Tag Archives: Custom-Bilt Pot

A Chunky and Squat Custom-Bilt Pot


Blog by Steve Laug

The next pipe I chose to work on is one that has been here in my box to work on since around 2016. It is a well made, interesting looking Custom-Bilt chunky Pot. The more I looked at it the more I thought that it had not gone through Jeff’s cleaning before it came here. I actually have no idea where it was from and when it came us. The bowl had moderate cake and the inner edge had damage and the rim top was darkened. The pipe is a classic Custom-Bilt piece – a rusticated Chubby shank Pot shaped pipe with some deep carving around the bowl. The pipe is stamped on the heel of the bowl and reads Imported Briar [over] Custom-Bilt. On the right side of the shank it bears a carved circle near the stem/shank junction. Looking at the pipe you can see signs that the bowl had been heavily caked with an overflow of lava on the rim top and the inner edge. The bowl and shank smelled dirty and seemed to be oily. The stem looked good and had tooth chatter and marks on the top and underside near the button. There were no markings or a logo on the taper stem. It looked pretty good when I brought it to the worktable. I took photos of the rim top and bowl to give a clear picture of the appearance of the rim top and edges of the bowl. There was some darkening on the rustication on the top and some lava in the grooves. There was also some damage to the inner edge of the bowl. I took photos of the top and underside of the stem to show the chatter and tooth marks. The stamping on the heel of the bowl is faint but still readable and read as noted above. I removed the stem and took a photo of the pipe to give a sense of the whole. It is a stubby pipe.I turned to Pipephil (http://www.pipephil.eu/logos/en/logo-c8.html) to get a quick view of the brand once again. I knew that I was working with one of the older pipes and probably made by Tracy Mincer himself. He stopped making the Custom-Bilt pipes in the early 1950s. The screen capture I included below shows a brief history of the brand. It also has a comment on the symbols stamped on the shank near the stem including the square that is stamped on this one.I turned to Pipedia (https://pipedia.org/wiki/File:CustomBilt_Stamp1.jpg) for a quick read. The majority of the information there included two book reviews of the “Custom-Bilt Story” by Bill Unger.

The one line I culled was the following: “Tracy Mincer started the original Custom-Bilt pipes it appears in 1934”.

I did a screen capture of the stamping that matched the stamping on the pipe that I am working on. What I learned from that is that the stamp was used by Tracy Mincer in Indianapolis in the US from 1938-1946 and possibly in Chicago before 1938 as well. So now I had a possible date for this pipe. It was an old timer and it was well worth working on.Armed with that information I turned to work on the pipe itself. I started my work on the pipe by cleaning up the reaming in the bowl with a PipNet pipe reamer. I used a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife to remove the remainder and then sanded the bowl walls with 220 grit sandpaper wrapped around a piece of dowel. The bowl walls looked very good. I scrubbed the externals with undiluted Murphy’s Oil Soap and a tooth brush. I worked over the rim top and the rest of the bowl and rinsed it off with warm water. I dried off the briar with a cotton towel.   I turned next to the remaining darkening on the rim top and used a brass bristle brush and worked it over to remove the grime and debris that was still present there. It looked better when I finished.  I cleaned up the damage to the inner edge of the rim. I used a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper to reshape the edge. The finished rim top and edge looks better. I wiped the rim top down with alcohol to remove the sanding dust. Once I had dried it off I rubbed it down with Before & After Restoration Balm. I worked it into the surface of the bowl sides and shank with my fingertips and a horsehair shoe brush to clean, enliven and protect the briar. I let the balm sit for about 10-15 minutes and buffed with a cotton cloth to raise the shine.  While I was buffing it I found that I had forgotten to clean the insides of the shank and stem. I cleaned it with isopropyl alcohol, pipe cleaners and cotton swabs. It smelled much better.    I set the bowl aside and turned to work on the stem. I “painted” the stem with the flames of a lighter to lift them as much as possible. I filled in the remaining tooth marks with black super glue.     Once the repair cured I flattened the repair on the topside and shaped the button edge on both sides with a small flat file. I sanded the button edges and the repairs on the stem with 220 grit sandpaper to blend them into the surface of the vulcanite. I started polishing it with 400 grit wet dry sandpaper. It is starting to look very good.    I polished the vulcanite stem with micromesh sanding pads – 1500-12000 grit pads. I wiped it down with Obsidian Oil after each sanding pad. I used Before & After Pipe Polish – both Fine and Extra Fine to further polish the stem. This Custom-Bilt Pot is a great looking pipe now that it has been restored. The style of rustication that is used around the bowl is highlighted by the stain application and works well with both the shape and the polished vulcanite stem. I put the stem back on the bowl and carefully buffed the pipe with Blue Diamond on the buffing wheel using a light touch on the briar. I gave the bowl multiple coats of Conservator’s Wax and the stem multiple coats of carnauba wax on the buffing wheel and followed that by buffing the entire pipe with a clean buffing pad. I hand buffed the pipe with a microfiber cloth to deepen the shine. The finished Custom-Bilt is another pipe that fits nicely in the hand and feels great. Give the finished pipe a look in the photos below. The dimensions of the pipe are Length: 5 ½ inches, Height: 1 ½ inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 ½ inches, Chamber diameter: 7/8 of an inch. The weight of the pipe is 42 grams/1.48 ounces. I will be putting it on the rebornpipes store in the American Pipemakers Section shortly. If you are interested in adding this pipe to your collection send me a message or an email. Thanks for reading this blog and my reflections on the pipe while I worked on it. There are many more to come!

Breathing Life into a Custom-Bilt Long Shank Pot


Blog by Steve Laug

The next pipe on the work table came to us on 10/14/2017 from now closed antique shop in Pocatello, Idaho, USA. The pipe is a classic Custom-Bilt piece – a rusticated long shank Pot shaped pipe with some deep carving around the bowl. The pipe is stamped on the left side of the shank and reads Custom-Bilt. On the heel of the bowl it is stamped Imported Briar. On the right side of the shank there is an “O” stamped at the shank/stem junction. There was a lot of grime ground into the smooth and rusticated portions of the finish on the briar. The bowl was heavily caked with a heavy overflow of lava on the rusticated top and inner edge of the rim. The inside edges looked to be in good condition. The finish was dirty and there appeared to be a burn mark on the right side toward the top that looked like the pipe have been set in an ashtray with cigarettes and suffered the consequences. The stem was dirty and lightly oxidized. It had tooth chatter and marks on the top and underside near the button. There were no markings or a logo on the saddle stem. It had promise but it was very dirty. Jeff took some photos of the pipe before he started his cleanup work. He took photos of the rim top and bowl to give a clear picture of the thickness of the cake and tobacco debris as well as the lava on the rim top rustication. He also took photos of the top and underside of the stem to show the light oxidation and the chatter and tooth marks. Jeff took a photo of the heel of the bowl to give a picture of what the briar looked like. The rustication pattern around the bowl is instantly recognizable as done by Custom-Bilt.He took a photo of the burn mark on the right side of the bowl. The inside of the bowl is clear so it is not a burn through. It is an obvious burn from being laid in an ashtray.The stamping on the left side of the shank, the heel of the bowl and the right side at the shank/stem joint is clear and readable and read as noted above. I turned to Pipephil (http://www.pipephil.eu/logos/en/logo-c8.html) to get a quick view of the brand once again. I knew that I was working with one of the older pipes and probably made by Tracy Mincer himself. He stopped making the Custom-Bilt pipes in the early 1950s. The screen capture I included below shows a brief history of the brand. I turned to Pipedia (https://pipedia.org/wiki/File:CustomBilt_Stamp1.jpg) for a quick read. The majority of the information there included two book reviews of the “Custom-Bilt Story” by Bill Unger.

The one line I culled was the following: “Tracy Mincer started the original Custom-Bilt pipes it appears in 1934”.

I did a screen capture of the stamping that matched the stamping on the pipe that I am working on. What I learned from that is that the stamp was used by Tracy Mincer in Indianapolis in the US from 1938-1946 and possibly in Chicago before 1938 as well. So now I had a possible date for this pipe. It was an old timer and it was well worth working on.Armed with that information I turned to work on the pipe itself. Jeff had cleaned up the pipe with his usual penchant for thoroughness. He reamed the pipe with a PipNet pipe reamer and removed the rest of it with a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife. He scrubbed the bowl with undiluted Murphy’s Oil Soap with a tooth brush. He rinsed it under running warm water to remove the soap and grime. He cleaned out the inside of the shank and the airway in the stem with alcohol, cotton swabs and pipe cleaners. He scrubbed the stem with Soft Scrub and a tooth brush and rinsed it off with warm water. I took photos of the pipe before I started my part of the restoration work. The rim top cleaned up really well. The inner edge had some darkening and wear that would need to be addressed. The outer edge of the bowl look very good. The stem surface looked good with a few small tooth marks and chatter on both sides near the button. The stamping on left side of the shank is clear and readable. I failed to take photos of the stamping on the heel and right side but they to are clear. It is stamped as noted above.I removed the stem and took a photo of the pipe to give a sense of the whole. It is a proportionally pleasing pipe.I started my work on the pipe by addressing the dark burn mark on the right side of the bowl in the worm trail toward the back. I worked over the burn mark the darkening on the rim top with a brass bristle wire brush. I was able to clean it up nicely and it looked better. I scrubbed the bowl with Murphy’s Oil Soap and a tooth brush to remove the debris I had loosened with the wire brushes.   I filled in the burned spot on the right side with briar dust and super glue. Once the repair cured I worked over the area with the brass bristle wire brush to remove the excess. With that repair done the burned spot looked much better.    Next I worked on the damaged and darkened inner edge of the rim with a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper. It looked much better.   With all the repairs and shaping finished I decided to stain the pipe to mask the darkening where the burn mark had been as well as on the rim top. I chose a light brown aniline stain, though once it was on the bowl it looked very dark to me. I would have to deal with that shortly.   To lighten the stain and make it more transparent I wiped the bowl down with alcohol on paper towels and cotton pads. I took a lot of the stain off the bowl but it still was too dark to my liking.  I sanded the high spots around the bowl with a 1200 grit micromesh pad to remove some more of the dark stain. I liked the overall effect of the new stain and the pattern the sanding created.    The bowl was in excellent condition so started by rubbing the bowl and shank down with Before & After Restoration Balm. I worked it into the surface of the bowl sides and shank with my fingertips and a horsehair shoe brush to clean, enliven and protect the briar. I let the balm sit for about 10-15 minutes and buffed with a cotton cloth to raise the shine.    I set the bowl aside and turned to work on the stem. I sanded out the tooth chatter and light tooth marks with 220 grit sandpaper to blend them into the surface of the vulcanite. I started polishing it with 400 grit wet dry sandpaper.  I polished the vulcanite stem with micromesh sanding pads – 1500-12000 grit pads. I wiped it down with Obsidian Oil after each sanding pad. I used Before & After Pipe Polish – both Fine and Extra Fine to further polish the stem. This Custom-Bilt Long Shank Pot is a great looking pipe now that it has been restored. The style of rustication that is used around the bowl is highlighted by the stain application and works well with both the shape and the polished vulcanite saddle stem. I put the stem back on the bowl and carefully buffed the pipe with Blue Diamond on the buffing wheel using a light touch on the briar. I gave the bowl multiple coats of Conservator’s Wax and the stem multiple coats of carnauba wax on the buffing wheel and followed that by buffing the entire pipe with a clean buffing pad. I hand buffed the pipe with a microfiber cloth to deepen the shine. The finished Custom-Bilt is another pipe that fits nicely in the hand and feels great. Give the finished pipe a look in the photos below. The dimensions of the pipe are Length: 5 inches, Height: 1 ½ inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 ½ inches, Chamber diameter: 7/8 of an inch. The weight of the pipe is 39g/1.38oz.  I will be putting it on the rebornpipes store in the American Pipemakers Section shortly. If you are interested in adding this pipe to your collection send me a message or an email. Thanks for reading this blog and my reflections on the pipe while I worked on it. There are many more to come!

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.