Tag Archives: Tracy Mincer

A Custombilt Lovat Reborn


Blog by Steve Laug

I found this pipe on a recent pipe hunt in the US. It was sitting in a locked cabinet in an antique mall just waiting to be found. It has a long round shank with a saddle stem so it fits the description of a Lovat. It is a large pipe however – approximately 6 inches long. The combination of rustication and smooth is attractive. It has the standard Custombilt rustication but for some reason on this old pipe it looks more refined and less clunky (good scientific term, LOL!) than the other Custombilts and CustomBilts that have passed through my hands.hunt I have several Custom Bilt or Custom-Bilt pipes stamped with a separation or a capital B on bilt. I remembered reading Bill Unger’s book on CustomBilt pipes and knew that the change of stamping reflected a change in the company. I turned to one of my reference sources – Pipedia, to see what they said. Here is the link to the full article by Rich Essermann http://pipedia.org/wiki/Custom-Bilt I quote from that article below:

“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.”

From the above information it seems that the pipe I have could have been made between 1946 and 1953 if it is one made by Tracy Mincer. Otherwise it could have been made during the 1970’s. In my opinion the more refined less classic Mince CB look of the pipe, the variations on the rustication pattern from the bowl to the shank, the type and look of the stem all lead me to put it in the later era – the 1970s and attribute its manufacture to Wally Frank and Company. I may be wrong but that is my read on this particular Custombilt Lovat.

The pipe I found was in very good shape. The stem was slightly oxidized and had some roughness like it had never been finished well. There was no bite or tooth marks or tooth chatter on the stem. The interior of the stem and shank were also clean. The briar in the shank was unstained and looked new. The bowl had a very light cake. The finish was virgin/natural and originally had probably been oiled or just waxed. There was no stain coat or lacquer/varnish coat. Whew! The stamping on the pipe is simple. On the left side of the shank it is stamped Custombilt over Imported Briar. On the underside of the shank it is stamped with the shape number 12 running horizontally next to the stem/shank union.CB1

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CB4 The closeup photo below shows the top of the rim with its unique rustication and the state of the bowl. The rim is in great shape and the bowl is fairly clean.CB5 I cleaned out the shank and the stem with pipe cleaners, cotton swabs and isopropyl alcohol to remove the light oils and tars. It took very little effort to clean this pipe.CB6 I gave it a light reaming with the PipNet reamer and took it back to bare wood so that whoever ends up with this pipe can break in and build an even cake of their own.CB7 I scrubbed the rusticated areas on the bowl and shank with a tooth-brush and Murphy’s Oil Soap. The grooves and crevices had a buildup of dust in them that dulled the finish. After scrubbing I rinsed the pipe under running water to remove the soap. I put my thumb over the bowl to keep the interior dry.CB8 The next series of four photos show the bowl after the rinse and dry. The grooves are clean and the pipe is ready for the next step in its cleanup.CB9

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CB12 I use a plastic washer that I made out of a bread tab between the shank and the stem to allow me to sand up against the shank without damaging the finish and without rounding the shoulders of the stem or shank. It works like a charm and I have several of these that I have punched with a variety of holes to fit different tenon sizes. I sanded the stem with 220 grit sandpaper to smooth out the roughness and followed that with a medium and fine grit sanding sponge.CB13 Once I had smoothed out the roughness of the stem I moved on to sanding with micromesh sanding pads. I followed my usual method of wet sanding with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanding with 3200-12,000 grit pads. I rubbed the stem down with Obsidian Oil between each set of three pads.CB14

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CB16 I rubbed the bowl down with a paper towel and a dab of olive oil to bring the natural finish of the bowl back to life before I buffed it. I rubbed it down and let the oil dry overnight. In the morning I buffed the pipe and stem with White Diamond and gave the bowl a light buff of carnauba and then rubbed it down with some Halcyon II Wax. I gave the stem multiple coats of carnauba wax. The finished pipe is shown below.CB17

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CB20 The final three photos give a close up view of the bowl and stem from various angles. There is something quite attractive about this particular Custombilt. It has a dignity that draws me to it.CB21

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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

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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.

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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.

Refinished a Custombilt Scoop in Memory of Bill Unger


Blog by Steve Laug

I just heard the sad news that Bill Unger died today. He suffered from leukemia and that war is over now. Bill touched many lives in inestimable ways and will be deeply missed by all who knew him. It was not long ago that all of us in the NASPC got news of Bill’s illness and his impending end. It was a shock for certain but none of us would have guessed it would end so soon. Bill is the one who got me started into hunting down old Custom-Bilt and Custombilt pipes. I read his book: As Individual as a Thumbprint: The Custom-Bilt Pipe Story and was sold on the uniqueness and smokability of these pipes. I don’t remember the date I read the book, but probably not long after it came out. I immediately went on the hunt. I have about a half dozen of the pipes and several of the Doodlers as well. With that background and Bill’s book I could not pass up this old pipe when I found it in the antique mall last weekend. It is fitting that the first refurb of this New Year happened on the same day as Bill’s death. So Bill I dedicate this refurbishment to you. I raise my pipe to you my friend and will smoke a bowl this afternoon in your honour. RIP Bill.

This old timer needed some tlc to make it a functional smoker again. The finish was shot and very dirty. The rim was caked and the cake was thick and heavy. The tars in the shank were so thick that the airway was virtually closed off. I am not sure how the previous owner could still smoke it. The stem was also clogged and dirty. The outside of the stem was oxidized. There were also some tooth marks and bite marks on the underside of the stem near the button. But something about the look and feel of this old timer in my hand drew me to it. I paid a princely sum of $11.99 to take this one home with me. The first set of photos show the state of pipe when I brought it home. The colour of the briar is correct in the first photo. The other ones are cast in an odd light that I cannot quite figure out but you can see what needed to be done to bring this pipe back to life and usefulness.

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I took the pipe apart on my worktable and began the long process of cleaning out the tars and grime from the bowl and shank. I reamed the bowl with my Pipnet reaming set until it was down to the bare wood. I like bringing the bowl back to a new base to rebuild the cake as I like it. This one has an odd shaped bowl in that at the bottom of the bowl the airway enters quite high in the side of the bowl – about a 1/8 inch above the bottom of the bowl. Below the airway the bowl bottom is cut like a V – not sure if the previous owner cut the channel that way or it just happened for over working pipe cleaners in the bowl bottom. Whatever the cause, I will need to build up the bowl bottom with pipe mud. I cleaned out the grime from the bowl bottom with a dental pick and removed the dottle that had collected in the V. A good cigar will give me the ash I need to make pipe mud to do the repair. It should be as good as new when I have finished that. I used some isopropyl alcohol and then switched to Everclear to clean the inside of the shank. That took some work as the shank was very constricted from the end of the mortise to the bowl. I cleaned the airway with a bent paper clip and then bristle pipe cleaners to open it up. Because of the way the bottom of the bowl was I did not want to risk a drill bit to clean it at this point. Many pipe cleaners later the airway came out clean. I then scrubbed the mortise with cotton swabs and alcohol until it also was clean and spotless.

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After I had finished cleaning the inside of the pipe I put it in an alcohol bath to remove the grime from the rim and the outside of the bowel. I let the bowl soak in the alcohol bath for about an hour. When the time was up I removed it from the bath and scrubbed it with the alcohol from the bath and a toothbrush. I scrubbed the rim and the exterior of the pipe to remove the softened grime. Once it was finished I dried it off and set it aside to dry. The next series of photos show the bowl after the cleaning in the alcohol bath and the scrubbing.

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I went to work on the stem at that point and sanded it initially with fine grit sandpaper on foam backing. This gave me the ability to work the angles and curves of the saddle stem and the area around the button to remove the tooth marks and chatter. Once I had done that I used 320 grit sandpaper to sand out the scratches and remove the remaining oxidation. I then used Maguiar’s Scratch X2.0 to polish the stem. I coated the stem with the polish and then scrubbed it with a cotton pad and repeated the process two more times to give it an initial shine. The next two photos show the stem after the polishing with the Maguiar’s polish.

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I put the cleaned stem back on the now dried pipe bowl to do some of the close sanding around the shank/stem union. I did not want to round the edges of the stem and ruin the smooth fit that the stem had originally. Using micromesh sanding pads 1500, 1800 and 2400 grit I wet sanded the stem. I then used Murphy’s Oil Soap and a tooth brush to scour the pipe bowl and shank exterior. I scrubbed it until the soap was brown and frothy. I then rinsed it in the sink under warm water and dried it off with a microfiber cloth. The next series of four photos show the finished bowl ready for a new coat of stain.

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I then set the bowl aside and worked on the stem for the remainder of the micromesh sanding pads from 3200-12,000 grit. Before beginning with the 3200 grit I coated the stem with some Obsidian Oil and rubbed it into the stem. When it was dried I sanded the stem with 3200, 4000 and 6000 grit sanding pads. The next series of photos show the process of the sanding and the resultant look of the stem at this point.

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I set up my staining area and took out the dark brown aniline stain. I thinned it with isopropyl alcohol 3 to 1 and then applied the stain with a dauber to get the stain into all the crevices. Once it was coated well I flamed the stain and let it set the stain. The flaming burns off the alcohol in the stain and works to set the stain in the briar. I reapplied the stain and reflamed it to set a second time.

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After flaming the stain I let it sit for about 15 minutes to let the stain dry in the crevices of the rustication. The first photo below shows the bowl after the stain has dried to a nice matte finish. I then used a shoe buffing brush to buff the pipe. The second photo shows the bowl after that buffing. I then finished sanding the stem with 6000, 8000 and 12,000 girt micromesh sanding pads and then coated it a final time with Obsidian Oil.

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The next series of four photos show the finished pipe. Once I was done with the stem I put it back on the pipe and took the pipe to the buffer and buffed the pipe with White Diamond and then coated the stem with carnauba wax and used Halcyon II wax on the rusticated surface of the bowl. The entirety of the pipe was then buffed with a soft flannel buffing pad to bring up the shine of the wax. Once I have smoked a bowl in Bill’s honour I will coat the bowl with pipe mud to raise the V shaped bottom of the bowl even with the entrance of the airway.

Now the pipe is ready to load with Virginia and smoke a bowl in memory and honour of Bill Unger. Here is to you Bill. May your bowls always be full as you enjoy the end of all your struggles. My prayers and condolences go out to your family and close friends.

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