Tag Archives: repairing bite marks in vulcanite

An Amphora Extra Saddle Billiard Reborn


This one is the third of the three I bought at an antique mall in Edmonton, Alberta on a recent trip. It is stamped on the bottom of the shank as follows:
AMPHORA
X-tra 726-649
GENUINE BRIAR
Made in Holland

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It has a deep craggy blast that attracted me to the pipe in the first place. The briar was dirty and the finish was gone. The remaining stain was very spotty and dirty. The grime of many dirty hands had ground into the blast leaving dark spots all around the bowl and shank. The state of the finish can be seen in the photo below. The bowl was dirty and had a slight cake with dottle still in the bowl. The rim had some darkening from the lighter and there was lava on the surface hiding most of the blast. The beauty was that the bowl did not have any damage from tapping it out or burning on the edges. It would clean up very nicely. The stem was slightly oxidized and had a calcified buildup in several spots. It also had a few faint tooth marks about a ¼ inch back from the button. The button itself had several dents in it as well. The slot in the button was too tight to even take a thin pipe cleaner. The inside of the shank was thick with a tarry buildup and the stem was clogged with buildup as well. I am pretty sure the stem had never been cleaned out as a pipe cleaner would not pass through the slot.

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I removed the stem from the bowl and dipped the bowl in an alcohol bath and scrubbed it with a brass tire brush to remove the grit and grime in the blast. I then dropped it into the bath to soak overnight. In the morning I removed it from the bath and gave it another quick scrub with the tire brush. I flamed the alcohol in the bowl to dry it before I cleaned it. This is a simple process of lighting the alcohol on fire with a lighter. It burns blue and burns fast. No harm is done to the briar. I then cleaned the bowl and shank with pipe cleaners to remove as much of the tars and oils as I could before I used the retort to give it a final cleaning.

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I decided to open up the button with needle files before I used the retort on the pipe. I was unable to run a pipe cleaner through the stem so I wanted to be able to remove some of the grit before I hooked up the retort. I used three different needle files to open the slot. The next four photos show the opening of the slot from start to finish. When I was done a pipe cleaner went through very easily and I was able to remove much of the tars and oils from the stem.

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To finish the reformed slot I used some folded medium grit emery paper and then 340 grit sandpaper to smooth out the new edges and give it a finished look. I also sanded the surface of the button to remove the scratches from the files. Once that was done put the stem back on the pipe and ran a few more pipe cleaners dipped in Everclear through to clean out the airway. The next two photos show the pipe at this stage in the cleanup.

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With the slot opened and the interior surface cleaned it was time to set up the retort. I placed a cotton boll in the bowl to keep the boiling alcohol from coming out the top of the bowl. I slid the rubber surgical tubing over the end of the stem and slid it on about ½ an inch. I want a good tight seal at this point because as the alcohol boils it can bubble out the sides of the stem and give a good burn while you are holding the stem. I put about 1 inch of 99% isopropyl in the test tube and put the rubber stopper in place in the mouth of the tube. I lit a small tea light and held the bottom of the test tube over the flame. The alcohol has a low boiling point so it does not take long for it to boil and the gaseous alcohol migrates up the surgical tubing and into the stem, shank and bowl. It is great to feel the shank warm up as the alcohol moves into the shank. I remove it from the flame after several minutes and let it cool off. As the alcohol cools it runs back into the test tube and cools. The next series of three photos show the heating and boiling process.

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As it cools the alcohol migrates back into the tube. It is generally a very dark amber colour – like nice amber ale! In the first photo below show the tube removed from the flame and the alcohol beginning to refill the tube. The flame is actually behind the stopper not under it – lest anyone wonder about that. I blew out the candle at this point and continued to let the alcohol cool and drain. I then poured out the dirty alcohol, rinsed the tube with warm water, dried it out and refilled it. I reattached the apparatus and used the retort a second and third time until the alcohol came out as clean as when I started using it.

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Once the insides were clean I used a soft bristle tooth brush and some isopropyl to scrub down the exterior of the bowl to prepare it for restaining. The next four photos show the scrubbed and prepared bowl.

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I chose to restain the bowl with a dark brown aniline stain that I thinned 2:1 with isopropyl alcohol. I applied the stain heavily to the pipe with a folded pipe cleaner to make sure I got it into the nooks and crannies of the sandblasted surface. Once it was covered I flamed it with a lighter to set the stain. I gave it a second coat of stain and flamed it a second time. Once it was dry I buffed it with a shoe brush to get a soft shine on it. The next series of four photos show the restained bowl after the buffing with the show brush. I find that the bristles on the shoe brush work really well to buff sand blasted and rusticated pipes. I used to use my buffer and keep a light touch on the wheel because I did not want to soften the ridges of the blast. I have since resorted to using the shoe shine brush instead.

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I hand applied some Halcyon II wax to the bowl and shank and buffed it a second time with the shoe brush to give it a shine. The next series of six photos show the bowl and shank during and after the shine with Halcyon II and the shoe brush buffing.

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After finishing the bowl it was time to work on the stem. I sanded the blade area where the tooth marks were to cause them to stand out a bit more clearly. I used a fine grit sanding sponge first. I then heated the slight tooth dents with a Bic lighter to lift them. I find that this works very well for light dents in vulcanite. I do not leave the flame in one place but move it quickly across the surface of the dent and it literally lifts with the heat. I then wet sanded the stem with 1500-2400 grit micromesh sanding pads and followed that by dry sanding with 3200 and 3600 grit micromesh pads. The next series of eight photos gives you a look at the progress of the sanding.

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At this point in the process I wiped down the stem with Obsidian Oil and rubbed it into the vulcanite. I wanted to see where the remaining oxidation was so that I could do some more work on those areas.

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I continued sanding the stem with 4000, 6000, 8000 and 12,000 grit micromesh sanding pads. The next three photos show the progress of the shine on the stem. There was still some deep seated oxidation on the stem. I used a Bic lighter and went over the surface of the stem to burn off the oxidation. I wiped it down with a soft cloth and repeat the process until the stem was a shiny black and the oxidation was gone.

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The final series of four photos show the finished pipe. I gave the stem a final rub down with Obsidian Oil and I buffed the stem on my buffing wheel (attached to the bowl) using White Diamond. I did not buff the bowl. I gave the stem several coats of carnauba wax and then buffed it with soft flannel buffs. I also rebuffed the bowl by hand with the shoe brush. The pipe smells fresh and clean. It is ready to smoke.

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