Blog by Steve Laug
This pipe was one of those happy coincidences. I have been looking for a Les Wood Hand Made Ferndown pipe for quite a while now to add to my collection. I have read a lot about them and had them on the wish list but have never found one. The crazy thing was that I was looking on Maxim Engels Site here in Canada and on EBay when I received an email from David asking if I would be willing to breath life back into this badly damaged beauty. That should have been an easy answer but I have been turning down work as my “day” job has dramatically become more consuming and I am left without a lot of time to work on pipes. I have been turning down pipes for repair for awhile now not wanting to add to the load. I postponed answering him and when I finally did I asked him to send me photos of the pipe so I would know what I was getting into. He immediately forwarded me the next two photos and I was hooked! I have not worked on a Ferndown before and this one looked like a good candidate for me to work on. I wrote and asked him about his timeline and he was very gracious with me. We struck a deal and the pipe was on its way to Canada for work. It dawned on me then that I had no idea what the rest of the pipe looked like and I would just have to wait and be surprised.I came home from my office yesterday to find the box from David waiting for me. My wife Irene had put it where I would see it. I took it to my work desk in the basement and carefully opened a well packed box that had originally contained pipes that I had sent to David. It was good to see this little box continue to serve its purpose as the vessel that protects it precious cargo. I took it out of the box and took some photos of it to chronicle the issues that I saw and give a benchmark for me before I began the work.
The pipe is a beautifully shape Dublin with a gold band. The pipe is stamped on the underside of the bowl and shank. On the heel of the bowl it is stamped Ferndown [arched over] Root [over] ***. Next to that it is stamped Hand Made In [over] England [over] Les Wood. On the gold band it is stamped L&JS in a rectangle [over] 9CT. The finish is quite beautiful but dirty on the bowl sides and shank. The largest issue with the pipe is the rim top and edges. There are burn marks around the front and back outer edges. The rim top itself is covered with lava but not enough to hide the charred inner edge and top. The damage is deep from the looks of the bowl top but cleaning would tell the story. The bowl itself is out of round from the damage. There was a thick cake in the bowl and the pipe stank of old tobacco but not enough to distinguish what it was… I know it was not an aromatic from the smell but otherwise I could not identify it. The taper stem is oxidized and has some calcification on the end. It is stamped on the left side and reads LJS. It was originally a stunning pipe and even with the damage and grime it still had class that was evident the moment you looked at it. I took a photo of the rim top and edges to show the burn damage around the bowl top and inner and outer edges. It has some serious char under the lava coat. The bowl is thickly caked as you can see from the photo. I also took photos of the stem to show its condition. There are light tooth marks and chatter on both sides next to the button and there is a deep oxidation in the vulcanite.I took a photo of the stamping on the heel of the bowl and underside of the shank and gold band. It is clear and readable as noted above.I removed the stem from the bowl and took a photo of the pipe to show the proportions of the design. It is really a well made pipe.I turned to Pipephil to help me interpret the stamping on the pipe and gain some background information (http://pipephil.eu/logos/en/logo-f1.html). The photo to the left shows Les Wood and the information below came from the side bar. I have also done a screen capture of the information on the site.
Artisan: Leslie (Les) Wood. He was the master silver smith at Alfred Dunhill Ltd. before starting L. & J.S. Briars. Pipes for the European market are stamped “L. Wood” while those for US are stamped “Ferndown”. Production: ~ 2000 pipes/year (Ferndown + L.Wood) See also Elwood.From the information on Pipephil I learned that I was working on a pipe made for the US and that it was a large 3 star pipe in terms of size. I also learned that the Root finish was a smooth light brown. All of which helped to understand the pipe in hand.
I turned to Pipedia (https://pipedia.org/wiki/Ferndown) to find a more detailed history and description of the brand and was amazed to find that the majority of it was either quotes or written by Les Wood himself. I am quoting some pertinent parts of the article below. You can turn to the site to read it in full.
Leslie “Les” John Wood worked for Dunhill for 19 years. His last position was as master silversmith. Following his tenure with Dunhill, Les formed his own brand, L. & J.S. Briars together with his wife Dolly in 1978. Les Wood follows Sasieni, the first ex Dunhill worker to start their own enterprise, and he was followed by William John “Ashton”-Taylor.
“I started working at Dunhill’s in March 1963, in the silver mounting department working under Jack Spriggs he left the firm after I had been there for 2 years, and I took over the department, at that time I worked alone it was only when the department was relocated to the top floor that the increase of pipes that needed mounting that we took on trainees. After 19 years I was asked if I would buy the machinery and move out of the factory and set up on my own, so off I went. With me I took the staff that worked with me at that time, Robert Morris was the best, he could mount anything, he now has his own jewellery retail shop and makes some really nice handmade jewellery from his shop at Whitstable in Kent.”
“I worked on Dunhill’s pipes from 1980/81 and soon built up a reputation as the firm to send your mounting to. As time went on and Dolly left Dunhill’s we decided to start to turn our own bowls and make our own pipes under the name of my house.” Les Wood. Jan, 2020…”
Due to the vagaries of international trademark law, he sold his earlier pipes as ” L.&J.S Briars”, “Ellwood”, “Les Wood” or “L. Wood”. Until recently, an average of 1500 – 2000 pipes a year were sold as “Ferndown” — named for the mansion he lives in — in the UK and US, but as “L. Wood” pipes in Germany…
To many pipe smokers, Les Wood’s pipes embody the revival of great English pipe making initiated by Ashton in the early 1980s. The high-grade Italian and Spanish plateau he prefers is oil-cured in the tradition of both Dunhill and Ashton. The pipes are renowned for their pleasant, slightly nutty flavor and remarkable smoking characteristics. They feature impeccable craftsmanship extending to very good stem/bit work, though many pipes are often a bit heavier. The hallmark of his work, of course, is the excellent silver work. Almost all of his pipes feature rings or ferules for spigot stems. Grading is by finish: “Bark” (ca. 90%, rusticated, dark brown and black), “Antique Bark” (tan rusticated), “Reo” (brown and red, smooth), “Root” (orange, smooth), and “Tudor Root” (orange and brown smooth) and by size (one to four stars). He also designates straight grains with SG…
“We bought the briar from Italy and Spain, one is mush denser that the other I like the Spanish briar it is lighter and Dolly would make the Roots look like glass with only a natural vanish, all the pipes were finished with the same varnish, the bark finish on the bowl is put on by Dolly by hand, one slip and you have a problem. That’s one job that needs to be seen to see how it’s done.”
There also was a great paragraph on the oil curing process that Les and Dolly developed. I am including that below as the pipe I am working on was definitely oil cured.
“We had our method of Oil-Curing. We applied Oil to the outside and the inside of the bowl, that was because when Dolly was at Dunhill’s factory, she worked in the finishing department and got such a high finish on the pipes they wanted to know how she did it. The bowls had already gone through Dunhills’ oven oil curing system, but to her, it was not enough, because it could not get the shine that she wanted, then, she oiled the bowl on the outside and the inside to get a better finished. She left Dunhill and came to work with me. Because of this process, we found out the smokers liked the taste when light up their pipe – they said there was no aftertaste and it had a sweet taste doesn’t matter what tobacco they used. We have carried it on from there.”
With that background information it was now time to work on the pipe itself. I decided to top the bowl to remove the heavy charring damage. I put a piece of 180 grit sandpaper on the topping board and worked the rim top and edges over in a circular motion on the board. After a few passes I took a photo of the rim top to show the progress but also to show the burn damage.Before working on the rim edges I reamed the bowl with a PipNet Reamer to cut back the cake to bare wood. I cleaned up the remaining cake with a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife. I then sanded the bowl with a piece of 220 sandpaper wrapped around a piece of dowel to smooth out the bowl walls. The reaming and sanding cleaned up a lot of the damage on the inner edge as you can see in the fourth photo below.With that done I turned my attention to the inner and outer edges of the rim. I cleaned up both with a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper. I worked on removing the burn marks on the outer edge and gave the inner edge a light bevel to hide the burn marks.I scrubbed the exterior of the bowl and shank with undiluted Murphy’s Oil Soap and a tooth brush. I work on the grime ground into the briar. I rinsed the bowl with warm running water to remove the debris left behind from the scrubbing. The pipe looked much better and the rim top was greatly improved. I cleaned the internals of the bowl, shank and airway in the stem with isopropyl alcohol, cotton swabs and pipe cleaners until they came out clean.I set the stem aside and turned my attention to polishing the briar. I used 1500-12000 grit micromesh sanding pads and wiped the bowl down after each pad with a damp cloth. The briar on the rim began to change the colour to get much closer to the rest of the bowl. I used a Maple stain pen to blend the rim top into the colour of the rest of the bowl. It matched well and served to obscure the burn mark on the rim edges. I also restained a light spot on the heel of the bowl. I rubbed the bowl and shank down with Before & After Restoration Balm. I worked it into the surface of the bowl sides and shank with my fingertips to clean, enliven and protect the briar. I let the balm sit for a little while and then buffed with a cotton cloth to raise the shine. The Balm did its magic and the grain stood out. I set the bowl aside and put the stem to soak in a bath of Briarville’s Pipe Stem Deoxidizer overnight. In the morning I rinsed it off with warm water and rubbed off the remaining softened oxidation until the stem was very clean. It looked very good and even the LJS gold stamping looked good. I set the bowl aside and turned my attention to the stem. I “painted” the tooth marks on the stem with the flame of a lighter to raise them. I sanded the remaining tooth chatter and marks with 220 grit sandpaper to blend them into the stem surface. I started the polishing process with 400 grit wet dry sandpaper. I polished the vulcanite stem with micromesh sanding pads – 1500-12000 grit pads. I wiped it down with Obsidian Oil after each sanding pad. I used Before & After Pipe Polish – both Fine and Extra Fine to further polish the stem. The photo below shows the polished stem. I touched up the LJS stamp on the left side of the taper stem with Rub’n Buff Antique Gold. I rubbed it on and worked it into the stamp with a tooth pick. I buffed it off with a soft cloth. This nice looking Les Wood Ferndown Root 3 Dublin with a taper vulcanite stem is a great looking pipe now that it has been restored. The briar is clean and the grain really came alive. The rich brown stains gave the finish a sense of depth with the polishing and waxing. The grain really popped. I put the stem back on the bowl and buffed the pipe with Blue Diamond on the buffing wheel using a light touch on the briar. I gave the bowl and the stem multiple coats of carnauba wax on the buffing wheel. I buffed the pipe with a clean buffing pad to raise the shine. I hand buffed the pipe with a microfiber cloth to deepen the shine. The finished Ferndown Root 3 Dublin really is a beauty and feels great in the hand and looks very good. Give the finished pipe a look in the photos below. The dimensions of the pipe are Length: 6 inches, Height: 2 inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 ¾ inches, Chamber diameter: 7/8 of an inch. The weight of the pipe is 66 grams/2.36 oz. The pipe will be going back David very soon. I am looking forward to what he thinks once he has it back in his hands. Thanks for reading this blog and my reflections on the pipe while I worked on it. It was a fun one to work on.