Blog by Steve Laug
The next pipe on the worktable is another interesting piece of pipe history that comes from the bag of old unsmoked and lightly smoked pipes that I have been working on intermittently. It is a straight Apple. The bowl is lightly smoked. Like the others in this lot the briar of the bowl is nicked and chipped from being shuffled through the lives and boxes of a lot of people over the years. Some of the chips have broken through the finish and the rim top is also worn and dirty. The stem is made of an ivory coloured material that appears to be made of Bakelite. It has a push tenon from the same material that is part of the stem. Other than some tooth chatter and some staining on the stem surface the stem is in really good shape. A short description would be that it is an French made lightly smoked Apple with a Bakelite stem that is connected to the shank with a integrated push tenon. It is stamped on the left side of the shank and reads French Briar arched over a pair of crossed leaves. All are stamped in gold. On the right side of the shank it is stamped Made In France in a football shape with “IN” in the middle. The pipe is a bit of a mystery really with the stamping but as you have seen in the previous two C.P.F. pipes it seems that pipes of this time period often bore the French Briar stamp which I am assuming refers to Algerian Briar.
This pipe was probably in the worst condition of any of the older pipes that I have been working on recently. The rim top was dirty and the inner edge was a little chipped. The exterior of the bowl was a mess. The stain was opaque and I could not see any grain through it. There were a lot of nicks chips in the briar of the bowl sides. The odd thing is that the chips were very light coloured. My first thought was that it was briar but the more I looked the more I wondered if they were not putty fills. The gold stamping is clear and readable. The stem is a mottled and spotted butter coloured Bakelite. It had a lot of brown stain spots on the surface that were deep in the material and would not come out. There was tooth chatter on both sides ahead of the button but nothing deep. It has an orific button (round airhole) on the end of the button. I took some photos of the pipe to show the condition when we received it. It was dusty, dirty and had some grime worked into the surface of the briar from being shuffled around a lot since it was made. I took close up photos of the bowl and rim top and the stem to show their condition. You can see the drilling is centered in the bottom of the bowl You can also see the clean briar of the bowl sides. The stem looks odd with the mottled look of the stains on it.I took photos of the stamping on the left and right sides of the shank. You can see that they are somewhat faint on the right side but are still readable.I removed the stem from the shank and took a photo of the parts to give a sense of the beautiful proportions of this nice little pipe. It is going to take some work but I think it will be quite stunning once it is restored. I took a photo of the chipping on the front of the bowl. You can see why I thought that they were briar underneath the top coat of the heavy, dark finish. There were all around the bowl and at the shank/bowl junction on the right side. It really was a bit of a mess in terms of the finish.
To deal with the damage around the bowl and shank I would need to remove the heavy finish. I am always nervous to do so as you never know what you will find with it gone. There was a reason for the thick, dark, opaque finish. But like a fool I proceeded to move ahead and wiped down the bowl and shank with acetone to break up the finish. With the opaque finish gone all of the ugly chips and marks in the finish stood out for what they were. If you look closely at the next four photos you can see all the ugly putty fills in the finish. There were at least 20 or more fills in the briar. Some were loose and chipped and some were tight and undamaged. I had definitely opened up Pandora’s Box with this clean up!! I repaired the chipped and damaged fills with clear CA glue. I was blown away by how many fills there were in this piece of briar. It really was an example of the “art of the fill”! I smoothed out the repairs with 220 grit sandpaper. I followed that with the full regimen of micromesh sanding pads. Of course in my frustration with the fills I forgot to take photos of the polishing cycle with the pads. I polished the briar with micromesh sanding pads and dry sanded with 1500-12000 grit pads. I wiped the bowl down after each pad to check and make sure there was progress. By the end the bowl was smooth and ready to stain.Now it was time to see what I could do with stain to blend in those ugly fills and give the bowl the same kind of deep reddish finish that it had before I stripped it off. I have my own process for doing this. I first used a black Sharpie pen to work on the fills in the briar. I usually work across them with various lines to approximate the grain patterns.The next step in the process was to stain the bowl with Fiebing’s Cordovan stain. I applied it with a dauber and flamed it to set the stain in the briar. I repeated the process until the coverage was solid.Once the stain had dried I wiped it off with alcohol on a cotton pad to remove the excess and blend the black and cordovan together. When I finished I stained the bowl with a Mahogany stain pen. I used it like a brush and painted the entirety of the bowl and shank with the pen. I was getting close to the colour I was aiming for – the one that I had removed! To further blend the stains together I rubbed the bowl and shank down with Before & After Restoration Balm. I worked it into the surface of the bowl sides and shank with my fingertips to clean, enliven and protect the briar. I let the balm sit for 10 minutes, then buffed with a cotton cloth to raise the shine. I repeated the process and let it sit another 10 minutes then buffed it off. The Balm did its magic and my colours worked well. The fills were hidden and the bowl looked good.Almost all of the old timer I have been working on have had brass or nickle bands. I decided to see what a brass band would add to the appearance of this old one. I have a bag of older style brass bands that work well. I heated the band and pressed it onto the shank. I like the looks of it.I polished out the scratches in the surface of the Bakelite with micromesh sanding pads – 1500-12000 grit pads. I was able to remove the tooth chatter on both sides. I also was able to minimize some of the stains on the surface. It was still odd looking. I wiped it down with Obsidian Oil after each pad. I used Before & After Pipe Polish – both Fine and Extra Fine to further polish the stem. I gave it a final coat of Obsidian Oil and set it aside to cure.I really enjoyed refurbishing this old French Briar Apple because I love the final touches that make it sing. I put the bowl and stem back together to have a look at the whole with the newly fit band on the shank. I carefully buffed the bowl and stem with Blue Diamond on the wheel. I gave it several coats of carnauba wax and buffed the pipe with a clean buffing pad to raise the shine. I hand buffed it with a microfiber cloth to deepen the shine. It is fun to see what the polished bowl looks like with the lacy shank band and the buttery coloured Bakelite stem. This richly finished Apple is light weight and it is clean and ready load up with a favourite tobacco (if you purchase it and decide to smoke this 100+ year old unsmoked pipe). Have a look at it in the photos below. As noted above, Its measurements are Length: 5 inches, Height: 1 ¼ inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 inch, Diameter of the chamber: ¾ of an inch. The weight of the pipe is 24 grams/.85 oz. I will be putting it on the rebornpipes store in the French Pipe Makers section if you wish to add it to your collection. Thanks to each of you who are reading this blog. Remember we are not pipe owners; we are pipemen and women who hold our pipes in trust until they pass on into the trust of the next generation.