Tag Archives: sanding

A Unique Vertical Oval Shank Meerschaum Reborn

I saw this old Meerschaum pipe bowl on Ebay and decided to put a low bid on it. I was not surprised to have won it and paid for it quickly. The seller packed it very well and shipped it off to Vancouver, Canada. Below are the Ebay photos that caught my attention. I think the thing that intrigued me the most was the vertical oval shank on the pipe. To restem that pipe would be a great challenge – find a stem large enough to work with and shape it until it fit. I thought I had just the stem in my box – a gift from a friend on Pipesmokers Unleashed Forum, Robert.

From the photos it looked to be in rough shape. The pipe case said it was a WDC but I have no way of knowing if that is true. The gold filigree on the band looks like the old WDC pipes of the late 1890s but I am still uncertain as to the maker. It was in rough shape as can be seen from the photos. There were many scratches and gouges around the outside of the bowl. The shank had marks on the top that looked like someone had taken a file to it. The rim was probably the worst. With the rough edges on the back right side of the bowl the rim/top appeared to be angled to the right side and worn down. The tar build up was heavy in the bowl and on the rim. The tenon was broken off in the shank. It appeared to be an old bone tenon and a bone insert in the mortise that was threaded to take the screw in tenon. I am assuming the pipe probably had an amber stem in its first appearance in the shop but that was long since broken and lost. The WDC case was also very rough – the edges were worn away, the wood broken and a hinge dangling unused. The inside was badly stained.





Yesterday afternoon I came home from work early and found a package awaiting me – I knew that the meer had arrived. I had to laugh when I cut open the box – it had a previous label a Funeral Home in Ohio. I don’t know if that was a commentary on the pipe bowl that resided inside the box or if a funny coincidence. I cut the tape and opened the box. The pipe inside was both in worse shape than I had imagined from the seller’s excellent pictures and in better shape. The meer under the band was cracked as can be seen in the photo above and that was as it was when it arrived. The scratches in the surface of the bowl were not as deep as they appeared in the photos and the pipe when place on the rim on a flat board was actually not slanted to the right – the damage to the outer edges of the right back side made it appear worse than it actually was in reality. The next photos show the pipe on the work table just out of the box.






After examining it carefully with my lens and a dental pick I decided to begin the clean up by trying to remove the tenon. I used the screw that I generally use to remove a tenon to no avail. The threads in the mortise were locked tight around the tenon. I picked at it with the dental pick and was unable to remove it that way either. I decided to drill out the old tenon. So I set up a cordless drill with a drill bit slightly larger than the airway in the broken tenon. I slowly drilled the airway with the bit and exchanged it for increasingly larger bits until I had the airway cleared of the debris. I then used a ¼ inch bit to open the mortise and clear out the remaining debris of the mortise and tenon. The second photo below shows the mortise after I opened it up. I used a dental pick to clean out the remaining pieces and hand turned the quarter-inch drill bit into the mortise to smooth out the walls of the airway and open it to receive a new tenon.



I took the pipe bowl back to the work table and set up a coarse sanding block on my worktable to top the bowl of the meer. I have used this block in the past with good success on the softer meerschaum material. I placed the bowl, rim down on the surface of the block and sanded it in a clockwise direction (no reason for that other than I am right-handed). I sanded it, checking often to see how the rim was cleaning up until the surface was clear and the top of the bowl once again level. Surprisingly I did not have to remove too much material from the rim to clean up the surface.





When I had finished the sanding, I used micromesh sanding pads to sand the top smooth once again and remove the scratches from the coarse sanding block. The micromesh sanding pads from 1500 – 12,000 grit bring a shine back to the surface of the meer and prepare it for rewaxing once the pipe is finished.


At this point in the process I decided to see if I could fit a new stem on the pipe. The diameter of the oval shank was quite large and would require a large diameter round stem. To make it an oval stem would require that much of the existing vulcanite of the stem would have to be removed in the shaping process. I had an old Brebbia stem that a friend on Pipe Smoker Unleashed Forum sent me for an old Peterson that I was restemming. The tenon was too small for the Pete but too large for the old meer. I used a Dremel with a sanding drum to remove the excess material from the tenon until the fit was very close. The remainder of the fitting was done with a wood rasp and sandpaper. Once the tenon was finished I pushed the stem into the old meer to check on the fit of the tenon in the newly opened mortise. As can be seen in the photo below, the fit was perfect. You can also see from that photo how much work would need to be done to fit the stem to match the shank of the pipe.


The stem had deep bite marks on the top and the bottom near the button. They did not break the surface of the vulcanite. I decided to heat the surface of the stem with a heat gun and try to lift the dents from both sides as much as possible. I also wanted to straighten the stem significantly to give a better profile to the pipe. The heat gun worked to achieve both aims. The tooth marks lifted quite a bit and would have to be filled with black superglue to finish the work and the bend straightened to the angle I wanted for the new stem.


I sanded the initial excess vulcanite off the diameter of the shank with the sanding drum on the Dremel. Once I had removed a large portion I took it back to the work table and used a rasp to continue to shape and reduce the stem to the right proportions. The next series of eight photos shows the effectiveness of the rasp in shaping the stem. (In the midst of the shaping my daughters brought down a bowl of popcorn for a snack while I worked – that appears in several of the photos.)









I removed the stem from the shank and cleaned up the tooth dents so that I could fill them with black superglue. The glue takes quite a bit of time to cure so I waited until I was finished for the evening and then filled the dents and set the stem aside to cure over night.



This morning I sanded the stem with 220 grit sandpaper and also sanded the superglue patch on the underside of the stem. The next four photos show the stem as it begins to take shape and the repaired spot on the underside of the stem. The oval is coming along nicely but there was still a lot of excess material that still needed to be removed.





I continued to sand the stem to further tune the shape of the oval to match the shank. I used 220 grit sandpaper to remove the excess and shape the stem. I worked on the superglue patch on the underside of the stem with the 220 grit sandpaper as well. In the next series of three photos you can see the shape I am aiming for with this stem. You can also see the size of the patch on the stem. The patch is still larger than the marks it covers so more sanding will need to be done on it to blend it into the vulcanite.




I cleaned up the bite marks on the top of the stem and applied the black superglue patch to that surface as well. I set it aside while I worked on the bowl. I wiped the bowl down with Murphy’s Oil Soap on a cotton pad to clean off the grime on the surface while leaving as much of the old patina as possible. The first photo below shows the superglue patch. I applied it and used a dental pick to push it around the surface and also build up a few tooth marks on the edge of the button. The second photo below shows the patch after it had dried and I had sanded the patch with 220 grit sandpaper.



While working on the stem I decided to open the button to make it simpler to insert a pipe cleaner. I used needle files to make the slot larger. The second photo shows the opened slot in the button. I sanded the inside of the slot with a folded piece of sandpaper to smooth the surface and polish the slot.



I took the pipe back to the Dremel and sanding drum to remove more of the excess vulcanite. I had the basic shape in hand and just wanted to get it closer to the size of the shank before doing the finish sanding. I brought it back to the work table and sanded with 220 grit sandpaper until the fit was right. The next four photos show the progress in the fitting of the stem.





I sanded the stem with a medium grit sponge backed sanding pad. It helped to remove the scratches left behind by the 200 grit sandpaper. Then I sanded the stem with micromesh sanding pads from 1500-12,000 grit to polish and shine the vulcanite and the patched areas. The white Lucite band that was a part of the stem began to take on a shine as well in the process. The next nine photos capture what took about an hour to achieve in the sanding process. I wet sanded with the 1500, 1800 and 2400 grit sanding pads and dry sanded with the remaining grits of micromesh.










I buffed the stem with White Diamond and a blue plastic polishing compound to bring out the final shine on the stem. I hand waxed the meerschaum with beeswax and hand buffed it with a shoe brush. The next four photos show the finished pipe with the new stem. I like the marks and scratches in the meer as they seem to speak of the long journey the pipe took to get to me. The white Lucite band on the stem fits nicely in my thinking against the gold of the filigree band. The slight bend it the stem works nicely for me. From the last two photos you can see the oval shape of the stem now that it is completed. It has come a long way from the round stem I received as a gift from Ron.





A Schulte deLuxe Reborn – by Joey Bruce

Blog by Joey Bruce

Joey has been a reader of the blog for a while now. Then about a month ago now I received and email from him with some questions on an old pipe he had picked up. It turned out to be a WDC bulldog that was in rough shape. We exchanged a few emails and over the course of reworking that old-timer I could see that Joey was hooked on this hobby! I invited him to do a write-up on some of his work and post it here for others to be encouraged and challenged. Last evening he sent me this article on an old Schulte deLuxe that through his efforts had been reborn. What follows is his article and photos. Thank you Joey for taking the time to write this up and send a copy to me. It is great to have you posting on the blog as a writer. Enjoy his work readers.

Hello all. Just dipping my toes into the pipe refurbishing world. I’ve been reading the posts here obsessively for a while now and couldn’t resist trying it for myself. I’ve always loved restoring things whether it’s, old bikes, cars or motorcycles. All the way to obscure things like pens and sewing machines. So it was a natural move into this. Hopefully I won’t bore you. At the very least you’ll be able to see the difference between and amateur like me and the real deal like Steve and Greg.

I recently bought a few estate pipes off eBay. Most were in such great shape they didn’t need anything more than a spit shine. A few I used as practice. Trying out different techniques I’ve read here and see what I like the best. This weekend I went to a flea market and grabbed a bunch of old cheapos that were laying in a box for a few bucks. Figured I’d get more practice and this time actually take pictures.



I grabbed the Schulte deLuxe first as that one seemed like it would be the easiest. First I soaked the stem in an Oxy Clean and water solution (no real ratio. Just about half a tbs to 3/4 water. But really just guessed) to bring out the oxidation. Then I wet sanded it with 1500 grit sandpaper (all I had. Would have been easier to work my way up to that but I just went with what was here) until all the oxidation was removed. After a little elbow grease I took it over to the polishing wheel (Ryobi bench grinder with two 6″ polishing wheels) and hit it up with some red rouge. Working it back and forth until it had a nice smooth shine. Then moved to the other wheel with Eastwood Supply’s version of White Diamond. Working it with a much gentler touch. Wiped off the residue and voila. Better than new.




I moved onto the bowl. This time I decided to try wet sanding the bowl just to see what would happen. I hypothesized that a quick wet sand might just remove the grit and grime. Turns out it quickly moved right past that and into the stain. I probably won’t do that again unless the bowl needs serious work but it was worth a shot. Wet sanding did work well on the top of the bowl to remove the tar. Much quicker than the spit shine method.



You can see how one turn on the bowl with the red rouge turns the wet sand into a nice shine. Probably my favorite part of this whole thing is when you break it all down to its base and start to rebuild it.





I did the same to the bowl as I did to the stem. Took about an hour on the wheel for both. And I’m pretty happy with how it turned out. I have yet to polish them with any wax to keep the shine up. I just haven’t picked any carnauba wax up and I’ve noticed the super bright shine dulls after a few days so I’ll be sure to grab some wax ASAP.

If you’re reading still thanks and I hope this helps anyone who is just getting started.


Restemming a Bruyere Krone Billiard

I am just about finished restemming the lot of pipe bowls I picked up on EBay. This is one of the last two pipes that I have left in the lot below. It is the fourth pipe down in the left column. It has an interesting rustication pattern that reminds of one that is done on Saseini pipes. It is striated around the bowl and then tapers up from the bottom to a striated pattern around the shank. It has a flat bottom on the shank that is smooth and stamped Bruyere in a crown with a large R in the centre of the band on the crown. Underneath the crown is an unfurled banner that is stamped K R O N E. I have no idea of who the maker is or when and where it was made. The stamping is faint so I may be missing a few letters but I think this is an accurate rendering of what is stamped. The finish was pretty dirty with grime in the grooves on the bowl and shank. The rim was caked with a tarry buildup and the grooving on the rim was not visible. There were also place on the finish where the stain was missing and the briar underneath exposed. The inside of the bowl had dust and cob webs and a pretty large cake buildup that would need to be removed. The bowl came without a stem and fitting one would take flattening of the stem on the underside to match the shank.



I went through my box of estate stems and found one that was a good fit to the shank. Once the cleanup of the stem was done and a flattening of the underside of the stem the pipe would look like it came with that stem. The stem had a calcified buildup around the button and some tooth marks as well. The oxidation was not too bad but was present.






The clean angles of the button against the stem were gone so I recut them with needle files to clean up the edge. I reamed the bowl back to bare briar with a PipNet reamer starting with the smallest cutting head and progressing to the one that was the diameter of the bowl without the cake. Once it was cleaned out I scrubbed down the bowl with Murphy’s Oil Soap and a soft bristle tooth brush to remove the grime. I scrubbed the buildup on the rim with a soft bristle brass tire brush to remove the tars. Once I had scrubbed it I rinsed it with warm water to remove the soap and dried it off with a cotton towel. I wiped down the bowl with acetone on a cotton pad and prepared it to be stained. After heating it with a heat gun I stained it with a dark brown aniline stain. I used a permanent black marker to touch up the raw briar areas where it was scratched or damaged. I reapplied the stain and flamed it. The newly stained pipe is shown in photos 2 and 3 below.




I sanded the stem with medium grit emery paper to remove the calcification around the button and also heated the tooth marks with a Bic lighter to lift them as much as possible. I “painted” the surface of the stem with the flame to burn off the sulfur of the oxidation that I had loosened by sanding. I repaired the tooth marks on both sides of the stem with black superglue and set it aside to dry overnight.


The next morning I cleaned out the bowl and shank with pipe cleaners, cotton swabs and Everclear. I sanded the stem and the superglue patch with 220 grit sandpaper and then with a medium grit sanding sponge to clean up the scratches in the finish. I put it back on the bowl to get an idea of the overall look of the pipe and see if the diameters of the stem fit the shank. I needed to flatten the bottom of the stem some more to match the bottom of the shank and also removed some more of the material on the diameter of both sides to bring it into line with the shank. Once the stem was well fitted I moved on to sanding with micromesh sanding pads from 1500-12,000 grit.








I buffed the stem with White Diamond and a Blue polish. I gave the bowl a light buff with White Diamond to bring up the shine. I gave the bowl a coat of Halcyon II wax and buffed it by hand with a shoe brush. I gave the stem multiple coats of carnauba and buffed it on the buffer with a clean flannel buff. I think the pipe came out well. Does anyone know anything about the brand?





LJ Perretti Straight Grain Rejuvenated

I picked up a seven pipe lot on EBay all because there were at least two of the pipes that were stamped LJ Perretti. One of them is the little pot/billiard pictured in this article. I say pot/billiard because the proportion of the bowl and shank more accurately fit a billiard but the height of the bowl is more like a pot. Ah well whatever it is it showed promise even in the seller’s photos on EBay. I bid and won. There is another Perretti that I will write about as I rework it but this one is stamped L.J. PERRETTI over IMPORTED BRIAR on the right side. It is stamped Straight Grain on the left side of the shank. The grain is quite nice and there are no fills in the briar that are visible. It was a dirty pipe – the finish was darkened and grit and oils were ground into the outside of the bowl. The rim had a serious cake of lava on it and the bowl was packed with a cake. The inside of the shank was so dirty and gritty that the stem would not sit all the way in the mortise. The stem was oxidized and had a rubber softy bit guard that was stuck on the stem. There was a cursive P on the left side of the stem. The Perretti pipes are shop pipes that may have been made by a variety of carvers or by Robert Perretti himself. These are old enough that they may well be done by Perretti. The stamping on the side of the shank that says Imported Briar seems to point to the pipe being American made. The first series of three photos shows the state of the pipe when I took it to my work table.


I cut off the rubber softie bit guard with a knife and peeled it free of the stem. I reamed the bowl with a PipNet pipe reamer to remove the buildup of carbon. I cleaned out the stem and the shank with pipe cleaners and Everclear until the pipe cleaners came out as clean as they went in. It never ceases to amaze me how many pipe cleaners it takes to clean out the inside of the pipe and stem. Once the internals were clean the stem fit into the shank with no interference.

I wiped won the outside of the bowl with acetone on a cotton pad (Photo 1 below). I wiped down the rim with acetone as well and then decided to lightly top the bowl (Photos 2 – 5). I used a medium grit sanding sponge to top the bowl on this one. I just wanted to remove the carbon build up on the rim and leave as much of the stain intact as I could. Once finished I wiped it a second time with acetone. I also used the drill bit from the Kleen Reem reamer to clean out the airway from the mortise to the bowl. I recleaned the shank with pipe cleaners and Everclear afterwards (Photo 6 below).





I set the bowl aside and then worked on the stem. I inserted it in the ebony block that I drilled as a mortise to work on the oxidation. I sanded it with 320 grit sandpaper to break up the oxidation and remove the calcium buildup that was under the softee bit. There were also some tooth chatter and marks that needed to be worked out. These were not deep so all I did was sand them with the 320 grit sandpaper. The next two photos show the work on the stem.

I reinserted the stem on the pipe and then continued to work on the stem and clean up the oxidation. I sanded around the edge of the stem/shank junction. I used 320 grit sandpaper and a medium grit sanding sponge.
I wet sanded the stem with 1500 and 1800 grit micromesh sanding pads. I dry sanded with 2400-12,000 grit micromesh sanding pads. The next three photos show the progress of the sanding with the pads. I selected three to show the progress but could easily have shown the lot. The main idea is to show the development of the shine on the stem. I finished sanding with 12,000 grit and then wiped the stem down with Obsidian Oil and buffed it by hand with some carnauba wax.


I restained the pipe with dark brown aniline stain thinned 2:1 with isopropyl alcohol. I flamed the stain and then restained it and reflamed it. I applied a third coat of the stain to the rim and flamed that again as well (Photos 1 & 2 below). I then sanded the bowl and the stem with the 6000, 8000 and 12,000 grit micromesh sanding pads (Photo 3 below) and then took it to the buffer and buffed it with White Diamond (Photos 4 – 6).





I finished by buffing the pipe with multiple coats of carnauba wax and then polished with a soft flannel buff on the buffer. The final series of four photos below show the finished pipe.




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.

The ongoing evolution of a handmade pipe

With all the refurbishing and staining I have done lately it is no wonder that when I pulled out this pipe from my rack it seemed just plain dull! This is a pipe I carved probably ten or more years ago and then reworked and thinned down in the past three or four years. It is great to be able to pull out one of my own pipes – carved by me – and rework it as the desire rises. I have no qualms about doing that as they are my creation and I am not changing someone else’s work. I had originally stained this pipe with a black understain and then used a very thin mix of medium brown stain on it. At the moment it looked good to me. But over the years that finish has grown faint and lack lustre. I have buffed it and given it new coats of wax but it still was lacking.

The morning I pulled it out was the day for a makeover. I finished the bowl I was smoking in it and while the briar was still warm I took it to the work table to restain. I decided to give it a coat oxblood aniline stain to liven it up and give it some warmth over the dark understain that had become more prominent with time. I rubbed on a coat of the stain and flamed it and then buffed it off so that the pictures below show its new look. I am enjoying its new look. I know it does not make it smoke better (it always has been a great smoking pipe) but the newness makes me reach for it more often.

I am thinking of restemming it now with a wider blade and tapered saddle but we shall see. These things seem to take a life of their own so truly there is no end to the changes that could be made over the years. Here it is now in its process of development!


Last evening (Aug. 8, 2012) after work I decided to cut a different stem for this pipe. The narrowness of the blade (flat portion of the stem from saddle to button) just did not look right to me. The more I looked at the pictures the less I liked it. I did not have any rod stock so I found a precast stem in my jar of stems that would work for now. I cut the tenon down so that it would fit and also reworked all the casting marks along the edges of the stem. I opened the draw and also reworked the slot and button for more comfort and ease of cleaning. Here are the pictures of how the stem looks now. I think it is better than before. Oh, I also decided not to bend the stem this time.

The stem looks shorter than the previous stem but it is actually the same length. The proportions are thicker and thus give the illusion of a more stubby looking stem.

Carving one of my own

Every so often I get the urge to carve a pipe of my own. I have done it from scratch, drilling the airway and bowl but often it is just as much fun for me to buy a pre-drilled block with its own stem and rework it into something I like. The pictures and essay below will take you through my process with a pipe I picked up off EBay for almost nothing. When you look at it some of you will recognize that for awhile in the 80’s and maybe earlier Singleton sold these pipes as Caveman Pipes. They were rough and were stained and waxed, stamped Singleton Caveman pipes and sold as is. I have always thought that they were ugly and looked unfinished. This one just begged to be reshaped – at least that is the excuse I gave when the package arrived and my wife commented on “yet another pipe”.

The first four photos give a good sense of what it looked like when it arrived at my house. It was a fairly small piece of briar and there was no way of knowing what lay beneath the surface of the block. It was stained and waxed. The stem was oxidized a bit but it did not matter as I was going to reshape it and make it my own. The last photo of the four shows the Caveman stamping I was referring to earlier.


I took out my Dremel with the larger sanding drum, replaced the sandpaper cylinder with a new one and began the process of removing the briar and making a shape that I liked and that I felt the briar held inside. The next three photos show the block with much of the briar removed and a shape is beginning to come out. I bring it to this point in the shaping process with the Dremel and the sanding drum. It works great for me. Some of you may notice the nicks from the Dremel on the saddle of the stem. Those are a pain but I was not worrying too much about it as I planned to shape the stem a bit more as well and those would disappear in the process. Also note, the shank is still not the diameter of the saddle on the stem at this point. From this stage one I do the shaping by hand with 100 grit sandpaper. It makes short work of the remaining excess briar. You will also see some burn marks at the bowl shank junction from the sanding drum – nothing that will not sand off. There are also sand pits and flaws beginning to show up in the surface of the briar.



Much sanding went on before I took the next series of three photos. I used the 100 grit sandpaper to remove much of the excess and then progressed to 220 and 240 grit sandpaper to bring the shape to the stage in these photos. I also sanded the saddle of the stem and the edges of the blade to match the line of the shank. I wanted the flow to be uninterrupted by the juncture of the two materials and I wanted the transition to be smooth. There were many sand pits visible at this time on the sides, top and bottom of the bowl and the shank. It is always a bit of pain to get to this point in the shaping and sanding and not be able to get rid of them. This left me with a bit of a quandary. What should I do to get the best finish on this pipe? I dislike fills and did not want to use putty in any form on this pipe. I figured the next bet would be to rusticate the pipe and give it an interesting texture for the prestained finish.


I used a tool that I fashioned out of a fistful of galvanized nails, a piece of steel pipe, a cap and nipple coupling. It looks like the photos below. It is the tool on the left. I also used a florist’s frog (pictured on the right) to give the finished surface a different touch.


Before I used the tool on the surface of the briar, I wrapped the saddle of the stem and a 1/8th inch band with black electrical tape. I wanted to protect the saddle and the small band of briar from being rusticated with the tool. It is a work horse but is not subtle in its deep cuts. I wrap the cap end with a thick towel to protect my hand when I pushed the points of the nails into the briar. I pushed the head into the briar and twisted the tool back and forth to cut the surface of the briar and roughen it. The next series of four photos show the rusticated surface of the pipe after I finished with the nails and also after I rubbed the florist’s frog across the surface to knock off high points. I was aiming for a finish that has the look of aged leather so I wanted no roughness left but I wanted a crinkled, wrinkled look to the briar.


The next two photos show the pipe after I gave it a black understain. I used black aniline stain and applied it with a dauber. Once the pipe was covered I used a lighter to flame the stain to set it deeply in the briar. My goal was to have the black stain set deeply into the crevices of the rustication once I had buffed it. (I have learned that when I am staining to always start with the darkest stain and work toward the final lighter coat.) Once the stain was dry I took it to my buffer and buffed it with Tripoli. The buffer removed all of the black stain from the smoother, higher surfaces and the band next to the stem and the rim. The only black stain remaining was in the crevices and pits in the briar. At that point I restained the pipe with a medium brown aniline stain and flamed it as well. I took it to the buffer and this time buffed with Tripoli and White Diamond. I wanted the brown to give a top coat and allow the black to show through. I also wanted to smooth the surface a little to make it smooth in the hand.


The final series of photos show the finished pipe. I think I achieved the look of old worn leather I was aiming for with this rustication and staining. I worked on the stem and smoothed it out with 400 and 600 grit wet dry sandpaper and water. Once the scratches were gone I worked through the usual regimen of micromesh pads from 1500 to 6000 grit. These gave the stem a good polished look. I finished it on the buffer with White Diamond and multiple coats of carnauba. The bowl was waxed with Halcyon 2 wax so that I could avoid the wax build up from carnauba in the crevices of the rustication. I gave the entirety a final buff with a clean flannel buffing pad. This one has become a favourite smoker of mine. It is perfect size to fit in my jacket pocket and it is a veritable furnace for good Virginia Flake tobacco.


Dr. Plumb Bulldog Restoration

My daughter’s boyfriend found this neat little Dr. Plumb bulldog at a New Orleans shop and sent it to me for restoration. I thought Dr. Plumb had a connection to GBD and I believe they are now owned by the Cadogan group. The stem was in terrific shape, save for a heavy coat of oxidation. The top of the bowl was scorched and it had some dents and scratches.


I reamed the bowl with both my Castleford and Senor reamers. Someone in the pipes past had reamed it a little out of round, but it wasn’t too bad. I removed some of the dents with a knife heated by a flame and a wet towel. Most of the major ones popped back out nicely. The bowl has some fills, but they are hidden well by the factory finish. In order to remove the scorched top, it would have required a restain. I was afraid with the numerous fills, it would look better with the factory finish. “Character” as they say. I buffed the bowl with some Tripoli, White diamond and with a final buff using Carnuba. The stamping is very legible.

The stem was soaked in an Oxyclean solution overnight to soften the brown coating. Unfortunately, the stem logo proved very problematic. I could not get the oxidation off this part of the stem without removing the logo. The owner opted for me to leave the logo and brown patch.

Here is the finished product.

The pipe sure looks like it would be a good smoking piece and I hope the young man enjoys it for many years.

Selected Straight Grain (Comoys) Restoration

Several months ago, a thread on the SmokersForum.uk about the Comoys “Selected Straight Grain” pipes piqued my interest. Member Dirigo (Tom) was kind enough to share with me how to identify these interesting pipes. I was able to grab this Shape 13 via Ebay last week, which corresponds with the Comoys shape chart. That shape looked to be in decent shape, with the exception of one putty fill. I assume this flaw made the pipe unworthy of the Comoys stamping. There were only the slightest tooth marks and no pesky stem logo to worry about.

From the Ebay picture, you can see the ugly fill.

There was only minimal cake inside the bowl so it was lightly reamed and soaked with Everclear and sea salt. The top of the bowl was scarred, so that was going to take some work.

While the bowl was soaking, I started on the stem, which had been soaking in a Oxyclean solution. I went thru my usual 1500/2000 grit wet paper that onto the final four micromesh grades. The stem was then buffed with white diamond and a final plastic polish. Removing the light chatter was pretty straight forward. The button was worn, so I used a needle file to slightly reform the edges.  Unfortunately, I was unable to remove the oxidation without making the edge of stem slightly rounded.  I need to learn how to avoid this issue.

Once the bowl was done soaking it was moved to an alcohol bath to remove the stain. I spoke to Steve prior to this step and he recommended the fill be corrected using the superglue & briar technique he recently posted on Reborn Pipes. That solution worked well and I used two steps to fill in the pit. After restaining, the fill is just slightly visible, a big improvement from the factories solution using the bubble-gum putty.
The Super-Glue and briar dust patch.

I used a two-step stain process to highlight the grain, also a recommendation from Steve. First I “painted” on some black stain, after the bowl was warmed to open the grain. Then, the bowl was sanded with micromesh and a very diluted application of Medium Brown stain was applied. The bowl was than buffed with Tripoli and white diamond, followed by a final buff with Carnuba wax. I was careful on all steps not to diminish the stamping, which is quite legible.

Thanks to Steven Laug for his help with this one and Tom for information on this interesting Comoys niche.

Keyser Hygienic Patent Pipe

Blog by Steve Laug

Over the past year I have been picking up these Keyser Hygienic pipes on EBay. This one makes the third one I have picked up at a reasonable price. They are made in England and sold exclusively in South Africa. The word is that they were designed to be virtually indestructible for farmer pipe smokers in SA. All versions of the pipe have the same stem – one size fits all. They seem to be made of nylon and rubber or some combination. They are tough and take tooth wear very well. Two of the three I picked up are older and both had the original stems on them. They had tooth chatter and minor dents. Steaming would not raise the dents at all. I had to deal with them with sandpaper and micromesh sanding pads.

The photo below came from the web and pictures a cutaway picture of the pipe and the unique condensing chamber that makes up the patented portion of the pipe. The shank has an aluminum condensing chamber with a tube in the centre that lines up with the tube inside the stem. It is pointing downward so air swirls around in the chamber formed by the military bit stem and the shank. Moisture is trapped and the smoke is cool and dry without loss of flavour.


The pipe I am working on this time is a pot shaped sand blasted pipe. The aluminum was oxidized and dull the blast was dirty and the crevices filled with dirt and grime. The stem was in pretty clean shape other than the tooth chatter near the button. The rim of the bowl was tarred and caked. The cake was uneven and tapering in the bowl – almost as if the bowl was only half filled and smoked that way the majority of the time. The upper portion of the bowl had a very thin layer of cake and the lower portion a thick uneven cake. The condenser in both the stem and the shank were filled with a dark brown tar and the airway was constricted in the shank and clogged in the stem. The photo below shows the condition of the bowl and the stem and highlight where the work would be needed to clean up the exterior of this pipe.


I reamed the bowl back to bare briar and scrubbed the blast surface with a brass tire brush to clean out the crevices. I also used a soft bristle tooth brush to finish cleaning the surface off. Once that was done I put the bowl in the alcohol bath to soak while I worked on the stem. The next two photos below show the stem after I used 240 grit sandpaper to remove the tooth marks and slight dents. I then used micromesh pads from 1500-6000 grit to polish the stem and work out the scratches. I have learned the hard way that you cannot buff these stems on the buffer as a little bit of surface heat from the buffing pads melts and distorts the surface. So these stems are totally buffed and polished by hand.


The next two photos show the stem after it has been sanded up to the 3200 grit micromesh pad. The stem is beginning to get a shine and the scratches are disappearing with the sanding. From this point I went on the sand the stem through the remaining micromesh grits and when finished I gave it a coating of Obsidian Oil to penetrate the surface and give it a deep polish. Once that dried I buffed it by hand with some carnauba wax in paste form that I purchased from Walker Briar Works.ImageImage

From the next series of photos you can see that I interrupted my work on the stem to remove the bowl from the alcohol bath. I did that because I was curious to see how it was cleaning up. You will notice in these photos the brownish grey sludge in the grooves of the blast. I used the tooth brush once again to scrub the surface with Isopropyl from the alcohol bath. Once the grime was removed I washed the bowl down with clean Isopropyl and dried it off.


The next series of photos show the dried bowl. The grime is gone and the finish is now down to the stain. Even some of the top coat of stain has been removed and you can see the briar. I laid the bowl aside and finished up the stem as I described it above.


The aluminum condensing chamber on the shank and the chamber in the stem needed much work. I used cotton swabs that I flattened to clean the area inside the shank around the airway extension and the same in the stem. Once that was clean I polished the oxidized aluminum with the micromesh pads to burnish the aluminum and get the shine back.


I then restained the bowl with a dark brown stain, knowing that when I buffed it the reddish brown undercoat would shine through on the high spots and the dark would fill the crevices and give the pipe a contrast stain. The next series of three photos show the staining and the way the various grains took the stain. The right side of the bowl has a great ring blast that is fairly deep and craggy. The left side is more of a blast on birdseye. It is an interesting looking blast. The bowl rim came out clean as well and shows an interesting contrast in the light of the flash.


The final series of four photos show the finished pipe. The entirety has been given a coat of wax. I used Halcyon II on the blast to polish it without leaving the white residue in the grain of the blast when it dried. I buffed it by hand. The stem received another hand applied coat of carnauba wax and a buff by hand. The pipe pictured is clean and ready to smoke.


I have included pictures below of the other two Keyser pipes that I picked up and refurbished. The top one is an apple with really nice grain. I have been smoking this one and enjoying the dry and cool smoke that it gives. The second is a smaller prince shape that is no longer available. It had some burns on the rim that are still visible but it too smokes very well. One day will rework the rim a bit and minimize the burn marks. Till then I will smoke these Keyser’s and keep an eye for more of them.