Blog by Steve Laug
The next pipe was another surprise to Jeff and me when it came in a lot of pipes that we bought it from the fellow in Copenhagen, Denmark on January 26, 2023. It is a smooth wide shank Bulldog with an unusual flair to the classic shape. The pipe is stamped on the underside of the shank. On the left underside of the diamond shank it is stamped TSUGE [over] KAGA. On right underside of the diamond shank it reads Handmade [over] In Japan [over] 950A – the shape number. The bowl had a thick cake with some lava overflow on the rim top and inwardly beveled inner edge of the bowl. There was some damage on the inner edge and bevel. The silver was oxidized and darkened. The finish on the bowl was dirty but also seemed to have a very shiny coat on it. The vulcanite taper stem is oxidized, dirty and had tooth chatter and marks on the top and underside of the stem ahead of the button. It came with a flannel bag stamped The Danish Pipe Shop in a circular logo. Jeff took these photos of the pipe before he started his cleanup work. He took photos of the rim and bowl to show the thick cake and lava coat covering the rim top. It really was filthy and a mess. The photos show the rim top and beveled inner edge and they appear to be in good condition under the lava. He also took photos of the stem surfaces to show its overall condition when it arrived. It was lightly oxidized and had tooth marks and chatter on both sides of the stem ahead of the button. The photos of the sides and heel of the bowls show beautiful grain around the uniquely carved bowl and shank sides. The rich brown stains highlights the grain and adds depth to the finish. It shows some promise. He also took photos of the stamping on the underside of the diamond shank. The stamping on both the left and right side were clear and read as noted above. The stem had a classic Tsuge Red Dot on the left side of the diamond saddle. To help me understand the stamping a bit more and the history of the brand I turned to Pipephil’s site to see what it said about Tsuge Japanese Handmade pipes (http://pipephil.eu/logos/en/logo-t9.html). I have included a screen capture of the section below as well as the side bar information below the capture. The first pipe shown in the photo below shows the same Red Dot on the top of stem as the one on the pipe I am working on.Tsuge Pipe Company Ltd. The company was founded by Kyoichiro Tsuge (1911 – † Nov 2010). The traditional classic shape pipes are machine-made. After Kyoichiro Tsuge passed away, his three sons continue to run the two factories and the Ikebana workshop. Kyozaburo “Sab” Tsuge, the youngest son , manages the company.
Smokingpipes.com (https://www.smokingpipes.com/pipes/new/tsuge/) sells the brand and has this introduction on their site.
The Tsuge (pronounced roughly “Su-gay”) pipe company is led by pipe maker Kazuhiro Fukuda, who has been carving for the company for nearly 60 years. Initially, they produced pipes out of ivory and briar which were all classic shapes that were small and stained dark. Kazuhiro went to Denmark in 1969 to work with Sixten Ivarsson for a month and Sixten was able to teach him how to hone his innate skill, which he took back to Japan to help the company become famous the world over.
While the factory produces many machine-made pipes, Tsuge also has available a handcrafted line called Ikebana, available here. Most of these pipes are carved in the shape/drill Danish fashion with very strong Japanese aesthetics. Frequent use of plateau and Japanese bamboo adorn many of the high-grade pieces. Each stem is hand cut from solid vulcanite rod, with a beautifully polished vulcanite tenon from the same piece. Slight asymmetry allows many of the shapes to utilize the wonderful grain and Japanese aesthetic. A few of their pipes even are dressed in ultra high grade Japanese lacquer for the Namiki line.
I then turned to Pipedia (https://pipedia.org/wiki/Tsuge) for more information. It has a great summary of the history of the brand. I quote from a portion of the article below:
1950–Tsuge Started Making Products Eyeing Overseas Markets
When imported briar became available in the 1950’s, TSUGE started making briar pipes. Kyoichiro requested an ivory carver to engrave traditional Japanese motifs such as Mt. Fuji, three monkeys, Toshogu, and Geisha on pipe bowls. The pipes were sold to the U.S. soldiers as souvenirs at the Imperial Hotel, Yokohama officers club, and at the shops of the PX and USO. In the 1960’s the demand of pipes for soldiers increased due to the aggravation of the Vietnam War and a large amount of cherry wood pipes made in Japan were exported to Saigon.
1970 –Excellent Craftsmanship Acclaimed by the World
In the 1970’s the company lost its share to the emerging Asian countries in the severe price competition resulting from the sharp hike in the yen. In order to make competitive high value-added pipes, the company sent six craftsmen to pipe workshops in Italy and Denmark to acquire advanced skills of pipe-making from Europe. Two craftsmen, Fukado and Sato, studied under the great masters Sixten Ivarsson and Jørgen Larsen to touch the essence of freehand pipe making.
Upon returning to Japan, they immediately started working on freehand pipes. At first, the pipes were exported to the U.S. and earned a good reputation. Then, Tsuge received an offer from Germany that led to success in Europe. When freehand pipes and series pipes started to be sold at famous smoking goods shops in Germany and Switzerland, people said, “Japan has sent us cars and motorcycles, and now pipes, too!”
I then turned to the following link on Worthpoint, an online auction site that had a Kaga 950S on it (https://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedia/tsuge-kaga-950-handmade-japan-dark-400653938). It referred to a bent “Rhodesian” 950S shaped pipe, made by Tsuge Briar Pipe Company, Japan. It shows a “Kaga” pipe-line or grading stamp, with a beautiful “Dark” sandblasted finish, with an awesome grained, deep blast “Relief Grain”. This pipe is in excellent condition, it’s almost like a new pipe by Tsuge Briar Pipe Co.
The description gave another concise history of the brand that I quote below.
The company was founded by Kyoichiro Tsuge (1911 – �� Nov 2010). Tsuge business is owned by a family whose craftsmen tradition stretches back to Japan’s warring period, which ended in the 19th Century. During that time, they were sword makers; it was only in the 1930s that the family began hand carving pipes. After Kyoichiro Tsuge passed away, his three sons continue to run the two factories and the Ikebana workshop, now handled by Kyozaburo “Sab” Tsuge, the youngest son. The Tsuge pipe company is led by pipe maker Kazuhiro Fukuda, who has been carving for the company for nearly 60 years. Initially, they produced pipes out of ivory and briar which were all classic shapes that were small and stained dark. Kazuhiro went to Denmark in 1969 to work with Sixten Ivarsson for a month and Sixten was able to teach him how to hone his innate skill, which he took back to Japan to help the company become famous the world over. “Tsuge Briar Pipe Company” is the best known Japanese pipe maker in the world and are highly regarded across the globe for their superior workmanship and creative styles. Tsuge pipes are distinctively Asian in style, with heavy Danish influence, balanced by Japanese aesthetics. They make traditional English style straight pipes, but their fanciful and delicate bents and half-bents are especially eye-catching. Some combine smooth, flame-grain bowls with startling lengths of honey-colored bamboo shanks, and flowing, with vulcanite or lucite stems. While the factory produced many machine-made pipes, the real gems are the Ikebana line. Most of these pipes are carved in the shape/drill Danish fashion with very strong Japanese aesthetics. Frequent use of plateau and Japanese bamboo adorn many of the high-grade pieces. Each stem is hand cut from solid vulcanite rod, with a beautifully polished vulcanite tenon from the same piece. Slight asymmetry allows many of the shapes to utilize the wonderful grain and Japanese aesthetic. A few of their pipes even are dressed in ultra high grade Japanese lacquer for the Namiki line. Their Corsican briar is exceptionally light in the hand and mouth, as well as dry-smoking.
Jeff cleaned up the pipe for me. He reamed the bowl with a PipNet pipe reamer and cleaned it up with a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife. He scrubbed the exterior with Murphy’s Oil Soap and a tooth brush to clean off the grime off the finish and the overflow of lava on the rim top. The cleaning had removed the debris on the rim top. He cleaned up the internals of the shank, mortise and stem with pipe cleaners, cotton swabs and alcohol to remove all of the oils and tars in the pipe. He soaked the stem in Before & After Deoxidizer and was able to remove much of the oxidation, calcification. When it arrived here in Vancouver it was a clean pipe and I knew what I had to work with. I took photos of it before I started my part of the restoration. I took a photo of the rim top and the stem to show their condition once it arrived in Canada. Jeff was able to clean up the cake and the lava overflow that was shown in the rim and bowl photos above. The rim top and the inner edge of the bowl showed some damage to the inner edge and top toward the front of the bowl. He was also able to get rid of the grime and grit in the surface of the briar. The stem looked better, though there were tooth marks and chatter on both sides near the button.I took photos of the stamping on the underside of the shank. It reads as noted above.I removed the stem from the shank and took a photo of the parts to give a sense of what the pipe looks like. It is a proportionally pleasing pipe with classic dimensions and a twist with flattened and widened diamond shank. Maybe it is my imagination but it seems like the pipe combines the Eskimo pipe shape with the Classic Bent Bulldog for an unusual shape that works well.I started my work on the pipe by polishing the briar with micromesh sanding pads – dry sanding with 1500-12000 grit pads. I wiped it down after each sanding pad with a damp cloth to remove the sanding debris. I rubbed the bowl and shank down with Before & After Restoration Balm to deep clean them. The product works to clean, enliven and protect the briar. I worked it in with my fingers to get it into the briar. I let it sit for 10 minutes then I wiped it off and buffed it with a soft cloth. The briar really began to have a rich shine. I set aside the bowl and turned my attention to the stem. I sanded the chatter and marks on the stem with 220 grit sandpaper to blend them into the stem surface. I started polishing it with 400 grit wet dry sandpaper. I polished the stem with micromesh sanding pads – dry sanding with 1500-12000 grit pads. I wiped the stem down after each pad with a damp cloth to remove the sanding dust. I gave it a further polish with Before & After Stem Polish – both Fine and Extra Fine. I finished by wiping the stem down with a final coat of Obsidian Oil and set it aside to dry. I put the stem back on the Tsuge 950A Smooth Stylized Bulldog and took the pipe to the buffer. I buffed the bowl and stem with Blue Diamond to polish the briar and the vulcanite. Blue Diamond does a great job on the smaller scratches that remain in both. I gave the bowl and 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. Considering the mess the pipe was when we received it and the surprise of a cracked shank that appeared in the cleanup, I am amazed at how well it turned out. The finished pipe is shown in the photos below. This is a beautiful Tsuge Bulldog – the vulcanite taper stem and the smooth finish combine to give the pipe a great look. The polished black, vulcanite stem looks really good with the rich grain standing out on the bowl and shank. The dimensions of the pipe are Length: 5 ½ inches, Height: 1 ¾ inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 2 inches, Chamber diameter: 7/8 of an inch. The weight of the pipe is 2.12 ounces/60 grams. This beautiful Tsuge will soon be added to the rebornpipes store in the Pipes From Various Makers section of the store. Thanks for walking through the restoration with me on this beauty!