Tag Archives: Custom-Bilt Pipes

Restoring a Second Custom-Bilt, a Large Billiard from My Inheritance


Blog by Paresh Deshpande

I have decided that I would now first complete all the Custom-Bilt pipes from my inheritance that I had got along with me to my place of work place and the remaining ones at my home town will be done later. I had professed my appreciation and liking for Custom-Bilt pipes for their large size, shape, hand feel and the rustic looks. The next pipe from the collection which I decided to work on was a huge Custom-Bilt briar pipe. The large size of the bowl, thick shank and large saddle stem, lends this pipe a weight which I particularly enjoy holding in my hand.

The pipe has deep and large vertical worm rustications along the entire length of the shank and height of the bowl. Within these large vertical rustications are very thin, closely stacked horizontal lines which give this pipe its unique appearance and are its trademark!! I absolutely love these pipes. These large rustications continue right up to the outer rim of the bowl. The thick rim top is covered with the same thin, closely stacked lines as seen between the vertical rustications. The worm rustications on the shank are much thin and precise as compared to the ones on the bowl and end about ¾ inch before the shank end giving a semblance of a shank end ring. These thin worm rustications can be seen at the foot of the stummel with smooth portions in between them. It is stamped on the left side of the shank as “Custom-Bilt” with a hyphen between the two words, in cursive hand. The “IMPORTED BRIAR”, a commonly observed stamp on these pipes, is seen in the smooth surface towards the front on the foot of the stummel followed by the number “3038” in the next portion towards the shank end.Having worked on a few Custom Bilt pipes in the past and researched this brand and based on the stampings seen on this pipe, I can say with an amount of certitude, that this pipe is from the period 1938-46. Here is the proof in determining the vintage based on stampings as researched by William E. Unger, Jr., PhD, which deals with the study of Custom-Bilt pipes.With this confirmation as regards to the vintage of this pipe, I move ahead with the initial visual inspection of this pipe.

INITIAL VISUAL INSPECTION
The pipe, as I received in the box, was carefully wrapped in a soft cotton cloth, stummel and stem separate!!! The condition of the stem and the stummel made me wonder if this pipe had been received after restoration/ repair work; it appears in such great condition. I thoroughly checked the entire pipe for any signs of repairs or damages. Fortunately there were none!! Only the stem appears brand new. Could it be a new replacement stem from an authorized store? No way to determine this as there are neither any receipts or documents nor any person in my family who could have confirmed this aspect.

The chamber has a thin layer of cake and does not appear to have been smoked much, may be a few bowls at the max. The condition of the inner walls of the chamber can be determined only after the cake has been completely reamed out down to the bare briar. The draught hole is dead center and at the bottom of the chamber. This should be a fantastic smoker. The thin worm rusticated rim top surface is covered in dust and grime all these years of storage. The outer and inner edges of the rim are in good condition with no damage. The craggy large vertical worm rustication with its horizontal thin line rustications within makes for a visual treat. The large vertical rustications are filled with dust and grime to such an extent that the horizontal lines lying within are barely visible. Same goes for the rim top. Though covered in dust and grime of all these years of storage, these should clean up nicely. I have seen an aluminum shank/ mortise extension fixed inside of the mortise on another very similarly sized and shaped Custom-Bilt from my Grandfather’s collection which I had restored about a year back!! This aluminum shank/ mortise extension (or should it be called a tenon?), was also seen on the previous Custom-Bilt Pot that I had restored just a couple of days back. However, this pipe has no such extension, just regular mortise and stem tenon construction. The mortise shows slight accumulation of oils and crud which has resulted in a slight gap between the stem and the shank end when seated. A thorough cleaning of the shank should address this issue. The wide straight saddle vulcanite stem is in pristine condition and seats with a slight gap in to the mortise with all the right noises. The tenon and the slot are also very clean. A polish with Blue diamond and coat of carnauba wax should suffice to deepen the shine on the stem. THE PROCESS
I started the restoration of this beautiful pipe by first reaming the chamber with my fabricated knife. I followed this reaming with sanding the chamber walls with a folded piece of 220 grit sand paper to completely remove any residual cake. This also helps to smooth the walls of the chamber. How I miss the help of Abha, my wife and Pavni, my youngest daughter who specializes in sanding the chamber walls to a smooth and even surface. I wiped the chamber with a cotton swab and alcohol to get rid of all the carbon dust and expose the bare briar of the chamber. As expected, the chamber is sans of any heat fissures/ lines. I followed up the cleaning of the chamber with that of the shank internals. With a bent dental spatula, I scrapped out the dried gunk from the mortise. Using hard and regular pipe cleaners and alcohol, I cleaned the mortise and the shank internals. A number of attempts and pipe cleaners later, the shank internals are clean and the draw is nice, smooth and even. I tried the seating of the stem in to the mortise and was pleased to note that the fit is now perfect and without any gaps. The internal cleaning was followed by external cleaning of the stummel surface using Murphy’s Oil soap and a hard bristled tooth brush. I also used a brass wired brush to diligently clean out all the dirt and grime from within the worm rustications. With a shank brush and dish washing soap, I thoroughly cleaned the shank internals and the mortise. I dried the bowl with paper napkins and soft cotton cloth and set it aside to dry out completely. With the stummel set aside to dry out naturally, it was time to move ahead with the stem restoration. I cleaned the stem internals with pipe cleaners and alcohol. With the bent flat end of a dental tool, I scrubbed the dried out oils and tars from the tenon of the stem and cleaned it with a cotton swab and alcohol. I wiped the stem with a small amount of Extra Virgin Olive oil and set it aside to be absorbed by the stem surface.While the stem was set aside to hydrate, I worked the stummel, micromesh polishing of the smooth raised surfaces on the stummel. I polished the stummel by wet sanding with 1500 to 12000 micromesh pads. With a moist cotton swab, I carefully wiped off all the sanding dust from within the worm rustications. I am pretty happy with the results!! Next, I rub a small quantity of “Before and After Restoration Balm” 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 worm rustication patterns on full display. I have been using this balm ever since I embarked on this journey and it is this part of restoration that I always look forward to. I further buff it with a horse hair shoe brush. On to the homestretch!! I mount a cotton cloth buffing wheel on to my hand held rotary tool and apply a coat of Blue Diamond to the stummel and the stem to polish out the minor scratches. With a cotton buffing wheel that I use for carnauba wax, I apply a coat of carnauba wax and continue to work on it till the complete coat of wax had been polished out. I mount a clean cotton cloth buffing wheel and give the entire pipe a once over buff. I finished the restoration by giving the entire pipe a rigorous hand buffing using a microfiber cloth to raise the shine further. The finished pipe looks amazingly beautiful and is now ready for its long second innings with me. I only wish it could share with me its life story of the past 70 plus years… Cheers!! P.S. These old Custom-Bilts may not be as elegant, delicate and quaint looking as most of the British pipes like say, Charatan’s, Barling’s, Comoy’s or an old Ben Wade, but there is a certain rustic charm about these pipes that appeals to me the most and of course, not to mention the size!! I am not sure if there are any serious Custom-Bilt collectors in our pipe world, but if any reader of rebornpipes.com is, I would definitely like to connect and share our common love for these magnificent pipes.

As usual, your comments and advice is requested as these will help me in my learning and improvements in future. I express my sincere gratitude to all readers who have dedicated their time to read through the write up and for being part of this journey.

 

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Restoring a Custom-Bilt Small Pot from my ‘Mumbai Bonanza’


Blog by Paresh Deshpande

It seems that my grandfather loved Custom-Bilt pipes!! I say this with certain amount of conviction as there are quite a few of them in his collection that I have inherited. All the Custom-Bilts in his collection have, apart from the trademark rustications developed and mastered by Tracy Mincer, large size (more like humongous, I say!). Thus, when Abha, my wife sent me pictures of the Mumbai Bonanza lot, I instantly recognized a Custom-Bilt. I confirmed from Abha on Face time that the stamp was spelt with a hyphen between Custom and Bilt confirming the vintage. I was surprised to say the least, not at the fact of finding a Custom-Bilt in the lot (which incidentally contains many collectible pipes), but surprised at the size which stared back at me!! It was small, but small when compared to the size of the other Custom-Bilts that I have inherited. This is the pipe that is now on my work table, my first restoration work after rejoining my work place.

For those readers who have missed out on my previous work, I was fortunate enough to have heeded the advice of my dear friend and mentor, Steve, and struck a deal for 30 pipes with a junk collector from Mumbai. He did not know what he was selling and I did not know what I was buying as we reside in different cities!! The argument that Mr. Steve presented was that if not anything, I shall at least have some spares and this was logical. I struck a deal and here are pictures of the pipes that I received in this lot. This lot contains some very nice collectible pipes, a few well known brands and some mediocre brands. Overall, with seven Dunhill pipes, a Preben Holm #1 FH, a couple of “Made in England” Pete System pipes, a couple of  Charatan’s Belvedere, Custom-Bilt, Stanwell and other assorted pipes, I would say that I had struck a decent haul!! This is indeed my “Mumbai Bonanza”.

The 12th pipe that I decided to work on from this find Custom-Bilt small pot shaped pipe and is indicated in magenta colored arrow in the picture below. It is stamped on the left side of the shank as “Custom-Bilt” in sentence form with a hyphen between Custom and Bilt. The pipe or stem is devoid of any other stamping.Now coming to the research of this brand and line/ model in specific, I referred to pipedia.org and as expected there is an extensive research on this pipe. I searched the internet for information in order to date this pipe. Pipedia has a lot of information about this pipe and just typing in Custom-Bilt in the search bar of the site will reveal the required information. There is an interesting review given by Richard Esserman on a book written by William E. Unger, Jr., PhD, which deals with the study of Custom-Bilt pipes. The author authoritatively states, after a lot of research and study that the stamp as seen on this particular pipe dates it from between 1938 – 1946!With the dating of this pipe confirmed, I move on to the next step of carrying out initial inspection of the pipe as it appears. This not only provides me with an opportunity to closely look at the pipe (more like ogle at it!) and identify the issues that need to be addressed but also plan on the sequence and processes that would be required in restoring the pipe.

INITIAL VISUAL INSPECTION
The pipe has deep and large vertical rustications along the entire length of the shank and height of the bowl. Within these large vertical rustications are very thin, closely stacked horizontal lines which give this pipe its unique appearance and are its trademark!!! The deep large rustication on the stummel is covered in dirt, oils, tars and grime of 70 plus years of its existence. At this stage, the briar looks filthy, dry and lifeless, but this should clean up nicely. However, there are two issues which may prove to be a challenge to address. On the front left side of the bowl, there is a dark burn mark, probably scorched by a burning cigarette lying in the same ashtray (marked in a yellow circle). The second issue is also towards the left side of the stummel, but at the back. There is significant darkening in that area as compared to the rest of the stummel, and is marked in a yellow circle. The exact nature of this darkening will be known once the stummel surface has been cleaned. A thick layer of cake can be seen in the chamber. The rim top is covered with the same thin, closely stacked lines as seen between the large vertical rustications and is covered in thick overflow of lava, dirt, dust and grime. The condition of the inner walls of the chamber and rim top surface will be known once the cake has been taken down to bare briar and the rim top crud has been scraped off completely. With the inner rim, I suspect burn/ charred surface at the back in 6 ‘O’ clock direction and is encircled in red. The extent and severity of the damage, if present, can be ascertained once the cake has been removed and the rim top is cleaned. The outer rim edge appears to be in a decent condition. Only once the stummel has been thoroughly cleaned that I can be sure of my initial appreciation. In spite of the thick cake, the chamber odor is, surprisingly, not strong and should be addressed once the cake has been taken down to the bare briar. The mortise is blocked with dried gunk, adversely affecting the airflow. A thorough clean up with alcohol and pipe cleaners should address this issue.The vulcanite stem is heavily oxidized and has calcification marks for about an inch over the bite zone, probably a result of using a rubber bit. The stem surface on either side is peppered with nicks and dents along the entire surface. There is one deep bite mark on the button edge on the upper surface. The tenon is covered in dried oils and tars and ash. The air way in the stem will need to be cleaned for a free and smooth draw.THE PROCESS
Along with the stems of other pipes in line for restoration, I immersed the stem of this Custom-Bilt in a mix of one part Hydrogen Peroxide 20% with one part hot water after I ran a couple of pipe cleaners dipped in alcohol through the stem air way. A couple of hours later, the stem oxidation on all these stems were raised to the surface. After I had fished out the stem from the Hydrogen Peroxide bath, I scrubbed it with Magiclean sponge and followed it up with a wipe of cotton swab and alcohol. The loosened and superficial layer of oxidation was easily removed and revealed not one but two tooth marks on the upper button edge and the nicks and dents on the surface are now more apparent. However, the deeper oxidation that was pulled to the surface would require more abrasive techniques.Staying with the stem, I cleaned the internals of the stem using hard and normal bristled pipe cleaners and isopropyl alcohol. I addressed the deeper oxidation by sanding the entire stem with a folded piece of 220 grit sand paper. Once the oxidation was completely removed, I wiped the surface clean with a cotton swab and alcohol. I flamed the damaged button edge and the nicks and dents with the flame of a lighter. This helps the vulcanite to rise to the surface as it has an inherent property to regain its original shape when heated. I spot filled the damaged spots with clear CA superglue and set it aside to cure overnight. Thereafter, I started with cleaning of the stummel as I was keen to know the condition of the walls of the chamber. With size 3 head of a PipNet pipe reamer, I took the cake down to bare briar. Using a folded piece of 180 grit sand paper, I sand out the last traces of cake and expose the walls of the chamber to ascertain that there are no cracks/ heat fissures. I wiped the chamber with a cotton pad dipped in isopropyl alcohol to remove the carbon dust left behind by all the reaming and sanding process. I was happy to note that the walls of the chamber are in pristine condition without any heat fissures or pits. I used my smaller of the two fabricated knife to gently scrap away at the overflow over the rim top surface while being careful not to damage the thin wired rustications on the rim top. I was pleased to find the inner and outer edge of the rim intact and without any burn or char marks which I had feared to be lurking under the heavy overflow of lava. Next, I cleaned out the internals of the shank and mortise. Using my dental tool, I scraped out all the dried oils, tars and gunk that had accumulated in the shank airway and mortise. The mortise was so clogged with the old accumulations of gunk that I had to use the drill piece which comes in the Kleen Reem pipe reamer!! The amount of crud that was scrapped out and the condition of the pipe cleaners that were used leaves no surprise why air flow through it was restricted. I finished the cleaning by running a few pipe cleaners dipped in isopropyl alcohol. I also wiped the shank with cotton buds and alcohol. With this cleaning, all old smells in the pipe are history. The pipe now smells clean and fresh.With the internals of the stummel now clean, I cleaned the external surface using a hard bristled toothbrush and Murphy’s Oil Soap. I diligently scrubbed the crevices formed by the sandblast to remove all the dust and dirt that was embedded in the large vertical rustications and thin wire rustications between them. With a soft bristled brass wired brush, I removed the overflowing lava from the rim top surface and cleaned the internals of the shank with a shank brush and dish washing soap to remove what little crud remained in the shank. I rinsed it under running tap water and wiped the stummel dry with an absorbent soft cotton cloth. However, I was not very satisfied with the way the rim top surface had cleaned up. There were visible traces of the lava overflow embedded in the rustication giving it a dirty and unclean appearance. I vigorously cleaned the rim top surface again with the brass brush, following the direction of the thin rustications till the overflow of lava was greatly reduced. What little grime that remained was carefully scraped out with a sharp dental pick. Another scrub with a toothbrush dipped in oil soap and I was very pleased with the way the stummel had cleaned up. The stummel looks absolutely gorgeous. At this point in restoration, I observed tiny specs of white. They appeared to be paint flakes but I am not sure. Very carefully and painstakingly, I removed each spot with the pointed dental pick.The other thing which highlighted itself was the burn mark and darkened surface at the front and slightly at the back of the stummel respectively. I cleaned the burned spot of all the charred briar with the sharp end of the dental spatula until I reached solid briar surface. The spot has lightened considerably. Next, with a pointed dental pick, I tried to pick in to the remaining darkened surface and was surprised to find that the area had been filled and that the old putty now came away easily (shown by a red arrow). Having discovered one fill, I closely checked the entire stummel surface for any other fills. Sure enough, there was a small fill at the shank end, just below the stamping (red arrow mark). I cleaned out the loose fills with a dental pick. I refreshed these fills with a mix of briar dust and superglue and set it aside to cure.While the stummel fills were set aside to cure, I worked the stem fills which had by now cured sufficiently. Using a flat head needle file, I reshaped the button and roughly matched the fills with the rest of the stem surface. I followed it up by further sanding the stem with 320, 600 and 800 grit sand papers to achieve a perfect blending of the fills with the stem surface and a crisp button edge on either side of the stem. Using the micromesh pads, I complete the polishing cycle by wet sanding the surface with 1500 to 12000 girt pads. The stem looks great with the fills nicely matched with the rest of the surface. I rub a little quantity of Extra Virgin Olive oil in to the stem surface and set it aside to be absorbed by the vulcanite. Once I was finished with the stem repairs, I turned back to the stummel fills which had cured. With the edge of a flat head needle file, I roughly matched the fill with the rustications on the stummel. Thereafter, using a tightly folded piece of 150 grit sand paper, I worked the fills to a perfect match with the rest of the rustications. I used a sharp dental tool and tried to roughly carve out the thin wire like rustications in to the fills, though without resounding success. But it turned out quite okay to my eyes.Next, I rub a small quantity of “Before and After Restoration Balm” in to the briar with my finger tips, work it deep in to the sandblasts 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 sandblast patterns on full display. I further buff it with a horse hair brush. To complete the restoration, I mount a cotton cloth buffing wheel on to my hand held rotary tool and applied several coats of carnauba wax. I finished the restoration by giving the entire pipe a rigorous hand buffing using a microfiber cloth to raise the shine further. The finished pipe looks amazingly beautiful and is now ready for its long second innings with me. I only wish it could share with me its life story of the past 70 plus years while I enjoy smoking my favorite Virginia blend in it!! P.S. I was not very pleased with the appearance of the front of the stummel, what with the ugly burn mark now all the more visible. I discussed with my mentor, Steve, and he suggested that a little oxalic acid diluted with water when applied over the burn mark should significantly reduce the black mark. This will be applied in practical once I am back on leave to my home town. I shall post an update on the end result of this process.

There are three more pending write ups which I shall be tackling before I undertake any new restoration. I am eagerly waiting to start my next project, which I wish to assure readers, is going to be an interesting one. It’s a pipe which my dear friend and mentor, Steve, had sent me about a year back with the intention of providing me an opportunity to test my own skills. I wish to thank each one for sparing their valuable time to read through and any inputs or advise is always welcome.

 

 

New Life for an old Custombilt Apple


Blog by Steve Laug

I have always been intrigued by Tracy Mincer and his Custom-Bilt pipes and even his Custombilt pipes like this one. There is something about the rugged carving and appearance of the pipes that gets my attention. I have a few of them in my collection and always enjoy the tactile nature of the pipe when it is being smoked. This old apple has the Custombilt stamp and I had reacquainted myself with the eras of the various spellings of the brand so that I can place it along with the previous billiard within the Rich Era. The pipe was in pretty decent condition when Jeff received it – dirty but really not too bad. The finish was dusty and dirty in the worm trail carvings. The bowl had a thick cake in it that flowed over the rim top into the rustication. The inner edge of the bowl appeared have some damage toward to the front but that would not be clear until it was reamed. The rim top had some deep scratches and gouges toward the right front. The stem had some deep tooth marks on both sides at the button but otherwise was in decent condition. The smooth part of the shank stamped Custombilt in script on the left side. On a smooth panel on the heel of the bowl it is stamped Imported Briar. Jeff took these pictures of the pipe to show its condition before he started his cleanup work. He took close up photos of the rim top and the side and bottom of the bowl to show the condition of the briar and the bowl. You can see the cake in the bowl and the lava overflowing onto the top of the rim. The worm trail rustication is quite dusty and dirty. He took a photo of the stamping on the left shank side and the heel of the bowl.The photos of the stem show the tooth chatter and marks on both sides of the stem near the button and the wear on the button itself.I did the research on the brand when I worked on the previous Custombilt that I restored earlier today (https://rebornpipes.com/2019/01/18/bringing-an-old-custombilt-billiard-to-back-to-life/). I have included much of that here for you to read. It comes from a great article on Pipedia that helps understand the brand and give a sense of what the various stamping looks like on the pipes (https://pipedia.org/wiki/Custom-Bilt). I cite from that article to give a feel for the brand:

In 1946, the name was changed to Custombilt after Mincer began an association with Eugene J. Rich, Inc. There were some big changes in advertising and distribution. The slogan “AS INDIVIDUAL AS A THUMBPRINT” began at this time as well.

In 1953, Leonard Rodgers bought the company and emphasized tobacco pouches and butane lighters. (However, it appears Mincer was working on his new pipe, the Doodler.) In 1968, Rodgers sold the Company to Consolidated Cigars. In the early 1970s, Wally Frank Co. bought the Custombilt trademark and began to produce their version of the pipe in 1974 or 1975. Hollco Rohr owned the Weber pipe factory, located in New Jersey, and produced the Custombilt pipes there. In 1987, the pipes were made out of the Butz-Choquin factory (France) and then Mexico until the late 1990s. Currently, the Custombilt name is owned by Tobacalera of Spain.

Along with the information above I found that the stamping that is on this pipe is identical to that identified in the article as Stamp Number Five. I have included that graphic because of the information that it included. It brings some of the issues in identifying the maker and the time period of the brand. In my mind the pipe I have in hand is very much like the Rich era pipes that I have seen and the note below says that. Interestingly the author also says he has seen the same stamping on the Wally Frank era pipes. It is a fascinating piece of history and a beautifully made old pipe.Armed with that information I turned to working on the pipe. Jeff had cleaned the pipe with his usual thoroughness – reaming the bowl with a PipNet pipe reamer and cleaning up the remnants with a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife. He scrubbed the internals of the bowl, shank and stem with alcohol, cotton swabs and pipe cleaners. He scrubbed the exterior with Murphy’s Oil Soap to clean off the dust and grime on the finish. The rim top looked very good under the thick lava coat. I love the way the grain of the briar shows through the rustication. There were just a few nicks and scratches to deal with. The inside of the bowl itself looked great. The stem was in great condition other than the tooth marks on both sides near the button. I took photos of the pipe before I started working on it. I took some close up photos of the rim top, bowl and stem to show what they looked like after Jeff’s cleanup. The rim top has some darkening around the top and the edges. There is also some nicks and scratches on the surface ant the edges. Some are quite deep looking. The stem was in good shape other than the tooth marks and chatter on both sides near the button.  I took some photos of the stamping which seemed far more visible after Jeff’s cleanup than before.I worked on the  rim top and inner edge damage first. I gently topped the bowl to remove the deep cuts and gouges and smooth out the damage. I used a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper to  further clean up the inner edge and leave it smooth. I polished the sanded rim top with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-2400 and dry sanding with 3200-12000 grit pads. I wiped it down with a damp cloth after each sanding pad. You can see the progress in the photos below. I stained the rim with three different stain pens – Cherry, Walnut and Mahogany. It still needed to be blended in a bit but the match of colour is perfect. I buffed it on the buffing wheel with Blue Diamond polish. The second photo shows the polished rim top. The match is good.Since the briar was in such good condition I started with rejuvenating the wood. I worked some Before & After Restoration Balm into the rustication and worm trails on the bowl and the rim top. I worked it into the surface of the briar with my fingertips to clean, enliven and protect the wood. Once the bowl was covered with the balm I let it sit for about 20 minutes and buffed it off with a soft cotton cloth and then polished it with a microfiber cloth. I took photos of the pipe at this point in the process to show what the bowl looked like at this point. I set the bowl aside and turned my attention to the stem. I decided to address the deep tooth marks on both sides of the stem ahead of the button. I filled in the tooth marks on the both sides of the stem with a clear super glue (Jeff had already cleaned the stem very well so it was not an issue). I set the stem aside to let the repairs cure.Once the repair had cured I used a flat blade needle file to sharpen the edge of the button on both sides of the stem. I also used it to flatten out the repairs. I worked on the remaining repaired areas with 220 grit sandpaper to blend them into the surface of the stem. I polished the stem with Denicare Mouthpiece Polish to take out the oxidation at the button edge and on the end of the mouthpiece. I also worked hard to scrub it from the surface of the stem at the tenon end.I polished repaired areas on the stem, button and blade with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanding with 3200-12000 grit pads. I wiped the stem down after each sanding pad with Obsidian Oil. I polished it with Before & After Pipe Stem Polish – both Fine and Extra Fine. Once I had finished the polishing I gave it a final coat of oil and set it aside to dry. I put the bowl and stem back together. I buffed the bowl and stem with Blue Diamond to polish out any light scratches that remained in the briar and the vulcanite. 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 pipe polished up pretty nicely. The worm trail rusticated finish on this Rich era Custombilt and the smooth portion around the cap on the rim and shank turned out very nice and shows the grain shining through. It has the kind of rustic beauty that draws collectors to them after all of these years. The contrast of the worm trails with the grain swirling through them looked good with the polished black vulcanite. This Custombilt Apple will soon be joining the other pipes I have on the rebornpipes store. The finished pipe is shown in the photos below. The dimensions of the pipe are Length: 5 1/2 inches, Height: 1 7/8 inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 ½ inches, Chamber diameter: 7/8 of an inch. If you are interested in adding it to your collection let me know. Thanks for reading this blog and my reflections on the pipe while I worked on it.

Bringing an old Custombilt Billiard to back to life


Blog by Steve Laug

I have always been intrigued by Tracy Mincer and his Custom-Bilt pipes and even his Custombilt pipes like this one. There is something about the rugged carving and appearance of the pipes that gets my attention. I have a few of them in my collection and always enjoy the tactile nature of the pipe when it is being smoked. This old billiard has the Custombilt stamp and I will need to reacquaint myself with the eras of the various spellings of the brand so that I can place it in the hierarchy. The pipe was in pretty decent condition when Jeff received it – dirty but really not too bad. The finish was dusty and dirty in the worm trail carvings. The bowl had a decent cake in it that was lightly flowing over the rim top into the rustication. The inner and outer edge of the bowl appeared to be in great condition. The stem had a chip out of the edge of the button on the topside and tooth marks in the stem just ahead of the button on the underside. The smooth part of the shank, between the worm trails is stamped Custombilt in script on the left side. On a smooth panel on the heel of the bowl it is stamped Imported Briar. Jeff took these pictures of the pipe to show its condition before he started his cleanup work. He took close up photos of the rim top and the side and bottom of the bowl to show the condition of the briar and the bowl. You can see the cake in the bowl and the lava overflowing onto the top of the rim. The worm trail rustication is quite dusty and dirty. The photos of the stem show the tooth chatter and marks as well as the chip out of the topside of the button.When I brought the pipe to my worktable I did some reading on Pipedia to before starting the restoration. I have learned that it is important to keep the variations in spelling of this brand clear in mind when trying to put these on a timeline. The names Custom-Bilt, Custombilt, and other variations help place the pipes in the history of the Company.

There is a great article on Pipedia that helps understand the brand and give a sense of what the various stamping looks like on the pipes (https://pipedia.org/wiki/Custom-Bilt). I cite from that article to give a feel for the brand:

In 1946, the name was changed to Custombilt after Mincer began an association with Eugene J. Rich, Inc. There were some big changes in advertising and distribution. The slogan “AS INDIVIDUAL AS A THUMBPRINT” began at this time as well.

In 1953, Leonard Rodgers bought the company and emphasized tobacco pouches and butane lighters. (However, it appears Mincer was working on his new pipe, the Doodler.) In 1968, Rodgers sold the Company to Consolidated Cigars. In the early 1970s, Wally Frank Co. bought the Custombilt trademark and began to produce their version of the pipe in 1974 or 1975. Hollco Rohr owned the Weber pipe factory, located in New Jersey, and produced the Custombilt pipes there. In 1987, the pipes were made out of the Butz-Choquin factory (France) and then Mexico until the late 1990s. Currently, the Custombilt name is owned by Tobacalera of Spain.

Along with the information above I found that the stamping that is on this pipe is identical to that identified in the article as Stamp Number Five. I have included that graphic because of the information that it included. It brings some of the issues in identifying the maker and the time period of the brand. In my mind the pipe I have in hand is very much like the Rich era pipes that I have seen and the note below says that. Interestingly the author also says he has seen the same stamping on the Wally Frank era pipes. It is a fascinating piece of history and a beautifully made old pipe.Armed with that information I turned to working on the pipe. Jeff had cleaned the pipe with his usual thoroughness – reaming the bowl with a PipNet pipe reamer and cleaning up the remnants with a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife. He scrubbed the internals of the bowl, shank and stem with alcohol, cotton swabs and pipe cleaners. He scrubbed the exterior with Murphy’s Oil Soap to clean off the dust and grime on the finish. The rim top looked very good under the thick lava coat. I love the way the grain of the briar shows through the rustication. There were just a few nicks and scratches to deal with. The inside of the bowl itself looked great. The stem was in great shape other than a bit of tooth marks and the chip out of the top of the button. I took photos of the pipe before I started working on it. I took some close up photos of the rim top, bowl and stem to show what they looked like after Jeff’s cleanup. It is a startling difference. The rim top looked very good and the edges were clean and undamaged. The stem was in good shape other than the chipped button and the tooth marks and chatter on both sides near the button.I took some photos of the stamping which seemed far more visible after Jeff’s cleanup than before.Since the briar was in such good condition I started with rejuvenating the wood. I worked some Before & After Restoration Balm into the rustications and worm trails on the bowl and the rim top. I worked it into the surface of the briar with my fingertips and a shoe brush to clean, enliven and protect the wood. Once the bowl was covered with the balm I let it sit for about 20 minutes and buffed it off with a soft cotton cloth and then polished it with a microfiber cloth. I took photos of the pipe at this point in the process to show what the bowl looked like at this point. I set the bowl aside and turned my attention to the stem. I decided to address the deep tooth mark on the underside of the stem and the chip in the top edge of the button. I filled in the tooth mark on the underside of the stem with a clear super glue (Jeff had already cleaned the stem very well so it was not an issue). I used the clear superglue to fill in the chipped area and build it up. I did this by layering the super glue until the surface was filled in with the glue. The last coat of glue that I applied was black super glue. I set the stem aside to let the repairs cure. Once the repair had cured I used a flat blade needle file to sharpen the edge of the button on both sides of the stem. I also used it to flatten out the repairs. I worked on the remaining repaired areas with 220 grit sandpaper to blend them into the surface of the stem. I smoothed out the slotted edge of the button with 220 grit sandpaper on the topping board. I reworked the edges of the slot with a needle file to clean up the repair. I shaped and polished the button with 400 grit wet dry sandpaper. The repaired area looks very good and will look even better as the stem and repairs are polished with micromesh sanding pads. I polished the stem with Denicare Mouthpiece Polish to take out the oxidation at the button edge and on the end of the mouthpiece. I also worked hard to scrub it from the surface of the stem at the tenon end. I polished repaired areas on the stem, button and blade with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanding with 3200-12000 grit pads. I wiped the stem down after each sanding pad with Obsidian Oil. I polished it with Before & After Pipe Stem Polish – both Fine and Extra Fine. Once I had finished the polishing I gave it a final coat of oil and set it aside to dry. I put the bowl and stem back together. I buffed the bowl and stem with Blue Diamond to polish out the light scratches that remained in the briar and the vulcanite. 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 pipe polished up pretty nicely. The worm trail rusticated finish on this Rich era Custombilt turned out very nice and shows the grain shining through. It has the kind of rustic beauty that draws collectors to them after all of these years. The contrast of the worm trails with the grain swirling through them looked good with the polished black vulcanite. This Custombilt billiard will soon be joining the other pipes I have on the rebornpipes store. The finished pipe is shown in the photos below. The dimensions of the pipe are Length: 5 3/4 inches, Height: 2 ¼ inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 ½ inches, Chamber diameter: 7/8 of an inch. If you are interested in adding it to your collection let me know. Thanks for reading this blog and my reflections on the pipe while I worked on it.

Reviving a Custom-Bilt Rusticated Panel


Blog by Dal Stanton

I acquired this Custom-Bilt Panel in the Lot of 66 which I won on the eBay auction block some time ago.  The Lot of 66 has been good to me as it has produced many good, collectible pipes.  Stephen,from Bowling Green, Kentucky, saw the Custom-Bilt in my For ‘Pipe Dreamers’Only! collection on the website and sent me an email asking to commission the Custom-Bilt as well as a very nice Comoy’s Made in London, England Bent Bulldog. In the email Stephen wrote,

I actually have a Tinderbox pipe (by Comoys) on that shape, although at some point it has had a new stem put on. It’s a terrific smoker. And I have several Custom-Bilts from various eras, and love the pipes. Looking forward to seeing the finished pipes down the road!  I enjoy getting to know the pipe men and women who love pipes and I’m happy that this Custom-Bilt Panel, that snagged Stephen’s attention, will also benefit the Daughters of Bulgaria, our work here in Bulgaria helping women and girls who have been trafficked and sexually exploited.  Here are a few of the pictures that got Stephen’s attention in Pipe Dreamers. The nomenclature is on the lower smooth panel.  On the underside of the shank is cursive ‘Custom-Bilt’ with the hyphen separation.  On the underside of the bowl is stamped ‘IMPORTED BRIAR’.  After looking at the pipe on the work table, I also found a ‘O’ stamped on the upper right side of the shank, bordering the stem.  I’m not sure what this is if anything – an anomaly or the rustication tool gone awry!  On a hunch, I look back at Pipephil.eu and I see what I missed the first time I looked.  The circle in the picture above is a marking listed as having appeared on some Custom-Bilt pipes.  It does not indicate which period or production lines each marking indicates. The information from Pipephil.eu about the multiple transitions in ownership of the American pipe name, Custom-Bilt was to the point:

Chunky bowls with rough carving or gouges.

Tracy Mincer stopped making Custom-Bilt pipes in the early 1950s. The trademark was successively bought by Leonard Rodgers (1953), Consolidated Cigars (1968) and Wally Frank Co. (early 1970s). The later began to produce again his version of the pipe in 1974 or 1975 at Weber pipe factory (NJ). In 1987, the pipes were made out of the Butz-Choquin factory (France) and then Mexico until the late 1990s. Currently (2010), the Custombilt name is owned by Tobacalera of Spain which is part of Altadis.

It is generally admitted (but not proved) pipes stamped “Custom – Bilt” (with the hyphen) are from the Mincer era. The name might have changed from Custom-Bilt to Custombilt (without the hyphen) in 1946.

If this information is accurate regarding the inclusion or exclusion of a hyphen indicating the period of manufacturing, the Custom-Bilt in front of me could be from the Mincer period and if so, could be dated from 1946 or earlier.  This is helpful information regarding the dating.

The pipe itself seems to be in solid condition.  The characteristic rustified, roughed-up surface of this Custom-Bilt pipe is darkened from grime and needs a thorough cleaning.  The chamber looks good with a thin cake build up.  The rim is in good shape but is darkened from scorching over the years.  The stem has mild oxidation and light tooth chatter and a compression on the lower bit, next to the button. I notice too, that the stem fitting may be a bit loose.  We’ll see how that shapes up after cleaning.  Overall, no major challenges are detected. 

I begin what should be a straight forward restoration of this Custom-Bilt Panel by cleaning the stem’s airway using a pipe cleaner wetted with isopropyl 95%.  I then add the stem to a Before & After Deoxidizer soak, along with other pipes and stems in queue.  After several hours soaking, I remove the stem and allow the Deoxidizer to drain and then wipe off the raised oxidation with cotton pads wetted with alcohol.  I follow this with a cotton pad wetted with light paraffin oil that helps condition the vulcanite.I then turn to the stummel and use the Pipnet Reaming Kit to clean the light cake in the chamber.  The chamber is not deep but wide and I use 3 of the 4 blades heads available.  I then transition to the Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Tool and scrape the chamber walls further. Finally, I sand the chamber by wrapping a Sharpie Pen with 240 grit paper.  To clean the carbon dust, I wipe the chamber with a cotton pad wetted with alcohol.  After inspection, the chamber shows now signs of heat damage.  The pictures show the progress. Now turning to the external surface, I use undiluted Murphy’s Oil Soap to scrub the rustified surface.  To get into all the nooks and crevices I also use a bristled tooth brush.  I also use the brass wire brush to work on the rim scorching.  The pictures show the progress. With the externals clean, I turn to the internals of the stummel using pipe cleaners and cotton buds dipped in isopropyl 95%.  Long shank brushes also prove to be helpful.  I scrape the mortise wall with a dental spatula to remove old oil and tar buildup.  Using a drill bit about the same size as the airway, I hand turn the bit and this also removes more buildup on the airway wall.  The pictures show the tools of cleaning. With my day ending, I continue cleaning the Custom-Bilt by giving it a kosher salt and alcohol soak through the night to work on the tars and oils absorbed into the briar.  I first stretch and twist a cotton ball to act as a ‘wick’ inserted down the mortise and airway.  This ‘wick’ draws the tars and oils from the mortise.  I then fill the bowl with kosher salt, which doesn’t leave an aftertaste, and I give the bowl a shake to disperse the salt.  After placing the stummel in an egg cart to stabilize, using a large eyedropper I fill the bowl with isopropyl 95% until it surfaces over the salt.  After few minutes I top off the alcohol which has absorbed into the pipe.  I put the pipe aside and turn off the lights. Rising with the sun, I go to the worktable and the salt and alcohol soak has done the work as hoped.  Both the salt and the wick are discolored with the extraction of the tars and oils.  I dump the expended salt in the waste can and wipe the chamber with paper towel to remove the salt.  I also run a shank brush through the mortise and airway followed by blowing through to clear salt crystals.  To make sure the cleaning is thorough, I dip a cotton bud and pipe cleaner in isopropyl 95% and run them through the mortise again and I’m satisfied all is clean.Looking again at the stummel, I’m not satisfied with rim – still darkened and scorched looking.  To protect and maintain the Custom-Bilt rim’s rustication I don’t want to sand.  I decide to return again to the brass wire brush, without any cleaner solvent and leaving the surface dry, I brush the rim rotating the brush around the rim so that my movement is parallel with the rustication cuts.  This dislodges more carbon stuck in the ridges.  I think it did do the trick.  Pictures show the before and after. Before putting the stummel aside to work on the stem, I apply a coat of light paraffin oil to the rustified stummel surface to hydrate the wood. The oil is thin enough to seep into the crannies of the classic Custom-Bilt rustication using a cotton pad. After thoroughly applied, I put the stummel aside to absorb and dry.I now look at the stem again.  It has minor issues on the lower bit (second picture) with a bite compression on the button and on the bit.  There is also a small bite compression on the edge (third picture). To address these, I first use the heating technique using a Bic lighter and painting the compression areas.  The flame heats the vulcanite, a rubber compound, expanding it and causing the compression to lessen or minimize.  The heating method helps in this case leaving the compressions to be easily sanded out. Using a flat needle file, I file the button area refining the button upper and lower lips.  I follow by erasing the file scratches by using 240 grade paper on upper and lower bit.Following the 240, I erase the 240 scratches by wet sanding the entire stem with 600 grade paper followed by buffing the stem with 0000 steel wool.I move directly to the micromesh process by wet sanding with pads 1500 to 2400, then dry sanding with pads 3200 to 4000 and 6000 to 12000.  Between each set of three, I apply Obsidian oil which the vulcanite drinks in, revitalizing the stem. With the stem waiting in the wings, I turn again to the Custom-Bilt stummel and take another look.  What’s bothering me I realize is the black ring on the inner lip of the rim.  It continues to carry the charred look to the rim.  Without bothering or diminishing the rustication on the rim, I decide to create an internal bevel to remove the darkened wood thus helping to lighten the rim and make it look sharper.  I first use 240 grade paper tightly rolled to remove the heavy charring then follow with 600 grade paper to sharpen the bevel.  I like the rim presentation much better now.  The pictures show the adjustment. I’ve been learning through my research that the hallmark of the Custom-Bilt ‘look’ is rough and big.  This Custom-Bilt isn’t a large pipe, but he is rough with the classic Custom-Bilt rustication that is a consistent technique used in the C-B manufacturing.  I found it interesting that ‘smooths’ are the rarer and more collectible Custom-Bilts according to the Pipedia article.  Yet, the C-B rough look has a certain appeal.  To me, what causes a rustication motif to look classier is when the patches of smooth briar across its landscape are shined and buffed up in nice contrast.  To me also, every peak of a rustication ridge or ‘mountain top’ is smooth briar, not just the underside nomenclature panel and the shank panels.  To shine the peaks and panels, I take the top two thirds of the micromesh pads (3200 to 12000) and dry sand the entire stummel.  The first 3 pictures mark the stummel before using micromesh pads.  I pad sanding ‘lights up’ the rustication patterns and nuances a bit more softness to the rough look. Next, I use Before & After Restoration Balm to condition the rusticated bowl.  The challenge will be to work the Balm into the nooks and crannies and make sure it is absorbed.  I put Balm on my fingers and work the Balm in the rough briar.  After its covered well, I let it sit for a few minutes then begin wiping and buffing using a microfiber cloth.  Wow!  The Balm does a great job enriching the briar.  It looks great. Next, I reunite stem and stummel and mount a cotton cloth wheel on the Dremel and set the speed at about 40% full power and I apply Blue Diamond compound to the entire pipe.  With the 1-inch buffing wheel on the Dremel, I’m able to navigate through the cuts, crannies and gullies of the rustication flow pretty well.  This minimizes the concern for the compound to ‘gunk up’ in the rustication.  After completing the application of Blue Diamond compound and buffing the stummel with a felt cloth to remove compound dust, I do detect some ‘gunking’ in some of the crannies.  Using a stiff plastic brush, I brush the stummel to dislodge the compound.  To make sure the stummel is clean and ready for wax, I use a small felt buffing wheel to work into the nooks and crannies of the rustication – this does a great job and further buffs up the briar.  Nice.Again, I mount the Dremel with another cloth buffing wheel, increase the speed to about 50% full power. This is a little more RPM than normal for waxing.  I want to generate a little more heat than normal with the additional RPM to be sure the wax liquifies well into the briar.  This will assure an even application and avoid (I hope!) the wax from gunking up in the crannies.  I apply carnauba wax to the stummel with a light touch.  To avoid wax getting lodged in the rustication, I apply wax sparingly and rotate the Dremel buffing wheel to navigate through the crevices.  I apply several coats of carnauba to stem and stummel and follow by giving the stummel both a good buffing with a microfiber cloth and a brushing with a horse hair shoe brush on the stummel.

This probable 1940s/50s Custom-Bilt Panel came out much nicer than I was expecting. I’m drawn to the mountain-like landscape of the stummel. Cleaning and hydrating the briar along with bringing the rustication through a polishing regimen resulted in transforming an interesting pipe with rustication into an eye catching classy piece of sculpted briar – that just happens to be a Custom-Bilt, thank you.  One additional small change that made a big difference in the final look was the internal rim bevel.  The residual darkened rim from former scorching was helped immensely not only by the rigorous cleaning, but also cutting a simple internal bevel.  In the finished pipe (as shown in the first picture below), that bevel’s high polish now sets off well the rusticated rim – to me, a very classy addition for this Custom-Bilt Panel.  Stephen commissioned the Custom-Bilt Panel to add to his collection of C-Bs and will have the first opportunity to acquire it in the Pipe Steward Store.  The best part is what follows – that this C-B benefits the Daughters of Bulgaria – helping women and girls who have been trafficked and sexually exploited.  Thanks for joining me!

 

Finishing the Restoration and Restemming a Custom-Bilt Billiard


Blog by Steve Laug

Not long ago I was speaking with Paresh and Abha on Facetime and they showed me a second pipe that they wanted me to finish for them. This one was a Custom-Bilt billiard that had come to him from the estate of his Grandfather. It had a threaded tenon stem and a shank that had no threads. I have never seen a Custom-Bilt with a threaded mortise and tenon so it was a fair assumption that the stem was not original. It had been wrapped with glue and tape to make it fit in the shank and the fit was awful. Paresh wanted me to fit a new stem on the pipe for him. Abha had done a magnificent job cleaning the pipe so it was really a simple restoration for me – just fit a stem and finish the bowl. The briar was clean and lifeless so it would need some attention to breathe life into it again. He wanted me to pick up where he had left off and finish the pipe for him. The pipe was stamped on the left side of the shank Custom-Bilt and on the underside it was stamped Imported Briar. It would be interesting to see what I could do with it. When the pipe arrived this is what it looked like. You can see the remnants of wrapping and glue on the metal threaded tenon. There were tooth marks in the surface of the vulcanite stem on both the top and underside near the button. The first photo below shows the rim top and the inside of the bowl. Both were very clean and the rustication was in great condition as were the inner and outer edges of the bowl. The second photo shows the end of the shank with the glue on the inside of the mortise and the lack of threads that would be present if the tenon that was on the stem would work with this pipe.I took some photos of the stamping on the left and underside of the shank. The left side reads Custom-Bilt and the underside reads Imported Briar.I took close up photos of the stem. You can see the metal tenon on the end of the stem. There is some oxidation and there are the tooth marks on the stem top and underside.I wanted to refresh my memory on the history of the brand. I knew that his one was one of Tracy Mincer’s pipes because of the hyphenated name stamp. I looked on Pipedia and read Richard Esserman’s write up on Bill Unger’s Book. He gives a great summary of the history there. I quote a section of it below. (https://pipedia.org/wiki/Custom-Bilt(Rich Esserman))Tracy Mincer started the original Custom-Bilt pipes it appears in 1934. Bill meticulously details the start of the Company, how it was financed, the changes in the original ownership, how the company distributed its product, the manufacturing process, certain patented items, and other interesting stuff.

Mentioned briefly in this chapter was the fact that Custom-Bilt was producing big, carved pipes using Algerian briar for production up to WW II. One important employee, Hetzer Hartsock, stated: I can tell you something about that rough texture that Custom-Bilt had. One reason rough textured was used was not only for looks but it could hide flaws in the briar. [The process gave] A very uncontrolled cut. Then he [Tracy] would buff it out. [page 25]

Custom-Bilt pipes retailed between $5.00 and $15.00 in the 1940s. According to an ad, standard Dunhill pipes were selling for $12.00 and $13.50, Parker pipes $7.50, GBD for $6.00 and Comoy’s $7.50. Not mentioned was that special Dunhills could retail up to $100 and certain Comoy’s up to $25.

In 1946, the name was changed to Custombilt after Mincer began an association with Eugene J. Rich, Inc. There were some big changes in advertising and distribution. The slogan “AS INDIVIDUAL AS A THUMBPRINT” began at this time as well.

In the early 1950’s, Tracy Mincer developed severe financial problems that caused him to stop making the Custombilt, and he lost the name. In 1953, Leonard Rodgers bought the company and emphasized tobacco pouches and butane lighters. (However, it appears Mincer was working on his new pipe, the Doodler.) In 1968, Rodgers sold the Company to Consolidated Cigars. In the early 1970s, Wally Frank Co. bought the Custombilt trademark and began to produce their version of the pipe in 1974 or 1975. Hollco Rohr owned the Weber pipe factory, located in New Jersey, and produced the Custombilt pipes there. In 1987, the pipes were made out of the Butz-Choquin factory (France) and then Mexico until the late 1990s. Currently, the Custombilt name is owned by Tobacalera of Spain.

I set the bowl aside and decided to work on the stem. The diameter of the stem was perfect for the pipe so I needed to remove the metal threaded tenon and replace it with a Delrin tenon. I heated and scraped away all of the glue and tape on the threads of the tenon and those that bound it to the stem. I held it tight with vise grip pliers and turned the stem. It would not come out no matter how I turned or pulled on it. I decided I would have to use more drastic measures. Using the vise grip pliers as a vise I set up my cordless drill to drill out the tenon. I started with a bit slightly larger than the airway in the tenon and drilled it. I was hoping it would catch and pull the tenon out. First bit was a failure. I worked my way up to a bit slightly smaller than the diameter of the tenon and worked on it. The extended portion of the tenon broke off and I was left with the piece in the stem. I drilled it out with a bit and the bit grabbed the piece and it all came out.Once the metal was removed from the stem I cleaned out the hole in the stem with alcohol, cotton swabs and pipe cleaners to remove the debris. I smoothed out the threads to leave grooves in the tenon insert. Once I had it smoothed out enough I tried it in the stem. The fit was perfect. I cut deeper grooves in the tenon with a file and coated it with black super glue. I pressed it into the stem and lined it up so the fit was straight.  I set it aside to let the glue cure. While the glue cured I worked on the bowl. I scraped the glue out of the inside of the mortise using a pen knife. The glue had hardened so it took repeated scraping to get rid of it and bring the mortise back to bare wood.When the glue cured I tried the fit of the stem in the mortise. The stem fit well on the shank. I put it in place on the shank and took photos of the pipe at this point in the process. I rubbed down the briar with Before & After Restoration Balm. I worked it into the smooth surface of the briar with my fingertips and into the rustication patterns with a horsehair shoe brush to clean, enliven and protect it. I let the balm sit for a little while and then buffed the bowl with a cotton cloth to raise the shine. The following photos show the bowl at this point in the restoration process. The grain is really starting to stand out. I polished the stem with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanding with 3200-12000 grit pads. I wiped the stem down after each pad with Obsidian Oil to remove the sanding dust on the vulcanite. I wiped it down with a final coat of Obsidian Oil and set it aside to dry. I polished stem and bowl with Blue Diamond to polish out the remaining small scratches. 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 pipe polished up pretty nicely. The natural oil finish works well when polished to really highlight the variety of grains around the bowl and shank. The polished black vulcanite stem works together with the beautiful grain and worm trail rustication in the briar to give the pipe a rich look. The finished pipe is shown in the photos below. The shape, finish and flow of the pipe and stem are very well done. The dimensions are Length: 5 3/4 inches, Height: 1 3/4 inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 1/2 inches, Chamber diameter: 3/4 inches. I will be sending the pipe back with the others that belong to Paresh. I have one pipe left to finish for him. Thanks for walking through the restoration with me as I worked over this well-made Tracy Mincer Custom-Bilt. 

Restoring my grandfather’s Custom-Bilt pipe


Blog by Paresh Deshpande

Now that the WDC Bulldog with Bakelite stem and gold band has been sent to Mr. Steve along with one Linkman’s with Pat Number and one Barling Ye Olde Wood, I suddenly feel relieved off the pressure of messing up with the restoration of these sentimentally valuable old pipes of my grandfather. It always pays to have someone experienced to fall back on in case something goes awry, the way it did with the WDC mentioned above. I am sure that those of who have previously read about the restoration of the Pete System # 31 will be curious to know what exactly went wrong with the WDC that I have mentioned it twice!!! Well, I definitely intend to share this story with you, but all in good time!!!!!

The next pipe from the collection which I decided to work on was a huge Custom-Bilt briar pipe. The large size of the bowl, thick shank and large saddle stem, lends this pipe a weight which I particularly enjoy holding in my hand.The pipe has deep and large vertical rustications along the entire length of the shank and height of the bowl. Within these large vertical rustications are very thin, closely stacked horizontal lines which give this pipe its unique appearance and are its trademark!!! I absolutely loved this pipe. These large rustications end half a centimeter below the outer rim of the bowl giving it the semblance of a rim cap. The rim top is covered with the same thin, closely stacked lines as seen between the vertical rustications.The pipe is stamped on the left side of the shank as “Custom-Bilt” on a plane surface. There is also a five-pointed star on the right side of the shank where the shank and stem meet (this star was revealed later after cleaning the pipe!!!).I searched the internet for information in order to date this pipe. Pipedia has  a lot of information about this pipe and just typing in Custom-Bilt in the search bar of the site will reveal the required information. There is an interesting review given by Richard Esserman  on a book written by   William E. Unger, Jr., PhD, which deals with the study of Custom-Bilt pipes. The author authoritatively states, after a lot of research and study that the stamp as seen on this particular pipe dates it from between 1938 – 1946!Initial inspection of the pipe revealed the following:

There is a thick layer of cake in the bowl. Though the cake appears thin, the sheer size of the bowl makes it appear so.The rim is covered in the overflow of lava, dirt and grime. The outer edge of the rim appears to be in good condition with no damage. The condition of the inner edge will be determined only after removing the cake.

The large vertical rustications are filled with dust, oils, dirt and grime to such an extent that the horizontal lines lying within are barely visible. Same goes for the rim top.  The stem is firmly stuck to the shank and will not budge. However, there is only one light bite mark below and above the stem near the lip. This is a big surprise since all the other pipes are heavily chomped up!THE PROCESS

Before I could start the work of cleaning the pipe, I kept it in the freezer overnight so as to separate the stem from the shank. Come morning, I removed the pipe from the freezer and tried to remove the stem, but it still did not budge! I let it rest outside for an hour and after applying considerable force, the stem came free, revealing an aluminum tenon fixed permanently into the shank.My first impression was that of having broken and ruined the stem. Further examination of this protrusion confirmed two airways, a larger one above a smaller one, both with the same draught hole at the other end.There is also a gap between the end of this aluminum protrusion and the airway hole inside the stem. This gap is covered in oils, tars and gunk. My guess is that the smoke drawn is swirled and the turbulence results in a cool and dry smoke. Any confirmed inputs will be highly appreciated.Using a Kleen Reem pipe tool, Abha, my wife removed all the thick cake from the bowl. She further cleaned the bowl down to the bare briar using a knife that I have especially fabricated for cleaning pipes. It may not be as classy as a Savinelli Fitsall knife, but performs efficiently to our satisfaction.A sanding down of the insides of the bowl by a 220 grit sand paper made the inner surface of the bowl nice and smooth. Abha had sanded down the inside of the bowl down to its briar. On close scrutiny of the insides of the bowl, I saw what appeared to be cracks in the bowl and that had me in sweats!!! Immediately forwarded pictures of the same to my mentor and Guru, Mr. Steve who laid my fears to rest by assuring these were not cracks and that further sanding should take care of these things. These lines which appeared like cracks disappeared after sanding down with a 220 grit sand paper.Thereafter, using Murphy’s oil soap ( undiluted ) and a hard bristled toothbrush on the exterior of the bowl, shank and rim, the pipe was thoroughly cleaned and rinsed under running tap water. I immediately wiped it down with a soft cloth. The long vertical rustications and the horizontal lines within were now clean and the briar looked clean and solid. I then left the briar to dry out. This product, I find to be very easy to use and the results are really amazing. The briar takes on a new look and a new shine. While the briar was drying out, I turned my attention to the stem. Since there is only one small, light bite mark on both the sides of the stem near the lip, I felt that it can be addressed by holding it over a Bic lighter and during sanding down using a 220 grit paper followed by micromesh sanding pads. Since there is no stamping on the stem, the work progressed relatively faster. After a 220 grit sanding, I wet sanded it with 1500 – 3200 micromesh sanding pads and dry sanded with 3400 – 12000 grit sand paper. In between each micromesh pad, I wiped it down with extra virgin olive oil, which I find is a perfect substitute for Obsidian oil which is not available in India and olive oil also tastes great! The stem is now nice and shiny. However, the light bite marks on both upper and lower sides can still be seen even after the using the Bic lighter and the sanding down process. This should have been addressed right at the beginning by either filling it with black super glue (which I do not have) or by using activated charcoal as suggested by my Guru, Mr. Steve. Well, this was a lesson learnt during this project.

Once the briar had dried out completely, I rubbed in Before and After Restoration Balm deep into the rustications as well as the rim top. The bowl was then wiped vigorously with a soft cloth and buffed with a horse hair shoe brush. The result is very pleasing and satisfying to the eyes! I am happy with this progress. This balm is a fantastic product for infusing a new life into the briar and giving it a new lease of life.While on a FaceTime call with Mr. Steve, I had conveyed that I do not have a buffing wheel and other waxes. He advised me to use boot wax which is readily available with us, it being an inescapable requirement in my profession and believe you me, it works wonders. I can rely on his vast experience to come up with such simple, uncomplicated and practical solutions, specifically tailor-made for you. Thank you, Sir.

The finished pipe is as shown below. I enjoyed working on this large Custim-Bilt pipe belonging to my grandfather. There are still a number of pipes which I have to work on and the next one is an old Stanwell, de-Luxe # 482 with Regd number 969-48 and a KRISWILL “CHIEF” #20. I have to work really hard and fast so as to complete as many pipes as possible before my leave ends!!!!