Tag Archives: Repairing a crack in the bowl

Adventures in Cordovan

(Kenneth’s Pipe Incident Report #3)

Blog by Kenneth Lieblich

Here is another installment of my Pipe Incident Reports. The idea, in general, is to provide a brief write-up – focusing on a particular pipe-restoration-related issue, rather than an entire restoration story. Last time was all about lemon-infused isopropyl alcohol. Today’s report is about a colour of stain that I had not used before, but which always intrigued me: cordovan. If you’re not familiar with the term, it refers to a rich shade of burgundy (but with less purple) and is often compared and contrasted with oxblood.Of course, the name of the colour comes from the Spanish city of Córdoba. Córdoba (or Cordova) has had a thriving leather industry since the seventh century AD, and it is this that is most closely associated with the word, cordovan. I referred to my Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. It confirmed this information and added that the first known use of the word in English was in 1591 – in this context, it was simply used as the adjectival form of the city name. According to the Dictionary of Color, the first recorded use of cordovan as a colour in English was in 1925.I expected this colour to be quite red and that accounted for my previous hesitation in using it. Certainly, the bottle of Fiebing’s Cordovan Leather Dye appeared a bit redder that I would have liked, but an opportunity presented itself to try it out on a pipe. I own Fiebing’s oxblood and I’ve used it before, but it was time to try something different…

The pipe I’m using for this experiment is a handsome paneled billiard. It has no markings on it whatsoever, so I don’t know its origins. I acquired it in a lot of pipes that arrived from France, but there were some non-French pipes in that lot so I can’t be sure that it’s a French pipe. In any event, the pipe is unsmoked, never used. And so, I decided that this was the perfect candidate for me to try out my cordovan dye. The briar was raw and unfinished, so it would take the stain well. As you can see, the briar had some water stains on it and the pipe was generally dusty and dirty, despite never having been used.To give the dye the best chance of succeeding, I cleaned the stummel with Murphy’s Oil Soap. This removed all the stains and made the stummel nice and clean. I also used a can of compressed air to blow out any dust from the draught hole and chamber.The stem was also new but was clearly dirty from sitting around untouched for years. I cleaned it with a couple of pipe cleaners and then polished up the stem with all nine of my MicroMesh pads. Next, I had to address a couple of issues in the briar. As the photos show, there are some cracks in the wood that I need to tackle. Upon close inspection, fortunately, the cracks are quite shallow and do not meaningfully affect the integrity of the pipe.One of many techniques that I learned from Steve is to use a micro drill bit to stop any briar cracks from lengthening. So, I took one of my micro drill bits – and it is really tiny – put it in my Dremel, and drilled minuscule holes at the end of each crack. Of course, I followed this up by filling the drill holes and cracks with cyanoacrylate glue and let it fully cure. Once cured, I sanded it all down with my MicroMesh pads. Time to try the cordovan! As I mentioned, I expected cordovan to be quite red. In fact, it was a beautiful, rich, brown colour – I suppose at the brown end of burgundy. I flamed it and let it set and then coated it again with dye and flamed that too. I was pleasantly surprised at how attractive the colour was. However, I was equally concerned that I had made it too dark by staining it twice, so I decided to lighten it. Fortunately, this dye is alcohol-based, so I used isopropyl alcohol to wipe down the pipe and remove excess stain. I am very pleased with the results. I polished the pipe on my bench buffer with White Diamond and carnauba wax which made the pipe look all the more lovely.   Cordovan turned out to be an excellent addition to my palette of colours for pipe work. As I mentioned, I expected it to be much redder than it turned out to be, and that originally precipitated my hesitation in using it.   I am pleased to announce that this pipe is for sale! If you are interested in acquiring it for your collection, please have a look in the ‘Pipes from Various Countries’ section of the store here on Steve’s website. You can also email me directly at kenneth@knightsofthepipe.com. The approximate dimensions of the pipe are as follows: length 5⅝ in. (143 mm); height 1¾ in. (45 mm); bowl diameter 1⅛ in. (29 mm); chamber diameter ⅞ in. (22 mm). The weight of the pipe is 1⅛ oz. (34 g). I hope you enjoyed reading this installment of the Pipe Incident Report – I look forward to writing more. If you are interested in my work, please follow me here on Steve’s website or email me directly at kenneth@knightsofthepipe.com. Thank you very much for reading and, as always, I welcome and encourage your comments.

An Interesting Pipe with a Twist – the third of Anthony’s Dad’s Pipes

Blog by Steve Laug

A few weeks back I received an email from Anthony, a reader of rebornpipes asking if I would be willing to help him clean up his Dad’s pipes. He wrote; “I have a few pipes (8 or so) that haven’t been smoked in 15 years. They were my dad’s. I would like to get someone to restore them”. We chatted back and forth via email and the long and short of the story is that I have eight of his Dad’s pipes in my shop now to work on. The photo below shows the mixture of pipes that he sent me. There are some interesting shapes and most are very dirty and have very little if any of the original finish left on the briar. All have an overflow of carbon on the rim top and all have damaged stems and buttons. They will need a lot of TLC to bring life back to them but it should be fun to give it a go. I went through the pipes and assessed their condition and contacted him and got the go ahead to proceed on the lot.The third pipe I chose to work on was the briar pipe with the twist and the twisted stem – one on the bottom left side of the photo. I have circled in red. It is an interestingly shaped and rusticated piece of briar. Not one side of the bowl is the same and from every angle it looks totally different. It is almost amoeba shaped and you almost expect it to morph and reshape as you hold it in your hands. There is no stamping on the shank or bowl anywhere. It is nameless. The bowl was very dirty and the finish was worn to the post that it was smooth and lifeless looking. Not only did it have a thick cake in the bowl and some darkening and lava overflowing onto the rim top it also appeared that Anthony’s Dad had laid the pipe aside mid smoke. The bowl was about half full of partially burned tobacco that had hardened and dried with age. The twisted stem turned out to be a twin bore “bite-proof” vulcanite one. It is unique with its twists and spirals. It was heavily chewed and had damage on both sides around the button. All of the pipes from Anthony’s Dad had the same marks and wear on the stem. It will need to be reshaped and rebuilt. The rubber of the mouthpiece is quite high quality vulcanite as it is one of the few stems that showed very little oxidation. I took photos of the pipe to show its overall condition when it arrived at my work table.   I took some close up photos of the bowl, rim top and the stem to show what I was going to be dealing with on this pipe. The rim top was dirty and lava covered but the inner edge appeared to be in decent condition. The stem was in pretty rough condition. There was a lot of chewing damage to the surface of the stem and button. There were some deep tooth marks on both sides of the stem and button. I think that it is obvious that this old pipe had been another one of Anthony’s Dad’s favourites.I took photos of the bowl from various angles to try to capture the unique look of the pipe for you. It is simply different from any of the pipes that I have been working on lately which is what caught my attention and moved it up in the restoration of the eight pipes. I asked Anthony to write a bit of a tribute to his Dad and his pipe smoking. I always find that it gives me a sense of the previous pipeman when I work on a pipe from an estate. Anthony sent me a great tribute. Here it is in his words:

“When my dad died 6 years ago, my mom asked if I wanted my dad’s old pipes. He was a long time pipe smoker, ever since I was a kid I can remember him sitting on the couch smoking his pipe inside. He worked at IBM and used to smoke his pipe in his office before they changed the laws in California. So you can imagine he had quite the collection over the years.

I took his pipes and put them in storage for a few years, I myself recently quit smoking cigarettes and decided to take up pipe smoking as it was easier on the wallet. I asked in /r/pipetobacco if anyone could recommend a pipe restoration service and someone told me about rebornpipes.com. I was hesitant but after looking at the blog I knew it would be a good place to send my dad’s pipes.

My dad loved smoking his pipes, sitting out by the pool in the sun taking a nap or in the garage wood working. The house was my mom’s area and the garage was my dad’s area. I spent hours sitting out in the garage as a kid watching the niners or a’s and giants on tv while doing woodworking projects. I hope to do the same with my kids these days.

I’m not sure if my dad smoked other tobacco but I remember Captain Black was the kind he smoked regularly. He had tins of it in the garage, full and empty and would turn the old tin jars into storage for odds and ends, like screws or washers or miscellaneous stuff.

I remember when I played little league my dad would sit in the stands and smoke his pipes. One of my teammates asked “What is that smell?” and I ashamedly said “Oh that’s my dad’s pipe…I’ll go tell him to put it out” and my teammate said “No man, it smells good!”.  It’s funny how the little conversations over the years you remember.

Another time when I was in 3rd grade or so we learned how smoking was bad for you (this was back in the 80s). I remember I asked my teacher if smoking a pipe was bad for you too….and she hesitated and said “Not as bad as cigarettes, since you don’t inhale it”. After that I was no longer worried about my dad smoking.

Knowing my mom I have no idea how my dad pulled this off but he managed to smoke his pipe in the house. I guess she liked the smell of it. Recently when I was waiting for my girls to get out of school I was sitting on a side street smoking my pipe and someone walked by and thanked me for bringing the pipe back. He said his dad used to smoke a pipe and he loved the smell. As did mine. The only difference is my daughters complain constantly about the smell of my car, but that is mostly because I smoke cigars too.

Anyway, grab some fine tobacco, light up a bowl and sit back and relax. I don’t have a pool like my dad did but you can catch me working on my laptop sitting in my driveway smoking a nice pipe, especially one of these restored pipes from reborn pipes….I can’t wait to smoke them.”

Thanks Anthony, that gives me a sense of who your Dad was and how he used and enjoyed his pipes. I was ready to turn my attention to this third pipe. I generally start working on pipes by reaming the bowl and removing the debris from there. In this case I picked out the plug of hardened partially smoked tobacco that filled the lower half of the bowl and then reamed it with a PipNet pipe reamer starting with the third cutting head. The bowl was a bit conical so I used the first and second cutting head as well. I took the cake back to bare briar. I used a Savinelli Fitsall pipe knife to clean up remaining debris in the bowl. I scraped the rim top with the edge of the knife to remove the lava that was there. I wrapped a piece of dowel with 220 grit sandpaper and sanded out the inside of the bowl to remove the remnants of cake and debris on the walls of the bowl.  I scrubbed the bowl with Murphy’s Oil Soap and a tooth brush. I worked on the rim top and the deep grooves and curves of the bowl. I rinsed the bowl off with running water to remove the grime and the soap. The pipe is beginning to look really good. I wiped the bowl down with acetone on cotton pads to remove the remnants of the finish that was originally present. I wanted a clean surface to restain so it did not take too much scrubbing to leave behind clean briar. I scraped out the mortise with a sharp pen knife to remove the buildup of hardened tars and oils that had accumulated there. I cleaned out the airway and the mortis with pipe cleaners, cotton swabs and alcohol to remove the debris and oils that were there. Once I had finished the pipe was clean.With the bowl cleaned, it was time to restain the pipe. I chose to use a Fiebing’s Tan stain to give some life back to the pipe. It is pretty close to the original colour of the bowl. I heated the briar and then applied the stain with a dauber. I flamed the stain to set it in the grain and repeated the process until I was happy with the coverage. I set the bowl aside to let the stain dry and settle. I turned my attention to the stem. I “painted” the stem with a Bic lighter flame to raise the vulcanite. I repaired the remaining deeper tooth marks on the chewed stem end and button with black super glue. Once I was happy with the repairs I set it aside to let the glue cure. While it was drying I went and did some errands. When I returned I wiped the bowl down with alcohol to even out the stain. I did not mind the darker sections but wanted to remove streaks and heavy spots. I examined the bowl to check on troublesome spots and low and behold I found what I always hate to find. It had not shown up before in my examination of the bowl but it was there clear as a bell – a group of cracks that was on the underside of the bowl. I am not sure how I missed them but they were very visible. Now I would need to address that issue. I drilled the end of each of the cracks with a microdrill bit to stop them from spreading. When I took the photos I saw one further trail that I had not drilled so I took care of that one at the same time.I filled in the crack and the drill holes using a paper clip to strategically place the super glue. I traced the crack with the end of the paper clip and filled in the space with the glue.When the repair had cured I sanded it lightly with 220 grit sandpaper to smooth out the surface of the repair. I worked on it with the corner of the paper to get into the grooves. I worked on it as well with a sanding stick and needle file. The next photos show the progress. I rubbed Before & After Pipe Balm into the surface of the wood with my finger tips and worked it into the grain. The product did its magic and enlivened, cleaned and gave the wood a rich glow. It cleaned up the repaired area so I could see where I needed to work in the stain to blend it into the briar. The photos show what it looked like at this point. I blended the repaired area into the rest of the surrounding briar with stain pens – combining Mahogany, Maple and Cherry pens. Once the stain cured I would wax and buff the bowl.I set the bowl aside and worked on the twisted stem. It had been sitting for 24 hours so the black super glue repair was hard and ready to work on. I reshaped the button edge and surface of the stem with a needle file to clean up the look and feel of the button and the stem.I touched up the shallow dents that needed a little more glue and put some on the edge of the button as well. Once it dried I sanded it with 220 grit sandpaper to blend it into the rest of the stem surface. I cleaned out the twin bore stem with pipe cleaners and alcohol. I discovered that the left side of the twin bore was plugged so that it was only get airflow through the right side. I cleaned it out with a straightened paper clip and followed up with alcohol and pipe cleaners down both bores. Once it was done the airflow was open.I polished it by wet sanding it with 1500-2400 grit micromesh sanding pads and wiped it down with Obsidian Oil after each pad. I dry sanded it with 3200-12000 grit micromesh pads and again wiped it down after each pad with oil. I gave it a final coat of oil after the final pad and set it aside to dry. I polished the pipe with Blue Diamond to polish out the remaining small scratches. I gave the bowl multiple coats of Conservator’s Wax and the stem multiple coats of carnauba wax. I 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 is third of eight pipes that I am restoring from Anthony’s Dad’s collection. I am looking forward to hearing what Anthony thinks once he sees the finished pipe on the blog. Once I have the remaining five pipes finished I will pack them up and send them back to him. It will give him opportunity to carrying on the trust from his Dad. The dimensions are Length: 6 1/2 inches, Height: 2 1/2 inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: width is 1 ¼ inches and length is 2 inches, Chamber diameter: 7/8 inches. Thanks for walking through the restoration with me as I worked over this pipe from Anthony’s Dad’s collection. Five more will soon follow in the days ahead. Keep an eye out for them because there are some unique pipes in the lot.  


This morning I received an email from Anthony in which he shared an email from his Mom regarding this pipe. He thought it would be good info to add to this blog about his Dad’s pipe. So with his encouragement and permission I add this to the end of this blog.
Dear Anthony,
I really enjoyed your email attachment about Steve Laug’s restoration of your dad’s pipes (“#1 and #3”)!  Your father would be so thrilled to see this master craftsman bringing back to life his old favorites — especially as he so loved wood-working himself — and to know that you treasure them.  (I wonder if the one I “rescued” from his workshop and now display in plastic case — the meerschaum lion’s head — is ruined.  After vacuuming and blowing out all the dust and rat-turds, I soaked it in vinegar till white again.  It looks good, anyway!)

I also loved reading your comments about Dad’s enjoyment of them.  I don’t think he was ever addicted to tobacco; he just enjoyed it casually (and mostly chewing on them!).

I remember when he acquired the large, twisted one (“#3”) at a pipe shop called “Andre’s,” around 1969 or ’70.  It was a unique shop, originally in Los Gatos or Campbell (I think) which later moved — maybe to The Alameda area in San Jose.  I’m not sure if Andre made any that he sold, but as a woodworker Dad was fascinated by this one especially.  He also bought his favorite tobacco blends there.  (Maybe there’s something on the Internet about Andre’s, if he became more well known.)

>While expecting our first child in early April 1971, I went down there to get Dad a surprise gift pipe for his April 25 birthday and picked out a plump, short one labeled “The Little Chub.”  Not knowing in those days whether Baby would be a boy or girl, I wrapped it with a card saying it was “To My New Daddy from your Little Chub.”  Lo and behold, Baby arrived on Dad’s very own birthday, when I tucked the pipe into my suitcase for the hospital and presented it to him there (along with The Little Chub herself — his best birthday gift ever)!  I don’t see it among these photos, so I guess it got chewed down worse than the others!

Re. your notes on changes over the years in  smoking habits and rules:
I think it was IBM that banned smoking at work before state or local governments did.  Also, as tobacco was made stronger (and more addictive), odors grew stronger and more permeating, and its terrible health effects became more obvious, more bystanders were impacted and objected.

As for my allowing pipes in the house in “the old days,” I had grown up with both parents heavy smokers, when that was common practice.  (I didn’t take it up myself, as I couldn’t afford it — in the break room at work in my teens, machines sold candy bars for a nickel, but a pack of cigarettes cost 35 cents!  And I liked chocolate better anyway.) But a  man with a pipe was more attractive (especially if he dressed well), it seemed a sophisticated image, and the smoke smelled better.    Many of my professors at Berkeley had pipes on their desks!  But after we had kids and knew smoke was a hazard for them, we didn’t want them near it inside.  And of course, we watched both my parents suffer terribly (Daddy’s heart attacks and emphysema, and Mom’s lung cancer) from near-lifelong smoking.

Anyway, these are beautiful, vintage, collectors’ items when restored and 
they’d look great in a closed case on the wall!