Blog by Dal Stanton
After restoring 3 pipes which Tina chose to gift special men in her life, the final request was to fashion a Churchwarden for her oldest son Thomas, who is a Lord of the Rings “groupie” and of course, he wants a ‘Gandalf Pipe’ to aid in blowing inspired smoke rings! Tina’s son has been married for a few years and apparently, he and his wife have a Lord of the Rings movie binge at least once a year!
In my research on the Churchwarden shape, as the story goes, there were men back in the days when they didn’t lock churches at night, who were employed as ‘wardens’ of the church – whose responsibility was to guard the premises. To be faithful to their charge, they were not allowed to leave the walls of the church. That created an unusual dilemma between guarding the holy confines and the desire to enjoy one’s evening smoke. The moral dilemma was creatively solved by a stem. The length of the stem enabled the church wardens to tend to their evening bowls as they stood vigilantly inside the church walls while the stems extended through the windows…so the story goes (see Pipedia’s article). Of course, everyone knows that Churchwardens were prevalent in Middle Earth as Gandalf spun up fireworks and smoke rings!
I found a bowl that I put aside quite some time ago that
I believed would serve well as a repurposed stummel to be mounted as a Churchwarden. I know that there are strict Warden purists out there who question the validity of repurposing a bowl for use in fashioning a Churchwarden. Yet, I appeal to Bill Burney’s description of the Churchwarden in his excellent Pipe Shapes Chart published in Pipedia where he says: “Interestingly, all the other styles of pipe are identified by the shape of their bowls, but the churchwarden is identified by its long stem. The stem can be bent or straight, but it is always very long – 9” to 18” long.”. There may be ‘true born’ Churchwardens and there are also those Churchwardens who are adopted into the ranks through the promotion of a discarded and forgotten stummel surviving from another lifetime where they served among other mere mortal pipes that they used to be. For a common bowl to be remounted onto a Warden stem and to experience that metamorphosis is perhaps like when Gandalf transformed through fire in his mortal combat with Balrog – transforming from The Grey to The White…. Perhaps, only Gandalf knows for sure! The bowl and stem I chose for this transformation are now on my table.The pre-molded Warden Stem comes from my main supplier, Tim West at http://www.jhlowe.com/bits.htm. The stummel has ‘Real Briar’ stamped on the side of the shank, but what I like a lot is the 1/2 bent shank. This will yield a very nice sweeping bend in the Warden stem. The bowl’s size is not too large – perfect for a Churchwarden. Looking closely at the stummel, I see potential grain underneath the dark, marred surface. The rim has lava flow but has an attractive inwardly slanted rim. The chamber has light cake. I take some pictures of the stummel in its current condition. Before I start working on fashioning the new preformed stem, I clean the stummel. I start by reaming the chamber using the Pipnet Reaming kit. I only use the smallest of the blade heads and then transition to the Savinelli Fitsall Tool to fine tune the scraping and cleaning. Then I sand the chamber using a piece of 240 grade sanding paper wrapped around a Sharpie Pen. Finally, after wetting a cotton pad with alcohol, I wipe the chamber cleaning it from the carbon dust. I inspect the chamber after finishing and all looks good. Next, turning to the external surface, I take a few more pictures to show the nasty layer of grime over this stummel! I use Murphy’s Oil Soap undiluted on a cotton pad and begin the scrubbing process. I also utilize a brass wire brush to clean the rim. The results are good, but the reality is revealed by the cleaning! The reality of the condition of the stummel is the reason it was in the box with other lonely stummels having given their all and discarded! The finish is shot and the rim in mangled. Restoring this stummel to fashion a Churchwarden will be a noble endeavor! Next, I turn to cleaning the internals. Using cotton buds and pipe cleaners wetted with isopropyl 95%, I go to work. The internals are nasty. I also utilize and small dental spatula to scrape the mortise walls. There was a lot of resistance, but the buds started lightening until I was satisfied that the largest part of the cleaning was accomplished. I’m not too concerned at this point because I’ve already made the decision to put the stummel in a soak of acetone to totally remove all the old finish which will also take care of residual internal tars and oils. The next morning, I fish the bowl out of the acetone bath. Some of the finish was removed during the soak, but with the use of 0 grade steel wool, I’m able to dispatch the old finish easily after the night’s soak softened the old finish. The pictures show the raw briar that allows me to start over. With the stummel cleaning process completed, I turn now to fashioning the preformed Churchwarden stem. I use an electronic caliper to measure the diameter of the mortise to mark the target sizing of the tenon of the preformed stem that will eventually be seated. The mortise measurement is 7.38mm in diameter. Using Charles Lemon’s (of Dad’sPipes) methodology, I add 50mm to this exact measurement to give me my ‘fat’ target. The ‘fat’ target is what I will aim for when bringing the tenon down to size using the PIMO Tenon Turning Tool. The ‘fat’ target is 7.88mm. From this point, I will sand the tenon by hand which gradually and patiently custom fits the mortise. The first thing needed is to pre-drill the tenon airway with the drill bit provided by the PIMO tool. This enlarges the airway slightly enabling the insertion of the PIMO tool guide pin. I mount the drill bit to the hand drill and drill out the airway.Next, the PIMO Tenon Turning Tool is mounted on the hand drill and I cut a small test sizing to measure to give me the distance between the test cut and the ‘Fat’ target. After cutting the test, I measure it with the caliper and record 8.72mm and subtract the ‘Fat’ target, 7.88mm leaving .84mm to remove using the PIMO tool. Using the Allen wrench provided with the PIMO tool, I close the gap of the cutting arm and cut again. The measurement of the next cut after closing the gap of the carbide cutter arm took off more than I wanted – the measurement is 7.47mm – beyond the 7.88 fat target. This is why you only to partial cuts at the beginning!I enlarge the gap of the cutter arm a small amount and cut again. The next measurement is 7.75mm – much better, just falling under the 7.88mm fat target.With this measurement reached, I cut the entire tenon down to the 7.75mm width. I take the cut to the stem shank facing so a nice straight edge is created, and a ‘shoulder’ is not left from the rough preformed stem.I begin the sanding process by wrapping the tenon with 240 grade paper and rotating the stem and applying pressure strategically with my finger and thumb. I smooth and shorten the tenon a little so that it looks better and doesn’t butt into a ridge that I detect in the mortise which would block the full insertion of the tenon. I use a flat needle file to do this.The process is slow with a lot of tests and sands… But in time the tenon seats very nicely in the mortise. Nice!With the tenon snuggly seated in the mortise, the work is far from finished! The picture shows the offset of the stem and the lip of briar hanging over the stem. No stem fits automatically!The preformed Warden stem also is not straight but bows to the left through the reach of the stem. I’ll work on this when I bend the stem later.Using 240 grade paper I begin the process of sanding the junction of the stem and shank. My goal is to have a seamless transition from shank to stem with no overhanging ridges. The other issue I see is that both the shank and stem have high spots that need to be sanded down and blended into a uniform flow. What I want to avoid is the bloomers or stuff-pants look – where the shank balloons out when the sanding has not tapered the flow of the shank from the stem width as it transitions into the shank. It takes time, but in time the ridges have been removed and the tapering through the shank to the bowl looks good. I continue sanding the entire stem with 240 grade paper. The precast stem is full of ridges and the casting seam down both sides – all of which needs to be sanded away and smoothed. I also use the flat needle file to form and shape the new button. I want to retain the curved button slot. It looks classy! After sanding out the main issues with the new precast Warden stem, I transition to wet sanding using 600 grade paper. With the bowl and stem united, I sand not only the stem including the shaped button, but also the junction of stem and shank to continue to smooth and blend the tapered transition. After completing the wet sanding with 600 grade, I use 000 grade steel wool to sand in the same way. The distance pictures with a Warden stem are always too far away to see detail, but a close-up shows some progress.With the main fabricating and sanding completed with the Churchwarden’s stem, the next step is to bend it. The 1/2 bent shank of the stummel provides a wonderful trajectory for the bend and sweep of the stem – which emulates more directly Gandalf’s style of Warden. My goal is to bend the stem so that the final orientation of the bit is generally on a parallel orientation with the plane of the stummel rim which is what is suggested by the ruler in the picture. I remarked earlier that the stem is also a little catawampus to the left as you look down the shaft toward the bowl. Interestingly, I set up a renewed picture to show this looking down the shaft and my second look at this isn’t as pronounced as it appeared to me before. The sanding and shank tapering may have mitigated this to some degree. Bending the stem is usually by trial and error to get it right, but the good thing is that the vulcanite stem is very forgiving! To be on the safe side, though I don’t really believe it to be necessary, I put a pipe cleaner into the end of the stem to protect the airway integrity.I use the hot air gun to warm the vulcanite. As it’s warming, I gently apply pressure to the bend as the rubber compound becomes supple. When the stem becomes pliable enough and the bend reaches what appears to be at the right place as I eyeball it, I transfer the pipe to a chopping board where I can use the flat surface and the overhang for the bowl and button expansion at both ends, I press down to straighten the shaft orientation as I hold the bend. This works very well. The first time around, I decide I need a bit more bend, so I reheat, bend further and then hold the stem firmly against the chopping board until the vulcanite sufficiently cools so that I don’t lose the bend. To make sure the bend holds I run cool tap water on the stem to seal the bend.I like the results! The bend is perfect and will present a true Gandalf experience for the new steward of the Churchwarden taking shape.Before I put the newly bent Warden aside to turn to the stummel, I apply paraffin oil to vitalize the vulcanite.Turning now to what was a ‘throwaway’ stummel, I like the grain that made an appearance after the cleaning. It’s in there! It just needs some TLC to restore it to the condition that allowed for more beauty to come through. The briar surface is in surprisingly good condition. There are a few dents and nicks to be expected. There’s a more significant heel bruise where it appears the bowl was thumped on a hard surface.The rim has an attractive inwardly sloping cant which will serve to my advantage in dealing with the residual burn marks and the right side (top in the first picture) of the rim. The outer edge of the rim is also chewed up a bit. Starting with the rim, I begin by using a coarse 120 grade paper to clean and remove the scorched wood and the dents on the edge. I follow this with 240 grade paper sanding the canted rim surface. I’m hopeful this will remove the blemishes but also serve to freshen the rim canted pitch and lines. I then fine tune with 600 grade paper. The results are great. The transformation is more than hoped for! The rim is actually very attractive and some grain peeking out.I do the same with the heel bruise. I dispatch the blemish quickly with 240 grade paper followed by 600 grade paper.Continuing the sanding, I now sand the entire stummel using sanding sponges. I start with a coarse sponge, followed by a medium grade then finish with the light grade sanding sponge. The briar grain is showing up!Following the sanding sponges, I apply the full regimen of 9 micromesh pads. First, I wet sand using pads 1500 to 2400 then dry sand with pads 3200 to 4000 and 6000 to 12000. For a ‘throwaway stummel’ this piece of briar is looking very nice. Throughout the micromesh process, I knew I was approaching a decision point. The natural briar came out way more than I had thought possible when I began with this stummel. I can remain with the natural briar or apply a dye. I decide to apply Fiebing’s Saddle Tan Pro Dye to the stummel not for the purpose of covering blemishes but to bring out the briar grain more which is still somewhat subdued as I look at it. I assemble my desktop dying components. After I wipe the stummel with alcohol to clean the surface, I insert two folded pipe cleaners into the shank to serve as a handle.I then heat the briar stummel with an air gun. As the briar heats, this expands the grain enabling the grain to be more receptive to the dye when it’s applied.Using a folded pipe cleaner, I paint the bowl with the aniline based dye in sections and flame each section as I go. I use the lit candle to combust the painted section of wet dye and it immediately combusts the alcohol in the dye leaving the pigment to set in the heated wood. I eventually apply the Saddle Tan dye to the entire stummel and repeat the painting and flaming process again to assure full coverage. I then put the dyed and flamed stummel on the cork to rest through the night. With the dyed bowl resting I take the Churchwarden stem through the full micromesh regimen. I wet sand using pads 1500 to 2400 and then dry sand with pads 3200 to 4000 and 6000 to 12000. Between each set of 3 pads I apply a healthy coat of Obsidian Oil to the stem to vitalize the vulcanite. The newly polished vulcanite pops! I take one concluding picture instead of the usual 3 because the picture shows no detail because of the size of the stem!The next morning, I’m ready to unwrap the flamed bowl. After mounting a felt cloth buffing wheel on the Dremel, I set the speed to the lowest possible to reduce the heating factor. I then apply Tripoli compound to the bowl to remove the flamed crust to reveal the briar beneath. With the assistance of my wife, she takes a few pictures to show the initial removal of the flamed crust. It takes me a good bit of time to slowly and methodically go through this ‘plowing’ and polishing process. I remove dye blotches to make sure what is revealed is the minutia of the grain texture. Not pictured is after I complete the process with the felt wheel (pictured below) I change to a cotton cloth buffing wheel and increase the speed of the Dremel to 40 % of full speed and again go over the entire stummel with Tripoli compound. I do this first, to reach into the crook of the shank that is too tight for the felt wheel to reach. Also, I like the further fine tuning of the Tripoli compounds polishing of the briar surface. The grain sharpens even more providing the contrasts between the harder and softer woods of the briar.I then wipe the bowl with a cotton pad wetted with isopropyl 95% to blend the dyed finish. The wipe of alcohol evens out the finish and blends it. Wiping with alcohol will also lighten the finish if I continue to wipe, but I like the tone of the hue where it is so I only to a light wipe for blending purposes.I switch to another cotton cloth buffing wheel, keep the speed on the Dremel and 40% and apply Blue Diamond compound to the stem and stummel. I don’t join the two because it is easier to work with each individually. After completing the application of the compound, I wipe both stem and stummel with a felt cloth to remove the compound dust left behind.Finally, I reunite the Warden stem with the repurposed stummel and apply a few coats of carnauba wax to the Churchwarden. When finished, I give the pipe a vigorous hand buffing with a microfiber cloth to bring out the shine.
Wow! When I think of where this throwaway stummel was at the beginning of the process and what I see now, it is truly amazing. This Churchwarden’s 1/2 bent shank provides the perfect trajectory for the stem’s gentle, flowing bend to project a pipe that is truly Gandalf worthy! The grain of the bowl is varied from a vertical flame, a knot with outwardly flowing concentric circles and some bird’s eye thrown in for good measure! This Churchwarden is certified for Middle Earth distribution for Tina’s son, Thomas. Tina commissioned this Churchwarden project along with 3 other restorations (to learn more about commissioning pipes see: For “Pipe Dreamers” Only! ) and each will be boxed and heading to Birmingham, Alabama, USA, from Bulgaria. All these pipes benefit our efforts here in Bulgaria working with women and girls who have been trafficked and sexually exploited – the Daughters of Bulgaria. Thank you, Tina!, and thank you for joining me!