Blog by Steve Laug
It was time to turn back to a couple of pipes that Jeff and I purchased recently. We had picked up some pipes from a guy in Fredericksburg, Virginia. I pulled one of those pipes out of my “to be restored” bin and brought it to my worktable. This one is a large freehand with beautiful grain and a plateau rim top. It has some smooth beveled areas on the inner edge of the rim and a flush mount acrylic stem. It is stamped on the left side of the shank Alpha over Hand Made and there is an A logo stamped in the left side of the tapered, acrylic stem. We seem to pick up some really dirty pipes and this pipe was no exception. It was very dirty with a thick cake in the bowl and a heavy layer of lava overflowing on to the rim top filling in the crevice of the plateau. It was hard to know what the inner edge of the rim looked like because of the lava and cake. From the photos it appeared that the inner edge was in good condition. Other than being dirty the finish also appeared to look very good. The gold variegated acrylic saddle stem was in excellent condition with some light tooth chatter on both sides at the button. Jeff took some photos of the pipe before he started working on it so I could see what he was dealing with. I am including those now. He took photos of the rim top to show the thick cake in the bowl and the overflow of lava. The cake is thick and hard and the lava overflow is a thick band around the bowl. The bowl is a real mess. This must have been a great smoking pipe.The next photo shows the right side of the bowl and shank to give a clear picture of the beauty of the straight and flame grain around the bowl of the pipe. It is a beauty.Jeff took a photo of the stamping and logo on the stem to capture the clarity of it even under the grime. The acrylic stem looked very good and though the photos are a little out of focus the stem appeared to be in good condition. There looked like there were some light tooth marks and chatter on the stem was light that should not take too much work to remedy.Before I started my work on the pipe I wanted to refresh my memory of the Alpha brand I remembered that somewhere along the line it was sold to Grabow in the US. Since Alpha was the first good pipe I owned I was interested in revisiting the history a bit. I turned first to Pipephil’s site and the information was brief so I went to Pipedia hoping to find more. I looked up the brand there (https://pipedia.org/wiki/Alpha). I was reminded that the brand was made by the Shalom Pipe Factory. I quote in full:
Alpha was originally a brand of the Shalom Pipe Factory in Israel, owned by Bernard Hochstein, former CEO of Mastercraft. The Alpha line was made exclusively for export to the United States. They were made in Israel from the 1970s into the 1980s, at which point the name was sold to Mastercraft, and later to Lane, Ltd., who produced very few Lane Alpha pipes at the end of the 1990’s. Lane Alphas were sold in five finishes, each denoted with a Greek letter. After Lane, Mastercraft again marketed the Alpha, under the name Alpha USA, with finishes named Sierra, Delta, Mark V, Blue Ridge, Sabre, and Big Boy, some of which were not stamped with the Alpha name. Among others, the Israeli made Alpha pipes were available in a line marketed as “Citation”.
So I now had a date for the pipe – 1970s and into the 80s at which point the brand was sold to Mastercraft (not Grabow as I remembered). I also knew that it was made in Israel for the US market.
Armed with that information I turned to address the pipe itself. Jeff had already cleaned up the pipe before sending it to me. He had reamed the bowl with a PipNet pipe reamer and cleaned it up with a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife. He scrubbed the exterior with Murphy’s Oil Soap and a tooth brush to clean off the grime off the finish and the heavy overflow of lava on the rim top. He cleaned up the internals of the shank, mortise and stem with pipe cleaners, cotton swabs and alcohol to remove all of the oils and tars in the pipe. When it arrived here in Vancouver it was a clean pipe and I knew what I had to work with. I took photos of it before I started my part of the restoration. I took photos of the rim top and the stem to show their condition. Jeff was able to clean up the incredibly thick cake and lava overflow that was shown in the rim and bowl in the earlier photos. He was also able to get rid of the grime and grit in the surface of the briar. The rim top looked really good. The inner edge of the bowl was in good condition and there was a smooth bevel on the surface of the rim edge.I took a photo of the left side of the shank to show the stamping on the pipe. It read as noted above – Alpha Hand Made. You can also see the A stamp on the left side of the saddle stem. The second photo below shows the ISRAEL stamping at the stem/shank junction.The bowl was in excellent condition. I touched up the edges of the plateau briar with a black Sharpie pen. It blended those areas into the rest of the plateau finish. After it was finished I rubbed the bowl and shank down with Before & After Restoration Balm to deep clean the finish on the bowl and shank. I worked it into the plateau surface with my finger tips and buffed it in with a horsehair shoe brush. The product works to clean, enliven and protect the briar. After it sat for a little while I wiped it off and buffed it with a soft cloth. The briar really began to have a rich shine. I took some photos of the bowl at this point to mark the progress in the restoration. It is a beautiful bowl. I set the bowl aside and worked on the stem at this point in the process. I sanded tooth chatter and the remaining oxidation on the stem with folded pieces of 220 to remove the marks and the light brown colouration on the stem surface. I sanded them with 400 grit sandpaper until the marks were gone and the oxidation was gone.I polished the Lucite stem with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanding with 3200-12000 grit pads. I wiped the stem down after each pad with a damp cloth to remove the sanding dust. The stamped A on the left side of the stem was originally white in colour but the colour had been faded or wiped away. I used a white correction pen and pipe cleaner to work the white into the stamp. Once it had dried I scraped it off with my nail and buffed the area with an 8000 and 12000 grit micromesh sanding pad.I put the stem back on the pipe and the pipe to the buffer. I worked it over with Blue Diamond to polish out the remaining small scratches. I gave the bowl and the stem several coats of carnauba wax and buffed the pipe with a clean buffing pad to raise the shine. I hand buffed it with a microfiber cloth to deepen the shine. The pipe polished up really well and the beveled rim top looked good. I was happy with the look of the finished pipe. The photos below show what the pipe looks like after the restoration. The freehand shape reminds me of some of the American made freehand pipes that I have restored. It was a bit of a blast from the past for me to pick up and Alpha again and work on it – taking me back to one of my first pipes a little Alpha author. The polished variegated, gold Lucite stem looks really good with the browns of the briar and the darker plateau on the rim top. The dimensions of the pipe are Length: 6 inches, Height: 2 ½ inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 2 inches, Chamber diameter: 7/8 of an inch. This is another pipe that I will be putting it on the rebornpipes online store shortly, if you are interested in adding it to your collection. The thick shank and tall bowl look and feel great in the hand. This one should be a great smoker. Thanks for walking through the restoration with me on this beauty!