“I don’t want to be pretty. I want to be better. I want to be perfect.”
― Kimber Henry (Kelly Carlson), in “Nip/Tuck,” Season 1, Ep. 1
A nip and tuck is a minor plastic surgery procedure. “Nip/Tuck” (FX channel, 2003-2010) is a racy drama/dark comedy about the realities and sometimes horrors of the cosmetic surgery profession, with some truly grisly moments. Although this restoration involved only normal and accepted methods of pipe fixing, some of them resulted in drastic improvements of the U.S. Bentley apple that needed a full makeover. And so I flashed back on the bawdy TV series.
I bought the pipe on eBay for $6 when I tracked down its nomenclature that identified it as a Kaywoodie second. The seller, who is more into oddball collectibles than tobacco pipes and therefore knows nothing about the latter, had sold me a genuine white briar Kaywoodie 12B bulldog for $10.00, but then had the unfortunate duty to inform me he lost it somewhere in the clutter of his home. He promptly refunded my payment and assured me that both he and his wife would continue searching for the misplaced bulldog and forward it to me free of charge when it was located.
Why I chose to give this fellow a second chance is anyone’s guess, but it paid off. Both the Bentley and the full Kaywoodie white bulldog arrived soon after in the same package. Grateful for my business and true to his word, the seller charged me only for the Bentley. It just goes to show there are good folks everywhere, even some in Ohio who don’t enjoy or collect smoking pipes. Appreciating the excellent fortune I had in acquiring these two pipes for the normal shipping fee of one, I nevertheless suggested that the good gentleman in the Midwest begin checking the pipes he stumbled upon now and then at http://www.pipephil.eu/logos/en/index-en.html, or at least a browser search, before choosing such low prices. However, his response indicated he hadn’t a clue what I meant. Sadly, I had to let the urge to be helpful go, and look forward to taking advantage of his generosity more and more in the future.
When I opened the box in my car outside of my Post Office and saw the white briar bulldog first, I smiled as I turned it in my hands and concluded a little work would make it whole and vital once more. Then my attention turned to the Bentley, and I laughed hard enough to draw attention from the occupants of the car next to mine. The chamber was so full of built-up cake, in such a uniform circle leaving only a virtual pinpoint of space to load tobacco, that I ignored the other Postal customers and continued guffawing. So amused and excited was I by the challenge of restoring the Bentley, I had to resist the impulse to get out of my car and show it to the complete strangers next to me.
This one was going to take some work, to be sure. The chamber – well, I needed to think about how even to start that. The rim, I knew, would be no problem. The bit was slightly off its mark when tightened. The old polish and stain was worn away in areas, in particular the sides. And of course, there were scratches everywhere. All in all, I was exhilarated.
Having decided to bore my way through the huge blockade of years of determined and, I must admit, evenly-executed accretion of chamber char in increments, I chose a 17mm fixed reamer and went at it. With just enough room at the top to insert the reamer – I was even grateful the single user of the pipe had somewhat obsessively filled it to the same exact point about an eighth of an inch below the rim – I slowly cranked away, emptying the carbon dust and checking the progress as I moved deeper. I used to document the height of the pile of carbon with each restoration, but I gave up on that long ago. Suffice it to say there would have been a small hill of it in this case. Just getting to the bottom took about a half-hour. Here are pictures of the halfway point and the first strike of gold at the bottom. I gave the bit, which was in pretty good shape, an OxiClean wash, for the most part to help clean out what had to be an ugly mess of ignored old saliva and tobacco juice. While the bath was doing its magic, I sanded off all of the old wax and stain using 500-grit paper and took off the rim char with super fine steel wool.
Removing the bit from the wash, I rinsed it and tried micromesh from 1500-4000, but there was still a small area on both sides of the lip end that needed more attention with 320-grit paper, then another progression of the micromesh.
I worked on the briar with a micromesh progression from 1500-4000, as usual, and it did the trick for most of the outer area. I also used 200-grit paper followed by 320 and 500 on the chamber to smooth it out.
The stem was off just a tad. I heated the tenon with my Bic, threw a small rag over it and used clamped the pliers down. I had to use all of my might to make it budge, but it was straight. Below are the before and after shots, which are barely different. After a pre-scrub of the shank with wire cleaners dipped in Everclear, which removed quite a bit of nasty old gunk, I retorted the pipe. Then I chose, after careful consideration of whether or not to let it go with the natural finish, to darken the wood just a little using Lincoln Medium Brown stain, which is lighter than the regular brown, and flamed it. A gentle rub with 4000 micromesh took off the char, and I rubbed it with a soft cotton cloth.
Some say pride is a sin, but I am happy with the results. After all of that work, I’d love to keep this beautiful, elegant Bentley apple. But I’m going to have to sell her. Oh, well. My P.A.D. is so bad, I’m sure I’ll find something else to keep – like the Kaywoodie 12B bulldog.