Blog by Steve Laug
I picked up an old Dunhill Root Briar off eBay that I knew would have to have a lot of work done to make it smokeable once again. It was obvious that it would need a plug as it was burned out. Many probably would not have bid on it but I got it for cheap and thought it would be worth learning how to do a briar plug to repair it. With not a huge amount invested in it I figured it was worth the education I would get doing a repair. I often will buy pipes on eBay that are rejects for the sole purpose of learning a new skill in the repair department.
When the old Dunhill arrived I opened the package for the initial inspection of the pipe. I wanted to have a clear picture of what I would be dealing with in the repair. On the underside of the bowl there was some kind epoxy fill that had been injected into small burnout spot. It had been also daubed on the bowl to provide a layer of “insulation” or something. It was really a mess in terms of the application of the epoxy. No amount of wiping the bowl down with alcohol or acetone would remove the goo from the surface of the pipe. I sanded it until the bottom was back to briar alone and the glue was gone. I then used a dental pick to check the integrity of the bottom of the pipe. I wanted to find out from the outside how far the damage had gone into the briar. If it was charcoal like and soft I would know the extent to which I would have to drill out the bottom of the bowl. I marked the extent of the damage with a permanent marker to show how far the burnout had damaged the briar.
Once I had the outside of the bowl cleaned up and the burn out clearly marked I turned my attention to the inside of the bowl. Once I had cleaned out the grit and grime from the inside of the bowl I found that the previous owner had reamed far too aggressively and compromised the thickness of the bottom of the bowl. It was almost ¼ inch below the bottom of the airway. The bottom of the bowl was in fact very thin. Using my dental pick I probed the bowl bottom to identify the extent of the damage around the burn out hole. It was virtually the same as the outside. With that information in hand I was ready to drill out the spot on the bowl.
I sanded out the inside of the bowl with a dowel and sandpaper to smooth out the hack job on the bottom. I then drilled out the burned out spot from the outside of the bowl with a drill bit slightly larger than the area I had marked with the marker. I was careful to get all the burned wood. Once the hole was open I again tested the soundness of the surrounding briar with my dental pick. I wanted to make sure that the damaged briar was removed. I re-drilled it a second time with a slightly larger bit to remove what remained of the damage. I then cleaned the pipe yet again. I wanted to make sure that the inside of the bowl was reamed and sanded to bare wood and that the bottom of the bowl that remained was free of carbon and dirt. I washed the entirety with isopropyl alcohol and then let it dry out.
I measure the outer diameter of the hole in the bottom and the inner diameter of the bowl. I then cut a piece of briar to those dimensions. The briar plug was shaped like a “T” and was actually significantly bigger than the pin hole that was originally in the bottom of the bowl. I had decided to create a new bottom for the bowl and a plug for the hole I had drilled. I used some wood glue and coated the bowl bottom and the inside of the hole. I then inserted the plug in the top of the bowl and used a rubber mallet and a piece of dowel to drive peg to the bottom of the bowl. The leg of the T extended through the hole in the bottom of the bowl that I drilled out. I had purposely made it longer than the thickness of the bowl so that it would extend below the bottom of the bowl. Once it was in place it not only was glued but in essence was pressure fit. I laid it aside to dry over night before I worked on sanding the leg of the T flush with the bottom of the pipe. The next morning I sanded it flush with the bottom of the bowl. It was a great fit as can be seen from the pictures that are included in this essay.
Once the exterior was smooth and ready to go I turned to the inside of the bowl. The top of the T formed a new thicker bottom for the bowl. I had made it thick enough to provide a new briar bowl. Because of the thickness I had used a spade bit to re-drill the bottom of the chamber and give it a concave feel like the original bowl. I also re-drilled the airway so that it would come out in the bottom of the new bowl. I again used the dowel and sand paper to smooth out the junction between the new surface and the old surface of the chamber walls. I wanted the transition between the two pieces to be smooth.
The final touch for this old timer was a good coating of pipe mud on the walls and on the bowl bottom. The mix I use for the mud is cigar ash and water. Others have used pipe tobacco or a mix of various things but I like cigar ash. The bonus is I get to smoke a good cigar in the process. I mix a good thick paste that I apply with a brush and a pipe nail. I brushed it on and tamped it into place with the brush and the nail. It gave a nice grey ash look to the inside of the bowl. The inside looked as good as new. I left it to dry through the night.
I sanded the rest of the bowl be careful to not damage the stamping. Once it was smooth and the scratches and nicks were gone I stained the outside of the bowl. I gave it a second and third coat with a Mahogany and then a brown stain. Between each coat of stain I flamed the stain by lighting it with a lighter. I find that this sets the stain a bit better than an air dry. I also buffed between coats of stain to make sure the coverage was even. The final coat of stain was applied, wiped off and then buffed with white diamond and then carnuaba.
I let the pipe mud cure for several days before I fired up the pipe. I was curious to see how hot the bottom of the bowl became. Success!! It smoked cool and dry to the bottom with no heat to the hand. The patch worked well. Next time I do a patch I will try to blend the flow of the grain a bit more!
I have been smoking it for a long time now and continue to be pleased with it. The patch is starting to blend in a bit more as it gets a patina. The pipe still smokes dry and cool throughout the bowl.
This week my computer died!!! I was forced to dig out a very old laptop that I have sitting in the basement so that I could at least have access to the internet. While I was cleaning up the hard drive I found these old photos of the same pipe. The repair may be a bit more visible in these photos if you are interested to have a look.