Tag Archives: article by Robert M. Boughton

The Filthiest Pipe I’ve Ever Seen

Blog by Robert M. Boughton
Copyright © Reborn Pipes and the Author except as cited

You can’t judge a book by its binding.
— From the journal American Speech, 1944

The Dr. Grabow easy bent smooth billiard I came by in a foolish case of mistaken identity on eBay looked normal enough on the outside, other than an apparent crack that wasn’t visible in any of the seller’s few photos.  The zigzag flaw extended from the top front of the bowl almost halfway down, which of course was not a good sign in a pipe when the intent was to sell it – and I definitely did not want to keep it for my own collection.  The dubious pipe came as part of a lot with two others of its ilk; an old Karl Erik box; two very nice choice sleeves – one that was also for a Karl Erik and the other for a Butz-Choquin – and two Revelation Smoking Mixture tins of indeterminate age.  Venturing a guess, I’d say they’re no newer than the pipes.

My haul, minus the Dr. G, Yello-Bole and MedicoMy impression from the poor photos provided online was that one of the pipes must have been a Butz-Choquin.  You see, the only descriptions of the pipes given in the listing were that they were “vintage,” and you guessed it, I fell for the deliberate obfuscation, and Buy Now to boot.  As the only measure of self-defense I can muster, at least I only paid about $10, with shipping included.  They turned out to be this Dr. Grabow and two Yello-Boles, one a Spartan.  The Spartan did clean up purty compared to how it was.The Dr. G. is six inches long but otherwise very small.  The height is 1.5” and the inner bowl diameter is ⅝” x 1”  As a rule, unless the particular pipe is very old or has some other special attribute, I shy away from this name and Medicos and the like, although I’ve found almost anything will sell to someone who is a fan of a given brand.  In fact, just last week at my monthly pipe meeting I sold the Spartan with a stem logo of a yellow Y in a circle to a friend who happens to be my best customer.

The friend has accumulated some great pipes from me – such as a late 1930s Kaywoodie Super Grain and a Ropp last month – and an amazing collection of antiques including a few KB&B beauties, but he admits to having a weakness for vintage Yello-Boles.  I estimated the Spartan dated to the 1960s, and my friend somehow traced it on his cell phone to 1966.  That’s what I call a Yello-Bole devotee.

At any rate, the Dr. G. billiard remained quarantined in a box for more than a year with others that are so tragic I’m sure I’ll end up using them as examples of pipes never to buy.  In short, only when it was the last pipe I had to work on did I gather the gumption to go for it.

But as I already noted, all outward appearances showed nothing I couldn’t handle without too much effort, including the odd zigzag on the bowl.  The inside turned out to be a different matter altogether, one for the books as far as I’m concerned.


I wanted to get the pipe in a basic clean order before tackling the crack.  Starting with the light rim char and cake in the chamber, I used super fine “0000” steel wool on the rim to begin and a pen knife around the walls of the chamber that was too small to insert a reamer – meaning the one size I have.  Then I sanded the rim with 1000-grit paper and the chamber using a pinkie and 150- and 220-grit papers. I cleaned off the old blackness from the shank opening with the same steel wool and wiped down the entire stummel with purified water on a paper towel.Now the crack I mentioned is apparent.  Knowing it wouldn’t get rid of the crack, I sanded the outside of the wood with 1000-grit paper to remove the other small but pervasive blemishes. With the pipe more or less spiffed up, I could see the crack was hairline, so to speak, not penetrating the bowl in any visible way.  That was a relief as I knew I could make it go away altogether with sanding.  I tried 150-grit paper, and that looked like the end of the ostensible crack.  I followed up with 320-, 400-, 600- and 1000-grit papers.A full micro mesh progression left the briar looking absolutely fabulous, or abfab, as British interior designers like to gush about wood.  To be serious, though, which I often try not to be, knowing it drives some readers nuts but keeps me sane, the micro mesh step – if I had to choose just one from all of the routine tasks in a pipe restoration – is my favorite.  Seeing the resilience of wood, or briar anyway, that allows it to bounce back from ruin is to me what sunshine was to John Denver.  Well, not exactly, but you get the idea. The front shot above, I’m sorry to say, doesn’t show how pale most of that side was even after micro meshing.  Suffice it to say, a spot stain was necessary with Lincoln brown leather dye.  I took a little more joy in staining and flaming it. Looks like everything is going great, doesn’t it?  That’s rhetorical.  Only after thinking I was almost finished did I commence the part that turned into a singular horror the like of which I never before experienced.  Without exaggerating at all, I admit I was sure I had found a pipe that could not be cleared of all impurities, no way, no how.  I’m sure this sounds like more of my melodramatic foolery, but for once I am being as serious as I get.  I suspect I may have some kind of world record, if people registered such statistics, but no doubt Steve, if perhaps no one else, has a worse story or stories to tell.  I’d love to hear them!

To wit, I found myself at the point of having to deal with the inside of the billiard.  Nothing prepared me for the almost human resistance and downright orneriness I encountered, not to mention the smoking implement’s physical manifestation of the common human psychological condition of filthiness.

The pictures that follow, showing the pre-cleaning, retort and aftermath of all that, with nine pipe cleaners, a nylon bristle cleaner, two cotton plugs and a wasted (in the colloquial sense) candle, don’t approximate the work and time already expended on cleaning and sanitizing the inner passageways of the pipe.  I included the Tupperware with spent alcohol as a clue to how much I boiled through the guts of the thing, with the wholly unsatisfying and unacceptable final Pyrex tube as dark as every other, but it still isn’t sufficient to understand my frustration, so I’ll tell you.  I had already used up 13 tubes of alcohol, getting nowhere.I knew I could use any number of pipe cleaners dipped in alcohol on the shank and it would do no good.  And so I started again, with a fresh retort (and candle and two more cotton plugs).  After nine more tubes boiled through the pipe – that’s a total of 22 – I at last achieved a clear enough result that didn’t get darker after three trips through the bowels of the Grabow.I don’t know, maybe this isn’t so unusual.  Or maybe I need a better retort system, as I’ve been looking forward to buying, something like the first one below, probably self-made by my friend Chuck Richards, or even the other I found online.

Hand-held laboratory-style retort system made by tbus6906, eBay, and an actual lab setup from best collection999 at eBay

And now for the stem, starting as it appeared when I got it and after the various phases of smoothing and buffing. And here is the finished pipe, the stem machine buffed with red and white Tripoli and the stummel with White Diamond and Carnauba. That’s a Medico filter in the stem, BTW, because it’s all I have and it fits!  Besides, whoever buys the Grabow will probably toss it.

This was an unusual restore for me for a couple of reasons. One, I set out thinking the big deal was going to be fixing a bad crack, and two, the real problem ended up being hidden within.  My previous record for the number of Pyrex tubes of alcohol I had to run through a pipe was nine, for a pipe I haven’t blogged yet.  I thought that was bad until I was faced with the harsh reality of this dainty little Grabow!  It’s the right size for most women (no sexism intended but I’ll probably get flack for that), but only a man could have smoked a pipe for possibly 40 years without ever really cleaning it.  Maybe that will get me off the hook with any female smokers who read this.

Oh, yes, a note about Revelation Pipe Mixture.  Never having heard of it and suspecting it’s out of production, I found I was correct about the latter part.  It was blended by House of Windsor, which still makes about 20 mixes, mostly aromatics, in the U.S.  Revelation was a coarse-cut (based on the photo I found, despite the description as ribbon cut) American blend of bright flake and red flake Virginias, cube cut burley, Kentucky, latakia, perique and “citrus/misc.”  It seems to have been somewhat popular given a 3.1 out of 4 rating at TobaccoReviews.com.  Legend says this was Albert Einstein’s go-to mix, so it couldn’t be all that bad.  It seems a reincarnation of this tobacco is being made in bulk form and true ribbon cut, from the same ingredients.  The link to the source is below for anyone interested.  Revelation was made by Philip Morris Co. Ltd. Inc. and distributed by Continental Tobacco Co.  I guess the tins are pretty old because companies aren’t named like that anymore.



About a Super Grain Kaywoodie Medium Dublin #08 Almost as Old as My Dad

Blog by Robert M. Boughton

Copyright © Reborn Pipes and the Author except as cited


my father moved through dooms of love
through sames of am through haves of give,
singing each morning out of each night
my father moved through depths of height 
— e.e. cummings, “my father moved through dooms of love,” from 50 Poems, 1940

I was going to start with the dedication and for once leave out the opening quote.  Then the last stanza of Dylan Thomas’ “Do not go gentle into that good night” came to me.  I even had it typed in a few seconds.  Upon reflection, however, the idea of Thomas’ great, impassioned cry to his father, there on the sad height, seemed a little too close to my own feelings and therefore by definition selfish.  Any notion of beginning with words from Thomas, albeit brilliant and stirring, was belayed by the sudden and vivid recollection of my dad and me having a rare pleasant conversation.  The Cold War was raging hotter than ever at the time, and that was more or less what our normal interactions resembled

Out of nowhere, it seemed, the pleasant remembrance filled my mind, from lifetimes ago when I was 16 or so and reading books almost every spare moment I had.  I used books back then the way I later turned to alcohol more than I already had, to escape reality, except the books were good for me.  I could see the two of us, my dad and me, standing in the entryway to the house, golden-orange beams of late afternoon sunlight filtering through the windows.  My knapsack was stuffed, as tight as an overfilled laundry machine, with schoolbooks and other implements of learning, while cradled in my arms were about five diverse and serious reads I had bought for my own pleasure.  As my tastes were then and remain now rather eclectic, but with several main themes at the time, there was probably one each classic, sci-fi, fantasy, quirky crime fiction like Elmore Leonard’s Mr. Majestyk or anything having to do with spies by The Master, John le Carré, and of course someone’s, anyone’s, biography.

My dad made a point of coming out of his room and stopping me to talk, the subject of which I’m sure now didn’t make any difference to him.  He saw the load of new books I was holding and asked what I was reading those days.  I just handed them to him so that he could see for himself.  He was impressed, but what he said really struck me in a good way, as I had been thinking more or less the same thing.  He asked if I read any poetry.

All that came to mind back then were two poems, starkly different in style, that now seem to me interesting examples of poetry to compare and contrast.  But worry not, I won’t try it here!  They were Thomas’ perhaps best-remembered work that, years later, I compared to my dad in an essay I wrote for the English Comp AP course I took at NMSU in Las Cruces, and Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “Tears, Idle Tears.”  While the former was and remains a favorite example of the artform I consider the highest to which any writer can aspire, I used to make my friends laugh with my lachrymose recitations of the latter.  I didn’t even consider the obvious, that my memorization of both and occasional sensitive spoken interpretations of Thomas’ masterpiece yet crass and venomous performances of Tennyson’s work of equal value were reflections of the mirror I gazed into every time I spoke his beautiful, insightful words in immature lampoonery.

My dad is the person who turned me on to e.e. cummings, and to him I now owe the fact I remembered the lines from the opening quote.  In fact I owe so much more to the man, parts of it good and others not so.  But all things considered, I turned out okay.  Now I miss him more than ever and feel his irrecoverable absence like a horrible sting.

At any rate, this blog is about a Kaywoodie Super Grain Dublin #08 that is almost as old as my dad was.  The left shank nomenclature approximates its age to the 1930s with the placement of SUPER GRAIN above KAYWOODIE, and the right shank imprints of IMPORTED BRIAR and 08 narrow the timeline to 1935-1938.  Every part of this beautiful pipe is original, including the stem and patented Drinkless stinger with the word etched into it.  If this pipe was around in 1936, its price would have been $5.  But more than the absence of the usual four-digit shape number connected with Kaywoodie pipes from this period, I’m having trouble imagining my dad no bigger than a boy of five.

RESTORATION This Super Grain was in amazing condition for a pipe well into its 80s!  The only problems presenting were normal rim char, well-maintained cake buildup and the almost mandatory, for Kaywoodies, mis-clocked stem.  Something told me that might more or less fix itself before the project was complete.I dunked the stem in an OxiClean bath and planned on letting it stay there longer than usual, given that the old Vulcanite was almost solid yellow-green, whatever that color is called.  I also had errands to run.  When I returned home a couple of hours later, I removed the stem from the nasty, dark bathwater, ran a pipe cleaner through the airhole, rinsed and scrubbed it with my thumbs and fingers and dried it off.  A little piece of 320-grit paper made it solid black again.  [I restored this pipe not long ago, but as I noted in my last blog, I had not yet learned how effective going straight to 1000-grit paper can be.  That’s where I’ll start from now on.  This time I lucked out.]I continued work on the stem and started on the rim burn with a soft green Brillo pad that brought out a soft shine on the stem, which may very well be the first one I’ve come across with no scratches that needed removing, much less tooth chatter or even a chink in the lip, top or bottom.  For the rim, the Brillo was a beginning.Finishing the stem with 400-, 600- and 1000-grit papers followed by a full run of micro mesh from 1500-12000, I turned to a piece of super fine “0000” steel wool for the remainder of black on the rim.Again, not being aware of how great a job 1000-grit paper does, I continued work on the rim with 320-grit.  Everything worked out in the end, but really, I had no idea how much extra work I’ve been doing!  In fact, I understand now how bad was the habit into which I had fallen.Smoothing the rim with 400- to 1000-grit papers, and in the process returning the grain to normal since I didn’t use the least abrasive grade in the first place, I finished that stage in anticipation of a spot stain there after micro meshing.  In the meantime, I reamed the chamber and sanded with 150- and 220-grit papers.  That was supposed to be just the start, but the mature and venerable Dublin was so loved and respected by its previous (and, I think, only other) owner that the chamber wall was baby smooth to the touch.I had forgotten the wonderful quality of briar and other woods to reacquire their original hue after being sanded down to a lighter shade and then worked back up with finer and finer grades of paper.  Therefore I was surprised but happy to see the lovely, mottled, somewhat leopard-like spots and blotches on the rim, and the natural shiny dark brown color that matched the whole surface, with the following full micro mesh of the stummel.  The thought occurred to me that when the pipe was first crafted, no stain might have been applied.The only thing left to do was retort the pipe.  This step further revealed that whoever was the guardian of this magnificent specimen of pipehood was also good enough to enjoy it quite often.  Four test tubes full of alcohol had to be boiled through the inner passageways from the lip of the stem to the top of the chamber before it was almost clear.Don’t take this as bragging because I know I had nothing to do with the skill and care that went into the very vintage Kaywoodie’s genesis – all I did was make it show again – but the color and shine of the wood were perfect as-is at that point and, as far as I could see, needed no further help.  And so, I didn’t even buff it on the wheel for the first time in my experience with pipes.  But to return the stem to the same sheen, I buffed it on the electric wheel with White and Red Tripoli. Oh, and I just remembered the other two aspects of the pipe I noted earlier but almost forgot to address, because, as with some other aspects of the restoration, I forgot to snap a shot of one and deleted the other considering its apparent superfluousness.  The stinger that was misaligned at first indeed did correct itself, with a small nudge, or firm but careful twist, rather, from me. And then there was my mention of the almost incredible fact that the Drinkless stem, with its four-holed ball at the end to be inserted into the shank – which ball, by the way, resembles an antique naval mine with its detonator legs removed, or is it just me? – was etched with the word DRINKLESS.   The shot above, enhanced by photo editing software with which I am at last becoming more adept, illustrates both the screwed-up (pun intended) aspect of the stinger and the etching.  Worth mentioning, to me at least, are Pipephil’s details that include such tidbits as these: the original Drinkless patent (No. 213598) had a push-in design that was used from 1924-1931; the updated version with the same patent number became the longer screw-in and is stated as being used from 1929 until as recently as the 1960s, and in 1932 the SynchroStem patent was granted in favor of the Drinkless.  The newer Drinkless stingers also had the words “REG. NO. 213598 etched under the Drinkless designation, although I didn’t look closely enough or take a good enough photo to show it.But – and here is where all the confusion reaches its zenith – Kaywoodie decided to move toward a three-hole stinger at an “indeterminate date.”

Ah, the joys of dating a pipe!  The Super Grain in this blog, however, is a definite match for the period 1935-1938.  I’m beginning to think pipes, like some people, should only be enjoyed, never dated. 😊

My dad was an avid pipe smoker until my mother, sister and two step-sisters put an end to that.  I say they did it, but the sad truth I still regret to this day is that I let them drag me into the brouhaha: the incessant reminding him, every time he sat down to relax and light up, of what the ninth U.S. Surgeon General, a well-meaning and for the most part dead-on man by the name of Luther L. Terry, MD, had reported two years after I was born, to wit, that smoking tobacco tends to have “an adverse impact…[on] health worldwide,” and the steady buildup to more snide comments such as the amount of time every use of tobacco deprived people of life (not counting the comments about second-hand smoke).  By the end, the unwarranted and downright cruel attacks on my dad by all of us had escalated to all-out war.  In the end, my dad surrendered and vowed to stop smoking his impressive collection of the beautiful briar works of art and implements of deep contemplation.

In my defense, this was all going down around 1968, when I was a mere lad of six.  But I can still picture the vast assortment of mostly smooth, easy bent billiards he favored, though there were some that were sandblasted also, and even more interesting, longer, straight ones I now understand were Canadians or others of that family.  In my mind I can see them now with such clarity that, given the experience I have had in some of the intervening years, I am positive they were all created by the greatest English makers of those times and these.

In other words, my dad was not keen on American brands the likes of Kaywoodie.  But he was a man whose tastes changed, like most of us, and I suspect that had we left him alone to his peaceful enjoyment of his pipes, his collection would have evolved.  If only we had not badgered him into submission, if only he had stood his ground and just said no, if only we had not grown apart – I might very well have given him this pipe for his last birthday.  And I’m sure he would have lived just as long as the 85 years he lasted before dementia and other non-smoking-related problems took him.

In a letter, Dylan Thomas described his approach to writing this way: “I make one image—though ‘make’ is not the right word; I let, perhaps, an image be ‘made’ emotionally in me and then apply to it what intellectual & critical forces I possess—let it breed another, let that image contradict the first, make, of the third image bred out of the other two together, a fourth contradictory image, and let them all, within my imposed formal limits, conflict.”

That’s my dad, to a tee.  Still, I love him and miss him more now than I did the long years he decided not to communicate with me anymore.  So now, as still another great poet wrote, I sound my barbaric yawp.

He wasn’t big on crying, so I’m going to have to stop here.


Love at First Sight for a Comoy’s Claridge Easy-Bent Billiard

Blog by Robert M. Boughton

Copyright © Reborn Pipes and the Author except as cited

Something in the way she moves
Attracts me like no other lover
Something in the way she woos me
I don’t want to leave her now
You know I believe and how

— “Something,” by George Harrison, The Beatles, 1969

Mark Oberman is one of the best men I’ve ever known, a man of true faith who walks the way he talks, in a calm, quiet search for his own meaning and place in the world.  He works as a private psychologist in the community and for the local police department’s crisis intervention unit, meaning he puts his life on the line to help desperate folks avoid doing things that might harm themselves or others, but he never talks about that unless there’s a need.  I only found out not long ago, eight years after we met, when someone I know well had been a subject of what police call constant involvement for violent psychological behavior during the previous year and was upgraded to an official investigation.  Mark has helped me under far less serious scenarios, and I consider him to be a good friend.  I’ll have to tell him that sometime.

Mark signaled me, near the end of our monthly pipe club meeting last week, that he wanted a word in private.  Curious, I stepped aside with him, and noticed he appeared uncertain how to get to the point.  I could sense his mind grasping for the right words, and it made me nervous.  At last, he spoke.

“Do you do stem work?” he asked.  I have to say, it was the last thing I expected, and my face might have betrayed me, or maybe my initial silence.  “Could you clean up a few stems and pipes?”

I smiled, knowing full well he didn’t need to ask and not yet understanding where he was going.

“I could do that,” I said.

I think Mark’s hands must have been behind his back, because I was almost startled by the suddenness with which he produced three pipe sleeves that weren’t empty.  Really, he could have been a magician.  We were already whispering when his voice dropped another notch, lest someone else hear his plan.

“I have these three pipes I’d like to donate for the next raffle,” Mark continued before making an inexplicable return to his original question, still avoiding whatever was on his mind.  “Could you clean up the stems, the pipes?”

I knew he wasn’t asking whatever question was most important to him and didn’t get it, and so I responded with my same original answer that, when repeated with a slight twist of emphasis, became ambiguous.

“I could definitely do that.”

This is getting bizarre, I thought, and felt the sudden need to retrieve a Brigham sandblasted pot sitter (#118) as corroboration.  I had restored the stummel and inappropriate three-dot stem with which it came.  The stem should have had only one dot, corresponding with the 100 series of the shape, and also appeared to have been pummeled and lacerated until the top lip was weak and the bottom masticated into nothingness. A hole on the bottom gave poignant testimony to its treatment.  I handed the whole thing to Mark, who couldn’t tell where the stem hole and weak lips once were, and it was shiny black again.  [I’m still looking to trade it for a one-dot, BTW.]

Mark just looked at me, his eyes piercing.  It was as though he beamed the thought to me, and I grokked him.

“I’ll be happy to do it,” I said with a grin.  “To give something back to the club for everything it’s done.”

Mark took a deep breath and smiled in relief.  I guess there was something he didn’t know about me, also.

In that night’s raffle, for example, for three tickets at a dollar a piece, I won a nice corncob and a 100-gram bag of some leafy stuff called Spilman Mixture by the E. Hoffman Company.  Mark donated both of them and more.

And that was when I had my first sight of a smooth easy-bent billiard that grabbed my heart on the spot, even though I didn’t yet know it.  I recognized at a glance its obvious British pedigree but was still surprised by the clean, crisp Comoy’s nomenclature on either side of the shank.

Claridge, I learned when I was home with the three pipes and could examine them in good light, is sometimes listed as a Comoy’s second.  I’m not so sure.  After all, parent companies don’t tend to stamp their own names on their children’s pipes, and when they do, it’s more in the way of introducing a special line, as in Bing’s and Clark’s Favorites, each a “Savinelli Product,” but not considered a second.

The Claridge easy-bent billiard #1452 that wooed me as I worked out its small kinks with slow, gentle rubbing and left it radiant and refreshed again has the following nomenclature: on the left shank, COMOY’S above CLARIDGE; on the right, a small F (for fishtail, indicating that was the original stem type) followed by the much larger, famous round mark with MADE over the top, IN snug in the middle, LONDON completing the circle and ENGLAND straight below it, then 1452.

As a final note on the pipe and its line designation, this billiard was named for two people, a man and woman, husband and wife: William and Marianne Claridge of Mayfair, London, who owned a small hotel there in the mid-19th century.  Wishing to expand, they did so in style, buying the five adjacent properties in 1854 and, two years later, opening Claridge’s London.  In a short time, the hotel became “London’s hotel,” according to the first issue of Baedeker Guide.  Today it is still sometimes called the “annex to Buckingham Palace” because of the frequency of royal visits.

RESTORATION Other than the need for minor cleaning, I didn’t notice anything wrong with the Claridge until I took it home and examined it close-up in good light.  That’s when I spotted the small but insidious furrow starting at the top outer right edge of the rim and extending down the side of the bowl. My heart leapt at the sight of the blemish.  I considered ignoring the relative trifle.  After all, I reasoned, Mark only asked me to clean the pipes and stems!  I had made three previous attempts at repairing uneven rims, all of them very grave cases, and two with what I’d call success.  The other was the best I could do under the circumstances.  All of them involved filing to begin, and I knew I would never subject this beauty to such an invasive procedure.  While I pondered the problem I suppose is obvious I couldn’t help tackling, I put the stem in an OxiClean bath.Hoping to get rid of the dent and make the rim more uniform by sanding, I started slow, patient brushing, front to back, left to right and crosswise, using a 150-/180-grit pad.That part took about an hour, but at the end of it I was surprised and pleased with the results thus far.  The chamber needed to be cleared of carbon buildup and smoothed, so I commenced that stage with my Senior Reamer.  I thought it might help equalize the rim diameter a little more, also, and it did.Then I turned to 150-git paper before 220.  Sometimes that will be enough, but this pipe needed to progress almost all the way up from there: 320-, 400-, 600- and 1000-grit papers.  All of that done, I soaked a small piece of paper cloth in alcohol and cleaned the remaining soot and wood powder from the chamber.Seeing what looked like a single scratch on the left side of the bowl, I was afraid I might have to put some paper to it for a spot-sand, and I really wanted to do this job in as minimalist a way as possible.  After all of that gripping and turning of the beautiful piece of bird’s-eye briar in dirty hands, I washed mine in the sink and used a little purified water on a paper towel to clean the outer stummel.I can only assume that what I saw and felt as a scratch was in fact only a tiny piece of detritus transferred to the wood from my hands that had become somewhat grubbier than usual.

At this point, I started going back and forth between the stem and stummel.  Removing the stem from its bath, I rinsed it, stuck a pipe cleaner through the airhole and let it dry.  Thanks to some lessons from my friend Don Gillmore (dba Don Warren, or dwpipes) concerning how to refinish a pipe in dress black, after five years working on pipes the idea occurred to me to see if 1000-grit paper would clear away the leftover white coat of whatever residual substance remains.  And indeed it did.  If anyone can tell me what that stuff is, by the way, please do so! Then I prepped the shank with alcohol-soaked pipe cleaners and a nylon brush before retorting the pipe. Back to the stem, I did a full wet micro mesh progression with my old pads followed by a full dry run with my newer kit.  The difference can be seen even with these cell phone pics.After only about an hour and a half of concerted effort, I was ready to take the stem and stummel to the electric buffer wheels.  For the ebonite, I used red and white Tripoli, and for the briar I chose White Diamond and carnauba. CONCLUSION
As soon as I finished the Claridge, I emailed Mark the photos of the finished pipe and confessed my predicament, that I’d fallen for the lovely, graceful billiard.  The half of my mind that could reason knew Mark and therefore assured me he would accept my plea to sell me the pipe and allow me to donate one of my own to the raffle in its place.  The other half, alas, was louder, and so for the two days before Mark replied all I could do was look at and sometimes hold in my hands and covet the pretty thing.

When at last Mark replied, all he wrote was, “Absolutely it is yours.”  Of course I was more than happy and relieved, and I dashed off a reminder to him to think of a price before the 1st of November, when I would pay him.  I knew it would be a good deal but never expected his answer.

“Here is a fair price: $0.00.  I expect it at the next meeting. 😊”

Now, that’s an offer I can’t refuse.  But I’m still going to donate a pipe to next month’s raffle – and it’s going to be a good one.  I’m also going to keep my eye out for a Claridge fishtail stem with one of these logos, courtesy of Pipephil.





New Life for a Jandrew Free Hand Sitter

Blog by Steve Laug

I don’t remember where this old pipe came from. It was a mess with lava overflowing the large caked bowl and filling in most of the carved plateau rim top. The rusticated finish was very dirty and hard to differentiate the smooth portions from the rustication. It appears that the bowl had been rusticated then a wire wheel had been used to striate the rustication. There were three smooth panels on the sides and front of the bowl and a smooth shank and heel of the bowl. The stem was a mess with oxidation, tooth chatter, deep tooth marks and calcification built up for over an inch of the length of the stem. The stem did not seat well in the shank due to the buildup of tars and oils. It also appeared that the tenon was slightly bent making the stem crooked (bent to the right). The pipe was stamped on the underside of the shank and under a bright light with magnification I could read Jandrew over 2-86. My assumption was that the pipe I was dealing with was a Jandrew (I have worked on other pipes made by this maker) and that it was made in February of 1086. The pipe was at least 32 years old and had seen a lot of use. It was obviously some pipeman’s favourite smoker. There was something about the pipe that captured my attention and made me want to work on it. I took some photos of the pipe before I started my cleanup work. I took some close up photos of the rim top and stem to show the condition they were in before I started. The rim top is heavily caked with lava flowing out of the thick cake in the bowl. It fills in much of the carved rim top leaving me unsure what lies underneath. I have no idea what the inner edge of the rim looks like at this point but it seems likely that it is darkened or maybe burned on the back edge. The stem has tooth marks on the top and underside near the button and on the button surface as well. There is some serious oxidation/calcification on the first inch or more of the stem. The stem fit against the shank is off as you can see from the photos and the tenon appears to be bent making the stem curve to the right side.I took a photo of the stamping to capture it and help identify the pipe. It reads Jandrew over 2-86. It is readable but faint in the middle of the stamp where the slight curve in the shank is located.I looked up the brand on Pipedia and found the following: Jandrew pipes are (or were?) made by J. Andrew Kovacs. He lived in Jerome and Cottonwood, Arizona and is said to have moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. https://pipedia.org/wiki/Jandrew

I turned to Pipephil’s site to see if I could gain a bit more information. There was no additional info but there was a photo of a pipe with the same signature and a similar date stamp on the shank. I have included that below for comparison(http://www.pipephil.eu/logos/en/logo-j1.html).I turned to the pipe to begin the cleanup. I dry scrubbed the rim top with a brass bristle brush to break the lava buildup from the crevices. This technique works wonders and the brass is soft enough not to scratch the plateau. I do not use it on smooth rims (not daring enough to give it a try as I am pretty certain it will cause scratching and make more work for myself). The photo below shows the cleaned rim top after the scrubbing.With the top cleaned it was time to ream the bowl. I reamed it with a PipNet pipe reamer using the largest cutting head. The cake was thick and hard. I carefully worked the bowl clean using the reamer. I followed that by scraping out the remaining cake in the bottom of the bowl and along the edges with a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife and took the cake back to bare briar. I wrapped a piece of dowel with 220 grit sandpaper and sanded the inside walls of the bowl to smooth out the walls. With the bowl reamed it was time to scrub the exterior of the bowl. I scrubbed it with Murphy’s Oil Soap, working it into the crevices and nooks and crannies of the rustication with a tooth brush. I rinsed it under running water to remove the soap and the grime. I took photos of the pipe at this point to show the condition after cleaning.I worked some Before & After Restoration Balm into the smooth and rusticated parts of the briar on the bowl and shank with my fingertips to clean, enliven and protect the wood. I worked the balm into the nooks and crannies of the rustication and the carved rim top with a horsehair shoe brush. I let the bowl sit for about 20 minutes and buffed it off with a soft cotton cloth. I took photos of the bowl at this point in the process. The photos show the condition of the bowl at this point in the process. It was looking quite good at this point with some beautiful grain showing through on both the smooth and rusticated portions of the bowl. I scraped the tars and oils from the walls of the mortise with a pen knife. I cleaned the mortise and the airway in the shank with pipe cleaners, cotton swabs and alcohol.During the cleanup of the bowl I had noticed two small hairline cracks in the shank. There was one next to the stamping on the underside about a ½ inch long (first photo) and one on the top side of the shank from the rustication running toward the shank end for ¼ of an inch (second photo). I used a microdrill bit to drill pin holes at each end of the crack to stop it from spreading further on the shank. I was glad to see that under a bright light that the crack did not extend to the end of the shank. The repair would be straightforward.I cleaned out the crack on the top and underside with a dental pick. I filled in the drill holes and the crack on both with clear super glue and set the pipe aside to cure. Once it was cured I sanded it with 220 grit sandpaper and blended it into the finish of the shank. I touched up the stain on the shank with an Oak stain pen to blend it into the rest of the briar.I worked some Conservator’s Wax into the finish of the briar making sure it went deep into the crevices of the carved finish. I let it dry and then buffed it with a shoe brush and with a clean buffing pad. The photos below show the pipe at this point. I set the bowl aside and turned my attention to the stem. I sanded the stem with 220 grit sandpaper to remove the oxidation and the calcification build up. I worked on the tooth chatter and marks to reduce them.I cleaned the surface of the stem with alcohol and dried it off. I filled in the deep tooth marks with clear super glue and set the stem aside to let the glue cure.I sanded out the tooth chatter and marks with 220 grit sandpaper. I wiped down the stem with Obsidian Oil and cleaned out the inside of the airway to get rid of the dust and debris from the sanding. I polished the stem with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding it with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanding with 3200-12000 grit pads. I wiped the stem down with Obsidian Oil after each pad. I polished the bowl with Before & After Pipe Polish – Fine and Extra Fine. I gave it a final coat of Obsidian Oil and set it aside to dry. I polished stem and the bowl with Blue Diamond polish on the buffing wheel. I gave the bowl multiple coats of Conservator’s Wax and the stem multiple coats of carnauba wax. I buffed the pipe with a clean buffing pad to raise the shine. I hand buffed it with a microfiber cloth to deepen the shine. The pipe polished up pretty nicely. The grain really came alive in both the rusticated portions and the smooth panels with the buffing and works well with the polished black vulcanite stem. Together the pipe looks much better than when I began and has a rich look. The finished pipe is shown in the photos below. The shape, finish and flow of the pipe and stem are very well done. The dimensions are Length: 6 inches, Height: 2 1/4 inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 7/8 inches, Chamber diameter: 7/8 of an inch. I will be putting this freehand style pipe on the rebornpipes store shortly if you are interested in adding it to your collection. Thanks for walking through the restoration with me as I worked over this unique Handmade Jandrew pipe.

A Hardcastle Bulldog Run Roughshod over: The Original Restoration

Blog by Robert M. Boughton

Copyright © Reborn Pipes and the Author except as cited

Grace is neither gentleness nor fragility.  Grace is treating yourself, others and even inanimate objects with respect.
— Kamand Kojouri, Iranian-born novelist and poet

A former roommate, one of Stephen King’s Constant Readers, once remarked with ridicule-tainted respect that I have always been attracted to needful things.  He was speaking of someone I met not long before then whose tragic life had left him wounded to the core, one of the results being his over-demanding, often verbally corrosive and manipulative treatment of me.  The roommate, who like almost everyone had plenty of his own flaws if less obvious and abusive, said my other acquaintance was no friend of mine.

“That may be true,” I replied, “but I’m his friend and the only one he seems to have, and I just can’t give up on him because that’s not what friends do.”

The physically and emotionally damaged person I undertook to help ended up becoming and remaining my genuine though stormy friend until he died at home 14 years later from an unusual and excruciating autoimmune disorder for which there is no cure.  He was 46.

My affinity for care-challenged pipes, therefore, should come as no surprise.  I try to avoid those with fatal flaws such as bad cracks or burnouts and for the most part reject any with serious holes in the stem, but as a restorer I prefer estate pipes that need some real attention to rehabilitate as opposed to the few I find ready to sell or to keep in my collection with minimal effort on my part.

I don’t even remember how the Hardcastle Special Selection #7 smooth bulldog came into my custody or why I chose to ignore the obvious void of vulcanite below the lip on the underside of the stem.  Other than that handicap, the pipe was nowhere near as mistreated as I’ve seen but was plagued enough by dings, scratches and other problems to keep me happy.

One final initial note: I repaired this bulldog to almost like-new condition more than a year ago but failed to blog it because of personal distractions that have left me with a large backlog.  I sold it for next to nothing to one of my present housemates who decided he wanted me to refinish it as a black dress pipe.  The same pipe is the subject of Part 2 of my series on that subject, and so I was going to include this original restoration in that blog.  But anyone who reads my harrowing account of the experience that could be called too much of a bad thing will understand why I broke the overall work into two blogs.

Intrigued by the atypical presence of a stinger in the Hardcastle, and an unusual one at that, I searched online for such phenomena with a faint hope of dating the bulldog.  Of course, at the top of the list was one of Steve’s blogs from 2014.  No other road I found led anywhere close to Rome, as it were.  Steve’s pipe is a Dental Briar brandy, bearing the Registered Design Number 857327, with a unique – or bizarre – dental stem, a system-type metal rod in the shank extending to the mortise hole, and a different short stubby little stinger of its own.  Here is the Dental Briar stinger before Steve’s restoration and the pipe after his usual fantastic work.Steve narrowed the date of manufacture to the Family Era and concluded his pipe was created from 1949-1967 using the National Registry link below.  However, looking at the same link, I see in Table 6.5 that designs numbered 548920-861679 were registered between 1909 and 1950 and suspect the 857327 might have been pre-1949 – no disrespect intended to the master!  Besides, he’s right to note that his Dental Briar could have been made at any time between its registration and 1967 when the family lost all control of the brand.  His pipe is also stamped MADE IN LONDON ENGLAND on the right shank.

I am not so fortunate.  The bulldog has no Registered Design Number or even the usual right shank nomenclature (London Made, British Made, Made in London England, Made in England).  This nomenclature is not faded, it’s just not there.  Only the left shank identifies it as a HARDCASTLE/SPECIAL SELECTION/7.  All I know for sure is that I tried it out after a basic sanitization, and it was quite good.

For a great synopsis of Hardcastle’s history, see Steve’s blog below.  Details are in the Pipedia link.

RESTORATION I would have removed the stinger anyway as useless, but it was also bent and more fragile than usual, and so I experienced even less than usual emotional distress heating the pointless thing with a Bic and twisting it out.Considering the appreciable grime, I started by swabbing the stummel first with purified water and then alcohol.  In hindsight, I should have skipped the water method that had little effect.  The blemishes stand out even more after the cleansing with alcohol.  The one shot below showing the minor rim damage, an unevenness being the only bad part, and decent chamber condition was taken with a flash and therefore looks pre-water and -alcohol cleaning.  I’m still having to do the best I can with a cell phone cam.  I used 150-, 220-, 320- and 400-grit papers to start shaping up those areas.After that I re-addressed the chamber and unevenness of the rim with a Senior Reamer and the blade from my Peterson’s Pipe Tool and made them a little better with 150-400-grit paper.I gave the shank a preliminary alcohol cleaning and retorted the pipe with a meerschaum stem that wasn’t crippled by a hole but somehow forgot to snap a pic of the latter.With 220- and 320-grit papers I was able to remove the dings and scratches as well as giving the chamber a semi-final what-fer.For some reason, the band popped off, and I still wasn’t happy with the color.  I decided to go at it once more with the 220.A full micro mesh buff made the old pipe begin to shine as it should.By now I should be somewhat known for fancying two-tones with bulldogs and Rhodesians where the top of the bowl above the two lines curves upward to the rim.  For the most part, at least, I’ve left this area lighter than the rest of the stummel, although on occasion I’ve dabbled in darkening it with, say, maroon stain.  This one screamed at me to lighten the top of the bowl as usual under these circumstances.  And so I stained the stummel below the lines with Lincoln brown leather dye, flamed it and after letting it cool took off the char and a little of the darker color with 8000 and 12000 micro mesh pads.  By the way, I was alarmed when I got a look at the first pic below and noticed what to every appearance seems to be a wicked and poorly repaired crack in the shank.  I assure everyone it’s a trick of the light or whatever, as the other pics prove. Gluing the band on again was a formality after buffing it on the electric wheel.Okeydokey, then.  There could be no more avoiding the chomped and degraded stem with its hole on the underside and other shortcomings. I had already given it an OxiClean soak, and it wanted repair.  Just to get an idea of what the stem would look like when finished, I gave it a quickie micro mesh rub.   I cut a little strip of card stock from the business leftover of someone with whom I didn’t care to do any more business and lubed it and a very small tweezers with a dab of petroleum jelly.  I inserted both into the mouth opening of the stem, with the cleaner behind the paper, until they were firmly in place inside the airway to a point just below the hole.  Finding my trusty old vulcanite stem that was long ago destroyed by another stem abuser, I shaved some fine flakes onto a small piece of paper with one side of a narrow, relatively smooth triangle rasp.

This was where I had to be prepared to act fast: I moved the flakes into a pile and added a few drops of black Super Glue, stirred the two into a gritty paste and scooped up a gob with the part of a three-piece pipe tool made for clearing tobacco from the chamber.  As fast as possible without making a mess, I slapped the goop liberally over the hole and set it aside to dry, removing the card stock and tweezers when the vulcanite mixture was dry on the inside but still a little wet on the outside.It’s a good thing I have an excellent recall of what I did in a particular restoration because the photographs I took of this project were more jumbled and duplicated than those from any other pipe on which I’ve worked.  I had so many of the same thing from alternate angles and differing clarity, for example, that I had to delete quite a few to make sense of it.  I concluded this was because of two things, trying different ways to get a good shot with my poor cell phone camera at the time and lack of sleep during the process.  It’s clear, excuse the pun, that some of the “best” are quite indistinct.  The following photos, as a result, are incomplete, but I always have the words to describe what I did.

For example, after the previous step, I started sanding with 150-grit paper and then smoothed it up with 220-, 320- and 400.  A common, less serious groove resulted, and I added more of the black Super Glue/vulcanite mix and let it dry again.  The mixture settled in well.That’s when I got serious with the sanding, using 150-, 220-, 320- and 400-grit paper and super fine “0000” steel wool.There’s still a small lump visible under the lip that I handled with as little abrasion as possible before the stem was done.  And that was it – for the bottom side.  I still had the top to do.  In every way other than the hole in the bottom, the top was worse, although it only needed a dab of black Super Glue/vulcanite solution to fill a small divot following the same initial OxiClean soak and a more vigorous sanding before filling a small divot with.  Considering again the top of the stem when I received it, close up, notice the wear below the square shank fitting before the rest of the work. The stem never quite fit the shank, which had been given a replacement band somewhere along the way, not to mention the band was damaged. After beginning to re-sand the bottom of the stem, the original hole caved in again.  Accepting defeat, I chose a new bulldog stem I had that needed serious filing at first and then sanding of the 9mm tenon to fit the shank. I bent the stem.  That required heating the stem – with a pipe cleaner inserted through the airhole – at 210° F. for about 15 minutes and bending the nice and pliant material over a complex tool.

Remembering the cell phone photos were atrocious and I had to edit them using every halfway adequate means of adjustment available with my so-called photo editor to show any similarity whatsoever to the actual result, here one last time is the stummel as it in fact looked when it was one step from completion before electric buffing.And these are the final photos of the pipe.  The most offensive discrepancies to me are the obscurity of the two-tone and the lack of shine the pipe had.  The bad twist on the stem in the fifth shot of the rear is all on me!

This blog being the occasion of my official announcement in this forum of my new webstore on  my own site, https://www.roadrunnerpipes2k.com/, is unfortunate in that the depictive presentation almost convinced me to give up any idea of writing the blog.  The poor quality and lack of photographs, as well as other stated reasons, were overwhelmingly opposed to the idea of even trying.  Then I thought of the work I put into the briar and the stem alone. In the end, I know how smooth, golden brown and at least hardly blemished the Hardcastle bulldog looked when I was done with it.  Whether anyone else does is of no importance to me.


Dressing up a Dinner Pipe 1/4: The Trident Experiment

Blog by Robert M. Boughton

Copyright © Reborn Pipes and the Author except as cited

“Ah,” she cried, “you look so cool.” 
— Daisy to Gatsby in The Great Gatsby (1925), Ch. 7, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The whole unlikely adventure started when one of my two housemates, Mike, who rents a room from the owner as I do, somehow got it in his head that he wanted me to make the perfectly nice Trident full bent billiard I sold him for next to nothing into a dress pipe.  As Mike is a complete novice when it comes to pipes, I didn’t even want to guess how he heard of the term many far more experienced smokers don’t know.  The Trident is fashioned in the classic style of a Peterson system pipe.

Trident original before

Trident original after

Gaboon ebony *

Dress pipes have also been called by other appropriate adjectives including dinner, evening and cocktail, and now are more often referred to as ebony.  That may be the worst name for this style, which renders the pipe with a jet black and shiny finish, as it refers to one of the rarest and most expensive (and now almost extinct) hardwoods from the tree of the same name.  Ebony heartwood tends toward dark black, but the extreme density – 3,080 lbf compared to 2,090 for briar on the Janka Scale – eats up cutting equipment like hors-d’oeuvres at a redneck bachelor party.  For that and other reasons, it is a poor choice for pipes.  But one thing is certain: a black dress pipe does look so cool.

Assuring Mike that I would look into the process and necessary supplies, soon afterward I told him I had a tentative list, and it wouldn’t be expensive. That’s when he dropped the indefensible bombshell on me about how he had thrown the Trident away because “it didn’t work out” and bought a corncob. Then he said he didn’t think I was serious about dressing up the Trident. Is that not the perfect example of waffling or am I missing something? By an amazing stroke of luck, the trash collectors had not come, and at my rather frantic suggestion Mike retrieved the pipe from the garbage. Here’s what it looked like after maybe a month of use by him.The velocity of the Trident’s trip from being restored to like-new condition to worse than when I first received it has to be some kind of record.  Needless to say, given the garbage incident and the horrendous wear and tear in such a short time, I was reluctant to turn it into a high maintenance item.  When Mike said I could have it, that ended that dilemma.  He later regretted the decision – but there’s the only preview of Part 2 of this series I’ll give here.

Dating a pipe, even to an approximation as close as a decade, can be impossible.  Determining the origins of names for some shapes, such as the Oom Paul, might be easier but is still murky.  [Stephanus Johannes Paulus Kruger, president of the South African Republic, the Transvaal, and a fierce military leader against the British in the Second Boer War (1899-1902), is said to have chain-smoked a pipe of an uncommon shape.  His nickname among the Afrikaans inhabitants was Oom, for uncle, Paul – hence, the Oom Paul, although the name is debated, as is most everything pipe-related.]  Of course, coming up with a theory for the beginning of a special style of pipe, such as the dress as a finishing method, is by the nature of the guesswork involved much easier.

Dunhill 61032 Dress 1983 courtesy Paronelli Pipe

The basic premise of a dress pipe (or in the alternative again, evening, cocktail or ebony) is something that stands out and dazzles from across a room, and further, one that should only be used on special occasions because of its appearance and greater susceptibility to damage.  Andrew Wike wrote a thoughtful 2014 essay, in the Pipe Line section of Smokingpipes.com, titled “Dressed for the Occasion.”  In a space that could have amounted to no more than a single page from a word processor, Mr. Wike employs elegant concision pondering the important question of which one of his pipes he should take to a friend’s wedding – and he even provides illustrations, descriptions and the basic qualities of a handful he recommends for such formal situations.

Starting his personal debate process with a smooth, jet-black Dunhill billiard derived from the collection Mr. Wike writes started the term “dress pipe” (and similar to the one shown here), he notes the classic elegance of Dunhill’s line, including the traditional sterling silver band, and compares the beautiful work to a tuxedo.

Mr. Wike moves on to Castello’s wonderful Perla Nera line and observes that these pipes vary from having no band or various ferules, as well as this Perla Nera Horn with a silver bamboo band below.Then Mr. Wike asks the perfect question, one that had been nagging me: “Who says your dress pipes have to be smooth finished?”  One excellent illustration is an unusual sandblasted Peterson Cara that SmokingPipes.com calls a bell style Dublin/Calabash hybrid.Skipping to the end of Mr. Wike’s list, I have to include his stunning example of a Tsuge dress pipe gone wild, the Urushi Sakura with its hand-painted floral design on the otherwise shimmering lacquer-coated black bowl, a black bamboo extension and brass fittings.Here’s my theory.  While the actual date of introduction of the black dress pipe is elusive, the likelihood of that flashy style of finish being conceived at all before the 20th century, much less as fashionable, is hard to imagine.

What better period of time and place for such a style than the Roaring ’20s in the U.S.?  Although I have not yet found an example from quite that far back, I can’t help the mental image that pops to mind of some of the wealthy revelers of that era, as recorded in The Great Gatsby and summed up with the simple quote opening this blog, trailing wisps of smoke from just such elegant, shiny black pipes with the ballroom lights in West Egg glinting off them.

Dunhill made its formal introduction of the Evening Dress Pipe in 1973, as shown below.

Dunhill Evening Dress Pipe courtesy Pipedia

Nomenclature left side

Nomenclature right side

However, several examples of Dunhill pipes associated with the word cocktail trace to the 1930s.  As well as the traditional black model shown below, green and red versions of Dunhill’s Lady’s Cocktail Pipe were made in 1934.

Dunhill Lady’s Cocktail Pipe, courtesy Pipephil

The following magazine ad from March of the same year is a hoot.  I couldn’t help letting out a healthy guffaw that startled one of my other housemates, the owner, when I took in the cloying sexism of a bygone era – in particular the idea of protecting the fingers of our precious little homemakers from being yellowed.

Courtesy Pipephil, from Modern Mechanix

If I didn’t know of too many occasions when Dunhill took credit for methods of making pipes that had already been used by different brands, I might have no doubt this was the first dress pipe.  But 1934 is too close to the 1920s for my comfort.  For now, it remains the earliest I can trace.

Go ahead and chalk it up to coincidence, if you like, but at the very next monthly meeting of my pipe club after I set my mind to dressing up my abused but still savable Trident, I tuned into an interesting conversation next to me.  Don Gillmore, a respected artisan whose business is known as Don Warren Pipes (dwpipes) in Albuquerque, was talking to another restorer about the use of shellac on many of his pipes.  I was shocked for several reasons, chief of which was that I’ve seen quite a few examples of Don’s masterful creations over the years and never had a clue that shellac might have been involved.  I also knew that shellac, like varnish and certain other finishes, can, in excess at any rate, affect a pipe’s ability to breathe and lead to damages.  Until that moment, I had only associated it with awful, cheap Chinese pipe abominations, with the one exception being dress pipes for which I deemed the substance a necessary evil.  Unable to join the conversation, I resolved to email Don for more information on the subject, in particular how I might go about dressing a pipe in black.

Flake shellac courtesy Wikipedia

First, I looked up shellac online.  I was surprised to learn that it is natural and converts to flake form from a resin secreted by the female lac bug on trees in India and Thailand.   Really, I’m not a bad raconteur, but I don’t have the gift of gab needed to spin that good of a yarn!  The finish has been in use for millennia and in various forms with artwork and wood finishing in general and furniture in particular for centuries, but not until the 1800s did it become preferred to oils and waxes for woods.

The following is a condensed version of the ensuing email exchange between Don and me.  Rather than the usual lacquer that seems to be the most common final coat used by the big pipe brands, Don repeated that he uses a thin coat of orange flake shellac on some of his pipes.  I asked if black shellac might be as good or better, and his answer was a firm but polite no.  He assured me the orange shellac would be clear by the time I reached that point.

To reveal how clueless I was at the outset of my decision to try dressing up a pipe, I read numerous online references to the need for black aniline dye and even consulted the definition of aniline, which in every standard English dictionary published omits the most pertinent aspect.  Only after at least an hour of obsessive searching did I find a mind-numbing technical treatise on the subject that mentioned, somewhere in the blur of multiple-digit chemistry terms, the simple word alcohol.  Realizing my default leather stain was in fact an aniline dye, I was both relieved by the discovery and angered by the waste of time to which I was subjected.  Even when I posted a thread on an online smokers’ forum asking for help, everyone replied that black aniline dye was what I wanted!  But a few deep breaths later, I was back to my usual self again.

Don provided links to the site where he buys his orange flake shellac, a chart that shows the various mixtures of the flakes (aka buttons) with, ideally, 190-proof denatured alcohol dependent upon the desired thickness, and even detailed instructions for applying the shellac once it is rendered to pure liquid form.  All of this information can be found at obvious links in my sources, but you know I’ll describe the whole process soon enough.

The Pound Cut Chart says it all – in fact, maybe more than you need to know for use with pipes – but the order is a bit whacked.  The main issue I have with it is how simple the process is compared to the way it’s described.  I had to consult Don for more than a few clarifications, which he was happy and gracious to supply.  That’s why I’m going to lay it out in this EZ synopsis.

To be sure, the official instructions are spot-on about three points: 190-proof denatured alcohol as the ideal agent for liquefication, the need to crush the flakes to as fine a degree as possible and the mix of alcohol and ground flake for the thickness and amount desired as shown in the chart.  Whatever size mix is made should last three months (its effective shelf life), and Behlen Behkol Solvent is specifically mentioned, although I used Everclear.  For my first batch of liquid shellac, I did not crush the flakes quite as small as they should have been.  It worked out but took longer to dissolve.  Here’s how to do it.

    1. From the Pound Cut Chart, decide how much liquid shellac you want and the thickness. Unless you’re going to use it all the time, a little goes a long way. Don recommended one cup of shellac at the one-pound cut (minimum thickness).  His reasoning was that it’s easier to apply a second coat if needed than to remove one.  Note: I ended up needing to do two coats, so I later made more at the two-pound cut.
    2. Crush the flakes, again, as fine as possible. I suspect a mortar and pestle would be perfect, but this is Albuquerque where such things other than very small types proved impossible to locate except online. Instead, I improvised with a chopping block and the flat bottom of a ceramic plate.  Getting the hang of that method wasn’t easy because the ornery flakes liked to shoot all over the place until I used mind over matter to develop my own style.  I highly recommend investing in a mortar and pestle!  If you’re thinking you might try grinding the flakes in a blender, remember they’re derived from resin and think again.
    3. Use a glass or plastic – not metal – container larger than the liquid amount you want.  For purposes of this first installment for which I used the one-pound cut, I poured one ounce (eight fluid ounces) of Everclear into a large glass baking pan and then slowly stirred in one ounce of flake with a rubber batter mixer.  The official instructions suggest a little every 15-30 minutes and stirring or shaking, as the container allows, as well as “occasional agitation.”  I added more flakes at 15-minute intervals but found frequent scraping of the flakes was vital to fight the constant sticking to the bottom of the glass pan.
    4. The photo above shows the mix about an hour and a half after I finished stirring in the last of the flakes and continued frequent scraping and stirring.  As you might notice, my flakes weren’t as fine as they should have been, and some bits are still at the bottom.  Then again, maybe that’s just what happens.
    5. Strain the shellac into a glass or plastic container that has a lid in order to remove any sediment or organic particles.  The official instructions give various methods and even combinations, but for the love of all that’s holy, it isn’t rocket science!  True, cheesecloth, a thin white cotton cloth or a paint strainer would have been just grand if I had any of them on-hand and going whole hog by “straining through a paint strainer first then through T-shirt or multiple layers of cheese-cloth” might have left me ecstatic.  But I used a few pieces of paper towels, and despite losing a little of the finished shellac to soaking all the way into the paper, I was overjoyed with the nice clear result.  I still have way more of it left than I can possibly use before it expires.

I’ll state for the record that the most egregious sign of the Trident’s abuse is the ghostly remnant of the name on the left shank shown up-close above.  Due to the necessary smoothing of the entire stummel, even the least abrasive measure obliterated it.

If ever an alcohol strip were called for, this was it.  I immersed the stummel in Everclear and let it sit for a couple of hours.  One positive result was the complete cleaning of the carbon and gunk buildup.

To clarify one point, the plethora of pits and other blemishes apparent in the above shots were not from fills that came out with the soak.  They were inflicted by Mike.  To remove them, I started with a double 150- and 180-sided sanding pad and 150-grit paper for the pernicious dings.  As a heads-up, it was a mistake.  Of course, that was then, and this is now. I could have saved considerable time and trouble with the subsequent sanding progression, but as I like to say, shoulda-coulda-woulda.  Now, for the beginning of what turned out to be a long, arduous smoothing process, starting with 220-, 320-, 400- and 600-grits followed by super fine “0000” steel wool, that even with the later fine-tuning was never altogether successful. The result so far is no doubt a great improvement from where it started and looks pretty good, but you know what they say about looks.  This project was the beginning of a learning process, after all, if I may be permitted a lame excuse.  Anyway, I followed up with a full micro mesh from 1500-12000.  The shine was beautiful, but there are still some small scratches, and that is not good with any restoration but in particular when dressing a pipe in black. Thanks to someone I had added as a Friend on Facebook’s Gentlemen’s Pipe Smoking Society forums just because he knew a couple hundred other people I do, I have a baggie of old bands, ferules and whatnot.  In the mix, I found a cool Peterson-style endcap I decided was more appropriate than the thin band on the pipe.  The third pic below is a tentative view of how it would look when I removed the old-worn-to-copper nickel band.  The biggest benefit of the endcap was that the stem, which was loose at first with the band, was able to stay in place well. The actual task of prying off that old band proved difficult, but as I’ve noted before, I’m tenacious.  I was quite aware of the dangers of damage including cracking the shank and with great and very slow care, I succeeded with a tiny pen knife.  I attacked the band somewhat like removing a flat tire, where my dad taught me to loosen the lug nuts a little at a time but not in order.  In plainer words, I went at one side of the band, then the opposite, and then the other two, before gently working the tip of the blade in between the four corners.  Again, I did this with no rush, and so it took about an hour before the narrow rim popped off.I cleared away the muck where the band had been with 220-, 320- and 600-grit paper, steel wool and all nine micro mesh pads, but the end cap still didn’t fit. A small piece of 150-grit paper and patient work to be sure I didn’t overdo it did the trick.  The open end of the shank was just narrow enough to place the end cap over it and push down slightly with a cotton cloth set on a table to make it snug.  Removing it again, I micro meshed after 320-grit paper. The big moment of staining and flaming the stummel had arrived, and I admit I was nervous.  The wood needs to be, for all intents and purposes, as smooth as a pipe maker would have it at this point of creation, and I am no pipe maker.  Restorations in general do not need to be as exacting.  Don had indicated 1000-grit paper is advisable, but I only had 600 and micro mesh.This was how it looked after hand-buffing without shellac.  As far as I’m concerned, the above results were unacceptable to proceed with the full dressing, but I figured I might as well get the chamber cleaning and smoothing out of the way with 150-, 320- and 400-grit papers.And then, for me, it was like the line from the traditional nursery rhyme: “Poor old Michael Finnegan, begin again.”  Back into an Everclear soak went the stummel, but this time only long enough to take the stain off to a point where I could smooth it more with 600-grit paper and micro mesh and try the stain again.  I’m missing the pics of the micro mesh work, but the next photos show the marked improvement. Once again, I stained and flamed it.Even before hand buffing with a special cloth for wood, the single shot above shows it was ready to shellac.  I used the small, soft brush for that part, taking care to move the brush in slow, even strokes from top to bottom around the stummel, including the shank.  I did the rim as closely as possible without overlapping to the sides.  After letting it dry for about six hours, I decided to repeat the shellac process and dry it again.  The shellac step, needless to say, was impossible to photograph

Now, for the stem, which was easy.  All I did was two full micro meshes, first with wet pads and then dry. I also buffed with red and white rouge and carnauba.  The endcap was snug as I mentioned before, but I added a couple dabs of Super Glue for good measure after a little polishing.

One more comment before the finished pipe pics.  Don had told me to “lightly buff” with the machine using white rouge between applications of shellac, but my electric buffer is a one-speed – fast – and I had severe doubts I could pull it off without removing patches of the shellac and stain.  In some of the installments of this series that follow, I gave it a shot, and with practice learned to hold the wood such that it almost didn’t even come in contact with the wheel buffer. CONCLUSION
The flaws can be seen in the photos above but allowing it was my first try at dressing a pipe, I was happy.  Besides, I was keeping the Trident for myself, and I’m glad I did because it’s a great little smoker.

* Gaboon ebony photo courtesy Wood Database below


Blog by Robert M. Boughton

Copyright © Reborn Pipes and the Author except as cited


You’ve got to sing like you don’t need the money
Love like you’ll never get hurt
You’ve got to dance like nobody’s watchin’
It’s gotta come from the heart if you want it to work.

— In “Come from the Heart” (1987), a country music song by Susanna Clark and Richard Leigh

The free-spirited quote I chose for today’s blog is a chorus of sorts to the darker, harder to control song of myself I change a little at a time, but concerning Danish freehands, at least, it shouts out.  In regular prose as opposed to verse, the words have been attributed to many folks, the most famous of whom are Leroy “Satchel” Paige and Mark Twain.

Really?  Satchel Paige and Mark Twain?  Can anyone even summon to the mind an image of Satchel, showman though he was, hurling three evanescent fast balls for a strikeout and then sauntering off the mound, doffing his cap as for the National Anthem, to spout what would have been considered insane gibbering in his day and gotten him run out of town on a rail or worse?  Or the wry and often hilarious Great American Writer – who can still leave readers today ROFL from his literary accounts of the myriad outrageous frays he entered with zeal and turn wickedly acerbic in his social commentary – wearing his famous white Southern suit and taking the cigar out of his mouth as he steps onto a gazebo to pronounce such life-affirming, feel good modern sentiments?  I think not.

But I like the way Kathy Mattea sings those four lines, although I can’t recall any of the others, and the lively, high-strung electric fiddle plucking of an unsung but talented musician.

To the point, the pictures of a nine-pipe lot I bought at the beginning of the month, before the package arrived, had a magnetic pull on me.  The main attraction was a pair of Danish freehands, and the other was the presence of at least two and maybe three other nice finds, about which the seller might have been oblivious.  With no order whatsoever to the description and only three brands identifiable (Kaywoodie, Falcon and Missouri Meerschaum), the seller did reveal that one of the freehands was a Knute of Denmark and the other a Karl Erik.  I had heard of Knute and was unfamiliar with the brand, but I’ve owned several Karl Eriks and was pretty sure the behemoth in the lower right side of the following photo was it.  I was correct.

9-pipe eBay lot courtesy stwok74075

I restored the freehands from the lot first.  Of those, I decided to start with the Knute for two reasons, the lesser being my inexperience with the brand and the more significant that, although both were large pipes, the Karl Erik was enormous and therefore had much more area to repair.  Had I any idea there was something greater about the KE than its massive potential for beautiful geometric symmetry and fine example of chasing the grain, I might have chosen the opposite order.  KE, by the way, is my abbreviation for convenience, not to be confused with the maker’s earliest pipe mark)

The pipe’s bleak façade of thick gunk at first hid the small block of nomenclature on the stem end of the shank.  Before I would have taken photos of the pipe as it arrived, I used a thick cotton rag and more than a little force to wipe away the muck that at one point I thought might require alcohol.  I stopped breathing a moment when I saw the mark.  Instead of the regular two lines of imprint, there were three: KARL ERIK/HANDMADE IN DENMARK/O.

The grade mark, of course, was the part that surprised me.  I’ve owned four KE pipes not counting my latest addition, two of which were far more striking at a glance than this one even after I finished its restoration, but none of them was graded.

As fast as I could, I browsed to Pipephil and found a mention of “previous grading” from 4-1 ascending, meaning1 would be the highest, not counting the Ekstravagant releases that were entirely handmade.  Well, that was no help, and so I searched further, finding multiple sites that gave both the previous grades and the newer ones from D-A, again ascending.  Some of the latter sources, including Pipedia, expanded on the Ekstravagant grade, noting that it in fact was divided into degrees, C, B, A, AA and AAA.  I found no official mention of letter grading beyond D, but I did track down a Worthpoint auction that describes O as “[t]he highest grade in the old Karl Erik grading system.”  Needless to say, my breath was taken away again.  I’m calling on any readers with information on the maker’s early grading system to fill me in on it!

Speaking of the maker, his name was Karl Erik Ottendahl (1942-2004), and he was a lithographer struggling to make ends meet from his apprenticeship starting when he was 16 into his mid-20s when he took up carving pipes as a day job.  Young Ottendahl had made pipes as a hobby since he was 16 and gave most of them to friends and senior co-workers.  Never forgetting his “roots,” Ottendahl remained perhaps the most generous pipe maker in the history of the craft and trade.  He was devoted to the proposition that fine pipes should be affordable to the average smoker, and to that end he priced his works of art far below the going rate.  Likely for that reason, his brilliant work was underestimated and likewise valued during and after his lifetime, and it is only in recent years that the market has begun to appreciate their worth more.  I’m sure that fact makes Karl Erik roll over in his grave.

The poor, big lunk of fine Danish stock in this blog had fallen on hard times and was in a sorry state.  The following triple stem swap gets a little crazy, so try to follow this.  The KE came with a nice dark brown swirled acrylic fancy stem that was just way too short to support its gigantic stummel but was perfect for a Knute of Denmark from the same lot that I already restored, blogged and sold – with the KE stem.  The Knute, by the way, had a Vulcanite stem that was chomped, with a hole in the bottom below the button I fixed well but the absence of a full lip I knew I could mend enough for my own use but would never pass off to a customer.  So that was a no-brainer.  I decided on a temporary substitution of a bright orange Lucite stem from a Ben Wade by Preben Holm freehand I have.  For now, the half-eaten but semi-repaired Vulcanite stem from the Knute is on the BW.  I’ll just add that I’m anxiously awaiting replacements for both of them.

Here are photos of the KE as I received it minus the stem, and the Knute Vulcanite bollix I mended as far as I’m going to do for now, with no signs of the hole that was on the underside but a bit of a double lip there now and the pre-existing half lip topside. RESTORATION
Part of me knew, from the rich, dark briar grain that glowed through the long bottom of the shank after I vanquished the grime that had overcast its natural, smooth brilliance, that the rest of the wood could only be better.  But the Devil’s Advocate in me gave rise to the tomfool but nevertheless undeniable apprehension that nothing good could come from stripping away the sedimentary layers of anomalous substances.  I decided to be done with the majority of the business using an Everclear soak.

To keep my mind from its pointless and counterproductive negative preoccupation with the state of the stummel, I turned my attention to the Lucite stem that was taken off the BW to use in place of the lovely and too petite stem with which the pipe came.  Note the dark stains inside the stem’s airhole and the bore and tenon opening. Most of the inner stain came out with alcohol soaked bristly cleaners, and the rest of that later with the retort.  The bore and shank end, on the other hand, needed more wheedling.  At first when I tried the small end of a bristly cleaner dipped in alcohol, I had minimal results.  Switching to something more pointed, sharp and focused – an unwound paper clip – I scraped away the accreted blackness on both ends and used a 180 grit sanding pad on the tip of the shank end.  Either I forgot to snap shots of the results or misplaced them, i.e., tapped Save As on the computer and didn’t look where I did it, but I don’t have the proof of cleaning to display.  Later pictures will show all but the shank opening of the stem.

But there’s good news!  The Everclear soak was finished!  The color and grain I wanted to see were there.To remove the remaining odd caliginosity obscuring the fine wood, I gave the bowl and shank a quick rub with 600-grit paper and the rim with super fine “0000” steel wool.  The difference was marked. The plateaux rim and shank opening needed a little more Everclear soaking.  That done, I grabbed my handy sanding pad again and spot-scrubbed those places. I reamed and sanded the chamber with 150, 220-, 320- and 600-grit paper that took the char far enough down to the wood for the retort to handle what remained. For me, the most gratifying part of a pipe restore, if the wood has been prepped properly beforehand, is micro meshing from 1500-12000, for this is where the mettle of the pipe is revealed.  The deep, shiny, shimmer that should result is something to behold with wonder.  And the grain on the block of wood chosen for this pipe is spectacular.  I also ran four Pyrex tubes of Everclear through the pipe afterward for the retort. Staining the rough rim and shank opening with Lincoln Medium Brown boot stain before flaming them, I took off the char with 8000 and 12000 micro mesh.  The second of the next two pics shows before I finished it with a light touch of steel wool.With that, the pipe was finished except for buffing the stummel and stem with red rouge and carnauba wax.  I’m out of Halcyon II and therefore could not use it on the plateau areas. CONCLUSION
One look at this pipe out of the box the lot came in and I fully intended to offer it for sale.  The gentleman from one of my pipe smokers’ forums who bought the Knute was also more than eager, to put it lightly, to get his hands on the Karl Erik I told him I had.  But all that was before I started unearthing – in a sense that may be literal given the fact that the pipe looked to have been buried for some time – the way Ottendahl chased the grain on this splendid example of one of his earlier works, when he graded them on an as yet undocumented scale.  For all I know, O being the fifteenth letter of the English alphabet, my newest freehand may not be near the top end, but it’s still graded.  That means it meant something to its maker, and I’m certain he would remember it if he could be reached where he is now.  Besides, as his newer scales are ascending, meaning from “best” to “worst,” and I being more of a glass half-full kind of guy, I like to think it’s two grades closer to the sidewalk than the middle if the road.