Blog by Steve Laug
A few days ago I received a call at work from a fellow who was just leaving the local pipe shop in Vancouver that refers people to me for repairs. I have to tell you this guy had a story that I had not heard before. He was driving and chatting at the same time. He said that he had picked up a pipe that fast becoming a favourite of his. He was driving and smoking it when he accidentally dropped it out of the window. It seems like the car was moving – at least slowly in his story. The bowl went one way and the stem took off. He stopped and picked up the bowl and could not find the stem. What was not clear to me was what happened to the stem. He said that there was no broken tenon in the shank. He only had the bowl. He stopped by my house and left the bowl in his Autoplan Car Insurance plastic bag in my mail box. He had his phone number and name on the bag. This morning I called to see what kind of stem he wanted on the pipe and it turns out he is a tugboat captain. He said the stem was tapered and rubber. He would be back to Vancouver in two weeks and would get a hold of me then. So that is the story of this pipe.
I actually had no idea what to expect when I returned to my house. My wife had brought the bag inside when she came home. I asked about the pipe and she handed me the Autoplan bag. I took the pipe out of the bag and took photos. The pipe appeared to have what I call a blasticated finish. It is typically done when someone rusticates a bowl and then sandblasts it afterwards. It gives it a very interesting look. The finish was almost new other than several rough spots of road rash around the rim top, heel and sides. The beauty of this type of finish is that it is very forgiving when it has this kind of damage. I took some photos of the pipe before I did any work on it. You can see it is a bent billiard, it is made by Capri and it is sans stem. I went through my cans of stem options and found only one thick tapered stem that would actually work on this pipe. The tenon was not turned and it was an unused blank that still had some casting marks on the sides and button. I quickly sanded the tenon to see what I was working with. I could see that with a bit of work it would be a good fit for this pipe.I used a wire brush to knock off the loose bits from the road rash and then used a walnut stain pen to touch up the damaged areas on the finish.Now it was time to work on the stem. I set up my cordless drill and put the PIMO tenon turning tool in the chuck. I set the cutting head for the first pass on the tenon and spun the stem on the drill to remove excess rubber.I measured the diameter of the mortise again and reset the cutting head on the PIMO. I spun the stem once more and took it down to a close fit. I filed and sanded it the rest of the way.The shoulders on the cast stem were slightly rounded and the diameter of the stem was a little bigger than the diameter of the shank. I used a rasp to remove the excess material and reduced the stem to a very close fit on the shank.I sanded the file marks out of the stem sides with 220 grit sandpaper. There still needs to be some fine tuning but the stem is beginning to look like a fit. I took photos of the pipe with the new stem at this point to have a look. I worked on the sides of the stem diameter to fine tune it. It was definitely looking better. It was time to bend the stem to fit the flow of the bowl. I set up my heat gun. I put a pipe cleaner in the airway of the stem to keep the airway from crimping. I moved the stem over the heat until the vulcanite softened. I used round handle of a chisel for the shape of the bend and bent the stem until it looked right on the bowl. I always try to bend the stem to get the same angle on the bend as the flat top of the bowl.I put the stem back on the bowl and took photos of the look of the pipe now. I like the look of the stem and the flow of the pipe. I still want to shape the shank stem fit some more so the flow is uninterrupted. I removed the stem and turned my attention to finishing the restoration of the bowl. I worked some Before & After Restoration Balm into the briar with my fingertips and a horse hair shoe brush to clean, enliven and protect it. I find that the balm really makes the briar come alive again. The contrasts in the layers of stain really made the rustication shimmer and show depth. I let the balm sit for a little while and then buffed with a cotton cloth to raise the shine. The pipe really looks good at this point. I am very happy with the way the pipe is looking at this point in the process. I set the bowl aside and turned my attention to the stem. I sanded it with 220 grit and 400 grit wet dry sandpaper to smooth out the remaining marks on the stem. I had coated the tenon with a light coat of clear fingernail polish to protect the fit during all of the fiddling and sanding I was doing. I have experienced damaging a tenon because I was careless so I will often do this when restemming a pipe now. I still needed to smooth out the tenon a bit but it was starting to look really good.I polished the stem surface with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding it with 1500-12000 grit pads. I wiped it down with a damp cloth after each pad to remove the sanding debris. I polished it further with Before & After Pipe Stem Polish – both fine and extra fine. I hand buffed it with a cloth. I gave it a coat of Briarville’s No Oxy Oil even though it does not work as well on acrylic as it does on the vulcanite it was designed for. It works to give a top coat to protect and preserve the newly cleaned and polished stem. This was a change of pace to the normal day to day restoration I have been doing. Fitting a stem to a bowl is interesting and it is time consuming. Once I was finished I put the new vulcanite stem back on the bowl and polished the bowl and stem with Blue Diamond polish on the buffing wheel. I gave the bowl multiple coats of Conservators 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 Capri Bent Billiard with the new stem polished up really well. The polished stem looked very good after the buffing. Have a look at it with the photos below. The dimensions of this pipe are Length: 5 ½ inches, Height: 2 inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 ¼ inches, Chamber diameter: ¾ of an inch. For a low cost pipe this little billiard is eye catching. I will be calling the fellow who dropped it off and let him know the pipe is finished. 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 pipeman or woman.