Tag Archives: Custombilt Bulldog

Breathing Life into a Custombilt Imported Briar English Squat Bulldog


Blog by Steve Laug

The next pipe on the work table came to us from an online auction in 2018 from Frisco, Texas, USA. The pipe is a classic Custombilt piece – a rusticated squat English Bulldog shaped pipe with some nice grain around the bowl. The pipe is stamped on the left side of the shank and reads Custombilt [over] Imported Briar. On the underside of the shank on the left it is stamped next to the stem/shank junction with the shape number 17. 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 tobacco debris in the bowl. The rim top had an overflow of lava on the smooth rim top and inner edge of the rim. The inside edges looked to be in good condition. The stem was dirty and lightly oxidized. It had tooth chatter and marks on the top and underside near the button and on the button edge. There were not 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 light lava on the rim top. 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 photos of the side and 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 Custombilt. The stamping on the left topside and left underside of the shank 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 quote from the side bar in the above screen capture and have highlighted in red the pertinent part of the article.

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.

I turned to Pipedia and found the following advertisement for the Custombilt line that I am working on (https://pipedia.org/wiki/File:Custombilt_Shapes.jpg). The logo on the advertisement is the same and the shape I have circled in red in the advert below is the same shape number as the one that I am working on.  The majority of the information on the rest of the site was two book reviews of the Custom-Bilt Story by Bill Unger. I did a screen capture of the stamping that matched the stamping on the pipe that I am working on. 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.

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 soaked the stem in Before & After Deoxidizer 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 rim top and outer edge of the bowl look very good. The inner edge has some damage on the front of the bowl. The stem surface looked very good with a few small tooth marks and chatter on both sides near the button.    The stamping on top left of the shank is clear and readable. It is stamped as noted above.I removed the stem and took a photo of the pipe to give a sense of the whole. The wide saddle stem is nice and the photo shows the step down tenon.I cleaned up the inner edge of the bowl with a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper to smooth out the damage. Once I had smoothed out the edge the bowl was ready.   I polished the smooth briar around outside of the bowl and the rim top with micromesh sanding pads. I sanded it with 1500-12000 grit pads and wiped the bowl down with a damp cloth to remove the sanding dust.  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 15 minutes and buffed with a cotton cloth to raise the shine. The grain came alive.  I set the bowl aside and turned to work on the stem. 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 Custombilt Imported Briar Squat English Bulldog is a great looking pipe now that it has been restored. The style of rustication that is used around the bowl is quite beautiful and works well with both the shape and the polished vulcanite taper 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 Custombilt Bulldog 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: 2 inches, Chamber diameter: 7/8 of an inch. The weight of the pipe is 48g/1.69oz. I will be putting it on the rebornpipes store 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!

There is something about Custombilt Bulldogs that attracts me


Blog by Steve Laug

I needed a short break from the repairs that I have been doing a lot of lately so I chose to work on a nice Custombilt Bulldog that Jeff had sent me. It was a well-shaped ¼ bent Bulldog with worm trail rustication with a slight variation. Each of the worm trails and all around them was marked with a further rustication over the top – horizontal lines that ran all across them and around the bowl. They continued about half way up the shank on the top of the diamond shank. On the underside there was less rustication. The lower left side is stamped Custombilt over Imported Briar. There were two rings going around the bowl separating the rim cap from the rest of the bowl. One ring was slightly larger than the other. There were some small chips and nicks in the rim cap and between the rings. They were not too bad so they would not need a lot of work. The bowl had thick cake and a slight overflow of lava on the back side of the rim. There was some darkening to the rim. The rusticated finish was dirty and had grit and dirt in the grooves. The vulcanite stem was oxidized and there was tooth chatter on both sides near the button. There were no deep tooth marks in the stem itself. Jeff took some photos before he started working on his normal cleanup of the pipe. Jeff took a close up photo of the bowl and rim to show the condition of the pipe before he started to work his magic on it. The bowl had a thick dark cake and some overflow on the rim top. The rim edges were in decent condition with light dents in the surface. You can see some of the chipping to the edge of the cape over the twin rings around the bowl. Jeff took photos of the sides and bottom of the bowl from different angles and you can see the overall condition of the finish on the pipe. The next photo shows the chips in the edges of the cap. The middle ring was intact in this photo.He took a photo of the underside of the shank to show the stamping. The stamping is readable and is the standard Custombilt over Imported Briar stamp. The style of script in the stamp should help date and identify the time period the pipe was made.The next photos show that the stem was quite heavily oxidized and pitted. There was some light tooth chatter on both surfaces of the stem near the button and on the button edges itself.  I wanted to identify the stamping on the pipe so I started going through various sites I have used before. I looked on both the Pipephil website and the Pipedia website. The Pipephil site gave the following information: 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. http://www.pipephil.eu/logos/en/logo-c8.html

I did some more research on the brand in the article on Pipedia. As I read through the material there I came across this photo that is pretty close to the stamping on the pipe I am working on. The note under the stamping photos identifies the stamping as one that was on pipes from the Wally Frank era.

https://pipedia.org/images/6/64/Custombilt_Stamp3.jpg

I read further in the Pipedia article to help confirm this. 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. https://pipedia.org/wiki/Custom-Bilt

From all of that I can say with fair certainty that the pipe came out in the 1970s and was made by the Wally Frank Company.

Jeff reamed the bowl with a PipNet pipe reamer and followed up with a Savinelli Fitsall pipe knife to remove the cake. He scrubbed out the mortise and the airway in the shank and the stem with alcohol, cotton swabs and pipe cleaners. He scrubbed the exterior of the bowl, rim, shank and stem with a tooth brush and Murphy’s Oil Soap to remove the oils and tars on the bowl, rim and shank. He rinsed it under running water. He dried it off with a soft cloth. Once more he soaked the stem in Before & After Stem Deoxidizer to remove the oxidation. The pipe came out looking really good. The grooves and carving on the briar looked clean and the stem oxidation was virtually gone. I took photos of the pipe to show its condition before I started my work on it. I took a photo of the rim top to show the condition it was in after the cleanup. Jeff was able to remove the darkening and tars from the rim top and edges. The grain on the top is very nice and the top is clean. There were dents in the surface of the rim but the edges of the rim itself looked very good. It is a nice looking finish. The stem was clean and you can see that the deoxidizer had done a great job removing the oxidation. The tooth chatter, though present was not as visible on the stem and button.I took a photos of the chips out of the cap on the front and middle left. While they are visible I will leave them as part of the story of the journey of this old pipe.I started my restoration with the bowl. I used a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper to smooth out some of the nicks in the inner edge of the bowl. It was not out of round so it did not take too much work to remove the damage to the edge.The rest of the pipe was in such good condition from the cleanup that I did not have to do any sanding on the rim top or bowl. I began by rubbing the bowl down with Before & After Restoration Balm to deep clean the rusticated briar and the smooth rim. The product works to clean, enliven and protect the briar. I hand rubbed it with my fingers and worked it into the rustication with cotton swabs. I wiped it off with a soft cloth. I buffed the bowl with a horsehair shoe brush to polish it. The briar really began to have a rich shine. I took some photos of the bowl at this point to mark the progress in the restoration. I sanded the repair smooth with 220 grit sandpaper followed by 400 grit wet/dry sandpaper to remove the pitting and light oxidation that remained in the curves of the saddle and the edges of the button. (I apologize for the lighting on the 2 sanding photos as they are a bit dark. The stem actually looks far better than my photos at this point.)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. I used the Before & After Pipe Polish to remove the small minute scratches left in the vulcanite. I finished by wiping the stem down with a final coat of Obsidian Oil and set it aside to dry.    I put the stem back on the pipe and worked it over with Blue Diamond to polish out the remaining small scratches. I gave the bowl several more coats of Conservator’s Wax and the stem several coats of carnauba wax and 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 finished pipe is shown in the photos below. This chunky Custombilt Bulldog has been brought back to life. It is my kind of pipe but it is one that I will likely sell on the store. If you are interested let me know as I will be posting it soon. The dimensions of the pipe are Length: 5 1/4 inches, Height: 1 1/2 inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 2 inches, Chamber diameter: 7/8 inches. Thanks for walking through the restoration with me as I worked over this Custombilt.

Restoring a Custombilt Standard 302 Bulldog


Blog by Steve Laug

Those of you that collect Tracy Mincer made pipes know all about the variety of stampings on the pipes that he made. They go from Custom-Bilt, Custom-bilt, Custombilt, Doodler and even those named after himself. His pipes are unique and the Custom-Bilt pipes (no matter how you spell the name) that he made are immediately recognizable. Their chunky Rhodesian or Bulldog/Bull moose shape along with the unique worm trail deep rustication and the stubby fit in the hand makes them easy to identify. When Jeff sent me photos of the next pipe that came to the worktable, I was not sure where it fit in the world of this brand. I have read Bill Unger’s opus on the brand so I had a bit of an idea but I wanted to spend time working on the pipe before I narrowed down the period. It has a more refined shape and refined application of the rustication to the bowl. It seemed more controlled and predictable than the other typical Custom-Bilt pipes I have worked on and restored. The stem also had a different feel than the others I have worked on and the amount of briar in the body of the pipe seemed less that what I expect in these pipes. Jeff took photos of the pipe before he started to work on it so I could have an idea of what we had in our hands.The pipe appeared to be in decent condition. The finish was dirty but did not look like it was damaged. The bowl had a thinner cake that the others I have been working on lately. There was lava overflow on the top of the rim. I am sure there would be some darkening and possible some burn marks on the inner edge of the beveled rim top. The outer edge appeared to be undamaged. The stem was vulcanite and had a very light oxidation on the top surfaces. There was tooth chatter on both sides of the stem just ahead of the button. The edge of the button also had some tooth wear. The previous owner had put a light bend in the stem in the last 1 inch. To me it did not look right and would need to be straightened.Jeff took two close up photos of the bowl and rim top to show the condition of the pipe when it arrived. The first shows the rim close up and the second shows it in relation to the rest of the bowl. He also included a photo of the underside of the bowl to show the carving and rustication pattern there. The pipe is stamped on the left side and reads Custombilt as one word over Standard. On the right side of the shank it is stamped with a number which I assume identifies the shape – 302.The stem had light oxidation and tooth chatter so it would be a pretty straightforward cleanup as well.I wanted to refresh my memory regarding the time periods the different Custom-Bilt pipes were made so I did a bit of research. I looked first on the Pipephil website to see what information he had on the brand. This is the link: http://www.pipephil.eu/logos/en/logo-c8.html

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.

I also looked on the Pipedia website and found confirmation to the Pipephil information and some additional information. Here’s the link to that article: https://pipedia.org/wiki/Custom-Bilt

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…

Given that information I knew that the pipe was made after 1946 when the name was changed to Custombilt. To me the lack of the characteristic shape and carving pointed to after Mincer lost the company and stopped making the brand. The shape reminds me of several Wally Frank pipes that I have had in the past so I am thinking it was made after they bought the trademark in 1974-1975. It also could be the Weber version of the brand when Hollco Rohr owned it. That is as specific as I can get in identifying the time frame for the manufacture of this pipe. I am pretty certain it is not a Tracy Mincer made pipe so that pushes it to the later 1974-75 dates.

Jeff did a thorough cleanup on the bowl and stem. He reamed the bowl with a PipNet pipe reamer and cleaned up the last bit of cake with a Savinelli Fitsall reamer. He cleaned the internals with alcohol, pipe cleaners and cotton swabs – scrubbing out the mortise as it was very dirty. He scrubbed the exterior of the pipe with Murphy’s Oil soap and a tooth brush and was able to remove all of the tars and oils built up on the briar. He was able to remove all of the tars and lava on the rim top and left it looking very clean. He soaked the stem in an Oxyclean bath to raise the oxidation to the surface of the vulcanite. When it arrived I took some photos of it to show how it looked before I did the restoration. He did a great job removing the cake in the bowl and the lava on the rim top. The inner edge of the bowl is damaged on the back right side and the left front of the pipe. There were also some burn marks in those spots on the rim surface.The oxidation came to the surface of the stem after the soak in Oxyclean. The tooth chatter is visible on the top and underside near the button. You can also see the light damage on the edge of the button on both sides. I put it in a bath of Before & After Pipe Stem Deoxidizer to soak overnight and work on the vulcanite oxidation.In the morning I removed the stem from the deoxidizer and wiped off the excess deoxidizer from the surface of the stem with a paper towel. I cleaned out the airway in the stem with pipe cleaners and alcohol to remove any remnants of the bath from that part of the stem. The photos below show the stem after the soak and rub down. The oxidation was pretty much gone and what remained would be easily dealt with. The tooth chatter on the top and underside of the stem is hard to see in the photos, but it is present.I sanded the stem with 220 grit sandpaper to remove the tooth chatter on both sides of the stem as well as the oxidation that remained in the angles of the saddle stem.I heated the stem with a heat gun to straighten out the bent end. I liked the straight look on the stem better than the slight tweak that last pipe man had put in it.I polished out the sanding scratches and marks in the vulcanite with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding it with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanding it with 3200-4000 grit pads. I wiped the stem down with Obsidian Oil after each sanding pad. I buffed the stem with Blue Diamond on the buffing wheel. I brought it back to the table and sanded it with the final three 6000-12000 grit pads. After the final pad I gave it a final coat of oil and set it aside to dry. I sanded out the burn marks on the rim with 220 grit sandpaper to remove them and smooth out the surface. I worked on the inside edge of the rim to bring it back to round. When I was finished I polished the rim top and edge with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanding with 3200-12000 grit pads. I was able to polish out all of the scratches in the rim top and edges. I used a medium brown stain pen to restain the rim and inner edge of the bowl to blend it in with the rest of the bowl. The burn marks are invisible now and the polished rim top looks pristine.I rubbed the bowl down with Before & After Restoration Balm to deep clean the nooks and crannies of the rusticated finish, enliven and protect the briar. I hand rubbed it with my fingers and wiped it off with a soft cloth. I buffed the bowl with a horsehair shoe brush to polish it. It really began to have a deep shine in the briar. I took some photos of the bowl at this point to mark the progress in the restoration. I buffed the bowl with a soft cloth to polish away the remaining Restoration Balm. I put the stem back on the bowl and worked the pipe over on the buffing wheel using Blue Diamond to polish the bowl and shank. I buffed the bowl with a light touch so as not to get any of the buffing compounds in the grooves of the rustication. I buffed the stem to raise the gloss on the vulcanite. I gave the bowl multiple coats of Conservator’s Wax and gave the stem multiple coats of carnauba wax. I buffed the entire pipe with a clean buffing pad to raise the shine. I hand buffed it with a microfiber cloth to deepen the shine. The finished pipe is shown in the photos below. The medium brown stains on the rusticated bulldog shaped bowl works well with the rich black of the vulcanite stem. The polish and the reworking of the stem material left this a beautiful and well-made pipe. The dimensions of the pipe are: Length: 6 inches, Height: 1 ½ inches, Outside Diameter: 2 inches, Diameter of the chamber: 3/4 inch. I will be adding this one to the rebornpipes store shortly if you are interested in adding it to your collection. It will make a fine addition to the rack. If you are interested email me at slaug@uniserve.com or send me a message on Facebook. Thanks for looking.