Tag Archives: restaining bowls and rims

Restoring a GBD 730 Toreador Volcano

I picked this old-timer up at an antique mall in Edmonton, Alberta two weeks ago. It was part of the threesome of pipes and tobacco and pipe cleaners that I purchased at the mall that day. In the photo below it is the pipe on the bottom of the picture.
I had never seen the stamping on a GBD nor had I seen the shape number. It is not listed on any of the GBD name or shape charts that I have on my computer. I wrote to a friend who works with a lot of GBDs and he replied as follows: “I have not heard of a “Toreador” line, but nothing surprises me on GBD lines. They had a seemingly endless array of model lines. The 730 shape isn’t listed on my shape charts, but they are full of holes and I constantly see shape new shape numbers pop up. The pre-Cadogan key is the “London, England” stamp coupled with a metal rondel. “Made in London England” in a circle is Cadogan era, even with a metal rondell”. From my research and his I looked at the stampings on this pipe. It is stamped GBD in an oval over Toreador on the top of the shank. On the underside it is stamped London, England over 730. This would seem to put the date of this pipe in the pre-Cadogan era.

The next series of six photos show the pipe as it was when I found it. The first picture was taken at the antique mall with my iPhone. The remaining five photos were taken at my work bench before beginning to work on the pipe. The bowl was thickly caked with a hard buildup of carbon. The rim was coated with tars and buildup as well. The stem was upside down when I picked it up and very tight. I was able to turn it and straighten it out for the picture. It was oxidized and there was a line across the stem that showed where it had a rubber bite guard in place on it. There were two tooth marks on the top of the stem visible below and also two on the underside of the stem near the button. The slot in the end of the button was closed off with tar and the shank and inside of the stem were filthy.





I decided to use my PipNet reaming set on the bowl. I started with the smallest bit and worked it around. Once I dumped out the cuttings I used the next size up to take the cake back to the briar. I like to start over and build my own cake in the bowl. I find that I can develop a hard cake when I work at it slowly.


Once I reamed the bowl out to the way I like it I worked on the rim of the bowl. I used some fine grit emery cloth to start breaking up the hard tars and then a fine grit sanding sponge to remove what remained. I work to keep the sharp inner and outer edge of the rim. I do not like it when it is rounded. This rim was also chamfered in toward the bowl and I wanted to keep the angles on that even when I was finished working it over. The next two photos show the cleaned rim. It has been sanded and the buildup is removed. There is a bit of rim darkening that will come off with a bit more work.

The next four photos show the bowl after I have wiped it down with acetone on a cotton pad. The darkening on the rim is growing fainter with each wipe. The pads are coloured from the dirt and grime as well as the stain from the pipe. I have found that the dark and medium brown wipe off and leave a yellow colour on the pads. I repeated the wipe down several times until the surfaces were clean.



After wiping the bowl down I cleaned out the stem and the shank. I used pipe cleaners and Everclear to scrub out the insides of the stem and shank. I scrubbed until they came out clean. I worked on the area of the button slot to clean out the tar buildup in that area. Then I decided to work on the stem. I sanded out the calcification on the stem from the rubber stem bite protector. It leaves a white sediment buildup that is rock hard so I sand it with medium grit emery paper. Removing this buildup also reveals the depth and nature of the tooth marks in the stem. The first picture below shows the topside of the stem and the tooth marks. The second picture shows the underside of the stem and the two tooth marks next to the button.

I then sanded the stem with 240 grit sandpaper and the medium grit sanding sponge to further remove the scratches and clean up around the tooth marks. Once I had the stem cleaned up of the white buildup and the scratches reduced I wiped down the stem with Everclear. I heated the surface of the stem with a lighter to lift the tooth marks as much as possible and then I picked out the grit and grime in the tooth marks with a dental pick to provide a clean surface for the superglue repair. The first two photos show the sanded stem and cleaned surface. The third and fourth photos below show the superglue patch. On this stem I chose to use clear superglue rather than the black glue. I often use them interchangeably.



I set the stem aside to dry and worked on the bowl again. I wiped it down a final time with acetone on a cotton pad. I chose to stain it with a dark brown aniline stain, thinned 2:1 with isopropyl alcohol. I did not want to darken the colour of the pipe but merely bring it back to its original colour as determined from several other smooth GBD pipes of this era. I gave it a coat of stain and flamed it with a lighter. I reapplied the stain and also flamed it a second time. The next series of four photos show the pipe after it has been stain. I wiped it down with a soft cloth. It had not been buffed at this point.



After the initial staining the colour was a bit dark and opaque to my liking so I use a cotton pad and wiped the bowl down with Everclear to lighten it and make the grain stand out a bit more. The next four photos show the bowl after wiping it down.



With the bowl finished it was time to work on the stem once again. The superglue was dry and it was time to do some sanding. The next two photos below show the stem after sanding on the patches. The topside and the underside tooth marks are repaired and even with the surface of the stem at this point. Now the stem needed to be worked on with further sandpapers and the micromesh sanding pads.

I wet sanded the stem with 1500 and 1800 grit micromesh sanding pads to remove the scratches left by the other sandpapers. I wet the sanding pads and then sanded the stem, wiped off the grime and water and resanded it until the majority of the scratches were removed from the surface of the stem. I worked the pads around the GBD rondel so as not to sand it and remove surface or stain in the metal. The next two photos show the stem after sanding with these two grits.

I had read much about using the Barkeepers Friend cleaner to remove oxidation so I mixed up a paste of the powder and scoured the stem with a tooth-brush. The paste worked very well to remove the oxidation around the rondel and around the sharp edges of the button. It really took care of the remaining oxidation. I applied the paste, wiped it off, rinsed, reapplied and repeated the process until I was satisfied with the results. The next two photos show the stem after polishing with the paste.

I then sanded the stem with 2400 and 3200 grit micromesh sanding pads to begin to bring out the shine. I also applied a coat of Obsidian Oil to the stem, rubbed it in and let it dry. The first two photos below show the stem after this treatment. Photos three and four show the stem after I had dry sanded it 3600 grit micromesh sanding pads. Photos five and six show the stem after I had finished sanding it with the remaining 4000 – 12,000 grits of micromesh sanding pads. I gave it another coat of Obsidian Oil before I took the pipe to the buffer and gave it a final buff with White Diamond.





The final series of four photos show the finished pipe. There are some dents remaining in the surface of the rim that show up under the light of the flash. They are not nearly as visible in normal light. The pipe is ready to be put to use. It came a long way from the shelf of the Edmonton Antique Mall to the finished pipe it is now.




Reclaiming an EPW Bulldog – Restoring it Twice

Blog by Steve Laug

This old time long shanked bulldog was a mess when I got it. At first glance it looks pretty good. But it was not. The shank had previously been banded and that band was lost. It was a deep band and filigreed so it left marks. There were also two large cracks in the shank that extended about an inch into the length. The rim was clean but the top portion of the bulldog shape – above the double rings was also stained and filled with holes from the nails that had held the decorated rim cap in place. There were four holes – back, front and both sides. There were also deep gouges where the decorative border had cut into the briar. The stamping was faint and read EPW in an oval. There was no stem with this one either so it would need to have one made. The overall finish on the bowl was not too bad in that it was not dented or burned or damaged on the sides and undersides of the bowl.  I decided to try banding the shank and see what I could do about the cracks on the top right side of the shank and the lower left side of the shank. They would in all likelihood be an issue. I did not have a deep band so I tried with a narrower band (about ½ inch deep). I shaped a round band with a flat blade screwdriver and a hammer until it was the right shape to fit the shank. I heated the band and pressed it into place.


The next three photos show the band in place. If you look close in the photos below you can see the crack on the top of the right side shank. The one on the left underside of the shank did not come out in the photos. You can also see the nail holes in the bowl above the double rings.

IMG_0688 IMG_0687 IMG_0686

The next series of three photos shows the fitting of a new tenon. I drilled the stem and then used a tap to thread the stem so that I could screw in the new tenon. In the photos below you can see the tap in the stem and the new threaded tenon just above the bowl at the centre of the picture. The third photo shows the hole in the stem threaded and ready for the new tenon.

IMG_0678 IMG_0679IMG_0680

Once the stem was ready I dripped a little superglue on the tenon and screwed it into the stem. The next two photos show the tenon in place. I still needed to turn it with the Pimo tenon turner to reduce the size to fit the shank of the pipe.


I used the tenon turner and reduce the diameter of the tenon until it was close to fitting and then hand sanded it until it fit correctly. With the cracked shank the fit was critical. I did not want the tenon too big as it would open the cracks. The two photos below show the tenon after turning. It still needed a bit more hand sanding to make a perfect fit.


The next four photos below show the restemmed pipe. The stem fit perfectly against the band and the look was exactly what I was aiming for. The issue that remained was the two cracks that extended further than the band.


The next three photos show the work of patching the nail holes and the cracks with briar dust and superglue. I packed in the briar dust with my dental pick until they were filled and then I dripped the superglue into the spots. Once they were dry I sanded them down to remove the excess and blend them into the surrounding bowl. I wanted them to be less visible and be able to be blended in with the stain when I got around to staining it.


With the nail holes filled on the front and back of the bowl I was finished with the patching for now. I still was bothered by the ones on the sides of the bowl but would deal with them later. I sanded down the patches one more time with a fine grit sanding sponge and then wiped the bowl and shank down with an alcohol dampened cotton pad to remove the dust and remaining finish. The next series of eight photos shows that process as I prepared the bowl to be restained.


I restained the pipe with an oxblood aniline stain. The next series of four photos shows the pipe after staining. The nail holes and small holes on both sides of the bowl really bothered me. The cracks, while well bonded stood out clearly and made me wonder about how well they would hold up. I laid the pipe aside for a couple days to think about some solutions to the problem. I mulled over whether I should order a deeper band for the shank or whether I should cut down the shank and make it a normal sized bulldog. I did nothing to the pipe for two days and then on the third evening I came home and went to my work table to see what I could do to deal with the damage on the old pipe.


I decided to cut off the shank at the inside edge of the nickel band. I wanted to use the nickel band as the straight edge for the saw. I have seen too many pipes where the cut off shank was poorly cut and at an angle. So I used a hacksaw that has a perfect blade for working with briar. The teeth are fine so they do not chip the wood as they cut it. The cut when completed is clean and smooth with no chips. The next three photos show the set up for cutting and the cutting process itself. (I apologize for the second photo – it is hard to saw and take a photo!) But you can get the idea. The third photo below shows the finished cut.


I took the two pieces back to my work table and removed the cut off piece of briar shank from the band. When they fell out they were in two pieces. I cleaned up the band and straightened out the angles to make sure it would fit the shortened shank. It was just a bit too deep and when in place would cover the W of the stamping but it would do a good job on the cracks. With the piece cut off the cracked shank had two very small cracks left that would easily be repaired by the band. I smoothed out the cut end with a piece of emery paper. In the second photo below you can see the cut off shank piece. It is cracked all the way through and in two pieces. Note also that the mortise was threaded for the older original screw tenon.


I put the band in place on the end of the shank. It was a good tight fit but would not slide all the way in place. So I set up my heat gun and heated the band (Photo 1 below). I then pressed it into place on the shank by squarely pushing the shank and band on a metal plate (Photo 2 below). The final three photos below show the shank with the newly fitted band in place. The shank is ready to be drilled deeper to fit the tenon.


I matched the drill bit to the mortise in the cut off piece of shank. I used a drill bit one size lower and drilled the mortise to the depth of the tenon. I then used the proper sized drill bit and drilled it a bit larger. Once I had the drilling down I sanded down the tenon with some emery cloth to make a clean tight fit and inserted the stem. Once the stem fit well I decided to rework the nail holes and holes in the sides of the top half of the bowl above the double rings. I packed in briar dust and dripped super glue in to them. The next two photos show the repaired/filled holes.


The glue and briar dust dried quickly so I sanded them with 320 grit sandpaper to smooth them out to the surface of the briar. The next four photos show the sanded patches and also the sanded stem. I used the same sandpaper to sand off the oxidation on the stem and clean up the surface of the stem so that I could work on it with the micromesh to bring out a deep black shine. (In the background of the photos I left the piece of cut off shank for a sense of the size of the piece I removed from the length of the pipe.)


At this point in the process I was ready to work the stem with micromesh sanding pads to remove all of the scratches and bring back the deep black. The shorter stem gave the pipe a great look in my opinion. The finished length is 5 inches as opposed to 5 ½ inches but it looks more balanced to me. The loss is the long shanked look of the original bulldog. The gain is a more solid pipe with less chance for the breakage to continue and render the pipe irreparable.

The next series of photos show the progress of sanding with the micromesh pads from 1500 – 12,000 grit. The first four photos show the stem after I wet sanded with the 1500, 1800 and 2400 grit micromesh. After wet sanding I polished the stem with some Maguiar’s Scratch X2.0 and then took it to the buffer and buffed the stem with Tripoli and White Diamond.


I then dry sanded with 3200 -12,000 grit micromesh sanding pads. The next series of seven photos show the progress of the developing shine on the stem. Once I finished with the 12,000 grit pad I wiped down the stem with Obsidian Oil and when dry buffed it with White Diamond for a final time. The only thing remaining was a final buff with carnauba wax.


The final four photos below show the finished pipe. I applied several coats of carnauba wax and buffed the pipe and stem with a soft flannel buff to give it the final shine. When I started on this pipe I would have never guessed that I would refurbish it twice, band it twice, stain it twice, work the stem twice, and on goes the list of second times on this one. But the end product speaks for itself. I like the look of the shortened shank and tight band. This one will outlast me in its service to pipemen in the days ahead.


Restored CPF Bent Billiard – A Reclamation Project

This is the second CPF pipe bowl that was in the lot from EBay. It is a billiard and it was in very rough shape at first glance. It is an old timer. The rim cover and the band were badly oxidized to the point of being crusty with oxidation and a greenish hue. They were also rough to the touch which led me to believe that they were pitted underneath all of the oxidation. It came stemless but I found a stem of the proper age in my can of stems. The finish was rough but there were no deep dings or dents. There was a deep, almost black darkening around the bowl just under the rim cap. The darkening was such that made me think that the oxidation had oozed into the briar and would be interesting to remove from the finish. The same was true of the area around the shank cap. The rim cap originally had a hinged lid on it but that was gone. The shank cap was also loose and when I touched it, it came off. The briar underneath was thick with a reddish coloured glue but was also free of cracks or fissures. It was intact. After the initial examination I came to see that underneath the grime there was a pretty nice piece of briar. The first series of three photos shows the state of the pipe when I took it to my work bench to begin working late yesterday afternoon.


I decided to work on the oxidation on the shank cap and the rim cap. I wanted to see if either one was redeemable. I used a jeweler’s tarnish remover called Hagerty to work on the finish of both. I applied it with a cotton swab and scrubbed it with that until it was dry. Then I wiped it off with a cotton pad. In doing this I saw that the rim cap and the shank cap were both brass. The rim cap had two tears or cracks in it around the hinge that showed up once it was clean. The next two photos show the tarnish remover on the rim and shank caps.


After the initial cleaning of the two I decided to remove the cracked rim cap. This was not as easy as it appears in the photos as it was nailed to the rim and also was pretty tightly bonded with the tars and oils of the tobacco. I used a pair of needle nose pliers and a flat blade screw driver to lift the edge of the cap. I began at the hinge and lifted it from there. It came off with a bit of work and broke at the two nails that held it to the rim mid bowl on each side. The back half of the cap came off in one piece. I was able to lift the front edge carefully using the flat blade of the screw driver to pry the edge and work my way to the front. The nail on the right side came out with the cap while the one on the left side was stuck. I used the flat blade of the screwdriver to lift it from the surface of the rim without scarring the rim and pulled it out with the pliers. Underneath the rim surface was actually smooth and had a slight caking of oils that would come off easily. The two nail holes would need to be filled. The one on the right side of the bowl had been put in at an angle and would take a little more work to repair. The first picture below shows the torn rim cap on the work table next to the pipe bowl. The holes and the state of the rim are also clearly visible. The second picture shows the darkening that seeped down the edges of the bowl from underneath the rim cap.


I used briar dust and superglue to fill the two nail holes. It took several applications to get a smooth and even surface. I packed some briar dust into the nail hole with my dental pick and my finger. I wanted the briar dust to fill the holes so I tamped them down with the dental pick. Then I dripped in the superglue to bind the briar dust to the surrounding area. The first photo below shows the top of the rim after briar dust superglue patch has been done.


After patching the nail holes I worked on the stain line around the bowl. I removed the finish from the bowl with a cotton pad soaked with acetone. I continued to wipe it down until the finish was gone. After that I sanded it with a medium grit sanding sponge. The next six photos show the sanding process with the sponge. I also sanded the end cap with the sponge being careful around the CPF stamping that I had found under the oxidation.


The dark lines were better after the sanding but still very present. I was able to remove the indentation in the briar from the metal cap to a large degree but the black was stubborn. I decided to soak the bowl in an alcohol bath to see what would come out. I took the shank cap off to work on it while I left the bowl in the bath for about an hour. I was able to remove much of the oxidation on the shank cap. I scrubbed it with the tarnish remover and then sanded it with the micromesh sanding pads using 1500-2400 grit pads.


Once I remove it from the bath I dried it off and the lines were lighter than before. I sanded the bowl some more with the sanding sponge and glued the shank cap on with white glue. I wait to glue it on until I am done with the alcohol and acetone as I found out the hard way the glue is dissolved and has to be redone. After that I reinserted the stem and set up my heat gun to bend the stem to the correct angles. The next four photos show the bending of the stem from its beginning to the final look after bending.


I took it back to the work table and did some more sanding on the bowl especially working on the surface around the top sides near the rim. The black line was stubborn. I wiped it down with white vinegar to see if it would lift any of the stain as I remembered reading about that in an old book on furniture repair on how to remove dark rings from the wood. I also wet a cotton pad with bleach and wiped down the area as well. The result of all that work is evident in the two photos below. It was not going to come out so I sanded it with 1800-3600 grit micromesh sanding pads and then wiped it down with an alcohol dampened cotton pad to remove the surface dust and prepared to stain it. The two photos below show the bowl ready to stain. (Incidentally note the shine on the shank cap. It cleaned up amazingly well.)


I applied an oxblood thick aniline stain for the first coat. I flamed it and reapplied it and flamed it a second time (the first two photos below show the staining of the bowl with the oxblood stain). I then buffed it off to see what I had to work with. The black lines still showed so I restained the bowl around the top edge to see if I could darken that area and mask the black (photos three and four show this process).


I buffed it a second time to see where I was at with the staining. You can see from the next two photos the effect of that restaining around the top of the bowl. It did indeed darken the edge but the line was still visible and I did not like the look of the dark edge. So I buffed it yet again to see if I could smooth out that look a bit more.


I was not happy with the finished look after buffing. The darkening around the edge still showed both in the top edge of the bowl and around the end cap. I decided to restain the bowl with a dark brown aniline stain. So I applied the stain, flamed it and restained and flamed it a second time. The next two photos show the pipe after the stain had been flamed and had dried.


I buffed it to see how the second stain had covered the darkening around the top edge and near the shank cap. I was pleased by the overall look now. It was still there for sure but it certainly was less visible and blended in well with the finish. The next four photos show the pipe after restaining and buffing.


I set the bowl aside and worked on the stem. I sanded it with micromesh sanding pads 1500 – 12,000 grit to polish the stem. I put the stem back in the bowl and then took the pipe to the buffer and gave the entire pipe a buff with White Diamond and then gave both the stem and bowl multiple coats of carnauba. The finished pipe is picture below. It came out very well and the black line around the top edge seems to be less visible. The pipe is restored to a bit of its former glory!


Cleaning Up an Interesting Dr. Bernard Deluxe System Pipe

When I initially took this one out of the box I figured it would be an easy cleanup. It did not turn out that way. It is stamped Dr. Bernard over de Luxe on the left side of the shank and on the right side it is stamped ALGERIAN BRIAR over France and that is stamped over Made in France. The first two lines were not lined up and they are actually on top of the made in France line. The finish looked pretty clean and the bowl and rim were also clean. The stem was lightly oxidized and had a stamp on it that says Dr. B. It also had a little tooth chatter near the button on the top and the bottom of the stem. The first four photos below show the pipe when I started.


The worst thing on the exterior of the pipe was a large fill, about the size of the end of my thumb. It stood out in all of it pink putty look each time you held the pipe in your hand. It is clear in the photo below. I thought about rusticating the pipe but decided that with a fill that large I would be better off leaving it alone. I would have to work on it to try to blend it in a bit better with the stain on the bowl.



I decided to address the tooth chatter and oxidation on the stem first. I sanded the tooth chatter with 320 grit sandpaper to remove scratches and marks. The first two photos below show the tooth chatter removed and now the stem would need to be sanded and polished. The next series of four photos show the filter apparatus in place and after I took it apart to clean it. I then removed the stem from the shank, cleaned out the shank and examined the filter apparatus on the pipe. I removed the cap from the end of the filter and underneath was a metal tube inside the shank. I cleaned the stem with pipe cleaners and isopropyl alcohol and then cleaned the cap with cotton swabs and isopropyl. Once it was clean I polished it with 0000 steel wool to give it a shine and remove the stains on the metal. I also sanded the stem with a fine grit sanding sponge to begin to remove the scratches and oxidation.


I went back to the fill on the bowl. I decided to draw in some graining on the fill that matched the grain surrounding it using a permanent marker. I have done this in the past and it allows you to blend the stain on the bowl and mask the fill so it does not stand out as much.


After drawing on the grain pattern I stained the bowl with an oxblood stain. The first photo below shows the finished look. Once the bowl was dry I buffed it on the buffer and the stain coat wiped off in major chunks. It did not permeate the bowl at all. I also was able to wipe of the grain pattern I had drawn on the pipe. This kind of frustrating occurrence while cleaning up a pipe is just part of the process. I cleaned off the stain with a cotton pad and acetone and then noticed that the pipe had been given a very thin coat of varnish (matte finish) over the bowl. I would need to remove this finish in order to restain the pipe. So back to the table it went.


I wiped down the bowl with acetone until the varnish coat was broken and then sanded the bowl with the fine grit sanding sponge to remove the remnants of the finish and get back to the briar itself. The next three photos show the cleaned bowl. The large fill on the back side of the bowl is also very clearly visible. I then redrew the grain marks on the bowl with the permanent marker to blend in the fill a bit more. In the fourth photo you can see the lines drawn in. They may appear to be too many and too dark at first look but I have learned that once I have stained the bowl with a few coats they will dissipate into the stain and will match the grain pattern in the bowl.


I worked on the stem and used the micromesh sanding pads from 1500-12,000 grit to polish the stem. I coated it with Obsidian Oil and set it aside. I restained the bowl with aniline based oxblood stain. I applied the stain heavily to the area of the fill. I flamed it and them polished it on my buffer. The next six photos show the restained bowl. The stain took this time. It also covered the fill but the lines were still to visible to my liking. I needed to add some more stain and let it dry this time without wiping it off or buffing it. I needed a bit more opacity in the stain on this portion of the bowl.


So I applied some more stain with a cotton swab to just the fill portion of the bowl. I set it aside to dry overnight and in the morning hand buffed that area of the pipe. I hand buffed with a shoe shine brush and a soft cotton cloth. Once I had finish I buffed it lightly with carnauba wax multiple times to give it a protective coating. The final four photos show the finished pipe. The fill is much more blended into the stain coat and the lines are there but more subtle. The fill is not as glaringly staring at you while you hold the bowl. The pipe is ready to smoke and for me to experiment with the interesting filter apparatus.


Jichimu Wood Pipes – Robert Boughton


Jichimu Wood Pipes –  Guest Blog by Robert M. Boughton

“I think there should be collaboration, but under my thumb.”

—Elia Kazan, 1909-2003, Movie and Stage Director


All jokes aside, however waggish, every successful endeavor in life, from beginning to end, involves collaboration.  I emphasize the word successful since, of course, Man has free will as a prerogative and always, therefore, the choice to go it alone – to be able to say at the final moment, as Frank Sinatra rejoiced in song, “I did it my way.”  As a writer, for example, I may be competent, but even Ernest Hemingway had Maxwell Perkins as his brilliant editor for most of his literary career, and Elia Kazan (quoted above) directed such movie titans as Marlon Brando, Vivien Leigh, Gregory Peck and on multiple occasions Karl Malden, all of whom had something to do with their two-time Academy Award-winning master’s ultimate success.  The word collaborate, from the Latin co for together combined with laborare, meaning, as one might guess, to labor or work, also has a negative connotation.  The four-year French Vichy Regime’s coöperation with the Nazis during World War II, in which certain French military and civilian leaders surrendered to Germany in exchange for a deluded pretense of self-government without such details as a new constitution, comes to mind.  Yet the same negative collaboration of these traitorous Frenchmen led to the positive sort, including the infamous underground Resistance Movement, and in turn became instrumental in the Allied invasion of Normandy and the ultimate liberation of France.

If perhaps on less historic and adventurous levels, most of us, throughout our lives, seek the help and experience of friends and even the kindness of strangers, so the concept of collaboration came easily to me.  I long ago learned to ask questions when I did not know the answers.  Again, I emphasize the phrase for the most part: my dear dad, who is still with us, is a genius and by consequence a fount of enlightenment on at least a passable level in almost every study of human knowledge (except literature, which when brought up created an odd defensiveness in the man).  While he was happy to explain to me in detail diverse topics — including what makes the sky blue, the technical elements of Old Master paintings, the rudiments of handwriting analysis, the basic design and operation of a combustion engine and the concept of imaginary numbers — for definitions or spellings of words or synonyms and antonyms, my father in his own inner crucible reached critical mass when I was about 13 and started referring me without hesitation to his huge, old, worn editions of Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary  and Roget’s Thesaurus until I learned to seek them out myself.   Of course, I did not much care for my dad’s well-meaning if snarky habit of advising me to engage my brain before my mouth, but I am grateful nevertheless for the gift of research he taught me.  Now I prefer my own complete Oxford English Dictionary and the Oxford American Thesaurus or a great online alternative for the latter.

To be honest, though, for most of my life I have been the one doing the majority of seeking of knowledge from other people, whether asking outright or trying to get the desired information in a more oblique manner, or as a writer employing my powers of observation to study the characteristics, voices and other nuances that raconteurs everywhere simmer together in their stories.  And so I had an uncommon, almost uncomfortable, tingle of pride when the refinishings and restorations of the two jichimu churchwarden bowls that are the topic of this blog were complete and I asked Chuck Richards (my fellow local pipe club member and the master restorer responsible for the main work on one of the pair}, with all sincerity, what I could have done better to prepare and wax by hand my project – and his reply was, “Absolutely nothing.”   Then, just this past month, Chuck gave me a real loop at our club meeting when he began to speak about a 19th century Colossus Pipe Factory (CPF) Best Make, real gold-banded, amber-stemmed, turned bowl lion’s head Meerschaum he had acquired in trade and mentioned that he had a challenge.  After he unveiled the damaged but gorgeous golden Meer and passed it around the room for all of us to adore, and suggested that the details of its maker were a mystery to him, Chuck smiled and revealed that the challenge was for me to take the invaluable CPF home and see what I could dig up online about its origins.  To say the least, I was dumbstruck by Chuck’s trust in me.  To be more specific, I was honored beyond words that he wished to collaborate again on a different project than that which I will soon begin to address.  Maybe I’ll get back to the CPF another time.  By the way, I didn’t find much online that Chuck didn’t already know.  The exercise was only a test he knew I would enjoy.


Robert M. Boughton,
Photograph © Robert M. Boughton


Chuck Richards.
Photographs © Robert M. Boughton

Jichimu Wood, and a Note on One Pretender

Jichimu, or 中國雞翼木頭 (the literal translation of chicken wing wood), is a beautiful, unique, porous wood named for its tight, feathery quality resembling the wings of some chickens or pheasants that can change in color depending on the lighting or different angles of view.  Thus it has come to be known in common language as chicken wing or phoenix tail wood.   The estimation of this hardwood as one of China’s three most valued materials for antique furniture and other craft work is unequivocal.

jichimu3There are, in fact, two kinds of jichimu: old and new.  The old variety, being denser and purplish-brown, when cut straight allows for the magnificent patterns described above.  The new growth has purplish-black, straight, unclear grains (some purple, others black).  The wood is coarse, straight and rigid and therefore apt to split.  It is of the old jichimu that our refinishing and restoration projects are concerned.  The use of jichimu in royal furniture appears to date to the Ming Dynasty (1368-16jichimu444) and to have ended in the mid-Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), and although old jichimu still existed, it reportedly was replaced in woodworking in general by the new variety and other woods at the same time.  This explains why my chancing upon not only one but two virtual twin old jichimu churchwardens –they themselves being rare specimens of this type of pipe making – was, to say the least, fortuitous.


Jichimu pipe.
Photograph courtesy of and © Steve Laug.

While the most common use for jichimu isfurniture, in particular antique, just a few other items made with the favored and rare wood include chopsticks, bows for classical stringed instruments such as violins and cellos, iPhone cases – and, of course, smoking pipes.


African Wenge Pipe.Photo © Robert M. Boughton.

Now for a special warning about certain smoking pipes that are being advertised on Websites such as eBay as Chinese Chicken Wing Wood, of the genus Ormosia henryiAt least in most cases, these pipes (which appear authentic in almost every way) are in fact made of Wenge wood, a similar-looking but lesser-quality for pipes African genus (Millettia laurentii).  While still made from a very exotic wood, Wenge pipes lack the richer coloration and attributes more suitable for durable smoking pipes.  I found out the hard way: I bought one on eBay from a dealer in the People’s Republic of China with an excellent reputation, but I cannot bring myself to gripe at the total cost of $14.62 including free shipping. When the pipe arrived early, I noticed the Wenge marking on the right side of the pipe and thought it must be the maker or location.  Imagine my surprise when I Googled the name and came up with the truth.  Still, the Wenge smokes well and is one odder pipe for my collection, as well as a great conversation piece.

How Two Old Wood Jichimu Churchwardens Found Me

A funny thing happened during a trip to my local head shop a few years back, where I was, alas, well known.  No, I was not a patron of the establishment for, shall I say, its illicit wares.   In fact, although I am reluctant to admit the truth in so public and permanent fashion, I must, in order to clarify the reason I believe these two all but twin jichimu bowls found me rather than the other way around, make this digression.  You see, I found myself these years ago in this fine example of everything a well-rounded head shop should be, however rebuked its sort as a whole, after I had for the most part begun buying all of my pipe necessities at my local tobacconist.  But that night, I was in desperate need of pipe cleaners, which I knew the head shop just around the corner from where I lived carried, and my regular source had been closed for almost two hours.  What was I to do?

Of course, without a qualm I rushed to my car, risking a boondoggle because of the nefarious nature of my neighborhood (known in Albuquerque as the War Zone thanks to its high rate of violent crime).  I made my zigzag dash through long blocks of murky streets, slowing for multiple speed bumps and making a Byzantine course around all of the road barriers – these obstacles being in place to aid police in the apprehension of armed robbers and other dangerous felons – and in this fashion accomplished my mission through the free fire zone that would have taken a mere three block walk straight down my street and a brief jog across Route 66 had I been willing to risk a more than possible firefight with unknown strangers and perhaps even having to shoot the drug-addled ne’er-do-wells in this wild southwest Stand Your Ground state.  At any rate, I arrived intact at the head shop and was greeted as a friendly by the night crew despite my several-month absence.  As I told them what I needed, however, out of the corner of my eye I noticed in the glass case that the shop’s former meager stock of tobacco pipes had increased, and for the better.

Suffice it to say I was compelled to have a look, and the result was love at first sight, or at least lust, for the huge, thick, lustrous bowl and that which I could see of the apparent wavy lines of grain alone.  The stem itself appeared to be of shiny black Lucite and crafted with intricacy that included a wider, beveled round base section that then tapered and curved upward into the bit.  But the bowl – well, the bowl on its own merits had an intoxicating, alluring effect on me.  As a whole, the pipe I beheld was one of the most curious looking churchwardens upon which I had ever laid eyes.  The extraordinary pipe, with its ample bowl (1-3/4” x 2” outer and 1-1/4” x 1-3/8” inner), five-pronged head and shiny dark reddish although perhaps overdone coating seemed almost a fantastic contrast to the typical, more Elven-style churches in fashion.  Upon caressing and inspecting the pipe, which I was amazed to find could accommodate my index finger almost to the second joint with wiggle-room, in part by instinct I concluded $30 was a no-brainer.  At the time, the idea that the type of wood from which the pipe was carved would ever prove to be anything but briar never even occurred to me.

I must admit at this point that I was surprised not only when the stem broke but by how little time I had to enjoy my new churchwarden, which turned out to be quite a good smoker, before the sudden and catastrophic damage occurred without even any warning.  One minute I was sitting at my computer and smoking the church; the next, the stem snapped, and by chance I caught the bowl between my legs on its way to the hard tile floor.  Although every instinct in me opposed the idea, I had some Super Glue on hand and considered re-connecting the stem until I discovered not two but three pieces were involved, two large and one very small and jagged – and that they were cheap plastic.

Thinking without much hope that the head shop might have a spare stem on hand, and not knowing at the time that I could order a good one online, I returned whence I purchased the original.  Not to my surprise, the shop did not have a replacement for the stem except, to my astonishment, in the form of another, near twin version of the original product intact.  With some trepidation (after all, $30 is nothing to throw away, and I still was in the dark about the rareness of the wood from which each pipe was carved), I surrendered to the clerk’s laid-back upsell, despite my nagging suspicion that even in a head shop there existed a drawer, cupboard or box somewhere in the back area that contained a plethora of exchanged, discarded or otherwise abandoned samples.  Still, deep within the left side of my brain as I bought the whole pipe again – this one of which had but the slightest darker grains along the front and back of the bowl – was the idea that I might at some point locate suitable stems for both and sell or trade one of the two atypical churchwardens to an appreciative aficionado.  As an afterthought, I even went so far as to scrutinize the new stem for cracks or other imperfections.  In short, because of my original trip to the local head shop for some tobacco pipe cleaners and subsequent additional purchase of one still-unidentified jichimu churchwarden, the stem of which soon broke calling for another visit to the shop hoping only to find a stem, I ended up with two old wood jichimu churches.  Sure, I believe in coincidences, but this was too much.

I hope by now you can foresee the next part.  After a few satisfying smokes of the new pipe – in fact, just enough to break in the bowl – the prior misadventure was revisited.  Through neither any fault of my own nor evident structural flaw, did the stem just break again in mid-smoke, and what was more, showed eerie signs of interference by way of the three pieces I located just as in the previous incidence.  I am sure anyone reading this will either think me outright mad or be able to imagine why my thoughts turned to the notion, however uncanny, that perhaps I was not meant to smoke these pipes for preternatural reason(s) unknown.  At times simple anger is the best natural response, however, and with that in mind I tossed both of the then useless bowls and the bottom half of one of the 9mm stems into the glass jar of the only stand I had at the time, a little nine-piper I found at a garage sale about 23 years ago.  There the two ever-alluring disembodied heads, as it were, would stare out at me from time to time with their come-hither looks.

Early Collaborative Restorations


La Grande Bruyère Before. Photo © Robert M. Boughton.


La Grande Bruyère After. Photo © Robert M. Boughton.

Around that time, although I’m not at all sure of the date, I began dabbling in refinishing pipes.  I started with a La Grande Bruyère mini made in Czechoslovakia that I bought – again at a garage sale – sometime in the late 1980s and never smoked until one night when I took it out and examined it with a magnifying glass to make out the brand and decided to clean and try it.  To my surprise, it was a wonderful smoke.  So I carefully stripped all of the tacky red varnish and uncovered a beautiful dark grain.  I continued sanding until the tiny pipe was baby smooth, then took it to Chuck and asked how much wax would cost.  He just said “Give it here,” which I did and proceeded to the pipe shop’s sitting area.  Five minutes later he motioned me over.  I was shocked but very pleased to see that Chuck had waxed it by hand, and the transformation was spectacular.

I had several old Italian no-names from my early days of pipe smoking (I started in 1989) that had serious blackening along the rims of the bowls, some moderate to nasty dings and most of all coatings which offended me so much that my perhaps most basic nature made me wonder what lay beneath.   You see, I’m curious that way.  I winged it again, but in the mean time I bought a small jar of Halcyon II Wax to finish them.  Although I later learned that type of wax is best for rusticated pipes, it ended up working just fine on my three natural finish experimentations.  I ended up giving all three no-names to cigar-smoking friends who were interested in pipes, and by doing so won them over, at least in part.  They really only needed a nudge.  I kept the La Bruyère for myself.

The Jichimu Restores

At last, I arrive at the tale of the restorations of the jichimu churchwarden bowls, one wholly by Chuck after my refinishing of it and one by me except for a final quick machine buffing as I do not yet own the proper equipment.  Because of the broken stems, these two restorations were the first I had encountered on my own that were borne of true necessity, other than what I have heard of the backgrounds and solved problems with the many beautiful restores I have had the pleasure and good fortune of buying from Chuck, although, as the next photo shows, the coatings were real horrors.  I suspect some sort of polyurethane glaze was used in the originals, thereby inhibiting these beautiful pipes’ ability to breathe, a crime I deem unforgiveable due both to the rareness of the old jichimu wood I liberated with my loving if strenuous sanding and that wood’s natural  porousness.


Jichimu pre-restore. Photo © Robert M. Boughton.

This was the bowl I handed over the counter to Chuck at our favorite tobacconist, hoping (and therefore having even a little doubt, which of course proved silly) he could identify its dark reddish, feathery wood.  The master restorer took the large bowl from me and, with the briefest squint behind his eyeglasses, through which I noticed a sparkle of slight amusement mixed with a subtle but unmistakable distaste, said:

“It’s Chinese Chicken Wing Wood.”

I remember the slight sting of what I perceived to be a note of contempt in his pronouncement, however well contained and no doubt unintended, as I paused before asking, “Is that good or bad?”

“It’s neither good nor bad,” Chuck said in his baritone voice and shrugged in this enigmatic way he has.  “It just is.”

Now, I swear to the truth of this next part upon all that is holy to me, which by the way is considerable: I will never forget flashing back to the iconic ‘70s TV series “Kung Fu,” with David Carradine as Kwai Chang Caine and Keye Luke as Master Po, and Chuck was Master Po snatching the pebble from my outstretched palm – again!  Being unable to maintain the absurd private response to an innocent comment in no way intended to insult me, I recovered myself and grinned.  I later learned (by doing the unimaginable – asking Chuck)that his primary concerns about smoking a Chinese Chicken Wood Wing pipe were the possibilities of toxicity and what he considered to be likely high maintenance to keep the pipes undamaged because of their soft, porous nature.  I was unable to find any negative toxicity information for the jichimu wood genus (other than the serious dangers involving any kind of wood dust inhalation), and as for maintenance, I treat the restored jichimu I kept for myself with the same respect I afford any of my other fine pipes, such as my Meerschaums and Peterson’s: in this case, by storing it in a pipe box.

At any rate, Chuck examined the bowl I wanted to keep for my own use and, of course, with his quick, keen eye noted the crack in the top of the shank’s stem opening.  Knowing far less then than I do now of pipe restoration (which remains little), I suggested covering it with a metal band of some sort.  I recall being so proud of that idea!  Chuck, being diplomatic, said that indeed would be part of the solution, but the real problem was finding the right type and color of wood from which to shave enough particles to mix in some sort of Super Glue concoction.  Again I made a suggestion, this time redwood, a small piece of which I happened to have on hand at my home.   Chuck thought about the idea for a second before telling me to bring the wood to the shop for him to check out, but there was no hurry because he would have to do the restoration after the holiday store sale madness and pressing personal projects were behind him.

Meanwhile, I prepped the bowl with considerable sanding and buffing by hand, work I later realized at best made Chuck’s task a tad easier in that he would only have to spend a minute or so doing the job properly on his electric wheel.  The hand sanding and buffing I chalked up to valuable experience (as well as being relaxing and pleasant activities), and should be tried first by all refinishing or restoration beginners, just as anyone new to but serious about photography should start with an older standard SLR film camera to learn the true elements of the art form, including developing the film and printing photos in a dark room, before moving to digital and mastering the dubious practice of Photoshopping on a PC.


Ashley at meeting. Photo© Robert M. Boughton.

Seldom since I was a child had a holiday season seemed to take as long to pass as this last one.  In fact, I had a certain pleasant and childish giddiness and anticipation about Chuck’s restoration of my cherished Chinese churchwarden.  I kept myself distracted with my own restoration of the second jichimu bowl, of which I had already determined to make a gift to a young lady who attends our weekly pipe club meetings as often as work allows (she has, I believe, three jobs).  Ashley has two distinctions in our club, one being that she is the only female member and the other that she smokes churchwardens exclusively.  Who better to give a pipe which, although I knew it would be a lovely specimen by the time I was finished with it, nevertheless amounted to a twin of one I owned? Since Ashley is married to another pipe smoker and club member, Stephen, the gift was platonic in its intent, but still I was careful to broach the subject with him one night when I found him by himself by asking if he thought his wife would appreciate not only the idea of the gift but, of more importance to me, the unusual wood.  In fact, I put it bluntly, would the jichimu be something Ashley enjoyed smoking?  I admit I was relieved when Stephen assured me she would love it, and I asked him not to tell her anything about my plan.  Stephen was more than willing to go along.  I even completed a “first draft” of the restore during this time.


Photo © Robert M. Boughton.

Meanwhile, back to Chuck’s restoration work, after the holiday crush at the shop:  he’d had time to mull over the ideas that took time to come together in his head for this project that, for personal reasons we have never discussed but have become apparent to me in the intervening months, somehow meant more to him than the average restoration.  Somehow none of the rarest, most damaged pipes presenting Chuck with the kinds of severe tests of his masterful skills that he had needed to employ in the past and will continue to utilize in the future seemed more important to him than the simple job I had asked him to perform with my well-sanded and unblemished (other than the small crack in the shank) jichimu bowl I had entrusted to his care.  After all, I had only expected him to fix the crack, wax and buff the bowl on his electric wheel, add a nice-looking metal band of some sort and top it all off with a good stem, preferably of a reddish colorized Lucite variety if he could find one.  And of course I expected to pay for it, although he made it clear in the beginning he would cut me a deal.

The key difference between what I wanted from Chuck and how he approaches any job, I soon came to understand, was in Chuck’s great expectations.  While I expected Chuck to have a fast and easy job of making my bowl look as beautiful as I thought it could be and at the same time able to smoke with the addition of a stem, his ideals are far higher than that.  When at last he began to fill me in on his plans for the pipe – such as the fact that he had found a better match of wood for shavings to fill the crack in the shank than the redwood I had left for him a couple of months earlier, and that they were from an empty cigar box he found in the back of the shop – I discerned in his eyes an excitement I had never seen there before.  That, believe it or not, was my first clue as to how seriously Chuck had taken this “job.”   He explained in detail the process by which he would fill the crack and then attach and seal the band and would add only that he had found “the perfect” stem of which he was certain I would approve.  Of course, since the bowl was a churchwarden and that was the type of stem I had requested, I assumed that was what it would be.  But Chuck, being in charge, had far grander designs in mind.  I have to wonder who was the true child at Christmastime.

So, to cut to the chase as it were, I was sitting at home late one afternoon checking my emails when I found one from Chuck that read, as I recall, “Well, are you ready to come get your pipe or not?”  I must have re-read that brief message several times, shaking with excitement, before picking up my phone to call the shop and make sure he was there.  He was, and his laugh could not disguise his own excitement.  So, telling him I would be right there, I fumbled a few jars of tobacco together and was out the door in a flash.

When I arrived maybe 15 minutes later, Chuck was literally glowing, his face beaming with anticipation and a certainty that I would be satisfied.  Still, I have a feeling that deep inside him was a fear of possible disappointment on my part that had to be utterly alien to him.  Here is what he unveiled to me:


Chuck Richards Jichimu Restore. Photo © Robert M. Boughton.

Need I say I was, for lack of any more suitable a word, stunned by the work of art Chuck had created from my once shellacked and smothered but promising jichimu bowl?  As I recall, in fact, I went a little fuzzy in the head and had to concentrate on not swooning, a very rare reaction for me.  At first I was even speechless, for whatever I had expected from Chuck based on the simplistic guidelines I had suggested, he had, it was obvious, ignored in favor of his own better instincts.  As a result, instead of giving me a new and improved version of the original churchwarden, Chuck had embraced the ultimate spirit of the term restoration, bestowing upon the lone bowl a new life that combined both elegance and even a better sense of Chinese style than any churchwarden ever could have accomplished.

“Well, do you like it?” Chuck said after I stood there gaping a tad too long, and I snapped out of my reverie to look at him, my face flushed with gratitude.

“Are you kidding?” I replied.  “I love it!  It’s better than anything I imagined!”

So of course the time had come for the vulgar but necessary formalities of payment arrangements, but Chuck was already prepared with an itemized bill.  Scribbled on a small paper napkin which he slid forward across the counter were three lines of chicken scratch I had to squint at and read everything for context to realize formed the names of his three favorite tinned tobaccos.  At that point I was sure he was having fun with me, and said so, but he was serious.  In exchange for the hours of loving labor Chuck had invested in this project, not to mentions parts, all it was going to cost me was maybe $55.

And so I returned to my project and set about re-doing the preparatory process of stripping down the bowl I had already sanded, buffed and even hand-waxed.  Somehow, taking a much closer gander at the bowl after deciding I wanted to make a special gift of it to someone who possesses an acute appreciation for fine churchwardens, my earlier perception that the only addition the bowl still needed was a decent stem went out the window.  All I can think now is that I must have been blinded in my rush to the finish line.This, I suspect, is a common urge among restorers.There were still dark, even scratchy, areas on the front and back of the bowl where the grain, I was certain, could show with still more brilliance.  Although I had been told by someone in my pipe community that the direction of sanding did not matter, I recalled something I had seen on TV’s original NCIS.  The episode had a scene where some suspect was working on his yacht, sanding the beautiful wooden deck, and Gibbs (who had his own never-ending boat project) acknowledged that the man was doing it the right way – “always with the grain.”  Plus I remembered the same advice from my father, who is also an expert at carpentry.

Then, suddenly, after stripping the new-old coating from the bowl with coarse paper, I switched to a finer grade and began on the front of the bowl with sure, steady strokes following the grain where it turned upward a little.  After a short time, I cleared off all the fine dust, and gazing at the beautiful, much more even and feathery lines I had set free, felt that warm, glowing reward only someone who works with his hands on anything with potential to be better and succeeds at his task will ever understand.  As if in a trance, I kept at it until my arm ached, and when I was finished with the front let my enthusiasm carry me onward to the backside, which responded with equal elegance.  Admiring the reborn pipe bowl, I was satisfied at last that it was in all truth ready for buffing.  This practice has its detractors, but I like to use fine steel wool for the final gentle buff, being extra careful, of course, to remove the entire resulting metallic residue with a dry cloth.  With that done, I was ready to apply my wax sparingly with a finger until the entire outer bowl was covered.  Giving it time to dry, I wiped it smooth and clean with a soft cotton T-shirt that was too old and small for me to wear and ended up repeating the wax step once more.

After cleaning and sterilizing the bowl and shank with alcohol, I knew that was the best I could do– again, I pined for an electric buffing wheel – and had only the long black Lucite stem Chuck had given me on which to sand down the tenon to fit the shank of the bowl.  That was all I needed to do, he said, suggesting the job would be easy.  Indeed, with an electric wheel it would be, but with the tools I had at my disposal – such implements of potential destruction as sandpaper and a wood file – I harbored, to use a nicety, misgivings.  After all, I know my limitations and am almost always first to admit them, which I will now prove.   Trying to sand down the tenon by hand got me nowhere, so I switched to the wood file.  Now, there are mistakes, and then there are total write-offs.  Within just a few seconds’ time I found myself staring in horror at the resulting apparent near mayhem I had perpetrated upon the unfortunate, innocent opening end of the tenon.  Even after sanding the mangled, tapering pooch-job I had made of it, I still was left with only a smooth (if such it could ever be called again) version of the atrocity that reminded me of every time I ever tried to use one of those electric head grooming sheers on myself – you know, the kind with which barbers go to school to learn to operate on complete strangers with enough skill that they won’t be sued for the results but that are offered in stores in cheaper versions guaranteed to be so easy to do it yourself, only you can’t sue yourself for the one gaping bald gash that always results sooner or later and leaves no option but to shave off all the rest to make the disaster even.

Luckily, I had two things going for me: 1) I knew when to quit for the night and pray that Chuck would be at the store the next day for more of that collaboration, and 2) Chuck had given me a stem with a tenon so long I could afford one screw-up, even after I had already clipped off about a half-inch of the excess.  I knew Chuck was going to tell me I had to get rid of the evidence of my muddled first attempt at stem fitting the same way and at least had the courage to show him the scope of my “bad” in the fullness of its butchery, hoping only that he wouldn’t make too much fun of me as he said the words himself.  Part of me now likes to think Chuck was wise enough to anticipate just such a mishap,, and that’s why he gave me a stem that once had such an enormous tenon in the first place.  The next day, with the shameful proof of my ineptitude tucked deep within my coat pocket, I ventured into the tobacco shop and spotted Chuck at the far end of the long counter that ran to the back on the right side.  He glanced up from what he was doing at the sound of the door chime, saw who it was and continued working.  He knew my routine, which I followed then with nervous mind a jangle, walking to the sitting area and setting down my heavy tote bag filled with a variety of excellent pipes and tobaccos from which I could sit a while and choose at leisure.  Taking my time to claim my favorite comfortable cushioned chair – the only one with a full view of the store because it panders to my life-long discomfort of having my back to a room – I was all-too-soon settled in and made my way with the vile stem in hand to Chuck.

Of course when I displayed to him the mess I had made, Chuck was as gracious as ever, which is not to say lacking in some bemused gruffness, but I was put at ease with a wonderful combination of relief and kinship when he did his best, I have no doubt, not to break into outward laughter.  He could read my face despite its poker table nature and allowed only a genuine grin of appropriate amusement to show on his.  The grin said at once, without a word yet spoken, “Been there…done that,” even if not with the same aptitude.

I sit here at my laptop as I near the conclusion of the tumultuous account of the tale of two jichimus, smoking a soothing bowl of Rattray’s Brown Clunee in my own Chinese Phoenix Wood.  (I like the mythological sound of that better.)  The second bowl needing only the stem and a final quick wheel buff by Chuck, I managed a passable job on the church stem – at least enough to make it fit the shank snugly – and polished the Lucite to a fine luster.


Robert Boughton jichimu restore. Photo © Robert M. Boughton.

When the time came to present the pipe to Ashley at our weekly meeting, which she attended knowing something was up but having no idea what it was, I recommended upon giving it to her  that she might consider finding a replacement stem, or at least arranging to have it curved.  But she filled the bowl in delight and lit it up for the first time, and the look of satisfaction and pleasure on her face were all I needed to put the project to bed.  She insists to this day that the jichimu is one of the coolest, smoothest smoking pipes she owns.


The end of any serious undertaking tends to be followed by a period of time that can be described as both exhilarating to a degree but more of a let-down over-all, and the only cure for this edgy malaise is a new game plan to replace the last.  The conclusion of the jichimu restoration project, not the least of which is marked for me by this writing,leaves not an actual dearth in my life except for the heartfelt kind, for I found in my meager contributions to it a new calling of which I had only imagined I might one day have a genuine calling and now know the suspicion, or dream, is more than that.  As I suggested earlier in this account, I have long known the pleasure of using my hands in woodwork, in particular the simple tactile nature of wood itself, and of taking apart such things as old furniture and stripping off the old paint and varnish to be improved – after attentive, deliberate, meticulous preparation – with fresh new replacements.  Now, on the verge of acquiring an electric buffing wheel because the time has clearly come to stop passing off that final touch, I know I have a future in pipe restoration if not their actual making.

In my near future, therefore, I see several tasks I have been procrastinating, most of them remaining literary in nature but the third having a distinctly different approach to woodworking than pipe restoration: a very old padded rocking chair that has remained unused outside, over time collecting dirt and losing more and more of its stuffing, its fine brass screws, nuts, washers and bolts tarnishing, its lack of attention and use leaving it, as it were, almost lonely – if indeed a natural born writer with a flair for woodwork could personify an old rocker.

But I expect I will have to start my own blog to tell the tale of that restoration.