Tag Archives: Pipe related essay

Don’t Despise Me Because of What You See

I can see you looking down at me shaking your head and wondering why anyone would try to sell this piece of junk. You pick me up and turn me over in your hands. You shake your head when you see the cake so thick that you can barely squeeze your small finger let alone any more tobacco into my bowl, don’t misunderstand. You see the edges of my rim beat up from being knocked on my head to remove the dottle at the end of a smoke, don’t misunderstand. You see my finish worn and thin on the sides of the bowl and soiled with oil and grit, don’t misunderstand. You see the gap between my stem and my shank with the ooze bubbling out in the gap, please don’t misunderstand. You see the end of my stem chewed, gnawed and almost unrecognizable, don’t misunderstand.

You see, I know that you look at me and see the damage and wear on my person, but do not negate the value I have just because you cannot see through the grime and the damage. The value I have is irrespective of the appearance I have at this moment in time. I was the beloved pipe of my pipeman. In fact I was his only pipe for so many years. I think that as he grew older and I grew older he could not see or feel the subtle changes that were occurring in my person. I was like a worn shoe; I fit well in his hand and brought respite and comfort as the warmth radiated from the burning tobacco. I well remember his caress as he rubbed the sides of my bowl as he drew the smoke into his mouth. I remember the oils of his nose as he rubbed the warm bowl against his nose to oil my briar.

Yes, you see the damage and easily write me off as a pipe that has outlived its usefulness. As if, all that remained for me was the scrap heap or the fireplace. But don’t sell me short. I am not the abused waif of a careless piper who did not give a lick for his pipe. I am not a forgotten and despised pipe sitting discarded after hard use. No. I am the proud deliverer of many a grand smoke. I am the favourite pipe of the pipeman who called me his own. I have travelled with him around the globe on his business, providing him with repeatedly good smokes. You see, my state is not a reflection of neglect at all, but rather the reflection of love and affection. It is not a reflection of abuse but of jealous love.

I wish I could shout out to you to give me a chance. Clean out my bowl and shank. Polish my briar and replace my stem. Refurbish me and give me a new breath of life. I would tell you of the many good years that remain in my briar. I would speak of the fact that I will outlive you if you bring me back to life. I would deliver a well seasoned smoke from the first bowl you load and light. But alas, I cannot speak in words that most people can hear. Or maybe they are just deaf to my words or have not learned the language of the pipe. Yes that’s it. It is not my problem, as can you can no doubt see, I am not at a loss for words. It has to be the problem of the listener. Do you hear me as you hold me? Can you sense my presence?

Ah, I must be getting through to you. I see a change in your expression. The creases around your eyes and the upturned corners of your mouth show a different face than earlier looked down upon me. What is that you are doing? You twist off my stem and give my shank a look. You run your hands over the stem itself looking at the extent of the damage there and assessing what needs to be done. You hold me up to the light and look through the grease and grime at the briar of my sides and top. You nod as you look. You do hear me. You see the fine lines and the good grain. You see the rich colours under the grit. You look into my bowl and not only do you see the cake but you see the remnant of tobacco in the bottom of the bowl. You sniff the smell and the grin on your face spreads. You appreciate the tobacco smells that fill your nostrils. Oh my, will you rescue me and take me home? Will you restore me to my former state? Oh I do hope so.

What’s this? You don’t put me back on the shelf. You don’t set me down. You carry me to the front of the store and the antique dealer takes your payment for me. My, was the cost only $12? You must have some idea of what I originally cost. You just got a bargain my friend. I hear the seller ask if you would like to have me wrapped and put in a bag. I hear you say no. You would rather carry me out in your hand. I think this new relationship shows some promise. Now let’s get home and get to work on me. I can’t wait until I look like I used to and I am delivering a grand smoke to you my new friend.

Thank you for not despising me. Thank you for understanding that beneath the grime and age is a living pipe that has much life left in it. Thank you for knowing that with minimal effort, truly just minimal effort, I can be restored to a life of usefulness that will last longer than you do my friend. Ah, I can’t wait to show you what you have found.

Steve Laug 14 February 2014

When is a Pipe Not Worth Repairing?

This morning I am asking that question because sitting on my work table is an old Tinderbox Monza, made in Italy by Lorenzo. This old pipe has definitely seen better days. The bowl is over an inch in diameter and the cake in the bowl had choked it down to the point that I could not get my little finger in the bowl. The rim looked as if the pipe had been used as a hammer to the point that it had a chunk out the rear outside edge and a crack that went down the outside of the bowl with a visible fissure across the top of the rim and beginning to drop into the inner rim. The top half of the bowl looked like someone had carved at the cake with a knife and done a poor job of it. Fortunately the cake was as hard as rock so it did not do too much damage to the bowl. All of those issues are not enough for me to pitch a pipe and not work on it.

But the damage on this Monza did not stop there. The bottom of the bowl had been victimized by the self same knife wielder and he had carved over half of the bottom of the bowl away in his poor attempt at cake removal. The bottom of the bowl now flowed from the airway at a steep 30 degree angle with a jokerish gash along the front right bottom edge. At that point the bottom of the bowl is dangerously thin. You see the cake was all around the middle of the bowl like a girdle choking off the pipe but the top and bottom somehow had been miraculously purged of the cake by the knife wielding pipe abuser. This bottom of the bowl gives me pause – I could drill out the bottom of the bowl and insert a bowl plug or I could fill the bottom with a plaster of Paris fill to level it out and then coat the bottom with pipe mud. But would it be a waste of time? Would it be worth the effort?

I am not done enumerating the damage on this old pipe. The exterior of the bowl, the finish was ravaged. The front edge of the bowl was worn down like the heel on a hard playing boy’s pair of shoes. The angle and extent of the damage covered the entire front of the bowl. The striated finish, which was meant to look like tree bark was totally filled in with grit and grime to the point that it was almost smooth. It felt sticky to the touch and the smell was atrocious. I am surprised that my bride let me have it in the house. The striations on the shank were as filled in as those on the bowl so the true shape of the pipe and its finish were absolutely hidden.

But I am still not finished. The stem looked as if it was clean other than minimal oxidation… things were looking up. Maybe I would at least be able to cannibalize a stem out of this disaster. But no, it was not to be. I turned the stem over and it had a gaping hole – a chunk taken out of it that went back almost a half inch into the surface of the stem. The entire button was missing and the gap went from one side of the stem to the other – left to right. But that was not all of the damage to that poor stem – it looked as if the opening had been further opened with the self same knife. Yes the mad knife wielder had carved a slot into the airway at the bottom of the hole. The carving left the bottom of the airway paper thin. It looked as if after doing this “master” surgery the fellow had put a rubber bit protector on the stem as the calcification line on the stem was thick. Doing that after the surgery is like closing the door after the horses have left the barn!

All of these wonderful discoveries met my eye as I examined the pipe before I even considered working on it. I took the pipe apart at this point in my examination and put on the rubber gloves to probe the internals. I was pretty concerned at what would greet me when I took off the stem – if it would come off at all. With the goop that was all over this pipe it was a fair chance that the stem was “welded” in place. But to my great surprise it twisted off quite easily – no drama in this process. I peered down the shank with a penlight to see what creatures and mayhem awaited me inside the shank. I fully expected to see the interior carved by the knife wielder as he sought to make the pipe work “better” after his surgical excavations. But I literally had the wind knocked out of me when I saw a pristine shank. The shank was actually clean! The wood had a veritable glow to it as the light reflected back to me. It was not only clean but there were no tars and oils in it. This totally did not match what the condition of the bowl and externals had led me to expect. What an anomaly. Why was this so? What was going on here? These were just a few of the questions that ran through my mind as I held the bowl, sans stem in my hand.

With that discovery my thoughts regarding the fellow who had so drastically carved up this poor pipe and virtually ruined it took a turn. Rather than seeing him as some sadistically sick individual who took obvious evil delight in so ruining this old pipe to make it questionable if it could ever be restored; I began to soften in my assessment of him. I looked again at the externals of the pipe and stem. I looked at the carved and cracked bowl, the carved and ruined stem, the left over remnants of the rubber softie bit and I began to wonder if what was in my hands was the old pipe smoker’s favourite pipe. As it became harder and harder to smoke he took more drastic measures to make it last. Mind you they are not the same measures that you or I might take but they nonetheless obviously worked for him. Maybe rather than see the fellow as a pipe butcher I should see him as someone who loved this old pipe. He was going to smoke it until it truly gave up the ghost.

I began to wonder if he was not of the old school of pipe smokers who had one pipe and smoked it literally to death and threw it away and started on a new one. This one must have been a grand smoker to have been put through the trauma that it showed in it body. You can see now the tact that my mind was taking me. It would be inevitable that I clean up this old pipe – it would be an act of honouring the old briar and the old pipe smoker who had inflicted so much damage to just get the last bit of life out of his pipe. So it is with this in mind that I reamed the bowl, soaked it in an alcohol bath, scrubbed the finish with a wire brush and topped the bowl to begin the process of bringing it back to life. I have it sitting on my desk next to me now – I will need to fit a new stem on it and then refinish the bowl but it will once again deliver at least one smoke for me to explore my new theory.

So you might ask me, “When is a pipe not worth repairing?” I honestly don’t know the answer to that question. Even an hour ago I would have said this one was a goner. But now, I have “heard” the story of the pipe as I examined it looking at all of the abuse that had been inflicted on it. Now I see with different eyes. You see, that is the problem with pipe refurbishing. When others see a pipe as irreparable there is something that catches my eye that says to give it a try. I guess I have only met a very few pipes that were so damaged that they could not be brought back to life for a new season. And to be honest I still have several of them in my cupboard “seasoning”. I guess I truly don’t know the answer to the question I posed in the title.

Tobacciana – Gifted a PIPE Lighter

I was gifted a pipe lighter – no I mean really a Pipe lighter. A friend gave me this Pipe shaped lighter because he knows that I appreciate the quirky pipe ephemera that are a part of our hobby. I collect the oddities along with the pipes, so this fit right into my collection. There is a part of me that supposes it was a hoax but it is never the less actually very unique. It is a heavy lighter as the bowl is made of metal and painted to look like wood. The stem is cast plastic and the end; the button is metal as well. The oval slot in the button is where the flame comes out. The bowl cap is a plastic button, spring loaded so that when it is depressed the butane is released and the igniter in the button sparks and the flame is sent out the button. The lighter is butane and is refillable on the bowl bottom.



The lighter works quite well. The first time I used the lighter the heat of the flame melted the stem in front of the button and there is a “bite through” now. I may have to do a repair with the superglue and build it up so that the hole no longer is present. On the other hand it looks kind of well used the way it is. In the slot there is an igniter that sparks when the cap is depressed. The lead of the igniter is slanted toward the tube that carries the butane and when the spark hits the butane the flame leaps out as can be seen in the last photo below.



That is it for the quirky PIPE lighter – truly an interesting addition to my collection of tobacciana ephemera. I usually have it on the desk or in the pipe cabinet. It is quite heavy and makes a great decorative piece. Anybody else have one of these?

A Restart into the World of Pipes

After birth of my firstborn daughter, when I was 30, I picked up the pipe again for the first time in about 10 years. My first foray back into pipes was to buy a cheap Medico Brylon pipe, Medico filters, pipe cleaners and some Borkum Riff from a local 7-Eleven in Escondido, California. (Some of you may well remember the days when the local convenience store sold both pipes and pipe tobacco and had them readily displayed for convenience. Some of you may have missed those good days.) It did not take long before I began to start looking for a different pipe. I visited local Tinderbox stores and did not find one that struck my fancy. Mind you it was 1982 and I was not into the traditional shaped pipes and some of the freehand shapes just did not do it for me either. One day I happened on a little shop in Vista, California just across the street from where I was working. I stopped by on my lunch hour one day and got engaged in a great conversation with the older gentleman who was smoking a pipe was sitting behind the till. He said he was the owner of the shop and that his name was Bill. (He was probably about the age I am now, but when I was 30 everyone looked older in my mind.)

We talked during that lunch hour about the kind of tobacco I smoked and the pipes I had. I told him I had only smoked the tobaccos I had purchased through drugstores, grocery stores and convenience stores. That limited the tobacs to Sail, Borkum Riff, Velvet, Half and Half, Sir Walter Raleigh, Prince Albert and Mixture 79. He laughed and said I had not really smoked anything that he would consider worth the time. They were staple tobaccos but I needed to try something of better quality and fuller flavour. He introduced me to some of the better bulk tobaccos that he had available and gave me some sample of Virginia and Virginia and Perique blends to try. I was hooked and quickly quit buying the Borkum Riff. I also tried a nice toasted Cavendish that became my go to blend for quite a while.

I showed him my little Medico Brylon billiard and I have to give him credit, he did not mock it or laugh when he saw it. He asked me some questions about whether it burned hot or wet. He talked about caring for the pipe and keeping it clean. He showed me how to pack the pipe and tamp it. All things I had learned before but things he wanted to make sure I understood. After all of that he introduced me to the world of estate pipes. He had a display case filled with a wide range of pipes of all brands and shapes. I wish I knew then what I have learned since because I remember that the pipes he had were well maintained and restored. I went through many of them and in the course of our conversation he talked about how briar would smoke better than the Brylon I currently smoked.

He asked me a price range of pipes I might be interested in. I was not sure so I gave the price as $25-40 would work for me. After all I had spent $5.95 on the Medico. He again did not laugh or shake his head in disbelief. Rather he put about 6 different pipes on the top of the display case for me to look at in that range. He walked me through the information on each pipe and showed me the condition of them and any issues that they may have had. He said I would need at least two pipes in order to give ample time for them to rest between smokes/days. Added to the little Medico that would give me a rotation of three pipes and that was a good start. I sorted through the lot that he had put up for me to look at and chose two pipes. The first was a Ben Wade – Preben Holm freehand. It had a great blast finish and felt really good in the hand. It was broken in well but Bill had reamed the cake back to a thin coating on the bowl. The stem was buffed to a shiny polish and the pipe truly looked new to me. The plateau top was great and I loved the look of it. The second one was a little Alpha, Israeli made pipe that had a more classic look to it. I am not sure of the shape of it to this day. The stem was a simple saddle bit with a denture stem on it. That is where the name Alpha Comfit came from. This was also very clean and ready to smoke. (I have since had the stem replaced. I sent out to Lee Von Erck in Northern Michigan, USA and he did the stem for me about 15 or more years ago).


Ben Wade – Preben Holm


Alpha Comfit

Both of these pipes are still in my collection and have provided many years of fine smoking pleasure for me. They have darkened over the years and have a nice patina to them now. They are pipes that I frequently pick up in my rotation because they always deliver. The photos above show the two pipes as they are today. I should polish and buff the stems a bit to remove the tooth chatter and oxidation.