Blog by Paresh Deshpande
Last year while on a Face Time chat with my Guru, Mentor and friend, Steve Laug, we got talking about the Bertram lot that he had been working on at that point in time. He spoke about how overwhelming it was just to look at the large lot of about 200 plus pipes that he and Jeff had acquired. Never to miss an opportunity to add to my meager pipe lot that was available for me to work on, I suggested that if it was okay with him I would be more than willing to take a few of them off his hands. We worked out the details and soon a job lot of 12 pipes traveled all the way from US to Canada and then on to India!! That was one long journey undertaken by this lot of Bertram pipes. Here is the lot of Bertram pipes that I received. This lot contained a variety of nicely shaped and grained pipes which I had been looking forward to work on.The second pipe that I decided to work on from this lot is a Full Bent Egg shaped pipe, marked in green arrow, with swirls to the front and cross grains to the sides and over the shank surfaces. This pipe is stamped on the left shank surface as “Bertram” in running hand over “WASHINGTON D C” in block letters in a straight line. The grade code “25” is stamped on the bottom surface at the shank end. The stampings are slightly worn out but still readable by naked eye. The bent vulcanite saddle stem is sans any stamping. The size and feel of the pipe is solid in hand. This pipe has been well researched and chronicled by Steve when he worked on many of the Bertram pipes in his possession and thus, shall not waste time in proverbial “reinventing the wheel”. Interested readers may like to follow the link given below to get to know the brand better. https://rebornpipes.com/2019/04/10/the-4th-of-a-collection-of-bertrams-a-bertram-dublin-70s/
INITIAL VISUAL INSPECTION
This pipe has a compact bowl size that narrows slightly towards the rim with a sharply raked round shank and a bent saddle stem that lends itself nicely to clenching. The stummel boasts of some beautiful cross grains to the sides and all around the shank. The stummel is covered in dirt and dust. The entire stummel is peppered with a number of fills, both large and small. There is a thick layer of cake in the chamber and some damage is likely to the back of the rim top surface. The stem is lightly oxidized with tooth chatter in the bite zone. The pipe, as it sits on my work table, presents an encouraging picture. DETAILED INSPECTION OF THE PIPE AND OBSERVATIONS
The chamber has a slight taper towards the rim top and a chamber depth of about 1 ¼ inches. The outer edge of the rim towards the shank is slightly flattened while the rest of it is perfectly rounded. The chamber has an even layer of thick hard cake with remnants of un-burnt tobacco seen at the heel of the chamber. The rim surface has light traces of lava overflow over the rim surface. Through this layer of lava, a few dings can be seen over the rim top surface. The outer rim edge is sans any damage. The condition of the inner walls of the chamber can be commented upon after the cake has been taken down to the bare briar. The ghost smells in the chamber are not very strong. The stummel appears solid to the touch all around and hence I do not foresee any serious damage to the walls in the form of burnout/ deep heat fissures/ lines or pits. The ghost smells should reduce once the cake from the chamber is removed and the shank has been cleaned. The smooth stummel surface is covered in dust and grime through which one can make out the beautiful cross grains over the sides of the bowl and shank. The stummel surface is shows a couple of large and small fills. These fills stand out like flesh wounds against the briar surface. The briar is looking lifeless and bone dry. Thorough cleaning and rising of the stummel under warm water should loosen old fills while also serving to highlight the grain patterns. Once the stummel has been thoroughly cleaned, these fills will be more apparent and I intend to refresh only those fills which have loosened out with a fresh fill of briar dust and superglue. Micromesh polishing will help in blending these fills while imparting a nice shine to the briar. The mortise has a reservoir at the bottom that has accumulated oils, tars and gunk. The walls of the shank are filthy and covered in grime and dust. The mortise appears to be clogged as a pipe cleaner did not easily pass through it. I have worked on many Pete System pipes and cleaning the sump had always been a chore. Fervently hoping that is not the case this time around! The fit of the stem in to the mortise is slightly tight. However, once the shank walls are cleaned, this issue should be resolved.The high quality vulcanite saddle stem is lightly oxidized. Some minor tooth chatter and calcified deposit is seen on both the upper and lower stem surfaces in the bite zone and at the bottom of the button edge respectively. The tenon has accumulated ash and oils/ tars that have dried out on the inside as well as on the outside. The horizontal slot has scratch marks which will have to be addressed. The tooth chatter and the calcified deposits will be removed by sanding with a piece of 220 grit sand paper.THE PROCESS
I started the restoration of this pipe by first cleaning the internals of the stem with bristled pipe cleaners and 99.9% pure isopropyl alcohol. I scraped out the dried oils and tars from the tenon end with my fabricated knife and also removed the dried oils and tars from the slot end. I followed it up by sanding the entire stem with a folded piece of 220 grit sand paper to remove the surface oxidation. It has been our (Abha, my wife and self) experience that sanding a stem before dunking it in to the deoxidizer solution helps in bringing the deep seated oxidation to the surface which in turn make further cleaning a breeze with fantastic result.I dropped the stem in to “Before and After Deoxidizer” solution developed by my friend Mark Hoover. The solution helps to draw out heavy oxidation to the surface, making its further removal a breeze, while the minor oxidation is eliminated to a very great extent. The initial sanding helps to draw out the complete oxidation as the sanding opens up the stem surface that has been initially covered with oxidation. I usually dunk stems of 4-5 pipes that are in-line for restoration and this pipe is marked in pastel blue arrow. I generally allow the stems to soak in this solution overnight to do its work.While the stem was soaking in the deoxidizer solution, I worked on the stummel by first reaming the chamber with size 2 Castleford reamer head. I further scraped the chamber walls with my fabricated knife to remove the remaining carbon deposits where the reamer head could not reach. I scraped out the lava overflow from the rim top surface. Once the cake was reamed back to the bare briar, I used a 150 grit sand paper followed by 220 grit sand paper to remove all the traces of remaining cake and also to smooth out the inner walls of the chamber surface. Finally, to remove the residual carbon dust, I wiped the chamber with a cotton pad wetted with 99.9% pure isopropyl alcohol. And it was at this stage that I got the first (and hopefully the last) inkling of the likely damage to the heel of the chamber. The mortise and draught hole had been over zealously cleaned with pipe cleaners/ shank brush by the previous piper and which had resulted in a deep trough from the draught hole to the center of the heel with raised edges on the sides. This trough is indicated with red arrows. If or not the damage has extended to the foot of the stummel will be confirmed once the stummel surface has been cleaned. The chamber walls, inner and outer rim edges are pristine and without any damage. I followed up the reaming with cleaning the mortise using cue tips, pipe cleaners and shank brush dipped in isopropyl alcohol. I scraped the walls of the mortise with my fabricated knife to remove the dried oils and tars. The ghost smells have been eliminated and the chamber smells clean.With the bowl internals clean, I move to clean the exterior of the stummel. I used a hard bristled tooth brush and Briar Cleaner, a product that has been developed by Mark Hoover, to scrub the stummel and rim top. I set the stummel aside for 10 minutes for the product to draw out all the grime from the briar surface. After 10 minutes, I washed the stummel under running warm water with anti oil dish washing detergent till the stummel surface was clean. I dried it using paper towels and soft cotton cloth. I simultaneously cleaned the shank internals with the detergent and hard bristled shank brush and set the stummel aside to dry out naturally. The stummel surface has cleaned up nicely and the beautiful grain patterns are now on full display. The fills, even the smallest ones, are now clearly discernible. I probed each fill with a sharp dental tool to check for solidity and thankfully, each fill was nice and solid without any give, save for the fills at the foot of the stummel. I took a closer look at the foot of the stummel and the worst of my fears was staring right back at me with a smile!!! There is a small smiley crack right in the centre of the foot. Truth be told, looking at the heel, I had inkling that the foot may have some such damage, but now to be sure that the damage does exist, is painful. Desperately seeking some positives, I was relieved to note that the damage has not progressed to an extent that would be termed as a burnout. I did the tap test over and around the damaged foot (with the back of a spoon or any hard instrument gently tap the damaged area) and was relieved to hear a crisp sharp note signifying that nothing is lost. The briar around still feels solid over and around the damaged foot. The pipe still has many years of life left in it and with the repairs that I plan, this will last even longer. I plan to drill a counter hole at either ends of the crack and seal it with briar dust and super glue. This will prevent further spread of the crack in either direction. The trough formed at the heel of the chamber will be spot filled with J B Weld which will prevent the burning tobacco from coming in to direct contact with the now weak spot in the heal.While the stummel was drying, the next morning, Abha removed the stem that had been soaking in the deoxidizer solution overnight. She cleaned the stem under running warm water and scrubbed the raised oxidation from the stem surface using a scotch brite pad and cleaned the airway with a thin shank brush. She further removed the oxidation by scrubbing the stem with 0000 grade steel wool and applied a little EVO to rehydrate the stem. There is a need to further sand the stem to completely remove the oxidation.My significant half, Abha, used a 220 grit sand paper to sand the stem and remove all the oxidation that was raised to the surface. This step further reduced the tooth chatter and bite marks present on the stem. She wiped the stem with Murphy’s Oil soap on a cotton swab. This helps in cleaning the stem surface while removing the loosened oxidation. As is the norm, whenever she works on a pipe, taking pictures NEVER EVER crosses her otherwise sharp mind!!! No exceptions here…
To bring a deep shine to the vulcanite stem, she polished it by wet sanding with 1500 to 2000 grit sandpapers followed by further wet sanding with 3200 to 12000 grit pads. She wiped the stem with a moist cloth after each pad and rubbed it down with Extra Virgin Olive oil to rejuvenate the vulcanite. The finished stem is shown below. I checked the fit of the stem in to the mortise of the stummel and realized that the fit is very loose. This may happen when the mortise has been cleaned of the entire accumulated gunk and the briar has dried out completely. I shall address this issue by moistening the mortise with water and if that does not work, I shall use more invasive methods. RESTORATION ON THIS PIPE WAS PUT ON HOLD AS ALL THE NECESSARY TOOLS AND EQUIPMENT REQUIRED FOR FURTHER REPAIRS ARE AT MY PLACE OF WORK AND I WAS ON LEAVE INITIALLY AND THEREAFTER IN A NATION WIDE LOCKDOWN TO CONTAIN THE SPREAD OF THE DEADLY CORONA VIRUS!!!
Finally back at my work place…… After enjoying a compulsorily extended leave of three months with family and having honed my culinary and domestic chores skill set, I was happy to rejoin my duty and get back to completing the pending pipe restorations. The first in line was this Bertram Bent Egg # 25.
I decided to address the crack to the foot of the stummel. I marked the end points of the crack on either ends with a sharp dental tool under magnification. This helps to identify these end points later with naked eye and also provides initial traction for the drill bit to bite in. With a 1 mm drill bit mounted on to my hand held rotary machine, I drilled a hole each on either ends of the crack, taking care not to go too deep and end up drilling a through-hole.Simultaneously, I gouged out a few old fills that had loosened out from the foot of the stummel. I cleaned the stummel with isopropyl alcohol and cotton swab as I prepared the surface for the fill.I filled the gouges and the drilled holes with a mix of CA superglue and briar dust and set the stummel aside for the fill to cure. A few hours later, the fills had hardened completely. I sand them down with a flat head needle file to achieve a rough match with the rest of the stummel. I fine tuned the match with the rest of the surface by further sanding with a piece of 220 grit sandpaper. I shall decide to stain the stummel or otherwise after I have finished with the polishing with micromesh pads.I evened out the dents and dings from the rim top surface by sanding it with a folded piece of 180 grit sand paper. It was a tricky job since the rim top surface is not flat but slopes outwards from the inner to the outer edge. This peculiar shape ruled out topping the rim top. Now that the external repairs are done, I decided to address the trough that was formed at the heel of the chamber. To protect the heel from coming in to direct contact with the burning tobacco and also to prevent the heat from reaching the foot of the stummel causing a burnout, I plan, firstly, to coat only the heel of the chamber with J B Weld followed by a second coat of activated charcoal and yogurt to the entire chamber which would assist in faster cake formation. J B Weld is a two-part epoxy Cold Weld that consists of two parts; hardener and steel which are mixed in equal parts in a ratio of 1:1 with hardening time of 5-6 minutes and complete curing time of 6-8 hours. I poured the contents of the two tubes and mixed it well. With a flat bamboo frond, I applied this mix, as evenly as possible, over the intended areas. I worked fast to ensure a complete and even coating of the trough in the heel and set the stummel aside for the J B Weld to harden.By the next afternoon when I got back to working on this pipe, the J B Weld coat had completely cured and hardened considerably. With a folded piece of 150 grit sandpaper, I tried to sand the weld coating to a smooth surface. However, I could not sand the Weld as there was no space for maneuvering my finger with the sand paper. I decided to use a conical grinding stone which I had received along with my DIY hand held rotary tool kit and accessories. I mounted the conical grinding stone on to the rotary tool, set the speed at its lowest RPM and sanded the J B Weld coat till I had as thin a coat as was essential to protect and insulate the heel from the direct heat of the burning tobacco. I did not apply any downward pressure while sanding and let the rotary tool use the motor rpm to sand the weld to desired thickness.I followed it by wet sanding the stummel with 1500 to 12000 grit micromesh pads, wiping frequently with a moist cloth to check the progress. I really like the looks of the stummel at this point in restoration. The grains and the clean lines of this piece of briar are worthy of appreciation. Next, I rubbed a small quantity of “Before and After Restoration Balm” deep in to the briar with my finger tips and let it rest for a few minutes. The balm almost immediately works its magic and the briar now has a nice vibrant appearance with the beautiful grain patterns displayed in their complete splendor. I further buffed it with a horse hair brush. The dark browns of the bird’s eye and cross grains spread across the stummel makes for a visual treat. It really is a nice piece of briar. With the stummel rejuvenation almost complete, save for the final wax polish, I worked the stem. I moistened the shank with a q-tip dipped in water. I checked the seating of the tenon in to the mortise after an hour. It was still very loose. This called for stretching the tenon to improve the seating of the stem in to the shank. I selected a drill bit that was slightly larger in diameter than the tenon air hole. I heated the tenon with the flame of a lighter till it was slightly pliable and inserted the back of the drill bit in to the opening to enlarge it. I cooled the tenon under cold running water to set the increased diameter of the tenon. I checked the fit and it was much better, though not very snug. I remedied this issue by applying a coat of clear nail polish and set it aside for the nail polish to dry out. Now that the cosmetic aspects of this pipe have dealt with, all that remained was the functional aspect that needs to be taken care of. The J B Weld coated surface needs to be protected from the direct heat of the burning tobacco and for this; I coat the complete chamber walls with a mix of activated charcoal and yogurt and set it aside to harden naturally. The mix has to be of the right consistency; neither too thick nor too runny. It should be of a consistency that is thick enough to spread easily, evenly and stick to the walls. Also the coating should not be very thick. A thin film is all that is required. Another important aspect to remember is that it is essential to insert a pipe cleaner in to the mortise and through the draught hole for two reasons; first is obviously to keep the draught hole from getting clogged and secondly, the pipe cleaner absorbs all the moisture from the mix and helps in faster and even drying of the coat.To put the finishing touches, I mount a cotton cloth buffing wheel on to my hand held rotary tool and polished the stummel and stem with Blue Diamond compound. This compound helps to remove the minor scratch marks that remain from the sanding.Next, I mount another cotton buffing wheel that I have earmarked for carnauba wax and applied several coats of the wax. I finished the restoration by giving the entire pipe a rigorous hand buffing using a microfiber cloth to raise the shine further. The grains on this finished pipe looks amazingly beautiful and coupled with the size, heft and the hand feel, makes it quite a desirable pipe. If you are interested to enjoy this pipe for years to come, please let Steve know and we shall make arrangements for it to reach you. P.S. In one of my previous write up, a question “Why do I enjoy bringing these old battered and discarded pipes back to life?” had popped up in my mind. I had given my second reason in my last write up and in all my subsequent write ups I intend to share with the readers my reasons as to why I really love this hobby.
The third reason is that every pipe has a HISTORY attached to it. That history, in part, is about the maker/ carver of the pipe and the other part is the person who had posed faith in this piece of briar during his life time. Take the case of a Dunhill pipe that I had restored that once belonged to Late Mr. John Barber, an explorer who had been to Arctic and the Antarctic in the 1950s- 60s and an avid pipe smoker! His favored pipes were DUNHILL. His daughter, Farida had passed on his pipes to Steve to restore and trade these pipes for the family. Well, one of the Dunhill pipes was sent to me by Steve to let me test my skills in pipe restoration with the rider that “if I could restore it, I get to keep it!” This pipe had all the challenges that a pipe restorer usually faces while restoring a pipe and then some more. However, it was successfully repaired and restored and now is a part of my daily rotation (https://rebornpipes.com/2019/12/06/a-project-close-to-my-heart-restoring-a-dunhill-from-faridas-dads-collection/)
The point I want to convey is that whenever I smoke this pipe, it reminds me of Late Mr. John Barber and images of him smoking this pipe in the cold snow desert and the warmth, peace and comfort it must have provided him in that desolate environment…AND NOW I GET TO BE A PART OF THAT HISTORY/ LEGACY OF THE PIPE and this is what I just love!
I wish to thank each one for sparing their valuable time to read through this write up and each one is in my prayers. Stay home…stay safe!!