Tag Archives: fitting a new stem

Restemming & Restoring a Peterson’s Product – a Made in Ireland  Shamrock X105 Billiard


Blog by Steve Laug

The next pipe I have chosen to work on came to me as a referral from a local pipe shop here in Vancouver. While I am not taking on work via mail I am still doing the repairs for this pipe shop. This one was a smooth finished Peterson’s Billiard bowl. It needed to have a stem fit to the shank so the fellow could smoke it again. It had not had a stem since the 70s. He decided it was time to get it back in order. He says he is a bit older than me and in our conversation it turns out that we are pretty close to the same age. He does not drive, no computer and no cell phone. We chatted a bit on his land line and decided a regular slotted stem would work for the pipe as I did not have any straight (or bent for that matter) Peterson’s stems. It had originally been offered with a choice of stems anyway. The finish is was dirty. I can see sand pits on the left side of the bowl but other than that it was in decent condition. It was stamped on the  left side of the shank and read SHAMROCK. It was stamped to the right of the shank and reads “A PETERSON’S [over] PRODUCT” over MADE IN IRELAND (3 lines) with the shape number X105 next to the bowl. The bowl had been reamed recently and the inner edge was nicked in several spots. The rim top was covered with a lava coat. I took a few photos of the pipe when I removed it from the shipping envelope.    I took a close up photo of the rim top and bowl to show the general condition of the pipe. The bowl looks to have been reamed recently but the rim top and edges have some lava overflow. I took photos of the sides of the shank to show the stamping. The stamping is readable in the photos below and is as noted above. I am including the link to the Pipedia’s article on Peterson pipes. It is a great read in terms of the history of the brand (https://pipedia.org/wiki/Peterson).

I turned to “The Peterson Pipe” by Mark Irwin and Gary Malmberg to get some background on the Peterson’s Shamrock Pipe. On page 312 it had the following information. 

Shamrock (c1941-2009) Originally stamped SHAMROCK with no brand name, an inexpensive line first described in George Yale (New York) mail order booklet in 1941, imported by Rogers Import. The line was actively promoted beginning in ’45, aggressively promoted in US by Rogers from early ‘50s when they registered the Shamrock logo with US Patent Office, claiming propriety since ’38. Over the years offered with P-lip or fishtail mouthpiece, with or without nickel band, with or without shamrock logo on the band, with or without S stamped in white or later in gold on mouthpiece. Appearing in 2008 as unstained smooth and rustic, fishtail mouthpiece with gold impressed P on the stem. COMS of MADE IN over IRELAND (C1945-1965), MADE IN IRELAND forming a circle (c1945-1965), “A PETERSON’S PRODUCT” over MADE IN IRELAND (c1945-1965), MADE IN THE over REPUBLIC over OF IRELAND9c1948-1998). Model is always difficult or impossible to date. 

Judging from the description above, the pipe I am working on is stamped with the stamp noted in red above. It reads “A Peterson’s Product” over Made in Ireland which narrows the date to between approximately 1945-1965. It is just stamped SHAMROCK with no brand name and no stem.  

Now it was time to work on the pipe. I went through my can of stems and found a fishtail stem that would work with a little adjustment to the diameter at the band. The stem was in very good condition. I laid aside the stem and turned my attention to the bowl. I worked on the thickly lava coated rim top and edges with a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper. I was able to remove the lava and I worked over the inner edge with the sandpaper. Once finished I reamed the bowl with a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe knife to remove the remnants of cake in the bowl. I scrubbed the externals of the bowl and rim with undiluted Murphy’s Oil Soap and a tooth brush. I rinsed the bowl with warm running water to remove the soap and the grime. The scrubbing left the surface very clean. I decided to leave the sandpits on the bowl side and filling them seemed unnecessary to me. I polished the briar with micromesh sanding pads – dry sanding with 1500-12000 grit sanding pads. I wiped the bowl down with a damp cloth after each sanding pad. I worked some Before & After Restoration Balm into the surface of the briar with my fingertips to clean, enliven and protect the briar. I let the balm sit for 15 minutes and then buffed with a cotton cloth to raise the shine. The photos show the bowl at this point in the restoration process. I sanded the diameter of the stem at the shank end with 220 grit sandpaper to take down the left side so that it matched the side of the band on the shank. I worked it over until the flow between the nickel band and the stem was smooth. I started the polishing with 400 grit wet dry sandpaper.I set the bowl aside and polished the stem with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-12000 grit sanding pads. I wiped it down after each sanding pad with Obsidian Oil. I polished it with Before & After Pipe Stem Polish – both Fine and Extra Fine.    I am excited to finish this Nickel Banded Older Peterson’s Shamrock X105 Straight Billiard. I put the pipe back together and buffed it with Blue Diamond on the buffing wheel. I gave the bowl and the stem multiple coats of carnauba wax. I hand buffed the pipe with a clean buffing pad to raise the shine. It is fun to see what the polished bowl looks like with beautiful flame grain all around it. Added to that the polished Sterling Silver band and the black vulcanite stem was beautiful. This smooth Classic Shamrock X105 Billiard is great looking and the pipe feels great in my hand. It is light and well balanced. Have a look at it with the photos below. The dimensions are Length: 5 ¾ inches, Height: 1 ¾ inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 ¼ inches, Chamber diameter: ¾ of an inch. The weight of the pipe is 46 grams/1.62 oz. It turned out to be a beautiful pipe. I will be packing it up on the weekend and getting it ready to go back to the pipeman who sent it to me to be restemmed. Thanks for your time and as Paresh says each time – Stay Safe.

Resurrecting an Abdulla Dribaccy Shark Skin Chubby Billiard


Blog by Steve Laug

The next pipe on the work table came to me from friend who picked it up because of the name and the description. He liked the look of the pipe and sent me an email to see what I thought of it. He included a link to the eBay sale so I could check it out myself.

Steve, I’m asking if you would take a look at this listing and tell me what you think, as it certainly needs stem work. https://www.ebay.com/itm/RARE-Early-Vintage-ABDULLA-DRIBACCY-SHARK-SKIN-Briar-Pipe-London-Made-/193674187402?_trksid=p2349624.m46890.l49292

I’m a storyteller by profession (a business writer) and this one just has a great story to tell. I keep going back to it. And I’d be sorry to see it with a replacement stem. Is it salvageable? And is it something you’d be willing to do? Just let me know what you think. Any advice is appreciated.

(I think the asking price is high, but I think he’ll budge.)

Best regards, Baker

I clicked on the link and followed it to the listing. The seller described the pipe and its stamping as follows:

RARE Early Vintage ABDULLA DRIBACCY SHARK SKIN Briar Pipe. This early Shark Skin model is early vintage, my research while not conclusive would put it at 1940s or earlier and made in London. An old French ad in the photos suggests it is Shark Skin #2418. The pipe is in very good condition limited darkening of the rim or tar build up in the bowl. Stem has no visible chatter with rubber tip, see photo of tip with a minor chip of the vulcanite under the rubber tip. (I have included that old French Ad below).I went through all of the photos that were included in the listing on eBay and saved them. They tell the story of the current state of the pipe. It is a chubby billiard with a nice sandblast finish. As I looked it over it was clear to me that the stem was a replacement and a bit more oval than the shank. Whoever had replaced the stem had reduced the diameter of the shank and shouldered it down in size to match the stem. They had then rusticated the shank end coning to look better than a smooth finish. The stem itself was rustic to say the least with file marks on the top and underside that left it rough. There was a rubber Softee Bit on the end of the stem to cover up something that was not clear to me. As you scroll through the photos you can see the  poor shaping to the shank end that was done to fit a smaller stem.  The seller also included photos of the rim top and bowl to give a clear picture of the condition of the rim top and bowl. It was in very good condition with a light cake in the bowl. He also took photos of the stem that was on the pipe. You can see that the shank and stem have different diameters. You can also see the chip off the end of the stem in rubber Softee Bit. The seller included photos of the sides and heel of the bowl to give a picture of what the briar looked like. There is some nice grain showing through the sandblast around the sides. You can also see the way the shank has been sanded to meet the stem… it is quite obviously a poor fit. The stamping on the underside of the shank was also shown in the seller’s photos. It was clear and readable – ABDULLA [over] Dribaccy Pipe [over] Shank Skin.He also took a photo of the bowl with the stem removed. The stem has a very short filter tenon that has been cut down and shortened to fit. I sent Baker my assessment of the pipe. I let him know what I saw in terms of the bowl and the stem and my thoughts about it being a poorly fit replacement. I also told him about the way that I thought the stem was reshaped and tapered to match the stem diameter. I also mentioned what I thought about the button being broken off and the rubber Softee Bit covering the damaged stem. Baker thanked me and said he was reconsidering about the pipe. Not long after that I received another email from him that I have included below.

Hey Steve…

I received the Abdulla pipe today and have enclosed a few additional photos that may give you a closer look at the suspect areas. The bowl is in good shape but doesn’t show much of a cake. I’m wondering if the original stem wasn’t lost or broken. It’s a filter pipe, which I hadn’t realized but that doesn’t surprise me either.

Are you willing to tackle it? I don’t have a lot invested here. I’d just like to give it a rescue and spend some enjoyable time with it if I can.

Best regards, Baker I wrote back and told him I would take it on and see what I could do. Before it arrived I did a bit of research on the brand and have included that below.

I turned to Pipephil (http://pipephil.eu/logos/en/logo-a1.html) to find if there as any information included on the brand. There was very little information listed. It states that it is a brand of the Abdulla & Co. Ltd. I have included a screen capture of the listing for the brand.I turned then to Pipedia (https://pipedia.org/wiki/British_Pipe_Brands_%26_Makers_A_-_D).   There was limited information there on the brand. It stated that it was “A brand of Abdulla & Co Ltd.”

I googled Abdulla & Company Ltd to see what I could find. There were several links that gave some interesting information. The first of these includes some information on the company. It seems to have existed from 1917-1927 when it was purchased by Godfrey Phillips which kept the company name. (http://www.cigarettespedia.com/index.php/ManufacturerAbdulla_&_Co._Ltd).

Abdulla & Company, Ltd. — The company was founded in London, England, in 1902, and were most famous for their eponymous cigarette brand, which they made in various blends (Egyptian, Virginian, and Turkish). In 1917, Abdulla moved their headquarters to 173 New Bond Street in Mayfair (formerly the location of the Fabergé shop, and currently home to Chanel), and opened a branch in the Netherlands in 1923.

Around 1927, Abdulla & Company was purchased by a larger competitor, Godfrey Phillips, which kept the company name and brands going. In 1968, Godfrey Phillips U.K. was purchased by Philip Morris International.

I also found a short listing from the UK National Archives stating that the brand was known as Cigarette Specialists and was at 173 New Bond Street in London, England. (https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/ae36e330-54d9-4988-bd5a-ffc87ab77e20).

Abdulla & Co. Ltd. (cigarette-specialists; 173, New Bond St., London, W.1).

Reference:       PA/101/12/680

Title:   Abdulla & Co. Ltd. (cigarette-specialists; 173, New Bond St., London, W.1).

Date:   28th June, 1929

Finally I found an interesting photo of one of their cigarette boxes that say it is and always has been an Entirely British Firm (https://collection.sciencemuseumgroup.org.uk/objects/co8102857/packet-of-ten-abdulla-cigarettes-cigarette-packet).

Now it was time to work on the pipe itself. The pipe arrived this week. It was quite clean on the outside but smelled strongly of English tobaccos (which I think smells good!). The bowl had a light cake in it and the fit of stem was even more obviously wrong when I examined it. The coned end of the shank was odd for this pipe. The stem was in rough condition with a lot of file marks on the flat sides and scratching around the sides. I am always suspicious of rubber Softee Bits as they tend to be a quick fix to a bigger problem underneath. Once I removed it I would have a better idea. I took photos of the pipe when I received it.  I took a close up of the bowl and rim top to give a picture of the condition and the light cake in the bowl. I also included photos of the stem that came with it for reference as I was planning on replacing it.    I took a photo of the stamping on the shank that also showed the sanded shank end.I removed the stem from the shank and took a photo of the short tenon and the poor cut that left it at an angle.I decided to address the coned shank end but applying a thin brass band that would square it up again and get rid of that damage. I went through my bands and had a perfect one that was brass and thin profile. I went through my stems for a stem that was chunky and tapered and would work with this pipe. I took a photo of the new parts.Now it was time to set the new band on the shank. I used a dental spatula to apply all purpose glue to the end of the shank and spread it around. I pressed the band in place and wiped off the excess glue. Once the glue cured I took photos of the banded shank to show the change. The coned end had disappeared and the line of the shank was now flat once again from the back of the bowl to the shank end.  Now it was time to clean the bowl and shank. I reamed out the light cake with a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife and took it back to bare briar. I cleaned out the shank and airway to the bowl with pipe cleaners, cotton swabs and alcohol to remove the tars and oils.   With the internals finished I turned to the exterior of the bowl and shank. I worked Before & After Restoration Balm into the surface of the bowl sides and shank with my fingertips and a horsehair shoe brush 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 grain came alive and the fills while visible look better than when I began.    I set the bowl aside and turned to work on the stem. I decided that before I started on the new stem I wanted to see what was hidden under the Softee Bit. I slipped it off the end of the stem and low and behold I found a broken off stem. No telling if the seller knew this or not but it was clearly not the original stem and definitely needed to be replaced.The news stem was definitely going to take a bit of work to get a smooth transition between the shank and the stem. The stem is significantly bigger in diameter than the shank (first picture below). I used a Dremel and sanding drum to start the process of removing the excess diameter of the stem. I also did a bit of step down on the tenon so it would fit the end of the mortise more smoothly (second and third photo below). It was getting there but there was still a lot of work to do to get the fit right! I used a file to further remove the excess diameter and to shape the stem for smooth flow down the length of the sides. It is too easy to get a great fit at the shank end and then have the stem balloon out on the length of the sides… I was aiming to avoid that. Once I had the transition smooth with the file I finished shaping it with 150 grit sandpaper. Once I had finished the pipe was looking very good. I sent Baker a message with photos asking about the bend in the stem suggesting that we leave it and he was fine with that.I took some photos of the pipe as it stood before I polished the stem. I liked what I saw and the fit was perfect. The transition was smooth and flawless. I polished the brass band on the shank end with micromesh sanding pads. I used 1500-2400 to remove the scratching in the brass. Once I buffed the pipe it would polish the band the rest of the way. At this point it is looking very good.  I moved on to polishing the stem with micromesh sanding pads. I dry sanded it with 1500-12000 grit pads to polish it and bring out a shine in the rubber. I wiped it down with Obsidian Oil after each pad. I polished it with Before & After Fine and Extra Fine polishes and gave it a final coat of Obsidian Oil at the end. I was pleased with the look of the stem.   This Abdulla British Made Drybaccy Shark Skin Billiard is a great looking pipe now that it has been restored, restemmed and banded. It really is a piece of pipe history of a little known brand that was quite well known in its day. The shark skin finish (sandblast) around the bowl is quite beautiful and highlights the grain and works well with the new polished hard rubber taper stem. I put the stem back on the bowl and carefully buffed the pipe with Blue Diamond on the buffing wheel using a light touch on the briar. I gave the bowl multiple coats of Conservator’s Wax and the stem multiple coats of carnauba wax on the buffing wheel and followed that by buffing the entire pipe with a clean buffing pad. I hand buffed the pipe with a microfiber cloth to deepen the shine. The finished Abdulla Billiard fits nicely in the hand and feels great. Give the finished pipe a look in the photos below. The dimensions of the pipe are Length: 5 ½ inches, Height: 1 ¾ inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 ¼ inches, Chamber diameter: ¾ of an inch. The weight of the pipe is 57 grams/ 2.01 ounces. I have one more pipe to restore for Baker and then will be sending them back to him to enjoy! Thanks for reading this blog and my reflections on the pipe while I worked on it. There are many more to come!

A Humpty Dumpty Cross Canada Project – Could this Poor Richards Select Square Shank Billiard 9489 ever be whole again?


Blog by Steve Laug and Charles Lemon

My brother sent me a box of pipes and bowls that he had picked up. In it was an old square shank billiard that had seen far better days. The bowl sported a thick cake and was cracked 2/3rds of the way down the bowl on the front and another crack on the back of the bowl that went across the bowl to the left side. The finish was rough but there was some nice grain. Its stem was chewed up and was broken and smelly. I threw the unredeemable stem away. The bowl went into the parts box to be cannibalized for repairs. It was interesting that the pipe was stamped Poor Richard’s over Select over Bozeman, Montana on the left side of the shank. I grew up in Idaho and spent a lot of time in my early years in Bozeman. My youngest brother went to school there and my second brother was married there. Lots of family ties. It was stamped London England over 9489 on the right side. The 9489 stamp told me that it was a GBD product. Something about it intrigued me. I wondered if it might not be a candidate for a second collaboration with Charles Lemon of Dadspipes. It would be another test to our theory that just about any pipe can be restored and reused. I wrote to him and sent him some photos to see if he was game for taking it on. This project would provide some unique challenges to us both or it may end up as kindling.Dick1 Dick2 Dick3 Dick4I took a photo of the bowl from the top looking into it. The cake is unbelievable even to me with all the pipes I have worked on. This stuff was as hard as concrete and seemed impervious to the reamers in my kit. No wonder the bowl was cracked on the front and the back sides.Dick5 I dropped the bowl in an alcohol bath to soak and while it soaked I decided to see what I could find out about the connection of the pipe to Bozeman. I did a Google search for Poor Richard’s and found that the pipe shop is still open. It is located in downtown Bozeman. I read through their website and gleaned the following photo and history. http://poorrichardsbozeman.com/about-poor-richards/Dick6From its beginnings in 1962 as the Ellen News at 17 West Main Street, owners Dick Wike and Hal McDowell wanted to achieve a modern-looking newsstand in the building which had formerly been home to Cuttings Newsstand, Lawton’s News and the Stag Pipe Shop. After the partnership dissolved the following year, Wike went on to expand the line of pipes and tobaccos offered, as well as the variety of paperback books, magazines and newspapers offered. A theatre expansion project in 1968 necessitated a move a few doors down, and a name change in the process. On September 9, 1968, Poor Richard’s opened at its current location at 33 West Main Street. Successive owners Richard Fish, sisters Nicole and Glenn Close, Sarah and Dan Cole, and Kate Wiggins added their personal stamp to the offerings.

Today, Poor Richard’s offers its customers a wide variety of merchandise:
• Local Montana and regional books, including Falcon Guides
• Local, regional and national newspapers, including the Wall Street Journal and the Sunday New York Times
• Over 500 magazines and periodicals
• A large selection of fine cigars, including Padron, Arturo Fuente, Partagas, Macanudo, Punch, Romeo y Julieta, Oliva, and more…
• Pipes, including Peterson, Savinelli, Federico Rovera and more…
• Fine tobaccos and accessories

Knowing the background to a pipe is always interesting to me and adds another dimension to the restoration. It was time to stop reading however, and address the issues of the cake and a new stem. I soaked the bowl in an alcohol bath for over three days hoping to soften it. It did not work. It was impervious to the cutting blades on the PipNet and the KleenReem reamers. They would not even dent the hard carbon. I chipped at it with a pen knife and was able to clean off the rim and scrape a bit of the cake around the bowl edge. I tried the reamer again with no success. Knowing that Charles would work on the bowl and that was the hardest part, I did not want to send him the bowl with the cake intact. I put the sanding drum on the Dremel and attacked the bowl. It was slow going but after working at it for over 30 minutes I was able to get about half way down the bowl. I used a sharp knife to open the bottom half of the bowl more and then the Dremel once more to take it to the bottom. I have never fought a cake this hard before. I wrapped the cutting head on the PipNet reamer with sandpaper and worked on the inside of the bowl. I used a folded piece of sandpaper to clean up the inner edge of the bowl. There is still a lot to be done but at least Charles has a bit of a “clean” slate to begin with. You can see the crack from the top of the bowl on both the front and the back. The one on the front goes down over half way on the front side. The one on the back descends half way down and turns toward the left for about a half an inch.Dick7With the bowl cleaned I want to rough fit the stem before I sent it to Charles. I turned the tenon and made a snug fit of the square shank replacement stem. Fitting a new stem to these old timers is always a pain because none of the angles are actually square and the sides are of different sizes. Thus the stem has to be custom fit. I used the Dremel and sanding drum to take down a lot of the excess vulcanite and then followed up with a flat file to make the transition from the shank to the stem smooth and even.Dick8Once the fit was close I sanded the stem with 220 grit sandpaper to bring the angles in line with the shank and to smooth out the file marks. It took a lot of sanding and it is still not finished at this point. I would finish sanding and fitting it after Charles had repaired the bowl.Dick9 Dick10 Dick11 Dick12The bowl and shank had a white scum on the briar and in the stamping. It was hard to remove. I lightly sanded it and then scrubbed the bowl down with acetone on cotton pads to remove it and the remaining finish on the bowl. The pipe has some nice grain and once it cleaned up and repaired it will be interesting to see.Dick13 Dick14 Dick15 Dick16With the bowl cleaned up I was ready to send the reamed and cleaned stummel to Charles for the bowl repair work on the pipe this time. Once Charles had it in hand he would carry on with the repairs….

Time passed slowly for me as the pipe travelled from British Columbia to Ontario. Charles sent me a message on Skype saying that the pipe had arrived and he was ready to start the work on it. I turn over this part of the narrative to him.

(Charles picks up the narrative now.)

The cracked stummel arrived from Steve today. I was keen to get my first close-up look at it – Steve had sent me pictures of course, but nothing beats a hands-on examination. I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of clean-up work Steve had already done. I knew he had reamed it (at great effort), but he’d also done a nice job removing the dirt and grime on the outside of the bowl. Apart from a small amount of rim tar, I could concentrate immediately on the major issue of the crack repairs. I shot these pics to show the state of the stummel when I received it.Dick17 Dick18 Dick19There were two major cracked areas at the front and back of the bowl. Both cut all the way through the chamber walls, all but slicing the bowl in half lengthwise. The front crack looked like a clean break running from the rim down the face of the bowl to the bottom of the tobacco chamber. The rear crack wasn’t as straightforward. Instead of a single linear crack, the damage at the rear started at the rim, dropped down to roughly the centre of the bowl, and took a sharp left as it sought out an old fill – a natural weak spot in the briar. From the fill the crack had “spidered”, with thinner cracks running up, down and across the bowl. Yikes! Its times like this that I marvel at the sheer power of neglected cake to inexorably break a pipe bowl into pieces. Pipers take heed – ream your bowls!

I’ve worked on cracked bowls before, but the majority that have come across my work table have been tight cracks that don’t penetrate the chamber walls. These cracks, by contrast, could be visibly moved by squeezing and releasing the bowl in my hand. Without some way to lock the briar in position, this bowl would have to be retired.

While I worked on a plan to knit Humpty Dumpty back together again, I took steps to ensure that the existing spider cracks did not run further into the briar. I fitted a micro drill bit to my electric hand drill and popped a tiny hole at the end of each fissure in the wood, careful not to drill through to the tobacco chamber. These “end cap” holes would stop the cracks in their tracks, though there were quite a few of them around the back of the bowl.Dick20 Dick21Glue alone would not provide sufficient holding power to keep the cracks tight and immobile. I would need to add physical reinforcement of some kind to ensure that the bowl stayed in one piece after being placed back in service. I had never used the procedure before, but I decided that I’d have to try to pin the cracks. I dug about in my supplies and found a length of 1.2mm brass rod I thought would do the trick, and matched it up to a micro drill bit from my tool kit. I would have to drill pin shafts across the crack, through the curved walls of the bowl, without drilling into the chamber. I muttered a short prayer to the Pipe Gods, and then sank the first shaft just below the rim across the rear crack.

This close-up pic shows the flat angle at which I drilled, and the brass rod in position. I marked the rod length and then cut it a bit shorter so that when fully seated in the shaft, the outer end of the rod would be below the outer surface of the briar. I roughed up the brass pin with 220-grit sandpaper to give the glue more gripping surface, and then ran a drop of CA glue into the shaft before pushing the pin home.Dick22Sharp-eyed readers will also have noticed that the second shaft had been drilled when I took the pic above. Note the angle of this shaft relative to the first one – it’s not even close to parallel. This is deliberate. Each pin was drilled at an opposing angle to its neighbours. This way any movement of the briar as it heats and cools will be blocked by one or more pins. If the pins were parallel, pressure in the wrong direction could push the crack open again.

In all I installed ten brass pins – four in front and six in back – and sank seven end cap holes (all but one of these in the back). I had expected the pinning to be both nerve wracking and time consuming, but after the first couple of pins I caught my stride and set the stummel aside to let the glue cure a short 30 minutes later. The Pipe Gods must have approved of the work as I didn’t drill through the chamber wall once. Whew! I snapped these pictures of the bowl after the pinning. The red lines show the direction of the pin shafts. You can see how the pins work to stitch the crack shut. The front repair doesn’t look too bad, but the rear of the bowl looks like it was attacked by termites!Dick23 Dick24The proof of any repair is in the pudding, so to speak. I won’t be on hand to witness the first firing of this pipe after the work is done, but I can happily report that I can no longer make the cracks move no matter how hard I squeeze the bowl. That’s a very good sign, as it shows that the bowl is acting as a single piece of briar instead of several bits of loosely connected wood.

With the bowl structurally sound again, it was time to sort out the damage inflicted on the stummel by some maniac with a drill. I patched over all 17 (!!) holes with CA and briar dust and let the CA cure before filing and sanding the fills flush with the surface of the briar. This is a process I’ve done many times on many different pipes, so I figured this would be the easy part of the repair. Ironically, the fills took up more of my time, energy and patience than the pinning as I had to revisit several of the fills more than once to ensure a smooth finish. I also realized that a few of the pins were left slightly too long – the brass kept shining through two of the fills – which necessitated extra work to get everything in order before staining. Eventually, though, perseverance paid off.Dick25 Dick26 Dick27 Dick28I topped the bowl gently at this point to remove the excess CA glue and remove a few tiny dings. I then prepped the stummel for stain by sanding with 1500 – 2400 grit Micromesh sanding pads.Dick29 Dick30 Dick31With the crazy number of fills in the briar, I knew I’d have to go with a darker finish than I’d usually select. I started with a coat of Fiebing’s Black water-based leather dye to bring out the grain as much as I could. I let the colour dry and then wiped off the excess with 0000 steel wool and a bit of fresh water. This left the grain stained black while the rest of the wood remained lighter. I then made a wash of Fiebing’s Dark Brown dye diluted about 50%. I washed the colour over the briar repeatedly until I got close to the amount of coverage I was looking for. I let the dye dry so I could assess how well the fills were hidden. Still fairly prominent. A few scribbles with a medium stain marker helped push the fills to the background without obliterating the grain altogether.Dick32I left the stummel overnight at this point. I wasn’t sure that I was done with the stain, but I was getting tired and didn’t want to mess up the work with a bad decision or a shaky hand. The next morning, however, the stain seemed to have settled into its intended depth and coverage. The fills were reasonably subdued by the stain, so I took the stummel to the bench and gave it a light buffing with White Diamond compound followed by Carnauba wax. I’ve got to buy a lotto ticket this week – if the Lotto Gods smile on me even half as much as the Pipe Gods did here, I’ll be retiring early. The fills and cracks have disappeared almost completely, though the stain is translucent enough to allow the grain to shine through. Even the cracks across the rim are hard to find. What a relief after the hours of filling and sanding! The repairs are still visible under strong light, but the stummel certainly passes the casual inspection test.Dick33 Dick34 Dick35 Dick36Before sending the stummel back to Steve, I filled and further stabilized the repair from the interior of the bowl by pressing JB Weld into the cracks. There was also a spot on the front chamber wall that looked suspiciously like the beginnings of a burnout that I filled in the same way. I let the JB cure and then sanded out the excess epoxy. This produced nice smooth chamber walls with JB Weld left only in the repaired areas. JB doesn’t “breathe” like wood as it heats and cools, so I wanted only the required amount of it left in the bowl.Dick37 Dick38 Dick39 Dick40I finished off the repair with a bowl coating of activated charcoal powder and maple syrup. This coating is largely cosmetic in this case, used to hide the JB, but it will provide an extra layer of protection for the repairs as well as a consistent surface upon which to build a new (and hopefully well-trimmed) layer of cake. Dick41 Dick42(Steve picks up the narrative again.)

Charles had sent the package Express Post and it did not take long to get it back. When I got home from a short business trip I went to the post office to pick it up. I carried the box home excited to see what Charles had done with the mess that I had sent him. It is one thing to see the photos and follow the process but truly a different story when you hold it in hand.

When I opened the box I was not prepared for the beautifully restored bowl that was carefully wrapped inside. Charles had done a masterful job on the bowl repair. The cracks were virtually invisible. The measles of the end caps were basically small specks and hardly visible at all. It was amazing! Charles had accomplished a bit of a miracle in my book. This one was a pipe I wondered if we would be burning rather than loading up. But the bowl was perfect.

Now it was back in my hands to finish the stem that I had previously roughly fit to the shank before sending the bowl off to him. I also needed to address the small dent that went all around the end of the shank. It looked like there had been a band of some sort on the shank for adornment as the shank was the one thing on the pipe that was not cracked. I would have to address that later in the process.

First I worked on the stem. I sanded it with 220 grit sandpaper to bring the surface of each side of the square stem to the same height as the shank.Dick43 Dick44 Dick45 Dick46The fit was good and once the band was in place would look even. I wet sanded the stem with 1500-2400 grit micromesh sanding pads and rubbed the stem down with Obsidian Oil. I dry sanded with 3200-4000 grit pads and then gave it another coat of oil. I finished sanding it with 6000-12000 grit pads and gave it a final coat of Obsidian Oil. I let the oil dry.Dick47 Dick48 Dick49I buffed the stem with Blue Diamond on the wheel and then inserted it in the shank. Things lined up nicely but there was an indentation around the top, bottom and sides of the shank where it appeared there had been a band of some sort. The photo below shows the worst of the indentations.Dick50I went through my box of bands which are almost all round. That is not a problem as it is easy to square up a round band. But as Charles said above, the Pipe Gods were smiling on me and I found that I had one square band and it was exactly the size and depth I needed to fit the shank, cover the indentations and cover the stamping on the sides. I pressed the band in place. The band is worn and battered but it adds a bit of flair to the pipe.Dick51 Dick52 Dick53 Dick54 Dick55To clean up the dents and wear on the band I used a tiny upholstery hammer to tap out many of the dents and wrinkles on it. I also used it to flatten the end of the shank and smooth it out. I heated the band with a lighter to warm the metal and then tapped it until it was as smooth as I could get it. The photos below show the pipe at this point in the process. The new stem fits well and the band sets of the pipe very nicely in my opinion. It smooths out the transition between the shank and the stem.Dick56 Dick57 Dick58 Dick59However, I was not happy with the still battered appearance and some of the rounded edges on the corners of the band. I took the band off the shank and used a flat blade screw driver to square up the angles and to flatten the band from the inside. I was able to remove more of the dents and wrinkles. I put some all purpose glue on the shank and pressed the band back in place. I took the following photos. Thanks for looking.Dick60 Dick61 Dick62 Dick63 Dick64Charles, this was a fun project to work on together. I look forward to firing up this old timer.  The proof is indeed in the pudding as you said above. That will be the real test of the new life of this pipe repair. I am also thinking of contacting the Poor Richard’s Pipe Shop in Bozeman, Montana with a bit of a story of the resurrection of this pipe and its cross Canada journey from Vancouver to Kitchener and back again. Let’s keep our eyes open for another joint project… there still may be another pipe out there that stymies us… until then keep up the good work my friend. IT is always a pleasure to work together. I think you said it best in one of our back and forth interchanges – if we lived closer together we would be in trouble. Take care.

A Phoenix Rises – Reworking a Pipe


This post may be controversial to some folks as it is about the reworking of a pipe from a living artisan. I know that many would never do such a thing and would either sell the pipe or leave it in the collection. I chose to do neither of those things. Knowing that when Stephen gave it to me it was not one that he was going to sell and that in some ways he saw as problematic made this adaptation an easy choice for me.

Quite a few years ago now – enough years have passed that I am not sure when – I used to visit Stephen Downie when he lived in Vancouver. We had connected through the Vancouver Pipe Club and I enjoyed his company. When I visited I would pick up tips on pipe making that I could use in my pipe refurbishing – stem making, sanding techniques, staining processes, etc. I enjoyed looking through his box of throw away stummels that for one reason or another had problems and did not make the grade. He would often give me one or two to use to practice carving. I enjoyed the process of working with these blocks just to learn about briar and how it responds when cut and sanded. I learned about sand pits and flaws in the block and got to play around with the tools to remove the flaws as much as possible and craft a passable pipe for me to smoke.

One day when I was going through the box he gave me this pipe that he had made in 2004. If memory serves me correctly, Stephen said that he thought that the drilling of the bowl had left it too thin in the bottom front. As such he would not place it on his site for sale. He figured that it would still smoke well if broken in carefully. I gladly took it home with me, smoked a few bowls and then put it in the pipe cupboard. Over the years I have rarely smoked it much as I found the hanging tail fin on the underside very uncomfortable to hold. I took it out of the cupboard when I was choosing a pipe to smoke. Sometimes I picked it up and smoked it but it never quite made it into the rotation. The pipe smokes very well so it was not a matter of mechanics that kept me from picking it up more often, but it just seemed that the fin was in the way.

Fast forward to a wedding I did just a few months ago (2013) for a couple of good friends of mine here in Vancouver. At the reception dinner I connected with Stephen and his wife. We talked about life in general, books we were reading and writing and pipes we were enjoying. We talked of the pipes Stephen was carving and the ones I was refurbishing. We laughed over different details of the work while we sipped our drinks and ate the buffet supper.During the course of our conversation Stephen talked about an idea he had about reworking pipes for people and giving them new looks and improved feel. If they had a pipe in their collection that just did not get smoked often for whatever reason he would reimagine and rework it for them. He called his idea a Phoenix pipe. As we talked about it I found that I liked the idea a lot. When I went home that evening I could not get it out of my mind. I looked over some of my old pipes that for one reason or another have not seen the use they deserve. I sorted through them to see if one of them might be a candidate for this idea of his. I picked up the old finned pipe that he had given me many years before. As I looked it over I had several ideas of how to rework it. I put it back in the cupboard and let it sit for several months while I thought about what do about it.

I picked it up again several days ago and looked it over. I like colour of the stain but wondered what it would look like if I darkened it. I like the feel of the bowl in the hand. I liked the curves of the rim and the bowl to the shank. I liked the flow of the curve to the stem. I liked the shape of the shank and the black acrylic insert and the olive wood extension on the shank. The mortise was Delrin lined and the drilling was vintage Downie – well drilled, straight and clean. The fit of the stem was stellar. The stem was also comfortable and the button thin as is my preference. The Cumberland colour and material suited the pipe well. There were many things I liked about it. I turned the ideas over in my mind of what I might do to rework it. I thought that I would remove the fin on the bottom of the shank and the nob on the bottom of the stem and I would have it done. I thought about calling Stephen and setting up a meeting to drop the pipe off for him to reimagine – do his Phoenix work on it and see what he could do with it. But after looking it over for a while I decided rather than sending it to him I would do a Phoenix rework on it myself.

The first series of four photos are of the pipe Stephen named the Alopias (named after a Thresher Shark). This is what it looked like when I took it from the cupboard to work on it.

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I used a Dremel with a sanding drum to take down the fin on the shank and the nob on the Cumberland stem. I figured that would be fairly straight forward work – not a big deal to do with the Dremel. And it certainly worked easily enough. Removing the two parts of the pipe was pretty quick work. I finished with the sanding drum and left a little extra on the shank and stem that I would sand away by hand. I wanted to make sure that I could match the flow and shape of the shank and stem. The next three photos show what the pipe looked like after I had removed the fin and nob. It certainly changed the appearance and the hand feel of the pipe. I began to think that my reimagining was going to work out well.

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I took the pipe to my work table and sanded the stem and shank with medium grit emery paper and also with 220 grit sandpaper to further shape the flow of the shank and stem. I wanted to sand a gentle taper from the shank into the stem. I worked at the slope to get it the way I saw it in my head. Once I had that done I sanded it with a medium grit sanding sponge to smooth out the scratches and marks in the briar and the Cumberland. I really like the way the pipe was beginning to look. As I looked at the pipe I thought that a little more sanding of the slope would really make the pipe look proper.

But that is when the job became more than I had bargained for. In order to accomplish what I had in mind I would have to sand down the shank a bit more. To match the stem and shank flow it would need to have some more of the shank extension sanded away. That is when it hit! MAJOR PROBLEM! When I took the stem off the shank to check things before sanding I saw that there was not enough olive wood on the extension between the Delrin insert and the outside of the shank to take any more material off the shank. If I continued to sand it as I had been doing would expose the Delrin and ruin the shank. Even the amount of sanding and sloping that I had done had made the wood very thin on the underside of the shank. I could not do any more sanding on it without ruining it. So that is where this Phoenix took a turn and a new solution had to be worked out.

I looked at it and scribbled out some sketches of how to rework things. I thought about shortening the shank but really did not want to do that. So in the end I decided to remove the old stem altogether and shape a vulcanite stem for the pipe. The polished black of the vulcanite would match the band of black on the shank. It would also bookend the olive wood shank extension. So I found an oval saddle stem in my box of stems and turned the tenon with the PIMO tenon tool. Once I had a good fit on the tenon, I used the Dremel with the sanding drum to shape the stem to the shank. I decided to make the stem a half saddle by removing the saddle portion on the underside of the stem. This was tedious and slow work as I did not have any margin for damage on the shank itself. Once I had sanded the stem to a close fit with the Dremel I did the rest of the work by hand with files and sandpaper. The next four photos show the new vulcanite stem after all the fitting and shaping work had beencompleted. I still needed to polish and bend the stem to make the angle similar to the original.

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At this point in the process I wiped down the bowl with an acetone soaked cotton pad to remove the wax and finish from the pipe so that I could restain and blend the sanded portion of the shank on the bottom with the stain on the bowl. I also chose to stain the olive wood with the same stain to add a patina like quality to the look. The next three photos show the pipe after it has been wiped down and is ready to be stained.

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I did some more sanding on the shank and stem using a fine grit sanding sponge to smooth out any of the remaining surface scratches.I followed up by sanding the shank and the stem with micromesh sanding padsand then wiped it down a final time to remove the sanding dust and other debris before staining.The photo below shows the bowl and shank ready for staining.

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I stained the bowl and shank with an oxblood stain to give a reddish over stain to the brown undercoat. I wiped it on, flamed it, wiped it on again, and flamed it again. The red overcoat gave a depth to the colour on the bowl that had not been present before. It also gave a patina to the olivewood that really highlighted the grain in the wood. After the stain had dried I took the pipe to the buffer and buffed the bowl and stem with Tripoli and with White Diamond. The next series of four photos show pipe after I had buffed it. The new look seemed to work with the pipe. From the photos I could see that I also needed to make some adjustments to the underside of the shank to give it a better flow.

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In the above photos it is evident that there was still a slight hump on the bottom of the shank on both sides of the acrylic band. That hump bothered me so I took it back to the Dremel and sanding drum and removed some more of the material on the shank around the acrylic band. I wanted to smooth out the flow of the bottom of the shank from the tip of the stem to the bottom of the bowl. One of the issues that I had to think through in doing this was that some of the original Downie stamp would lost. I would not remove all of the stamping but some of the letters on the stem side of the shank would be lost. I decided that I had made enough changes to the pipe that to not finish would leave the job half done. Sanding it down definitely improved the way it looked. After I finished sanding with the DremelI sanded the entire underside of the shank with 220 grit sandpaper, a medium and fine grit sanding sponge and then micromesh sanding pads 1500-3200 grit. I stained the portion I had sanded with the oxblood stain to match the rest of the pipe and then buffed it with White Diamond. I gave the entirety several coats of carnauba wax and then buffed with a soft flannel buff to polish it. The final series of four photos show the finished pipe.

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A Unique Piece of Pipe Design History – Doodlers by Tracy Mincer


Blog by Steve Laug

The Doodler pipe designed and made by Tracey Mincer of Custombilt/Custom Bilt fame has always intrigued me. It may be the oddity of the design that first caught my attention. The rusticated bowl with one, two or three grooves around the circumference of the bowl and then holes drilled vertically connecting the rim to the bottom of the last ring just had my attention. I went on the prowl looking for them, both on EBay and on my treasure hunts through antique malls and thrift shops. When I had seen the drawings and photos in Bill Unger’s book on Custombilt pipes I wanted at least one. If you are a pipeman you know how that works it seems that one is never enough.

I looked for quite a while before finding the first pair of Doodlers. They are pictured below (the second and third pipes from the left). Honestly, I think that the only reason I got them was that the seller miss identified them as Boodlers and they were missing their stems. The first one on the left in the picture below is a complete pipe with stem that I picked up at an antique shop in Washington State in the US. The last one pictured below is stamped Holeysmoke.It came to me via EBay as well and did not have a stem either. Everything about it said it was a Doodler so I bought it and added it to the group. I liked the longer shank on it and the solidity of the pipe. I did a bit of research and found that the Holeysmoke pipes were made by Claude Stuart who worked with Tracy Mincer. After the Mincers sold The Doodler to National Briar Pipe Co. in 1960, Claude Stuart continued to make replicas of The Doodler using the Holeysmoke brand name http://pipephil.eu/logos/en/logo-h3.html

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I restemmed the two “Boodlers” (Doodler) and also the Holeysmoke. The Doodlers needed to be banded as well as they both had significant cracks in their shanks. I repaired the cracks with superglue and then pressure fit nickel bands on the shank. The restemming was quite simple. I used some stem blanks, turned the tenons and shaped the stem to fit the size of the shank. They are very light weight and all are pot shaped. The Holeysmoke is a long shanked pot. Some might call it a lovat but the shape of the bowl says pot to me. The Doodlers all have two lines cut around the circumference of the bowl. The Holeysmoke has three lines. I have seen up to four lines around the bowl on pipes on EBay and also billiard shaped pipes. I have not seen other shapes.

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The crazy design, intended to make the pipe smoke cool, seems to work well as all smoke cool and dry. I notice though that several have cracks in the rings and in the rims. The vertical drilling seems to weaken the integrity of the pipe along the drilled holes and also along the cut bands in the bowl – just a note on the thinness of the walls outside the drilling. Even though this may be true, the fact is that they have still lasted until they came to me so the durability is not bad. I am glad to have a few in my collection as they are a unique piece of pipe memorabilia.

Italian Made Pot Refurbished and Reborn with a New Look


This was one of the stummels from a box of pipes without stems that are all that are left of a big lot of pipes I was gifted by a friend. There are about 30 left, I have restemmed many of them over the past year and given away many more. This one is a no name Italian Made that is stamped Real Briar in italics and stamped on the left side of the shank. It is a rusticated bowl and as can be seen in the picture below had a cracked shank. The stem that is in the pipe is one that I recycled from my can of stems. It needed to be cut down to make the diameter of the shank match the diameter of the stem. I also needed to band the shank to do a repair to the crack.

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The picture below show the bowl as it came to me. It had been reamed with something that scored the bottom of the bowl and left marks. It was however very clean. The rim had slight darkening but was otherwise clean as well. The inside of the shank was clean and fresh. The pipe took very little prep other than repairing the cracked shank to ready it for the new stem.

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To prepare it for banding I checked through my box of bands to find one that would give a good tight fit when pressure fit to the shank. I found one that would work but also found that the carved grooves in the finish of the pipe made a tight fit to the shank virtually impossible to obtain. I used my dremel to remove some of the grooves to the depth of the band width. I checked the band fit several times and took off enough of the briar to obtain a tight fit. I was able to step down one size in bands and got a perfect fit. The next two photos show the shank prepared for the fitting of the band. I also used some superglue to repair the crack in the shank. I pried it open with a dental pick inserted in the shank and applied pressure to open the crack enough for the superglue. I dripped the glue into the crack and squeezed it shut until it dried. IMG_9869

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I slid the band on to start the fitting and then took it to my heat gun. I heated the band on the shank and then pressed it into place. I repeated the process until the band was properly placed on the shank. The next two photos show that process – I heat the band and then press it on using the piece of carpet on my work table.

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Once the band was in place I used my Dremel on the stem to remove the excess material on the diameter of the stem. I have found that if I run it at a medium speed I can control the sanding drum and not cut gouges in the vulcanite. It requires a steady hand and patience to get the work done without cutting too deeply into the stem and causing gouging that takes a lot of sanding to remove. After I cut away the necessary excess I also sanded the tenon for a proper fit in the shank. Once I had banded the pipe it no longer fit as easily. I wanted a smooth and snug fit but not one that would damage the shank. The picture below shows the stem after I have started sanding the stem with medium grit emery cloth to sand out the scratches and fine tune the fit against the band.

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I continued sanding with the emery cloth until the fit was what I wanted. The next two photos show the pipe with its new look. The band is in place and the stem fits. It is a nice chunky stem that I think matches the shape and flow of the bowl and shank nicely. I still had a lot of sanding to go. I continued with the emery cloth to remove the build up and oxidation around the button area. I decided to rework the entire stem and then polish it to a shine.

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The next series of two photos show the progressive work on the stem. In the background of the pictures are some of the tools that I used in the work – a flat file, emery cloth and some 280 grit sandpaper. When I had finished the stem to this point all that remained was to work on it with some 320 grit and some 400 and 600 grit wet dry sandpaper before moving on to sanding it with the micromesh sanding pads.

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At this point I decided to take a break from sanding – the old fingers were getting a bit sore. I used a brass tire brush to clean off the remnant of tars on the rim and then restained the pipe with a dark brown aniline stain thinned 2:1 with isopropyl alcohol. I applied it with a dauber and then flamed it and restained a second time and flamed it again. I then took it to the buffer and buffed it with Tripoli and White Diamond to give it a shine and remove the excess stain from the high spots on the briar and lend a little contrast to the darkened grooves. The next two photos show the restained bowl.

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I filled my water bowl with warm water and took out the micromesh pads and began to sand the stem. I began by wet sanding with 1500, 1800 and 2400 grit micromesh pads that I wet with water and then sanded the stem. Between each pass on the stem I would wipe it dry to see how the scratch removal was progressing. The next three photos show the stem after sanding with the 1500 grit micromesh. The scratches are beginning to disappear. Before moving on to sanding with the 1800 grit I decided to polish the stem with Maguiars Scratch X2.0 I applied it by hand and the scrubbed it off with a cotton pad. The next four photos show that process with the applied polish and then the stem after wiping it off.

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After wiping the stem down a final time I wet sanded it with 2400 grit micromesh sanding pads. I wanted to continue to remove the surface scratches from the vulcanite and begin to move toward a polish.

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The next photo shows the stem after dry sanding with 3200 grit micromesh. The shine is deepening in the finish of the stem.

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I then shifted to dry sanding with 3600, 4000 and 6000, 8000 and 12,000 grit micromesh sanding pads. I sanded and wiped them down between each grit change. By the time I got to the 6000 the shine was visible and the finish was very smooth. The difference after sanding with the 8000 and 12,000 is remarkable.

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The final four photos below show the finished pipe. Once I had finished sanding it I gave it a final polish with the Maguiars and then took it to the buffer for a buff with White Diamond. I then rubbed it down with Obsidian Oil and finally gave it several coats of carnauba wax and a buff with a soft flannel buffing pad. The newly born Italian pot is ready to smoke and has a new streamlined look that I really like.

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Restemming and Refurbishing an Italian No Name Dublin


This is the fourth pipe of the six I picked up recently on a visit to some antique malls in the US. The stamping was not present on the top or bottom of the shank. The bowl had an interesting shape to me when I saw it on the shelf of pipes in the shop. It did not have a stem. The grain on it was very nice looking. The stain was spotty and the finish damaged – it had a coat of varnish or something over the finish that was broken and spotty. Where the varnish remained the colour was rich and where the varnish was gone the finish was lighter and soiled. The rim had been damaged on the outer edge of the bowl to the point that it was round on the front. There was a lighter burn on the inside edge of the bowl toward the front of the bowl. Once I got it home and cleaned it up a bit I found that the shank had a long ½ inch crack that followed the grain on the bottom of the shank. The first two photos below show the bowl before I worked on it. I used my PIMO tenon turner to fit a stem to the pipe before I did any work on the bowl. The new stem is visible in the first two pictures as well. The stem needed to be worked on for a good fit but I did not want to push it into the mortise as I had to deal with the crack before working on the tenon for a snug fit.

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The next photo shows the crack in the shank. I used a dental pick to open it up so that I could drip super glue into the crack. I dripped the glue in and then clamped it until it was set and dry. There was some minimal excess of the glue that I removed by sanding the shank with 320 grit sandpaper to remove the drops. Once that was done I fit the stem to the shank by hand sanding the tenon until it was a snug fit. I knew from previous experience that once I banded the shank I would need to remove a bit more material from the tenon in order to make it fit snugly. The second photo below shows the fit of the stem. I used my Dremel with a sanding drum to remove the excess vulcanite from the stem so that the flow would be smooth between the shank and the stem. I also sanded the seams on the stem and the button and faced the surface of the button to remove the excess vulcanite.

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I heated a nickel band with my heat gun and then pressure fitted it on the shank at this point. I wanted the fit to be tight and to draw in the crack further. Once the pipe was banded I needed to remove more vulcanite from the stem to make it fit against the band. The photos below show the band after it has been pressure fitted and the stem after I used the Dremel to remove more of the excess vulcanite to make it fit. The main feature of the photos though is the process I used in topping the bowl. The first photo shows the bowl with the rim flat against some 220 grit sandpaper on a flat board that I use as a sanding surface for topping bowls. The second photo shows the bowl after I have been topping it in a circular motion on the sandpaper for quite a while. You can clearly see the burn mark and the damage to the back and the front of the bowl. The third photo shows the bowl when I am finished topping it. I finished the sanding with a fine grit sanding block (the yellow sanding sponge in the final photo). The damage to the back and front edges of the rim is gone. The burn has been minimized and the briar under the darkened spot is solid and smooth. The staining will minimize the damage even more once it is done.

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The next two photos show the bowl after I wiped it down with acetone to break up the remaining varnish on the outside of the bowl. It took quite a bit of scrubbing with acetone on cotton pads to remove the remnants of that coating. I also sanded the bowl with 340 grit sandpaper to further remove the coating and wiped it down a final time with acetone. I also sanded the stem with medium grit Emery paper to remove the deep scratches from the sanding drum and followed that up with 240 and 320 grit sandpaper. The fit of the stem can be seen in the two photos as well.

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At this point in the process I stained the bowl with a dark brown aniline stain that I had diluted with isopropyl alcohol in a 3:1 ratio. I wanted the stain to be slightly opaque to hide the remaining darkening of the burn but I still wanted to highlight the grain in the briar. The four photos below show the stain after it has been applied, flamed, reapplied and stained a second time. I applied it with the dauber that comes with the stains and as soon as the bowl was covered I lit it on fire to set the stain and burn off the alcohol.

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The next three photos, though out of focus, give an idea of what the pipe looked like after I buffed it with Tripoli and White Diamond. The colour is strong throughout, the rim has an opacity that is what I was aiming for and the bowl still shows the grain patterns very clearly. I am pleased with the overall look of the pipe at this point. I also buffed the stem with Tripoli and White Diamond as well as I wanted to get a clear idea of the status of the scratching. After buffing the stem I set up my heat gun and heated the stem in order to give it a quarter bend. Once it was heated I used a round dowel to bend it evenly and then held it in place until it was cool. I ran cool water over the stem to set the bend and then took it back to my desk work on it further.

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I took the pipe back to the work table and worked on the stem. I used micromesh sanding disks and wet sanded the stem with 1500, 1800 and 2400 grits. When that was finished I polished the stem with Maguiar’s Scratch X 2.0 rubbed on by hand and polished off with a cotton pad.  I then dry sanded with micromesh sanding pads using 3200, 3600, 4000 grit. I gave the stem a coat of Obsidian Oil and rubbed it into the stem. Once dry I finished sanding with 6000, 8000 and 12,000 grit micromesh pads. I took the pipe to the buffer for a final buff with White Diamond and then gave the entirety several coats of carnauba wax and buffed it with a soft, clean flannel buffing pad. The next series of photos show the finished pipe.

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Cutting a new stem from rod stock – a photo essay


Blog by Steve Laug

This one has been sitting on my desk for a long time in need of a stem. I have restemmed it with at least two different moulded stems that I have fit the tenon on and carved the surface down to make a slab like stem but none of them worked for a variety of reasons. One of them I sanded right through the top of the stem as I flattened it. The second just was not wide enough in the flare that makes a Barling stem what it is. I scrounged on EBay for old stems or ruined Barlings so that I could scavenge a stem. I found several but when they arrived they were oval stems or stems with a smaller diameter at the shank. So I was stuck and the pipe sat for probably four more months.

One evening I was chatting on Skype with Dan Chlebove from Gabrieli Pipes about it and asked him if he would be willing to cut a piece of vulcanite rod stock for me to work on. He agreed and quickly did that for me and sent it up to the Great White North! It arrived and I fit the tenon to the mortise with very little effort. After that I again set the pipe aside while I worked on the fortitude to go to work on the stem. The piece of rod stock looked daunting to me and I had never hand cut a stem before. This was going to be my first hand cut a stem and a Barling slab stem to boot. I was not sure whether I would be able to pull it off. So it sat! Probably another month went by with it sitting on my desk next to the computer just quietly, silently taunting me to take the plunge.

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The long and short of it is that five months to the day from when I received the pipe stummel in the mail, I finally went to work on the stem. I set up my Dremel with the large sanding drum and got out my wood rasps and files and went to work on the stem. I did the initial shaping and cutting away of material with the Dremel and the sanding drum. I decided to start by cutting back volume on what would be the slab part of the bit. Notice in the pictures below I left a bar at the tip for where the button would be when I finished the stem. I did not work on the diameter of the saddle or the curves of the Barlings saddle at this point. I was only interested in removing material to begin to get the rod shaped into the stem and remove as much material as possible with the Dremel. The three photos below show the first steps in the process and the result of sanding with the Dremel. I have shown the stem on the pipe from the top and bottom view to give an idea of what I was aiming for and in profile in the third photo to show how much material had been removed at this point in the process.

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There was still a long way to go to get the stem to even close to the final shape. I used the Dremel and sanding drum to remove more material and begin to take the saddle down to size to fit the diameter of the shank. At this point the saddle is slightly conical as I was working particularly on the junction of the stem and shank. I also sanded away more of the slab material and used the drum to shape in the portion of the rod that would end up being the button on the finished pipe. The next three photos show the results of the next process of sanding with the Dremel. The shape is beginning to emerge from the rod stock.ImageImageImage

The next two photos show the file and rasp that I used in the next part of the work of shaping. I would come back to the Dremel to remove more material but I wanted to flatten the slab and not have any waves in it that the round sanding drum left behind (visible in the photos above, I was careful so they were not too bad, but they were there). I sent up the pipe on the work bench and use the rasp to cut away material. I held it horizontal to the slab and worked the length back and forth until it was straight and smooth. I used a file to take out many of the deep cuts of the rasp and to work on the edge of the button on the end of the rod stock. The first photo shows where the stem is beginning to more clearly emerge. There is still a lot of work to do at this point but it is beginning to tentatively take shape. All through the process from this point on I kept a picture of a Barling’s Make Billiard close at hand to compare as I removed more and more material. It has been wisely said that you should progress slowly because you can always remove more material but you cannot put it back. The saddle of the stem is still conical because I still needed to work the taper and slight flare of the slab bit. The flat slab is very proportional in the second profile picture. It is flat at this point but still far too thick for the finished stem. The button is better defined and the stem is very clearly outlined in both pictures.

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At this point I took the pipe back to the Dremel to remove some the saddle and some of the thickness of the slab. The picture below shows what the pipe looked like when I brought it back to the work bench to use the files again. You will note that I worked with the stem on the pipe. I do this because I want to keep things in proportion and find that when I work with it off of the stem it is easy to lose the roundness of the saddle portion and a feel for the look of the pipe in profile. I use the pipe bowl as a guide to keep me focused in what I remove of the vulcanite. Each step the stem is emerging more and more from the rod stock.

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In the next three photos I used some 80 grit sand paper to remove more material from the saddle. At this point I still left a bit of the conical shape. I was working on the profile to bring the saddle into line with the horizontal lines of the shank. You can see that there is still a lot of material to remove before it is in line. I also began to work on the taper back to the button. I would have to remove some more of the thickness of the slab but I wanted to narrow the flow back to the button.ImageImageImage

The next two photos show the pipe from the top and the bottom next to a smaller Barling’s Make billiard that I was using as an example along with the photos I had collected. I was ready to start working on the taper of the slab on each side. Note the way the little billiard stems line go from the shank to the button in the photos. I wanted to make the lines on the slab I was working on to go the same angles. You can see what I am speaking of most clearly in the second photo of the top of both stems. I was aiming for the shape and angle of the sides of the original to match the stem I was shaping. At this point the stem is really taking shape and I can see it more clearly as I work on it. There is still much material to remove from the thickness of the slab but care must be exercised as I needed to open up the airway with a larger drill bit before going much further. I did not want the stem to be so thin that I would drill right through the top or bottom.

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The next four photos show the pipe stem after I have drilled the airway and opened it up. I then removed more of the material from the slab and the saddle with the sanding drum and then sandpaper. The stem was getting closer to the shape I was aiming for. I also sanded the taper from the saddle back to the button with the files and the sandpaper. I wanted a gradual move and flow back while keeping the profile flat. The upper portion of the stem next to the saddle was close to flatness I wanted but the nearer the button the stem was crowned and needed to be sanded flat once again. I shaped the button and removed material from the thickness of it to approximate the finished profile. I also slanted the lip of the button away from the stem. In the last two photos of the foursome I show the top and bottom views of the stem at this point. I had the angles from the saddle to the button along the sides with the right flare. The overall look of the stem was very close to the original, just a bit thick and crowned rather than flat at the button end. More sanding needed to be done!

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In the next four photos the crown on the stem has been removed, the diameter of the saddle and the shank are very close and the fit is excellent. The button has been shaped a bit more but there it still a lot of material on it. The slab of the stem is still thicker than I would like but it is getting closer to the finished stem. The shape is very clear now and the round piece of rod stock has all but disappeared. You will notice at this point that the saddle and slab are at right angles and there is not the curve of the original Barling’s Make stem where the saddle merges with the slab. That remains to be done. The angles of the slab from shank to button are finally getting there. Lots of sanding has been done and more to come to get this just so.

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I used the Dremel sanding drum to carve the angles of the saddle to slab transition. I needed to go from the ninety degree angle in the above photos to more of a curved flowing transition. I drew the curve I was aiming at with a carpenters pencil on the saddle portion of the stem so that I could see how much material to cut away with the sanding drum. The next three photos show the stem after the sanding drum had done its work. It is hard to see in the profile shots but I pushed the drum a little too deeply into the slab portion and caused the flatness to have a slight dip on the top and the bottom of the slab. It would take much sanding to bring that back to level with both files and sandpaper. I used a file to work on the surface first to smooth out the surface and level it and then 80 grit sand paper to begin to smooth out the slab and bring it back to level.

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The next two photos show the progress of removing the dips. The first shows the profile and if you look closely you can see the dip in the top and bottom is lessening though it is still present. The sanding disk in the picture is a soft sponge with 100 grit sandpaper attached and it is perfect for working the curve of the angles on the saddle. I also worked on the angles from shank to button some more with the sandpaper and also the button to give it more definition.

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The next series of photos show the work that was done to remove more of the material in the saddle and smooth out the shank/stem junction. There was still material that need to be removed from the underside of the saddle at this point as can be seen in the two profile pictures. The top is pretty close but both need more sanding to make the surface horizontal from the bowl to the saddle transition to the slab. I also worked on the width of the slab horizontally. I would also need to flatten the sides of the slab rather than curve them as they are in these photos. The curve of the saddle to the slab it looking very good at this point and is a match to the original stem in terms of angle and position. I sanded the button some more as well to thin it down and to taper it backward toward the slot.

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The next series of photos show the stem after I have removed much of the thickness around the shank junction. The top is just about perfect in terms of it horizontal look. The bottom needs to have a bit removed near the slope to the slab. The side profile shots show that the taper in terms of width is getting very close. I also flattened the edges of the stem profile from shank to button to give it a more Barling’s shape. The button is getting a cleaner look as I shape it with the sandpaper and the slab is just about the correct thinness and flatness. The last two photos of the top and bottom of the stem show that the angles of the stem flow nicely from the bowl to the buttonImageImageImageImage

The last four photos show the pipe with the shaping finished. The stem fits the shank well and the diameter of the shank and saddle match. The curved edge of the saddle is matching and when overlaid on a picture of the original stem it also matches. The taper of the bit from saddle to button is smooth and flowing. The width of the bit tapering from the bowl back to the button is equal and smooth. The button has been shaped and the width and angles on it are matching the original stem. I have opened the slot on the end of the stem but still need to shape the slot to be more like the Barling slot. There are also scratches that need to be removed from the surface of the stem to get the rich polish on the vulcanite. Those are minor things that need to be completed before the stem is completely finished but it has gone from a vulcanite rod to a Barling’s stem shape.

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I enjoyed the process of stem shaping from start to finish. Though this took probably about 5 hours or more, and I am sure there are faster ways to do the work, I learned far more than the time spent can spell out. I would not change anything about the learning as I do my best in hands on experiences. The process of shaping a piece of rod stock into a stem has been demystified for me and I have gained a new appreciation for the work of pipe makers and repairmen who hand cut stems. There is no way a craftsman can be compensated adequately for the painstaking detail that goes into shaping and crafting a hand cut stem. My hat is off to those who take the time to do that on the pipes they make. Thank you.

UPDATE: I just finished shaping the button and the slot on the new stem. I used needle files and folded sandpaper to smooth out the slot. I funneled it back quite a ways. The pictures below show the shape of the button and the slot as it stands now.

Here are a couple of photos of the shape of the button in profile and from above.