Blog by Steve Laug
In a previous blog I mentioned that around Christmas time I got together with Alex to enjoy some great hot cocoa, smoke our pipes and talk about all things pipes. I also gave him a batch of pipes that I had finished from his stash and he gave me a few more to work on for him. I always have a great time when we get together and this time was no exception. He greeted me at the door with slippers and an old smoking jacket. I took my seat in the living room among his latest pipe finds and was handed a great cup of cocoa. I set it down and we both loaded out pipes with some new Perretti’s tobacco that he had picked up. We touched the flame of the lighter to the tobacco and sat back and blissfully enjoyed the flavour. As we did Alex walked me through his latest finds. There were some amazing pipes to look at and savour. I already wrote about the Dunhill Bamboo Tanshell with a lot of nice colour happening around the bowl. I refreshed that pipe for him and wrote about it here – https://rebornpipes.com/2020/01/08/refreshing-a-dunhill-tanshell-w60-t-1962bamboo-lovat-for-alex/.
He also pulled another Dunhill from the pile of new pipes that he wanted me to work on. It was the exact opposite of the Bamboo in terms of condition. The Bamboo was relatively clean and he had already enjoyed a few bowls through it so it was a quick and easy refresh. This one was a real mess! It was another sandblast. This time it was a Shell Briar Canadian. I carefully took it in my hands and examined it. It was in very rough shape with many cracks in the briar. Alex knew the issues with the pipe but he wanted to know if I could repair it. I assured him that of course it could be repaired and the current cracks stopped. But all repairs to the cracks would essentially be cosmetic and though he could not see them they were still present. The ones going through into the bowl would need to be treated as well. I have repaired many of the pipes that I smoke in this manner and they continue to serve me undamaged for many years after the repair so I was just giving him the facts. He was fine with that and said to go ahead. So I took it home with me.
When I got home I laid it aside and tonight took it up to work on it. I examined the pipe to see what I was working with and took some photos. You can see from the first four photos below that there was something redeeming about the pipe. I think that is what Alex saw. It is a really nicely shaped Canadian. The right side of the bowl was dirty but looked very good. The back of the bowl and right side were full of cracks that went virtually the length of the bowl from the rim top to at least shank height. The rim top had significant damage to the inner edge and the crack on the right side went through to the interior and on top. The stem was pockmarked, dirty and oxidized with tooth chatter and marks on both sides just ahead of the button. Overall the pipe a wreck. I took photos of the pipe before I started my cleanup and restoration. Look closely at the second and third photos. You will see the cracks. I took a close up photo of the rim top and the back and right side of the bowl to show the crack damage. I have pointed out the cracks with red arrows for easy identification. The inner edge of the rim also shows burn and poor reaming damage. I took photos of the stem as well. The vulcanite was pitted, oxidized and calcified in the crease of the button. There were some tooth marks and chatter on the stem near the button but otherwise it looked pretty good. The pipe was stamped on the heel and underside of the shank with the following nomenclature: EC (the designation for a Canadian) followed by Dunhill over Shell Briar. That is followed by Made in England with a number 3 in superscript next to the D. This tells me that the pipe was made in 1963. After that there is a circle with a 4 in it designating the size of the pipe followed by the letter S which is the designation for Shell Briar pipes. The stamping was clear and legible which actually surprised me given the condition of the rest of the pipe.I think Jeff has spoiled me with working on clean pipes so I decided to start by cleaning up this one. I wanted it clean even before I began to work on the repairs. I find that the cleaning also helps me see things in the finish that I would otherwise miss. I scrubbed the exterior of the bowl with Murphy’s Oil Soap and a tooth brush to remove the debris from the nooks and crannies of the sand blast as well as from the inside of the cracks. I rinsed the bowl with warm water and dried it off with a cotton cloth. Once that was done the cracks were very clear but so was the natural beauty of this Canadian shape! With the exterior clean I worked on the interior. I reamed the bowl with a Savinelli Fitsall knife. I did not want to risk the pressure that is put on the bowl sides by the PipNet reamer. I scraped the cake out until the walls were clear. I sanded them smooth with a dowel wrapped in 220 grit sandpaper.I cleaned out the mortise and the airway from the shank to the bowl with pipe cleaners, cotton swabs and alcohol. I worked on it until the airway was clean and the pipe smelled clean! I cleaned the stem at the same time working around the buildup on the tenon and stem face as well as the airway and the slot. I used alcohol, pipe cleaners and cotton swabs for this as well. I was surprised at how clean the internals of the stem were. I expected it to be horrid.With the bowl clean it was time to begin the reconstructive surgery on the bowl. I used a lens to trace the cracks to their end. All of them began at the rim and worked downward. I marked the end with a correction pen (thanks for the tip Paresh). Once I had them marked I used a Dremel and microdrill bit to drill a small hole in the end of the crack to stop it from spreading. Once I had the holes drilled I filled them in with briar dust and clear Krazy Glue (CA Glue). The cracks were numerous so I took a few photos to show the extent of the repairs. My method is a bit different from Dal’s due to my glue. I fill in the crack with the glue and press the parts together. It dries quickly and with no internal pressure holds together well. I go back and fill in the cracks in the bowl with briar dust. I use a dental spatula and pick to work them into the cracks. I put a top coat of Krazy Glue to seal it. I repeat the process until the repair is complete. In the case of the large crack that goes into the interior of the bowl I pressed dust into it as well and the glue from the outside held it in place. I will give it a coat of JB Weld to protect it once I finish the bowl. Once the repairs cure I work over the repaired areas with a brass bristle brush to knock of the loose dust and bits of glue that are on the surface. I used my Dremel and sanding drum to smooth out the interior walls of the bowl and the repair to the crack on the right side of the rim top. I think that the repair is starting to look pretty good.With the repairs cured and the interior and high spots smoothed out it was time for some artistry to bring the Shell finish back to the bowl sides and rim top. I started the process by working over the repaired areas with a wire wheel on my Dremel. I worked over the areas around the sides of the bowl and the rim top. It was starting to look right. The shininess of the repairs was reduced and the finish began to show through. Now it was time to etch the surface of the briar with the Dremel and burrs. The photos that follow show the three different burrs that I use to cut the grooves to match the sandblast. The burrs worked to cut a pretty nice match in the briar.I used the wire brush again to clean off the dust left behind by the burrs. It is hard to tell from the photos but the pattern is really close to the surrounding areas of the briar bowl and shank. With the carving done approximating the sandblast finish under the repairs it was time to stain the bowl. I have found that with a Shell Briar finish I have to use a Mahogany and a Walnut stain pen to match the rest of the bowl. I streak on the Mahogany first and fill in the Walnut around the rest of the finish. I blend them together and the finished look is hard to distinguish from the original stain. I moved on to round out the inner edge of the rim and minimize the damage. I used a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper to carefully give the inner edge a very light bevel. Once I was finished with the shaping I ran a Walnut Stain Pen around the freshly sanded edge to blacken it.With the finish repaired and restained I rubbed it down with Before and After Restoration Balm. It is a product developed by Mark Hoover to clean, enliven and protect briar. I worked it into the briar with my finger tips and a horse hair shoe brush. I let it sit for about 10 minutes and buffed it off with a cotton cloth. You can see the results below. With the exterior finish and the repairs completed it was time to mix up a batch of JB Weld to coat the inside of the bowl and protect the walls where the cracks went through. I mixed the Weld and put a pipe cleaner in the airway to keep the weld from sealing off the airway in the bowl. I applied the mixture to the walls with a dental spatula. Once had the walls covered around the area of the cracks I set the bowl aside to cure. I did not put the mixture in the heel of the bowl as it was solid and had no issues. I set the bowl aside and turned to address the oxidation, tooth marks and chatter on the stem surface. The stem was in good condition with some minor pitting. I used a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper to sand out the tooth marks, chatter and oxidation. I started the polishing with 400 grit sandpaper. The stem is starting to look very good.I have been using Denicare Mouthpiece Polish as a pre-polishing agent. It is a gritty, red paste that does a great job in removing the oxidation remnants in the crease of the button and also polish out some of the lighter scratches in vulcanite. I rub it on with my finger tips and scrubb it with a cotton pad. I buff it off with another pad.I finished polishing the stem with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding it with 1500-12000 grit pads and wiping it down after each pad with a damp cotton pad to remove the dust. I polished it with Before and After Pipe Polish – both fine and extra fine. I finished by wiping the stem down with some No Oxy Oil that received from Briarville Pipe Repair to experiment with. Once the JB Weld repair had cured I sanded the walls of the bowl to remove the excess material and to make sure the mixture was primarily in the damaged areas of the bowl walls. The repair looked very good. I mixed a batch of pipe mud composed of sour cream and charcoal powder and applied a coat of it to the bowl to protect the walls while a cake formed. I know Alex hates bowl coatings as much as I do but this one is essential given the nature of the cracks. It is just a precautionary step and the coating dries neutral and imparts no taste to the tobacco. After a few bowls you do not even know it is there. After mixing it well I applied it to the walls of the bowl with a folded pipe cleaner. I aim for a smooth coating that will dry dark and black and be almost invisible. When it dries the mixture does not have any residual taste. Once it was coated I set the pipe aside to dry. The mix does not take too long to dry. In about an hour it is dry to touch and almost black. After 24 hours it is black and smooth. The last photo below has been drying about two hours. The only remaining damp spot is in the bottom of the bowl. Once I finished I put the stem back on the shank and carefully buffed the pipe with Blue Diamond polish using a lightly loaded pad and a soft touch. I wanted the shine but not the grit filling in the crevices of the sandblast bowl. I gave the stem a vigorous polish being careful around the white spot. I gave the bowl several coats of Conservator’s Wax and the stem several coats of carnauba. I buffed the pipe with a clean buffing pad and hand buffed it with a microfiber cloth. The finished pipe is shown in the photos below. It is a great resurrection pipe for Alex and looks better than when I began the process. The dimensions of the pipe are Length: 5 ½ inches, Height: 1 5/8 inches, Outer Bowl Diameter: 1 ¼ inches, Chamber Diameter: ¾ of an inch. The pipe will soon be heading back to Alex so he can continue to enjoy it. Thanks for walking with me through the restoration.