Tag Archives: Figural pipes

Banding and Stemming a Figural Pipe – A Carved Bull’s Head


I have never been a big fan of carved animal pipes- whether birds, bulls, horses, etc. There is just something about them that always makes me shy away. Needless to say when I picked up this one in an EBay lot I put it in the bottom of the box of pipes to be refurbished and kept burying it lower in the box. A few weeks ago when I had very few left I decided to give it a go. There were a few challenges about it that made it look interesting. It was without a stem and the shank was damaged – several cracks in it. The angles of the shank made banding it a challenge and the thickness of the neck of the bull at the base of the shank made it formidable. Those attracted me to giving it a try. I also figured I could do some carving on the shank to make it possible to band it and then sand rework an old stem to fit the newly carved shank. The bowl has some kind of impermeable coating on it. Acetone will not cut it; Everclear will not cut it and even a soak in the alcohol bath will not cut it. It is like a coat of Urethane. All my attacks on it resulted in not even damaging the surface. Ah well it will stay as it is then.

I used my Dremel to sand back the shank area so that a band would fit it. I sanded back the neck of the bull to allow for a visible shank. I also had to sand the area at the back of the head to fit the band on the shank. I sanded it with some medium grit emery paper to remove the deep scratches from the Dremel and then worked it over with 240 and 320 grit sandpaper to smooth it out. I finished by wet sanding the shank with micromesh sanding pads from 1500-3200 grit. Once I had it cut back and ready, I heated a band with my heat gun and pressure fit it onto the newly formed shank. The next three photos show the newly banded shank. I left a little excess length on the band so that it would form a seat for the stem (visible in Photo 2). The shank end was so badly damaged that I could not get a smooth end on it. In Photo 3 you can also see the cracks in the shank that I repaired with superglue and pressure.
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I had an old stem in my can of stems that was the right shape. It was also in rough shape. It was one of those I had held on to that should have probably been pitched. However, it was right for this shank and would be reparable with a bit of work. This pipe sat on my work table throughout the repairs I was doing on all the other pipes I have worked on in the past month. It was just sitting there and every so often I would pick it up and work on it. The next series of nine photos shows the stem that I was working on for the pipe.

Figure 1 Top view of the stem before I worked on it. There were bite marks, tooth marks and pieces missing.

Figure 1 Top view of the stem before I worked on it. There were bite marks, tooth marks and pieces missing.

Figure 2 I sanded down the stem and filled the deep pits with black superglue. The top side of the stem shows the shiny black glue patches.

Figure 2 I sanded down the stem and filled the deep pits with black superglue. The top side of the stem shows the shiny black glue patches.

Figure 3 The underside of the stem. I used a file to sand down the edges and the flat blade of the stem.

Figure 3 The underside of the stem. I used a file to sand down the edges and the flat blade of the stem.

Figure 4 The stem is beginning to take shape after much filing and sanding on the sides and around the button. This is a photo of the topside of the stem.

Figure 4 The stem is beginning to take shape after much filing and sanding on the sides and around the button. This is a photo of the topside of the stem.

Figure 5 The underside of the stem with the filing and shaping bringing it into shape.

Figure 5 The underside of the stem with the filing and shaping bringing it into shape.

Figure 6 The top side - note the left side dent on the edge of the stem. This would require more sanding, shaping and filling with black superglue.

Figure 6 The top side – note the left side dent on the edge of the stem. This would require more sanding, shaping and filling with black superglue.

Figure 7 Topside of the stem. I sanded it with 320 grit sandpaper and then medium grit sanding sponge. It is beginning to take shape.

Figure 7 Topside of the stem. I sanded it with 320 grit sandpaper and then medium grit sanding sponge. It is beginning to take shape.

Figure 8 Underside of the stem- again sanded and shaped. The dents and edges are starting to be cleaned up.

Figure 8 Underside of the stem- again sanded and shaped. The dents and edges are starting to be cleaned up.

Figure 9 Underside finished with the majority of the shaping. Now a lot of fine tuning needed to be done.

Figure 9 Underside finished with the majority of the shaping. Now a lot of fine tuning needed to be done.

Figure 11 The finished stem fit into the repaired shank. Right side view.

Figure 11 The finished stem fit into the repaired shank. Right side view.

Figure 10 The finished stem shaped and inserted in the repaired shank. Left side view.

Figure 10 The finished stem shaped and inserted in the repaired shank. Left side view.

Once I had the stem cleaned up and repaired it was ready to be heated and bent to fit the flow of the pipe. I set up my heat gun and turned it on low heat. I held the stem over the heat at a distance of 2-3 inches and kept it moving back and forth to prevent the vulcanite from burning. When the vulcanite was pliable I used a wooden rolling pin and bent the stem over the curve of the rolling pin. I find that using this keeps the stem from bending at an angle.

Figure 12 Heat gun set up and ready to use to bend the stem.

Figure 12 Heat gun set up and ready to use to bend the stem.

Figure 13 Heating up the vulcanite stem.

Figure 13 Heating up the vulcanite stem.

Figure 14 Bending the stem over a wooden rolling pin that I scavenged from my wife's thrift shop box.

Figure 14 Bending the stem over a wooden rolling pin that I scavenged from my wife’s thrift shop box.

Figure 15 The finished bend in the pipe. It is now ready to polish the stem and the shank.

Figure 15 The finished bend in the pipe. It is now ready to polish the stem and the shank.

I took it back to the work table and began to sand the stem and the shank with a fine grit sanding sponge. I continued to sand it and then worked on the shank with micromesh sanding pads from 3600-12,000 grit to prepare it for restaining.

Figure 16 Shank preparation for staining.

Figure 16 Shank preparation for staining.

Figure 17 Shank preparation for staining.

Figure 17 Shank preparation for staining.

Once the shank was prepared I stained it with a dark brown aniline stain. I flamed it and repeated the staining and flaming until the brown matched that of the rest of the bowl. I then gave it a coat of Danish Oil medium walnut to seal the shank and give it a shine that would match the head of the bull. I also finished sanding the stem with the remaining grits of micromesh (3600-12,000 grit). When I finished I buffed the stem and shank with White Diamond and gave it all several coats of carnauba wax. The next series of five photos show the finished pipe.
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Restored a Carved Figural


I received this figural pipe in the lot of six that came to me from a friend on Smokers Forums. It is a tiny pipe – measuring just over 3 ½ inches in length. It is stamped only Real Briar in a band around the shank. The carving of a First Nations Leader (as we call them here in Canada) or Native American (US) is nicely done. The bowl was cake with a rough layer of cake. The finish was dirty and some of the top coat was damaged. The rustication around the bowl rim inside the head dress was almost smooth with tars. The grooves in the feathers and facial features were dirty as well. The stem was rough and badly oxidized. There were no tooth marks or chatter on the stem. The button was very tight and I could not put a pipe cleaner through it to clean it out. Pushing a cleaner in from the tenon end only let me get about ¾ of the way up the stem. The first series of four pictures show the pipe as it arrived to my work table.

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I removed the stem and put the bowl in an alcohol bath overnight and the stem in a bath of Oxyclean for the same duration. When I took the bowl out the next morning it was definitely cleaner however I needed to scrub it with a soft bristle toothbrush to remove the grime from deep in the grooves in the face and feathers. I also wiped the bowl down with acetone on a cotton pad to remove the remaining finish on the bowl. I reamed the bowl with my T handle PipNet reamer to get the bowl cleaned out. I also cleaned the shank with cotton swabs and Everclear and then pipe cleaners as well. I used the drill bit on the handle of my KleenReem reamer to remove the build up from the airway between the mortise and the bowl. Once the pipe was cleaned inside and out it was ready to be stained. The next series of three photos show the pipe ready to be restained.

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I restained the bowl with a dark brown aniline stain that I thinned down 2:1 with isopropyl alcohol. I used the dauber that comes with the stain. I applied it heavily, flamed it and then restained it until the coverage was the way I wanted it. The next three photos show the bowl during the staining process.

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The stem needed a lot of work to get the roughened surface smooth again and the oxidation off of it. I began by working on the slot in the button. I could not get a pipe cleaner through it so it would need to be opened with my needle files before I could really clean the inside of the airway. The next four photos show the progress of the slot reshaping and opening from start to finish. Once the slot was the right openness and took a pipe cleaner easily I sanded it out inside with a folded piece of 320 grit sandpaper to smooth out the file marks.

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Once the slot was open I cleaned out the inside of the stem with Everclear and pipe cleaners and a shank brush. It took a lot of pipe cleaners as I don’t think the stem had ever been cleaned since it was first smoked. I then sanded the surface of the stem with 220 grit sandpaper to loosen the remaining oxidation and smooth out the rough surface. I then used a medium grit sponge backed sandpaper to remove the scratches left behind by the sandpaper. I used the Bic lighter technique on the stem and then sanded it with micromesh sanding pads 1500-2400 grit and then polished it with Maguiar’s Scratch X2.0 applied and rubbed off with a cotton pad. I finished sanding the stem with the remaining micromesh pads from 3200-12,000 grit, buffed it with White Diamond on my buffer and then coated it with Obsidian Oil and then multiple coats of carnauba. I also gave the bowl a buff with carnauba.

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The finished pipe is pictured in its new finish in the next five photos. It is a proud figural that has interesting carving and a great feel in the hand. I am not much for figural pipes but this one has some endearing features for me. Thanks Bill for the gift and the opportunity to try my hand on this one.

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