Tag Archives: reshaping a stem with a Dremel

A Tiny 2 Star BBB 8881 Apple/Globe Provided An Interesting Challenge


Blog by Steve Laug

When I spoke with a fellow here in Vancouver who had a pipe that he wanted me to fix it sounded like a simple repair. He said that it had a very loosely fitting stem. He asked if he could drop by to show it to me and see if I could fix it. From past experience I have learned to never jump to conclusions about what sounded like an easy repair. When he arrived he showed me his GBD Faux Spigot. It turned out to need far more work than just tightening a loose stem. I wrote about that restoration in a previous blog (https://rebornpipes.com/2018/11/03/redoing-a-poorly-restored-ebay-gbd-super-q-9436/). We talked about his GBD for a bit and he made the decision to have me do a restoration on it. Then he reached into his pocket and pulled out a small plastic bag with a little BBB 2 Star apple of globe shaped pipe. It was stamped BBB in a diamond on the left side of the shank with two ** – one on either side of the diamond. ON the right side it was stamped Made in England over the shape number 8881. He said that he had found it at his parents’ house and really no one there knew where it came from.

Here is what I saw. Starting with externals. The pipe was small – kind of a pocket pipe. The grain on the bowl was quite stunning – a mix of flame and birdseye all around the bowl and shank. The rim top was coated with a thick lava coat and it went into the bowl. The inner edge of the bowl was in rough shape having been hacked clean with a knife. There was a crack on the right side of the shank curving to the underside. It looked to me it was made by the poorly made stem being shoved into the shank. The stem was larger in diameter than the shank and had been rounded over with a file. There were deep bite marks on the surface ahead of the button on both sides. Moving to the internals. The end of the tenon was carved with a knife to make it fit the mortise in the small shank. The inside of the shank was dirty but less so than I expected. The inside of the bowl had a light cake but most of that was gone from the knife job that had left a wounded inner edge on the rim. Looking at the pipe I explained what I would have to do to bring it back to life and restore it to use. It would need, cleaning, reshaping on the rim, a band on the cracked shank that would leave the stamping readable, and a reworking of the stem to make it a fitting addition to the lovely briar of the bowl. The pipe was going to be a fun challenge. I took these photos to give you an idea of what I saw. The previous pipeman who had fit a new stem to an old favourite pipe had done a functional job but it looked rough. It was pretty clean on the inside so it was cared for. It must have been a great smoking pipe for him to fit a new stem and not give up on it when the previous one broke or was lost. It was smokable. I took a close up photo of the rim top to show the condition. It is hard to see but the rim top was not smooth. The lava build up was pretty thick and there were some deep nicks and chips in the flat top. The close up photos of the stem reveal the scratches in the vulcanite, the tooth marks and the worn and ill-defined button.  The oversized diameter – prettified to look nice is clear in the photos. I took photos from the side of the pipe to show the stamping on the shank and the prettified stem. In the second photo you can see the crack in the shank curving downward to the underside.I decided to address the cracked shank first. With the crack as large as it was and movable I did not want to further damage it when I worked on the stem and fit of the tenon. I knew that it needed to be banded but that would cover the stamping on the shank so adjustments would have to be made. I used a Dremel and sanding drum to reduce the size of the shank to fit the band I had chosen. I did not take of too much briar and I only damaged the M in Made In England as part of it would end up being covered by the band.I repaired the crack in the shank with super glue and pressure fit the band onto the shank to the point of the end of the sanded portion. I used a Dremel and sanding drum to cut back the band to the width that I wanted. Compare the photos above with the one below to see how much I took off of the band. I topped the band on a topping board with 220 grit sandpaper and smooth out the sharp edge with 1500 grit micromesh. I decided that since I was already working with the Dremel and sanding drum that I would take down the excess diameter on the stem as well. I reduced it to sit snugly against the band giving the pipe a classy look.I cleaned up around the inside edge of the band and edge on the shank with a folded piece of 2220 grit sandpaper to smooth things out and make the fit and transition smooth. I lightly sanded the blade portion of the stem and the area of the tooth marks next to the button with 220 grit sandpaper to remove the oxidation and clean it up. I fit the stem in the shank and took a photo of the pipe at this point in the process. It was beginning to look like a classic BBB to my eye. With the stem roughly fit to the shank it was time to address the bowl top. I topped it on a topping board with 220 grit sandpaper. At that point I called it a night. I had to catch a train down to the southern part of Washington from Vancouver in the morning so I thought I would bag up a couple of pipes I was working on and take them with me.I caught the train south from Vancouver, BC at 6:30am. Once we had our seats we were in for an 8 hour train ride. I figure it would be a good opportunity to work on these two pipes. You can see my work table in the photo below. I used the fold down table. It had a lip around it so I spread out a couple of napkins for the dust and went to work on the pipes.I started working on the BBB by addressing the damage to the inner edge of the rim. It was significant with cuts and burns. My topping worked had helped with the top damage and smoothed that out but I need to work on the rim edge. I used a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper to smooth out the sharp edges and bring the bowl back to round. Once I had the rim as round as I could get it and smoothed out the damaged edge I polished it with micromesh sanding pads. I polished the bowl and the rim at the same time. I wet sanded with 1500-2400 grit micromesh sanding pads and dry sanded with 3200-12000 grit pads. I wiped the bowl down with a damp napkin after each pad. I touched up the stain around the front of the band and stained the rim top and inner edge with Maple and Cherry stain pens. Together the two stains matched the rest of the bowl.I rubbed down the briar with Before & After Restoration Balm. I worked it into the smooth surface of the briar with my fingertips to clean, enliven and protect it. I let the balm sit for a little wall and then buffed with a cotton cloth to raise the shine. The following photos show the bowl at this point in the restoration process. The rim matches well but still needs to be polished and buffed to raise a shine on it. I used a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper to reshape the button and also to smooth out the marks left by the Dremel when reducing the diameter of the stem. I sanded the tooth marks near the button on each side of the stem to smooth them out.I polished the stem, tenon and metal work with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-2400 and dry sanding with 3200-12000 grit pads. I wiped the stem down with Obsidian Oil after each sanding pad. I was able to remove the damage on the tenon and polish out the dripping varnish on the metal adornment. The stem looked much better at this point in the process. I the polished stem and bowl with Blue Diamond to polish out the remaining small scratches and raise the shine. I gave the bowl 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. This turned out to be a beautiful little pocket pipe in terms of shape and finish. The new nickel band adds a touch of class in my opinion and gives the pipe a new elegance. I look forward to hearing what the fellow who dropped it off for repair thinks of it once he has it in hand and is smoking it. The finished pipe is shown in the photos below. The dimensions are Length: 4 inches, Height: 1 3/8 inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 inch, Chamber diameter: 3/4 of an inch. Thanks for walking through the restoration with me.

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Shaping a Diamond Shaped Stem from a Round One


Blog by Steve Laug

This morning I found myself in need of a diamond shaped stem – a short Lovat style stem for a long shanked pipe I was restemming. I did not have any diamond shaped stems in my can of stems so I decided to craft one. I took a round stem that had the same diameter as the high points on the diamond shank and turned the tenon to fit. It was a tiny diameter mortise so I did a lot of work on it with my dremel and with files and sandpaper. Once I had the fit on the mortise I inserted it in place and used the Dremel to reduce the round sides of the stem to match the diamond shank.

Figure 1 WDC base in need of a diamond shaped stem. Necessity is the mother of invention. I used a round Lovat stem.

Figure 1 WDC base in need of a diamond shaped stem. Necessity is the mother of invention. I used a round Lovat stem.

Figure 2 I turned the tenon to fit the mortise and then inserted the stem against the shank.

Figure 2 I turned the tenon to fit the mortise and then inserted the stem against the shank.

I worked on one side at a time with the sanding drum on the Dremel running at medium speed. I worked holding the pipe bowl and shank in hand and holding the Dremel with the sanding drum perpendicular to the stem. I worked it the length of the saddle until each side was set at the same angle as the shank of the pipe. This took care so as not to damage the Bakelite of the shank and base.

Figure 3 I used a Dremel to shape the stem to match the diamond angles of the shank. I worked on one side at a time.

Figure 3 I used a Dremel to shape the stem to match the diamond angles of the shank. I worked on one side at a time.

Figure 4 Pipe resting against the Dremel with a sanding drum. Shaping progressed quite quickly. This picture shows one side beginning to take shape.

Figure 4 Pipe resting against the Dremel with a sanding drum. Shaping progressed quite quickly. This picture shows one side beginning to take shape.

5 Top view of the shank. Both sides of the round stem are beginning to take on the shape of the shank.

5 Top view of the shank. Both sides of the round stem are beginning to take on the shape of the shank.

I finished the top side of the stem with the Dremel before going on to the underside. I worked the Dremel so as to leave a relatively straight line down the centre of the stem. The goal was to align the line with the line of the shank on each side. I eye balled it at this point and would fine tune it when I worked it with sandpaper.

Figure 6 Top view after more shaping with the Dremel.

Figure 6 Top view after more shaping with the Dremel.

Figure 7 Bottom view before the Dremel did its work.

Figure 7 Bottom view before the Dremel did its work.

Figure 8 Left side view after the first side has begun to take shape.

Figure 8 Left side view after the first side has begun to take shape.

Figure 9 Bottom view after both sides have begun to take shape.

Figure 9 Bottom view after both sides have begun to take shape.

Figure 10 Right side view of the stem after it began to take shape.

Figure 10 Right side view of the stem after it began to take shape.

From this point in the process all the work was done by hand with a variety of sandpapers from medium grit emery paper through 220 grit sandpaper. I wanted to smooth out the angles and align the edges with the straight line of the shank.

Figure 11 Back to the worktable and the hand sanding.

Figure 11 Back to the worktable and the hand sanding.

Figure 12 Hand sanding continues.

Figure 12 Hand sanding continues.

Figure 13 Hand sanding continues.

Figure 13 Hand sanding continues.

Figure 14 View from the tenon end of the diamond stem at this point in the process.

Figure 14 View from the tenon end of the diamond stem at this point in the process.

Originally the Bakelite base had a band on it. I used an older complete one I have here for an example so that I could get the feel for it. The original was more of a brass/gold coloured ornamental band. I have none of those bands so I used a nickel band. After fitting the band I needed to reduce the tenon slightly for a snug fit and also work on the angles of the sides and corners of the diamond to match the banded shank.

Figure 15 Top view after more hand sanding with a medium grit sanding sponge.

Figure 15 Top view after more hand sanding with a medium grit sanding sponge.

Figure 16 Bottom view after more hand sanding with a medium grit sanding sponge.

Figure 16 Bottom view after more hand sanding with a medium grit sanding sponge.

At this point in the process I removed the stem from the shank and worked on the sides with a fine grit sanding sponge to remove the scratches and marks from the previous grits of sandpaper. Once I was finished with this portion I cleaned off the stem with a soft cotton pad and Everclear so I could see the scratches that were left before I moved on to sanding with the micromesh sanding pads.

Figure 17 Top view. Shape is finished. Now to sand out the scratches and polish the stem.

Figure 17 Top view. Shape is finished. Now to sand out the scratches and polish the stem.

Figure 18 Side view. Shape matches the shank perfectly. Need to remove scratches and polish.

Figure 18 Side view. Shape matches the shank perfectly. Need to remove scratches and polish.

Figure 19 Bottom view. Need to remove scratches and polish.

Figure 19 Bottom view. Need to remove scratches and polish.

Figure 20 Tenon end view of the diamond shape of the shank. The hardest part of shaping a diamond stem on an old pipe shank like this one is that all sides of the shank were slightly different measurements so that all sides of the stem would have to be as well to match the angles.

Figure 20 Tenon end view of the diamond shape of the shank. The hardest part of shaping a diamond stem on an old pipe shank like this one is that all sides of the shank were slightly different measurements so that all sides of the stem would have to be as well to match the angles.

Once I saw the scratches that remained I worked over the stem with 320 grit sandpaper to remove the scratches and clean up the surface so that when I sanded with the micromesh the deeper scratches would be gone.

Figure 21 Left side after sanding with 320 grit sandpaper.

Figure 21 Left side after sanding with 320 grit sandpaper.

Figure 22 Right side after sanding with 320 grit sandpaper.

Figure 22 Right side after sanding with 320 grit sandpaper.

Figure 23 End view showing the diamond shape after sanding with 320 grit sandpaper.

Figure 23 End view showing the diamond shape after sanding with 320 grit sandpaper.

Finally with the scratches removed it was time to move on to the micromesh sanding pads. Photos 1 & 2 show the stem after sanding with 1500 and 1800 grit micromesh. It should clean up nicely with each successive grit of micromesh. Photo 3 shows the stem after sanding with the 2400 grit micromesh. With all three of these grits I wet sanded the stem.

Figure 24 Left side after sanding with 1500 and 1800 grit micromesh sanding pads

Figure 24 Left side after sanding with 1500 and 1800 grit micromesh sanding pads

Figure 25 Right side after sanding with 1500 and 1800 grit micromesh sanding pads.

Figure 25 Right side after sanding with 1500 and 1800 grit micromesh sanding pads.

Figure 26 Right side after sanding with 2400 grit sanding pads

Figure 26 Right side after sanding with 2400 grit sanding pads

I moved on to the higher grits of micromesh. The next five photos below show the 3600 and 4000 grit micromesh. I dry sanded with these pads. The scratches have pretty much disappeared and the higher grits will give the stem a deep shine.

Figure 27 Sanding with 3600 and 4000 grit micromesh.

Figure 27 Sanding with 3600 and 4000 grit micromesh.

Figure 28 Right side sanded with 3600 and 4000 grit micromesh pads.

Figure 28 Right side sanded with 3600 and 4000 grit micromesh pads.

Figure 29 left side of the stem - sanding with 600 and 4000 grit micromesh.

Figure 29 left side of the stem – sanding with 600 and 4000 grit micromesh.

Figure 30 Top view of the stem after sanding with 3600 and 4000 grit micromesh.

Figure 30 Top view of the stem after sanding with 3600 and 4000 grit micromesh.

Figure 31 Bottom view of the stem after sanding with 3600 and 4000 grit micromesh

Figure 31 Bottom view of the stem after sanding with 3600 and 4000 grit micromesh

The next photo shows the view of the stem from the tenon end. The diamond shape is complete and the remnants of it being a round stem are gone. More polishing will bring this to life.
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From this point on in the process I dry sanded with 6000, 8000 and 12,000 grit micromesh to finish the polishing. Once finished I buffed it with White Diamond and then gave it multiple coats of carnauba wax to preserve the stem. The next four photos show the finished stem.

Figure 33 Right side view of the finished stem.

Figure 33 Right side view of the finished stem.

Figure 34 Left side view of the finished stem.

Figure 34 Left side view of the finished stem.

Figure 35 Top view of the finished stem.

Figure 35 Top view of the finished stem.

Figure 36 View of the stem from the tenon end.

Figure 36 View of the stem from the tenon end.

At this point the stem is finished and ready to be added to the WDC pipe that I was restemming. This process proved a point I have held forever – within in every stem resides another smaller stem or at least one of a different shape. That is why I rarely get rid of a stem. They can be reshaped, the button added on a second time a new tenon added… you get the picture.

Had Some Time on My Hands Today So I Reworked One of My Own


Probably a year or more ago, I picked up this pipe on EBay. It is stamped CAVEMAN over Singleton on the bottom of the bowl and shank. To me these old timers are ugly and never really look done. But they are smoked the way they are and often come with a good cake and a tooth marked stem. The stem bears an S in a circle as a logo. I keep an eye open for these pipes and try to snag them as they come up. I have found that they are easily finished and make a nice small group 2 sized smokers. The stems are usually a good fit and the briar is not too bad. I have reworked three of these Cavemen and all have become favourite smokers. When they arrive they are generally well smoked and thus already broken in so that part of my job is finished. All I have to do is to decide what shape I want the finished pipe to have and then reshape it meet my desires.

The first set of pictures below show the state of the pipe when it arrived in the post. I reamed the bowl and cleaned the shank and stem inside to make it a bit cleaner for me to work with. I generally sand the sides of the bowl and the top before I begin to get a feel for the grain on the pipe. Once it is sanded then I wet the briar with water to get a good look. From there I sketch a shape on the block and get my Dremel out with the sanding drum.

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The next series of photos show the pipe after I have removed a large portion of the briar. I decided to play around with a wedge shape on this one initially. I had seen one on one of the pipe sites I frequent and wanted to give it a go. I knew that if I did not like it I could easily change the shape and try something new. But you can see the basic shape in the photos. The stem I flattened on the top and the bottom to fit the flatness of the wedge. I left the edges of the stem rounded and planned to do the same with the bowl.

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The next series of photos show the pipe after I have sanded it and readied it to be stained. The wood is smooth and the stem is polished smooth. I sanded it with medium grit Emery cloth and then 280 and 220 grit sandpaper to smooth out the sanding marks from the Dremel. Once it was smooth with those papers I moved on to sand it with 400 and 600 grit wet dry sandpaper and water. There was definitely a bit of grain present but it was fairly light so I would need to do a bit of contrast staining to get the grain to lift and be visible.

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I decided to use some black aniline stain to make the grain patterns more visible. I stained it with the black, flamed it and restained it and flamed it again. I then took it to the buffer and buffed it with Tripoli to remove the excess stain and make the contrast visible. I had to sand the pipe a second time as well to remove more of the stain. I used the 600 grit wet dry sandpaper to do this. Once it was sanded I buffed it a second time with White Diamond to give it a shine. I gave it a top coat of medium brown stain diluted by 75% with Isopropyl alcohol. I wanted the brown to be basically a wash coat. I applied it with a dauber, flamed it, reapplied it and flamed it again. Then I buffed it with White Diamond. The series of photos below show the finished look of the newly carved and stained Caveman. It was a marked improvement in my opinion.

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However, over the months though I smoked it quite a bit somehow the shape just did not do anything for me. I found that unless I intentionally took it out of the cupboard to smoke that I would never reach for it naturally. So today it was quiet around the house, I still have some time off until after New Years. The wife and daughters were doing banking and errands. I was home listening to the radio and cleaning my study. I finished that and decided I wanted to work on a pipe – either to refurbish one from my box or something else. I went to my cupboard and my eye fell on the little wedge shaped pipe. The time had come for me work it over and see what I could do with it. I got out my Dremel with the sanding drum and went to work on the pipe. I removed the sides of the wedge and squared the shank and the stem. I decided to make a tapered stem that continued the taper right up the shank to the bowl. It did not take too much time with the Dremel to get the shape close to what I was aiming for in my mind. The picture below shows the basic shape after the work with the Dremel. It still needed a lot of sanding to bring it to the final shape but you can see where I was heading with it.

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The next series of pictures shows the pipe after I have sanded it with some medium grit Emery cloth. I sanded it until the shape was clean and smooth and the flow of the taper was at the angle I wanted to have when I was done. As I sanded the bowl I came upon the small flaw in the briar that is visible on the bottom edge of the bowl in the first photo below. Once I had the bowl sanded to the shape and curve I wanted I scraped out the flaw and opened it with a dental pick and then filled with briar dust and super glue. I figured that since I had a lot of sanding and smoothing to do that the time for the fill was this point.

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The next four photos show the pipe after I have sanded both the stem and the bowl with 1500-2400 grit micromesh sanding pads and water. I then used the Maguiar’s Scratch X 2.0 and rubbed it on and polished the stem. I wiped it off and then buffed the pipe and stem with White Diamond. I took it back to the work table and sanded it with the remaining 3200-12,000 grit micromesh sanding pads. The photos below show the pipe after the sanding.

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I decided to stain the pipe with a medium brown aniline stain. I daubed the stain on, flamed it and then restained the bowl and shank a second time. I flamed it a second time and then took it to the buffer to remove any of the excess stain and give it a polish. I used Tripoli with a light touch and removed the stain. It was still pretty dark so I wiped the bowl down with an Isopropyl alcohol dampened cloth to lighten the finish and make the grain more visible. The next four photos show the pipe after the alcohol wipe.

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After the wiped down I took it back to the buffer and used White Diamond. The White Diamond polished the pipe and gave it the rich brownish red appearance that is visible in the next series of photos. The feel in the hand and the mouth are much better with this newly revised shape. The richness of the colour is appealing to my eye. It seems that when I carve a pipe I keep going back to it to revise the shape and stain. This one has come a long ways from the original Caveman pipe that was pictured in the first photos above. Whether it is done or not I am never sure… in fact as I look at the enlarged photos I still see a few areas that may need some more work as some of the scratches that are not visible in the light of the shop show up really well in the flash. Ah well. That is the joy of having the tools and a bit of time on my hands this holiday season.

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