Tag Archives: Tracy Mincer pipes

Finishing the Restoration and Restemming a Custom-Bilt Billiard

Blog by Steve Laug

Not long ago I was speaking with Paresh and Abha on Facetime and they showed me a second pipe that they wanted me to finish for them. This one was a Custom-Bilt billiard that had come to him from the estate of his Grandfather. It had a threaded tenon stem and a shank that had no threads. I have never seen a Custom-Bilt with a threaded mortise and tenon so it was a fair assumption that the stem was not original. It had been wrapped with glue and tape to make it fit in the shank and the fit was awful. Paresh wanted me to fit a new stem on the pipe for him. Abha had done a magnificent job cleaning the pipe so it was really a simple restoration for me – just fit a stem and finish the bowl. The briar was clean and lifeless so it would need some attention to breathe life into it again. He wanted me to pick up where he had left off and finish the pipe for him. The pipe was stamped on the left side of the shank Custom-Bilt and on the underside it was stamped Imported Briar. It would be interesting to see what I could do with it. When the pipe arrived this is what it looked like. You can see the remnants of wrapping and glue on the metal threaded tenon. There were tooth marks in the surface of the vulcanite stem on both the top and underside near the button. The first photo below shows the rim top and the inside of the bowl. Both were very clean and the rustication was in great condition as were the inner and outer edges of the bowl. The second photo shows the end of the shank with the glue on the inside of the mortise and the lack of threads that would be present if the tenon that was on the stem would work with this pipe.I took some photos of the stamping on the left and underside of the shank. The left side reads Custom-Bilt and the underside reads Imported Briar.I took close up photos of the stem. You can see the metal tenon on the end of the stem. There is some oxidation and there are the tooth marks on the stem top and underside.I wanted to refresh my memory on the history of the brand. I knew that his one was one of Tracy Mincer’s pipes because of the hyphenated name stamp. I looked on Pipedia and read Richard Esserman’s write up on Bill Unger’s Book. He gives a great summary of the history there. I quote a section of it below. (https://pipedia.org/wiki/Custom-Bilt(Rich Esserman))Tracy Mincer started the original Custom-Bilt pipes it appears in 1934. Bill meticulously details the start of the Company, how it was financed, the changes in the original ownership, how the company distributed its product, the manufacturing process, certain patented items, and other interesting stuff.

Mentioned briefly in this chapter was the fact that Custom-Bilt was producing big, carved pipes using Algerian briar for production up to WW II. One important employee, Hetzer Hartsock, stated: I can tell you something about that rough texture that Custom-Bilt had. One reason rough textured was used was not only for looks but it could hide flaws in the briar. [The process gave] A very uncontrolled cut. Then he [Tracy] would buff it out. [page 25]

Custom-Bilt pipes retailed between $5.00 and $15.00 in the 1940s. According to an ad, standard Dunhill pipes were selling for $12.00 and $13.50, Parker pipes $7.50, GBD for $6.00 and Comoy’s $7.50. Not mentioned was that special Dunhills could retail up to $100 and certain Comoy’s up to $25.

In 1946, the name was changed to Custombilt after Mincer began an association with Eugene J. Rich, Inc. There were some big changes in advertising and distribution. The slogan “AS INDIVIDUAL AS A THUMBPRINT” began at this time as well.

In the early 1950’s, Tracy Mincer developed severe financial problems that caused him to stop making the Custombilt, and he lost the name. In 1953, Leonard Rodgers bought the company and emphasized tobacco pouches and butane lighters. (However, it appears Mincer was working on his new pipe, the Doodler.) In 1968, Rodgers sold the Company to Consolidated Cigars. In the early 1970s, Wally Frank Co. bought the Custombilt trademark and began to produce their version of the pipe in 1974 or 1975. Hollco Rohr owned the Weber pipe factory, located in New Jersey, and produced the Custombilt pipes there. In 1987, the pipes were made out of the Butz-Choquin factory (France) and then Mexico until the late 1990s. Currently, the Custombilt name is owned by Tobacalera of Spain.

I set the bowl aside and decided to work on the stem. The diameter of the stem was perfect for the pipe so I needed to remove the metal threaded tenon and replace it with a Delrin tenon. I heated and scraped away all of the glue and tape on the threads of the tenon and those that bound it to the stem. I held it tight with vise grip pliers and turned the stem. It would not come out no matter how I turned or pulled on it. I decided I would have to use more drastic measures. Using the vise grip pliers as a vise I set up my cordless drill to drill out the tenon. I started with a bit slightly larger than the airway in the tenon and drilled it. I was hoping it would catch and pull the tenon out. First bit was a failure. I worked my way up to a bit slightly smaller than the diameter of the tenon and worked on it. The extended portion of the tenon broke off and I was left with the piece in the stem. I drilled it out with a bit and the bit grabbed the piece and it all came out.Once the metal was removed from the stem I cleaned out the hole in the stem with alcohol, cotton swabs and pipe cleaners to remove the debris. I smoothed out the threads to leave grooves in the tenon insert. Once I had it smoothed out enough I tried it in the stem. The fit was perfect. I cut deeper grooves in the tenon with a file and coated it with black super glue. I pressed it into the stem and lined it up so the fit was straight.  I set it aside to let the glue cure. While the glue cured I worked on the bowl. I scraped the glue out of the inside of the mortise using a pen knife. The glue had hardened so it took repeated scraping to get rid of it and bring the mortise back to bare wood.When the glue cured I tried the fit of the stem in the mortise. The stem fit well on the shank. I put it in place on the shank and took photos of the pipe at this point in the process. I rubbed down the briar with Before & After Restoration Balm. I worked it into the smooth surface of the briar with my fingertips and into the rustication patterns with a horsehair shoe brush to clean, enliven and protect it. I let the balm sit for a little while and then buffed the bowl with a cotton cloth to raise the shine. The following photos show the bowl at this point in the restoration process. The grain is really starting to stand out. I polished the stem with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanding with 3200-12000 grit pads. I wiped the stem down after each pad with Obsidian Oil to remove the sanding dust on the vulcanite. I wiped it down with a final coat of Obsidian Oil and set it aside to dry. I polished stem and bowl with Blue Diamond to polish out the remaining small scratches. I gave the bowl and the stem multiple coats of carnauba wax. I buffed the pipe with a clean buffing pad to raise the shine. I hand buffed it with a microfiber cloth to deepen the shine. The pipe polished up pretty nicely. The natural oil finish works well when polished to really highlight the variety of grains around the bowl and shank. The polished black vulcanite stem works together with the beautiful grain and worm trail rustication in the briar to give the pipe a rich look. The finished pipe is shown in the photos below. The shape, finish and flow of the pipe and stem are very well done. The dimensions are Length: 5 3/4 inches, Height: 1 3/4 inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 1/2 inches, Chamber diameter: 3/4 inches. I will be sending the pipe back with the others that belong to Paresh. I have one pipe left to finish for him. Thanks for walking through the restoration with me as I worked over this well-made Tracy Mincer Custom-Bilt. 

Crafting a thin band for a cracked shank in a Tracy Mincer Large Billiard

Blog by Steve Laug

A good friend from New York, who I met over email and I have talked about all things pipes and tobaccos over the months. We have Skyped together and compared notes on our favourite pipes and tobaccos as well as the aging process in our lives. We have become pretty good friends sending tobaccos and pipes back and forth across the continent and chatting together regularly. A month or so ago he showed me one of his favourite old Tracy Mincer billiards. It was a beautiful pipe that only bore the Tracy Mincer stamp on the underside of the shank. He told me that he was cleaning it and removed the stem and heard that fearsome crack sound that pipemen have come to know as a shank cracking. Sure enough the shank cracked on his beautiful pipe. We spoke of options that were available for a repair. One of those was to insert a Delrin or stainless tube in the shank, reduce the tenon diameter and the repair would be complete. Another option would be to band the shank. He wanted me to have a go at the repair so he shipped it to me to work on. He did not want a band on the shank as he liked the original look of the pipe.

When the pipe arrived it was far larger than I imagined. It really was well rusticated and beautiful. The rim top, the rustication on the sides and shank as well as the smooth band around the shank/stem union really stood out against the rustication. The high quality vulcanite had some light tooth marks and a light oxidation in the surface. I removed the stem and measured the shank with a micrometer to see what I needed in terms of an insert tube. I opted for a stainless tube. I drilled it out and smoothed out the inside of the tube. It was ready to be inserted and set in the mortise. I set it aside and picked up the stem. That is when I realized that there was a problem. Airway in the tenon was drilled off centre to the top left. If that was not bad enough it was drilled at a bit of an angle. The combination of the off centre drilling and the angle of the airway meant that if I reduced the diameter of the tenon I would end up opening up the airway on the upper left side and essentially destroying the tenon. I thought about removing the tenon, drill the airway open and replacing it but that was problematic because of the angled drilling.

With the facts in hand I did a Skype call with New York and explained the issues and showed my friend the airway in the stem and tenon. I showed him the off centeredness and the angular drilling and told him that I would send the pipe back to him as he did not like metal bands. We spent some time talking about options – even leaving it as it was with the crack and just enjoying it while being careful. He said that he knew it was there and it would bother him. We went online and looked at some of the bands available – all of them were too large and covered too much of the shank. They just would not do on this particular pipe. At that point I had an idea – I could cut the band down so that it was a much thinner band and the profile would actually work well with the look of the pipe. We discussed the pros and cons of that solution and he gave the go ahead. I ordered a 20.5mm nickel band for the shank of his pipe. It was the largest band available and it was a close fit to the shank. It would need some work but it would look good I thought once it was completed.

When the bands arrived I was so anxious to get started on the repair of the pipe that I forgot to take photos of the pipe. I sent a message to my friend and asked if he had any photos of the pipe before he sent it to me. He laughed and said he too forgot to follow his normal habit of taking a full set of photos before he mailed it. He did have one photo of the pipe that I could use. He sent it to me and I have included it below.I cleaned up the end of the shank and used a Dremel and sanding drum and a small flat needle file to cut a channel in the shank end for the band to rest in once it was in place. The diameter of the band was slightly smaller than the shank so this was necessary. I sanded the area smooth with 220 grit sandpaper to fit the band in place. I pressed the band on the shank and used a Dremel and sanding drum to remove over half of the depth of the band. I wanted it to be significantly thinner and cover less of the briar. When I got close to the right depth I used a topping board and 220 grit sandpaper to take it down even more. With the band on the shank I wanted the edge of the band and the shank end to be flush so that the stem sat firmly in place as it had before. The next two photos show an original 20.5mm band with the one that I cut down. You can see from the photo how high on the shank the band would have gone. The new band was less than half the size of the original band.Once the band was the right height I smoothed out the cut off edge to take away the sharpness of the metal. I rubbed some white all-purpose glue on the cracked area and on the freshly sanded area that the band would sit on and pressed the band onto the shank. I wiped off the excess glue that was squeezed out but the band with a damp cotton pad and took the following photos. I polished the area in front of the band where I has sanded it smooth using micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanding with 3200-6000 grit pads. Once it was smooth I restained it by mixing a medium and a dark brown stain pen to match the colour of the rest of the pipe. The colour was good. I took photos of the pipe at this point before I buffed and polished it. I polished the nickel band and the restained shank with micromesh sanding pads. I dry sanded with 1500-12000 grit pads. I wiped it down with a damp cloth after each pad. I wiped it down after the final set of pads one more time. I buffed the bowl and shank with Blue Diamond on the buffing wheel to raise a shine and blend the stains together. There were some tooth marks and tooth chatter on both sides of the stem just ahead of the button. I sanded out the chatter in the vulcanite with 220 grit sandpaper. It did not take too much work to remove all of the marks. I polished the stem with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-2400 pads and dry sanding with 3200-12000 grit pads. I wiped the stem down after each sanding pad with Obsidian Oil. I polished it with Before & After Pipe Polish Fine and Extra Fine. I wiped it down a final time with the oil and put it aside to dry. With the stem polished I put it back on the pipe and lightly buffed the bowl with Blue Diamond being careful to not fill the grooves in the blast with the polishing compound. I used a regular touch on the stem to polish out any remaining scratches. The bowl had a good coat of wax when it arrived so I gave the stem several coats of carnauba wax and buffed the pipe with a clean buffing pad to raise the shine. I hand buffed it with a microfiber cloth to deepen the shine. The pipe polished up pretty nicely. The finished pipe is shown in the photos below. I will get it in the mail to my friend in New York on the weekend. I am looking forward to hearing what he thinks once he sees the finished pipe both on the blog and in hand. Thanks for walking through the banding process with me. This was a pipe that I really enjoyed working on. Cheers.


Restoring a Beautiful ‘The Doodler” Bullmoose

Blog by Steve Laug

This blog is about the restoration of the second pipe from the lot of seven that a reader sent to me that had belonged to his uncle. He said that the pipes were in good condition in terms of the bowls (though in looking at them they were in need of a good cleaning). The finishes were in decent shape – just dirty. He said that the stems all had issues and he was right with that. Some were worn with tooth marks on the stem on both the top and underside at the button. Some had been chewed off. All were oxidized to varying degrees. He sent me the following photos of the pipes for me to have a look at and we talked back and forth via email. About a week ago or so they arrived here in Canada. He had done an amazing job packing the lot. Each one was packaged in its own baggy with the stem separated for shipping. They were nicely wrapped in bubble wrap and boxed with the return mailing address inside! Very nicely done package. I opened the box and unpacked each pipe. I went over them carefully to assess what was needed in terms of repair. I chose to work on “The Doodler” Bullmoose shaped pipe which is the sixth pipe down from the top of the first photo and on the second pipe in from the right side of the second photo. It is an interesting pipe. The Doodler was originally designed by Tracy Mincer of Custom-Bilt fame as a very cool smoking pipe. It combined the thick rustic shape of the Custom-Bilt with some unusual features. The rim has a series of vertical holes drilled down the sides of the bowl and around the rim top there is a groove. These both work together to provide a very cool smoke. Add to that the thick briar bowl and you have the promise of a cool smoking pipe.

I am including a piece of information from Pipedia about the Doodler. What I found confirms the information that I remembered. I quote in full. “After his loss of the Custom-Bilt name in 1953, Tracy Mincer’s next production pipe was The Doodler. The pipe was turned for Mincer by the National Briar Pipe Co. beginning in the early 1950’s, and that company eventually purchased the pipe design in approximately 1960. After that time Mincer’s former partner Claude Stewart began making a line of pipes called the Holeysmoke which were largely identical to the Doodler pipes, and National Briar continued to produce the Doodler. The pipe’s design centers around a series of vertically drilled holes in a ring around the combustion chamber, meant to provide airflow and a cooler smoke.” https://pipedia.org/wiki/The_Doodler

I checked the other site I turn to – Pipephil’s Pipes, Logos and Stampings to see if any additional information could be learned on the brand. It confirms the information I already had and gives some solid dates for the pipe. I quote: Tracy Mincer who founded the Custom-Bilt brand is the inventor of the famous Doodler pipe. All the pipes of this brand have vertical air shafts around the bowl crossed by horizontal rings cut into the bowl. These characteristics are supposed to increase the cooling area of the briar. After Mincer’s death in 1964 his company was sold to National Briar Pipe Co. which continued to make The Doodler until the early 1980s. During the same time Claude Stuart who worked with Mincer continued on his side to produce pipes of this type under his Holeysmoke label. http://www.pipephil.eu/logos/en/logo-t4.html#thedoodler

The bowl had a light cake in it. The rim top had an overflow of lava on the inner ring of the top that had overflowed from the bowl. The left side of the shank was stamped “The Doodler” in Germanic script and often folks read it as “The Boodler”. Underneath that it is stamped Imported Briar. The rustication on the bowl was quite dirty and there was dust and debris in the deep grooves and the ring around the top of the bowl. The stem had light tooth marks and tooth chatter on the both the top and underside near the button. The stem surface was oxidized. I took the following photos before I started to clean up the pipe. I took a close up photo of the rim top to show the lava build up and the light cake in the bowl. The previous pipeman kept the pipe relatively clean in terms of the cake. It appeared that the bowl had been reamed not too long ago. There were some remnants of the cake in the bowl. I took some close up photos of the stem to show the condition of both sides.This was the second of the four pipes that I chose to work on first and put the stems in the Before & After Pipe Stem Deoxidizer. I pushed them under the solution and left them to soak overnight.While the stems were all soaking I turned my attention to the bowl. I scrubbed the grooves and rustication on the surface of the briar with Murphy’s Oil Soap to clean off the dust and grime that sat on the surface. I scrubbed the surface with a tooth brush and rinsed it off with running water. I dried the bowl and shank off with a soft cotton towel. I took photos of the cleaned Doodler bowl. It actually looked really good. The rim top still needed work but it looked better. I cleaned up the inside of the bowl to remove the remaining bits of cake on the walls and the bottom of the bowl with a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife.I used a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper to sand off the remaining thick lava on the rim top and the damaged areas as well. I worked on it to smooth out the surface and then polished it with 1500-4000 grit micromesh sanding pads. I cleaned up the inner edge of the rim with a folded piece of sandpaper and removed the damaged areas there as well.I worked some Before & After Restoration Balm into the surface of the briar with my finger tips to deep clean the finish, enliven and protect the wood. I used a cotton swab to work the balm into the grooves in the rustication, the ring below the bowl top and into all the drilled holes on the rim top and down the sides of the bowl. I let it sit for a few minutes and then buffed it with a cotton cloth. The wood came alive and the grain had begun to show through at this point and there was a rich shine to the briar. I took some photos of the bowl at this point to mark the progress in the restoration. I set the bowl aside and called it a night. The bowl was ready other than touching up the cleaning of the shank. In the morning I removed the stem from the Before & After Stem Deoxidizer and wiped it off with a paper towel to remove the remaining oxidation and bath. I cleaned out the airway with pipe cleaners and alcohol until it was clean. I cleaned out the shank with alcohol, pipe cleaners and cotton swabs at the same time to remove any debris that remained inside. The stem was clean and there was still some oxidation on the surface with some scratching, tooth chatter and marks. It was ready to be sanded and polished. I sanded the stem to remove the scratching and tooth chatter. I heated the stem with a Bic lighter to lift the light tooth marks. The heat smoothed out the surface enough that I was able to sand out the rest of the remnants of the marks.I worked over the stem with micromesh sanding pads. I polished out the sanding scratches and marks in the vulcanite – wet sanding it with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanding it with 3200-12000 grit pads and wiped it down with Obsidian Oil after each one. When I finished with the 12000 grit pad I gave it a final coat of oil and let it dry. Once it had dried, I polished it with Before & After Pipe Stem Polish Fine and Extra Fine. I rubbed it down with final coat Obsidian Oil and took the following pictures. I put the stem back on the bowl and took the pipe to the buffing wheel to work it over. I buffed the bowl and stem with Blue Diamond to polish them. I gave the bowl and stem multiple coats of carnauba wax. I buffed the entire pipe with a clean buffing pad to raise the shine. I hand buffed it with a microfiber cloth to deepen the shine. The finished pipe is shown in the photos below. The briar has a shine and a rich glow to it and the vulcanite stem came out quite nice with a deep shine. The pipe came out really well. Now I have five more of the uncle’s pipes to finish up and then these will be heading back to the US. Thanks for looking.

Respecting a Maligned Pipe, with Two Yankee Doodler Dandies as Examples

Guest Blog by Robert M. Boughton
Member, North American Society of Pipe Collectors
Photos © the Author

Oh I went down South for to see my Sal
Play polly wolly doodle all the day
My Sally is a spunky gal
Play polly wolly doodle all the day
Oh my Sal she is a maiden fair
Play polly wolly doodle all the day
With laughing eyes and curly hair
Play polly wolly doodle all the day
Fare thee well
Fare thee well
Fare thee well my fairy fey
For I’m going to Louisiana
For to see my Susyanna
Play polly wolly doodle all the day

― Beginning of “Polly Wolly Doodle,” author unknown

The entire ditty, made famous by Shirley Temple’s iconic, vivacious wholesomeness in the super-duper 1935 movie “The Little Rebel,” goes on about a grasshopper that picks its teeth with a carpet tack and develops such a serious case of pertussis (the whooping-cough) that the unfortunate creature “sneezes” its head off in a well-turned euphemism. This is a U.S. contribution to songs taught to small children around the world, for some perverse reason, and ranks right up there with “Frère Jacques,” who is not asleep but dead from influenza, and “La Cucaracha,” the most common version of which touches on a cockroach unable to walk for lack of marijuana to fix it.

Still, the usage of the word doodle, which is not as common these days, illustrates the reason for the name of “The Doodler,” a pipe of some fame invented by Tracy Mincer, founder of Custom-Bilt, apparently sometime in the late 1950s or early ’60s. The line was perpetuated by the National Briar Pipe Co. after Mincer’s death in 1964 and was last made in 1980. The Oxford English Dictionary defines doodler as “one who draws or scrawls aimlessly,” hence the verb doodle for engaging in this activity (or lack thereof). That must have been how the innovator had his brainstorm. It seems Mincer had a sense of humor.

With something approaching their love of very few All-American wonders, including Mickey Mouse and Jerry Lewis, Frenchmen seem to have an affinity for The Doodler. (See http://www.pipephil.com/article-3285357.html, which should be translatable by your browser.) The author of the site calls this a “radiator” style. He also notes what he calls the brand’s unique look that he claims requires no special nomenclature or stem mark to identify one with certainty. But it just isn’t so. Take, for example, the following samples.Doodler1

Doodler2 The Doodlers in this blog are of the type familiar to most of those pipe enthusiasts who have even heard of them. While I find beauty in many different forms, including those I restored and describe here, many of my friends, upon seeing The Doodlers for the first time, resort to evasions such as “Weird” and “I’ve never seen anything like this,” or more direct grimaces and even shudders in place of their true probable thoughts along the lines of “Ugly, ugly, ugly!” But as Margaret Wolfe Hungerford first paraphrased the ideas that many before her had suggested, in “Molly Bawn” in 1878: “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” And all of The Doodlers do include a stamp, with a star on some stems.

Here are two of “The Doodlers” I could not resist buying online, for a good price, as they arrived in the mail.Doodler3 I had come across the peculiar pipe in scrolling through the listings on pipephil.eu under T for “The Everyman,” which referred me tersely to Everyman. But above it was “The Doodler.” Note the well-known ridges and patterns of holes drilled through the outer ridges of the bowls, which were intended to cool the pipes with air circulation, whether or not they in fact succeed in that purpose. An interesting sideline to this serendipitous discovery and mental note to acquire one was that the very next day, on my eBay homepage, I found a “suggestion” for The Doodler. I’m not sure I buy into one friend’s claim that it was the result of Google keeping track of my search history and offering up products to buy…but then again, the same thing does seem to be happening more often.


The Saddle Stem Two-Ring Doodler






Doodler10 Neither of these stems was in bad shape other than one with some discoloration, but having determined to begin assuring even more thorough cleaning than I already have practiced the hard way, and knowing I had quite a few real messes awaiting restoration, I bought a tub of powdered OxiClean at the closest Walmart. My mentor, Chuck Richards, and others have recipes they prefer, but I have to start somewhere. I decided to begin this dual restoration with separate steps requiring two small Tupperware containers.

One, of course, was the OxiClean soak, for which I found instructions available on one website I located with clear directions. The other was for an Everclear strip of the old stains. And so – after filling one container with just enough warm water to cover the two stems and stirring in a little more than a tablespoon of OxiClean, and the other with a jar of used Everclear that was almost not enough to clear the tops of both bowls – I sat back and filled a pipe close at hand and relaxed for the next 20 minutes. And then while the briar dried and I finished the stem wash with cleaners and a scrubbing rag, I didn’t let those activities detract from my enjoyment of the fine tobacco. There seemed no good reason not to micromesh the saddle stem while I was at it. By the way, the foulness of the soapy water from the OxiClean soak gave me inner warmth only another restorer could understand.Doodler11







Doodler18 Running a finger around the chamber before stripping the old stain, I knew the reaming and sanding would not be easy, but I hoped the pure grain alcohol soak would ease the job more than it in fact did. Although the inside of the bowl was somewhat smoother, and bits and even a chunk or two of cake came free with my second finger inspection, I realized the carbon buildup was not the true problem. The previous owner of this pipe had enjoyed it so often and with such complete faith in the professed cooling qualities of its unique radiator design that he overheated the chamber and created an even pattern of rather deep pocks.

Therefore I took my 21mm fixed reamer (the second largest) from its box and found that it embraced the chamber just short of close enough to serve as a measurement of its horizontal and vertical dimensions. Only the small square at the end to which the handle attached extended above the rim. I reamed the chamber a few times at different angles to cover all of it, emptying out the scant amount of carbon resulting as I progressed, and cleaned the inner briar with a small cotton cloth swab soaked in alcohol. Finding, as I expected, that the pocks were still prominent, I turned to a piece of 220-grit paper that removed more cake but had little impact on the smoothness. Turning to 150-grit, as I tend to do, I began to get somewhere, and after much tenacity and aurally irritating screeching achieved a level of regularity with which I could live, after a quick finish with 300.

I dipped a pipe cleaner in the Everclear and then ran in down through each vent hole to clear out more hidden dirtiness and scrubbed until they were clean.

The oddest part of this restore, to my thinking, was the difficulty of retorting after the thorough Everclear dip. The first round dredged up so much gunk that half of the shank leading to the draught hole was clogged to the point where the soft cleaner bunched up and would not pass. Each successive beaker brought out more dark nastiness, and the cleaners I passed through the shank as well as the small cotton cloths with which I scrubbed the chamber were filthy – until the last. I boiled the alcohol through the shank and into the bowl several times to be sure. When all was done, I had used seven beakers of Everclear, five soft cleaners, three cotton balls and as many cloth squares.

For the next step I wanted to clean up the bowl and shank to see what I had to work with. I used only a light rubbing with super fine steel wool. Happy with the ongoing progress, I took both pipes to Chuck at the shop.

He had no comment about the tapered three-ridge version, which on this rare occasion I understood meant it was looking okay. But I will never cease to be astonished by his ability to glance at a pipe for no more than two seconds and see all that is wrong with it. In this case he spotted a major horizontal crack within the upper ring of the saddle bit bowl, not to mention a minor crack. Without my magnifier glasses in the fluorescent light, I still could not see them until he held it beneath a certain ray of light. Then they were as clear as day, which it was. I suggested a mix of Super Glue and briar shavings, and Chuck concurred.

I was disappointed, not because of Chuck’s keen eyes and helpfulness in pointing out the serious flaw, but due to the fact that I had intended to keep the other and to my taste nicer Doodler for my own collection and offer the saddle bit for sale. Knowing then I could not in good conscience do this, I told him so.

“Sometimes that’s just the kind of trade-off you have to make,” Master Po pronounced with his big grin, chuckling that his Grasshopper was learning.

Returning later to my abode in Albuquerque’s War Zone, I sat on the couch that is my customary main work area and scrutinized the pipe.Doodler19

Doodler20 I sanded the bottom of the tapered three-ridge bowl and collected the fine briar dust.Doodler21 Filling the cracks required two layers of the mixture, the second of which I applied more liberally. Getting into the groove with 300-grit paper to sand away the excess glue mix was a little tricky, and I thought I was done. However, after I sanded the yellowed areas and micro-meshed the whole thing using a full barrage of 1500, 1800, 2400, 3200, 3600 and 4000, I saw the grooves needed harsher measures.Doodler22





Doodler27 I broke out the 220-grit and paid as close attention as possible to the white areas of remaining glue, then repeated the previous micromesh procedure to the one groove. Success at last! I stained the wood with marine cordovan (burgundy) leather dressing, flamed it and used a very light touch of micromesh 3200. I then removed myself and the prepped briar to my official workroom, where I buffed the wood with white and red Tripoli, White Diamond and several coats of carnauba.Doodler28





The Tapered Stem Three-Ring Doodler






Doodler40 This tapered, three-ring classic style model appeared, at least to my eyes that are still in training, to be in better shape than the saddle stem version, not counting the stem that was discolored, the rim that was more darkened and the chamber that seemed to have more severe damage. In general, those are all superficial defects easy to remedy. Still, I chose to start with the saddle stem pipe because of my perception that it would be more difficult – and in part due to its nomenclature being faint almost to invisibility, I was going to offer it for sale on my site at the lowest price I offer. But oh, did I learn how appearances can be deceiving, and this three-ring pipe turned into a three-ring circus!

First, I will start with the good news. The OxiClean soak cleared away the discoloration and most of the other crud inside and out of the stem, and the rest came clean and ready to buff with some firm rubbing of a soft cloth, minor spot sanding and regular micro-meshing.

The initial problem I encountered was stripping the old stain. I have seen this happen before, of course, but not with almost identical pipes soaked for the same time with such radical results. Even after soaking the tapered pipe another two hours, it came out not down to the briar with nothing but a few yellow spots like the other pipe but almost unfazed.Doodler41





Doodler46 At least it was cleaner, in particular the rim and rings, and the chamber showed signs of improvement. Also, removing the remaining cake and evening the chamber walls was no problem. As with the saddle stem Doodler, I ran a couple of alcohol soaked cleaners downward through the vent holes and removed some leftover grime. Even the retort this time was more typical, needing only a couple of beakers of Everclear to be boiled through the stem and shank and into the chamber.

The pipe as shown above was almost ready for the buffing wheels. I hand-buffed it starting with super fine steel wool, particularly on the still somewhat blackened rim and a few areas that needed a little work on the remaining roughness from the Everclear soak. I then progressed with micromesh pads using 1500, 2400, 3200, 3600 and 4000, with the results below shown only front and back. Of course I picked out the little piece of fluff visible in the front bottom ring.Doodler47

Doodler48 The second Doodler was, indeed, ready to be stained. For the task I chose my Liebing’s brown leather stain, which is in fact a lighter shade than the Lincoln medium brown I have. Considering the large amount of residual original stain, but wanting to darken the briar a bit, I had a plan, if not yet the knowledge to carry it out to full effect. At any rate, I stained the bowl and shank as well as I could, but no matter how hard I tried, I could not work the applicator into the dratted grooves of the middle tier of smooth briar, although I was able to coat all three rings. Consulting my pictorial folder of the project that showed the original estate pipe, I noticed un-stained rings and grooves, and concluded I was ahead in the game, so to speak.

This was where I was mistaken. Have you ever had that feeling? The one that nags at you, whispering that despite all evidence to the contrary, there are the right way and the wrong, and this is definitely wrong? Yet still you didn’t follow your instincts?

Nevertheless, to make my act of self-destruction almost complete (there’s the modifier again – almost), I flamed the stain and eased off the char with 3200 micromesh before taking the pipe to the wheels. There I applied ever more beautiful coats of white Tripoli and red (to enhance the darkness of the grain) before White Diamond and a final coat of carnauba.

And so what, you might ask, was the major [expletive voluntarily deleted] malfunction with this tapered variant of The Doodler compared to the saddle stem? In short, the pipe that, to my eyes-in-training I mentioned before, appeared to be well used but more or less as its previous owner received it, had in fact been modified in a manner I did not detect. I very much suspect this pipe had only one prior owner, other than the conduit to me, after getting a close look at the crafty way he covered a ding that must have been, in tobacco pipe scale, comparable to a large patch of skin ripped from a person’s body.
And Chuck, when I showed him both pipes in progress before, pointed out the horizontal crack in the saddle stem pipe but appears to have assumed I was aware that the middle tier of smooth briar below the top ring was not made with the evenly spaced slots. I use the term “appears to have assumed” because of my utter inability to wrap my mind around the possibility that Chuck missed the alteration before he set it aside, especially considering his first words to me when I showed him the pipe I then hoped was finished. Again, I choose the word hoped because I was, at least, aware of the unstained grooves, and was hearing that shrewish voice again.

“Did you make this nick here?” Chuck asked, holding the pipe out to me and pointing, and puffing on his own pipe.

“No, it was there already,” I replied, not knowing where he was going. Surely he didn’t expect me to fashion and Super Glue a fragment of briar onto the tiny spot I beheld. Even he wouldn’t touch a blemish that small, I knew.

Chuck began to explain the situation to me, in his own way, which took me longer than usual to grasp. I felt like an idiot, although that was not Chuck’s intent. When at last I understood, a light went on in my mind.

“You mean someone, sometime slipped up and made a single gash in that area of the pipe and then, to fix his mistake, went around the bowl and made it uniform?” I said more than asked with a big smile of my own.

“Exactly!” Chuck said.

“Just like the way I had to rusticate the entire rim of the Italian No-Name Full Bent Billiard because of the one missing chunk,” I added by way of comparison.

“Yes!” Chuck exclaimed again, laughing and re-lighting his pipe. Then he brought up the missing stain and told me a small paint brush would do the trick.

And so to home I returned the first chance I had and, after lighting a bowl of tobacco, began the only other activity that has come to give me any real pleasure: restoring a pipe. Chuck’s advice to use a small brush did the trick, and I only had to stain, flame and fully buff the small circle of the truly prepped pipe. Still, I decided to add a couple more coats of carnauba to bring out an extra shine.Doodler49






I forgot to mention the extra sanding of the rim and the top tier, making it lighter than the rest of the bowl and shank, and giving me the idea for a gentle two-tone effect. At this point in a rather long blog, I just don’t feel like going back to find and edit that part. These were not the easy restorations I thought they would be, and I’m tired…but very satisfied.

To Chuck, my friend and mentor, and Steve Laug, our host and my friend and frequent guide through the endless learning process, I owe much for these restores. Thank you, gentlemen.

Restoring a Tracy Mincer “The Doodler”

A pipe I picked up on a recent trip to La Conner, Washington was a billiard that has the drilled flutes from the top to the bowl of the bowl all the way around. It is stamped “The Doodler” over Imported Briar on the left side of the shank. On the right side of the bowl is a burn mark that covered two of the rings. The finish was in good shape. The outer edge of the rim had cuts and broken edges from hitting the bowl to empty it. On the back side of the bowl one of the rings have two notches out of the lower edges. The inside rings of the bowl were unstained. Usually on a Doodler there is a scoring ring around the top of the rim. On this rim that was missing on most of the rim. The bowl had a poorly developed cake and the shank was dirty. The rustication on the bottom of the bowl was rough in the grooves and smooth on the surface. The stem was original and had a stepped down tenon. There was also some oxidation on the stem and tooth chatter on both sides near the button.
IMG_7692 IMG_7693 IMG_7694 IMG_7699 I wiped down the bowl with acetone on cotton pads to remove the finish. It took some scrubbing to remove the finish and the buildup on the rim. Once the finish was removed the burn on the right side was very clear. It fortunately was not too deep in the briar and would be less problematic to minimize when I refinished the bowl. IMG_7700 IMG_7701 IMG_7702 IMG_7703 I reamed the bowl with a PipNet reamer. I used the third cutting head and took back the cake to the bare briar. I had to also use the second head to remove the cake from the bottom of the bowl. IMG_7704 I cleaned out the shank and the bowl with isopropyl alcohol and cotton swabs and pipe cleaners. I used many of each and was able to remove much of the tars and oils in the shank. IMG_7706 The pipe cleaners and cotton swabs came out very dirty so I decided to set up a retort and boil out the shank and airways with hot alcohol. The alcohol in the test tube was heated with the votive candle and the boiling sent the hot alcohol into the shank. I had plugged the bowl with a cotton pad. I repeated the process until the alcohol came out clean. IMG_7707 IMG_7708 IMG_7709 Once I removed the retort I cleaned out the interior of the stem and shank with pipe cleaners and cotton swabs and more isopropyl. The remainder of the oils came out with this cleaning. I sanded the bowl with a medium and fine grit sanding sponge to smooth out the damage to the rim and the burn area. I followed that with 1500-2400 grit micromesh sanding pads. After sanding I wiped it down with isopropyl alcohol on a cotton pad. I stained the bowl and shank with a dark brown aniline stain thinned 2:1 with isopropyl. I flamed the stain and then repeated the process until the coverage was even. IMG_7711 IMG_7712 IMG_7713 IMG_7714 I sanded the stem with 220 grit sandpaper and then with a medium and a fine grit sanding sponge. I followed that by sanding it with micromesh sanding pads. I wet sanded with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanded with 3200-12,000 grit pads. Between each set of three pads I rubbed the stem down with Obsidian Oil. IMG_7715 IMG_7716 IMG_7718 I buffed the bowl and stem with White Diamond and then gave the bowl and stem multiple coats of carnauba wax to shine and protect. I buffed it with soft flannel buffing pads to give it a final shine. The finished pipe is shown below. IMG_7720 IMG_7726 IMG_7721 IMG_7727 It is now joins my other Doodler and Holy Smoke Pipes in my pipe cupboard. If it is anything like the others it will smoke very well and stay cool throughout the entire smoke due to the drilling all around the bowl. Noname

A Unique Piece of Pipe Design History – Doodlers by Tracy Mincer

Blog by Steve Laug

The Doodler pipe designed and made by Tracey Mincer of Custombilt/Custom Bilt fame has always intrigued me. It may be the oddity of the design that first caught my attention. The rusticated bowl with one, two or three grooves around the circumference of the bowl and then holes drilled vertically connecting the rim to the bottom of the last ring just had my attention. I went on the prowl looking for them, both on EBay and on my treasure hunts through antique malls and thrift shops. When I had seen the drawings and photos in Bill Unger’s book on Custombilt pipes I wanted at least one. If you are a pipeman you know how that works it seems that one is never enough.

I looked for quite a while before finding the first pair of Doodlers. They are pictured below (the second and third pipes from the left). Honestly, I think that the only reason I got them was that the seller miss identified them as Boodlers and they were missing their stems. The first one on the left in the picture below is a complete pipe with stem that I picked up at an antique shop in Washington State in the US. The last one pictured below is stamped Holeysmoke.It came to me via EBay as well and did not have a stem either. Everything about it said it was a Doodler so I bought it and added it to the group. I liked the longer shank on it and the solidity of the pipe. I did a bit of research and found that the Holeysmoke pipes were made by Claude Stuart who worked with Tracy Mincer. After the Mincers sold The Doodler to National Briar Pipe Co. in 1960, Claude Stuart continued to make replicas of The Doodler using the Holeysmoke brand name http://pipephil.eu/logos/en/logo-h3.html


I restemmed the two “Boodlers” (Doodler) and also the Holeysmoke. The Doodlers needed to be banded as well as they both had significant cracks in their shanks. I repaired the cracks with superglue and then pressure fit nickel bands on the shank. The restemming was quite simple. I used some stem blanks, turned the tenons and shaped the stem to fit the size of the shank. They are very light weight and all are pot shaped. The Holeysmoke is a long shanked pot. Some might call it a lovat but the shape of the bowl says pot to me. The Doodlers all have two lines cut around the circumference of the bowl. The Holeysmoke has three lines. I have seen up to four lines around the bowl on pipes on EBay and also billiard shaped pipes. I have not seen other shapes.


The crazy design, intended to make the pipe smoke cool, seems to work well as all smoke cool and dry. I notice though that several have cracks in the rings and in the rims. The vertical drilling seems to weaken the integrity of the pipe along the drilled holes and also along the cut bands in the bowl – just a note on the thinness of the walls outside the drilling. Even though this may be true, the fact is that they have still lasted until they came to me so the durability is not bad. I am glad to have a few in my collection as they are a unique piece of pipe memorabilia.

A Pair of Doodlers Restemmed

I picked up these two Doodler bowls that needed stemming. They were made by Tracy Mincer of Custom Bilt fame. They are unique in the pipe world, and often have been copied by others. The basic design involves deep grooves cut into the bowl and then holes drill from the rim to the bottom of the pipe. These tubes around the bowl and the open grooves are designed to cool the bowl as the pipe is smoked and deliver a cool dry smoke. These two were a mess when they arrived and need quite a bit of work. The shanks on both bowls were crack with hairlines crack in several places. They required gluing with super glue and then a pressure fit nickel band on each one. The bowls were reamed and cleaned and then restained with a medium brown aniline stain. I buffed them both with Tripoli and White Diamond to polish them.

I took two stems out of my can of stems – one a saddle and one a taper stem. I used the PIMO tool to turn the tenons to fit the shank. Then I used my Dremel to fit the stem to the shank. I took off the extra material until it was the same diameter as the shank. I used a variety of sandpapers to bring the stem down to the perfect fit. I used 400 and 600 grit wet dry sandpaper and water to remove all of the scratches. I used Micromesh from 1500-6000 grit to polish and smooth the stem. Both pipes and stems were polished with carnauba wax and a soft flannel buff. ImageImage