Tag Archives: Shaping a stem with a Dremel

A Phoenix Rises – Reworking a Pipe


This post may be controversial to some folks as it is about the reworking of a pipe from a living artisan. I know that many would never do such a thing and would either sell the pipe or leave it in the collection. I chose to do neither of those things. Knowing that when Stephen gave it to me it was not one that he was going to sell and that in some ways he saw as problematic made this adaptation an easy choice for me.

Quite a few years ago now – enough years have passed that I am not sure when – I used to visit Stephen Downie when he lived in Vancouver. We had connected through the Vancouver Pipe Club and I enjoyed his company. When I visited I would pick up tips on pipe making that I could use in my pipe refurbishing – stem making, sanding techniques, staining processes, etc. I enjoyed looking through his box of throw away stummels that for one reason or another had problems and did not make the grade. He would often give me one or two to use to practice carving. I enjoyed the process of working with these blocks just to learn about briar and how it responds when cut and sanded. I learned about sand pits and flaws in the block and got to play around with the tools to remove the flaws as much as possible and craft a passable pipe for me to smoke.

One day when I was going through the box he gave me this pipe that he had made in 2004. If memory serves me correctly, Stephen said that he thought that the drilling of the bowl had left it too thin in the bottom front. As such he would not place it on his site for sale. He figured that it would still smoke well if broken in carefully. I gladly took it home with me, smoked a few bowls and then put it in the pipe cupboard. Over the years I have rarely smoked it much as I found the hanging tail fin on the underside very uncomfortable to hold. I took it out of the cupboard when I was choosing a pipe to smoke. Sometimes I picked it up and smoked it but it never quite made it into the rotation. The pipe smokes very well so it was not a matter of mechanics that kept me from picking it up more often, but it just seemed that the fin was in the way.

Fast forward to a wedding I did just a few months ago (2013) for a couple of good friends of mine here in Vancouver. At the reception dinner I connected with Stephen and his wife. We talked about life in general, books we were reading and writing and pipes we were enjoying. We talked of the pipes Stephen was carving and the ones I was refurbishing. We laughed over different details of the work while we sipped our drinks and ate the buffet supper.During the course of our conversation Stephen talked about an idea he had about reworking pipes for people and giving them new looks and improved feel. If they had a pipe in their collection that just did not get smoked often for whatever reason he would reimagine and rework it for them. He called his idea a Phoenix pipe. As we talked about it I found that I liked the idea a lot. When I went home that evening I could not get it out of my mind. I looked over some of my old pipes that for one reason or another have not seen the use they deserve. I sorted through them to see if one of them might be a candidate for this idea of his. I picked up the old finned pipe that he had given me many years before. As I looked it over I had several ideas of how to rework it. I put it back in the cupboard and let it sit for several months while I thought about what do about it.

I picked it up again several days ago and looked it over. I like colour of the stain but wondered what it would look like if I darkened it. I like the feel of the bowl in the hand. I liked the curves of the rim and the bowl to the shank. I liked the flow of the curve to the stem. I liked the shape of the shank and the black acrylic insert and the olive wood extension on the shank. The mortise was Delrin lined and the drilling was vintage Downie – well drilled, straight and clean. The fit of the stem was stellar. The stem was also comfortable and the button thin as is my preference. The Cumberland colour and material suited the pipe well. There were many things I liked about it. I turned the ideas over in my mind of what I might do to rework it. I thought that I would remove the fin on the bottom of the shank and the nob on the bottom of the stem and I would have it done. I thought about calling Stephen and setting up a meeting to drop the pipe off for him to reimagine – do his Phoenix work on it and see what he could do with it. But after looking it over for a while I decided rather than sending it to him I would do a Phoenix rework on it myself.

The first series of four photos are of the pipe Stephen named the Alopias (named after a Thresher Shark). This is what it looked like when I took it from the cupboard to work on it.

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I used a Dremel with a sanding drum to take down the fin on the shank and the nob on the Cumberland stem. I figured that would be fairly straight forward work – not a big deal to do with the Dremel. And it certainly worked easily enough. Removing the two parts of the pipe was pretty quick work. I finished with the sanding drum and left a little extra on the shank and stem that I would sand away by hand. I wanted to make sure that I could match the flow and shape of the shank and stem. The next three photos show what the pipe looked like after I had removed the fin and nob. It certainly changed the appearance and the hand feel of the pipe. I began to think that my reimagining was going to work out well.

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I took the pipe to my work table and sanded the stem and shank with medium grit emery paper and also with 220 grit sandpaper to further shape the flow of the shank and stem. I wanted to sand a gentle taper from the shank into the stem. I worked at the slope to get it the way I saw it in my head. Once I had that done I sanded it with a medium grit sanding sponge to smooth out the scratches and marks in the briar and the Cumberland. I really like the way the pipe was beginning to look. As I looked at the pipe I thought that a little more sanding of the slope would really make the pipe look proper.

But that is when the job became more than I had bargained for. In order to accomplish what I had in mind I would have to sand down the shank a bit more. To match the stem and shank flow it would need to have some more of the shank extension sanded away. That is when it hit! MAJOR PROBLEM! When I took the stem off the shank to check things before sanding I saw that there was not enough olive wood on the extension between the Delrin insert and the outside of the shank to take any more material off the shank. If I continued to sand it as I had been doing would expose the Delrin and ruin the shank. Even the amount of sanding and sloping that I had done had made the wood very thin on the underside of the shank. I could not do any more sanding on it without ruining it. So that is where this Phoenix took a turn and a new solution had to be worked out.

I looked at it and scribbled out some sketches of how to rework things. I thought about shortening the shank but really did not want to do that. So in the end I decided to remove the old stem altogether and shape a vulcanite stem for the pipe. The polished black of the vulcanite would match the band of black on the shank. It would also bookend the olive wood shank extension. So I found an oval saddle stem in my box of stems and turned the tenon with the PIMO tenon tool. Once I had a good fit on the tenon, I used the Dremel with the sanding drum to shape the stem to the shank. I decided to make the stem a half saddle by removing the saddle portion on the underside of the stem. This was tedious and slow work as I did not have any margin for damage on the shank itself. Once I had sanded the stem to a close fit with the Dremel I did the rest of the work by hand with files and sandpaper. The next four photos show the new vulcanite stem after all the fitting and shaping work had beencompleted. I still needed to polish and bend the stem to make the angle similar to the original.

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At this point in the process I wiped down the bowl with an acetone soaked cotton pad to remove the wax and finish from the pipe so that I could restain and blend the sanded portion of the shank on the bottom with the stain on the bowl. I also chose to stain the olive wood with the same stain to add a patina like quality to the look. The next three photos show the pipe after it has been wiped down and is ready to be stained.

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I did some more sanding on the shank and stem using a fine grit sanding sponge to smooth out any of the remaining surface scratches.I followed up by sanding the shank and the stem with micromesh sanding padsand then wiped it down a final time to remove the sanding dust and other debris before staining.The photo below shows the bowl and shank ready for staining.

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I stained the bowl and shank with an oxblood stain to give a reddish over stain to the brown undercoat. I wiped it on, flamed it, wiped it on again, and flamed it again. The red overcoat gave a depth to the colour on the bowl that had not been present before. It also gave a patina to the olivewood that really highlighted the grain in the wood. After the stain had dried I took the pipe to the buffer and buffed the bowl and stem with Tripoli and with White Diamond. The next series of four photos show pipe after I had buffed it. The new look seemed to work with the pipe. From the photos I could see that I also needed to make some adjustments to the underside of the shank to give it a better flow.

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In the above photos it is evident that there was still a slight hump on the bottom of the shank on both sides of the acrylic band. That hump bothered me so I took it back to the Dremel and sanding drum and removed some more of the material on the shank around the acrylic band. I wanted to smooth out the flow of the bottom of the shank from the tip of the stem to the bottom of the bowl. One of the issues that I had to think through in doing this was that some of the original Downie stamp would lost. I would not remove all of the stamping but some of the letters on the stem side of the shank would be lost. I decided that I had made enough changes to the pipe that to not finish would leave the job half done. Sanding it down definitely improved the way it looked. After I finished sanding with the DremelI sanded the entire underside of the shank with 220 grit sandpaper, a medium and fine grit sanding sponge and then micromesh sanding pads 1500-3200 grit. I stained the portion I had sanded with the oxblood stain to match the rest of the pipe and then buffed it with White Diamond. I gave the entirety several coats of carnauba wax and then buffed with a soft flannel buff to polish it. The final series of four photos show the finished pipe.

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Savinelli deluxe Milano Stack Restemmed & Renewed


Blog by Steve Laug

The second pipe in the lot pictured below that I chose to work on was the one on the top of the right column. It is stamped on top of the shank Savinelli de luxe Milano and on the underside the Savinelli shield and next to that is it stamped 130KS Italy. The finish was dull and mostly gone. The rim was not charred at all but had a heavy build up of tars. The bowl was caked – interestingly for a pipe this deep it was caked all the way to the bottom of the bowl. The dimensions of this bowl are: height 2 1/4 inches, outer diameter of the bowl 1 ½ inches, diameter of the chamber ¾ inches. It smelled of sweet aromatics so it would need to be reamed and cleaned well. There was no stem with it but there was a broken tenon stuck in the shank. I would have to pull the tenon and fit a new stem on the bowl. It was made of a good piece of briar – no fills or sand pits. The grain is cross grain on the front and back of the bowl and the top and the bottom of the shank. It had some very nice birdseye grain on each side of the bowl and the shank. The shape of the shank was a modified oval shape.

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Before I cleaned the bowl and shank I removed the broken tenon that was stuck in the mortise. I have a screw that works perfectly for this process. I turn it into the tenon by hand or a screw driver and then work it out by hand or with a pair of pliers. If the tenon is stuck and will not move I put it in the freezer for 30 minutes or more and generally it will pop out quite easily. In this case it came out quite simply and I was able to move on in the process of cleaning.

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I sorted through my collection of old stems to find an oval one that I could modify to fit the style of the shank. I had looked on line and found that this particular model of Savinelli had a taper stem (see the first photo below). I did not have any oval tapered stems that would fit, nor did I have large enough round stems that could be modified. I chose an older oval saddle stem that I believed would look good. I think that originally it was on a Dr. Plumb pipe but the logo was worn off and my modifications would remove the red dot on the stem (second photo below).

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I sanded the tenon with 220 grit sandpaper until I had a good snug fit on the shank. The next four photos show the stem before I began to shape it to fit. The fit against the shank was good and tight. The look of the pipe and stem worked for me so I was good to go.

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I do the initial shaping of a stem with a Dremel and sanding drum. I set the speed about mid mark on the speed control of the Dremel and slowly work at the surface of the stem. I do this initial shaping with the stem on the shank. I want to shape it as closely as possible to the shank shape before doing the finish shaping by hand. The next three photos show the stem after this initial shaping. There was still much work to do in bring the stem and shank to a proper fit and the width of the stem to a match with the taper of the shank. This work had to be done by hand using sandpaper and files.

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The depth of the bowl on this stack made it impossible for me to get to the bottom of the bowl with my reamers. The PipNet reamer went about 2/3 of the way down the bowl and the KleenReem or Senior reamer did the same. I have used a plumbing tool that is used to clean up pipe after cutting it to ream deep bowl. It is a ¾ inch cone shaped wire brush with a handle that I can turn into the bowl and go to the bottom to remove the cake evenly. It works exceptionally well for this purpose.

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I cleaned up the rim of the pipe with 220 grit sandpaper and also worked on the shank stem fit with the same sandpaper. As I was planning to refinish the pipe bowl and shank I did not care if I removed a bit of the finish while sanding the stem and shank. The next three photos show the stem/shank fit after I had sanded it with the sandpaper. I really liked the look of the pipe at this point and only needed to do the stem polishing and the finish sanding and cleaning of the bowl.

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I used acetone on cotton pads to remove the finish on the pipe. I wiped it down until it was the same colour as the sanded portion of the shank. This would make blending the stain much easier to do. The first two photos below show the bowl after the initial wipe down with acetone. Photos 3-5 show the pipe after the finish has been removed from the pipe and it is ready to be stained.

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When I sanded the stem I found that there was one small tooth mark on the top of the stem near the button that no amount of heat would lift up. I sanded the spot with the 220 grit sandpaper until it was clean and then buffed it with Tripoli until it was very clear the breadth of the spot. I filled the indentation with clear super glue and sanded it once it was dry. The two photos below show the stem repair after the initial sanding and then after it was ready to be polished. Once the polishing was done the repair would be virtually invisible.

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I cleaned the internals of the stem and the shank with pipe cleaners, cotton swabs and Everclear until the shank and the internals of the stem were clean. I used a dental pick to clean out the areas inside the button and the flare of the airway in the button.

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Once the insides were clean I wiped the bowl down with Everclear and removed any possible grime that I added to the surface in the cleaning process. The next three photos show the pipe after all of the cleaning. It is beginning to look like the stem and pipe were made together.

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Because of the amount of grime that I cleaned out of the shank and the stem I decided to use a retort on it to give it a more thorough cleaning. The next series of three photos show the set up of the retort system. I use isopropyl alcohol in the test tube and heat the tube with a small tea light candle. I use a block of ebony that I have here to support the pipe and retort during the process. The alcohol is boiled through the pipe until it comes out clean. Generally this takes 2-3 fresh test tubes of alcohol.

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After removing the retort I cleaned out the bowl, shank and stem with pipe cleaners and cotton swabs a final time to remove any of the alcohol and oils that remained. I then sanded the stem with 1500 and 1800 grit micromesh sanding pads to begin polishing the surface and to remove any of the debris left from the surgical tubing on the stem.I continued to sand the stem with the micromesh sanding pads from 2400-12,000 grit in preparation for staining.

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I stained the pipe bowl and shank with dark brown aniline stain mixed 2 parts stain to one part alcohol to get the brown colour that was previously on the pipe. I wanted it thin enough that the grain would really stand out and give the pipe a uniform look after the sanding. The pipe has some beautiful cross grain on the front and back of the bowl and the top and bottom of the shank with birdseye grain on the sides. I wanted the stain to highlight that. I stained the pipe, flamed it and restained and reflamed it to set the stain in the grain.

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Once the stain was dry I took the pipe to the buffer and buffed the bowl and the stem with White Diamond to polish the stem and the stained bowl. Afterwards I gave it multiple coats of carnauba wax and buffed it with a clean flannel buff. For a final touch I hand buffed it with one last coat of wax and shoe shine brush. The final photos below show the finished pipe. It is cleaned, renewed and ready to go out to a good friend who loves this shape!

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Shaping a Diamond Shaped Stem from a Round One


Blog by Steve Laug

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Figure 6 Top view after more shaping with the Dremel.

Figure 6 Top view after more shaping with the Dremel.

Figure 7 Bottom view before the Dremel did its work.

Figure 7 Bottom view before the Dremel did its work.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Figure 11 Back to the worktable and the hand sanding.

Figure 11 Back to the worktable and the hand sanding.

Figure 12 Hand sanding continues.

Figure 12 Hand sanding continues.

Figure 13 Hand sanding continues.

Figure 13 Hand sanding continues.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Figure 21 Left side after sanding with 320 grit sandpaper.

Figure 21 Left side after sanding with 320 grit sandpaper.

Figure 22 Right side after sanding with 320 grit sandpaper.

Figure 22 Right side after sanding with 320 grit sandpaper.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Figure 26 Right side after sanding with 2400 grit sanding pads

Figure 26 Right side after sanding with 2400 grit sanding pads

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

Figure 27 Sanding with 3600 and 4000 grit micromesh.

Figure 27 Sanding with 3600 and 4000 grit micromesh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Figure 33 Right side view of the finished stem.

Figure 33 Right side view of the finished stem.

Figure 34 Left side view of the finished stem.

Figure 34 Left side view of the finished stem.

Figure 35 Top view of the finished stem.

Figure 35 Top view of the finished stem.

Figure 36 View of the stem from the tenon end.

Figure 36 View of the stem from the tenon end.

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

Restemming an Old Bruyere Garantie Billiard


This is yet another of the bowls that was in my box of stummels. It is stamped Bruyere over Garantie on the left side of the shank with no other stamping. The bowl was badly caked with an crumbling, uneven cake. The cake was thicker at the top of the bowl than in the bottom of the bowl. The rim was also caked with oils and hardened tars. It was also dented and had a slight burn mark at about 12 o’clock on the front of the bowl. The shank was misshapen and out of round where it met the stem. It was almost as if someone had sanded the previous shank to meet the stem. There was a large fill on the back side of the bowl near the shank bowl junction. The finish had a coat of lacquer or varnish on it. I fit a tenon to the shank and worked on the stem to be a good tight fit to the bowl. The next series of four photos show the newly turned tenon and the shape of the shank at the shank stem junction.

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Once I had the tenon cut and sanded to a good snug fit I inserted it in the shank. The first two photos below show the fit of the stem to the shank. You can also see the taper on the on the shank that shows the misshaped nature of the shank. The stem fit very well but was much larger in diameter than the shank. I used my Dremel with a sanding drum to remove the excess diameter of the stem. The next series of six photos show the progress of removing the excess vulcanite with the sanding drum. The final photo of the six shows the newly formed fit of the stem to the shank. The taper on the shank is bothersome so that I wanted to have to address that issue before I finished the final fitting of the stem.

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Once I had the stem fitting well I decided to band the shank to even out the flow and roundness of the shank. A wide nickel band would fit the shank well and flatten out the shank taper. I wanted an even flow from the shank bowl junction to the stem. The look of the taper on the shank was something that bothered me and that I decided to minimize with the band. The next five photos show the process and results of banding. I heated the band and then pressure fit it onto the shank. I then used some superglue to fill in the vacant areas in the inner diameter of the band.  The final photo in the series shows an end view of the band on the shank.

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The next three photos show the fit of the new stem to the shank. The band sets off the stem shank junction well. The taper of the stem works very well in my opinion. More sanding needed to be done in making the fit smooth and the taper correct.

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I worked on the stem with medium grit emery cloth to remove the scratches and to even out the taper on the stem and the flow of the sides of the stem from the shank to the button. The next two photos show the stem after sanding the stem.

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At this point in the process of fitting the stem I decided to set it aside and work on the bowl of the pipe. I reamed it out using several different bits on the t handle of the Pipnet pipe reamer. I reamed the bowl back to bare wood so that I could rebuild the cake more evenly. The next two photos show the reaming process.

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After reaming the bowl I decided to wipe the outside of the bowl down with acetone. I wet a cotton pad with the acetone and scrubbed the outside of the bowl. I also wiped down the rim to soften the tars and build up on the top. The next four photos show the bowl after I had wiped it down multiple times. I wanted to cut through the varnish or topcoat on the bowl so that I could restain it.

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The next photo shows the bowl after I had topped it on the board and sandpaper. I was able to remove the damage of the dents and roughness with a minor topping on the sandpaper.Image

I also decided to remove the putty fill on the back side of the bowl. I picked out the putty with a dental pick. I wiped the bowl down after I had removed the fill to clean out the sandpit. I then picked it clean a second time and wiped it down again as well. Once it was clean I used the dental pick to pack the sandpit with briar dust that I had saved for this purpose. I packed it in and then tamped it down with the end of a pipe nail. I refilled the sandpit until the briar dust bulged slightly above the surface of the bowl. At this point I dripped superglue into the briar dust to anchor it in the hole. I repacked the dust and dripped in glue a second time. The first two photos below show the packed briar dust. The next two photos show the sandpit after the superglue has been dripped into the dust and dried. It blackens nicely with the superglue and instead of a pink fill the fill is now a black briar dust and superglue. I have found that the patch is much easier to blend in with stain than the putty fills.

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The photo below shows the newly filled patch after I have sanded it. I sanded off the excess with a folded piece of fine grit emery cloth and then used a fine grit sanding sponge to smooth out the surface of the new fill to match the surface of the bowl.

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At this point in the process I decided to continue working on the stem of the pipe. I sanded it with the sanding sponge. I worked on the fit of the stem to the band. My ideal was to have the stem sit evenly within the band so that the gap was even all the way around the band and the stem was centered in the mortise. The next five photos show the sanding process to this point. Remember the issue at stake was to work on the fit of the stem to the band and to remove the deeper scratches in the surface of the stem. I also used the sanding drum on the Dremel to taper the stem a bit more at the button. I wanted the button end to be narrow and give the pipe and older feel and look. The top view photo below shows the shape of the stem at this point in the process.

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I then wet sanded the bowl and the stem with 1500 grit micromesh sanding pads and water. This process removed many of the remaining scratches in the surface of the stem and also removed the remaining finish on the pipe bowl and rim. I wanted the bowl to be cleaned of the varnish finish and as much of the stain colour as possible so that I could more easily blend the rim and the bowl colour. The next three photos show the pipe and the stem after wet sanding. The stem fit is working well at this point and the angles and flow of the taper on the stem is looking more and more finished.

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I wiped down the stem with some of the water and then used the Maguiar’s Scratch X2.0 polish on the stem to get a clear view of the remaining areas that needed more work with 320 grit sandpaper before I moved on to the higher grits of micromesh.

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I continued to wet sand the bowl and stem with 1800 grit micromesh sanding pads. The next three photos show the progress that was made on the smoothing and polishing of both the stem and the bowl. I continued to wet sand with the 1800 grit until the surface was smooth and matte finished.

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I continued wet sanding with 2400 and 3200 grit micromesh pads. The next three photos show the progress of the sanding on the bowl and the stem at this point in the process. I also decided to sand the band with these two grits to polish the nickel.

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At this point in the sanding process I switched to dry sanding the bowl and the stem with the 3600 grit micromesh sanding pad. I sanded the bowl, band and stem with this sanding pad to bring out the growing shine in both. I wiped down the bowl and the stem with a damp cloth to remove the sanding dust and to prepare the bowl for staining.

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For stain on this pipe I ended up using a two step process. I began with an oxblood stain as an undercoat. I applied it with cotton swabs and also a dauber. I rubbed it into the bowl and shank and flamed it and buffed it off.  The next three photos show the application of the stain.

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I liked the look of the oxblood stain so I wanted to see what it looked like with a light coat of wax on it. I rubbed on some conservator’s wax and then buffed it off by hand. The next series of photos shows the bowl after a light coat of wax. I was not overly happy with the overall coverage of the stain and the fill still was highly visible on the bowl. It did not blend well. I buffed the pipe with White Diamond on my buffer to see if I could even out the coverage a bit. The fourth through seventh photos below show the pipe after buffing. The coverage was not acceptable to me so I decided to go on and give the pipe a second stain coat of dark brown aniline. I wiped the bowl off with a soft cloth pad dampened with alcohol to cut the wax coat and take the bowl back to the briar before staining it with the second colour.

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The next series of three photos shows the pipe after the application and flaming of the dark brown aniline stain. It was mixed 2:1 with isopropyl alcohol to get the colour that I wanted to use as the top coat. I applied the stain with the dauber and flamed it with my Bic lighter. I reapplied the stain two other times and reflamed it each time. I wanted a rich brown top coat that would give depth to the finish.

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The final series of four photos show the finished pipe. After the stain dried I buffed it with White Diamond and then applied several coats of carnauba wax. I also gave the stem a coat of Obsidian Oil and rubbed it into the stem. Once the stem dried I buffed it with White Diamond for a final time and then wax it as well. The finished pipe has a great looking stain now and the shape of the stem lends an air of antique to the pipe.

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Restemming and Refinishing an Imported Briar Italian Billiard


Today I took another bowl out of my box of pipes to restem. I had previously turned the tenons with a Pimo tenon turner and fit it to the bowl and shank. I had not fit the stem when I started. The diameter of the stem was larger than the bowl. This bowl was a real mess. It is stamped Imported Briar in an arch over Italy on the smooth left shank of the pipe. It had originally had a band but that was no longer present with the bowl. The finish on the pipe was in bad shape. It was almost a yellow varnish that was chipping and peeling away. The rustication was filled with grit and grime and the colour of the bowl was an ugly yellow colour under the varnish. The bowl was still round and the reaming had already been done and it was pretty clean. The rim had some build up of tars and oils and a few dents. Looking it over I decided I would have to top it to clean it up.

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The tenon was a good tight fit. I stepped down the end of it to sit in the stepped mortise in the shank. I needed to remove a good deal of vulcanite from the saddle portion of the stem to bring it to the same diameter as the shank. I used my Dremel to do that work. The next series of four photos show the process of removing the material from the stem. I use a Dremel with a sanding drum to do the work. I run it at a medium speed that allows me to float it over the stem without digging to deeply into the vulcanite. I find that a slower speed gives a very rough finish and a faster speed is harder to control the work.

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The next series of three photos shows the finished fit of the stem. I have finished sanding it with the Dremel. The photos show that it is relatively smooth with no deep gouges or scratches in the surface of the saddle. I also used the Dremel to sand down the castings on the button and on the sides of the stem. You can also see the place on the shank where the band was previously.

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One the stem fit well against the shank I decided to top the bowl. I set up my sanding board with the piece of sandpaper I use. I hold the paper on the board (it is a fine grit emery paper). Then I place the pipe on the paper and sand it by working it clockwise against the sandpaper. The next two photos show the bowl against the paper and the finished topping of the bowl. The final photo in this threesome is one of the brass bristled tire brush that I use to clean rusticated bowls. This one was quite easy to work as I could work it along the grooves of the rustication and work it until the bowl was clean.

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After scrubbing the pipe with the brass brush and some alcohol it was ready for a new band. I sorted through my bands and found one that fit the shank well. The next three photos show the shank before banding and then after I pressure fit the band to the shank. The emery paper and the fine grit sanding sponge in the pictures was used to sand the stem and begin removing the scratches and make a good fit against the band.

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The next series of four photos show the fit of the stem against the banded shank. More work needed to be done on the stem to remove the scratches and refine the fit against the shank. Once the scratches were removed from the stem then I would work on the fit. I wiped down the bowl with acetone on cotton pads to remove the finish. I scrubbed it with the wire brush a second time and then wiped it with acetone again. I also sanded the bowl surface with the sanding sponge to remove the finish from the shank and the high points on the rustication.

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At this point in the restoration I decided to restain the pipe with a dark brown aniline stain mixed 2:1 with isopropyl alcohol. I applied it and flamed it, reapplied and reflamed it. I gave the rim two extra coats of the stain to match the colour of the bowl. The next series of three photos show the stained bowl. It was darker than I wanted for the end product so I decided to lighten it.

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I wiped the bowl down with isopropyl alcohol on a cotton pad to lighten the stain. I wanted to see if I could clear it off the high points while still allowing it to remain in the grooves for contrast. The next three photos show the pipe after I had wiped it down.

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When I had finished wiping it down I took the pipe to the buffer and buffed the bowl with Tripoli to remove some of the dark stain. I wanted to remove it from the high surfaces of the bowl while leaving the dark stain in the grooves of the rustication. The next four photos show the pipe after I buffed it with the Tripoli. I also buffed the stem with Tripoli and White Diamond to give it a bit of polish and see what I needed to do with the sandpaper.

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I then removed the stem and wet sanded it with the micromesh sanding pads in 1500 and 1800 grits. I use fresh warm water and dip the sanding pad in the water and then sand the stem. I also used the Maguiar’s Scratch X2.0 after sanding. The next photo shows the stem after sanding and polishing.

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I then dry sanded the stem with the remaining grits of micromesh 2400-12,000 and then gave it a final polish with the Maguiar’s. The photo below shows the stem after sanding with the 3600 grit sanding pad. The shine is beginning to rise on the surface of the stem. I rubbed it down with Obsidian Oil and let it dry. The final four photos show the finished pipe. I buffed the stem with White Diamond and then polished the bowl and the stem with carnauba wax to get the shine.

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The pipe has come a long way from the stummel that was sitting in my repair box. I am happy with the finished pipe and the contrast stain. It feels great in the hand and will make a great smoking pipe for someone.

The Versatile Dremel Tool


Throughout various articles on the blog I have mentioned the use of the Dremel Tool in my refurbishing and carving of pipes. I thought it would be helpful to write a bit about the ones that I use regularly and refer to often.

I have two Dremels that I use for working on pipes for repair and those I have carved. The first one is a relatively new one that my girls gave me for Christmas last year. It is pictured below and is a MultiPro. It is a variable speed precision handheld rotary tool with ball-bearing motor that drives a wide variety of bits at any speed from 5,000 to 35,000 RPM. The Model 395 Multi-Pro tool came with an assortment of accessories that are pictured below – sanding drums, grinding stones, sanding and cutting disks and polishing disks, a drill bit. The tool itself has carbon motor brush set; keyless chuck, wrench, quick-change collet nut and a Windowed organizer case.
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My second Dremel is the one pictured above. I have had this one for over 10 years and it has been trouble free since I purchased it. It has seen a lot of work on stems and briar. I have had to clean out the brushes and opening with an air gun several times over the course of the years but it has become and old standby. It is a Dremel MultiPro 200-N/40 Rotary Tool. It came with a full kit like the first Dremel but includes a few more accessories as listed below.

Kit Accessories:
• Drill Bit
• High speed cutter
• Mandrel
• Coarse 1/2″ sanding drum
• Coarse 1/2″ sanding band (3)
• Emery cut-off wheel (5)
• Coarse sanding discs (36)
• Small felt wheel (4)
• Heavy duty emery cut-off wheel (3)
• Emery wheel (2)
• Fiberglass cut-off wheel
• Large felt wheel
• Coarse 1/4″ sanding drum
• Coarse 1/4″ sanding band (3)
• Fine 1/2″ sanding band (3)
• Fine 1/4″ sanding band
• Aluminum oxide wheel
• Aluminum oxide stone

I use many of the accessories in a variety of ways. The one that use the most is the sanding drums like the ones pictured below and on the picture of the Dremel with the sanding drum attached. I have found that in my restoration work I use the sanding drum for shaping a stem and adjusting the diameter of the stem at the shank junction. It takes a steady hand to not nick the shank of the pipe but the tool really makes short work of removing excess vulcanite or Lucite material. I also use it on a low speed to sand out the bowl and remove excess cake. I insert the drum into the bowl before turning it on and then adjust to a low speed on the Dremel to slowly sand away excess cake or smooth out existing cake. It does not work in the heel of the bowl and that work must be done with a reamer or a piece of dowel and sandpaper.
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I also use the sanding drums when carving briar pipe kits or shaping a drilled block of briar. It quickly and easily removes excess briar and is very maneuverable in shaping the angle and curves of the block into the shape of the pipe I am carving. The sanding drums come in two sizes. The one pictured below is the one I use the most in both refurbishing and carving. It is ½ inch in diameter. The smaller size is half the diameter (1/4 inch) and comes with its own head for holding the sanding drum. I find that I use it when working on more detailed work in refurbishing or shaping a stem. In carving I use it for the bowl shank union.
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I know others hang the Dremel from a stand and use a long flexible shaft attachment to carve and shape briar and stems. I have not found that I need a flex shaft though I have one in my tool box. I like the up close control of the tool as it is. It is probably a matter of what I have grown accustomed to in my work. I have also had competitor models and lower priced models over the years but have come back to the Dremel as it outlasts all the competition. I believe I have burned through at least two other rotary tools made in China and found that the brushes and motors just do not last for long. They are also very noisy to use in comparison to the Dremel.