Tag Archives: Dr. Grabow Omega pipes

Upgrading a ‘Lowly Drugstore Pipe’: A Dr. Grabow Omega Billiard

Blog by Dal Stanton

Ryan described his Dr. Grabow Omega as a lowly drugstore pipe – not me! 😊 He emailed me several months ago about his Dr. Grabow Omega and which set the table for what followed:

Dear Mr. Stanton, I recently came across one of your blog posts from 2017 detailing a restoration you performed on a Dr. Grabow Omega billiard. The final product was stunning and made me wonder whether you allow customers to send pipes in for restoration or whether commissions are limited to the pipes listed on your website. I ask because I also own a Dr. Grabow Omega and have always been bothered by the heavy red finish that completely obscures the grain. I wanted to ask (if outside commissions are accepted) whether you could perform the same sort of restoration on my pipe and about how much it might cost.  Thanks for any information you can provide!

Part of my response to Ryan shortly followed:

Ryan, Great to hear from you!  Thanks for your kind words regarding the restoration of the Omega I did. I think the Omega is a nice-looking pipe.  Dr. Grabow’s ‘Peterson’ and you share my problem with Dr. Grabow’s production of Omegas with the ‘candy apple’ finish.  It’s a quicker way to finish a factory pipe and it’s always a question about what lurks beneath the artificial gloss.  The Omega I did surprised me with a nice patch of briar beneath and left me with the question, why would anyone cover this grain with a finish like that?  I’m sure economics is a partial answer.  So, for your Omega, I would examine it closely to see if you can see some huge fills in the briar beneath the finish.  Even if it has fills, natural briar just beats candy apple even with sub-par blocks of briar, in my opinion. 

In our emailing back and forth, I discovered that Ryan too, was living in Europe at the time.  He had finished up his graduate work in Scotland and was teaching in the Black Forest region of Germany for the past 10 years and was also in the process of transitioning back to the US.  When he said he was in the Black Forest region of Germany, I perked up.  Several years ago two of our five children attended Black Forest Academy in Kandern, Germany – a very beautiful part of Europe which we enjoyed visiting several times.  Ryan sent me some pictures of his Omega from Germany, which he had used only a few times.  Here are the pictures Ryan sent: My impression of his pictures was that the Omega was practically new and not beat up at all.  Since we both were in the process of transitioning to the US, he from Germany and we from Bulgaria, the decision was made to wait till we both were settled on the other side of the pond and he would send the Omega to me.   Which brings us to the present – Ryan’s Dr. Grabow Omega is now on my worktable.  I am in Golden, Colorado, and Ryan is in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  We both are adjusting to our new realities!

The primary desire Ryan expressed was to allow the natural briar to emerge by removing the candy apple, thick factory finish.  He referenced seeing a restoration for another Omega I had done for Jenny, a former intern we had with us in Bulgaria.  She had commissioned several pipes from the For “Pipe Dreamers” Only! collection to give as gifts to the special men in her family and she kept one for herself too! (See: Jen’s Trove No. 8 – Restore & Upgrade of a Dr. Grabow Omega Smooth Billiard)  The Dr. Grabow Omega she chose for one fortunate person turned out well – before and after results were striking!This was the result that Ryan compared to his Dr. Grabow factory fresh Omega finish which shrouded the natural grain.  Ryan’s Omega appears to me to be a newer pipe off the production line and differs in the nomenclature from the former older Omega I restored.  In common is that both are stamped on the left shank flank: OMEGA [over] DR. GRABOW.  The right was stamped on Jen’s Omega, IMPORTED BRIAR, which is not present on Ryan’s Omega.

In the former Omega restoration, the biggest problem that I expressed was the finish.  I did not like it!  In my research for that Omega, I found these two comments from bloggers on a Pipes Magazine Forum discussion about Dr. Grabow Omegas’ cost, quality, and appeal, which resonated with my own thoughts regarding the positives and negative:

Positives: An Omega was the first briar pipe that I ever owned. It still gets regular use and like Brewshooter, I have no complaints with it. Bowl size is a little bit smaller than I like, but it makes for a nice quick smoke, and the military mount makes it really easy to clean. I have Savinellis that I have easily paid four times more for, and sure, they smoke a little bit better, but in terms of a good smoking instrument, the Omega will do you well as long as it is smoked properly and maintained properly.

Negative: One thing I noticed about my Omega is that it had a heavy varnish or clear coat. I sanded it and gave it a nice wax. It seems to breathe a little better now and I like seeing more of the grain. I also gave the band a bit of a brushed look with some fine grain sandpaper. It’s a nice little pipe for that quick smoke.

Ryan’s desire for his Omega is to remove the ‘candy apple’ or heavy varnish finish.  He is also hopeful that there is a nice patch of briar beneath it.  I am hopeful, too!  The second issue that Ryan expressed about his Omega was that the factory stem was made of a plastic material and not rubber or vulcanite.  I could not recall that the former Omega’s stem I had restored was plastic – I believe it was indeed vulcanite because of the way it spruced up.  Ryan shared with me that his research uncovered that Dr. Grabow started using plastic stems along the way.  Ryan said he could live with the factory plastic stem but did not like it.

When Ryan’s Omega arrived, I was curious to check out the stem as well.  The seam is different from a normal precast rubber stem – the factory seam is vertically dissecting the stem rather than a horizontal seam – the norm for rubber precast stems.  The picture below shows the vertical seam that splits the P-Lip and runs up the stem.  I would say that I agree with Ryan’s assessment.  The stem is plastic.I decided to investigate whether I could find a rubber stem that would match the Omega’s Military Mount, fancy P-Lip stem.  I sent a note to Tim West at J. H. Lowe (www.jhlowe.com) where I acquire pipe supplies and included pictures for Tim to see if I could find a non-factory match for the Omega.  Ryan had indicated to me that a factory stem with the Dr. Grabow ‘Spade’ logo was not critically important to him.  Tim’s email came saying that he had a Greek rubber stem that had similar style and shape to the Dr. Grabow Wellington stems for a few dollars. He said that they were rough and needed bending and polishing – plain with no logo on the stem. I asked Tim to send it along with 5 additional Churchwarden stems.  When the stems arrived a few days ago from Tim, I was pleased with the match he provided with the Wellington stem.  The pictures below show the comparison.  The Wellington stem is precast with rough horizontal seams running down the sides of the stem rather than vertically in comparison to the factory stem.Before beginning on the upgrade of Ryan’s Omega, I take a few fresh pictures of the stummel on my worktable.  The finish is not as ‘candy apple’ acrylic as was the first Omega I restored but the finish is thick and obstructive.  In addition to the finish, the stummel has some minor dents from normal wear.  There appears to be a round fill on the right shank side.  When the stummel is cleaned, I will need to see if this apparent fill needs attention. Because I like working on clean pipes, I first use the Savinelli Fitsall Tool to scrape the chamber.  Ryan had said that he had used the pipe only a few times – the lack of carbon cake buildup confirms this.A quick spin with one pipe cleaner and one cotton bud confirms that the internals are clean.My general approach will be to emulate what I did with the first Omega I restored that Ryan noticed.  The goal is to provide a briar canvas that will produce more natural grain pop.  To do this I start the upgrade of this Dr. Grabow Omega by using acetone on a cotton pad to see if this will be sufficient to remove the finish.  The acetone cuts through the finish efficiently.  The cotton pad shows a purple-ish or dark burgundy/Oxblood hue of the factory finish.  As I did before, I decide to put the stummel in a soak of acetone to remove the old finish more fully.With the stummel soaking in acetone, I turn to the precast Wellington stem.  Even though the stem is new, it is in a rough state.  The seam is rough from the excess rubber during the fashioning process.   Around the P-Lip button the edge is also rough as is the rubber surface itself.To begin, a small sanding drum is mounted onto the rotary tool and with care the seam edges are smoothed off.  I’m careful because the rotary tool can easily dig a wedge into the rubber if I’m too impatient!After the sanding drum, 240 sanding paper is used to sand the entire stem.  Special attention is given to the seam lines to make sure there are no factory divots remaining in the vulcanite.  The precast factory surface is not even and has ribs and small gaps.  Sanding with 240 takes some time but helps to smooth out the surface.   After 240, the entire stem is first wet sanded with 600 grade paper then 0000 grade steel wool is applied to smooth the surface further.Next, the full regimen of micromesh pads is applied starting with wet sanding using pads 1500 to 2400.  Next, the stem is dry sanded with pads 3200 to 4000 and 6000 to 12000.  Between each set of 3 micromesh pads, Obsidian Oil is applied to the stem to help guard against oxidation. Wow!  The Greek rubber Wellington stem shined up with that pop I like. After several hours of soaking in the acetone, the stummel is fished out and I take a closer look at the results.  The briar is a salmon color.  Interesting!  An inspection of the briar surface shows the minor dents I saw previously.  The round fill on the right shank is solid – second picture. To clean the surface of minor dents and scratches, sanding sponges are used.  The sanding sponges are good for not being invasive but sanding enough to clean the surface.  I start with a coarser sponge and then transition to a medium, then light grade sanding sponge.  I avoid the nomenclature on the shank during the first two sponges. Before moving on with the application of micromesh pads, I dress up the bland rim a bit.  To do this, a small internal bevel is cut in the rim to give it some additional contour.  To me, this adds a touch of class to the Omega and that’s what ‘upgrading’ is all about. Using 240 paper, a hard surface is pressed behind the sanding paper to create the fresh lines of the bevel.  This is followed again using 600 grade paper.  I like the results.Next, the stummel is sanded with the full regimen of micromesh pads to coax out the tight, compact grain.  Starting the process by wet sanding with pads 1500 to 2400, this is followed by dry sanding with pads 3200 to 4000 and 6000 to 12000.  I stay clear of the nomenclature on the shank during the wet sanding phase.  The grain emerges through the micromesh process of sanding.  The pictures show the progression.The grain is subtle on this Omega which is different from the Omega I worked on before.  That Omega had more expressive and turbulent grain patterns.  My reading about briar grains suggests that Ryan’s Omega was fashioned from a briar block that was more toward the center of the briar bole and not the edge.  The ‘edge’ blocks tend to be more twirly, expressive, and distinct but also contain more imperfections which require patching.  Whereas, blocks cut closer toward the center of the bole, have more subtle grain patterns but fewer imperfections – the wood seems to be tighter or compressed.  The grain is there but lacks distinction at this point.At this juncture, I can’t resist uniting the stummel with the unbent Wellington stem to get a sense of the progress.  I also take a picture of the factory Grabow stem.  Not bad!  Ryan will have his pick whether he’s in the mood for the factory Dr. Grabow stem or the Greek rubber Wellington stem – as far as I can see, a perfect match. As I think about the next step in coloring the stummel, I decide to bend the Wellington replacement stem.  To do this the stem is threaded with a pipe cleaner to guard the integrity of the airway during the bend.  Using the hot air gun, the vulcanite is gently warmed at the mid-stem where the bend is to happen.  To heat gradually, I rotate the stem to balance the heating and not scorch the stem.I use a small shot glass which is about 1 1/2 inches across to serve as the bending template.  As I’m heating the stem, I gently bend the stem a bit with my hands as it become supple.  When it has heated enough and the rubber has softened, the stem is placed over the glass and bent over it to form the shape.I hold the stem in place while it is taken to the sink where cool water is run over the stem, thus solidifying the bend in place. When the stem is taken back to the work table to compare with the factory stem, it looks like a match to me the first time around!  The great thing about bending rubber stems is that if you do not get it right the first time, the process is easily repeated until the bend is on target.I have given some thought to the finish to apply to the Dr. Grabow Omega bowl.  With my last Omega I applied a mixture of 2/3s-part Fiebing’s Dark Brown Leather Dye with 1/3-part Fiebing’s Black Leather Dye with the lightening option available by wiping down the bowl with alcohol later.  With this Omega, I will do the same for the dark brown/black undercoat.  However, following this, an additional step will be tried.  A wash dye with red I believe will deepen the tones and bend the finish toward a reddish palette and not toward the purplish/burgundy of the original Omega motif.  I believe this will give the pipe more eye-catching pop in the end – or this is my hope!  Applying dyes often feels like a roll of the dice – different woods absorb dyes differently and one never knows for sure what the exact results will be!  My goal is to bring out the grain distinctiveness with the undercoat and then to get in the ballpark of the right color template with the overcoat washing.  To begin, after assembling all the components on the worktable, Fiebing’s Dark Brown Leather Dye and Fiebing’s Black Leather Dye are mixed at a 2 to 1 ratio to use as the undercoat. After wiping the bowl with a cotton pad wetted with alcohol, the stummel is heated with the hot gun.  This heating expands the briar and makes the wood grain more receptive to the dye.When the stummel is heated sufficiently, the aniline dye mixture is applied to the stummel in sections with a folded pipe cleaner and then ‘flamed’ using a lighted candle.  The alcohol in the aniline dye combusts setting the dye pigment in the briar grain.  This flaming process continues as dye is applied in sections until the entire stummel is covered.The stummel is then put aside to rest for several hours.  This helps the dye to ‘settle’ and be absorbed into the wood. After several hours, the time to ‘unwrap’ the stummel has arrived – one of my favorite parts of a restoration when new dye has been applied to a stummel.  I call this phase unwrapping because the fired dye is crusted around the stummel like a shell.  The shell is unwrapped using more abrasive Tripoli compound and a felt buffing wheel mounted onto the rotary tool.  The speed of the rotary tool is set to about 25 to 30% full power – slower than usual guarding against too much heat buildup from friction generated by the more abrasive combination of compound and felt wheel.  This combination is like a bulldozer!As the crusted dye is removed, I purge the felt wheel repeatedly with the edge of the metal rotary tool wrench.  This keeps the felt wheel softer and cleaner.  As hoped, as the Tripoli compound is applied to the crusted surface, an eye-catching landscape of grain is now more distinctive.  The pictures below show the unwrapping in process.  I love to watch this unveiling! The dye process darkens and accents the grain patterns. After the crusted dye is removed, the bowl is gently wiped with a cotton pad and alcohol.  This is done not to lighten the stummel but to blend the dye.  Little dye is removed on the cotton pad which seems to indicate that the undercoat of dye is well established.The next step, to deepen the hue and bend it more to a rich red tone, the stummel is dye washed with red dye.  The stummel is again heated, but this time the dye is washed on with a pipe cleaner without firing because the alcohol content in the red dye is not as great.  After the red dye is applied thoroughly, the lesser abrasive, Blue Diamond compound is applied to the stummel with a cotton cloth buffing wheel on the rotary tool set at about 40% full power. This removes the excess dye.  Not pictured is that I wiped the stummel a number time with a cotton pad wetted with alcohol to blend the red dye with the dark brown/black under coat.  Afterwards, Blue Diamond was again applied until the hue looked good.  Also not shown is that the Wellington stem was also polished with Blue Diamond compound with a cotton cloth buffing wheel.To refresh the Omega’s nickel shank cap, another cotton cloth buffing wheel dedicated to applying compound on metal is mounted on the rotary tool.  Blue Diamond is applied, and the bling factor of the shank cap went up a few notches! The final step is to apply carnauba wax to the entire pipe.  After mounting another cotton cloth buffing wheel, with the speed set at about 40% full power, the wax is applied to the stummel and Wellington stem – not to the nickel shank cap.  After application of the wax, the Omega is given a rigorous hand buffing to raise the shine and to remove any excess wax that may have collected on the surface.Wow, what a change!  And then the next thought, ‘Wow, maybe too much change!’  At this point I was ready to send the write up to Steve to publish on rebornpipes, but my concern continued to grow, and that small voice was gnawing inside – the finish may have gone a little too far from the original Dr. Grabow Omega motif which was bent more to the burgundy pallet than what I did, going more toward the red.  I decided to send a pre-published PDF of the write up with final presentation pictures to receive his assessment.  I expressed to Ryan that I could take the Omega back to the worktable and bend the hue back to more of a burgundy palette – that working with dyes is like a dance.  After sending that email and PDF, I waited to find out if the Dr. Grabow Omega was finished or whether I was headed back to the worktable.  Ryan’s response did not take long:

Hi Dal, I think we can definitely call it finished (and then some)! I couldn’t stop smiling as I read through your write-up because every time I thought the pipe must be nearly finalized (I was already amazed at how much better it looked after unwrapping the initial coat of dye), there would be another step in the process that made it look even better. I’m genuinely awestruck at how well it turned out. That a lowly drugstore pipe can be transformed to such a degree is a testament to the tremendous skill and care you put into your work. As far as the color is concerned, I think you chose the ideal shade: not too dark, not too light, and a perfect showcase for the more subtle grain patterns of this pipe. I wouldn’t change it one bit. The stem came out looking like a million bucks, as well, which is quite a feat considering how (literally) rough around the edges it was at the beginning. Just extraordinary work all around. I can’t thank you enough!…. Once again, thanks very much for doing such a wonderful job and taking the trouble to document each individual step. I really enjoyed reading about the restoration process and I can’t wait to see the pipe in person!

Best regards,


The upgrade of Ryan’s Dr. Grabow Omega ‘drugstore pipe’ is an amazing transformation and a grain popping display.  The transition from the finish that clouded the grain has been replaced with a sharp, distinctive cornucopia of grain patterns.  The Wellington stem is a perfect replacement for the Dr. Grabow factory stem.  This Omega upgrade, as with all my restorations, benefits the Daughters of Bulgaria – helping women and girls who have been trafficked and sexually exploited.  Thanks, Ryan!  Thank you for joining me!

Transforming a Dr. Grabow “Omega”

Blog by Paresh Deshpande

“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the prettiest of them all?” asked this “Omega”, looking deeply into my eyes!!!!! How I wish I could have promptly replied that it was “YOU”…. but I could not get myself to say so!!!!! It was then that I decided to work on this pipe and make an attempt at its transformation.

This bent billiards has “OMEGA” stamped on the left side of the shank over “DR. GRABOW” in block capital letters while on the right side it is stamped “IMPORTED BRIAR”. A nickel ferrule adorns the end of the shank and is devoid of any stampings. An “ACE OF SPADES” on the left side breaks the monotonous black of the stem. I searched pipedia.com for information about the brand and try to place the period when this model was introduced by Dr. Grabow. The site has very detailed information about the brand and various models and is a highly recommended read. I have extracted only the relevant portions here:-

Dr. Grabow pipes are the quintessential American brand. Made with care in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, this 60-year-old line of inexpensive tobacco pipes is a favorite among new pipe smokers for its consistency and good taste. The famous smoking pipe brand gets its name from the owner Dr Grabow, a general physician who lived in Chicago.

Made in America since the 1930’s, Dr. Grabow tobacco pipes were named after “the good doctor” to help polish the smudged image of smoking a pipe to newly tobacco-leery American public. The line of pipes bearing Dr. Grabow’s name have become one of the best known pipe brands in North America.

The Dr Grabow pipes first began with Louis B Linkman of the M.Linkman and Co of Chicago. The trademark “Dr Grabow” itself actually begun at about 1932 and had the US patent number 1.896,800.

The birth of the Dr Grabow smoking pipe is simple enough. It started off when Dr Grabow himself and his acquaintance Dr Linkman regularly visited the local pharmacist at Brown’s Drug Store in Lincoln Park Chicago.

Dr Linkman was on the lookout for a doctor’s name to Christian an innovative line of pipes in order to mellow out the smoking apparel’s smoggy image. He asked Dr Grabow to allow him to use his name to which he agreed and the name has stuck since then. Linkman continued to manufacture his Dr Grabow pipes until 1953. 

The earliest of these exclusive pipes were stamped both with Linkman’s and Dr Grabow. They included a propeller emblem that was white in color at the top of the mouthpiece.

In 1944 the white propeller emblem was replaced with a white spade, a move that heralded the introduction of Linkman’s new Dr Grabow pipes. All of the newer entries included most of the earlier favorites as well as “TRU-GRAIN” and “SELECT”. Later models of Dr Grabow pipes were described as Imported Briar.

I further searched pipedia.com and found detailed and comprehensive information on the various lines and models of Dr. Grabow through the years and was able to date this Omega to 1975. Here is the link; https://pipedia.org/wiki/Dr._Grabow_Models_(Series,Line)_Names_Through_the_Years


The first thing that struck me like a jolt was the reddish brown/ very dark reddish purple, OMG!!!! I cannot even describe the color of the stain on this pipe; it was that unappealing to the eye to say the least. It just surprises me as to why my grand old man even bought it, if he had indeed bought it. You just feel like turning away from it. To add to its color woes, the stummel is covered in dust and grime of storage from all these years. The stummel has Custombilt like rustication emanating from the joint where the shank and stummel meet and move away from the bottom towards the rim top. Within this rustication we have very fine thin lines. The raised portion of these rustication have the same reddish brown coloration while within these rustication, it has dark color. The shank is plain and devoid of any rustication. There appears to be some kind of coat covering the entire stummel. All said and done, this coloration has to go!!!!! How am I going to do it, I really do not know, but IT HAS TO GO!!!!!! The chamber is lightly caked and has overflow of lava on the rim top. This will have to be cleaned and sanded down if the rim top surface is damaged underneath the overflowing lava. The inner and outer edge has minor dents and dings.The stem appears to be ebonite and has a plastic feel to it. The stem is a copy of the famed Peterson’s P-Lip button with the difference in the bore being dead center on the end of the button as opposed to being on the top surface. It has extensive damage to the upper and lower surface of the lip. It is peppered with tooth chatter and has one deep bite mark each on both the surfaces. This will have to be addressed.The mortise is relatively clean and air flows freely through the airway in the pipe and shank.The nickel ferrule has lost its shine and shows minor spots of corrosion. I think it will polish up nicely.THE PROCESS

I had made a promise to this pipe that I shall make it “the prettiest of them all…” (Well, actually it was like “TRY” really) and thus the first and most logical start point was to address the color of the stummel. To make this pipe attractive, I felt that I should attempt to do the following:-

(a) Highlight the rustications.

(b) Get some shine on the stummel.

(c) Attempt to reveal the grains on the smooth shank.

(d) Highlight the contrast between the raised portions of the rustication with that of within the rustication.

Having identified what needs to be done, I turned my attention to how it could be done. SWOT analysis dictated that I needed to adopt processes which did not require any stains or coatings of lacquer as I did not have any. Also since I do not have any mechanical equipment, I had to adopt simpler and manual techniques. I decided that the best and easiest course of action for me would be to get rid of the original stain.

I started by reaming the chamber with a Kleen Reem pipe reamer and fabricated knife. I removed the complete cake from the chamber. I further sanded down the walls of the chamber with a 220 grit sand paper to smooth the walls and took the cake back down to the bare briar. I gently scraped out the little overflow of lava from the rim top. I also cleaned out the mortise and the shank with cue tips and pipe cleaners dipped in alcohol.Once the chamber was cleaned, I turned my attention to the stummel and tried to get rid of the lacquer coating. I started by wet sanding with a 1500 grit micromesh pad and soon realized that it would not work. I tried sanding with 800 grit sand paper without any success. Soon I found myself sanding the stummel with 150 grit sand paper. The lacquer was very difficult to get rid off and after a considerable time, I was finally able to completely remove the lacquer coating. Believe you me, my fingers had started to hurt and sitting at the table for 3-4 hours at a stretch caused cramps in my back. But the end result was pleasing.

Then began the arduous and time consuming process of sanding the stummel with micromesh pads. I proceeded to sand the stummel with micromesh pads, going through wet sanding with 1500-2400 pads and dry sanding with 3200- 12000 grit pads. I was very pleased with the way the stummel had turned out. I decided that I liked this finish and after further cleaning and polishing, the stummel would look just beautiful. Once I was through with micromesh pads, I cleaned the stummel with undiluted Murphy’s oil soap and tooth brush. I paid special attention to the deep areas of the rustication, thoroughly cleaning it with the brush. I dried the bowl with cotton cloth and paper towels.I rubbed “Before and After Restoration balm” in to the stummel with fingers deep into the rustications and let it rest for a few minutes before I buffed it with a horse hair brush. Finally, I polished the stummel with a soft cotton cloth and muscle power!!!! I also polished the nickel ferrule with a jeweler’s cloth. Luckily, the corrosion was superficial and polished up nicely. Turning my attention to the badly damaged stem, I start by cleaning it with cotton pads dipped in isopropyl alcohol. I flamed the stem surface with a Bic lighter to raise the tooth chatter. The deeper tooth chatter and bite marks were filled with clear CA superglue. Thereafter began the time consuming process of curing, sanding with flat head needle file, 220 grit sand paper and finally by micromesh pads. In all, I had to repeat the fill and sand procedure thrice before resorting to final polish using micromesh pads. I also cleaned out the internals of the stem with pipe cleaners dipped in alcohol. To finish the pipe, I rubbed a small quantity of Halcyon wax II on to the stummel and gave it a nice polish. The pipe now does look stunning. I love the way the pipe has turned out and I can proudly reply back to this Omega “IT’S YOU!!!!!!” The finished pipe is shown below.

Jen’s Trove No. 8 – Restore & Upgrade of a Dr. Grabow Omega Smooth Billiard

Blog by Dal Stanton

I begin the restoration of the final pipe in Jen’s Trove before she leaves Bulgaria and returns to the US.  As I have posted eight times before this (I just figured out that I mis-numbered her pipes – two number 5s!), these pipes have been culled from my “Help Me!” basket and boxes to give as gifts to the men in her family.  I have been pleased to restore these pipes for Jen, especially because she knows each pipe she acquires benefits the Daughters of Bulgaria, help women and girls who have been sexually exploited and trafficked.  Thank you, Jen!

Her final pipe is a Dr. Grabow Omega Smooth Billiard – Dr. Grabow’s humbler version of a Peterson System pipe or the WDC Wellington.  Similarities include the Military stem with a P-Lip, and band.  The Omega is a smart looking pipe.  The eBay seller had a good selection and I rolled the Dr. Grabow Omega with four other pipes.  One of these was a GBD Americana Made in England which I restored (See this link at The Pipe Steward) and has become a regular friend in my rotation.  The restored Americana follows and then the seller’s picture of the Dr. Grabow Omega. The Lewis B. Linkman Co. started in 1892 (Pipedia).  Yet, the name, Dr. Grabow, was used for the first time in 1930 or 1931.  Since this is my first Dr. Grabow to restore, I find the story of the ‘Dr. Grabow’ name interesting because the Doctor is a real doctor!  From Pipedia’s article on the history of Dr. Grabow (and photo courtesy of Doug Valitchka):

Dr. Paul E. Grabow was a general physician in Chicago, located at 2348 N. Seminary Ave. Some doors north at No. 2400 was the drug store owned by Mr. Brown, a personal friend of Dr. Grabow. Grabow and Brown, both fond of fly-fishing, would often sit together in the early evening hours in a back room of the drug shop talking to one another and enjoying their pipes. Before long, they were joined by Mr. Linkman, owner of M. Linkman & Co., a large pipe factory located one block west on W. Fullerton Ave., at the corner of Racine Ave. These three gentlemen shared common interests and became fast friends.

During one of their evening get-togethers in 1930, Linkman mentioned he would introduce a new type of pipe soon that exhibited what he felt were fine improvements that greatly improved the pipe smoking experience. He was still looking for a good name and believed his pipes would sell better if they bore the name of a physician. (1) Linkman asked his friend Dr. Grabow if he would permit him to use his name. The good doctor felt flattered by the idea a pipe should be designated for him and consented. A formal agreement was not made, nor were there any contracts signed or royalties paid to Dr. Grabow for the use of his name; it was, according to one of Dr. Paul Grabow’s sons, Milford, a “friendly understanding” and Linkman expressed his thanks by sending Dr. Grabow numerous pipes throughout Dr. Grabow’s lifetime. (see The Legend of Dr. Grabow). Also interesting of note are the various instances where Dr. Paul Grabow stated that he developed, or helped develop, the Dr. Grabow brand of pipes. This was a tactic used to convince people that a pipe developed, endorsed, and used by a medical physician would be ‘more healthful’ than a pipe that was not developed by someone in the medical community.

Dr. Grabow pipes have been known as inexpensive, quality smokers – the ‘Drug Store’ variety.  The Dr. Grabow Omega line started production in the 1970s (LINK) coming in a smooth and blasted finishes.

I take additional pictures of the Omega on my work table to fill the gaps.  The nomenclature is stamped on the shank sides – OMEGA [over] DR. GRABOW on the left.  The right is stamped, IMPORTED BRIAR.  The Military mount stem has the classic Dr. Grabow Club card suit mark.  Overall, the Omega is in good shape.  The fire chamber has very little carbon cake.  The stummel surface and rim are clean.  The P-Lip stem has chatter especially on the lover button area and the stem shows no oxidation.  The biggest problem that I see on this Dr. Grabow is the finish.  I don’t like it.  These two comments on a Pipes Magazine Forum discussion about Dr. Grabow Omegas’, cost, quality and appeal, capture my thoughts regarding positives and negative:

Positives: An Omega was the first briar pipe that I ever owned. It still gets regular use and like Brewshooter, I have no complaints with it. Bowl size is a little bit smaller than I like, but it makes for a nice quick smoke, and the military mount makes it really easy to clean. I have Savinellis that I have easily paid four times more for, and sure, they smoke a little bit better, but in terms of a good smoking instrument, the Omega will do you well as long as it is smoked properly and maintained properly.

Negative: One thing I noticed about my Omega is that it had a heavy varnish or clear coat. I sanded it and gave it a nice wax. It seems to breathe a little better now and I like seeing more of the grain. I also gave the band a bit of a brushed look with some fine grain sandpaper. It’s a nice little pipe for that quick smoke.

I remember when I first saw the Dr. Grabow Omega sitting in my palm after it arrived in the mail.  My first thought was, ‘Nice pipe if it didn’t have that candy apple finish.’  Even then, I knew when this pipe came to my work table, I would be removing the finish – it may be an acrylic finish and they often are bears to remove.  I’m hopeful that the acrylic finish doesn’t hide a lot of surprises.  So, with a better understanding of the Dr. Grabow Omega, Imported Briar before me, I begin its upgrade by putting the military mount stem in the OxiClean bath.  Even though I don’t detect oxidation, I want to be sure that what is there will be raised and revealed. The very light carbon cake in the bowl is addressed with the Savinelli Pipe Knife.  After putting down paper towel for a quick clean up, I ream the cake and follow by sanding the bowl with 240 grit paper wrapped around a Sharpie Pen for better leverage.  I then wipe the bowl using a cotton pad wetted with isopropyl 95% to remove the residue carbon dust.  The pictures show the progress. Even though I think it will be unsuccessful, I first try to remove the acrylic finish using cotton pads wetted with acetone.  Was I surprised.  The finish peels off immediately with the acetone.  What I thought was acrylic is more like a jell that thickens with the acetone and gums up on the surface.  It also has a reddish color to it.  I use several cotton pads because they gum up quickly with the red goo coming off the surface.  While I remove the red top layer of finish, after working on the stummel with the acetone, it still is darker than I expected if all the finish had been removed.  I also am now able to see more fills – one larger area in the back of the bowl, over the shank.  That will need some attention.  I take some pictures of the progress and fills.  I decide to let the stummel soak in an acetone bath to remove more of the old finish.  While the stummel soaks in the acetone bath, I fish the Military mount stem out of the OxiClean bath and take a picture.  While there is not much in the way of oxidation showing on the stem, the OxiClean had the effect of bringing out small speckling on the surface.  I use 600 grit paper and wet sand the surface of the stem.  I follow with a rigorous buffing with 0000 grade steel wool.  The 600 grit paper and steel wool were sufficient to work out all the tooth chatter.  I then use pipe cleaners and cotton swabs wetted with alcohol for the filter bay, and to clean the internals of the stem.  Very little was needed to finish the job. Now it’s time to fish the stummel out of the acetone bath.  The finish is removed and I’m looking at the natural briar and it does have a darker hue.  I use a sharp dental probe to test the fills I see variously around the stummel.  I see a few very small fills and most seem strong.  On a few, and on the large fill that I referenced before on the back side of the bowl, above the shank, the fill has a crevasse next to it.  Before working on the stummel fills, I first use a medium grade sanding sponge followed by a light grade sanding sponge to remove the surface blemishes on the stummel.  I like using the sanding sponges because they are gentler than regular sanding paper and soft – conforming to the nooks and crannies of the curves of the stummel.  I also do a ‘sponge topping’ to clean up the rim.  One of the things I want to do to upgrade this Dr. Grabow Omega is to work on the rim.  To me, the flat-top, sharp cut of the rim is detracting. I will introduce an internal bevel and a very gentle external bevel on the rim lip to soften the lines.  As I have said in several other restorations, I believe a beveled rim classes up the pipe.  I use a coarse 120 grit rolled piece of sanding paper to cut the initial bevel, and then following with 240 then 600.  The final picture below shows the addition of the external bevel which is less obtrusive.  I use only the 240 grit paper followed by the 600 grit paper to fashion this bevel.  I do the external bevel like this as more of an accent to the rim – softening the lines.  I really like the grain movement on the rim – upgrading Dr. Grabow Omega! After the sponge sanding, almost all of the pitting and nicks are removed from the briar surface.  At this juncture, only the large fill on the back of the stummel needs attention.  I take a close-up to show the fill.  I use Hot Stuff Special ‘T’ CA glue to fill the crevasse running along this fill. I drip a bit of glue on a toothpick and run the drop to the point to strategically place the glue.  Afterward, I spray the CA glue with an accelerator to shorten the curing time.  In a few minutes, I use a flat needle file to file the mounded CA glue down close to the briar surface.  I then use 240 grit and 600 grit paper to bring it down flush with the briar surface and blend.  Finally, I use the medium and light grade sanding sponges to finish the blending.  The pictures show the progress. With the patch sanded down, I’m ready to utilize micromesh pads on the bowl to bring out the grain of the briar.  I begin by wet sanding using micromesh pads 1500 to 2400. I follow by dry sanding with pads 3200 to 4000 and then 6000 to 12000.  Oh my, oh my.  I love to watch the grain emerge through the micromesh cycles.  This Dr. Grabow is looking good for a drug store pipe! Standing back a bit and looking at the Dr. Grabow Omega again, I reunite the unfinished smooth Billiard stummel with unfinished Military Mount stem to assess where things are and get a sense about which way this Omega wants to go in his upgrade. I’m drawn to the black, darker hues of the natural briar.  The currents of the briar’s grain flow remind me of a storm with bird’s eye swirls and flamed currents unleashed in the wind.  The stummel heel has an almost solid dark plane with a spurt of grain reaching out.  This Dr. Grabow’s newly revealed grain has some personality – no doubt! This grain pattern reminds me of a restoration I did with a very large pipe, A Desirable Reject London Made, where for the first time I used black dye as part of the staining mixture.  The results were surprising to me by pulling out almost a copper kettle hue – attractive.  Here is a picture of that project.For the upgrade of this Dr. Grabow Omega, I decide in favor of the same approach mixing 2/3s-parts Fiebing’s Dark Brown Leather Dye with 1/3-part Fiebing’s Black Leather Dye with the lightening option available by wiping down the bowl with alcohol later.  I set up my staining station and take a picture to show the setup and tools.  What I didn’t show are the latex gloves I’ve started wearing to keep my hands from being colored!  After inserting a fashioned cork in the shank as a handle, I warm the stummel with the hot air gun to open the briar grain for better reception of the dye.  Then, using a folded over pipe cleaner, I liberally apply the dye mixture to the stummel to have 100% coverage.  While the dye is wet on the stummel, I fire it using a lit candle and the alcohol in the aniline dye immediately burns off, setting the pigment.  After a few minutes of cooling, I repeat the process above and then set the stummel aside to rest.  The pictures show the staining process. With the stummel resting, I take the stem and wet sand with micromesh pads 1500 to 2400.  I follow by dry sanding with pads 3200 to 4000, then 6000 to 12000.  After each cycle, I apply Obsidian Oil to the stem to revitalize the vulcanite.  The stem looks good!  I put the stem aside to dry. This point of the process is like a kid getting up on Christmas morning!  With the stained, fired, crusted bowl in hand, I mount the felt buffing wheel in the Dremel, set the speed at the slowest speed (20%) and use the Dremel’s adjustment wrench to purge the wheel of old compound and to soften it.  Using Tripoli compound, I ‘unwrap’ the stummel with the felt buffing wheel.  When I finish with the Tripoli, I wet a cotton pad with alcohol and wipe down the stummel.  I do this to lighten it a bit and to blend the dye.  Then, with the cotton cloth buffing wheel mounted to the Dremel, and turning up the speed to 40%, I apply Blue Diamond compound to the stummel and use it to buff up the nickel planted band.  While the Blue Diamond buffing wheel is mounted, I also use it on the stem to buff.  The pictures show the progress with the compounds. Well, it was going so well until it wasn’t!  My wife arrived home with KFC Chicken for supper that we ate on the ‘Man Cave’ balcony of our 10th floor flat.  Yes, we have Colonel Sanders in Bulgaria. After finishing the chicken which was ‘finger licking good’ I was anxious to show my wife the progress on the Dr. Grabow.  You can guess.  On the balcony, perhaps because of the ‘finger licking good’ chicken was still a bit on my fingers, the Dr. Grabow literally took off and launched from my hand and hit the floor.  With inspection, the dent on the rim was evident… oh my.  Oh well….  I remembered in the back of my mind, I think I read it on an Al Jones’ post, about using a wet towel super-heated with the help of an iron, can help expand dented wood as it heats and absorbs the moisture.  Wood is more like a sponge.  I used my wife’s iron and gave it a go.  Believe it or not, it worked well.  Before and after pictures are #1 and #3.  The briar had dulled where the iron was applied so again I use the buffing wheel with Blue Diamond to restore the sheen with the rest of the stummel. Disaster averted.  Thanks, Al!  I buff the stummel with a clean cotton cloth to remove compound residue.  I mount the Dremel with a cotton cloth buffing wheel and apply carnauba wax to stem and stummel.  Following a few coats of wax, I give the entire pipe a hand buff with a microfiber cloth.

This Dr. Grabow Omega was an unremarkable ‘Drug Store’ pipe.  Now, he’s enjoys an upgrade – he has cuff links now!  The grain hidden underneath the original finish is not unremarkable!  I’m pleased that all this Omega needed was a little TLC.  Jen will give this pipe to one of the men in her family.  ALL the gifts she has given benefit our work here in Bulgaria with the Daughters of Bulgaria – helping women and girls who have been trafficked and sexually exploited.  This Dr. Grabow is the last pipe in Jen’s Trove.  Thanks, Jen!  Check out The Pipe Steward to find out more about why I do what I do.  Thanks for joining me!