Tag Archives: restaining a bowl

Undressing a Stanwell Black Diamond

Blog by Greg Wolford

A few days ago I received a Stanwell Black Diamond shape 185 in the mail, gifted to me from an Instagram friend. It was a pipe he’d bought as an estate and hadn’t touched. When it arrived it was a “dress black” pipe, covered with a matte black opaque finish that needed some TLC: the rim was a bit uneven from being bumped or tapped out, the finish was “thin” in a few spots, with the briar peeking through, and needed to be cleaned internally. I thought I was going to do a quick clean up and smoke it but the story developed into something more soon. So I didn’t plan on all that I ended up doing and didn’t take photos. I even forgot to take a before picture so I’m using a “stock” picture of this model.

I cleaned the bowl, stem and shank first. This pipe had almost no cake and was not very dirty at all; it took only half dozen or so pipe cleaners to get it done. As I said before, I thought this was be a really fast job when I saw how little use the pipe had had. But it, of course, didn’t turn out quite so simple.

I wiped the stummel down with alcohol to clean off the surface and prepare it for a treatment with a new idea I had: colored wax. Some time back, Steve had mentioned to me about a product that Hobby Lobby carried that was a rub on/rub off wax that comes in different colors and might be good to highlight stem or shank nomenclature. I picked up a tube of black and have tried it once or twice with less than great results. But I thought it might be just the thing to touch up the black finish on this pipe and shine it up, too. The alcohol removed a little of the black coat but not too much as I cleaned it so I knew the finish was removable at this pint, in case the idea didn’t work. After the briar dried I rubbed the ebony wax onto the pipe, let it haze and buffed it off by hand. I did about three coats of the wax and wasn’t really thrilled with the pipe, even though the color “took”.

The bumpy rim was irritating to me and I knew it would continue to be a distraction. Although I was worried about what lay under the opaque finish, I decided to top the bowl and go from there. The newly smooth rim pleased me and I couldn’t help but wonder what was under that black coat. So I began to sand the black away to see.

The coating was fairly thick and took some time to remove. I sanded with 220 grit paper until the black was mostly gone. It was a pleasant surprise that no fills were under that coat. In fact, the grain was pretty nice. So I moved on to 400 grit paper and then buffed the briar with tripoli to see how it looked; it was nice and the black would make a great contrast stain. I wiped the pipe down with alcohol again to remove the wax and dust and started sanding with 600 grit paper. After I was happy with the smooth surface of the pipe I removed the tape I’d applied earlier to the stamping to protect it and began to work gently around the black patches under the tape to make as little damage as possible to the nomenclature but break up the black.

I mixed up some Fiebing’s dark brown leather dye with isopropyl alcohol in a 1:3 ratio. I applied and flamed the stain several times to get a nice, even coat. Then I wiped the bowl down with alcohol wetted pads until I removed enough due to see the grain well. I moved to the buffer where I buffed with tripoli and white diamond before laying the stummel aside to deal with the stem.

The stem on this pipe is acrylic and was in good shape; there were no major scratches or tooth dents so I polished it with plastic polish and then reassembled the pipe. Then the entire pipe got several coats of carnauba wax and buffed to a shine on a clean flannel buff and then a bit more by hand with a microfiber cloth.

I’m really pleased with the “undress” pipe. And I’m relieved that the briar under the “coat” was as nice as it is. This large, heavy pipe will now have a spot on my rack, to be used and enjoyed, something that it hasn’t had much of in its life. IMG_0986.PNG


Finding a Hidden Gem Underneath all the Grit and Grime

I went to work on the third pipe down in the far right column. It was one that I almost bypassed because of the shape it was in, but decided to take a chance and see what was underneath all of the mess. The stamping was long ago worn away by buffing. It had originally had a ferrule on the shank and that was missing. The bowl was badly caked and it was out of round from overzealous reaming. The finish was shot with thick black grime impregnated into the bowl finish all the way around. Underneath there appeared to be some nice grain. The missing ferrule left behind remnants of the glue that had held it in place. In the shank where the ferrule was missing were several fills – the only ones in the pipe. The size of the pipe is about a group 2 – kind of the classic size of an older billiard. The stem was missing so it would need to have one made to fit.



The next series of photos shows the build up on the outside of the bowl. Not only was it badly caked it also was covered with a grey/black grime that would be challenging.






I used acetone and cotton pads to remove the external grime on the bowl (Photos 1 – 2 below). There was actually some nice grain underneath all the grime. I reamed the bowl with a PipNet reamer starting with the smallest cutting head and working my way up to the largest that would fit the bowl. I wanted to ream it back to bare wood so that I could work on the damaged inner rim (Photo 3 below). I topped the bowl to remove the damage to the top of the rim and clean up the outer edges of the rim. I used my normal method of a piece of sandpaper on a flat surface and pushing the bowl into the sandpaper and rotating it to remove the damaged briar (Photo 4 – 5). I also push a nickel band onto the shank part way. I would later need to heat it to get a pressure fit deep on the shank. This band would both strengthen the thin walls of the mortise at the end and also cover the only fills present on the pipe.






I used a Dremel with a sanding drum to work on the roundness of the bowl. I worked to even out the distance between the inner edge of the rim and the outer edge. Once this was completed I used sandpaper to smooth out the edge and give it a slight bevel (Photo 1). I wiped down the bowl and rim with acetone on a cotton pad to clean off the last of the dust and grime from the reaming and sanding (Photos 2 – 3).




I set up the heat gun and turned it to the high setting. I held the band over the heat and rotated it to evenly heat the entire band (Photo 1). Once it was heated (just a few minutes) I then took it to the work table and pressed the band in place on a metal plate I use for setting the bands. Sometimes this takes several trips between the heat and the plate but this time one trip was all it took and the band was set (Photos 2 – 3).




I used a PIMO tenon turning tool to turn the tenon to fit the mortise. I generally turn it until it is close and then finish the fit by hand with sandpaper (Photo 1). After sanding the stem fit quite well in terms of the tenon. It was snug and flush against the shank – no light showing through (Photos 2 -3). I used the Dremel with a sanding drum to remove the excess vulcanite on the stem and to shape it to match the diameter of the shank. I sand carefully with the sanding drum to bring it as close as possible to the size I want. You have to be careful and steady so that you do not nick the shank or the band while doing this. The finishing fit is done by hand with files and sandpaper (Photos 4 – 5).






The next series of seven photos show the shaping process. I begin with a medium grit emery paper and sand out the scratches left behind by the Dremel. I shape the stem with this paper to the point where the flow and fit of the stem is what I am looking for (Photos 1 – 2). I then move on to 220 grit sandpaper and continue to remove the scratches and shape the stem (Photos 3 – 4). It then finish this shaping with a fine grit sanding sponge and polish out more of the scratches. Each grit of paper brings the stem closer to the finished shape (Photos 5 – 7).








I apologize for the graininess of the next two photos but they show the bowl after I had stained it. I used a dark brown aniline stain thinned with one part alcohol. I wanted a rich reddish brown colour on this old timer so I thinned the stain to match the colour I wanted. I applied it to the bowl and rim, flamed it, reapplied it and flamed it again.




I worked on the stem with micromesh sanding pads. I also sanded the nickel band to bring out a polish to it as well. The next series of seven photos shows the progressive shine that comes to the stem with each successive grit of micromesh from 1500-12,000 grit. I wet sanded with the 1500-2400 grit and then dry sanded with the remaining grits.








I sanded the bowl with the higher grits of micromesh and then buffed the pipe with White Diamond to give the entirety a rich shine. I applied several coats of carnauba wax and buffed it with a soft flannel buff. The stain really highlights some of the beautiful grain on this pipe. I am glad I took the risk to bring this one back to life.





A Restemming Job with Memories of the Past

The third pipe I worked on in the lot below is the second one down in the third column. It is a Dublin like shape but probably properly is a freehand. It has a shallow sandblast finish with a two-tone stain. The undercoat is black and the top coat is brown. It is stamped on the left side of the shank Racine & Laramie in an arch over OLD TOWN SAN DIEGO over Banza in a script and then a line stamped Made in Italy. The look and feel of it says to me it is made by Lorenzo but I am not sure. When I read the stamping is when the memory came back. I have been in the Racine & Laramie tobacco shop in Old Town San Diego, California. It is a museum like tobacco shop that has a wide range of tobaccos and pipes in an old California mission style village setting. You can almost imagine cowboys riding up and tying up their horse to go in and get a pouch of fixin’s. The picture below is what I remember of the shop. It is from the website http://www.racineandlaramie.com/

Racine & Laramie

The following excerpt on the history of the shop comes from the website as well. I find it incredibly interesting reading.

History of Racine & Laramie
In 1868 Racine & Laramie became San Diego’s first Cigar Store. Having come from eastern Canada in the prosperity following the War Between the States, Messrs. Racine and Laramée sold cigars, tobacco, stationery, pipes, cutlery and gentlemen’s furnishings. The adobe they rented had been built in the 1820’s as the retirement home for leather-jacket soldier, Juan Rodriguez of the Royal Presidio. It was one of the first six buildings in the small pueblo, 500 registered voters, thousands of Kumeyaay. The Rodriguez family held ownership through periods of depression and Gold Rush boom, and their son, Ramon, was on the City Council. The widow Rodriguez had the building remodeled in 1867 and rented to Racine & Laramie and the Bank Exchange saloon. All was lost in the fire of 1872.

Using archeology, historic research and photographs this building has been reconstructed with the interior furnished and stocked as it may have been in that remote, frontier Pacific port. This picture gives a panoramic view of the interior of the shop looking at the cigar humidor.


It was this shop that I visited many times over the years. It is like stepping back in time to enter the old town and then to walk into the shop itself. I think the last time I was there was about six years ago now. I took the train from the downtown harbor area to the old town site. I walked through the reconstructed village. I must have spent 3 or 4 hours wandering around the site and ending up in the old tobacco shop. I looked at pipes and tobaccos before settling on a couple of tins. I think I picked up some Dunhill EMP and maybe a tin of McClelland Dark Star before catching the train back into town.

Needless to say when I found this pipe bowl among the lot pictured below I restemmed it and while working on it relived my visits to the pipe shop in Old Town San Diego.


The finish on the pipe was in pretty good shape – slight wear on the shank area and on the rim left the stain spotty in those areas. The bowl was caked – but differently than most of the pipes I work on. Its cake was primarily in the bottom half of the bowl. The bottom half was thickly caked while the top was not as bad. The photo below shows the bowl as it was when I took it to the work table. The sandblast is either worn from use or it is a lightly blasted finish. The shank was in very good shape and there were no cracks of damage to the inside. The drilling is a bit funny on this as well. It is drilled with a relatively deep mortise and the airway is drilled at the top of the arc of the mortise. It then drops at a sharp angle into the bowl coming out just left of centre in the bottom of the bowl. Because of the high drilling the mortise acts as a sump similar to the Peterson sump in the shank of the system pipes. It was dirty but not with any aromatic residue. Rather the pipe smelled of Virginias and would take little to clean it up.


This pipe that took me several tries to get a stem that would work. This was not due to the look or feel of the stem but due to unforeseen troubles. The first was a nice saddle stem. I turned the tenon and had a great fit on it. I heated it with my heat gun and tried to bend it over my rolling pin to aid in getting the right angles on it. The heat made it very flexible and as I bent it to the correct angle it just snapped in two parts. Those things happen and in this case it was a frustration to be sure – so back to the drawing board. This time I chose a tapered stem. I turned the tenon and fit it to the mortise. I then used the Dremel with the sanding drum to remove the excess material and fit it to the diameter of the shank. I then sanded it with 220 grit sandpaper to finish the fit of the stem. The next three photos show the newly fit stem.




I reamed the pipe with the PipNet reamer and cleaned out cake from the bottom of the bowl. I had to use two different cutting heads on the reamer to get it to remove the cake. The smallest head fit into the bottom half of the bowl and I was able to cut it back until the third head fit and removed cake from the top half and the remaining cake on the bottom half.


I wiped down the bowl and shank with acetone on a cotton pad to remove some of the top coat of stain and even out the lighter areas and the darker areas where the stain was still present. My goal was not to remove all of the stain present but merely even out the top coat so that I could more easily blend in the new stain coat.


Then with a bit of fear and trepidation, after breaking the first stem, I took the stem to the heat gun and heated it so that I could bend it into shape. I inserted a pipe cleaner in the airway as the bend would be quite significant and I did not want to risk having the airway collapse or kink. I heated it a high heat setting until the stem was flexible. I want the bend to be quite high up the stem toward the shank and not just on the thin portion of the stem so it took some time over the heat to make the stem bendable. I kept the stem moving over the heat as I did not want to burn the vulcanite. Once it was pliable I bend it over an old rolling pin that I have absconded with for that purpose. I have a heavy cardboard tube over the pin so that the surface is very smooth for the bend. Any cracks or rough spots on the rolling pin translate into wrinkles in the hot vulcanite.




In the first photo below the bend in the stem can be seen after the first heating. I took it back to my worktable and took the photo below so that I could have a clear look at the bend in comparison with the curves in the bowl. It was not bent enough so I took it back to the heat gun, reheated it and bent it further. The second and third photos below show the final bend that I was aiming for. The bend in the stem reflects the curve of the bottom of the bowl and gives the pipe a pleasant flow. It is also bent perfectly for the pipe to sit well in the mouth.




With the stem bent to the proper angle I worked on its finish with the micromesh sanding pads. I wet sanded the stem with 1500 grit until the major surface flaws were no longer present. The scratches left behind by the sandpaper were gone when I had finished wet sanding it.





I restained the bowl with a dark brown aniline stain thinned to 2 parts stain to 1 part isopropyl alcohol to match the existing stain on the bowl. I applied the stain with a cotton swab, flamed it with a lighter, reapplied more stain and then flamed it again to get the match correct. When finished I took the pipe to the buffer and buffed the pipe and the stem with White Diamond. The next three photos below show the pipe as it stood at this point in the process. The finished shape is very clear in these photos.




I brought it back to the worktable and continued sanding with the micromesh sanding pads. I wet sanded the stem with 1800 and 2400 grit sanding pads. I wiped the stem down between sanding to see how it was progressing. Then I dry sanded with 3200-12,000 grit sanding pads to finish polishing the stem. The next series of four photos show the progressive shine on the stem.





Once the stem was polished I buffed it a second time with White Diamond and then coated the stem with a rub down of Obsidian Oil and let that soak in. After it was dry I rubbed down the stem with a clean cotton rag to bring out the shine even more.


The final four photos show the finished pipe with its new stem. The old Racine & Laramie pipe was back in action and ready to smoke. The back story to this one is as interesting as the old pipe. I wonder the path it took from San Diego to Chicago area and then up to Vancouver, British Columbia. I wonder where it lost its stem along the path it travelled. I only wish it could tell the stories of its travels and the pipemen who smoked it along that journey. I will probably never know the story but at least my imagination can create a suitable tale for the pipe before I too send it on its way, for I am sure it will outlive me as it passes into the hands of future pipemen who come after me.





Redeeming a Disaster – A Repair with a Happy Ending

On Christmas Eve I decided to start working on a little acorn shaped pipe bowl that I have had here for quite awhile. It sat in my repair box in wait for the right moment for me to take it to the work table. It needed a stem and the shank was set up for a metal screw in tenon. I did not have any metal threaded tenons that fit the shank well or I could have made a stem for the pipe and inserted the threaded tenon. The time was right and I wanted to try something a bit different on this one. It did not matter if it worked or not really as it was truly a disposable pipe. With that freedom in mind I decided to fit the bowl with a push tenon stem. To make that work involved removing the metal insert from the shank. I reamed the bowl and cleaned out the shank to get it ready for removing the insert. I tried to twist if out as I figured that it was screwed into the shank. No such luck. It was tight and I could not remove it after using heat or putting it into the freezer to cause it to contract and loosen. I made a decision at that moment that did not end well – at least in the short term.

I set up my cordless drill with a bit that would open up the shank. My thinking was that if I could not removed the insert I would drill it open and smooth so that it would take a regular push tenon with no problem. I started with a drill bit virtually the same size as the airway and then planned on moving up to larger drill bits as the work progressed. The initial drilling worked well and the threads were smoothed out. So far so good! I was pretty excited to watch the airway smoothing out and opening up. Then I changed the drill bit for the next size up and drilled it a second time. I progressed slowly holding the bowl in my hand as I drilled the shank. I have done this before and did expect any problems. You know the thinking right – it worked well in the past so I could expect it to work the same this time around. So with full confidence I worked away. Then disaster struck. A few moments after starting to drill with the slightly larger bit the shank literally shattered in my hand. I was left holding four pieces of broken briar in my hand. The bottom half of the shank remained intact but the upper half was in three pieces. The metal insert remained unmovable in the bottom portion of the shank.

I was a bit stunned and almost binned the broken briar. What had at first appeared to be a good idea was reduced to something that I was ready to throw away and write off as a learning experience. However, I stopped and looked at the pieces for awhile. I thought about cutting the shank off and adding a shank extension to do one of Piet’s Hot Rods. I weighed the pros and cons of that and still was not certain whether I wanted to go to that trouble for this pipe. I took the pieces and puzzled them together to see what the damage looked like when it was put back together. I examined it closely and could see that the break was at least very clean and the surface was not chipped or damaged. I used a dental pick to remove the metal insert from the shank. I decided to get out the super glue and put the pieces back together for a look. With all the pieces in place the pipe looked okay. I sanded off the excess glue from the shank and used some acetone to clean off the stain that was on the shank and bowl. It looked like there was some promise. I decided to strengthen the bond with a nickel band. I heated a nickel band with my heat gun and carefully pressure fit the band on the shank. The repaired pipe was going to be workable.


I sanded the bowl and the shank and wiped it down repeatedly with acetone. The idea was to remove all of the remaining lacquer finish and even out the stain. I wanted to get the bowl back to bare wood as much as possible before restaining. Once I had it clean I sanded it again with a fine grit sponge backed sanding pad. I continued to sand it with the micromesh sanding pads from 1500-12,000 grit to prepare it for staining.

I had an old saddle stem that would fit the shank dimensions in my box of scavenged stems. I turned the tenon to fit the newly cleaned shank and did the initial sanding to remove the oxidation on the stem. I used the same sponge back sanding pad I used on the bowl as it allows good access to the saddle areas of the stem. The photos below show the newly fit stem. I have quite a bit more work to do on the stem and bowl to bring the pipe to a finished condition but the promise is definitely there. In the second and third top view photo below you can see the repaired shank. I am pretty confident that it will be pretty well hidden by the staining.


Before restaining the bowl I decided to work on the stem and get it polished and smooth. I used the 1500 and 1800 micromesh pads to do the sanding and polishing before using the Maguiar’s polishing compound. I have started to use it after the first two or three micromesh sanding grits. I rub it on by hand and then scrub it with a soft cotton pads before wiping it off. I repeat this polishing process with the compound two times before proceeding to working through the remaining micromesh grits. I sanded the stem with 2400 and 3200 grit and took it to the buffer and used Tripoli to buff away the scratches and the oxidation that remained at this point in the process. I also buffed the bowl with the Tripoli. Once back to the work table I used 3600 and 4000 grit before giving the stem a rub down with Obsidian Oil. The four pictures below show the pipe as it looks at this point. The bowl is ready to stain and the stem is getting close to the finished look. There is still some oxidation around the saddle area that will need some more work.


I decided to use an oxblood coloured aniline stain on the pipe to try to minimize the visibility of the repair to the shank. I used a cotton swab to apply the stain, flamed it and then buffed it off with a soft cotton cloth before taking it to the buffer and buffing it with White Diamond. After buffing I waxed it with several coats of carnauba wax to give it a shine.


I also finished the polish on the stem using White Diamond on the buffer before finishing with the remaining three grits of micromesh pads – 6000, 8000 and 12,000. I gave it a final buff with White Diamond and then rubbed it down with some Obsidian Oil. I finished the stem with several coats of carnauba wax. The four photos below show the finished pipe. The repair to the stem is visible if you look closely but the redemption of this broken pipe is complete and it is ready to smoke.