am having fun working on this estate.