Tag Archives: article by Robert M. Boughton

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]!”



On Bending and Straightening Amber Stone Stems

Blog by Robert M. Boughton

Copyright © Reborn Pipes and the Author except as cited

No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right.  A single experiment can prove me wrong.

— Albert Einstein (1879-1955), German-born theoretical physicist and winner of the 1921 Nobel Prize for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect, received in 1922 (don’t ask why – the answer in some ways is more complex than Relativity)


This is the most difficult pipe restoration blog I’ve ever written, for the things about which it is not.  It is not about an antique gold-banded KB&B Blue Line Bakelite, c. 1910-1914.  A friend of mine won that distinguished, classic shaped pipe from the pre-Kaywoodie era for a very low price on eBay, and I offered, for a small fee, to restore it.  It is not about the still older gold band CPF Best Make turned lion’s head meerschaum, c. 1898, that only lacked a bone tenon to be complete.  As much as I dislike the cliché, I poured my heart and soul into that pipe since 2013 in a true labor of love to return the 19th century treasure to its original structural form.  The simple act of restoration was – and remains – intended as a tribute to the man most of the readers here know as my good friend and mentor, Chuck Richards, who gave it to me.

It is not about either of these things, or the writing between the lines as it were, but some choice details are relevant.  For example, the connection between the two pipes named above is their stems.  The Blue Line’s is Bakelite, the world’s first synthetic plastic, which could be colored dark brownish red.  The Best Make’s genuine dark red amber stem comes from wholly organic-based resins from exotic, extinct trees that were washed away by large bodies of water and fossilized into mineral form 10-100 million years ago.

The focal point of this blog is the immediate but temporary solution to a series of events that still has not been resolved.  Never in my wildest apprehensions, during the last several years of taking some truly ruined pipes and making them whole again, did I conceive that something seeming to be simple could become so bloody banjacked , as the Irish might put it with good cause.  At first, I intended to include the details as usual, in a single account of the finished project.  And so, with a little help from a friend, I adapted my thinking, draft after draft, to write this aspect of the overall restoration into a single blog.  To be brief, here is what happened.

My friend (the one who owns the Blueline, Daryl Loomis), holds the status of co-top buyer of my pipes, numbering five so far, with someone else who came and went in short order.  Daryl also let me restore one of his own pipes before, a gorgeous Redmanol Socket system pipe related to this one by its maker, KB&B, and the Redmanol of its construction that was consumed by the General Bakelite Co. in 1922.  Thereafter, Redmanol was classed as Bakelite despite certain superior qualities.  For extensive details on Bakelite’s origins and development, see the fourth link in my Sources.

At any rate, without going into details that will be covered in my eventual blog on the full restoration of the Blueline, there was a mishap – oh, the understatement! – wherein the bone tenon was crushed.  The photo below was taken after I Super Glued the bits and pieces of the shank end of the tenon, minus the powdered remains, as best I could.This catastrophe was followed close on its heels by a second calamity that left the Bakelite stem ruined, as far as I am concerned., other than for use with some unforeseeable shop pipe.  There is no way I will place a stem I broke, or anyone else did for that matter, on a paid restoration, even though, for obvious reasons, I’m refunding the small fee.  And so, with the immediate goal being to return the Blueline in a condition that it can be smoked as soon as possible, I am left with no alternative than using the genuine cherry red amber stem from my Best Make pending the acquisition of a Bakelite replacement.  Here is the Bakelite stem after I was done with it, in the negative sense of the expression.

Top view Bakelite stem

Bottom of Bakelite stem, broken

Open end with both sides of the break shown on either side

Steve wrote an excellent blog called “What Is the Amber Used in Pipe Stems and How Do You Bend It?” in 2013, but had never tried the theoretical guidelines proposed.  He still has not had occasion to attempt the unusual process.  In other words, it occurred to me, I would be the guinea pig to test the theories.  The prospect was not appealing given the potential for destroying my 119-year-old amber stem for the sake of “progress” in this obscure field of pipe restoration.  Steve’s blog is a trove of information about amber in general and the article from Scientific American on how amber stems were once custom-crafted and bent per the specifications needed for a specific pipe.  Steve raised some good questions in his fine blog that can be read at the third link below.


Having spent a great deal of time pouring over every word of Steve’s piece as it related to bending amber, from the viewpoint of having an immediate job to do so, I was left with still more troubling questions.  The key concerns were:

  1. Since amber stems were made and shaped for specific pipes, could they be re-bent later for replacements on other pipes? After all, bending a stem once is one thing, while bending it back is another.
  2. If so, what might be the effect of age, which tends to make amber more brittle, on a stem?
  3. Was my hope that the answers to the first two questions just that, wishful thinking, or put more plainly, a crock?

WARNING AND DISCLAIMER: The method I am about to describe, although it worked beyond my wildest dream, does not follow the better, safer steps set forth in the article upon which Steve’s blog is based.  Read his blog and, if you already possess or have the means to acquire the equipment described, or the wherewithal to fashion your own versions, please do so.  Also follow the other procedures described.  I am taking responsibility for my own mistake(s) that made this drastic measure necessary but will not be responsible for anyone else’s misfortunes!

Having abandoned myself to the certainty that my efforts would either turn out well or the whole thing would go awry in the most hideous way, I didn’t bother re-visiting Steve’s blog when I reached the desperate state of mind necessary to go through with the “experiment.”  Instead, I winged it.  The following pic shows my beloved 1898 amber stem not only in the bent form in which it was hand-fashioned by some unknown but master CPF meerschaum crafter late in the century before the one preceding the current, but as I still feared would be the last time I saw it in any recognizable form.OK, here’s what I did.  Pre-heating the oven, instead of the 210° or 220° F. temperature I’ve always used for regular stems, on a whim, if you will (since I was throwing everything else to the wind), I cranked it up to 335°.  Steve’s blog states that the process does not even involve an oven and the softening temperature of amber is about 150° C. ((302° F.). I just now confirmed that he was, no surprise, correct.

Therefore, 335° F., or 168° C., was a little high.  Placing the stem on a piece of aluminum foil, I forgot to put anything through the airway to prevent more than likely collapse until about a minute after I closed the oven door on it. 

Snapping to my terrible lapse of memory, I grabbed a regular pipe cleaner and bolted to the oven, where I found the stem very hot already but the airway still intact, and inserted the cleaner through it.

I also checked after only 10 minutes more (thank God), and found the amber stem had straightened itself!  Not only that, but when I touched the stem on the piece of aluminum, it had a bizarre limpness to it.  My heart was racing as I removed the aluminum foil with the stem from the oven and placed it on the counter.  Picking up the stem with care using both hands on either end of the cleaner, I saw the middle sag downward with gravity.

Sure for a few seconds that I would become ill and have to rush to the sink to vomit, I got a hold of myself and moved my hands to both ends of the stem, at which time I found it was so soft it reminded me of the hilarious old cartoons with Bugs Bunny or whatever Toon character flopping a broken arm about like a cooked noodle.  Of course, I didn’t play with the stem, but rushed it to the aforementioned sink and ran cold water over the whole thing until it was firm again and cool.The cleaner came out with no resistance.  Needless to say, I sighed in relief and wiped the sweat from my brow.  The experiment was a success!

Bakelite above, amber below. I know the bone tenon is backward!

And the amber stem with the KB&B Blueline stummel that’s ready for the temporary amber substitute as soon as I have a suitable new tenon.


In my most recent, exultant email to Steve, I wrote: “As the attached pics show, I finally got the gumption to go for it, and believe it or not it was the easiest bending material I’ve ever worked with.  Lucite was a dog when I re-stemmed the BW Preben Holm, but 10 minutes in the oven and the amber not only straightened itself but was like Gumby to the touch — no, like a children’s cartoon of someone with a broken arm!”  I attached a couple of photos.

His immediate, doubtful reply told me I was correct in my assumption that Steve didn’t really know what would happen, either.  He wrote, with apparent doubt, “Was the stem a true amber stem or is it the Bakelite one that you sent pictures of?”

I responded that the stem I baked was without doubt amber, then sent this added comment: “PS: I decided to crank the temp up to 335, also, on a hunch.  It may

have been reckless, but it worked perfectly.  I’m planning on writing the process up in my blog on the Blueline.”

Steve wrote back the following words a short time later, and I appreciate them very much, although I don’t know for sure that I “discovered” the process, other than my own oven method.  “Thanks for experimenting, Robert.  That is an incredible discovery.  Do a separate write up on just the bending of amber.  I think that alone will be a must read for those of us who love to restore old pipes.  Thank you for being reckless.”

Until then, I didn’t understand just how risky this little exercise in stem repair was.  But Steve’s power of persuasion being formidable, I took his advice for the blog.

I found the following quote, from a September 1924 Time magazine write-up on Bakelite, amusing in its revelation of the fantastic and egotistic personality of Bakelite’s founder, Leo H. Baekeland, not to mention the influence his company’s PR department must have had in its writing.

“From the time that a man brushes his teeth in the morning with a Bakelite-handled brush, until the moment when he removes his last cigarette from a Bakelite holder, extinguishes it in a Bakelite ashtray, and falls back upon a Bakelite bed, all that he touches, sees, uses, will be made of this material of a thousand purposes.  Books and papers will be set up in Bakelite type.  People will read Bakeliterature, Bakelitigate their cases, offer Bakeliturgies for their dead, bring young into the world in Bakelitters.”

Hubris? Indeed!  But still, it’s amazing stuff.  By the way, the lawyers at Bakelite know something about Bakelitigating from their 1922 Patent infringement suit against the Redmanol Chemical Products Co. and the Condensite Co.

Last, but not least, I wish to thank Steve for his blog and invaluable help throughout the ordeal of my collapsing Blueline restoration, and Troy Wilburn for his wonderful blog on another Blueline and its dating.