Tag Archives: Dunhill Shell Briar

Bringing a Dunhill Shell Briar Back to Its Best


Blog by Kenneth Lieblich

Ah, Dunhill. It is a name that inspires awe and warms the cockles of the hearts of many pipe smokers worldwide. Today, I am pleased to show the restoration of a wonderful shell briar. I acquired it in an auction on the Canadian Prairies. Other than that, I don’t know much of its provenance. What I can say definitively is that this must have been a great smoker and a much-loved pipe – it had been very thoroughly used. Rightly or wrongly, I instinctively have a certain respect for Dunhill pipes, and I am especially keen to restore this one so that the next smoker can enjoy it. As I mentioned this is a Dunhill Shell Briar and the markings confirm this. It is a beautiful, classic billiard shape. One of the ways I can tell that this was a much-loved pipe is that the markings on the underside of the shank were quite worn. As you can see, I can only make out so much. On the left-hand side is the model number, 39. Immediately to the right of this is Dunhill [over] Shell Briar. Then, to the right of that, is Made in [over] England. I cannot make out the year suffix, but my instincts tell me that it’s probably from the 1960s. Steve concurs with this. Additionally, this is a size three pipe. Normally, there would be an encircled 3, followed by an S. In this case, these marks are not visible, but I compared it with other Dunhills of size three and they are identical.The image below from Pipephil seems to confirm my suspicions about this pipe. The history of Dunhill’s shell briar pipes is fascinating. If you are interested in learning more, have a read of this article from Pipedia.This pipe was pretty darn filthy. As you can see, the stem had the usual wear-and-tear – some scratches, etc. There were no notable tooth dents, which pleasantly surprised me. There was some calcification, but not much oxidation. I figured the inside would be dirty because the inner tube certainly was!Meanwhile, the stummel was in lovely condition, but very dirty inside. The shank was dark and dank, and the bowl had lots of cake and lava. Who knows what horrors I might find inside? Spoiler alert: it wasn’t good. The inner tube was first on my list. It was being quite stubborn about coming out of the tenon, so I opted to warm the stem and inner tube with my heat gun. This provided just enough softening of the internal goo to allow me to pull it out. It then went for a soak in some lemon-infused isopropyl alcohol. I let it sit for several hours and then cleaned it off and it looked much improved. I then finished it with a quick polish and moved on. I wiped the stem with Murphy’s Oil Soap on some cotton pads. There was calcification there and I needed to remove it. Fortunately, although the stem was pretty dirty inside, it was not as bad as I had feared. I had no problem cleaning out the inside with pipe cleaners and isopropyl alcohol.I then wiped down the stem with SoftScrub cleaner to remove some surface oxidation. Once this process was done, the stem went for an overnight soak in the Pipe Stem Oxidation Remover. As the name suggests, this liquid removes oxidation, but, more than anything, it helps draw oxidation to the surface of the vulcanite. This allows me to clean the oxidation off in a couple of ways: both by applying a mild abrasive cleaner to the surface, then by sanding the stem. The following day, I cleaned all of the de-oxidizing mess off with alcohol, pipe cleaners, et cetera. The oxidation had migrated to the surface and would be fairly straightforward to remove. I scrubbed with SoftScrub on some cotton pads to remove the leftover oxidation.Then I used a set of nine Micromesh pads (1,500 through 12,000 grit) which gradually erased the ravages of time and brought out the stem’s lovely black lustre. For the last five pads, I also lightly coated the stem with Obsidian Pipe Stem Oil in between each scrubbing. At last, I set the finished stem aside. Off to work on the stummel! It was pretty dirty after all these years, so I used cotton rounds and some Murphy’s Oil Soap to scrub the outside of the stummel and a toothbrush with Murphy’s for the lava on the rim of the pipe. This had the benefit of revealing a bit more of the markings on the underside of the shank.  The bowl needed a thorough reaming, so I used the KleenReem to scrape off the built-up cake and I followed that with 220-grit sandpaper taped to a dowel to eliminate as much as possible. Generally, I prefer to sand the chamber down to bare briar. When restoring, it is important to ensure that there is no damage to the briar in the bowl, under the cake. Normally, there is none, but today…The walls of the pipe were just fine, but – horror of horrors! – the previous owner had clearly cleaned the bottom of the bowl with a jackhammer. There were some deep gouges in the heel. The gouges are hard to make out in the photos, so take my word for it. This is a straightforward fix, just time-consuming.However, before I addressed that issue, I needed to clean the shank and bowl thoroughly. I proceeded to use Q-tips, pipe cleaners, and lemon-infused isopropyl alcohol. Holy moly – this was an incredibly dirty pipe. Not sure it had ever seen a pipe cleaner before. Just look at the pile of Q-tips and pipe cleaners below!Then, to further clean the inside of the pipe, I put the stem and stummel back together and used my pipe retort system. This system uses boiling isopropyl alcohol and a vacuum (i.e. a void, not the household appliance) to clean the interior of a pipe. As you can see by the brownish colour of the alcohol, the retort worked well. I managed to extract lots of otherwise inaccessible filth from inside the pipe. Once I followed that up by cleaning the insides with some Castile soap and tube brushes. Now for the reconstructive surgery. I prepared some J.B. Weld epoxy for the purposes of filling the gouges in the briar. The great thing about J.B. Weld is that, once cured, it is totally inert, heat resistant to well beyond pipe temperatures, and hard as rock. I used a folded pipe cleaner and awkwardly smeared the stuff into the breach – then left it to cure overnight. On the morrow, I needed to remove all the excess epoxy from the bowl. I only wanted epoxy in the repair and nowhere else. This is a tricky and tedious exercise, but I used a combination of techniques to accomplish it. First, I used my Dremel (with different attachments) to remove most of the excess material. Second, I went back to my 200-grit sandpaper on a dowel to sand it down to where I wanted it. Naturally, the bottom of the bowl was much narrower than the top, so I acquired a couple of thinner dowels in order to sand where I needed to. I am very pleased with the results. The repair is exactly as big as it needs to be – and no bigger. After the pipe’s use over the years (and my restoration), the rim had lost some of its colour. I opted to use my furniture stain pens to match the colour of the rest of the stummel. Voilà! Looks terrific.At this point, I rubbed some Before & After Restoration Balm into the briar and left it to sit for 15 minutes or so. I brushed it with a horsehair brush and buffed it with a microfibre cloth. The BARB does wonderful things to the wood, and I really like the sheen on the sandblast. I then coated the entire inside of the bowl with a thin coat of a mixture of activated charcoal and my wife’s homemade yogurt. It hardens overnight and provides a good, slightly rough surface for a new cake to build. Now, the bowl can be used again as if nothing happened. Then it was off for a trip to the bench polisher. A few coats of Conservator’s Wax (from Lee Valley) were just what this pipe needed. Boy – that wax really makes this pipe pop! The lovely shine made the wood look absolutely beautiful. The sandblast looks fantastic and is ready to be enjoyed again by the next owner. I thoroughly enjoyed bringing this Dunhill Shell Briar 39 Billiard back to life and I am pleased to announce that this pipe is for sale! If you are interested in acquiring it for your collection, please have a look in the “British” Pipe Section of the store here on Steve’s website. You can also email me directly at kenneth@knightsofthepipe.com. The approximate dimensions of the Dunhill are as follows: length 5 in. (125 mm); height 1¾ in. (43 mm); bowl diameter 1⅛ in. (29 mm); chamber diameter ¾ in. (19 mm). The weight of the pipe is ⅞ oz. (25 g). I hope you enjoyed reading the story of this restoration as much as I enjoyed restoring it. If you are interested in more of my work, please follow me here on Steve’s website or send me an email. Thank you very much for reading and, as always, I welcome and encourage your comments.

Dunhill 1949 Patent 120 FrankenStem


Blog by Henry Ramirez

Cruising Ebay for a pipe to play with I came across a Shell bent which, as stated in the listing, had the stem bit completely chewed off. I’d been trying a mold technique to reconstruct the stem button with limited success, very limited. Anyway, this pipe’s stem had been chewed to the point where no pipe cleaner could negotiate the airway and tobacco dottle was packed in tight. Here is a photo of the listing.Dang me, the previous owner had a heck of an oral fixation!  This stem was exactly what I was looking for.While the stem soaked in the Oxyclean bath, I evaluated the briar. The cake in the chamber was so thick you could shake a stick at it but after removal proved to be the protection connection because the inner bowl was pristine. I don’t know what it is about old tobaccos but the cake is dry and pumice-like with a delightfully transporting aroma to another time. The bowl’s rim was likewise protected by the lava of cake and tar. When I use my augers and drill bits, it’s either by holding the bit by hand or using an electric drill to hold the spade bit and turning the pipe itself. I’m listening for the crunching sound of cake being cleaved rather than the squeaky sound of metal on briar. Full rotations are usually not possible until the very end.

The stain and finish on the briar had that great oxblood highlight color that I love but was tarnished with a river of muck. I decided to try using my micro etcher to preserve the blast on the rim but knowing that I would later have to re-stain. I didn’t want to use Murphy’s Oil Soap because it diminishes the intensity of the stain somewhat.  Regarding the River o” Muck, I tried using my steamer which has a gun for accurate aiming and a boiler which keeps up the psi.  This muck was visible in the blast’s valleys as a white deposit. I fished out the stem from the Oxyclean bath, scrubbed it with blue shop paper towels to remove the slimy coating and polished it with flour of pumice, green, red, white diamond and Bendix on the lathe with individual rag wheels.

When the stem airway is too congested or crimped to allow passage of even a bristle pipe cleaner, I use a base “E” guitar string. It has a stiff central core wire which is later wound with another thicker resilient wire to poke on through.  My intent is not to mechanically open the airway but to remove any remaining tobacco chattel that the steamer couldn’t dislodge.

Next, I want to straighten the stem in my Wife’s oven. Of course I do this when she’s not around and so far she has turned a blind eye towards this practice.  But if there is residual tobacco burnt in her oven, I don’t want to be around to explain! The vulcanite has a memory of its initial pre-bent and pre-chewed state which will allow ease of cleaning and repair. The only bugaboo is that tenon-mortise margin can open. I was fortunate to have that happen because I have an adjustment technique to fix that which I want to try out. Importantly, don’t forget to trace the initial outline of the bent stem on a piece of paper for a reference when re-bending.

The pipe stem is positioned on a sheet of aluminum foil on the middle shelf where it is easy access and can be well illuminated by the oven’s light, I have tried to use an aluminum pie plate but the higher sides obscure my viewing the stem. I set the temperature to 247 degrees using the Bake Convection mode. This oven is electric and if yours is gas, you may want to let it get up to temperature first before placing your stem. Gadzooks!  The tenon on the stem opened like a blunderbuss barrel and the stem won’t fully seat. More fun!

The cross section on either side of the air way seemed meaty enough for some pins and channeling to create a ferrule of composite resin. I made a silicone putty impression of an unsmoked stem which approximated the same size and shape of this pipe. I made sure to capture the airway’s interior.I then plugged the stem’s airway with wax; micro etched the exterior surface and bonded the composite. I’d gotten a black resin colorant online but found that it either accelerated the mix to a very short working time or inhibited the mix to not fully curing. To blacken my next mix I’m going back to activated charcoal. But although this bit is ivory colored, it is very strong and decently shaped so I decided to simply slather it with a coating of black CA.

When I placed the pipe back in the oven to re-bend it, I found that some of the CA had over heated and was bubbled up like road tar. Note to self, keep CA out of the oven. I had seen this happen with an infrared light in a previous experiment but thought the temp was sufficiently lower to prevent a recurrence. Oh well, just more fussin’.

By the way, when re-bending the stem I never seem to be able to wait long enough and go through several attempts before getting it right. If it doesn’t fully bend to the proper contour, you have to wait until it re-straightens itself and then some. If you get greedy you can snap stem in half. I’m looking forward to my next stem bending because I plan to chronicle the ideal temperature using my laser thermometer.Returning to the bowl’s rim, I stained it with a light brown, got the stem to fit better but haven’t yet dialed it in and polished the pipe.I noticed that the preliminary outline of the stem displayed the additional length that the new bit added.Here’s the semi-final result and I wonder if any of these projects are truly ended because to aspire to the superb craftsmanship of these old Dunhill artisans is a journey rather than an endpoint.