Tag Archives: Custombilt pipes

Restoring the Third Custombilt from My Inheritance


Blog by Paresh Deshpande

This is the third Custombilt pipe that I had brought to my place of work from my grandfather’s collection which I had inherited. I had professed my appreciation and liking for old Custom-Bilt pipes for their large size, shape, hand feel and the rustic looks. However, this one seems to be a Custombilt from a later era which is a surprise for me, more of it when I further research about it.

The Custombilt pipe that is now on my work table is a large Bull moose shaped pipe with a ¾ bent stem, having well defined large vertical rustications with very fine, thin horizontal linear rustications in between. This is a beautifully carved pipe with a classic shape and a thick shank. The stummel is distinctly divided in to two halves by two evenly spaced rings. The cap half is smooth while the lower stummel surface proudly displays the worm rustications. The large smooth rim top surface boasts of some beautiful bird’s eye grains. The worm rustications on this beauty are unlike the large scraggy ones seen on the Custom-Bilt Pot shaped and large Billiard pipes that I had restored in the last few days. The ones on this pipe are more evenly carved and evenly spaced. There is strip of smooth surface at the bottom extending from the shank to the foot of the stummel. The worm rustications extend from the side of this smooth surface on either sides and to the front of the stummel. It is indeed a beautiful looking pipe with a fantastic feel in the hand, beauty of which cannot be justified in words. It is stamped on the left side of the shank as “Custombilt” without a hyphen between the two words, in cursive hand over “IMPORTED BRIAR”, a commonly observed stamp on these pipes. There is no other stamping visible either on the stummel or the stem.To date having worked on 5 or 6 Custombilt pipes and researched each of them, I have a fair idea about dating these pipes based on the stampings seen on them. However, as is always said and emphasized in our pipe community, the mysteries about pipes never end!! The stampings on this pipe has proved this and how! In the cursive Custombilt stamping seen on this pipe, the lower part of C meets, no, originates from the top of the U while the upper portion extends to the left side of the cross of t, the horizontal cross itself barely reaching the next letter o!!

On pipedia.org, there is a brief description of the various stampings as researched by William E. Unger, Jr., PhD, which deals with the study of Custom-Bilt pipes, here is the link to the review of this book (https://pipedia.org/wiki/Custom-Bilt#Other_Comments).

There are three stamps which are shown and serve as a teaser for dating these Custombilt pipes (for more researched examples of stampings, you might consider purchase of a copy of your own!!). Well as of now, I don’t have one and if any one of the reader does, it is requested that the necessary information may please be shared with readers of rebornpipes.com, so that we all could learn and grow together.

With this unresolved mystery as regards dating this pipe (I think it is from later era of Custombilt pipes, even later than the Wally Frank era, but not sure!), I move ahead with my initial inspection.

INITIAL VISUAL INSPECTION
The chamber has a thick and even layer of cake. 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 slightly outward sloping smooth rim top surface has several minor dents and dings and has darkened surface on the right side. The inner edge of the rim has one bigger and many minor chips all around. This issue should be easily addressed by sanding down with a sand paper. The cap rings are in decent condition with just a couple of small chips towards the left and back of the stummel. As these chips are visible only on very close inspection and affects neither the aesthetics nor the smoking character of this pipe, I might as well let them be.The smooth bottomed stummel feels solid to the touch and makes for a nice fit in the hands of the smoker. The vertical worm rustication with its horizontal thin line rustications within makes for a visual treat. The stummel surface is relatively clean and without any dents, dings or chipped surfaces. The shank end has smooth surfaces on the sides and on top and bottom of the shank. These should polish up nicely and lend a distinct character to the pipe. The upper smooth half of the stummel including the rim top surface has some beautiful straight and bird’s eye grain respectively. This should turn out to be a beautiful and attractive looking pipe, I am sure. The mortise and the shank are clogged with accumulated dried oils, tars and grime and dirt. The draught hole too is constricted due to this accumulation (marked in yellow arrow). The draw is slightly hard and laborious and should ease out once the shank internals are cleaned out.The ¼ bent vulcanite stem is nice and thick at the tenon end and tapers slightly towards the button end. The stem is heavily oxidized in the bite zone due to use of a rubber bit, with heavy tooth chatter on either surfaces of the stem. The button edges including button surfaces are also damaged due to bite marks. The slot and tenon are also covered in dried oils and tars. The stem internals are clogged and would need a thorough cleaning up. THE PROCESS
I started the restoration of this beautiful pipe by first reaming the chamber with size 3 followed by size 4 head of the PipNet pipe reamer. The amount of cake dislodged from the chamber points to the fact that this would have been a favorite of my Grandfather!! With my fabricated knife, I removed the cake from areas where the reamer head could not reach. 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. 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. The walls are solid and in good condition. However, the area around the draught hole is slightly charred and a few minor heat lines are visible around it. The heat lines seen around the draught hole are superficial and I address them by further sanding with a folded piece of 220 grit sand paper. I also removed the charred briar around the draught hole by scrapping it with my fabricated knife and the drilling attachment of a Kleen Ream tool. The chamber is now clean and all the issues are addressed to my satisfaction.I followed up the cleaning of the chamber with that of the shank internals. With a dental spatula, I first scrapped out all the accumulated dried crud and cleaned the mortise. The dried gunk so hard and tightly packed that I also had to use a round needle file to dislodge the gunk from within the air way. Using hard and regular pipe cleaners and alcohol, I cleaned the shank internals and the airway. A number of pipe cleaners later, the shank internals are clean and the draw is nice, smooth and even.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. 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 sharp flat end of a dental tool, I scrubbed the dried out oils and tars from the slot area and also from the tenon end of the stem that seats in the mortise. I cleaned the stem surface with a cotton swab and alcohol.I flamed the bite zone with the flame of a lighter. The heating of the vulcanite raised the tooth chatter to the surface and I followed it with a light sanding with a piece of 220 grit sand paper to even out the surface around the bite zone. Using a flat head needle file, I reshaped and sharpened the button and button edges. This was followed by sanding the entire stem surface with 400 followed by 600, 800 and 1000 grit sand papers to remove the oxidation. I finished the sanding with a 0000 grade steel wool. Using progressively higher grit sand papers helps in a smooth surface while minimizing the sanding marks left behind by the more abrasive sanding papers. I wiped the stem with a small amount of Extra Virgin Olive oil and set it aside to be absorbed by the stem surface. With the stem being set aside to hydrate, I move back to the stummel and sand the smooth rim top surface with a piece of folded 220 grit sand paper. This step took care of the dents and dings on the surface. I also worked the inner edge of the rim with the same piece of sand paper and evened out the numerous dings from the inner rim edge. I wiped the rim top with a moistened cotton swab to remove the resulting sanding dust. Most of the dents and dings on the rim top and edge were addressed thus. Subsequent micromesh polishing will further reduce what little dents and dings that remained. A few minor and insignificant dings that may remain, I intend to let them be as they are a part of this dude’s journey to date.The next evening, I decided to move ahead with polishing and completing the stem. I followed up the sanding regime with micromesh polishing to bring a shine on the stem surface. I wet sand the stem with 1500 to 2400 girt micromesh pads. Continuing with my experimentations that I had spelled out in my previous posts, I mount a cotton buffing wheel on my hand held rotary tool and polish the stem with Red Rouge polish. Further, I mount a fresh buffing wheel on the rotary tool and polish the stem with White Diamond polish. I finish the stem polish by wet sanding with 6000 to 12000 grit pads of the micromesh. I rub a small quantity of olive oil in to the stem surface to hydrate it and set it aside again. I am really happy with this process of stem polishing as the results are excellent while saving me huge amounts of time and effort. With the stem polishing now completed, I moved ahead with micromesh polishing of the smooth surfaces on the stummel (the rim top surface, the smooth portions at the shank end and the bottom of the stummel). I polished the stummel by wet sanding with 1500 to 12000 micromesh pads. The briar stummel is looking really good at this stage of restoration!! Next, I wiped the stummel surface with a moist cloth to remove all the sanding dust left behind by the micromesh pads, paying diligent attention to the areas between the worm rustications. I rubbed 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. I mount a cotton cloth buffing wheel on to my hand held rotary tool and apply a coat of Blue Diamond to the smooth surfaces of the stummel and the stem to polish out the minor scratches. The final step in completing this project is to give the entire pipe a nice wax polish. 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. This step not only removes any excess wax from the surface but also finger prints that inadvertently are left behind. I complete the restoration by giving the entire pipe a rigorous hand buff 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… Cheers!!

 

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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.

Restoring a Wally Frank Era Custombilt Sitter #633


Blog by Paresh Deshpande

After having worked on my grandfather’s old 1938-1946 era Custom-Bilt large billiard pipe (https://rebornpipes.com/2018/06/02/restoring-my-grandfathers-custom-bilt-pipe/), I was keen to work on a second Custombilt in the collection. This particular pipe was a sitter with ¾ bend to the stem. It has a very interesting shape. Being at the bottom of the learning curve on identification of pipe shapes and restoration, any help in accurate description of the shape of this pipe would be highly appreciated!!!!

The pipe has thin (as compared to the thick rustication on the 1938-46 Custom-Bilt that I had previously worked on) wavy and haphazard rustication starting from the bottom of the bowl and extending upwards to the rim. These wavy, haphazard upward sweeping rustications give the impressions of flickering flames of fire. These flaming rustications at the back of the bowl reach nearly the outer edge of the rim from either side of the bowl and progressively lower down towards the front of the bowl.  The shank has four prominent rustications extending from the bowl towards the end of the shank forming four distinct plain panels, one each on the top, bottom, left and right side of the shank. The left and right panels house the stampings on the pipe while the top and bottom panels are blank highlighting the beautiful cross grains.

Under all the dust, dirt, oils, tars and gunk of all the years, stamping on the pipe can be read as   “Custombilt” in cursive hand over “ORIGINAL” in block letters on the left side panel of the shank. The letter ‘C’ meets the ‘U’ nearly half way up from the bottom of the ‘U’. The right side panel of the shank bears the stamp # “633”. The stem is bereft of any stamping. While restoring the first Custom-Bilt from my grandfather’s collection, I had visited Pipedia for collecting information and dating of Custombilt pipes (https://pipedia.org/wiki/Custom-Bilt). 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. I have reproduced some interesting excerpts from the webpage:

The book opens up with an intriguing statement that unfortunately is never fully followed up: Before beginning this history, I need to emphasize an important fact and to ask the reader to keep it firmly. Spelling-Custom-Bilt, Custombilt, and other variations-is extremely important to the various aspects of the following discussions. It was not, however, important to many people in the company’s early days.

Perhaps the reason for this is that briar pipes were simply viewed solely as smoking instruments-even as a “longer term” disposable item (perhaps like a good pair of shoes). I would suggest that Tracy Mincer would be shocked that these pipes are being collected today.

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]

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.

The Pipes

Most Custom-Bilt pipes that you see at a pipe show have somewhat big, chunky bowls with rough carving or gouges. It is very rare to see a completely smooth piece. In today’s market, the pipes are still considered to be on the large side but are not true giants. It should be noted that in the early days when the Custom-Bilt pipes were first being produced, these bowl sizes were considered very large and massive. The size of the average pipe was a group 3 or 4 sized Dunhill.

The first thing that Bill addresses in his chapter on pipes is the quality of the bowls in the early years. Rick Hacker, in his Rare Pipes book, suggests that Mincer bought blemished bowls from other companies and used the wood-working router to get rid of the blemishes. According to an important employee, Hetzer Hartsock, “Tracy used a very choice Algerian briar, and they were bigger blocks than what the other companies were using.”

William E. Unger, Jr., Ph.D. (“Bill”) has studied the stampings on a large number of Custombilt pipes and based on this extensive study conclusively dates Custombilt pipes. There is a picture of a stamp which resembles the stamping seen on my pipe, and is reproduced from Pipedia in the picture below.From the above details gleaned from Pipedia and the above stamp, it can be safely inferred that this pipe dates to the 1970s era. This also coincided roughly with the time when my grandfather quit smoking and I was waiting in the wings to make my debut into this wide and beautiful world in a few years time!!!!!! From the look on the pipe, it appears that my grandfather never believed in cleaning his pipes and believed in just keep using the pipe and once it fouled up, simply keep it aside and buy new one!! Thus, the reason for the large collection of pipes that I have inherited from him.

I had loved the first Custom-Bilt that I had worked on for its size, feel in the hand, its rustic looks and wide rustications and I love this Custombilt for its size, shape, the heft and the gorgeous beautiful flaming rustications!!! Well, have I fallen in love with Custombilts???? Maybe!!!!!!

INITIAL VISUAL INSPECTION:
Having admired the beautiful rustication, the shape/ size and safe in the knowledge that I will get to smoke it in the years to come; I proceeded to carry out a detailed examination of the condition of the pipe and the work that will be required during the process of restoration. Any follower of Mr. Steve’s blog will recollect the 10 steps elucidated by him for beginners in pipe restoration and I sincerely follow it. It helps a person to assess the condition of the pipe, what are the issues that needs to be addressed, what processes will be involved and while appreciating these facts, formulate a broad action plan for the entire restoration.

The bowl has a relatively thin layer of cake (…which subsequently proved incorrect!!!) which will have to be reamed out. The condition of the insides of the bowl needs to be appreciated thereafter. The pipe was used to smoke an aromatic tobacco since the smell was not offensive, but rather somewhat sweet. I believe that once the bowl is reamed to its bare briar, the smell will be taken care of!!As seen in the above picture, the outer edge of the rim is perfectly rounded with no damage whatsoever. However, there appears to be a small chip to the inner edge of the rim on the left side in the 9 ‘O’ clock direction. The exact extent of the damage or otherwise, can be appreciated only after the bowl has been reamed. It could be addressed/ minimized, if need be, by creating a slight bevel on the inner edge.

The airflow is restricted and required considerable effort to blow through the pipe. The airway in either the stem or shank could be blocked or the mortise could be clogged. Blowing separately through both, stem as well as the shank, I realized that both are blocked/ clogged.The draught hole is right at the bottom of the bowl and there is no reservoir/ sump as in the Pete system pipes. A pipe cleaner could not pass through the draught hole as expected. This needs to be addressed.

The bowl and shank are covered in dust, dirt, oils, tars and grime. The stamping, though readable, is covered in the tars, oils and grime.The rustications on the bowl and shank have turned black due to accumulation of dirt, oils and tars of more than 48 years of its existence. The rim, however, is clean and free of any overflowing lava.The stem is free of any serious damage, tooth chatter or bite marks. The oxidation was light and just a firm rub with a moist Mr. Magic clean sponge, removed a great deal of oxidation from the stem. Overall, this pipe and stem was not very heavily abused.THE PROCESS
This time around Abha, my wife, was not around to help me with the bowl and this, I definitely missed!!! Using a Kleen Reem pipe tool, I completely removed the cake from the bowl. The quantity of carbon cake that was removed from the bowl belied my initial appreciation about thin layer of cake. The bowl now looks huge!!!Another observation I had was that the cake was very dry and tightly packed. Using an improvised and fabricated knife, I scraped all the remains of the carbon from the stummel down to its briar and finished with sanding the interiors of the stummel using a 220 grit sand paper. I wiped the interiors of the stummel with cotton swabs dipped in Isopropyl alcohol (99.9%). The interiors are now looking clean, smooth, solid and fresh.Once the cake was completely removed, the small chip on the left of the inner edge of the rim in 9 ‘O’ clock direction, though visible, was not alarmingly large or prominent. The rim top slopes inwards and a bevel would not really look good. I was not sure how much sanding would be adequate and also since it does not look bad, I decided to lightly sand it using micromesh pads, wet sanding using 1500 to 3200 grit pads and dry sanding it with 3400-12000 pads. Any advice or suggestions pertaining to the issue of this chip is most welcome and will definitely teach me a thing or two.

The next issue that required to be addressed was that of the restricted airflow!!! I started with the cleaning of the interiors of the shank and what a mess it was! Using hard bristled pipe cleaners, shank brush and alcohol, I cleaned out the mortise. With a dental spatula, I scraped out most of the gunk and tars which had moistened due to alcohol. I used the drill tool in the Kleen Reem pipe tool with a pipe cleaner embedded in the slot in the head of the drill tool, dipped in alcohol to clean the airway in the shank and also the draught hole.With the help of q-tips and pipe cleaners dipped in Isopropyl alcohol, I cleaned the internals of the shank and scrubbed the inner walls of the mortise to remove the last remnants of the oils, tars and gunk. At this stage, the airway in the shank was clean, the draught hole was clean and opened out and the mortise was free of all the accumulated tars and oils and gunk of the past!!

With the internals of the stummel and shank cleaned and freshened up, I turned my attention to the exterior of the bowl. Using Murphy’s oil soap and a toothbrush, I cleaned the exterior of the bowl while paying more attention to the cleaning of the flaming rustications, which I had so come to love! I gave a very deliberate scrub to the bowl and into the rustications to remove all the dust, dirt and grime that accumulated over the years. I purposefully avoided brass brush/ steel wool while cleaning so as not to damage the thin horizontal rustications within the flaming vertical rustications. Once the cleaning with the oil soap was done, I rinsed it under running tap water and wiped it dry with a soft cotton cloth. I took care that the water does not enter into the chamber and the shank. The bowl now has a nice, beautiful, clean and robust look to it. I set the bowl aside to dry out and turned my attention to the stem.

Thankfully, this stem does not have any deep tooth/ bite marks or tooth chatter nor does it show any deep and stubborn oxidation. The wet Mr. Magic Cleaner had almost completely removed the oxidation. Using a 220 grit sand paper, I gently removed the minor tooth chatter that was visible. I folded a fresh piece of the grit paper into a sharp edge and sanded the button to give it shape. I wiped the stem down with a moist cloth to remove the sanding dust and applied a thin coat of Extra Virgin Olive oil and rubbed it into vulcanite with my fingers. I let it rest for a few minutes and wiped it off with a soft cloth.Once I was satisfied that the excess oil has been removed, I went through with the complete set of micromesh pads, wet sanding with 1500 to 3200 grit pads and dry sanding with 3400 through to 12000 grit pads. I rubbed extra virgin olive oil into the stem after sanding by each micromesh pad. In my exuberance to finish the pipe, I completely missed out on taking pictures at this stage. However, in the subsequent pictures of the completed pipe, you shall be able to appreciate the shining stem!!!!

I cleaned the internals of the stem using hard bristled pipe cleaners and alcohol. After considerable attempts at cleaning, the pipe cleaners finally came out of the other end. The air now passed through the stem freely. I further cleaned the internals of the stem till the pipe cleaners came out clean through the other end. Thereafter, I rubbed Extra Virgin Olive oil deeply into the stem and set it aside to be absorbed by the vulcanite.

Turning my attention the bowl the next morning, I liked the clean, fresh look of the bowl. Once again I gave it a good clean up with a dry soft cloth to remove any dust/dirt that might have settled on the bowl overnight. Thereafter, I rubbed a small quantity of “ Before and After Restoration Balm” into the bowl ensuring that it reaches the rustication also. I am truly amazed at the spread of this balm!  Just a small quantity quickly spreads and is sufficient to coat the entire bowl when rubbed with the fingers. The product was further rubbed into the rustication when buffed, using a horsehair shoe brush. I let it rest for a few minutes to let the balm work its magic on the briar. The transformation is amazing!! Once this was done, it was back to using muscle power to enhance the shine and beauty of the rustication by prolonged rubbing with a soft cloth followed by a microfiber cloth. These rustications give an impression of shimmering flames leaping upwards!!! I was very pleased with my efforts……I know it is akin to blowing my own trumpet, but I do believe that if the notes are correct and melodious, please blow it. The finished bowl is shown below. Finally when I fixed the stem into the shank, I realized with a cringe that due to the cleaning of the mortise, the fit was not snug, it was way too loose! I had read somewhere that holding the tenon to a Bic lighter flame, increases the girth of the tenon which in turn ensures a snug fit into the mortise. Sounds easy enough but doing it for the first time and that too with a pipe you have come to love and admire….. is not easy. However, I took the plunge knowing very well that even in the case I mess it up, Mr. Steve of rebornpipes would bail me out. I have realized that one needs to have that kind of back up so that the journey is smooth, insightful and free from fears of failure, and that in essence is what Mr. Steve is to me as my Guru. Thank you Sir once again!!

Well, to cut the long story short, I heated the tenon over the flame of a Bic lighter continuously turning it around. I stopped when the tenon felt slightly soft and pliable to the touch and set it aside to cool down with a pipe cleaner inside, praying for it to set perfectly into the mortise and not break/ crack. After the tenon had completely cooled down, I again attached the stem to the shank and, what a relief, the fit was nice and snug with just the right kind of noises!!! The finished pipe is shown below. This project was fun filled and a great learning experience. Thank you for sharing your valuable time with me while reading this post. And lest I forget, thank you Mr. Steve for providing me with invaluable guidance and a canvas for essaying my journeys.

 

Restemming and Restoring a Straight Custombilt Rhodesian


Blog by Steve Laug

Mike, reader of rebornpipes contacted me about fixing two of his pipes. Probably over a month ago he emailed me. He packed the pipes up and sent them to me. The second one was a Custombilt Rhodesian or probably some would call it a Bulldog I have already repaired and blogged about the pear wood pipe (https://rebornpipes.com/2018/04/06/putting-humpty-dumpty-back-together-again/). The second pipe needed a new stem and a thorough cleaning and restoration. The broken stem looked to be a replacement as the fit to the shank was not perfect and the diameter of the shank and the stem were slightly different. The tenon was also short and did not extend the full length of the mortise like I have come to expect on Custombilt pipes. The inside of the bowl had already been reamed and cleaned when I got it. The top of the rim had a slight lava build up and the inner and edges were out of round. The inside and the outside of the bowl were very dirty. There was a lot of dust and grime in the rustication of the bowl and shank as well as in the twin rings around the cap.  I would soon find out why it was not cleaned. I took a close up photo of the rim top to show the damage to the top surface and the inner edge of the bowl. You can see that the top is rough from knocking the pipe out against a hard surface and the inner edge looks to have been damaged by reaming with a knife. I also took photos of the stem to show the large chunk that was missing near the button. Notice also the fit of the stem to the shank. I went through my can of stems to see if I could find a stem that would fit the shank better. I also did a bit of hunting online and found that often the Custombilt Bulldog had a saddle stem rather than a taper stem. The next stem had a tenon that was the correct length. It was slightly shorter than the broken stem but it would work well on the shank of the pipe.I put the new stem on the shank and took pictures to evaluate the new look. I also sent copies of the photos to Mike to see what he thought. I received and email reply from him that he liked the new look of the pipe so I continued with the fit of the stem. The fit of the stem to the shank was far better than the previous one. Since the shank was not round I would need to work on the shank to round out the two sides to match the stem. The next two photos show that the stem fits well on the top and the bottom of the shank but that both sides are wider than the diameter of the stem (slightly better than the previous stem).I used a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper to sand down the sides of the shank to match the stem. I worked on it to make it round rather than the slightly off centred broad oval that it was when I started. I sanded the fit against the shank with 400 grit wet/dry sandpaper to smooth out the transition between the stem and shank and remove the scratching in the briar. I cleaned out the interior of the mortise and shank with a dental pick to remove the buildup of tars and oils that were built up in front of where the replacement stem tenon had ended. I cleaned it out with alcohol, cotton swabs and pipe cleaners to remove all of the grime. Once the cleaners and cotton swabs came out clean I was finished with the cleanup. I did the same with the airway in the stem until it too was clean. I used a dental pick to clean around the inside of the slot in the button. I topped the bowl with 220 grit sandpaper on a topping board to remove the damage to the rim top and remove the damage to the inner edge of the rim. I removed very little to smooth out the rim. I also used a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper to smooth out the inside edge of the rim and remove the damage. I gave the edge a slight bevel to smooth out the edge. I polished the rim top and the reshaped shank end with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanding with 3200-12000 grit pads. I wiped down the surfaces after each pad with a damp cloth. After the final 12000 grit pad I gave it a final wipe before I continued with the restoration work. I used a combination of three stain pens – Cherry, Maple and Walnut to stain the sanded areas of the bowl. I used them on the rim top and around the end of the shank. The three together matched the colour on the rest of the bowl. I worked Before & After Restoration Balm deep into the rusticated patterns of the briar to clean, enliven and protect it. I worked it into the rustications with my fingertips and with cotton swabs. I worked it into the rim and restained shank end. I set it aside for a few minutes to let the balm work. I wiped it off with a soft cloth and buffed it with a horsehair shoe brush to polish it. The briar really began to have a deep shine. I took some photos of the bowl at this point to mark the progress in the restoration. The grain on the bowl is really beginning to stand out and will only do so more as the pipe is waxed.  I sanded the stem surface with 220 grit sandpaper to remove the tooth marks and chatter on both sides of the stem near the button. I also sanded out the deep scratches in the surface of the stem. I followed up by sanding the stem again with 400 grit wet/dry sandpaper to remove the scratches left behind by the 220 grit sandpaper. I polished 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 with Obsidian Oil after each pad. I polished it with Before & After Pipe Stem Polish, both Fine and Extra Fine. I gave it a final coat of Obsidian Oil and set it aside to dry. I waxed the bowl and shank with multiple coats of Conservator’s Wax. I buffed the stem with carnauba wax. I buffed bowl and stem with a clean buffing wheel to raise a shine. The photos below show the finished pipe. It is a great looking pipe. I love the old Custombilt shapes and the look and feel of them in hand. This one is a beauty that looks great with its new stem. Now that I have finished the second of Mike’s pipes I will soon be packing them up and sending them on their way back to New York where I am sure he is waiting to fire them up and enjoy them once again. Thanks for looking.

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.