Tag Archives: repairing the exterior of a cracked bowl

A Pipe Restorer’s Nightmare


Blog by Steve Laug

I think that it is very good for me too acknowledge issues that come up with pipes that I have restored and sold. I have done it before and will continue to do so to maintain both my integrity and humility! My Mom used to say that confession is good for the soul. She has been proved right over and over again. However, this confession is one that I have never had to do before. Thankfully, I have had this particular “mess” happen to me only once in 30+ years. I sold a Peterson Irish Second 05 Calabash to a fellow in Michigan. It was a hefty piece of briar and quite beautiful even with the flaws and fills around the bowl. He fell in love with it and wanted it. As is my habit, I went over it carefully before I sent it to make sure that it was sound both inside and out. I was happy with it, so I packed it up and sent it out to him. A few days after he received it I got an email from him asking me to give him a call as he wanted to chat about his pipes.

I called and after the normal pleasantries were exchanged, he told me what had happened. He had smoked the pipe twice and on the second smoke he noticed smoke coming out of a crack under his thumb on the back side of the bowl. That made him notice that it was also coming out  of a crack on the left and front of the bowl. He examined them and saw some cracks that had formed in those places during his smoke.

I was blown away as I had carefully checked it over both inside and out and did not find anything even close to cracks. This is why I ream the bowl back to bare briar to check it carefully! The best that we could figure out was that the removal of the cake had allowed the heat from the burning tobacco to open cracks that were not visible before. From his description they seemed to be quite large and long. I offered him a replacement and suggested that he use this one for firewood but he would not be persuaded. He wanted me to repair the pipe so he could keep smoking it! He was quite certain this was the course of action he wanted. I sent him the replacement anyway and asked that he mark the cracks for me when he sent it back so I could make sure I was not missing anything. He agreed and said he would have it out that week.

Let me tell you waiting for that pipe to arrive seemed like it would never end. Finally after at least 10 days his package arrived. I had to laugh when I saw the package. The box he chose was great. It was printed with Dr. Sasquatch smoking a pipe and wearing a great smoking jacket. I took it to the worktable and opened the box. I unpacked the well packed pipe from its protective wrappings. True to his word he had marked the areas on the bowl with yellow chalk so I would not miss them. I took photos of the bowl when it arrived. I include those below. I went over the entire bowl with a bright light and a lens. I checked the inside of the bowl for cracks and crevices as well as the outside. I marked the ends of each crack that I found on the outside of the bowl with a black Sharpie pen. When I finished there were 16 marks on the briar both within and on the edges of the yellow chalked areas.I double and triple checked the briar to make sure I found them all. The good news was I had! I then used a microdrill bit in my Dremel to drill a small pilot hole at the end of each crack to keep it from spreading further. These cracks seem to have spidered with the heat and I was hoping to stop that process from continuing. I used a dental pick to trace the cracks along the surface of the briar. I filled in the cracks and the pilot holes with briar dust and clear super glue. I used a dental spatula to press the dust into the holes and the cracks. The process is pretty simple – I spread a little CA glue first and then use the spatula to push the dust into the glued areas. At this point in the process I dropped the ball and forgot to take photos! My words will have to tell the story. I sanded the repaired areas with 220 grit sandpaper to smooth them out and blend them into the surrounding briar. I polished the bowl with micromesh sanding pads to polish the areas. At this point I was not trying to hide them just smooth them out. Once I finished I rubbed the bowl down with some Before & After Restoration Balm and let it sit for ten minutes then buffed it off with a soft cloth. The bowl looked pretty good.

Now it was time to address the inside of the bowl. I needed to fill in the cracks in the bowl walls and the only way I know that works is to use JB Weld. It dries hard and does not gas off in heat. It is neutral and provides a good heat barrier when smoking the pipe. I wiped out the inside of the bowl with alcohol and cotton pads to make sure it was clean.I mixed up a batch of JB Weld on a piece of paper using a small tooth pick to combine the two parts of the product. I put a pipe cleaner in the airway to keep it clear of the product and to make sure I did not fill in the airway with it. I then applied it to the walls of the bowl with a dental spatula.I checked the coverage on the inside of the bowl with a bright light. It had been evenly applied to walls and the bottom of the bowl. Now it had to cure. I set it aside in a pipe rest for two days until it had hardened. Once the repair had cured and was hard I sanded it with my Dremel and a sanding drum. I took it back so that the JB Weld was in the cracks and crevices and the briar around was smooth. I sanded it further with a piece of dowel wrapped with 220 grit sandpaper. I wanted the bowl surface to be smooth touch but rough enough that a cake would build and adhere to it. It is hard to describe but I know what it feels like. I wiped the bowl down with a cotton pad and alcohol to remove the sanding debris.Once the bowl was clean – more clean than the above photo! I mixed up a batch of my bowl coating. I used sour cream and charcoal powder. I mix them together into a black paste. I use two capsules of charcoal for one teaspoon of sour cream. This coating, as strange as it sounds, dries without a smell and facilitates the build up of a natural cake. I put a pipe cleaner in the airway and use a folded pipe cleaner to paint the walls and bottom of the bowl with mixture. I set the bowl in a pipe rest and let the coating dry.The beauty of the mixture is that as it dries it turns black. Once it had cured to touch I took the following photos to show what it looks like. You can still see the light grey streaks in it so it is not completely hardened yet but once it is these disappear. I gave the pipe multiple coats of carnauba wax and buffed it with a clean buffing pad to raise a shine. I had buffed it with a microfibre cloth to deepen the shine. I will let it sit for a few more days to thoroughly dry and then it will be on its way to Michigan for my patient customer to smoke again and enjoy.

Dropped in at the Dunhill Deep End


Blog by Kenneth Lieblich

This is the first and introductory blog by Kenneth. We have been working through his Grandfather’s pipes and others that he has purchased to help him learn the processes that I use to restore and refurbish pipes. He is a quick study and able student. Give his first blog a read and enjoy it. Thanks Kenneth and welcome to rebornpipes.

I must admit that I never thought that the first pipe I ever restored would be a Dunhill Shell Briar Bulldog. Talk about nerve-wracking! I figured I would start out on an old clunker of a pipe so that if I made a mess of it, there was no great loss. But Steve Laug insisted that this was the one I had work on first because it was, in fact, a microcosm of pipe restoration all in one little pipe. I want to express my gratitude to Steve for not only permitting me to post the story of this pipe’s restoration, but most especially for guiding me every step of the way through the process. The vagaries of life (thanks to Covid) necessitated several FaceTime and Zoom chats, but he was always generous, friendly, and helpful. Any compliments on this restoration are for him – any criticisms are for me.

This charming Dunhill Shell Briar Bulldog pipe belonged to my paternal grandfather and was one of seventeen pipes left to my father, and which he has now given to me. A little detective work over at http://www.pipephil.eu revealed that this Dunhill dates from 1937 – which would have made my grandfather 29 years old when it was made.He died in 1975, so this pipe has not been smoked for at least 45 years (and probably more). As a side note, while this restoration was ongoing, I also restored his Dunhill Rollagas lighter (dated to the mid-1950s), so that I could use it to light the pipe one day. In that pipe will be some very old tobacco that is also from my grandfather. I am not sure what the tobacco is, but it smells lovely. I have another two Dunhill pipes I inherited from my grandfather, but I will save those restorations for future posts! As you can see from these initial photos, this poor pipe had some serious issues! The front of the bowl had a large crack, reaching all the way from the rim to the heel. There was also another crack (albeit considerably smaller) on the opposite side of the bowl. Smaller it may have been, but no less daunting to me. There was some cleaning that needed to be done inside the shank and stem, but less than might have been expected from an 85-year-old pipe. The usual routine of isopropyl alcohol, pipe cleaners, Q-tips, etc. made short work of that. Unfortunately, I do not have a handy brother like Jeff Laug to help clean my pipes, so I did it myself. I learn by doing, so this was just as well.

After using both the Pipnet Reamer and the KleenReem, the bowl was stripped down to the bare briar. This afforded me a good look at the condition of the bowl and just how far the two cracks had penetrated the wood. The smaller crack was not any worse than it initially appeared, but the large crack went all the way to the underside of the bowl. I cleaned the stummel with Murphy’s Oil Soap and that made a world of difference to the overall appearance of the wood, but not to the cracks, obviously. I prepared some J.B. Weld epoxy and filled the breach from the inside, ensuring that the epoxy did not ooze out to the front. I filled in the crack from the outside with a mixture of briar dust and cyanoacrylate adhesive. This was a tricky business, as the crack varied from ‘gaping’ at the rim to essentially ‘imperceptible’ at the heel. After putting down some layers of briar dust and glue, I noticed that there were still some small gaps that only iPhone magnification could reveal, as seen here. These were soon mended and left to cure.Following this, some rustication was needed, and a brass-bristle brush was the tool I used. In fact, the brush was used several times – including after I applied some stain to the briar-glue repair. The stain was used in conjunction with the Before & After Restoration Balm, to help meld everything together. I must admit that I wish I could have done this step better – all I could see were flaws, but everyone else told me how much better it looked, especially when compared with how it began. These photographs show you that it wasn’t complete, but I guess it really was better. Once this had fully cured, I coated the entire inside of the bowl with a mixture of activated charcoal and my wife’s homemade yogurt. Once hardened, this provided a good, slightly rough surface for a new cake to build. Then it was time for the stem. It was in pretty good condition, considering its age. There were a couple of relatively minor tooth marks and the button needed some work. However, without doubt, restoring the stem was the most frustrating part of the restoration. It began easily enough, with the stem taking a swim in the Before & After Hard Rubber Deoxidizer. In order to address the chatter, I waved the flame of a BIC lighter over the mouthpiece. I also took some of the cyanoacrylate adhesive and filled in the deeper tooth marks. But then the tough stuff came: sanding, more sanding, then even more sanding. Did I mention the sanding? As you know from Steve’s similar work, I used 220, 400, and 600 sandpapers to wet-sand the stem. Then followed that with all nine Micromesh pads (1,500 through 12,000 grit) – using Obsidian Pipe Stem Oil in between each pad. The pictures only tell a fraction of the story. Quite frankly, my lack of experience was my undoing, as I had to do this entire sanding sequence twice over. It just did not look right the first time. In fact, I was not even convinced that it looked right the second time, but Steve reassured me (with his typical kindness) that I was merely suffering from the same sort of pipe perfectionism that he does – not to mention the fact that this pipe is 85 years old: it is not meant to look brand new! At some point, one has to stop or else one will simply sand the pipe away into oblivion!

At long last, I was at the point where I could throw down some more Obsidian Pipe Stem Oil, Before & After Restoration Balm, and Paragon II Wax. Microfibre cloths, horsehair shoe brushes, and buffing pads followed – all to provide a final product (hopefully) worthy of my beloved grandfather’s memory. This was certainly a labour of love and I look forward to firing up his 85-year-old Dunhill pipe, with his 65+ year-old Dunhill lighter, filled to the rim with his 50+ year-old tobacco. The dimensions of the pipe are as follows: length 4⅝ inches; height 1⅝ inches; bowl diameter 1½ inches; chamber diameter: ¾ of an inch. The weight of the pipe is ⅞ of an ounce (or 27 grams).

Thank you very much for reading and I welcome and encourage your comments. Kenneth sent me this message and photo on Facebook.

This is my grandfather, Alfred Lieblich,  in Vienna in 1938. Look what’s in his mouth! Amazing!