Tag Archives: Cleaning an acrylic stem

Oh, Donna, I Wish I Read the Instructions First

Blog by Robert M. Boughton


I remembered glancing at a blog Steve wrote about various methods for cleaning Perspex stems, but if I ever got to the most important lesson his years of work with the less forgiving form of acrylic taught him, I forgot it: “that you are never to use alcohol on Perspex!”  I’m not going to flagellate myself for waiting to revisit the blog until it was too late for my La Rocca Donna, but cripes, I wish I had not!  There are kinder, gentler ways to clean up the type of impenetrable brown mess that only long accretion of tobacco, nicotine and saliva can wreak on the airway of a stem that was once uncorrupted in its clarity, other than the standard approach I took.  Oh, well.  Lesson learned.  At least I seem to have avoided the tiny cracks in the stem that can result from contact with alcohol, but I suspect that some of the discoloration may have been fixed into the Perspex.

RESTORATION This time, I’ll begin with the stem, to be done with the bad part – not that it didn’t turn out okay. The first thing I did was pour some Everclear – not just Isopropyl – into a dish, the quicker to soak cleaners and run them through.  In the words of a former co-worker who always kept me laughing, “In the name of all that’s sacred, what was I thinking?”  And I was so pleased by the great progress I made!I must turn to the stummel now in order to show the natural progression of my folly, although it all went fine for the briar.I reamed and scraped the chamber, then sanded with 60-grit paper and scrubbed it and the shank with more Everclear.Using 400-grit paper on the rim made it clear that, once again, my roommate’s propensity for inflicting violence on helpless, loyal pipes had ruined it, short of an ad lib sandblast effect. I did that once on a pipe that had nothing to lose and even surprised my old mentor. He had the audacity to look as if he doubted me! At any rate I liberated Donna here for someone more loving. Deciding on a smooth finish for the rim, I went down to 60-grit followed by a 120/180 pad, 220, 320, 400, 600 and 1000. Now, to add injury to insult to the stem, I boiled more Everclear through the pipe in a retort.Afterward, I found Steve’s blog and cringed as I read it.  I micro meshed the rim, stained it with Fiebing’s British Tan leather dye and buffed off the char with 3600 and 4000 micro mesh. I applied Decatur Pipe Shield.I found a close equivalent to soft scrub for the stem with some generic gloopy stain remover. It did no harm and even helped a tiny bit, and it did a remarkable job of making the outside of the Perspex sparkle with no other effort. In the end, this La Rocca turned out nicely.  But now my Donna will surely leave me. SOURCE

Ben Wade’s in the House, Part 1

Blog by Joe Gibson

Not Ben Wade the U.S. politician or Ben Wade the baseball player and scout, but Ben Wade pipes. Specifically, a Ben Wade Martinique and a Ben Wade Royal Grain produced by Preben Holm in Denmark.

I first saw the Martinique and the bowl for the Royal Grain at Penny’s Little Flea Market just outside of Marion, MS two weeks ago. They were tempting targets, but I passed on them for a Preben Holm Delight. I kept thinking about the Ben Wades. Finally, the wife told me to call and see if I could buy them. They arrived two days later.

Pre-cleaning Preparation

Honestly, my first thought was, “What did I get into here?” The bowls were covered in dirt and grime.

Before Cleaning. (left) Royal Grain, (right) Martinique

The bowls had scratches and I couldn’t tell how deep they were. The good news? No heavy cake and funky, sour smells. Still, I decided that best course was a 24-hour soak in isopropyl alcohol.

The Perspex stem on the Martinique had very minor tooth chatter near the bit and was dirty. It was also stuck and took a few minutes to loosen enough to pull out. Since I planned on doing an alcohol bath, I dipped the pipe and stem in the alcohol for a few minutes and allowed me to separate the two.

The Royal Grain had its own issue which I didn’t remember seeing. The mortise still had the broken tenon of a vulcanite stem still stuck in it. I resolved this issue by twisting a drill bit into the airway BY HAND. The bit dug just enough into the vulcanite that I was able to pull the tenon out. My guess is the pipe was dropped and the stem broke off because the tenon really came out easy. Finding a new stem would be a later problem.

Both pipes have some of the plateau around the rim. The Royal Grain looked like more worn down of the two, almost like the previous owner hammered the rim on his ashtray.

As I decided earlier, I dropped both pipes into containers of isopropyl alcohol and left them alone for 24 hours.

Bowl and Airway Cleaning

After the soak, I cleaned the airway and draught hole first.  My reasoning behind working on the airway, draught hole and bowl first is simple. The cake and any residue is still saturated and soft. I think this makes any reaming I have to do easier.

Using bristle pipe cleaner dipped in the same alcohol, made relatively quick work of removing cake and residue from the airway. It also opened up the draught hole. Ten pipe cleaners later and I was satisfied with the cleanliness of the airway.

Tip #1:  I use bristle pipe cleaners for deep cleaning. Be careful on Perspex or acrylic stems as the bristles can cause some scratching in the stem airway.

After sanding with 300 and 600 Grit SandpaperFor the bowl I started with my homemade pipe knife. The biggest mistake some beginning home restorers/pipe smokers make is using a pocket knife to ream the bowl. You risk damaging the briar by using a sharp knife.  In my case, I made a pipe knife from a small folding pocket knife with about a 2-inch blade. Using my bench grinder, I rounded off the point and ground down the edge until it was almost as flat as the spine. It won’t cut paper or butter.

I should point out that I don’t ream down to bare wood but ream until the cake is thin and even all the way around. I generally finish the bowl work with 320 grit sandpaper wrapped around my index finger. This smooths out the cake even more and removes even more of the cake without damage to the briar.

Pipe Surface and Finish

One of the reasons I decided on the alcohol bath was what looked like white paint specks on the Martinique. I was hoping the alcohol would dissolve the white specks. It didn’t.  After the pipes had air dried for a couple of hours, I started working over them with 320-grit dry sandpaper.

Tip #2: Protect the stamping on the briar with painter’s masking tape before starting the sanding process.

The Martinique (top) and the Royal Grain (bottom). The Royal Grain is coated with Butcher Block Conditioner

It took a little longer on the Martinique because of the white specks and the curved areas. After wiping off the sanding residue with an alcohol wipe, a second sanding of the Martinique removed all the specks and the surface scratches.  The Royal Grain, being a more smooth, flatter surface was easier to sand.

After the initial dry sanding, I started wet sanding with 600-grit sandpaper. Let me point out something here. I make the decision to wet or dry sand a pipe based on how I see the pipe at the time. Sometimes my first step is wet sanding, sometimes I don’t wet sand until I get into the finer grits of finishing sandpaper or micro-mesh pad. The theory behind the wet sanding is that it provides a smoother, glossier finish to the wood. Whether others will agree with me or not, it works for me.

By the time I worked my way up to the 12,000 grit micro-mesh pad, I had a semi-glossy appearance and both pipes felt as smooth as glass. Normally, this is where I apply caranuba wax and buff. I went one step further and applied Howard Butcher Block Conditioner to the Royal Grain. The condition contains a food grade mineral oil, beeswax and caranuba wax. Instructions were to apply with a soft cloth and let dry for 15 minutes before wiping off the excess. I used a cotton ball for the application and let it set for probably 20 minutes. I really like the color and the way the grain popped out. I resisted the temptation to do the same to the Martinique.

Next: Which Stem for Which Pipe?

© J. Gibson Creative Services. September 5, 2018