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The Case of the Murdered Dunhill

Blog by Robert M. Boughton

Copyright © Reborn Pipes and the Author except as cited

It is my belief, Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside. — From Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Adventure of the Copper Beeches,” in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892)

NOTE: I owe the singular logic and chronicle of this story to the author of a French blog upon which I had the good fortune and immense pleasure of discovering, quite by chance, in the course of a search for other, more mundane instruction on Dunhill pipes.  The credit for the blog, almost hidden at the bottom of the page, attributes the work to “pipephil,” whose nationality and working name being identical to that of a certain devoted and well-known researcher of pipes and their histories, I can only surmise is one and the same.  This story is based on an unequal blending of fact and fiction and might better be approached as the latter.   Acknowledgement to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930) is likewise in order, and, if prevailing opinion of this willing suspension of disbelief warrants, apologies.  Names have been changed to protect the real and imagined

(Being a reprint from the personal blogs of JAMES BOSWELL)


At the age of twenty-six, early in the year of 1989, I was considered an old man to be commencing studies as an undergraduate at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces and was branded non-traditional, a distinction which stirs not a grain of animosity in my mind.  The principal difference between the average teenager fresh from the crucible of high school and myself, during my first semester of courses prescribed for those desiring to specialize in journalism, was my already appreciable experience in the workforce I sought to continue.  I had under my belt a solid grounding in the old school style of newspaper writing, owing to an early tossing into the cesspool when I was a mere fifteen-year-old.  Already I was squared away in the requisite determined and, when necessary, obdurate nature to survive the initial condescending underestimation of my ability to recognize obfuscation when I heard it.  These traits were of invaluable help in eliciting a modicum of legitimate answers from the police officers, politicians and other authorities who became the salt and pepper on the main fare of official reports that fed my regular police and city hall beats.

Quartered at first in one of the better dormitories and accustomed to taking my meals at the campus cafeteria, an establishment that over-favored a form of creamed chipped beef on toast that exemplified the military term for that menu item which I will for the sake of good form abbreviate as S.O.S., I straight away took up the tobacco pipe.  As well as soothing my nerves and allowing an air of contemplation conducive to my studies, the pipe expelled the unfortunate after taste of the gruel the school called food.  Pipes were also a family tradition on the paternal side, and so I embraced them with alacrity.  Smoking, of course, was prohibited in the dormitories, but I dismissed the absurdity as did all but a poignant minority of the other inhabitants.

Finding disagreeable the cramped suite of rooms that allowed no privacy and which I shared with three adolescent males who were more interested in beer kegs, parties and all of the other inclinations wholly natural to youngsters, I reached the inevitable conclusion that I must secure a more mature roommate off-campus.  The very same night, while strolling the university grounds taking the long course to the student union building, where I had planned to brush up on the Associated Press Style Book tucked under an arm, and puffing contentedly on the single pipe I then owned, I heard my name called from nearby.

“Boswell!  James Boswell!”

Glancing in the direction of the greeting, I found the young man smiling and waving at me vaguely familiar, but only a name came to mind.

“Beall!” I said, relieved to have no need to fumble with that social awkwardness.

Trapped, I found myself engaged in small talk.

“Wherever have you been hiding?” Beall asked.  “I haven’t seen you in dog’s years!”

Not caring for the suggestion that I in any way skulk and thinking that dogs tend to age with rather unfortunate rapidity, I was off-put before I could answer but endeavored to be civil.

“Off fighting the good fight, Beall,” I said.  “Just at the moment I’m considering how to move out of my dormitory but can’t afford a place of my own on my income.”
Where I met Beall and why the devil I let slip my need for a proper roommate eluded me, and I would have kicked myself had that colloquial expression been possible.  With all the delicacy I can muster, I found young Beall to be a nice enough fellow but rather insipid and a bit too friendly.  I braced in anticipation of his putting himself forward as a candidate, and indeed, having among other faults a distressing clutching habit, he seized me by an arm.

“Why, I have just the person for you!  I’ve known him forever, and he’s absolutely perfect!”

Not caring a bit for the sound of any of that and being dubious of Beall’s judgment, my aversion to conspicuous rudeness prevented me from declaring so.  By my own fault, therefore, Beall, still clutching my arm, compelled both of us at once in a straight line toward the north edge of the campus, obviously the direction of the friend’s place of residence.  I managed with some dexterity to dislodge my arm from his grip and counted myself fortunate beyond words that the mysterious dwelling was within easy walking distance.  My subsequent introduction to the man who, though five years my junior, was gifted with the most singular and brilliant deductive powers I have ever encountered, can only be attributed to fate.

When at last we found ourselves on the step and the door to the apartment opened, I had the first dreaded look at my proposed new roommate.  The appearance of Mr. Sherrinford Cavish was altogether the opposite of my preconceived image.  Standing three inches taller than six feet in height, Cavish towered over Beall, whom I had spent most of our walk struggling to devise a means of escaping, and had several inches on me.  His stature had none of the typical lankiness associated with very tall men and was instead complemented by a husky but fit build.  He wore an expensive powder blue dress shirt with the top two buttons undone, medium brown wool slacks appropriate for the season that appeared to be tailored, leather loafers with tassels and no jewelry whatsoever, not even a watch.  His longish brown, wavy and un-brushed hair, wild, for lack of a better word, was the oddest feature I noted.  The old, blackened clay pipe between his lips seemed a natural extension of his mouth and the highest testament thus far of his suitability as a fellow lodger. Then, ignoring poor Beall beside me altogether, his sharp blue and acute eyes narrowed and took in the whole of me with a glance.  I admit I was more than a little disconcerted by the scrutiny I thought rude.  His greeting astounded me.

“Have you been a reporter for any publications I may have read?”

The ensuing dumfounded silence prompted the otherwise meek and silent Beall, who still stood to my side, to remark, “Yes, he’s always like that.”

“Ah!  But you’re here about the room for rent, no doubt eager to quit the dreary conditions of the dormitories,” Cavish said before I answered, astounding me once again.

The man who introduced himself to me by his full first and last name the moment I stepped inside his apartment pursed his lips in a peculiar grin I have come to know well.  One corner of his mouth rose a tad and the other fell.  Initially viewing the practice as a sort of conceited smirk, I soon came to recognize it as an outward sign of the constant processing of simultaneous and unfathomable amounts of complex mental data related to the unparalleled fields of study of which Cavish can only be described as an expert.  Well into that first night, I learned of a comparative few of these, but our mutual fondness for pipes and shared interest in matters of crime were enough for me.  That grin of his meant that Cavish was in good spirits, working out the various enigmas he undertakes to solve for his own odd pleasure and at the request of others.  He calls them cases, but to me they are worse than giant white table puzzles.  Cavish invariably examines each piece with pure logic and science as his only tools.  On my word, I do believe he relishes scrambling the parts of the puzzles his clients – again, as he calls them – believe they have put together.  To Cavish, each piece of the puzzle must be probed from both sides and every angle regardless of how closely it may seem to fit.

“Excuse me,” I said, no longer able to contain my curiosity, “but how did you know I was a reporter?”

Cavish looked me in the eye.  “Elementary,” he said.  “Even without the well-thumbed AP guide under your arm the conclusion is inescapable.  Your red-striped Oxford with its frayed button collar doesn’t go with the ruffled tan corduroy blazer and dark brown elbow patches, as well as the mismatched light blue cord pants.  And that ancient polyester tie is enough to give an epileptic a fit.  Who but a reporter dresses in that style?  Then there are the light smudges of news print on your fingers and the cuffs of your shirt sleeves, not to mention the small note pad and flowy pen in your front coat pocket, icing on the cake, as it were.”

However accurate the conclusions Cavish reached, I still wondered if his lack of tact might be distasteful after all but resisted the urge to do an about-face and march out.

“Very well, then, what about the fact that I live in a dormitory?”

“Good God, man!” he said with alarming drama.  “Only a new student living in the dorms, regardless of age, would eat all of his meals in the cafeteria.”  Reading my face like a newspaper headline, he interrupted the protest I was about to make.  “My exhaustive research of every restaurant menu in Cruces tells me that none of them serves creamed chipped beef such as that which caused the spot on your tie.  I’m happy to say the dish is unique to that venue.”

In this disturbingly fascinating manner was I introduced to the deductive skills of Mr. Sherrinford Cavish.

“Interesting pipe,” Cavish said as he saw me to the door, speaking of the bulldog of which I was rather proud.  “An Italian no-name, I see.  Well, we’ll have to do something about that.”

The following morning, ignoring my petty misgivings as to my new roommate, I fled the dormitory.  I confess with some remorse that I left my affable yet erstwhile fellow cellmates understandably dazed and confused, not to mention sad in a manner that was touching, to see me depart.


Dunhill pipe courtesy These Pipes Like No Others

Sooner than later, I learned of the flipside of the unusual grin I noted.  When Cavish was without a case, he fell into periods of deep broodings and profound depressions that lasted until some new mystery he deemed worthy of his time presented itself.  At the low point of one of these bouts of sheer, unbearable boredom, a piece of mail arrived that Cavish was too despondent to consider.  I took the liberty of cutting open the end for him and found a single small photograph of a smoking pipe in utter ruin, accompanied by a letter imploring Cavish to investigate the matter and some pages printed from a website.

Reading the letter to my lackluster friend did not even make him stir.  Knowing the somewhat perverse delight Cavish takes in the most dreadful horrors this world has to offer, and also taking into consideration his deep love of smoking pipes, I concluded the only hope of rousing him from the lethargic stupor in which he was trapped might be the sight of the desecrated pipe.  I tossed the photograph and printout on his chest that might have been that of a corpse.  As I turned away, I heard Cavish sit up on the couch.  Turning back to face him the next instant, I saw him hunched over his laptop on the coffee table cluttered with many documents only he was permitted to touch.  Moving so that I could watch over his shoulder, I noticed he had pulled up the website from which the printout was made so that he could read the entire text in its original French, which he spoke fluently in addition to Latin, German, Dutch, Italian and Iranian, to name those I have identified.

“The game is afoot!” Cavish said with refreshed vigor.  I shook my head and sighed with no small amount of relief as he stood and began pacing in excitement.  I, on the other hand, needed a break and decided I deserved one for the part I played in reviving him.  Retiring to the comfort of my armchair, I took up an elegant new briar wood prince possessing the tightest vertical grain that I found at my local shop and filled it with a handy Balkan blend.  Already, I had a fine beginning of a collection thanks to a certain compulsion to acquire more and more that I blamed on the bad influence Cavish had on me.  Indeed, the compulsion verged on a disorder.


The masthead of the site, Cavish translated, read “These Pipes Like No Others.”  Succumbing to an uncontrollable urge, I wagered the Dunhill displayed in the blog and photograph just arrived in the mail was clearly well smoked and previously lightly enjoyed. *  I shall savor for the rest of my life the rare flash of utter incredulity on my friend’s face that dissolved back into his typical working countenance of gravest contemplation when he deduced I had to be joking.

“She is extraordinary,” Cavish said, almost in a whisper.  I took a moment to realize he was speaking of the pipe.  “The outer simplicity obscures an inner complexity.”

“No doubt,” I said for the sake of good manners.

Still pacing about the room, Cavish recited the entire text of the blog from memory after his single reading of it online.  In the interest of brevity, I will paraphrase the key points of interest in the blogger’s quite stylish and eloquent narrative detailing his theories relating to the cause of the Dunhill’s destruction.  The general theme as stated in the second sentence was that, whatever act of brutality indeed brought about the end of the pipe’s days of usefulness to anyone, the once noble but now wretched thing was murdered.  Counting myself an aficionado of tobacco pipes, I appreciated the writer’s dramatic use of personification.

When the gruesome remains were discovered, two immediate types of suspects were considered, the more likely being a lone assassin acting on his own insane motives, and the other a terrorist group.  The latter theory raised the possibility of a political link, perhaps the Front de Lutte Anti-Tabac (F.L.A.T.), in English the Fight Against Tobacco Front.  Whoever ended the pipe’s life, the blogger concluded, chose Dunhill rather than any other brand for the general regard of the old British house as perhaps the world’s most iconic maker.  The impact of the act of extreme violence would therefore engender outrage and consternation among pipe enjoyers everywhere.

“It is quite a two-pipe problem, and I beg that you won’t speak to me for thirty minutes,” Cavish said in characteristically blunt form.  Even with what I knew of his machine-like reasoning ability, I was impressed with the time in which he expected to solve the mystery.


I can only conjecture that Cavish chose a striking natural finish Dunhill Canadian as his own way of paying respect to the victim.  In silence, as requested, and as unobtrusively as possible, I watched while he loaded the pipe with Dunhill White Spot, an English blend not available in this country that he somehow managed to acquire, no doubt through one of his many private sources.  He lay back in the chair, stretching his legs out before him and crossing his ankles as was his habit when formulating his inscrutable conclusions.  After savoring the one fill, he repeated the process.  When the last of the smoke trailed off, I glanced at the clock and observed the prescribed half-hour had passed to the minute.  My friend sat bolt upright and, his eyes glinting through narrow slits, stood.  I waited with greater than average anticipation for him to begin.

“The deplorable annihilation of this ill-fated Dunhill billiard was not an act of murder, as conjectured by the blogger with eloquence that was nevertheless the product of typical human emotion,” Cavish said in an even tone that belied the passion I alone knew him well enough to detect from the deliberate choice of such strong terms.

“That much I myself concluded,” I replied.

“Indeed, as you well know, the inherent inanimateness of the briar wood forming the chief constituent of the whole, by definition, precludes the possibility of homicide.”

“Indeed,” I muttered for lack of anything more substantial to contribute.

“Nor was this the work of any terrorist organization, the blogger’s brio, however excessive, notwithstanding.”

“Oh?  How so?”

“Contrary to popular misconception, terrorists are not as secretive as they would have us believe,” Cavish stated in the form of a thesis.  “Why else would they invariably claim credit for their foul and pusillanimous deeds sparked by a sense of impotence?”  Knowing the last part was only rhetorical punctuation, I waited for him to continue.  “No such communication has been attempted.”

“I see,” I said.  “But wait, Cavish.  There is one thing I still cannot comprehend.”

“Only one?” he asked, again not expecting a direct response but with the annoying twist of his mouth that so infuriated me at times.

“Yes, for the moment at least, only one,” I said in a pointless attempt to defend my honor that was not lost on the great detective.

“Pray tell, my dear Boswell, let’s hear the singular point of your confusion.”

Once more, I knew enough of the man to recognize a note of reconciliation, however feeble I thought it.  “What about the Frenchman’s keen observation that in order to burn briar, how did he put it, ‘extraordinary temperatures are needed which cannot be reached in the combustion of even a dry tobacco’?”

“Aha!” Cavish exclaimed, triumphant.  “There you have it!  Once again, you see, yet you do not observe.  Any careless smoker can burn a pipe made of any material, briar by no means excluded, even to the point of creating a hole through the bowl.  One sees such uncouth damages all the time.  Just ask anyone who restores smoking pipes for a living.”

Cavish continued before I could register a protest.

“The operative word is burn, which is altogether different than incinerate, the latter being the choice our French blogger doubtless meant.  Based on my study of the incineration points of thousands of wood types, I can tell you with authority that briar can only be reduced to ashes, that being the definition of incinerate, at temperatures sometimes exceeding 1,292 degrees Fahrenheit.”

“Good lord!”

“Quite so,” Cavish went on.  “As you will recollect from the photograph, the Dunhill, though burned more severely than any other specimen I have ever seen, which is no trivial claim, and to the point where evenly spaced horizontal cracks encircle the bowl through to the chamber, the pipe is nowhere near disincorporation into a pile of ashes.”

“Amazing, Cavish!  Simply amazing!  But what does it all mean?”

“It means, my obtuse friend, that the theory of some person or persons unknown filling the Dunhill with a fuel or other accelerant, intent on exploding or vaporizing the pipe, is erroneous.”

Bringing to bear the full powers of my brain to determine possible explanations, all I achieved was a pulsating headache.

“I surrender, Cavish!  How on Earth was the Dunhill destroyed, and by whom?”

Cavish has described himself as a high-functioning sociopath, a self-diagnosis with which I would not have argued until that moment.  The years I have known him, it was the first time he displayed what I would call a normal sign of humanity, the instance being a profound sense of grief manifested in his entire physical demeanor.  I was almost overwhelmed by a foreboding of some cataclysmic doom.  When he did speak at last, he sounded tired, but his usual veil of absolute self-control, dispassion and supreme objectivity was again in place.

“Never indulge in the delusion that the whole of mankind is not, in its most base state of consciousness, a species unequaled for its most natural instincts of callous cruelty and neglect for the welfare of others,” he said, pausing as though in emphasis of his perceived status of being separate from the rest of the world.  I wanted to disagree but held my tongue, letting Cavish expand on his point.  Whether he was aware of the repeated use of personal pronouns usually reserved for beings endowed with life, I could not say.  “Have no doubt, Boswell, she was tortured for some years.  Indeed, her neglect would be criminal were she, to employ a deliberate contradiction in terms, more that a work of art.  I agree with our French friend, the blogger, that the Dunhill was desecrated, and should like to believe his assertion that the act was premeditated.”

Unable to bear the ensuing silence longer, I prompted him.  “But?”

“Premeditation, my dear Boswell, implies a certain amount of forethought.  The atrocities committed against the once beautiful and vibrant example of skilled craftsmanship, created with the sole purpose of providing pleasure to a man, demonstrate the wanton kind of thoughtless, careless disregard for all but the self.”

“Really, Cavish, I think you’re being too harsh,” I interjected.

“In that case, Boswell, why did you acquire so many new pipes of which you could scarcely keep track?  I seem to recall your frequent agitation lest one of them end up falling to the floor, from wherever you happened to set it down, and breaking.  You even went to some expense to commission your carpenter friend to fashion an exceedingly large, elaborate cabinet made more of glass than wood, and filled with separate beveled holders so that you could display even more pipes than you already own.  Whatever possessed you to go to this trouble?”

My blood beginning to boil, I replied in hardly contained anger, “Because I care for them!  And besides, I got the idea for the cabinet from your own!”

“Quite so!” Cavish said with such pleasure he even let slip the rarest of smiles.  I must say that took the wind out of me, and I felt quite the fool.  My good friend had tricked me again.

“Point taken,” I conceded with a sheepish grin.  “But when are you going to reveal the identity of the scoundrel who so monstrously destroyed the excellent Dunhill?”

Cavish turned and resumed his former languid position in the armchair.  I stood there awaiting his solution to the puzzle while he loaded his pipe once more and leaned back, puffing away with a peculiar air of satisfaction.

“The culprit, Boswell, was no monster or group of terrorists.  The person who snuffed out the life of the Dunhill billiard was a common pipe smoker, one who considers these delightful instruments of divine contemplation to be as disposable as a Bic lighter.”

I was flabbergasted.  “Then you have no idea who did it?”

“Thankfully, no, or else I would have to track him down wherever he might live, if indeed he still does, and give him some lessons.  But I can say for certain that the unknown perpetrator of this loathsome deed prefers cigars to pipes.”

“How can you possibly deduce that?”

“Elementary,” Cavish said.  “He used a cigar torch to light his pipe.”

I took a seat in my chair across from him, sighed and filled my well-tended pipe, thinking the end of this mystery a bit disappointing, but pleased the case was closed.

“She is still a beautiful pipe,” Cavish said in a quiet tone.  “She shall always be the woman to me.”


I will leave my changing of name to the deductive powers of any readers who may be devotees of the great consulting detective, Sherlock Holmes.  The simplest way to sum up my little homage to the genius of the character and writing of the many Holmes adventures is to quote a funnier Holmesian anecdote, by Thomas Cathcart, another great author, who is still alive at 78.

Holmes and Watson are on a camping trip.  In the middle of the night Holmes wakes up and gives Dr. Watson a nudge.  “Watson,” he says, “look up in the sky and tell me what you see.”

“I see millions of stars, Holmes,” says Watson.

“And what do you conclude from that, Watson?”

Watson thinks for a moment.  “Well,” he says, “astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets.  Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo.  Horologically, I deduce that the time is approximately a quarter past three.  Meteorologically, I suspect that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow.  Theologically, I see that God is all-powerful, and we are small and insignificant.  Uh, what does it tell you, Holmes?”

“Watson, you idiot!  Someone has stolen our tent!”

* I owe the wry comments of two friends on the Smokers Forums UK, where I posted the graphic photograph of the horribly abused Dunhill, a note of gratitude for the inspiration of these words.




About Savinelli Panels, and a Couple of Restores

Blog by Robert M. Boughton

Copyright © Reborn Pipes and the Author except as cited

Thinking outside of the box is unnecessary when there are no boxes in your imagination.
— Matshona Dhliwayo, Canadian-based philosopher, entrepreneur and author born in Zimbabwe


Four generations of the Savinelli family have managed not only to maintain but enhance the quality of pipes produced since Achille Savinelli Sr. opened his little business in Milan in 1876.  That shop is still there today.  In 1890, the founder’s son, Carlo, continued the original practice of assigning actual pipe production to skilled artisans.  For more than 55 years, that tradition went unbroken, until Carlo’s son, Achille Savinelli Jr., returned from his service in World War II and moved the business to Brebbia, where the pipes first began being made in the family’s own factory/workshop in 1948.  Since 1987, when Achille Jr. died, his son, Giancarlo, has been at the helm.

The Savinelli shop was the first to offer general pipe smoking items in Italy, and the name gained respect to Italian pipes, which before them had almost universally low opinions due to the general low standards of craftsmanship.  Of all the Savinelli pipes I’ve owned, I would describe just one as being notably less than exceptional.  My personal favorite styles are the many panel lines, examples of which I will show.  I had hoped to succeed in providing also a definitive list of shape numbers associated with panels, but every turn in my online searches leads to still more.

The chart below, although not official and woefully incomplete, includes the most panel shapes: 502, 506, 513KS, 515, 619EX and 824KS. Savinelli Pipe Shape Chart courtesy Pipephil

The easiest to find seems to be KS variations of the 515 such as the two I restored before.

Champagne 515KS

de luxe Milano 515KS

Here are more gorgeous specimens, all but one of them not to be found on any chart I can locate.  The official Savinelli chart lists the 505.

Autograph Grade 8 0007 courtesy Savinelli

de luxe Milano 505 courtesy Smoking Pipes

And here’s one I would so love to own.

120th Anniversary 6-panel D courtesy Smoking Pipes

At some point, Savinelli appears to have abandoned the number system altogether, but fighting the urge to show all that I found, I’ll limit it to the two most extraordinary.

Autograph Half Rustic-Half Smooth courtesy Tobacco Pipes

Autograph Mignon Freehand courtesy Smoking Pipes

Now for the two more common panels I restored a few months ago, an Oscar 515KS and an un-numbered Colossal, in that order.


Starting with the stummel that was cleaner than most, some purified water on a paper towel made it look a little better but did almost nothing for the very charred rim.  I reamed the chamber and, in a measure uncommon to me, used the knife from a pocket utility tool to remove large, hardened spots of obdurate cake buildup before smoothing the area with 320- and 400-grit papers.  The rest of the black rim came clean with gentle use of super fine 0000 steel wool. As a preliminary cleaning, I put a soft cotton ball in the chamber and filled it with isopropyl alcohol, plugging the bit with a pipe cleaner.  Then I ran more cleaners through the shank and only one to clear the bit’s air hole. Turning to the bit, I heated the crusty old tenon and removed it before considering how to proceed with the well-used Vulcanite.After wiping it down with a little purified water on a paper towel, I used my Bic to raise some of the chatter and dings. That helped, but I decided on the 180-grit side of a sanding pad to remove some of the remaining marks.Focusing on the deeper marks below the lip with 150-grit paper before smoothing it all out with a progression all the way up to 600-grit, I finished with a full micro mesh workup.  Unfortunately, I didn’t snap any pics of the paper work, but here’s how the bit turned out.I retorted the pipe.To lighten the color, I sanded with 400-grit paper. A full micro mesh progression made the wood shine like new. The shooting star on the bit filled in well with a white grease china marker.  The Oscar is one of four pipes with the shooting star mark on the bit, including the Antique Shell, the Garda and the Sila. Machine buffing with carnauba was all that was needed to finish.

RESTORATION: COLOSSAL CUSTOM MADE FIRST QUALITY This time I decided to start with the bit.Again, the Bic raised some of the blemishes.After that, oddly enough, I gave it an OxiClean bath that had a remarkable effect, followed by wet micro mesh.  The Colossal’s inlaid C is unique. With the stummel, as before, I gave it a preliminary cleaning before the retort. I tried super fine steel wool on the rim, for some reason without success, and turned to 220-, 320- and 400-grit papers.The chamber had the same kind of obstinate cake buildup as the Oscar, so I again reamed it and scraped more with the blade of my utility tool.Micro mesh worked fine on all but the right side.  To eliminate more pernicious scratches there, I turned to 400- and 600-grit papers and re-micro meshed. And that was that other than the final machine carnauba buffing. CONCLUSION

Savinelli panels tend to be big, thick, sturdy pipes that smoke with a uniform, cool evenness.  I really love all of them that I’ve owned and kept the Colossal for my collection but sold the Oscar.  A more complete list of panel shape numbers is in the works, and I’m going to contact Savinelli to see what they have to say on the matter.  I’ll keep you posted.




The Worst Pipe I Ever Bought

Blog by Robert M. Boughton

Copyright © Reborn Pipes and the Author except as cited

Look beneath the surface; let not the several quality of a thing nor its worth escape thee.
— Marcus Aurelius (121 AD – 180 AD), Roman Emperor, in Meditations

NOTE: My decision to post this blog was difficult because of my failure thus far to restore the pipe to a suitable condition.  The project remains a work in progress.  I now know what needs to be done to finish the job and will discuss those steps after the “Restoration” I offer now in a guileless attempt to show what horrors can follow the online purchase of a pipe that is just plain rotten to the core – a Frankenstein, if you will.  Still, this is no excuse for my frustrating defeat.  Maybe I should have extended the title to add “and the Worst Restoration I Ever Committed.” RMB


Old Marcus knew what he was about, and his meditation on recognizing the full potential of a thing speaks to this precise pipe in an almost prescient way.  I wish I could say I always heed the sage advice, but I cannot tell that big a lie.  In the case of this tiny, smooth (in the roughest sense of the word), straight apple purported to be a Kaufman Brothers and Bondy Rocky Briar apple, I failed to a degree that does not now escape me in the least.  Where I should have listened to the voice in my head that screamed how the color was just wrong – not red or maroon but what I call Chinese Fake – part of me didn’t care because it was so cheap.  As it turned out, that term took on more than one meaning as well.  Where the numerous photos of the pipe offered for examination online showed blatant signs of serious damages, visions of repairing each of them overcame my usual better instincts and blinded me to the obvious conclusion that something still graver was hidden.  The result, as I suggested in my opening Note, is the absolute worst job of repairing a pipe I have ever made.  And so, when I opened the petite package that arrived soon enough in the mail and absorbed the monstrous truth, all that saved me from an explosion of temper was the song “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” from Monty Python’s Life of Bryan, and particularly the opening.

Some things in life are bad
They can really make you mad
Other things just make you swear and curse.
When you’re chewing on life’s gristle
Don’t grumble, give a whistle,
And this’ll help things turn out for the best.

I mean, what else could I do but whistle, other than spend more than it was worth in return postage to the seller who went out of his way to hide the one definite fatal flaw, which was a pin-point hole in the bowl?  Oh, but if only that were the sole point at issue with this small yet abominable pipe!  Here are the sometimes poor but always honest pics I snapped with my old cell phone, showing every detail. The actual unique Chinese Fake color shows best in the fifth and sixth photos, close on the front and top with the latter including the stripped end of a small paper clip inserted through the hole it penetrated with precision.  This inexplicable tunnel, by the way, has no signs of being caused by a burnout.  It’s as if someone deliberately pierced through the dubious wood to test its physical density, perhaps a previous owner who was as doubtful as I that it’s briar.

The next shot above reveals the approximate length, beside the pack of six-inch long cleaners, to be a little more than an inch short, or the size of a salesman sample.  If the pipe were a real KBB, without the ampersand as shown in the nomenclature pic – and I’m stating categorically that I do not believe it is – then it would date to the early 20th century, at least pre-1930s.  More about that later.

Now, a little extra info about the size, which would be expected to make the pipe light.  But this thing has so little density as to be comparable to holding your empty palm before you and imagining a visible cloud of radon, the heaviest noble gas at 4.4 g/cubic cm, floating there!  Okay, okay, for those who don’t go in for such sarcasm, compare the weight at most to a strip from the tail end of a classic Guillow’s Balsa Wood Flying Machine Kit.  And that’s no exaggeration.

Returning to the veracity of the dainty pipe’s origins having any connection to KB&B, take a close look at the Reg US Pat No in the last shot above.  The number is 298978, which is a known KB&B Patent even though neither I nor anyone else I found searching online for a copy seems able to find one.  However, the number is fortunate in having two instances each of the numerals 9 and 8.  Now give the nomenclature still more scrutiny, and you’ll see neither pair is the same.  That is, the 9s don’t match each other any more than the 8s.  This sort of inconsistency just doesn’t happen in Patent stamps on pipes made by legitimate brands.  The two 8s are easier to spot the problem: the one at the end of the first half of the number is in the form of two separate tiny zeroes, one atop the other, while the final digit clearly shows a connection, or intersection, of the halves.  There’s also the absence of any shape number on the right shank that is present on every real Rocky Briar ever made.  Here are the two pertinent pictures again, this time followed by genuine KBB Rocky Briar examples.  Never mind the glare on the right shank of my fake; you won’t spot any number on the successive views following the worthless pipe’s restoration either.

See the weakness of the marks on my pipe as opposed to the crispness of the others.  Also note the varied but normal stain colors of the three authentic specimens, which can be viewed better at links in the sources, compared to the obvious dodgy glaze or varnish that clings to the questionable wood of mine as though still desperately trying to gain purchase.  I’ve made my point, but I’m sure those who doubt the very real and common existence of pipe forgeries will insist I just got my hands on a bad apple if I may be allowed the pun.


Let’s escape the hideous stummel altogether for the short time possible and start with the bit.  At least it’s Vulcanite for sure!Cleaning the bore with isopropyl alcohol was easy.  I suspect nobody who ever smoked the pipe did so more than once.Having read in this forum that using a small, relatively soft Brillo pad is a less invasive way to begin smoothing a bit, that’s how I began.  You’ll notice I still needed some practice with the method that was new to me.Then I gave it a wet micro mesh all the way from 1500-12000 with my older kit.And the same dry treatment with my newer kit.I recall using my Bic to pull out the minor chatter but seem not to have bothered recording the step.  Anyway, here’s how it worked out – a little dark, I apologize.Alright, fun time’s over.  For the stummel, I commenced the process that at times made me despair of the point of it all with the 150-grit side of a sanding pad.  At least I achieved a spotty resemblance to briar.See?  Still no sign of a shape number.

Here the thought that someone poked that hole in the bowl on purpose will seem a little saner.  My only guess at the cause of the glaring black mark, like a dark shape from a photo of the moon, is that it’s some weird sort of filling.  Check out the wear around the shank opening.  Does that look like briar?I gave the outer wood another full micro mesh progression, and it even started to look somewhat prettier. I stuffed the pin hole, from the chamber side, with wood putty and sealed the outer bowl side with Super Glue using the same exposed end of the paper clip from earlier.  Later I know I smoothed it with several of the finest micro mesh pads, but again didn’t record it.The next step was giving the wood a real stain.  I used Lincoln Brown Leather Dye and flamed it with my Bic.Hoping to obscure the dreadful damage to the front of the pipe with the darkness of the stain, I micro meshed from 3600-12000.  Everything was fine at that point but the front view. This is when the whistling stopped for the last time, and the gloves came off.  If the foul spot wouldn’t play nice, I rationalized, I’d just have to get rough.  And so, in inexcusable anger, I took 220- and 320-grit papers to the whole misbegotten stummel, micro meshed all the way one last time and gave the wood a few spins of carnauba.  Again, all but the final step went un-photographed, so ready to be done with the mess was I.  Somewhere in all the above steps I did retort the pipe.

Alrighty, then, here I go with the frankly awful results.Take a deep breath with me, as here comes the most deplorable result of my efforts, and the remainder.

Any doubters of the notion that this pipe is a forgery should consider the final closeup of the nomenclature showing the mottled stem mark.  Compare it again to Steve’s salesman sample stem crisp logo.


Embarrassment does not begin to describe the thoughts I’m having as I finish up this shameful example of how badly things can go when emotions are allowed to interfere with the task of dealing with each stage of a pipe restoration.  The work shown here was set aside at least a year ago in sheer disgust and mental exhaustion after setting out with such lofty ideals.  The fact that I knew I would never offer the pipe for sale and kept it for my own perverse enjoyment does nothing to mitigate my responsibility for the outcome.

I have not given up – I never do – but only taken the time to gird myself for the final confrontation.  In fact, it should be simple now, a mere matter of gentle sanding to remove the obvious abundance of scratches followed by another round of micro mesh, then re-staining the stummel dark brown or maybe maroon before the final electric buffing with carnauba.  And, of course, fixing the stem alignment.

Marcus Aurelius really had it right with the opening quote.  Quality and value are to be found in everything, regardless of the degrees.  My job remains to bring out the full potential for this faux KBB.



Chasing the Grain and Restoring a Ben Wade by Preben Holm, Part 2

Blog by Robert M. Boughton
With special thanks for the contributions of Lon “Pipe Lon” Schwartz
Copyright © Reborn Pipes and the Author except as cited

His hands are miracles.  I can watch them for hours, transforming wood into something it never dreamed of being. *
— Katja Millay, in The Sea of Tranquility (2012)


Happenstance often plays a major part in major historical, cultural and business changes.  A 25-year-old American named Lon Schwartz, who owned a shop called Pipe Lon on St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands, was in Copenhagen, Denmark pursuing a rather nebulous search for “distinctive” pipes.  Coming upon a certain provision store, Lon went inside and saw 18 pipes fashioned in the newly exploding freehand style.  The young pipe entrepreneur, who now lives in Florida and still puffs on cigars, knew at once that he wanted all of them and more.  Lon’s warm and generous insights made this blog possible.

“I never saw anything like them,” Lon told me.  “I was in the right place at the right time.”

More accurately, as Preben Holm, who had carved the pipes and was 18 at the time and off performing his mandatory military service, which lasts from four to 12 months, Lon was in the right place at almost the right time.  Upon the awaited arrival, Lon met the teenage pipe crafter and was so impressed with the youthful artisan’s work that he repeated his offer to buy all 18 pipes in stock and added that he would like as many more as Holm could produce.  Persistence and determination to make the deal inspired the independent pipe distributor during that frigid winter to visit the Danish capital three times, staying in a small, uncomfortable room when he wasn’t prowling the city for pipes.  One of Copenhagen’s stronger beers helped Lon sleep.

“One or two Carlsberg Elephant Beers, and you’d be out,” Lon said, remembering the 12% ABV content.  Apparently, the alcohol level has been reduced to 7.2% in the intervening 53 years.

Popular with tourists from around the U.S. and elsewhere, St. Thomas was an outstanding starting point for the sale of such unusual pipes exclusively by Pipe Lon, the shop’s name from its beginning in the early 1960s until Lon’s retirement in 1986.

“I sold millions of pipes and had the largest open display of pipes in the world, about 300 feet of them,” Lon said.  Now, for those who are not sports-oriented, that’s the length of a football field, or a 100-yard dash in track and field.

“I had the Virgin Islands rights to all of the brands that were big in the U.S. and Europe,” Lon added.  “They included English makers like Charatan, Barling, GBD and Comoy; some French brands, and Danish names such as Criswell and Stanwell.”

Lon pointed out that most people still don’t know where the U.S. Virgin Islands are, and I will hazard a guess that the same folks would not imagine any one of the three main islands – St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas – and about 15 minor islands is big enough to hold a football stadium.

Lon’s chance encounter brought about the ensuing wild success of freehand pipes, by Holm and others, in the U.S.  One word I came across in several sources described the resulting introduction to the U.S. market as hype, which translates in the best sense to hoopla, a term I’m sure Holm would have embraced.

Holm wrote of the experience: “I could simply not have had any better starting point, because the taste changes quite a lot from one place in the U.S.A. to another, but here came, as mentioned, pipe-smokers from all the States.  It was wonderful to feel how something one enjoyed making really was accepted.”

That was a tremendous understatement.  By the 1970s, every major Danish pipe maker and more were engaged in business in the U.S. and many on an international basis.

If anyone deserves the esteemed if a tad cliché designation of late great artist, as I have called him before in this forum, it is Holm (1947-1989).  Then again, the best clichés are truths propagated across generations within cultures.  Holm dedicated almost the entirety of his all too brief 42 years to the practice and innovation of pipe craftsmanship, his most outstanding accomplishment.  His vocation pushed those wild vertical and horizontal lines as far as he could during the short time he spent in this dimension; his legacy is the part he played in advancing the style that was called “Unfinished” by Sixten Ivarsson and other names by different early artists.  Now this wonder of woodwork and engineering is known throughout the pipe world as the Danish freehand.

Poul Winslow, another master freehand carver, cut his teeth in pipe making starting when he was 16 and began training under Holm.  Winslow had this to say about his early mentor:  “Preben was a genius.  Maybe a bit wild, always flying from idea to idea and impatient for results.  But could he turn a pipe!  Some of the most extreme freehands came out of our workshop in the ’70s, and whatever his critics say, they sold like crazy, mostly in America.  And when it came to finishing, he was the best in the business.”Many old-schoolers throughout the pipe world, in Denmark and everywhere else, considered the “crazy” shapes offensive.  “They thought these wild new pipes were funny, or stupid,” Lon said.  “It took some time to realize their potential, artistically and financially.”

Maybe if I had been a codger in the 1960s I would have agreed, but as a child then I had already learned to deal with stranger things: Flower Children in their VW Love Vans, Hasbro’s Twister and the Slinky, for example (which was, in fact, introduced in 1945).  Later, as a young man, I added news of the soiled clothes saved by a certain White House intern to the list.

A series of autobiographical articles by Holm, written from 1983-1984, was published later online and in The Pipe Smoker’s Ephemeris magazine (TPSE).   The first article concerns Holm’s earlier years and offers fascinating details of the young boy’s immersion into his father’s large provision shop in Copenhagen, the capitol of Denmark and one of the world’s cultural hubs.  Then there are the blank spots, like spaces in the New York Times daily crossword, that can tell still more about the man   Some can be penciled in with tentative answers to erase and correct from clues provided later in the disjointed narrative; others are enigmatic, parts of tight knots jumbled in Down and Across clusters of cross-questions within questions.

Tom Dunn’s founding of The Universal Coterie of Pipe Smokers (T.U.C.O.P.S.) in 1964, at the time a rag-tag group of pipers held together by Dunn’s untiring work in his Queens, New York apartment, led in short order to TPSE.  As becomes the fate of many pipers, Dunn’s life was plagued by avid collections of books and pipes.  As many, but not all, of the books no doubt concerned pipes, the dual diagnosis would seem to be Book and Pipe Acquisition Disorder (BPAD) and its fraternal twin, Pipe Book Acquisition Disorder (PBAD), or just BPBAD.  Hardbound editions of every TPSE issue from the magazine’s inception in 1964 as an irregular quarterly through 2004 were published by T.U.C.O.P.S./TPSE.  Book Two [1994, pp 670-673] contains the article relied upon most for this part of the essay and was cited by Pipedia in its re-print of the text that I found.

Mindful that, as an autobiographical work, the series called “The Story of My Firm” is written from Holm’s perspective, I took his suggestion that he was behind the transition of old Danish designs into the revolutionary freehand technique with a reporter’s mandatory skepticism, no matter how much I would like to believe.  Here is the passage I didn’t wish to question but had to do so, describing Holm’s life when he was 18 or 19 – in the late-1960s.

“One day while making the rather traditional hand-carved pipes as we had to in order to come by some money, I took a fancy to make something completely untraditional at that time.  From the very beginning I had only worked with the finest Bruyere that could be provided, and on the whole it all had very pretty grain patterns, and that gave me the idea to try something novel.  Contrary to what was done so far I started to form some of the pipes according to the grain pattern, and out of this I got some quite particular models…I began also to let the raw bark-top be part of the design.” 

Considerable research now under the bridge, I found numerous sites suggesting earlier origins of the style, but they were all vague and inconclusive.  Lon confirmed my suspicion that Holm, despite his great achievements as a carver, was not the father of the freehand.

“There were people playing around with new shapes and using the bark in the 1940s and ’50s, before it really got going in the ’60s” Lon said.  Sixten Ivarsson (1910-2001), “the grand old man of Danish pipe making, was just one of these chasers, but many cite him as the rightful patriarch of the now large family.  The truth may never be known, but Ivarsson started repairing pipes after the end of World War II and was soon asked to make them.  The results that at first followed the classic English shapes evolved into variations that were sleeker and curvier, and eventually freeform.


Holm’s account of his childhood working in his father’s provision shop is conflicted, to say the least, and offers no truly personal insights into the man whatsoever.  As an adult, the son gives alternate descriptions of his father as “somewhat mean” and “altogether a very wise man.”  There are other signs that the boy might have been confused by what he saw as contradictory strictures of his father’s.  For example, Holm’s father forbade the smoking of cigarettes but was not opposed when the boy took to pipes around the age of 13-14.  And in at least the first installment of the series of articles he later wrote, there is the absence of a single mention of the elder Holm’s given name or having a mother much less any other family.  Lon filled in some of the family gaps as well.

“Preben’s mother sewed the pipe pouches, and he had a brother he didn’t talk about,” Lon said.  Holm also had a wife, still alive in Denmark, from whom he was divorced.  “We were very close also.  She came to the Virgin Islands with him.  He was a very odd person, a bit disturbed, and he let all of it out in his pipe making.”

Any concrete conclusions from these signs, however tempting to wade into, I will leave to psychologists.  Furthermore, the overall nature of his youth, other than being a bit precocious with adult duties and interests, may have been more a product of his generation and culture than an outright unpleasant upbringing.

At any rate, the store had three departments – wine; magazines, cigarettes and other convenience items, and the part of the shop that in a short time drew young Preben into its irresistible mysteries, the pipe and tobacco department.  Best of all, the tobacco shop included a small repair service area that Preben soon took over.

Holm’s prodigious start and rapid rise in his father’s family business

Starting as an errand boy when he was 12-13, Holm possessed a pragmatic maturity which led him to the early conclusion that his wage was “a sixth of what I could earn somewhere else, but [continuing with my father], I think, was very sound.”  That young Preben already was considering his advancement options seems clear.  Even as a youngster, Holm saved the tips he made running about town, depositing them in the bank and using his meager wages to purchase fine tobacco that was much more expensive than the lesser Danish blends at the time available at his father’s shop and most other places.  Although at first his father thought this practice “crazy,” so charismatic and business-like was his son, and one can only imagine just as persuasive the samples of superior tobacco mixes provided to the elder Holm by the boy, that the master of the shop was won over and began offering a wide selection of foreign pipe tobacco.  Most of the higher quality blends were English, meaning made in England.

Even before he was put in charge of pipe and tobacco purchases when he was only 14, Holm writes, he had a large role and the adult demeanor to fill it.  “Most likely I was not always popular with the sellers of pipes who considered me too critical, but I thought that necessary in order to live up to the confidence our customers of pipes gradually placed in me.”

In most cultures, the notion of a child manufacturing tobacco pipes would be frowned upon.  Not so in Denmark, where a cursory survey of the Who’s Who of that craft reveals many such examples.  At the age of 15 in Holm’s case, his obsession with pipes had grown so overwhelming that he became fascinated with “an elderly gentleman, who himself made hand-carved pipes.”  The unidentified man visited the shop to sell them and ended up offering to help young Preben obtain the machines he would need.  Holm’s hard-earned savings of 1,400 kroners (USD231.00 today) proved to be enough, again with the guidance of the gentleman, who also supplied other tools.  [I can’t find a handy inflation calculator for Denmark prior to 1981.  Perhaps someone could give me an educated conversion for kroners to kroners starting earlier.] 

 With the equipment installed in a Spartan 13.5 square foot room in the basement, Holm began experimenting late into the nights – after the demanding work of his day job.  But the daily practice paid off, and just short of his 16th birthday, Holm handed over his first batch of pipes he deemed acceptable for sale in the shop.  Without delay, the confident boy decided it was time to tackle the biggest seller in Copenhagen, Pipe Dan, who offered to buy 20-30 pipes every week.  The most Holm ever earned from Pipe Dan, which was quite a bit, was 500kr, or USD83.00 today, for one exceptional pipe – an elaborate freehand.  Holm suspected Pipe Dan didn’t believe the lad could pull it off when he described his plan and made the deal.

Before the end of his partnership with Pipe Dan, Holm and one “journeyman” were able to produce 50-60 pipes per week that the venerable middleman sold.  Holm was one of the most promising pipe crafters to produce the freehand style.  Of still more significance, however, is that he was the crafter responsible for the spread of the new form’s popularity to the U.S. and elsewhere.

Before Holm’s 22nd birthday in 1969, he and his 45 employees at the time were outproducing the sales he and Lon could handle, and the two concluded something needed to change.  The choice of a distribution outfit called Snug Harbour in New York had mixed results, to be nice.  Although sales increased, Holm ended up never seeing much of the money due to the distributor’s eventual failure to pay its bills.  Holm had a hefty supply of pipes ready for export and nobody to move them.


“I set up a meeting with Holm and Herman Lane in New York where I was present,” Lon said.  “Lane and I were very close friends.”  That turning point was in February 1971.

Herman G. Lane was the enormous ego behind Lane Ltd., a continuation of the original pipe and tobacco interest opened in Dresden, Germany in 1890 by Herman’s grandfather and resurrected in Manhattan by the emigrant grandson in 1938.  The Lane Ltd. empire distributed some of the world’s foremost pipe brands, including Dunhill, Charatan and for a while Dr. Grabow, as well as many more, and had made Captain Black tobacco since the family business first opened in Germany.

To say the least, the chance to “team” with the pipe giant was an opportunity for young Holm that he could not have been expected to let slip away.  For the ambitious Lane, on the other hand, the talented but not very business savvy Dane was an easy conquest.  In raising the price of Holm’s pipes higher than they already were, Lane’s goal, of course, was to make money.  That the two did, leading to the aforementioned hoopla.


Lane was only interested in Holm’s freehands, and there was one snag to overcome: Snug Harbour retained a stockpile of Holm’s pipes and could be expected to sell them at cut-rate prices.  To avoid this contingency, Lane and Holm made an exclusive rights deal for distribution of the freehand pipes and agreed the use of Holm’s name was inadvisable.  As Lane Ltd. owned the Ben Wade name, Herman Lane suggested marketing Holm’s Golden Walnut Hand Made in Denmark line under that brand.  One fine example of Holm’s traditional Danish pipes is the following example.Pipedia notes that “Within a very short time Ben Wade Handmade Denmark sold in much larger quantities and at higher prices than they had ever dreamed of.”

Advertisements hiked the prices well higher than Holm’s pipes ever sold for before, and one key campaign was a New York Times full-page spot for an elegant Seven-Day’s Set.  The set, no surprise, is now difficult to find.

When I began work on these two blogs, I expected to accomplish the task in a single essay.  Becoming bogged down by the complexity of pulling together so much information and realizing the result was becoming massive even by my wildest discourses, I knew I had to do a two-parter.

This installment started as the re-stemming of the first Danish freehand I bought for a pittance on eBay, in January 2015, as a sort of New Year’s excuse to make another P.A.D. gift to myself.  Besides, it was a Buy Now deal for no more than $25 with shipping included, and no other watchers seemed to know it was something special.  I wrote the original “Grooming a Ben Wade Golden Walnut Freehand” blog in 2015 because, until then, I never received an estate pipe from that online source that was anywhere close to being ready to smoke.  The clean-up, in my mind, would be easy, just sanitizing the insides, removing a few petty scratches and deciding what to do with the rough rim and shank opening that were coated black, a condition I pretty much disliked.  I modify the fact that the pipe was the first I bought, as I already had a couple of other freehands, as noted in Part 1.

In hindsight, I recognize how, in the easier process of cleaning the freehand, I preserved what I now consider to be an unpleasant though common black finish for the natural, radiant, lighter golden hue of the walnut that was, furthermore, left with what I considered an inappropriate dark brown finish.  And so, instead of the sole re-stemming idea, I found myself with the option of removing the black stain where it was added and lightening the original dark brown stain on the rest as well as the minuscule scratches.  Even though I intended the pipe for my own personal use, I had a compulsion to do the job as I would for sale to a customer.


After choosing the full refurbish course, I began with the replacement of the original Vulcanite bit that had broken during a harried move using my car.  The photos below show the bit as it was before I smoothed it out when I first bought the pipe.Here’s a similar new Lucite bit as it came in the mail, showing the huge 9mm tenon that was almost the same diameter as the one I used.If I owned a proper, electric stem turner, the job of fitting the tenon of the fancy Lucite bit to the shank opening would have been easy.  But I had the pleasure of doing it by hand, and after previous experiments I didn’t want to mess it up with a single miscalculated stroke of a file.  That left the sandpaper method.  And now the fancy replacement, after hours of going over with 150-grit paper and smoothing with a steady, ascending progression, ready to heat in the oven for about 20 minutes at 210° F., and again after bending. I micro meshed the stummel, other than the rim, from 1500-12000.I was ready to soak the stummel in isopropyl alcohol. Micro meshing again, the wood was nice and smooth, and the rim and shank opening only needed some work with the 180-grit side of a sanding pad.Reaming and sanding the chamber from 150-600-grit paper, that part looked much better.Just for good measure, I retorted the pipe, and the result was magnificent.Having re-thought my initial desire to lighten the wood, I used red and brown Tripoli and several coats of carnauba in the buffing. CONCLUSION

Wanting more than anything else to get an idea of what Holm was like as a person, I put the question to Lon.  His answer came back with almost no delay.

“Preben once bought a 1960s Chevy Camaro – a muscle car – for about $3,000.”  After a pause, Lon finished.  “He shipped it back to Denmark.  It cost him crazy money, at least $100,000, to do this, but that’s how he was: a rock star.  He was the only person in Denmark with that kind of car!”

Perhaps because I am a recovered alcoholic with 30 years of sobriety, something in the pervasive silence concerning the cause of Holm’s early death made me suspect that alcohol was involved.  Looking at various photos of Holm, I couldn’t help noting the sadness of his face and eyes.  At last, I found a single comment in a thread about Holm’s Ben Wade pipes on a popular smoker’s forum that read in part, “Preben literally drank himself to death…after his wife bolted with the kids.”

And so, again, but with difficulty, I turned for an answer to the man who might have been the best friend Holm ever had.  There was a long pause before Lon replied.

“When he was very strong working, making crazy money from his pipes, he was drinking a lot, as a youngster will, with everything that goes with that,” Lon said with great care and delicacy.  I didn’t ask him to expand on the last part.  “He was a rock star!  He didn’t know what to do with that.  He was getting everything he wanted and was bored.”

We both fell silent for a moment before Lon concluded, “I think we’ve said everything that needs to be said about that.”

I agree.

My hope is that this two-part essay will inspire future pipe makers, hobbyists and artisans alike to take up Chasing the Grain.  I, for one, intend to try my hand and imagination at the noble goal, even if the results are less than spectacular.

I want to express my deep gratitude to Lon, a consummate gentleman, for his invaluable help filling in details of Preben Holm’s life, craft and various business adventures.  Lon was unstinting in taking the time to share his reminiscences, not one but three times.  The only protest I have is that Lon ignored my repeated requests for a photo of himself of his choosing.  That’s why I was forced to track down, with great difficulty, the one I used.  So, Lon, don’t blame me if you don’t like it!

Lon also opened up about himself.  Born in 1940 in New York and now retired as a pipe buyer and seller, Lon described himself as the only child of highly educated parents who considered him “an idiot” because of his dyslexia.

“That was my motivation to leave home when I was 17 and look for work in the city,” Lon said in a matter-of-fact tone.

The uncontrollable condition, which causes written letters to become jumbled beyond sense, places Lon in the company of such historical and cultural figures as Leonardo da Vinci, Albert Einstein, Tom Cruise, Walt Disney – and even at least three U.S. presidents: George Washington, John F. Kennedy and George W. Bush.

The idea horrifies me, the more so because, when I was a child, I suffered from another optic disorder that mimicked dyslexia but proved curable.  I’ll never forget the shame of not being able to read or write until I turned 10 and moved to Shaker Heights, Ohio, where I was blessed to meet a woman who loved children and teaching more than anything else.  Sonia Golden was an innovator in special education and knew how to do her job when my so-called teachers in California had dismissed me as “borderline retarded.”

On his own in the Big Apple, Lon started out as a sales clerk for Wally Frank, earning $37.50/week.  That’s $321.63 in today’s dollars – not bad for a start, but a long way from the ultimate success he had after discovering Holm, for all intents and purposes, first partnering with the brilliant pipe maker and later, as a friend, guiding him to bigger distributors.

The shop known as Pipe Lon was only for a relatively short time, but the quality pipes he sold there can still be found online.  Lon told me he was in the habit of stamping various pipes he sold, whether they also bore the makers’ marks or not, with the following nomenclature.  In some cases, only the best guesswork can predict the actual craftsman.* The opening quote strikes me as an elegant example of the habit of personifying wood that I discussed in Part 1.



Chasing the Grain and the Danish Freehand, Part 1

Blog by Robert M. Boughton
Copyright © Reborn Pipes and the Author except as cited
Ed Anderson (August 10, 1945-March 28, 2017)
Ed James (July 11, 1950-June 4, 2017)
Chasers of the grain whatever pipes they smoked
6 For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. 7I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. 
—  The Bible, KJV, 2 Timothy 4:6-7

Old artists never die.  They just find a new genre.


The term chasing the grain has been used to describe activities including farming, micro-brewing, woodworking in general such as furniture and, of course, the noble pursuit of transforming blocks of wood into vibrant, striking tobacco pipes.  After extensive searching, I have found varied references to that phrase as well as “the chase” and still others, and each seems to reflect the same basic idea – with twists as various as the personalities of those who create, study, sell and savor tobacco pipes of all kinds, not just freehands.

In its most basic sense, for a pipe maker to chase grain is to choose the block and carve it, following wherever the wood leads to achieve the desired result.  The concept, therefore, commences with the skill of the carver to find the best available wood block and not to dismiss out-of-hand any natural and useful quality that may be uncovered later.  The turn of the chase in the direction, closeness and evenness of the grain in the burl, or the tuberous growth harvested from beneath the soil and between the shrub and the roots, is paramount.  To interpret the flow of the burl’s grain could be called secondary only to the highest management of whatever other advantages lie within the block and its ultimate embodiment.  Other than those factors, as if they were not enough, the individual and competitive chases are “won,” or better yet advanced as an artform, by a combination of imagination and intuition: having the right stuff to take even the “heart” of a burl, with no grain at all, and make something of beauty from it.

Most shocking of all to old-schoolers, when the practice gained speed in the 1960s into the following decade and began its steady march from the capitol of Denmark across the globe, were the rough, hardened bark left intact, and the “crazy designs” to achieve the result that is incongruous in the most glorious, exalted sense of the word.  Maybe as a Codger I would have reacted with the same trepidation, but I was a toddler at the time and have grown to adulthood with far stranger spectacles – Flower Children and their VW Peace Vans, Hasbro’s Twister, the Slinky (which in fact was introduced in 1945), and certain soiled clothing saved by a female White House intern, for example.

Alternative woods such as the golden walnut used for the pipe the restoration of which will be shown in the second part of this tribute come from trees.  The idea that briar is from the same source, or even bushes, is incorrect and ought to be banished.

Plateaux and ebauchon blocks courtesy The Wood Database

Plateaux (fine grain, and with the bark left on the burl) and ebauchon blocks (often birds-eye or no grain, and without the bark) are harvested from the briar shrub, a small, woody plant with one to several branches sticking out of the ground and notable on sight for the little white and blue flowers. Mostcarvers prefer the plateaux blocks to the ebauchon due to the bark that is almost a trademark of the Danish freehand, the striking straight grain and increased density.  But a real chaser of the grain, again, can take almost any block and produce a masterpiece from it by following its trail: with or without bark and having straight, flame, cross, bird’s-eye, mixed and/or no grain.

Many words are used to describe this amazing plant.  I reached the designation shrub – based on the obvious properties of treeless branches, a burl that, by definition, is buried, and roots – from the minority of sources, available pictures and my own ability to think.  The botanical name for the briar shrub is Erica arborea, of the Heath family, which grows to a general maximum height (again debated but taking the middle ground) between eight and 12 feet.  The plant must be at least 40 years old before it is viable to sell because of its size corresponding to age.  An older, bigger burl being necessary to make a larger pipe, but also able to be cut in halves or still smaller fractions for multiple lesser sizes, sets the standard.   Burls as old as a century, uncommon within my lifetime of 55 years, are now all but impossible to find; within the lives of my parents and grandparents, briar burls dating back two and a half centuries were still around, though already scarce.

Now, a few words regarding the standard for age and size of briar burl harvesting.  The only block I have bought with the intent to try fashioning a pipe was the most gorgeous hunk of rich, brown walnut with the tightest, straightest grain I’ve ever seen in that type of wood.  And by hunk, I mean it was an easy 12″ x 12″ x 4″.  To give an idea of what that means, the perfect specimen of walnut I bought at a local exotic wood shop for around $8 was about four times larger than a briar block for a bent pipe that the great American carver Mark Tinsky offers.  That’s the block for more experienced pipe makers, by the way, not the beginner’s pipe making kit.  After an unfortunate series of misadventures, I no longer have the walnut block or the photo of it I snapped as a sort of proof of life, but there are witnesses including two pipe maker friends who dissuaded me from making a first attempt with the beautiful piece, the hardness of which they agreed would create difficulties better avoided.  One of them did offer to buy it from me, but I was still determined to go for it.  In that respect, the loss of the walnut block was good luck, as it made the decision for me.

Some notes about briar as opposed to other woods used in pipe making, including golden walnut.  Many reasons briar is the ideal wood for pipes include but are not limited to the following.

  1. Perfect density. On the Janka Rating System, the industry standard, briar’s density is 2,090 lbs./ft. – although very dense, not too hard and not too soft, but just right. The more detailed descriptions I found to describe how the scale works – one being that it “measures the force required to drive a .444-inch steel ball into the wood until half the diameter of the ball is embedded in the wood,” from 0-4000 lbs./ft. – may be second tongue to engineers and construction contractors and the like.  But for most of us, these brief technical explanations are complex and, worse, incomplete, as if the little details such as how the force is delivered and determined go without saying.  It’s like trying to follow the lecture of a college algebra professor who speaks impeccable Pidgin English with an unintelligible accent.  And so, I searched Google for the latest Janka Scale for Idiots, a level in this esoteric field of knowledge to which I have no timidity owning.  I found a site (below in Sources) that in its turn oversimplifies the process as dropping a small metal ball onto a piece of wood until the wood dents.  But for me, counting as givens the weight and velocity of the ball, which is more accurately shot with something akin to a nail gun rather than dropped by a klutz, works.
  2. High threshold for igniting. Remember, briar is wood, even though it doesn’t come from a tree, and wood has two primary attributes, being good for making things and burning. So-called common sense would, therefore, make the mere idea of crafting any kind of wood into an implement with a hollow bowl at one end to fill with deliberately combustible leaves, and then a connecting piece to place in the mouth and light, laughable.  Of course, this is not as preposterous a proposition as, say, doing the same with “the elongated woody core in which the grains of an ear of corn are embedded” (see corncob, dictionary.com).  On the latter subject, have you ever seen a homemade corncob, or a cheap Chinese pipe made of some mystery, balsa-light, maybe ersatz and toxic wood burst into flames while someone is smoking it?  I have.  It’s not a pretty sight.  But returning to the point and keeping in mind that paper is perhaps the best comparison for the temperature at which it ignites, at 233° Celsius, or Fahrenheit 451, another reason briar is preferred for pipes is its amazing heat resistance (withstanding more than 700° C, or 1,292° F, in tests after the full processing of burls into blocks).
  3. Relative porousness. Despite its high density and threshold for bursting into flame, briar has a certain contradictory porousness, giving this unique wood an ability to breathe and expand that makes it more viable for tobacco pipes than any alternative wood.
  4. Lack of toxicity. Last, but not least, while every wood has dreadful toxic consequences if the dust is inhaled, briar by itself is without doubt safe when a pipe made from it is placed in the mouth and heated. Walnut is also safe in this regard.  That is as far as I dare go at this point on that subject, for well-founded fear of kindling a debate that might just turn into a conflagration.


“Okay, this is a good time to talk about limits,” Janeane Garafolo as Dr. Abby Barnes tells her radio audience in the 1996 romantic comedy The Truth About Cats & Dogs.  “You can love your pets.  Just don’t love your pets.”  While the implication is a little more disturbing in the movie, so close are we humans to our pipes that we sometimes personify them.  While coming to love our pipes and even think of them as dear friends, perhaps naming and referring to them as he or she is a touch – well, touched.  Then again, if it works, don’t fix it.

In Pipes & Tobacco Magazine [Fall 2002], the authority R.D. Field goes so far, in an essay titled “Curing: Another in a series of infrequent articles on the briar pipe,” as to write how “the shrub needs to sort of undergo torture, to struggle.”  In a jovial, downhome tone, he describes the process in horrific detail, starting with the shrub’s early life as if profiling an un-sub.  Really, it’s like TV’s “Criminal Minds,” or The Police song about a serial killer, “Murder by Numbers,” with a line I’ll never forget, “First you make a stone of your heart.”  To become what it is, the plant needs a horrible living environment, bad soil and a hot, very arid climate, to stunt its growth so that it doesn’t mature fast and becomes hardened inside.  Then the burl must be tracked down and captured uninjured, intact, in its violent removal from the soil using pick-axes and shovels and whatnot, with the final parting of its roots made with a chainsaw, so that it can be taken alive straight to the sawmill.  From there on, it is kept wet (read water-boarded) on a constant basis until the “processing,” or rehabilitation, begins.  Here is a direct extended quote from Field’s detailed description of the entire lurid process in his style that is a cross between Hemingway and King, from a man who clearly knows his subject.

“Now at this point the wood is still alive, and the sawmill folks have to kill it, but nicely, so it can be made into pipe bowls.  So they put the burls into trenches, cover ’em with empty gunny sacks, and let ’em sit until they die – about three months’ time.  Man, you ought to smell the aroma of that wood in the trenches; there’s a real tang in the air, a good clean tang that makes you feel good to be alive and to be in the countryside.  Anyway, the wood takes a time to die.  And if you take away some sacking to look at the burls you’ll see bright green shoots growing out of the wood.  That wood is a fighter; it doesn’t give up but tries to find new earth to bury itself in.  After the wood is dead is the time for cutting.” 

 Ya think?  I, for one, thank God for that last tidbit in the passage!  Wow.  But wait!  There’s more!  After the 90-day holding period is up, the burls, dead but still wet and, of course, were they in fact persons, grateful for the release from their earthly bonds, are taken to the cutters.  Everyone should read Field’s full, concise account of the old salts described so well in his article, if only for its Victorian/Goth side.  These singular, peculiar and frankly scary men begin their work with back country surgical first cuts into each burl, calculated by on-the-job knowledge, to split the plant and reveal an inner cavity which is, in an à propos way, referred to in certain circles as its heart.  There is even a reddish fluid present.  This key area, however, is by proper convention referred to as the center, perhaps representative of the suppressed sensibilities of those concerned, where the wood is redder and without grain at all.  From there, the burl is cut into various numbers of blocks and sizes that are segregated into plateaux and ebauchon, again by size.  Not to beat a dead burl, but the plateaux blocks, with their much better grain, tend to be preferred, whether for “traditional” or Danish freehand pipes.

The blocks are then boiled, even if in water rather than oil, as in the bygone days of the Inquisition, to remove most of the sap and all other impurities such as bacteria, and to hydrate the wood.  This is the step that heightens briar’s heat resistance.  Then they are re-graded based on the inspections of experts who pass judgment according to outward appearances that lead them to render their professional guesses, in effect, of what is inside.  The experts search for tell-tale signs – perhaps blips in the grain like spikes or dips on an electrocardiogram monitor? – of small inner pockets with stones and dirt and other illicit substances that later create pits.  Before shipping to re-sellers, the blocks are dried by air for as long as a year or by faster means, such as a kiln, depending on demand.  This is the best laid plan men have today, but it can still go askew.  [My thanks and apologies to Robert Burns.]

There is so much more but so little space, and nothing in my stomach after so much exposure to the facts of the matter.  The unusual number of Sources at the end provides at least fuller details.  But it seems to me that the two friends in my local pipe club, whom I mentioned earlier regarding the one walnut block I bought, agree upon the simplest way to spot a good block of any suitable wood, although they both push briar as the best and easiest for beginners.  The friends and well-known pipe makers, Victor Rimkus and Don Gilmore (who makes his pipes under the name Don Warren, or DW), advise wiping the dust and dirt from a block with a wet cloth or paper towel to see the quality of grain, which would seem to require some experience to obtain the skill to spot signs of inner pits.  Free advice doesn’t get much easier than that, and coming from successful artisans, it ought to be a suggestion worth heeding – and one the original chasers of the grain must have used, carried on today by their followers in different countries, of particular note Denmark, Italy, Russia and its former satellites, and the U.S., to name too few.


Thus might George Thorogood have sung one of his greatest songs had he been into tobacco pipes, I imagine.  I pined for a freehand since the first time I walked into my local tobacconist, still new enough not to have seen one, and scoped out the glass display cases.  Selling is the bottom line in capitalism, but the wonderful owner, Jennifer, is one of those rare souls who never lets her considerable business drive prevent customer service from coming first.  She’s the kind of entrepreneur who is always happy, in the most genuine way, to unlock a case and place any pipe someone might want to examine on an ornate felt-cushioned stand, to be picked up by the potential buyer without the inherent possibility of fumbling in a hand-off.

And Jennifer, although she doesn’t smoke pipes, is an expert on the signs of P.A.D., thereby knowing that once the seed is planted, in time it may grow into a mature briar burl.  That is how it started for me, and although I ogled a few Nordings and Karl Eriks and others that day, all were beyond my means.  Not long later, at the height of my disorder, when the roots had encircled me, I was the little shop’s best pipe customer, spending hundreds of dollars there each month not counting the acquisitions I made at antique stores, garage sales and online.

Then one fine day, from the last person I would have imagined, came my chance to own a real Danish freehand – for free!  You see, we had not exactly gotten on well before then.  You could say he is the definition of a codger.  But in the years since, our friendship has bloomed like an old briar shrub.

In the years since, I’ve acquired eight more, although one, however dear to me, is of dubious origin.  Here they are, and I expect the one will be obvious.

My first BW by Preben Holm, a stunner

Another Golden Walnut BW by Preben Holm

I dubbed this Italian no-name “The Beak” after I completed its forming, as it clearly was unfinished.

Karl Erik Chimney

Karl Erik beauty

Søren Refbjerg Rasmussen 4-Panel Rustic

Mastersen Israeli



The potential end of each chase is limitless, turning only upon a few integral factors: the grain of the wood; the shape and/or design of the pipe (classic, striking in originality or a merger of the two), and sometimes mind-blowing manipulations of the multiple possible grains imposed by the characteristics of a block.  Imagination is the one asset needed to attempt the pursuit at all.  [See Field again, in his straight-forward description of the grains with some fascinating challenges to accepted wisdom, as well as being devoid of gruesomeness, in the Sources.]  The results of the practice can be dazzling, or less so, hence the attraction and excitement of the chase.



An Exceptional Bjarne Hand Made Freehand

Blog by Robert M. Boughton

Copyright © Reborn Pipes and the Author except as cited

He could have been an ambassador for his country, but instead he became an ambassador for Danish pipes.

— Jan Anderson, author of Scandinavian Pipemakers (2012)


Jan Anderson was speaking of Bjarne Nielsen, the great Danish pipe maker, who finished his studies at the University of Copenhagen with an MBA in the early 1960s and went to work for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in the export division.  Nielsen made his first pipes when he was 16 and gave them to friends then and later at the university, and of course he continued making pipes as a hobby.  Whether he knew it or not, he was bitten by the bug.  Call it Pipe Makers Disorder (PMD), if you like.  Bjarne was considered a likely candidate for appointment as ambassador to a foreign country, but he gave it all up to pursue his real ambition, which will come as no surprise to anyone with creative leanings was to form his own business.

Bjarne may never even have imagined turning his pastime into a career, but fate, if there is such a thing, is powerful.  The freehand pipe movement was first building speed when Bjarne was at the Ministry, and he was often asked to help find foreign buyers for the style of pipe that was more popular abroad than in Denmark, where it started.  Many older smokers, deeply rooted in the English tradition of the classic Dunhill style, considered the new direction outlandish, crazy and worst of all, ugly.  And every source Bjarne knew had orders for such pipes up the wazoo.  I’m sure he used more diplomatic words.

Then, out of the blue, again if there is such a phenomenon, Bjarne had the idea to send photos of some of his pipes to a few of those same foreign distributors.  I’m sure he put it out of his mind and wasn’t watching the pot until it started to boil over with so many positive responses he had to decide whether to stay with the Ministry or pursue his innate talent.  Not being the average man, fearful of taking such a huge risk – or, rather, being the typical young man he was, still full of dreams – Bjarne embarked on the journey that would make him a legend, meaning most of the world has never heard of him.

The hand-made Danish freehand in this blog has three lines of clear block nomenclature on the bottom of the shank, below the stem: BJARNE/HANDMADE/ IN DENMARK.  The stem also bears a mark – a lower-case b sitting in the curl of a lower-case j.

Courtesy Pipephil

This means Bjarne did not make the pipe himself, but instead delegated the job to one of three master carvers who were and are in business for themselves and did special work for him.  They are Mogens “Johs” Johansen, Jes Phillip Vigen Jertsen (Ph. Vigen) and Tonni Nielsen.  These pipes were sold by Bjarne as lower-grade pieces than those he carved and on which he ascribed his full name, in cursive script, above HANDMADE/IN DENMARK.  The pipes Bjarne carved himself also bore a grade of AX or A-J.  The man’s self-appraising standards were refined to the extreme.  They bear no mark on the stems.

Bjarne Nielsen Bulldog Grade O, photos, courtesy abel2antique on eBay

I didn’t mind that my new Bjarne, whichever of the fine craftsmen above made it, came with a box and sock as well.

RESTORATION Three long years ago, before I learned lessons beyond count and, more than anything else, that the process never ends, I wrote a blog here called “Ben Wade and the Chamber of Horrors,” in which I recounted the restoration of a huge BW poker with cake so gnarly it took me hours to repair.  As I can think of no better words to describe the terrors of uncovering layer after layer of hardened old carbon, only to reach a patch of almost perfect smoothness and then reaching spiraling new veins and lumps, I’ll give a brief quote from the BW blog.

“The ongoing task of removing all of the cake, every time I thought I achieved smoothness all around, only uncovered still more hidden holes, like microcosmic pits and craters on the moon, only black…the evil chamber walls in spots felt like the bowels of a volcano.”

But this pipe was so much worse, it took me days of concerted effort to get to the bottom of the years of iron-like cake.  I am certain that had this pipe come my way three years ago, I would have been forced to set it aside in the to-do pile.

I started with my Junior Reamer, which, due perhaps to the curve of the freehand chamber, made almost not even a dent. The coarsest sandpaper I had was a small old finger-length strip of 180-grit that has stood by me for years and is most often the roughest I need to get with a chamber’s walls.  A half-hour or so of that left my hand aching, my fingers burning and one of them torn open, as was the case to a much more serious degree with the BW chamber of horrors.  I put the chamber ordeal on pause and decided to see how awful the shank’s airway might be.  I admit my attitude sucked by then, but also that I was pleased with the relative ease of clearing the shank of grime with alcohol-dipped regular pipe cleaners.  The first one took some finagling to break on through to the other side, but only four cleaners were needed for the preliminary cleaning. I girded for another go at the chamber with the following armaments.I hoped I would not have to resort to either (and certainly not both) blades, but I was going to be prepared for anything.  As it turned out, the Dremel I used in the BW chamber of horrors case would have come in handy, but I had to borrow it and didn’t want to take the time.  The task was longer and more arduous than I can detail in photos, but here are some time lapses – during the first day.  I hope they show the bulges and veins that appeared hither and thither with each new attack.  Indeed, both the pen and utility knives were needed throughout the three-day process of perfecting the chamber. Another problem I’m sure has not gone unnoticed was the rim burn that was fairly bad, but on the plateau area of a freehand presented greater than average problems.  I did not want to use sand paper or even spot-soak the rim in alcohol, if black stain was under the char.  After debating the options available to me with my resources at hand, I opted for an approach that may seem unusual but I knew from experience would leave any black paint intact.  I submerged the entire stummel in alcohol for several minutes at most, and when I removed it I thought I had the desired result of eliminating the old stain and excess char. Scrutiny of the outer wood showed a perfect piece of briar, free of any blemishes or even a single scratch.  The only other such experience I recall after alcohol-stripping a stummel was with my previous blog about a Capitello Jonico Dublin.  I tried to tell myself the remaining blackness on the rim was natural or maybe left-over stain.

Other than the final sanding, which tore through the final layer of uneven cake, the time for micro-meshing had arrived.  Giving the stummel a final inspection, I overrode my misgivings about the dull murkiness that pervaded most of the rim, with random rays of nice red wood making it through the gloom. I remembered a Ben Wade by Preben Holm I restored and had to re-stain the rim black, and I’ve never quite been happy with it.  The whole approach to this project was to restore the freehand to a better look than it may ever have had, if I may be excused the apparent impertinence.  Still, I proceeded with the micro-mesh, which only confirmed my gut instinct. Before I return to the rim, there are a few minor wrap-ups to make.  First, look at the discoloration of the wood at the top of the front view above.  I figured Super Fine 0000 steel wool should do the trick, and it did.Then there were the stains on the tip of the Lucite tenon and inside the button of the stem.  I scraped out the difficult to reach crud from the button with a mashed end of a pipe cleaner dipped in alcohol and sanded clean the open end of the tenon with my trusty 180-grit fragment of paper.The retort went well, requiring only three Pyrex test tubes of alcohol – the first that was sucked up into the cotton stuffed in the chamber, the second coming out moderately dirty, and the third, after boiling through the pipe four times, was clear.The last step I imagined before the final wheel buffing – there would be no stain – was to fill in the congruent bj etching on the stem that had not been worn away.Unfortunately, the curl of the b is completely faded away.

I just could not see proceeding with either of the courses that presented themselves, leaving the dull, scorched earth look of the rim as it was and trying to make it shine or buying more black stain and hiding the beautiful wood I was sure was hidden.  And so, I gave the rim a spot-soak in alcohol to see what lay beneath.The result was a very pale rim, but I knew that would change with another, focused full course of the micro-mesh pads.  The semi-final result as I headed for the buffers was just what I wanted.  I buffed the stummel with brown Tripoli and a heavy coat of Carnauba, and the stem with Carnauba.


This restore was one of the biggest surprises I’ve had in the few years I’ve been learning a few of the myriad techniques and resources available.  Thinking at first it would be done overnight, three days later I knew never to underestimate the opponent each new pipe presents as.  I struggled with the question of to sell or not to sell, and gave in to my P.A.D.  All I have to say is, I’m glad I did, because, as the title says, this is one extraordinary freehand.



The Brief, Shining History behind an Italian Dublin and Its Easier Than Usual Refurbish

Robert M. Boughton

Copyright © Reborn Pipes and the Author except as cited



— “The Treachery of Images” (1929, also known by the translation of the message on it, from the French, “This Is Not a Pipe”), an oil on canvas painting by the great Belgian Impressionist, René Magritte (1898-1967)




Sometimes I wonder if the D in P.A.D. shouldn’t be replaced with S for Serendipity, in the sense of being in the right place at the right time, or with still more sneaky spin, Fate with a capital F.  Then my sense returns, and I realize the musing rationale is only a symptom of the Disorder.  My most recent bout with this overwhelming inner turmoil was lost within minutes after I chanced (yeah, right) to read an informative and enthusiastic, yet brief, account of a little known but masterful creator of hand-carved Italian pipes in the 1980s and into the early ‘90s.  Thinking of an assertion in the post that claimed the brand in question is difficult to find as a sort of challenge, I clicked on eBay and searched for the name.  Indeed, only two samples popped up, as well as a nice, dark brown pipe sleeve.  Not really able to afford either pipe, or the $11 sleeve for that matter, I was nevertheless torn between both and knew I had to have one.  The source of the information that set my P.A.D. careering is an acquaintance on the Smokers Forums UK, on the Pipes page.  The gentleman’s SF handle is fishnbanjo, which I suppose indicates two things he enjoys very much other than pipes.  He and most everyone who knows him at all shortens the moniker to the simpler Banjo, which is also, after all, a kinder, gentler re-nicknaming than Fish, or even Fishn.

‘The title of the post caught my eye before I noticed it was started by Banjo: “The stepchild of Italian pipes.”  I always enjoy Banjo’s contributions because of the rugged good looks of the pipes he has a knack for acquiring and his keen knowledge of the subjects he covers, and when it comes to pipes the brands of which, most of the time, I find I have never heard but without fail would like to own.  Often spoken in pipe smoking circles is the comment, “That pipe looks good on you,” which is one of those statements that of course in intended to be courteous and friendly but, when considered in literal terms, is preposterous.  Somehow, though, with Banjo the expression is more à propos than anyone I’ve ever seen, even if only in excellent selfies.

His own looks being a cross between Spencer Tracy, who played the down-on-his-luck old Cuban fisherman in the 1958 classic movie version of Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, and Anthony Quinn, who reprised the role of Santiago in a 1990 TV remake, are complemented to perfection by his good, strong, masculine, bold taste in pipes.  Here he is in an example of one of those apparent self-photos, from the Capitello post I had the good fortune to find.  The self-portrait really is quite good since I decided to contact Banjo and ask for his permission to use it in full rather than lop off the top half of his head for the silly sake of protecting his privacy without even knowing if he minded. When Caminetto Pipes (1968-1979, the official Caminetto Period) stopped production, all by hand, the assorted partners went their own ways. Giuseppe Ascorti produced Sergio pipes for a short time before forming the company bearing his own last name with his son Roberto; Luigi Radice opened Radice Pipes, and Enzo Galluzo, who was the official carver for Caminetto and had worked at Castello and later Ascorti’s shop, founded the Capitello Pipe Company with his partner on the business end, Corrado Ripamonti, c. 1982.  Capitello closed in 1991, according to Banjo “because [Galluzo’s] distributor never paid him for the pipes he sold and without money to pay the bills a great, not well-known company ended its run.”  In 1986, by the way, two years after the death of his father, Roberto Ascorti started the New Caminetto Period.

Banjo wrote, with nostalgic eloquence, of Capitello being the first Italian pipe manufacturer in the 1980s to use oil curing.  The process was patented by the Alfred Dunhill Company Ltd. on November 14, 1918, just 28 days before the signing of the Armistice – at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month – that officially ended World War I (“the War to End All Wars”).  Dunhill’s Patent №. GB119,708 involved immersing natural-finish stummels in olive oil for several weeks before drying with hot air and sandblasting away large rough parts of the early irregular results.  Whether old Alfred in fact invented the procedure is debated, but I’m not going there today, so relax.  At first the use of oil was for aesthetic reasons only, as it gave the outer area of the stummel greater luster.  Pipe collectors and scholars giving every indication of being quarrelsome when it comes to just about everything, the rough effect that seems to have led to the creation of the Shell pipes (and is also the reason for the reddish tinge to the briar in that line) is yet another subject of discord in certain rarefied circles, with an emphasis on circles being never-ending. At any rate, the unavoidable consequences of Dunhill’s approach were unusual shapes that could not be classified according to the official charts until oil curing was “perfected” some years later.

Returning to Banjo’s humble eloquence, he wrote of buying the pipe more than 30 years ago from “someone with much more experience than I who told me it would color much like a Meerschaum does.”  As would most experienced pipesters familiar with the differences of wood and meerschaum, Banjo had his doubts, but he liked the huge, pebbled specimen, so why worry about it?  I can’t help thinking and interjecting the notion that such a refreshing thought process could benefit certain more vocal experts.  To Banjo’s lasting surprise, his old pipe indeed continues to color, just like a well-aged meerschaum.  Banjo noted that today it is difficult to imagine the gorgeous piece of work in the virgin finish he first viewed it.  I suspect it looked something like this other Capitello, minus the smooth finish.

Capitello Airlecchio 773, courtesy Haddock’s Pipes

Capitello’s peculiar, more common designs and crafting include the following.

Corinzio Two Columns Sandblasted Belge, courtesy amaxwell1_eBay

Wax Drip Gotico, courtesy Pipephil

My remaining opening comments are few enough to wrap up in short order, which I will now do.  As far as the farfetched-sounding idea of smoking a wax-dipped pipe goes, see the last link in my Sources below before passing judgment.  Concerning the somewhat confusing list of Italian names – both for some of the companies mentioned and more to the point Capitello and its various lines – my curiosity got the better of me.  As a result, I discovered they have real meanings, and here they are.

  1. Capitello – capital. I sense a dual meaning here, as in the seat of power of a government, etc., as well as the monetary distinction
  2. Caminetto – literally, fireplace, but also used to describe a very hot, small space where objects are forged by craftsmen
  3. Radice – a surname that also means root
  4. Castello – castle
  5. Corinzio – Corinthian. No, not the Corinthian leather used in a certain car promoted by Ricardo Montalbán, but Corinthian architecture, the last and most ornate of the three main orders of ancient Greece and Rome that was characterized by columns. Hence, the Corinzio Two Columns Belge shown above.  I did not find Belge anywhere.
  6. Gotico – Gothic
  7. Jonico – Ionian, or pertaining to the second primary architectural order of ancient Greece and Rome


The nomenclature is crisp, although I had to edit the color and brightness levels of the photos above to make the stampings clear: on the left shank, lowercase “Capitello,” in quotations with the closing mark in subscript, above JONICO, and below that, to the right, a small square with what appears to be an Ionic column matching the brand’s logo as shown in this photo of a genuine Capitello stem, courtesy of Pipephil.

The symmetry of the classic Dublin shape combined with corresponding tight, vertical grain on the bowl except for the rear, which is more mottled, and the way all of it points to the flawless large bird’s-eye of the rim, transfixed every brain cell I possess related to reason.  My power to resist, at $26.99 with about two days of bidding left and only three other buyers interested, turned to mush like a clay or meerschaum pipe after being retorted with Everclear.   I’m happy to say I never made that mistake but have heard pained accounts from more than one friend who has, none of them more than once.  Thus, I bid $100 on the pipe, thinking that if the bidding inched up $1 at a time I would be safe.  Foolhardy but true!  Not another bid was made.

Scrutinizing each of the plentiful photos taken well and from every angle, except for the color that was a little darker, the only flaw I detected was the worse than average looking but single rim burn.  The description noted the inclusion of a replacement stem which, in my excitement, I must admit I did not notice was left only halfway turned into the shank in the photos.  I should have expected something was up with that. 

The pipe arrived from Daytona Beach, Florida only two days after shipping despite Irma’s devastation that left 80%+ of the power in that area off the grid.  I inspected the pipe, and almost all of it looked very good.  I love the olive wood ferrule.  I tried to tighten the stem.  No-go.  Less than halfway, the Ebonite screeched.  Halfway, I stopped with the certainty the tenon would break if I were to continue.

Now, adjusting the tenon circumference took only a few minutes before it fit as though hand-crafted for the Jonico.  I should add that the stem was straight and needed a gentle curve, as well as removal of slight, almost imperceptible rough edges along the sides, left-over signs of the machines that stamped them in groups.

But the end of the shank was rounded, which I had seen with a few new and restored estate pipes I bought over the years.  I just hadn’t ever given much attention to the stem fittings on these pipes.  My first impulse, therefore, was to order a stem that was the correct diameter for the shank, specifically an army mount, but then I thought, “Why wait?”  Scanning through my photos of various such pipes, I noticed that the one common trait of the stems used is that they look good on the given pipes.  That being true enough for now with mine, and its destination being my shelf, I proceeded to the required stem work until the army mount stem arrives.

I started with feather-light, focused sanding using 400-grit paper followed by micro-meshing from 1500-12000.  This stem was so shiny when I unwrapped it with the pipe that the first sight of it made me fear it might be plastic and hope it would turn out to be acrylic.  The distinct odor of burned rubber and Sulphur that rose to my nose upon sanding cleared that up.   Having already pre-heated the oven to 220° F., I slipped a regular cleaner through the stem’s airhole and placed the whole thing on a small sheet of aluminum foil.After 15 minutes in the cooker, the stem was pliant.  I used the complex tool in the following shot to accomplish most of the task that called for the slightest curve of almost nothing but the mouthpiece.  I returned the stem, already somewhat cooled, to the oven for a few more minutes and made the final, tiny bend by hand, with a cooking mitten and rag of course.  Then I ran cold water from the tap over it and removed the cleaner. As I mentioned earlier, the burn on the rim in the eBay photos worried me, and my un-ease grew when I had my first Close Encounter of the Third Kind.  The concern wasn’t whether I could fix it but how far I would need to go to do so.  The reason was the depth of the affected areas, from the rim scorch that was isolated to one spot but crept into the chamber and ate away at the top of the inner wall most of the way around the top right side.  By no means was this even close to bad as I have come to understand the word in terms of pipe rim repair, but I did not want to alter the uniform, hearty thickness of the wall any more than could be avoided.  With this pipe, re-sizing the rim with a file was like to sacrilege, yet the idea did cross my mind in a sinful flash before I rejected it at the thought of eliminating any significant fraction of a millimeter of the wonderful bird’s-eye.  Have a closer gander at the unfortunate but far less egregious degradation to the inner right rim this beautiful Dublin withstood.I began the only aspect of the refurbish that could be called any kind of challenge with the gentlest approach, purified water and a soft cotton cloth over the entire stummel.  While a fair amount of soot, skin oil and whatnot came off, no amount of scrubbing made a dent, as it were, on the blemish.  Fine grades of sand paper had no effect, either, and so, I worked my way down the numbers and up the grits to my two-in-one sanding sponge, half 180 and the other 150.  Focusing on the deep rim burn spot, I went at it with the 150.  My hand a blur and breaking out in a sweat all over, the removal of the single little spot took closer to 10 than five minutes.  But I’ll be a turkey’s behind if the dang thang didn’t disappear on me!  I reversed the harsh effects of the 150-grit sponge, minimal as they were because they only rid the fine Mediterranean briar of something that had no place pocking it, with 220- and 400-grit paper before the full scale of micro-mesh pads.  While I was in the groove with the micro-mesh, I did the whole stummel.  I remember coming across one scratch big enough to warrant 320-grit sandpaper, but to save my life I can’t remember where it was, and now it’s gone.  Oh, well.  C’est la vie!

Happy with the absence of the nasty, pernicious burn mark, I found an old, small favorite piece of 150-grit paper that’s perfect for pipe chambers and, focusing again, only on the upper circle inside the chamber, succeeded in eliminating the unwanted beginning of a groove caused by what I can only imagine was a drunken fit of excessive lighting (as in the previous owner passing out while flicking his Zippo and only coming to when he burned his thumb).  I followed the 150-grit strip with the 220- and 400-grits again, and after much careful tapping and blowing of soot and wiping the chamber clean with a piece of paper towel and alcohol, I saw that the damage was repaired, and the chamber was down to bright, clean briar as far as I had gone.  Repeating the process in steady advances down the chamber, 30 or so minutes more passed before the entire inside of the chamber was down to the wood. The end of this special restoration nigh, the time had come to re-stain the rim that had lost more than a little of its fine darker color.  I rejected the notion of making the Capitello Jonico Dublin a two-tone, which is one of my favorite habits with many pipes, and chose instead to apply a couple of Qwik-Koats of Lincoln Brown Boot Dye, alcohol-based.  You know I had my Bic handy to flick, but at least I was sober, safe and sane.Taking off the charred stain and returning the rim color to the original shiny dark brown was simple with 1800 followed by 4000-12000 micro-mesh.

As a general rule, I don’t leave the cleaning and retorting of a pipe’s insides until just before the last step, but this time I became so wrapped up in the stem bending, burn removing and, for the first time, eliminating all but the ghost of the original owner’s tobacco char that I just forgot until the mental checklist time arrived.  Whomever the previous owner was loved this pipe despite the one misadventurous rim burn incident.  I can tell, because I only needed six regular cleaners half-soaked in alcohol with the dry ends to follow up each run through the shank before the last came out clean both sides.  Also, the retort was fast and easy with only three Pyrex test tubes of alcohol boiled through the pipe.

Strolling from the living room to the “workshop” (my bedroom still, for now, but next month or November at the latest I’ll start paying an old-time rent control-level extra charge for the spare third bedroom in the house and begin assembling the proper tools for this work), I plugged in the electric buffer.  Before that, I asked the cats to leave, which they did because for some reason they don’t like the noise of the machine.  I closed the door and freshened the brown Tripoli wheel I’ve been using to give more luster to the wood, made sure there were no papers or other light objects that might blow away nearby, and turned on the juice.  The whir of a wood buffing wheel is one of the happiest sounds I know.  Lightly turning the wooden stummel with confident firmness over the spinning cloth buffer is likewise one of the finest feelings, because of the completion it brings to another project.

The brown Tripoli buffing finished, I wrapped a clean cotton cloth around the wood and, with both hands, worked the excess compound and a couple of streaks, part of it deeper into the stummel and the rest onto the cloth.  I’ve been doing this lately instead of the alternative clean buffing wheel method, and it works just as well.  Then I repeated the process with a coat of Carnauba wax, and after rubbing it with another cotton cloth gave it one more roll on the Carnauba wheel before the final rub-down.  I buffed the stem with a single coat of Carnauba and rubbed it smooth of excess wax.  For now, it is aligned with the shank as close to an army mount as I could approximate with a regular narrow tapered stem.


René Magritte had a brilliant, often hilarious imagination fueled by his wild, wicked (as my generation used it to mean “awesome” or “totally [rad]”) sense of humor, even if he apparently didn’t smoke a pipe – or anything else.  Take a close look at this photo of him as a young man, cribbed from Pinterest, and you’ll see the cigarette in his mouth appears to be backward, if it’s a cigarette at all and not a pencil.  If I had to guess, and I do, I would say he appreciated the beauty of everything in life as he saw it.  Pipes being a big part of culture during Magritte’s too-short time in this world before he moved on to the Totally Surreal Higher Place, my take on the painting I used as an atypical opening quote is that it is at the very least double-edged: the artist’s rendering of a pipe in a piece of art does not make it a pipe, and the conspicuously bland billiard he chose to create with paint and paper, without doubt using the greatest consideration of the multitude of options available to his ingenious mind, is something one might find on a basic pipe chart if they were as well illustrated as this work.  That is why I chose the subtle example of the surreal to open this blog.  Look at any pipe made by Capitello, and if you speak French, you would exclaim, “C’est une pipe [That’s a pipe]!”