Tag Archives: Ferndown pipes

Pipe Gods Smiled And I Got Not One But Three Les Wood Pipes… Restoring a Les Wood Poker


Blog by Paresh Deshpande

Les Wood pipes are on every collector’s either wish list or in personal collection and I am no exception, though I was in the former category up until now. These pipes are as rare as hen’s teeth and very rarely make an appearance on the estate pipe market and whenever they do, the stratospheric prices made them beyond my reach. After waiting for years on end, I came across a gentleman desirous of parting with his Les Wood pipes collection. We discussed the price and I discussed with Abha, my wife, discussed some more with the gentleman, again discussed a lot more with my wife and thereafter again discussed some with the gentleman and after all these discussions, three Les Wood pipes made their way from the European Union to India.

The first of the three Les Wood pipes that I decided to work on is a rusticated large, stout classic poker with a beautiful Cumberland stem. The large rusticated chunky stummel feels great in the hand and given its size, it is definitely not a light weight. The pipe is stamped on the smooth surface of the foot of the stummel as “FERNDOWN” in a slight arc over “BARK” over “HAND MADE IN” over “ENGLAND” over “LES WOOD”. Running oblique to the FERNDOWN BARK on the left side are three stars one below the other. The Sterling silver band bears the stamp “L & JS” in a rectangular cartouche over “.925”. The Cumberland stem is stamped on the left side as “L J S”I had read about Leslie John Wood sometime back when I read an article on English pipes and pipe carvers. I remembered that he worked for Dunhill’s as a silversmith. Just to refresh my memory, I visited Reborn Pipes and sure enough, Steve had indeed worked on and researched Les Wood. It’s very comprehensive and is recommended as a read. Here is the link to the write up.

https://rebornpipes.com/2021/05/20/this-restoration-is-a-bit-of-a-resurrection-of-a-beautiful-ferndown-root-3-dublin/

From the article, I know I am working on a ‘BARK’ grade pipe (ca. 90%, rusticated, dark brown and black) in size 3 from Les Wood.

Initial Visual Inspection
The pipe is actually in quite a good condition. The chamber has a very thin layer of cake that is even all around and is rock hard. The stummel surface feels solid to the touch and thus, I don’t anticipate any serious issues with the chamber walls. The rim top surface is smooth and devoid of any cake build up or darkening over the surface. The rim edges are in pretty good condition too. The stummel finish has faded more towards the foot of the stummel and has a lot of dirt and grime ground into the rusticated finish. This makes the stummel appear dull, lifeless and lackluster. The silver band at the shank end is deeply oxidized and appears blackened. The Cumberland stem is deeply oxidized with a couple of minor tooth indentations in the bite zone. Here are a few pictures of the pipe as it sits on my worktable. It’s a nice solid pipe with a robust construction yet elegant in its huge size and shape. This one will take your breath away once it is restored, I think.

Detailed Inspection
There is a thin layer of cake in the chamber that is even all around. The cake is hard and compact and this makes me believe that it has been regularly reamed to maintain the correct cake thickness in the chamber. The condition of the chamber walls can be ascertained only once the cake has been taken down to the bare briar; however, I do not foresee any major issues with the chamber walls. The smooth rim top has no dents and dings and overflowing lava. The condition of the inner rim edge will be known once the complete cake has been removed and the surface thoroughly cleaned. The chamber does have smells of old tobaccos and would need to be addressed.The rustication on the stummel surface are very fine and shallow. It is a very uniquely rusticated stummel for sure. The stain has faded from the lower half of the bowl and lower surface of the shank. The surface looks tired and lifeless and would benefit from a nice thorough TLC routine. The shank is quite clean and has no signs of accumulated old oils and gunk. The draw is nice and smooth. The Cumberland stem is deeply oxidized with minor tooth chatter in the bite zone on either surface. The horizontal slot opening is clean and the tenon shows accumulation of old dried oils and gunk. The airflow through the stem is smooth and easy. That my detailed appreciation of the condition of this pipe was completely off the mark became amply evident as I went through the process of refurbishing this pipe.

The Process
I started the process of refurbishing this pipe with internal cleaning of the stem and this is where my initial appreciation of the stem condition faulted. Using thin shank brushes and anti-oil dish washing soap, I cleaned the stem airway. I have modified this process of cleaning the stem airway by doing away with pipe cleaners and alcohol as it saves me a ton of pipe cleaners, which is a precious commodity for me here in India. To say that the airway was filthy, would be an understatement as is evidenced by the following pictures. The dark smelly and sticky goo that was being dislodged with each passing of the shank brush was never-ending. However, I persevered with my efforts till only white clean foam came out of the stem airway, indicating that the airway was nice and clean. I ran a couple of pipe cleaners dipped in alcohol through the airway to dry it out and make sure that there are no traces of soap and gunk hidden in the airway.With the stem internals now clean, I moved to external cleaning of the stem surface by dunking the stem into “Before and After Deoxidizer” solution developed by my friend Mark Hoover. The solution helps to draw out heavy oxidation to the surface making it’s further removal a breeze, while the minor oxidation is eliminated to a very great extent. I usually dunk stems of 5-7 pipes that are in-line for restoration and the FERNDOWN BARK is marked in red arrow. I generally allow the stems to soak in this solution overnight for the solution to do its work.While the stem was set aside to soak in the deoxidizer solution, I moved on to removing the thin (????) layer of cake from the chamber walls. Boy was I wrong in my assessment of thin layer and how! I started the reaming process with head size 2 of the PipNet reamer blade and progressed through head sizes 3 and 4. The blades kept cutting through the layers of cake and there seemed no end to it. Finally, I resorted to using my Kleen Reem pipe tool extended to its max width to divest the chamber walls of its entire carbon layer. The chamber is huge ! I used my fabricated knife to remove cake from areas inaccessible to the reamer blades and completed the process of removing the cake by sanding the walls smooth with a folded piece of 180 grit sandpaper. I wiped the chamber with a cotton swab wetted with alcohol to clean the residual carbon dust. The chamber walls are solid and the minor thin veins that are visible over the walls are not heat fissures but an ultra thin layer of carbon which will be addressed once the cake is loosened up after a salt and alcohol bath, or at least that is what I hope for. Next, I cleaned the mortise by scraping out all the dried oils and tars from the walls. My assessment of the mortise being clean was proved wrong by the amount of crud that was scraped out. The icing on the cake was when I tried to clean the airway with a folded pipe cleaner dipped in alcohol and it just wouldn’t pass through. I realized that the airway was clogged to some extent. Using the drill bit attachment from the Kleen Reem pipe tool, I cleaned out the accumulated oils and tars from the airway and ran a folded bristled pipe cleaner dipped in alcohol through the airway. I checked the draw and if earlier I felt the draw was smooth and open, after the cleaning, it was surreal! The draw was something I had not experienced earlier. The air literally gushed through the airway. This one is a sure fire excellent smoker.Continuing with the internal cleaning of the chamber and shank, I subjected it to a salt and alcohol bath. I used cotton balls which is an at par substitute as I have realized over the years. I drew out a wick from the cotton and along with a folded regular pipe cleaner; inserted it into the mortise and through the draught hole and further into the chamber. Thereafter, I packed the chamber with cotton balls to about quarter of an inch below the rim inner edge and soaked the cotton balls with isopropyl alcohol up to the brim. About half an hour later, the level of alcohol had gone down, having being absorbed by the cotton. I topped it up once again and set it aside overnight. By next afternoon, the cotton and alcohol had drawn out all the remaining oils/ tars from the chamber and mortise and loosened out any residual cake and tar build up, fulfilling its intended task. I removed the cotton balls and ran pipe cleaners through the mortise to clean out all the loosened tars and gunk. Using my fabricated tool, I scraped out the entire loosed gunk from the mortise and further cleaned it with alcohol and q-tips. I also scraped the moist cake from the chamber using my knife and sanding it smooth with 180 grit sandpaper. The chamber now smelled clean and fresh and the tiny veins observed in the chamber were eliminated. I set the stummel to dry out naturally. I cleaned the external surface of the stummel with undiluted Murphy’s Oil Soap and a hard bristled toothbrush. I cleaned the smooth rim top surface with the soap and Scotch Brite pad. I thoroughly cleaned the mortise with shank brush and anti-oil dish washing soap. I polished the smooth rim top surface by dry sanding with 1500 to 12000 grit micromesh pads.  Next, I rubbed a small quantity of “Before and After Restoration Balm” into the briar with my finger tips and let it rest for a few minutes. The balm almost immediately works it’s magic and the briar now had a nice vibrant appearance with the beautiful 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 buffed it with a horse hair shoe brush. This pipe really oozes of a very high quality, in fact one of the best that I have come across. Now that the stummel refurbishing was nearly done and also the stem had now been soaking for more than 24 hours, I removed the stem from the solution. I first scrubbed the stem surface with a Scotch Brite pad, always being mindful of the stem logo on the left side. I followed this scrubbing with a nice cleaning of the surface using a 0000 grade steel wool. I rinsed the stem under running water to rid the stem of the thick solution. I ran a couple of pipe cleaners to remove the deoxidizer solution from the airway. The beauty of a Cumberland stem with swirls of red and black can now be appreciated once the heavy oxidation has been eliminated.The above cleaning also gave a clearer picture of the tooth chatter on either surface in the bite zone. This tooth chatter was very minor and would be easily addressed during the sanding process using various grit sandpapers followed by micromesh pads. I dry sanded the entire stem with 320, 400, 600 and 800 grit sand papers followed by wet sanding using 1000, 1500 and 2000 grit sand papers. This progressive use of higher grit sandpapers helps to, firstly,  reduce the sanding marks left behind by the more abrasive ones, secondly, completely eliminate the oxidation and imparting a clean shine to the stem surface. Thirdly, this also helped to even out the minor tooth chatter from the bite zone. I applied a little EVO and set the stem aside for a few minutes. This stem, as the rest of the pipe, is a real beauty.I went through the 3200 to 12000 grit micromesh pads to dry sand the stem. The stem now has a nice deep shine with the swirls coming to life as they dance around the entire stem surface. I rubbed a small quantity of EVO and set the stem aside for the oil to hydrate the stem surface. This is a beautiful stem and I cannot refrain from constant admiration of it. Have a look for yourself….I painted the stem logo L J S using a Gold paint glitter pen and wiped off the excess paint. The stem logo is now nice and prominently visible. I completed this project by hand polishing the stummel with Halcyon II wax. I rubbed this polish deep into the rustication and after a couple of minutes, vigorously hand buffed the stummel with a microfiber cloth to a deep shine. I polished the stem with Blue Diamond compound and subsequently with carnauba wax using my hand held rotary tool. This is a gorgeous looking pipe and will be an integral part of my collection of contemporary Pipe Carvers. I wish to thank each one for sparing their valuable time to read through this write up and praying for the health and safety of you and your loved ones.

This restoration is a bit of a resurrection of a beautiful Ferndown Root 3* Dublin


Blog by Steve Laug

This pipe was one of those happy coincidences. I have been looking for a Les Wood Hand Made Ferndown pipe for quite a while now to add to my collection. I have read a lot about them and had them on the wish list but have never found one. The crazy thing was that I was looking on Maxim Engels Site here in Canada and on EBay when I received an email from David asking if I would be willing to breath life back into this badly damaged beauty. That should have been an easy answer but I have been turning down work as my “day” job has dramatically become more consuming and I am left without a lot of time to work on pipes. I have been turning down pipes for repair for awhile now not wanting to add to the load. I postponed answering him and when I finally did I asked him to send me photos of the pipe so I would know what I was getting into. He immediately forwarded me the next two photos and I was hooked! I have not worked on a Ferndown before and this one looked like a good candidate for me to work on. I wrote and asked him about his timeline and he was very gracious with me. We struck a deal and the pipe was on its way to Canada for work. It dawned on me then that I had no idea what the rest of the pipe looked like and I would just have to wait and be surprised.I came home from my office yesterday to find the box from David waiting for me. My wife Irene had put it where I would see it. I took it to my work desk in the basement and carefully opened a well packed box that had originally contained pipes that I had sent to David. It was good to see this little box continue to serve its purpose as the vessel that protects it precious cargo. I took it out of the box and took some photos of it to chronicle the issues that I saw and give a benchmark for me before I began the work.

The pipe is a beautifully shape Dublin with a gold band. The pipe is stamped on the underside of the bowl and shank. On the heel of the bowl it is stamped Ferndown [arched over] Root [over] ***. Next to that it is stamped Hand Made In [over] England [over] Les Wood. On the gold band it is stamped L&JS in a rectangle [over] 9CT. The finish is quite beautiful but dirty on the bowl sides and shank. The largest issue with the pipe is the rim top and edges. There are burn marks around the front and back outer edges. The rim top itself is covered with lava but not enough to hide the charred inner edge and top. The damage is deep from the looks of the bowl top but cleaning would tell the story. The bowl itself is out of round from the damage. There was a thick cake in the bowl and the pipe stank of old tobacco but not enough to distinguish what it was… I know it was not an aromatic from the smell but otherwise I could not identify it. The taper stem is oxidized and has some calcification on the end. It is stamped on the left side and reads LJS. It was originally a stunning pipe and even with the damage and grime it still had class that was evident the moment you looked at it. I took a photo of the rim top and edges to show the burn damage around the bowl top and inner and outer edges. It has some serious char under the lava coat. The bowl is thickly caked as you can see from the photo. I also took photos of the stem to show its condition. There are light tooth marks and chatter on both sides next to the button and there is a deep oxidation in the vulcanite.I took a photo of the stamping on the heel of the bowl and underside of the shank and gold band. It is clear and readable as noted above.I removed the stem from the bowl and took a photo of the pipe to show the proportions of the design. It is really a well made pipe.I turned to Pipephil to help me interpret the stamping on the pipe and gain some background information (http://pipephil.eu/logos/en/logo-f1.html). The photo to the left shows Les Wood and the information below came from the side bar. I have also done a screen capture of the information on the site.

Artisan: Leslie (Les) Wood. He was the master silver smith at Alfred Dunhill Ltd. before starting L. & J.S. Briars. Pipes for the European market are stamped “L. Wood” while those for US are stamped “Ferndown”. Production: ~ 2000 pipes/year (Ferndown + L.Wood) See also Elwood.From the information on Pipephil I learned that I was working on a pipe made for the US and that it was a large 3 star pipe in terms of size. I also learned that the Root finish was a smooth light brown. All of which helped to understand the pipe in hand.

I turned to Pipedia (https://pipedia.org/wiki/Ferndown) to find a more detailed history and description of the brand and was amazed to find that the majority of it was either quotes or written by Les Wood himself. I am quoting some pertinent parts of the article below. You can turn to the site to read it in full.

Leslie “Les” John Wood worked for Dunhill for 19 years. His last position was as master silversmith. Following his tenure with Dunhill, Les formed his own brand, L. & J.S. Briars together with his wife Dolly in 1978. Les Wood follows Sasieni, the first ex Dunhill worker to start their own enterprise, and he was followed by William John “Ashton”-Taylor.

“I started working at Dunhill’s in March 1963, in the silver mounting department working under Jack Spriggs he left the firm after I had been there for 2 years, and I took over the department, at that time I worked alone it was only when the department was relocated to the top floor that the increase of pipes that needed mounting that we took on trainees. After 19 years I was asked if I would buy the machinery and move out of the factory and set up on my own, so off I went. With me I took the staff that worked with me at that time, Robert Morris was the best, he could mount anything, he now has his own jewellery retail shop and makes some really nice handmade jewellery from his shop at Whitstable in Kent.”

“I worked on Dunhill’s pipes from 1980/81 and soon built up a reputation as the firm to send your mounting to. As time went on and Dolly left Dunhill’s we decided to start to turn our own bowls and make our own pipes under the name of my house.” Les Wood. Jan, 2020…”

Due to the vagaries of international trademark law, he sold his earlier pipes as ” L.&J.S Briars”, “Ellwood”, “Les Wood” or “L. Wood”. Until recently, an average of 1500 – 2000 pipes a year were sold as “Ferndown” — named for the mansion he lives in — in the UK and US, but as “L. Wood” pipes in Germany…

To many pipe smokers, Les Wood’s pipes embody the revival of great English pipe making initiated by Ashton in the early 1980s. The high-grade Italian and Spanish plateau he prefers is oil-cured in the tradition of both Dunhill and Ashton. The pipes are renowned for their pleasant, slightly nutty flavor and remarkable smoking characteristics. They feature impeccable craftsmanship extending to very good stem/bit work, though many pipes are often a bit heavier. The hallmark of his work, of course, is the excellent silver work. Almost all of his pipes feature rings or ferules for spigot stems. Grading is by finish: “Bark” (ca. 90%, rusticated, dark brown and black), “Antique Bark” (tan rusticated), “Reo” (brown and red, smooth), “Root” (orange, smooth), and “Tudor Root” (orange and brown smooth) and by size (one to four stars). He also designates straight grains with SG…

“We bought the briar from Italy and Spain, one is mush denser that the other I like the Spanish briar it is lighter and Dolly would make the Roots look like glass with only a natural vanish, all the pipes were finished with the same varnish, the bark finish on the bowl is put on by Dolly by hand, one slip and you have a problem. That’s one job that needs to be seen to see how it’s done.”

There also was a great paragraph on the oil curing process that Les and Dolly developed. I am including that below as the pipe I am working on was definitely oil cured.

“We had our method of Oil-Curing. We applied Oil to the outside and the inside of the bowl, that was because when Dolly was at Dunhill’s factory, she worked in the finishing department and got such a high finish on the pipes they wanted to know how she did it. The bowls had already gone through Dunhills’ oven oil curing system, but to her, it was not enough, because it could not get the shine that she wanted, then, she oiled the bowl on the outside and the inside to get a better finished. She left Dunhill and came to work with me. Because of this process, we found out the smokers liked the taste when light up their pipe – they said there was no aftertaste and it had a sweet taste doesn’t matter what tobacco they used. We have carried it on from there.”

With that background information it was now time to work on the pipe itself. I decided to top the bowl to remove the heavy charring damage. I put a piece of 180 grit sandpaper on the topping board and worked the rim top and edges over in a circular motion on the board. After a few passes I took a photo of the rim top to show the progress but also to show the burn damage.Before working on the rim edges I reamed the bowl with a PipNet Reamer to cut back the cake to bare wood. I cleaned up the remaining cake with a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife. I then sanded the bowl with a piece of 220 sandpaper wrapped around a piece of dowel to smooth out the bowl walls. The reaming and sanding cleaned up a lot of the damage on the inner edge as you can see in the fourth photo below.With that done I turned my attention to the inner and outer edges of the rim. I cleaned up both with a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper. I worked on removing the burn marks on the outer edge and gave the inner edge a light bevel to hide the burn marks.I scrubbed the exterior of the bowl and shank with undiluted Murphy’s Oil Soap and a tooth brush. I work on the grime ground into the briar. I rinsed the bowl with warm running water to remove the debris left behind from the scrubbing. The pipe looked much better and the rim top was greatly improved. I cleaned the internals of the bowl, shank and airway in the stem with isopropyl alcohol, cotton swabs and pipe cleaners until they came out clean.I set the stem aside and turned my attention to polishing the briar. I used 1500-12000 grit micromesh sanding pads and wiped the bowl down after each pad with a damp cloth. The briar on the rim began to change the colour to get much closer to the rest of the bowl. I used a Maple stain pen to blend the rim top into the colour of the rest of the bowl. It matched well and served to obscure the burn mark on the rim edges. I also restained a light spot on the heel of the bowl. I rubbed the bowl and shank down with Before & After Restoration Balm. I worked it into the surface of the bowl sides and shank with my fingertips to clean, enliven and protect the briar. I let the balm sit for a little while and then buffed with a cotton cloth to raise the shine. The Balm did its magic and the grain stood out. I set the bowl aside and put the stem to soak in a bath of Briarville’s Pipe Stem Deoxidizer overnight. In the morning I rinsed it off with warm water and rubbed off the remaining softened oxidation until the stem was very clean. It looked very good and even the LJS gold stamping looked good. I set the bowl aside and turned my attention to the stem. I “painted” the tooth marks on the stem with the flame of a lighter to raise them. I sanded the remaining tooth chatter and marks with 220 grit sandpaper to blend them into the stem surface. I started the polishing process with 400 grit wet dry sandpaper. I polished the vulcanite stem with micromesh sanding pads – 1500-12000 grit pads. I wiped it down with Obsidian Oil after each sanding pad. I used Before & After Pipe Polish – both Fine and Extra Fine to further polish the stem. The photo below shows the polished stem.     I touched up the LJS stamp on the left side of the taper stem with Rub’n Buff Antique Gold. I rubbed it on and worked it into the stamp with a tooth pick. I buffed it off with a soft cloth. This nice looking Les Wood Ferndown Root 3 Dublin with a taper vulcanite stem is a great looking pipe now that it has been restored. The briar is clean and the grain really came alive. The rich brown stains gave the finish a sense of depth with the polishing and waxing. The grain really popped. I put the stem back on the bowl and buffed the pipe with Blue Diamond on the buffing wheel using a light touch on the briar. I gave the bowl and the stem multiple coats of carnauba wax on the buffing wheel. I buffed the pipe with a clean buffing pad to raise the shine. I hand buffed the pipe with a microfiber cloth to deepen the shine. The finished Ferndown Root 3 Dublin really is a beauty and feels great in the hand and looks very good. Give the finished pipe a look in the photos below. The dimensions of the pipe are Length: 6 inches, Height: 2 inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 ¾ inches, Chamber diameter: 7/8 of an inch. The weight of the pipe is 66 grams/2.36 oz. The pipe will be going back David very soon. I am looking forward to what he thinks once he has it back in his hands. Thanks for reading this blog and my reflections on the pipe while I worked on it. It was a fun one to work on.