Tag Archives: refinishing a pipe

Restoring a Strangely Shaped Hilson Dromedary with an Oval Shank

Blog by  Steve Laug

My friend Alex stops by now and then with pipes that he has found on his pipe hunts in the city. Generally he has some very interesting pipes he picks up on these hunts. The other night when he came by he brought along a strange one made by Hilson after they had moved to Holland. It is called a Dromedary.    I suppose it was named after the Arabian one-humped camel that was a light and swift breed trained for riding or racing. When I was in Jaipur, India I saw Dromedary camels pulling carts and wagons in the streets of the fabric district (see the photo to the left). The single hump clearly distinguishes them from the other 2 humped camel.

This Hilson was obviously named after that work animal from the East. The single hump on the shank while at first glance is ugly nonetheless fits nicely as a thumb rest for either right or left handed pipe smokers. I cannot find a timeline for the duration of the brand but I have seen them on EBay and other sale sites so I am assuming there are enough of them out there to still be in existence. It is the first one that I have had in hand and the first one that I have worked on. I took photos of the pipe before I started my cleanup work on it. They show the general condition of the pipe.

The finish on the bowl is very dirty and grimy but you can see some interesting cross grain left side of the bowl working down to the underside of the shank. The back of the bowl show some of the same grain and on the sides there is a mix of birdseye and swirled grain. On the right side there is a small fill that has come loose from the briar leaving behind a divot. The rim top is very dirty with a thick coat of lava overflowing from the bowl. It also shows some damage on the inner edge – it looks to have been reamed with a knife and the gouges show even under the grime. There is a burn mark on the back ride side of the rim and going down the back of the bowl about a ¼ inch. The bowl has a thick cake that is uneven all around the bowl. The stamping on the shank is readable and the area around it is very dark. The stem is oxidized and dirty. There is a slight H mark on the top side near the shank stem junction but it is pretty shallow in the vulcanite.

The next closeup photos of the bowl and stem truly show the condition of the pipe before I started.You can see the lava build up and damage to the rim top as well as the cake in the bowl. The bowl had a fairly thick cake overflowing onto the rim. The stem was very oxidized and spotty with tooth chatter and marks on both the top and underside of the stem near the button. There is a faint Hilson H logo stamped on the top of the oval stem. I do not know if it is deep enough to salvage.

The pipe has some nice cross grain that is shown in the first photo of the left side of the bowl. The right side is a mix of grains – swirled, flame and cross grain. The top and underside of the bowl and shank show some interesting, almost undulating grain patterns. This is particularly visible on the top view moving up and over the hump. It is a great piece of briar that shows a lot of promise.

The pipe is stamped on the underside of the oval shank. It reads Hilson over Dromedary over Made in Holland. At the shank/stem junction it has the shape number stamp 712.The photo below shows that the stamping is readable. (The second photo shows the stamping after I had removed the dark stain and polished it carefully with the 1500-2400 micromesh sanding pads.)

It has been awhile since I worked on a Hilson so I did a quick review of the history of the brand. This always adds some value to my mind when I work on a pipe. I remembered at some point Hilson had been sold to Gubbels who made the Big Ben pipe. At that time, it moved from being a Belgian made pipe to being made in the Netherlands/Holland. I turned to Pipedia and read the entry on Hilson there(https://pipedia.org/wiki/Hilson)and to Pipephil’s site to read what he had for information (http://www.pipephil.eu/logos/en/logo-h3.html).I have combined and summarized the pertinent information from the two sites.

In 1846 a German named Jean Knödgen started to produce clay pipe in Belgium. In the late 19th century Jean Hillen who married into the Knödgen family took over the company and changed the firm in order to manufacture briar pipes. Jean Hillen had 2 sons: Jos Hillen was responsible for sales and Albert Hillen was responsible for the production.After WWII Albert founded the HILSON brand (Hillen and Son) and exported his pipes all over the world.

…In the 1960’s and still throughout the 1970’s the brand Hilson of Broers Hillen B.V. (Hillen Bros. Co.) was quite successful in many European countries. They produced large numbers of machine made pipes covering the whole range of shapes and finishes. The pipes were well respected for good quality and craftsmenship at very moderate prices.

…in 1980 Hillen faced major financial problems. After having gone bankrupt, the Belgian brand from Bree (Limburg) wastaken over by the Royal Dutch Pipe Factory. The owner, Elbert Gubbels used the favour of the hour and bought the company…The Hillen plant in Bree was closed down shortly after and ever since then Hilson pipes are manufactured in Roermond, NL.

Given that the plant in Bree, Belgium closed around 1980 after Gubbels had purchased the company, I knew that the pipe I was working on had been made after that time.The Made in Holland stamp on the underside of the shank gave that information.I am not sure that I can get any closer in terms of a date for the pipe.

I reamed the bowl with a PipNet reamer to remove the cake and cleaned up after the reaming with a Savinelli Fitsall pipe knife (no photo, sorry!). I wrapped 220 sandpaper around a piece of dowel and sanded the inside of the bowl.

I topped the bowl on a piece of 220 grit sandpaper on the topping board. I scrubbed the finish with a cotton pad and Murphy’s Oil Soap to remove the grit and grime. I scrubbed the rim top at the same time to remove the sanding dust. I rinsed the bowl under running water and dried it off. The grain really is quite beautiful at this point in the process. There are some repairs that need to be done on the right side of the bowl but the bowl shows a lot of promise.

I sanded the burn mark on the back side of the bowl and filled in the damaged fill on the right side with a mix of super glue and briar dust. When the glue dried I sanded the repair with 220 grit sandpaper to blend the area into the rest of the briar surface. I apologize because I was on a roll so I forgot to take photos of the repairs. I wiped down the bowl with an alcohol dampened cotton pad to remove the sanding dust and smooth out the finish. The grain is looking really good. The burn mark, though still visible is better. The repaired area is also far better.

I polished the briar with micromesh sanding pads –wet sanding with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanding with 3200-12000 grit pads.I wiped the bowl down with a damp cotton pad after each grit of micromesh was finished. The bowl is beginning to take on a real shine and the grain is becoming more prominent.

With the bowl polished it was time to address the lighter rim top and the repairs to the burn and the fill on the rear and right side respectively (result of sanding). I used an Oak Stain Pen to touch up the areas and darken them to match the rest of the bowl. Once the stain dried the match was really good and the pipe looked better.

I worked Before & After Restoration Balm into the briar with my fingertips to clean, enliven and protect the wood. I let the balm sit for about 20 minutes and buffed it off with a soft cotton cloth. I took photos of the pipe at this point in the process to show what the bowl looked like. The grain is quite beautiful and the colour of the briar is perfect to highlight it. I am happy with the look of the pipe.

I set the bowl aside and turned my attention to the stem. It was pretty rough looking and would take some work. I sanded the surface carefully with 220 grit sandpaper to remove the tooth chatter, marks and oxidation. While I worked on it I noticed I had not cleaned the inside of the stem and went back and looked at the shank and bowl… my goodness I totally forgot to even touch that part after reaming the bowl. I brought the stem sanding to a halt and turned back to cleaning up the internals. I cleaned out the airway in the stem and shank as well as the mortise with alcohol, cotton swabs and pipe cleaners. It was really a mess. I picked out the crud in the corners of the stem with a dental pick. Here are some photos of the cleanup. I feel better about the pipe now! Whew I can’t believe I missed that… been a hard week.

I returned to sand the stem some more. I was able to remove all of the chatter and all but one of the deep tooth marks on the underside of the stem. I heated it a little to raise it then filled it in with some clear super glue and set it aside to cure.

When the repair had cured I used a needle file to flatten the repaired area. I smoothed out and blend it into the stem surface with 220 grit sandpaper.

I polished the stem with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-2400 grit micromesh sanding pads and then polished it with Denicare Mouthpiece Polish.

I dry sanded it with 3200-12000 grit pads. I rubbed the stem down with Obsidian Oil after each pad. I polished it further with Before& After Pipe Polish, using both the Fine and Extra Fine polishes to furtherprotect and polish out the scratches. When I finished with those I gave it afinal rub down with the oil and set it aside to dry. 

With the stem polished I put it back on the pipe and buffed the bowl and the stem with Blue Diamond. I gave the bowl several coats of Conservator’s Wax 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 pretty nicely. The finished pipe is shown in the photos below. This Hilson Dromedary 712 will soon going back to Alex. The dimensions are Length: 5 3/4 inches, Height: 1 3/4 inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 1/4 inches, Chamber diameter: 7/8 inches. I am looking forward to seeing what Alex thinks of this one. I will be calling him soon to come and pick up the pair. Thanks for walking through the restoration with me as I worked over this old dromedary.

ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS: How do I strip a finish from a pipe?

Blog by Steve Laug

I have been asked how to strip a finish from a pipe more times than I can tell you. So this Answers to Questions blog is written to talk about how I remove the finish from a pipe. On first glance this seems like a very easy thing to do. You just need to sand the bowl until the finish is removed correct? That answer is certainly describes one method that has been used with success. But there are other ways to do the job that are less intrusive and less damaging to the bowl and shank. When sanding the pipe it is easy to damage the stamping and modify the shape. Both of these are undesirable in restored pipe. So how do I go about doing the job? I want to take time to present the options for removing finishes. I will differentiate between smooth, rusticated and sandblast bowls in the process of explaining each method. (I know that opinion varies on each of these coats and I only speak from my personal tastes and experience.)

Removing stain from the briar/wood bowl.
1. Removing stain from a smooth finish is actually quite straight forward. You need to understand that once you remove the stain you may well reveal more issues – fills, flaws and less than perfect briar. You have to be okay with taking that chance because you never know what you will find under the stain. To carefully observe what is underneath the stain coat I wipe the bowl down with isopropyl alcohol. I find that the alcohol makes the stain more transparent and blends the colours together in a way that is much more conducive to seeing the grain. Wiping off the stain may well reveal fills underneath the stain. They will need to be dealt with but that does not bother me too much. I really like a more transparent stain so it is worth the extra effort.

If I want to strip the stain from the bowl I wipe it down with acetone. Some have used fingernail polish remover which contains acetone and this works very well. However, I like to use a product that contains 100% acetone that I buy in the nail polish removal area of my local pharmacy. Acetone strips the finish back to almost bare briar. Repeating the process will bring more and more of the stain to the surface of the briar. Once the pipe is clean it can be restained and polished with micromesh sanding pads and/or a buffing wheel.

2. Removing stain from a rusticated or sandblast finish is different from removing it from a smooth finish. Alcohol works very well but needs to be almost washed over the bowl. I have used an alcohol bath to remove the finish. I fill an airtight container with isopropyl alcohol and drop the bowl into the bath overnight or at least for 3-4 hours. I find that it removes the finish very well from both sandblast and rusticated bowls. If you are reticent to soak the bowl, remember the isopropyl alcohol I use is 99% alcohol and evaporates very quickly. It does not stay in the briar. Besides that, you will be thoroughly cleaning the pipe afterwards.

You can also wipe the outside of the bowl down with very wet cotton pads that are almost dripping alcohol. It has the same effect. Remember you want the alcohol to reach down into the grooves, nooks and crannies of the finish. An interesting effect can be obtained by merely wiping down the high spots on the finish and leave the depths untouched. You can then restain it with a contrasting colour and get some beautiful finishes.

Removing shellac from the briar bowl.
1. Shellac is a shiny top coat that is often applied by a pipe maker or manufacturer to give a pipe a permanent shine. It is much easier to remove than the other topcoats that follow. On a smooth finish, it is very simple. Wipe the bowl down with isopropyl alcohol on a cotton pad. I repeat until the shine is dull once the bowl dries. I touch up the shiny spots with more alcohol. If you want to restain the pipe afterwards then you can wipe it down with acetone instead of alcohol. Both do the job but acetone also strips more of stain coat than alcohol. I finish the pipe with several coats of carnauba wax buffed to a shine with a clean buffing pad.

2. Removing shellac from a rusticated or sandblast finish is done in exactly the same way as removing stain from this finish spelled out above. I use either an alcohol bath or a very wet cloth of alcohol and wipe the finish down. Both work very well as they work deep in the grooves and nooks and crannies of the finish. The idea for me is to remove the shiny coat because to be honest I really don’t like it. I have had it come off on my hands when the pipe heats up. Therefore, the shellac coat has to go.

Removing varnish from the briar bowl.
1. Varnish is more resistant to alcohol than the other top coats I have talked about so far. For smooth finished pipes, I tend to use acetone on cotton pads to remove the varnish finish off. It takes some scrubbing to remove it but it will come off. I scrub the bowl until there is no more shine once it dries. Check carefully in the junction of the bowl and shank and in the stamping on the shank as the varnish in those spots can be very stubborn. Wipe down the end of the shank as it is often varnished. I don’t worry about using acetone on the exterior of a pipe as it also evaporates very quickly into the air leaving the bowl dry. Once the finish is flat, it can be waxed and buffed.

2. Removing varnish from a rusticated or sandblast finish is harder. I use a brass bristle wire brush (it has soft bristles and is available in auto parts stores or Walmart type stores). I work over the entire bowl, carefully working around the stamping and any smooth portions. I find that the soft brass bristles loosen the varnish in the grooves and crevices of the finish. I wipe it down afterwards with acetone on a cotton pad making sure to get the acetone deep into the grooves. Sometimes I have to repeat the process to remove all of the ‘offending’ varnish. Once it is gone I wax the bowl with Conservator’s Wax and polish it with a horsehair shoe brush. I find the method works well for me.

Removing lacquer from the briar bowl.
1. Removing lacquer from a smooth finished bowl is quite straightforward. I have removed it quite easily with both lacquer thinner and with acetone. It comes off quite easily and without a lot of fuss. I have found that lacquer has to be scrubbed slightly harder than the varnish coat because of its resilience but it does come off. I use cotton pads to apply the thinner or acetone to the finish and scrub it until it is gone. I find that the makeup removal pads available at most drug stores or pharmacy work really well. They are white so the finish shows up well on the pad as it is removed.

2. Removing it from a rusticated or sandblast finish is harder. It is like the process I use to remove varnish coats. I begin by using a brass bristle wire brush (it has soft bristles and is available in auto parts stores or Walmart type stores) to work over the finish and try to loosen things. I work carefully around the stamping and any smooth portions. The soft brass bristles loosen the lacquer in the grooves and crevices of the finish as I methodically work them over with the brush. I wipe it down afterwards with acetone on a cotton pad making sure to get the acetone deep into the grooves. Often I repeat the process to remove all of the lacquer from the bowl. Afterwards I wax the bowl with Conservator’s Wax and polish it with a horsehair shoe brush. This method has worked over time as I have fine tuned it.

Removing urethane products from the briar bowl.
I have to say that I find this finish the hardest to remove from pipes. I do not even pick up rusticated or sandblast pipes that have been coated with urethane products. I am hesitant even to take on smooth finished pipes. I really don’t like the product on pipes. It is recognizable in that it is a shiny and plastic looking coating that comes in varying thicknesses. It goes by a variety of names – Varathane, Urethane, Polyurethane but all have the same resistance to both alcohol and acetone. The finish seems to be impervious to all attempts to break through with these products. I know others have used a paint stripping product to remove this finish but I really don’t like using this stripper product. The chemicals in the stripper require a lot of ventilation and are really hard on my hands so I try to avoid them.

In place of using the stripper I have resorted to my own method with some degree of success. Sometimes I question the worth or value of doing this when there are so many really good pipes out there that I can work on without having to deal with urethane. But when I do have to, I break through the shine with either a brass bristle wire brush or with a piece of 220 grit sandpaper. Once I have broken through the top of the finish I can wipe it down with acetone and have limited success. It really is a matter of sanding or wire brushing and wiping it down – repeatedly until the finish is gone. I have seen folks sand off the coat but I find that if I can strip it there are less scratches to deal with in the refinishing process. Best case scenario when I find a urethane coated pipe is I clean it up the best I can and give it away.

Removing paint from the briar bowl.
Next to a urethane finish painted finishes is next on my list of dislikes for finishes on pipes. I do not like painted finishes. I actually avoid purchasing them because I have learned the hard way that they are impossible to bring back to the kind of finish I like on a pipe. If there are dents and chips in the finish they are impossible to repair or touch up. I have tried almost every kind of paint out there and not been able to get a match or if I get close, the minute pipe is lit and heated the repairs bubble.

Others have taken a different tactic and sand the paint off the rims and stain the rim to give the painted pipe a bit of contrast look. But to be honest I really don’t like the look. To deal with my own irritation I have resorted to stripping the bowl of all of its paint. I have used a variety of methods to remove paint. I have sanded the bowl down to remove the finish. I have used a paint stripper but I have spoken about my dislike of that above. I think that at times sanding the bowl down is the best choice. It is up to you whether you sacrifice the stamping in the sanding process or whether you strip that area. I have had limited success breaking the shine and wiping the paint down with acetone. It seems that once the seal is broken the acetone does the job but it is really labour intensive.

To top it off once the painted finish is removed I have found that the paint hid a multitude of flaws in the briar that have been filled and masked by the paint coat. It is generally a disappointment to me after all the work on the briar to get to that point. Instead, if I am left with a damaged painted pipe I generally rusticate it and thus remove the issue. I know that the solution may not be acceptable to all of you but it is what I do with this problem.

Conclusion: You can tell from the processes that I have developed to remove top coats from briar pipes that I really do not like them. I like the briar to breathe as I found that without the various top finishes the pipe smokes cooler. I like to finish my pipes with carnauba wax for smooth finishes and with Conservator’s Wax on rusticated or sandblast finishes. When I buy a new pipe this is one of the first things I look for. It is not a deal breaker but the shape has to be one I really like and want before I buy it. Then when I get home the first thing I do before smoking it is to remove the top coat and wax the bowl.

On estate pipe purchases I note which sellers on eBay give the bowls a coat of varnish or worse yet urethane and refuse to purchase pipe from them. Too often, I have bought pipes that have had the varnish coat slopped over the grime on the bowl and even into the bowl itself. It is easier just having to deal with that added issue. When it is a part of the original finish, that is another story and I address it as it comes. When I buy from antique malls and dealers, I specifically talk to them about not putting any shiny coats on the pipes they sell. It may make them look better to sell but it really is an old used pipe so why wreck it with these ministrations.

I think that is it for now. I hope that this series of Answers to Questions blogs is providing information that you find useful. If you have other methods for the various things that I am posting please feel free to comment or contact me. I am well aware that in each case these are my own opinions and that they are not shared by all. I raise a pipe to each of you who enjoy this hobby of ours. Cheers.

A Restemming Job with Memories of the Past

The third pipe I worked on in the lot below is the second one down in the third column. It is a Dublin like shape but probably properly is a freehand. It has a shallow sandblast finish with a two-tone stain. The undercoat is black and the top coat is brown. It is stamped on the left side of the shank Racine & Laramie in an arch over OLD TOWN SAN DIEGO over Banza in a script and then a line stamped Made in Italy. The look and feel of it says to me it is made by Lorenzo but I am not sure. When I read the stamping is when the memory came back. I have been in the Racine & Laramie tobacco shop in Old Town San Diego, California. It is a museum like tobacco shop that has a wide range of tobaccos and pipes in an old California mission style village setting. You can almost imagine cowboys riding up and tying up their horse to go in and get a pouch of fixin’s. The picture below is what I remember of the shop. It is from the website http://www.racineandlaramie.com/

Racine & Laramie

The following excerpt on the history of the shop comes from the website as well. I find it incredibly interesting reading.

History of Racine & Laramie
In 1868 Racine & Laramie became San Diego’s first Cigar Store. Having come from eastern Canada in the prosperity following the War Between the States, Messrs. Racine and Laramée sold cigars, tobacco, stationery, pipes, cutlery and gentlemen’s furnishings. The adobe they rented had been built in the 1820’s as the retirement home for leather-jacket soldier, Juan Rodriguez of the Royal Presidio. It was one of the first six buildings in the small pueblo, 500 registered voters, thousands of Kumeyaay. The Rodriguez family held ownership through periods of depression and Gold Rush boom, and their son, Ramon, was on the City Council. The widow Rodriguez had the building remodeled in 1867 and rented to Racine & Laramie and the Bank Exchange saloon. All was lost in the fire of 1872.

Using archeology, historic research and photographs this building has been reconstructed with the interior furnished and stocked as it may have been in that remote, frontier Pacific port. This picture gives a panoramic view of the interior of the shop looking at the cigar humidor.


It was this shop that I visited many times over the years. It is like stepping back in time to enter the old town and then to walk into the shop itself. I think the last time I was there was about six years ago now. I took the train from the downtown harbor area to the old town site. I walked through the reconstructed village. I must have spent 3 or 4 hours wandering around the site and ending up in the old tobacco shop. I looked at pipes and tobaccos before settling on a couple of tins. I think I picked up some Dunhill EMP and maybe a tin of McClelland Dark Star before catching the train back into town.

Needless to say when I found this pipe bowl among the lot pictured below I restemmed it and while working on it relived my visits to the pipe shop in Old Town San Diego.


The finish on the pipe was in pretty good shape – slight wear on the shank area and on the rim left the stain spotty in those areas. The bowl was caked – but differently than most of the pipes I work on. Its cake was primarily in the bottom half of the bowl. The bottom half was thickly caked while the top was not as bad. The photo below shows the bowl as it was when I took it to the work table. The sandblast is either worn from use or it is a lightly blasted finish. The shank was in very good shape and there were no cracks of damage to the inside. The drilling is a bit funny on this as well. It is drilled with a relatively deep mortise and the airway is drilled at the top of the arc of the mortise. It then drops at a sharp angle into the bowl coming out just left of centre in the bottom of the bowl. Because of the high drilling the mortise acts as a sump similar to the Peterson sump in the shank of the system pipes. It was dirty but not with any aromatic residue. Rather the pipe smelled of Virginias and would take little to clean it up.


This pipe that took me several tries to get a stem that would work. This was not due to the look or feel of the stem but due to unforeseen troubles. The first was a nice saddle stem. I turned the tenon and had a great fit on it. I heated it with my heat gun and tried to bend it over my rolling pin to aid in getting the right angles on it. The heat made it very flexible and as I bent it to the correct angle it just snapped in two parts. Those things happen and in this case it was a frustration to be sure – so back to the drawing board. This time I chose a tapered stem. I turned the tenon and fit it to the mortise. I then used the Dremel with the sanding drum to remove the excess material and fit it to the diameter of the shank. I then sanded it with 220 grit sandpaper to finish the fit of the stem. The next three photos show the newly fit stem.




I reamed the pipe with the PipNet reamer and cleaned out cake from the bottom of the bowl. I had to use two different cutting heads on the reamer to get it to remove the cake. The smallest head fit into the bottom half of the bowl and I was able to cut it back until the third head fit and removed cake from the top half and the remaining cake on the bottom half.


I wiped down the bowl and shank with acetone on a cotton pad to remove some of the top coat of stain and even out the lighter areas and the darker areas where the stain was still present. My goal was not to remove all of the stain present but merely even out the top coat so that I could more easily blend in the new stain coat.


Then with a bit of fear and trepidation, after breaking the first stem, I took the stem to the heat gun and heated it so that I could bend it into shape. I inserted a pipe cleaner in the airway as the bend would be quite significant and I did not want to risk having the airway collapse or kink. I heated it a high heat setting until the stem was flexible. I want the bend to be quite high up the stem toward the shank and not just on the thin portion of the stem so it took some time over the heat to make the stem bendable. I kept the stem moving over the heat as I did not want to burn the vulcanite. Once it was pliable I bend it over an old rolling pin that I have absconded with for that purpose. I have a heavy cardboard tube over the pin so that the surface is very smooth for the bend. Any cracks or rough spots on the rolling pin translate into wrinkles in the hot vulcanite.




In the first photo below the bend in the stem can be seen after the first heating. I took it back to my worktable and took the photo below so that I could have a clear look at the bend in comparison with the curves in the bowl. It was not bent enough so I took it back to the heat gun, reheated it and bent it further. The second and third photos below show the final bend that I was aiming for. The bend in the stem reflects the curve of the bottom of the bowl and gives the pipe a pleasant flow. It is also bent perfectly for the pipe to sit well in the mouth.




With the stem bent to the proper angle I worked on its finish with the micromesh sanding pads. I wet sanded the stem with 1500 grit until the major surface flaws were no longer present. The scratches left behind by the sandpaper were gone when I had finished wet sanding it.





I restained the bowl with a dark brown aniline stain thinned to 2 parts stain to 1 part isopropyl alcohol to match the existing stain on the bowl. I applied the stain with a cotton swab, flamed it with a lighter, reapplied more stain and then flamed it again to get the match correct. When finished I took the pipe to the buffer and buffed the pipe and the stem with White Diamond. The next three photos below show the pipe as it stood at this point in the process. The finished shape is very clear in these photos.




I brought it back to the worktable and continued sanding with the micromesh sanding pads. I wet sanded the stem with 1800 and 2400 grit sanding pads. I wiped the stem down between sanding to see how it was progressing. Then I dry sanded with 3200-12,000 grit sanding pads to finish polishing the stem. The next series of four photos show the progressive shine on the stem.





Once the stem was polished I buffed it a second time with White Diamond and then coated the stem with a rub down of Obsidian Oil and let that soak in. After it was dry I rubbed down the stem with a clean cotton rag to bring out the shine even more.


The final four photos show the finished pipe with its new stem. The old Racine & Laramie pipe was back in action and ready to smoke. The back story to this one is as interesting as the old pipe. I wonder the path it took from San Diego to Chicago area and then up to Vancouver, British Columbia. I wonder where it lost its stem along the path it travelled. I only wish it could tell the stories of its travels and the pipemen who smoked it along that journey. I will probably never know the story but at least my imagination can create a suitable tale for the pipe before I too send it on its way, for I am sure it will outlive me as it passes into the hands of future pipemen who come after me.





Savinelli deluxe Milano Stack Restemmed & Renewed

Blog by Steve Laug

The second pipe in the lot pictured below that I chose to work on was the one on the top of the right column. It is stamped on top of the shank Savinelli de luxe Milano and on the underside the Savinelli shield and next to that is it stamped 130KS Italy. The finish was dull and mostly gone. The rim was not charred at all but had a heavy build up of tars. The bowl was caked – interestingly for a pipe this deep it was caked all the way to the bottom of the bowl. The dimensions of this bowl are: height 2 1/4 inches, outer diameter of the bowl 1 ½ inches, diameter of the chamber ¾ inches. It smelled of sweet aromatics so it would need to be reamed and cleaned well. There was no stem with it but there was a broken tenon stuck in the shank. I would have to pull the tenon and fit a new stem on the bowl. It was made of a good piece of briar – no fills or sand pits. The grain is cross grain on the front and back of the bowl and the top and the bottom of the shank. It had some very nice birdseye grain on each side of the bowl and the shank. The shape of the shank was a modified oval shape.


Savinelli top

Before I cleaned the bowl and shank I removed the broken tenon that was stuck in the mortise. I have a screw that works perfectly for this process. I turn it into the tenon by hand or a screw driver and then work it out by hand or with a pair of pliers. If the tenon is stuck and will not move I put it in the freezer for 30 minutes or more and generally it will pop out quite easily. In this case it came out quite simply and I was able to move on in the process of cleaning.



I sorted through my collection of old stems to find an oval one that I could modify to fit the style of the shank. I had looked on line and found that this particular model of Savinelli had a taper stem (see the first photo below). I did not have any oval tapered stems that would fit, nor did I have large enough round stems that could be modified. I chose an older oval saddle stem that I believed would look good. I think that originally it was on a Dr. Plumb pipe but the logo was worn off and my modifications would remove the red dot on the stem (second photo below).



I sanded the tenon with 220 grit sandpaper until I had a good snug fit on the shank. The next four photos show the stem before I began to shape it to fit. The fit against the shank was good and tight. The look of the pipe and stem worked for me so I was good to go.





I do the initial shaping of a stem with a Dremel and sanding drum. I set the speed about mid mark on the speed control of the Dremel and slowly work at the surface of the stem. I do this initial shaping with the stem on the shank. I want to shape it as closely as possible to the shank shape before doing the finish shaping by hand. The next three photos show the stem after this initial shaping. There was still much work to do in bring the stem and shank to a proper fit and the width of the stem to a match with the taper of the shank. This work had to be done by hand using sandpaper and files.




The depth of the bowl on this stack made it impossible for me to get to the bottom of the bowl with my reamers. The PipNet reamer went about 2/3 of the way down the bowl and the KleenReem or Senior reamer did the same. I have used a plumbing tool that is used to clean up pipe after cutting it to ream deep bowl. It is a ¾ inch cone shaped wire brush with a handle that I can turn into the bowl and go to the bottom to remove the cake evenly. It works exceptionally well for this purpose.





I cleaned up the rim of the pipe with 220 grit sandpaper and also worked on the shank stem fit with the same sandpaper. As I was planning to refinish the pipe bowl and shank I did not care if I removed a bit of the finish while sanding the stem and shank. The next three photos show the stem/shank fit after I had sanded it with the sandpaper. I really liked the look of the pipe at this point and only needed to do the stem polishing and the finish sanding and cleaning of the bowl.




I used acetone on cotton pads to remove the finish on the pipe. I wiped it down until it was the same colour as the sanded portion of the shank. This would make blending the stain much easier to do. The first two photos below show the bowl after the initial wipe down with acetone. Photos 3-5 show the pipe after the finish has been removed from the pipe and it is ready to be stained.






When I sanded the stem I found that there was one small tooth mark on the top of the stem near the button that no amount of heat would lift up. I sanded the spot with the 220 grit sandpaper until it was clean and then buffed it with Tripoli until it was very clear the breadth of the spot. I filled the indentation with clear super glue and sanded it once it was dry. The two photos below show the stem repair after the initial sanding and then after it was ready to be polished. Once the polishing was done the repair would be virtually invisible.



I cleaned the internals of the stem and the shank with pipe cleaners, cotton swabs and Everclear until the shank and the internals of the stem were clean. I used a dental pick to clean out the areas inside the button and the flare of the airway in the button.



Once the insides were clean I wiped the bowl down with Everclear and removed any possible grime that I added to the surface in the cleaning process. The next three photos show the pipe after all of the cleaning. It is beginning to look like the stem and pipe were made together.




Because of the amount of grime that I cleaned out of the shank and the stem I decided to use a retort on it to give it a more thorough cleaning. The next series of three photos show the set up of the retort system. I use isopropyl alcohol in the test tube and heat the tube with a small tea light candle. I use a block of ebony that I have here to support the pipe and retort during the process. The alcohol is boiled through the pipe until it comes out clean. Generally this takes 2-3 fresh test tubes of alcohol.




After removing the retort I cleaned out the bowl, shank and stem with pipe cleaners and cotton swabs a final time to remove any of the alcohol and oils that remained. I then sanded the stem with 1500 and 1800 grit micromesh sanding pads to begin polishing the surface and to remove any of the debris left from the surgical tubing on the stem.I continued to sand the stem with the micromesh sanding pads from 2400-12,000 grit in preparation for staining.








I stained the pipe bowl and shank with dark brown aniline stain mixed 2 parts stain to one part alcohol to get the brown colour that was previously on the pipe. I wanted it thin enough that the grain would really stand out and give the pipe a uniform look after the sanding. The pipe has some beautiful cross grain on the front and back of the bowl and the top and bottom of the shank with birdseye grain on the sides. I wanted the stain to highlight that. I stained the pipe, flamed it and restained and reflamed it to set the stain in the grain.




Once the stain was dry I took the pipe to the buffer and buffed the bowl and the stem with White Diamond to polish the stem and the stained bowl. Afterwards I gave it multiple coats of carnauba wax and buffed it with a clean flannel buff. For a final touch I hand buffed it with one last coat of wax and shoe shine brush. The final photos below show the finished pipe. It is cleaned, renewed and ready to go out to a good friend who loves this shape!





Reworking a Mastercraft Custom Deluxe Billiard and Removing Mold

Blog by Steve Laug

This old Mastercraft billiard is the second pipe of the threesome that was sent to me last week as a gift. In his email asking if I wanted them he said they were either going to the rubbish bin or to me so I was not surprised when I opened the box and unpacked them. It had some nice looking grain underneath all of the grime and peeling varnish. But this one was in very rough shape. The stem was chewed in half so there was not enough to save. The inner tube apparatus inserted into the stem looked like it had been destroyed and then somebody bent it close to shape and cut a X cut in the end of the tenon so that it would fit into the stem. The shank was grimy and dark with a white mold residing inside both the bowl and the shank. The pipe reeked of mold. The bowl itself had a heavy but broken cake underneath the mold. It had a coat of varnish that was spotty and peeling where it was worn off the briar. In those worn spots the briar was almost black. The rim was also in very bad shape. The front was burned down from repeatedly lighting the pipe in the same spot with a torch. The back side of the rim looked like it had been scraped on concrete or hammered out on concrete because it was worn and broken down. The three photos below (I apologize for the poor quality – still getting used to this new camera!) show the state of the bowl and stem.




I sorted through my stems and found two options that I thought might work on the pipe. The first one was an acrylic saddle stem that I thought might look good with the bowl (pictured in the first photo below). I turned the tenon and fit it to the pipe but did not like the proportion of the stem and shank length. I then took the second stem – a shorter, straight tapered stem and fit it to the pipe (pictured in the second – fourth photo below). It looked like it belonged on the pipe so my choice was made. It was an old previously used vulcanite stem from my collection of old pre-used stems that I collect. This one would take some work as it was oxidized and had a calcified buildup around the button area. It was also clogged and the slot was plugged to a small pin hole. But it had the right look so it would be worth cleaning up.





I set the stem aside and worked on the bowl. I reamed the pipe with a PipNet reamer to get rid of the cake and the mold. I cleaned the reamer with alcohol before putting it away. I cleaned the bowl and the shank with cotton swabs, pipe cleaners and Everclear to remove as much of the tars and oils and moldy smell as possible.




When I finished it still smelled moldy, but I had several plans in mind for addressing that. But first I topped the bowl with my usual flat board and 220 grit sandpaper. I place the bowl rim down flat against the sandpaper and work in it a circle to remove the damage on the rim. This one took quite a bit of work to even out the top and get rid of the damage from the burn on the front side of the rim and the roughened back edge done by beating the pipe against concrete. I sanded it, repeatedly checking to see if I was removing enough of the damage to get a sharp edge on the bowl. On the outer rim next to the shank there was a chunk of briar missing that I would try to minimize after topping the bowl. I was able to remove all of the damage of the burned area and most of the damage of the battering the old pipe had taken. The rim looked good. I used a folded piece of sand paper to work on the inside edge of the rim and clean up the damage that was done there and keep the bowl in round.







I wiped the exterior of the bowl down with acetone on a cotton pad to remove the grime and the finish that remained. I repeated this until I could not remove any more finish or grime. The next two photos show the wipe downed bowl.



I placed the bowl in an alcohol bath for several hours while I worked on the stem and worked on several other old pipes that I have on the go. When I took it out of the bath, I dried it off with a cotton cloth and scrubbed it with a tooth-brush dipped in alcohol from the bath. I dried it again to check on the finish. There were still several spots where the varnish remained – the shank and the bottom of the bowl. One benefit of the bath was that the glue softened on the over pressed band and I was able to remove it from the shank. I sanded and scrubbed the old glue off the shank and sanded the bowl with a fine grit sanding sponge. I wiped it down with another acetone cotton pad. It still needed to soak a bit longer to finish breaking down the varnish that remained. While it soaked I cleaned up the silver band with silver polish and the jeweler’s polishing cloth. Under all the tarnish I found that the band was stamped Sterling.
I removed the bowl from the alcohol soak and dried it off. I used a lighter to burn off the alcohol from inside the bowl and the shank. I then recleaned the inside of the bowl and the shank with Everclear and many more pipe cleaners and cotton swabs. The amount of tars and sticky oils and grit that came out of the shank was incredible. It was no wonder that the pipe still reeked like mold. The next series of three photos show the pipe after soaking and sanding.




I scoured the shank until it was fairly clean and then set up a retort to do a more thorough clean. The retort sends vaporized alcohol into the bowl and shank and in essence boils out the grime with hot alcohol. As the alcohol cools it returns to the tube and with it the grime and oils from the pipe. I repeated the retort three times on the pipe until the alcohol came out clean. I then took apart the pipe and cleaned out the shank with pipe cleaners and cotton swabs a third time. There was even more oil and grime that came out of the shank. I cleaned off the surface with an acetone wipe and then reset the silver band with Weldbond glue. I turned it so that the Sterling stamp was on the top of the shank and pressed it on to the shank until it was even with the edge of the shank. Weldbond dries fairly quickly to touch so that the band would not be loosened when I went on to the next step in my cleaning process.




After removing the retort I cleaned the bowl and shank. Yet even more grime came out. I put the stem back on and took the four photos below to show the state of the pipe at this point. I did this more for an encouragement to me as this one was proving a difficult rework. The photos gave me a picture of what I was aiming for in cleaning this one up. If I lose sight of that it will end up in the bin as rubbish.





When the alcohol dried in the bowl and the visual showed a clean bowl and shank I took a sniff of the bowl. After all of this work the moldy smell still was present in the bowl and shank. This called for more drastic measures. I used the Dremel with a sanding drum on it and sanded the inside of the bowl until the briar was bare and clean. Then I filled the bowl with salt and alcohol to leach out the oil from the inside of the bowl and shank. My hope was that in doing this I would also kill the stench. I plugged the shank with a cork, filled the bowl with kosher rock salt (I was out of my normal cotton bolls) and set it up on an old ice-cube tray. I used an ear syringe to fill the bowl with 99% isopropyl alcohol. I set it aside and went to bed to let the treatment do its work while I was sleeping. The two photos below show the bowl after filling with alcohol.



In the morning the salt was a dark brown as pictured below. I emptied the now darkened salt and dried out the inside of the bowl by flaming the alcohol with my lighter. It still smelled like mold though the smell was definitely losing strength.


I cleaned out the button area of the stem with the dental pick and then ran several bristle pipe cleaners through it and then followed up with regular pipe cleaners. I soak both in Everclear to clean out the stem. I then sanded the stem with 220 grit sandpaper to remove the calcification that was all over the stem. I also gave the stem a quick sand all over with the 220 grit to remove the top oxidation. I ran the flame from the Bic lighter over the surface to burn off the oxidation. It did a great job of removing what I had loosened with the sandpaper. I continued sanding it with a fine grit sanding sponge to remove the remaining oxidation. I rubbed down with Obsidian Oil and set it aside with the bowl while I went off to work. The Obsidian Oil sat on the stem and soaked in for the 9 hours I was at work.





I refilled the bowl with salt and put a cork in the shank. I again used the ear syringe to fill the bowl with alcohol and set it aside to work on the stem. It too sat for the nine hours I was at work.


When I got home from work the stem looked quite good. It was significantly more black and the oxidation was gone except around the stem shank union. More work to do there. The salt was a dark brown, but slightly lighter than the first treatment. I dumped out the salt and cleaned out the bowl and shank with cotton swabs again. When I finished the smell was better but present nonetheless. I cleaned out the bowl with alcohol and cotton swabs again.


I needed another bit of encouragement at this point so I decided to stain the pipe with a dark brown aniline stain cut 2:1 with isopropyl alcohol. I applied the stain, flamed it and then buffed it on with Tripoli and White Diamond (photos 1-4 below). The brown did a fair job of coverage but I would need to give it a second coat of stain using a oxblood colour to do some blending with the dark areas on the bowl.





I worked on the stem with fine grit sanding sponges and 1500-2400 grit micromesh sanding pads. There were some minor tooth dents that still showed up so I passed over them with a Bic lighter and was able to raise them. More sanding was needed and I repeated the sanding described above.





Once the bowl dried out it still smelled so I decided to repeat the salt and alcohol treatment a third time. I filled the bowl with salt and isopropyl and set it aside over night (photo 1 below). In the morning the salt was little lighter brown this time (photos 2-3 below). I dumped the salt out and cleaned the bowl and shank again. This time the cotton swabs came out fairly clean. I flamed the inside of the bowl. Once the bowl dried out it still smelled so I decided to repeat the salt and alcohol treatment again. I filled the bowl with salt and isopropyl and set it aside over night. In the morning the salt was once again a dark brown. I dumped the salt out and cleaned the bowl and shank again. This time the cotton swabs came out fairly clean. I flamed the inside of the bowl. Though the inside of the bowl and the shank was very clean the musty smell still remained, though less prevalent. This was one stubborn pipe bowl to clean.




While the inside of the bowl dried out I decided to restain the bowl. For the second/top coat I used a oxblood stain. I applied it and wiped it off (first photo below). The coverage this time was much better. The dark reddish stain blended well and covered the dark areas of the bowl. The finished colour is a nice older deep reddish brown look (second-fourth photos below).





I decided to sand back the inside of the bowl yet again. I used the Dremel with the sanding drum a second time. When I was finished the inside of the bowl was very clean and fresh looking. The smell was still there. I stuffed the bowl with cotton bolls and then used an ear syringe to fill it with white vinegar and set it in the ice-cube tray to let it work. I have used that in the past to remove stubborn ghosts so I thought I would give it a try on this one.


While the bowl soaked I worked on the stem with the remaining grits of micromesh sanding pads – 3200-12,000 to bring back the deep shine on the stem. Sanding them with the higher grits of micromesh really gives a deep shine to the stem. It is amazing to see the difference between each of the successive grits of micromesh. I did not take photos of the steps as almost all of my refurbishing posts have shown the polishing process with the micromesh. The next two photos show the finished stem. Once the bowl is finished I will buff the bowl and stem with White Diamond and then give the whole a buff with multiple coats of carnauba wax to polish.



Once the vinegar had soaked in the bowl for several hours I removed the cotton boll and dried out the bowl. I then used a Dremel with a sanding drum to sand back the sides of the bowl yet again. This time I extended the diameter of the bowl to get rid of the surface area of the bowl interior. Once I was finished with the Dremel I hand sanded the bowl with 220 grit sandpaper to smooth out the small ridges left behind by the drum sanding. The last two photos in this sequence show the newly sanded bowl.





I took the bowl outside and put it in the bright sun on my patio. I wanted to let the heat and the UV rays from the sun do more work on the potential mold in the bowl. The evening is cooling down and the sun is no longer as warm. I brought in the bowl and wiped down the inside of the bowl and shank with an alcohol based anti bacterial wipe. I took it to the buffer and gave the whole pipe a buff with White Diamond. I then gave it several coats of carnauba wax and buffed it with a clean flannel buff. The pipe is like new and it SMELLS GREAT. I finally beat the moldy smell. The final four photos show the finished pipe.





Refurbishing and Restemming an Irwin’s Canadian

One of the six pipes I picked up in Washington was a Canadian bowl sans stem that is stamped IRWIN’S over London Made on the top of the shank and London England over 1451 on the underside of the shank. It had a tenon still stuck in the shank and the bowl top was rough from beating it out on an ashtray or something. Irwin’s is a GBD line (seconds??? Though this one has no fills or flaws to suggest that). The grain is quite nice and the contrast staining was also well done. It always makes me wonder what makes a pipe move from the first line to a second line. You can see from the series of photos below that the bowl was dirty on the sides and the top was damaged quite severely. There were no cracks in the shank or the bowl so that was a bonus. The bowl was unevenly caked and pretty dirty as well.


I reamed and cleaned the bowl and then used a screw to pull the broken tenon from the shank. Once I had that removed I cleaned out the shank with pipe cleaners and Everclear. Once the shank was clean I took a stem blank from my jar of stems and turned the tenon with the Pimo Tenon Turner until it was a close fit. Then I hand sanded the tenon until it was a good snug fit. I used the Dremel to take off the excess vulcanite and make a smooth transition between the stem and the shank. I then sanded the stem with medium grit Emery cloth to smooth out the surface of the scratches left behind by the Dremel sanding drum. From there I proceeded to use 220 grit sandpaper and also 340 grit sandpaper to further sand out the scratches. I wiped down the bowl with acetone to remove the dirt and grime and remnants of the top coat of stain. I wanted to prepare the surface for a new stain of diluted dark brown aniline. I also topped the bowl to remove the damage to the surface and clean up the edges of the bowl. The next two photos show the pipe with the stem fitting and the bowl cleaned and topped. It was ready for the staining once I sanded the rim top smooth with the micromesh sanding pads.


I diluted some dark brown aniline stain 3-1 with isopropyl alcohol and stained the bowl and rim. I flamed the stain and then restained it and flamed it again. I stained the rim two more times to darken the surface to match the bowl. I took it to the buffer and buffed the entirety with Tripoli and White Diamond. The four photos that follow show the pipe after staining. It was still too dark in my opinion to highlight the contrast of grains in the pipe so I took it back to my work table to deal with that.


I wiped the bowl down with acetone to remove some of the stain and lighten the overall look of the pipe. It had to be wiped down several times to get the look I was after. The next series of photos show the bowl after repeated washings. I used a cotton pad soaked with acetone and scrubbed the surface to get the desired look. Once it was done I again took it to the buffer and buffed it with White Diamond.


The stem still needed a lot of work to get it to the place of shiny newness. I continued to work on the stem with micromesh sanding pads – 1500-12,000 grit. The first three pads 1500-2400 I wet sanded the stem. The other 6 pads I dry sanded. After sanding with the pads through 4000 I used the Maguiar’s Scratch X 2.0 a second time and finished with the 6000, 8000 and 12000 grit sanding pads. I finished the polishing with a coat of Obsidian Oil and then buffed it with White Diamond a final time. I gave the entire pipe several coats of carnauba wax and buffed the pipe with a soft flannel buff. The next four photos show the finished pipe.



A Bruyere Dublin – Given New Life

This little Bruyere pipe came to me in a box from a friend in Germany. It had a lacquer coat on the bowl and the rim was blistered a bit and the outer edges damaged from tapping it out. The bowl had a light cake that was incomplete – leaving the bottom of the bowl uncaked. The stem was oxidized but did not have any tooth marks or dents on it. The overall condition was promising and needed a bit of time. I removed the stem and put it in the Oxyclean bath that I have made up. It takes a full scoop of Oxyclean and two cups of warm water. It has a lid so I shake the mixture until it is well mixed. The stem sat in the bath while I worked on the bowl.



I reamed the bowl with the smallest bit on my Pipnet reaming set. I wiped the top of the bowl and the outside of the bowl with cotton pads soaked in acetone to remove the lacquer finish. I find that while the acetone does not remove the lacquer it does soften it enough that it sands off easily. I set up the sandpaper on the board I use for topping a bowl and work the top of the bowl on the sandpaper until it was smooth and the roughened edges were not as noticeable. I then used sandpaper to bevel the outer edge of the rim to further hide the rim damage. I sanded the entire bowl using 380 grit sanding pads and removed the remaining lacquer finish. I wiped it down between sanding with acetone. The final sanding was done with micromesh sanding pads 1500-12,000 grit. I restained the bowl with a medium brown aniline stain, flamed it and then buffed it with White Diamond.

I took the stem out of the bath and wiped it dry with a rough cotton cloth that removed the moisture and also removed the top layer of oxidation. I then buffed the stem with Tripoli and White Diamond before returning to the work table to sand it with micromesh pads. I sanded it with 1500-3200 grit micromesh pads and water. I dried it and polished it with the Meguiar’s Scratch X 2.0 polish. I wiped it down and then finished the sanding with the 3600-12,000 grit micromesh. I dry sanded with these grits. Once the stem was smooth and shiny I put it back on the bowl and buffed the pipe with White Diamond and multiple coats of carnauba wax.