Blog by Steve Laug
Currently I am not taking on more work for repairs from email or online requests as I am just too busy. I still get the odd referral from the local Vancouver cigar and pipe shop that I feel obligated to repair or restore. They tend to be spread out a bit so I can fit them in among the other work that I am doing for estates. Earlier this week I received a phone call from a fellow who had been referred to me by the shop. In our conversation he said that he had some pipes that the stems were all loose on and he wanted to know if I would be able to help him. I have learned to not make any arrangements until I have the pipes in hand and have examined them. He came over Friday afternoon to let me have a look at the pipes. He handed me a bag and inside there were four or five extra stems that he had brought for my use. There were also three old and tired pipes. They were in very rough shape. Two were apple shaped pipes stamped VB and one was a Croydon billiard. The stems were indeed loose on two of the pipes and stuck on the third pipe. The bowls were clogged with a thick cake to the degree that I could not even get my little finger in them. The stems had a thick layer of calcification and some tooth marks. They needed a lot of work.
We talked about the pipes and that he had held them for a long time hoping for a repair. He had spoken with the cigar and pipe shop and they had led him to me. Now he could actually have a hope of smoking them again. In the course of the 30 minute or so conversation he asked me what I do for work. I told him I was a Presbyterian minister and was now working with an NGO dealing with the sexual exploitation and trafficking of women and children in 7 countries and 12 cities around the world. We talked about that a bit then he laughed and told me he was a United Church Minister who had taught in a variety of schools as well as pastored various parishes. We had a great conversation and I took the pipes and told him we would connect again once I had them finished.
I decided to start with the Croydon billiard. It was in very rough condition. The bowl was clogged with a thick hard cake and no air would pass through the shank. The finish was shot with burn marks and darkening about ½ inch down the back of the bowl. The rim top looked like it had been used for a hammer with the worst damage on the back portion of the bowl and rim top. The darkening was in the chewed up area on the back of the bowl so it would be interesting to see what I could do with that part of the pipe. The stem was oxidized with calcification extending for about an inch up the stem from the button. In the midst of the calcification were deep tooth marks that appeared to be rounded rather than sharp so I may well be able to lift them out with a lighter flame. The slot in the button was plugged with a pin hole sized airway going through it. I honestly do not know how this pipe was smoked the last time it was used. This was one of those pipes that I really dreaded working on because I just sensed that one thing would lead to another and the restoration would be almost endless. I took photos of the pipe before I started to record this anxious moment! I took some close up photos of the bowl and stem to show what I was dealing with on this pipe. You can see the density of the cake. It is not totally clear that the second half of the bowl is packed solid. The bowl also has a slant toward the rear from reaming with a knife. The rim top is the disaster mentioned above. It is very rough to touch. The stem is a mess as can be seen. There is some oxidation and a thick coat of calcification from the button forward. That too is rock hard. Both the stem and the shank are plugged with no air passing through them.I took pictures of the sides of the bowl and rim to give you an idea of the condition of the pipe. I could not believe the old fellow had said that the bowl were in “great shape”! I have no idea how he could call this “great shape”. What do you think? I took a photo o f the stamping to show the brand on the pipe. It is a little known brand with little information. This one reads Croydon on the left side of the shank and Italy on the right side. Sources I have found have hinted at it being from the Netherlands and others from Great Britain. I think the country of manufacture will remain a mystery for now. I have worked on other Croydon pipes in the past and never really been that impressed with them. They have seemed like lower end basket pipes that have a lot of putty fills in the briar and are generally finished with a varnish coat. At least with this one I could start from basically scratch. I did a bit of searching to find the maker of Croydon pipes and came across a short reference to the brand on Pipedia (https://pipedia.org/wiki/Croydon). There was no other information on the brand other than it was made in the Netherlands (does not help explain why this one is stamped Italy, but oh well). There was also a link to Don Bernard pipes in Amsterdam, Netherlands (https://pipedia.org/wiki/Don_Bernard_Pipes. On that link there was the name of the maker and an address for the company. It is Bernard Myburgh, Sumtrakade 1195 1019 RJ Amsterdam, The Netherlands. The website www.donbernardpipes.com did not work for me so I am not sure if it is still a valid company. There was also an email address listed for them (email@example.com) so I sent an inquiry to them regarding the brand. The email bounced as the contact was no longer valid. At least I now have a connection to the Netherlands but it still does not help me with the Italy stamp on this pipe.
I could no longer postpone starting the work on this old pipe. Since I am a pipe refurbisher I had to get started on this beast. I began the work by reaming the bowl. I started with the smallest PipNet Reamer cutting head so as not to damage the bowl. The old fellow had chipped away enough of the carbon to smoke a little toward the end but he had done so at an angle so there was a nice concave cup in the back wall of the bowl. I had to work carefully through the cutting heads to straighten out the bowl. I used the first three cutting heads to get it reamed out. I took photos of each cutting head to chronicle that work. You can see the growing mound of carbon under the pipe in the photos. It was quite unbelievably hard. I cleaned up the edges and bottom of the bowl with a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife. I sanded the inside of the bowl with 220 grit sandpaper wrapped around a piece of dowel to further smooth out the bowl. It really was one of the worst cakes that I have worked on. Once I was finished reaming it the airway was still clogged going into the bowl because of the tars and oils. I cleaned the mortise and the airway in the shank and stem with pipe cleaners, cotton swabs and alcohol. I opened the airway into the bowl with a sharp straightened paper clip and used the drill bit on a KleenReem tool to clean out the “crud” (hardened tars and oils). I scraped the inside of the mortise with a pen knife. I opened the slot in the button with a dental pick and pushed pipe cleaners through the debris in the stem. I scraped away the majority of the calcification with the pen knife while I was cleaning the stem. Once I had finished – many pipe cleaners and cotton swabs later the airway was unobstructed to the bowl and the pipe had begun to smell clean. With the internals clean it was time to work on the exterior of the bowl. It was unbelievably grimy and sticky. I scrubbed it with a tooth brush and undiluted Murphy’s Oil Soap. I rinsed it under warm running water to wash away the soap and debris. I repeated the process until the exterior was as clean as I was going to get it at this point. I dried it off with a cotton cloth and took photos to show the progress. I knew that topping the bowl would only start to address the issues with the rim top and edges of this pipe. I wanted to have a flat surface to work with and to flatten the edges before addressing the damages. I topped the bowl on a topping board with 220 grit sandpaper and removed the damaged areas on the surface. Once I had finished the rim top was flat now I could deal with the edges of the bowl.The topping had removed much of the damage to the front and sides of the bowl. The slight damage that remained would be taken care of when I gave the rim a slight bevel. I decided to build up the damaged edge on the back of the bowl with Krazy Glue and briar dust. It would dry black but the edge would be smooth and the rim top even once I was finished. I would have to blend the transition with a dark brown stain. I layered the build up on the edge – glue then dust and repeating it until the edge was built up. The first photo below shows the repair before I shaped it with sandpaper and files. I sanded the edge and topped the bowl again to smooth out the rim top and edges. The second and third photo show where the pipe stands at this point. There are still a few spots on the outer edge of the rim but it is looking much better. I used a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper to smooth out the inner and outer edge of the bowl. The outer edge cleaned up really well. I was quite happy with the finished look. The inner edge would take a bit more work once I had repaired the inside damage to the bowl.I sanded the exterior of the bowl and rim with a medium grit sanding sponge to remove the nicks, scratches and remnants of the original finish. There was still a lot of work to do to finish the pipe as there were also some strange dark stains on the briar and a few fills that I wanted to smooth out. With initial sanding of the bowl finished it was time to address the damage to the inside of the bowl. There were some heat fissures mid bowl on the right side and the backside mid bowl had been carved out and there were fissures there as well. I mixed up a batch of JB Weld. I did not need too much as the damaged areas were very specific and I would not need to coat the whole bowl with the mixture. I blended the two parts together to a dark grey paste and used a dental spatula to apply it to the affected areas of the bowl. I have included two photos of the bowl repair to show the nature of the repair. Remember the majority of the patch will be sanded off leaving just the fissures filled in with the repair mix. I let the repair harden for about 10 minutes before moving on to sand the exterior of the bowl and rim with micromesh sanding pads. I wet sanded with 1500-12000 grit sanding pads to smooth out the finish on the bowl and prepare it for staining. I wiped the bowl down after each pad with a damp cloth to remove the dust and debris from sanding. I used a Dremel and a sanding drum to take down the excess JB Weld in the bowl. I ground it down until the inside was smooth and the weld was in the fissures in the bowl sides. You can see the ring of weld around mid-bowl. That is where the most damage was on the bowl walls.With the scratches smoothed out and the repairs minimized a bit I decided to stain the pipe with a Dark Brown Feibings stain. The stain goes on very dark and covers a multitude of issues but when it is buffed and sanded the colour still allows the grain that is present to shine through clearly. I applied the stain and flamed it to set it in the grain. I repeated the process until I was happy with the coverage on the bowl.In the morning one the stain had cured I sanded the bowl with micromesh sanding pads to remove the excess stain and make the stain coat more transparent. I wet sanded it with 1500-12000 grit pads. I wiped the bowl down with a damp towel after each sanding pad. Each set of three pads brought the transparency to what I was aiming for and still masked the repaired areas on the bowl. I worked some Before & After Restoration Balm into the finish of the bowl, the rim top and shank with my fingertips to clean, enliven and protect it. I find that the balm really makes the briar come alive again. I let the balm sit for a little while and then buffed it 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. The pipe is looking much better than when I took it out of the bag. I set the bowl aside and turned my attention to the stem. I “painted” the surface of the stem with the flame of a Bic light to raise the tooth marks. It raised them all some but the two on the underside were too deep to come up very much. Overall the stem was looking better.I filled in the remaining tooth marks with clear Krazy Glue and let it cure. I like the clear glue on this kind of stem as it dries clear and the black of the stem shows through making for a very good blend with the existing material.I sanded the repaired areas on both sides of the stem with 220 grit sandpaper to blend them into the surface of the stem. I followed that by sanding them with a folded piece of 400 grit wet dry sandpaper to begin the polishing.I polished the stem with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding it with 1500-12000 grit pads. I polished it further with Before & After Pipe Stem Polish – both fine and extra fine. I wiped the stem down with Briarville’s No Oxy Oil to preserve and protect the stem. This was a challenging pipe to work on and I did the heavy work without Jeff. I put the stem back on the bowl and polished the bowl and stem with Blue Diamond polish on the buffing wheel. I gave the bowl 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 grain pops through enough to let us know it is there and my repairs to the rim and back of the bowl blend in really well. I am pleased with the look of the pipe. It really has exceeded my expectations for it when I first took it out of the bag it was in when dropped off. The contrast between the dark brown stain of the briar and the polished black vulcanite stem look very good together. The pipe feels great in my hand and I am sure that it will feel even better radiating the heat of a good smoke. It must have been a fine smoking pipe judging from the condition it was when we received it from the pipeman who dropped it off. Have a look at it with the photos below. The dimensions are Length: 5 ½ inches, Height: 2 inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 ¼ inches, Chamber diameter: ¾ of an inch. I am looking forward to what the old clergyman thinks of his “new” pipe. I think he will enjoy it for many years to come and perhaps it will pass to the next pipeman who will hold it in trust. Thanks to each of you who are reading this blog.