Blog by Steve Laug
I found this long shank Liverpool pipe sans stem at an antique mall in Idaho when I was visiting my brother. I did not look at it too closely but noticed it was lightly smoked and had some really nice looking grain. I bought it as I figured it would not be too big a deal to make a stem for it. Besides the price was only $4. Looking at the next four photos you can see why the grain got my attention. It is a mix of birdseye, flame and cross grain. The stain that was used really highlights the grain. In the first photo you can see the chip out of the top of the bowl on the left side as well as the chip out of the shank top between the bowl junction and the stamping on the shank side. When I got back to my brother’s place he looked it over and just shook his head. He pointed out the issues with the bowl. The airway entered the bowl at the far right side. The bowl was hardly smoked and this may well have been a reason. Externally the bowl was not round it was entirely lopsided. It was wrong both inside and out in more ways than I had noticed in my quick decision to purchase it. This one was going to be a challenge in more ways than one to restem and make usable once more. I was looking forward to seeing what I could do. The next two photos show the misdrilling and the misshapen out of round external bowl.There were some deep gouges on the left side of the pipe – one had the top of the bowl and one on the shank just ahead of the stamping. There were also some pits and gouges on the underside of the shank and on the end on both top and bottom. I have circled the large one in the first photo below. It is a bright spot circled in red. Then I looked closer at the overall bowl and shank. What a mess. It had been drilled at quite an angle. It appeared that the drill had gone through the right side of the shank just before the bowl. It had been repaired with a fill that was pitted. It is circled in red in the second photo below. The third photo shows the shank from the mortise end. It is obvious that the shank was not round and the mortise was off to the right. This was going to be an interesting pipe to restem. As I looked at the left side of the shank with a magnifying lens I could see that first line of stamping (faint on the top and better at the bottom side of the words read CONTINENTAL. The second line of stamping was clearer and read REAL BRIAR. In examining the rest of the shank, I could see that it was all that was stamped on the pipe. I did some searching for the brand name and found one on Pipedia. The Continental Briar Pipe Co. Inc. manufactured briar pipes in Brooklyn, New York. The address on York and Adams Streets was taken from a letter sent to a Henry T. Rice dated July 28, 1941.
I went through my stem can and found two prospects for stems. Because the shank was misdrilled and out of round and the mortise was also off to the side I needed to have a stem slightly larger in diameter than the shank. One of the stems was a saddle stem and the other a taper stem. The saddle stem was not quite large enough so I opted for the taper. I used a pen knife to open the mortise and make it more round. I worked to remove briar from the left side of the mortise and make the shank end round. In the third photo below you can see the finished mortise.When I finished the work on the mortise I sanded it with a rolled piece of sandpaper to smooth things out.I pushed the taper stem into the mortise and the fit against the shank was a good fit. The right side where the shank was out of round needed to have some vulcanite removed to make the flow of the stem and shank correct but it would work. The taper stem makes the pipe a Liverpool. If I had used the saddle stem it would have been a lumberman. I like the promising look of the new pipe. There were many on the top and the bottom of the shank and along the right side of the top of the bowl. There was also a place on the right side of the shank at the bowl shank junction that had been filled to repair a drill through. It had been patched with putty but was pitted and rough. I wiped the shank and bowl edge down with alcohol. I filled all of the pits and the repaired area with briar dust and then put drops of super glue on top of the dust fills. The photos below show the patched and repaired areas.When the repairs dried I sanded the repairs smooth to match the briar around them. The photos below show the freshly sanded areas on the pipe. The repairs are dark spots in the middle of the sanded areas. They will be blended in once I stain the bowl and shank. I used a needle file to reshape the button edges on both sides of the stem. They were worn down and the sharp edge was indistinct. I redefined the edges and smoothed out the surface in front of the button.I wiped the bowl and shank down with alcohol to remove the remaining finish on the bowl and to clean off the dust in preparation for restaining the pipe. I sanded the surface of the stem with 220 grit sandpaper to remove the oxidation and smooth out the file marks and tooth marks that remained. I lightly topped the bowl on the topping board to remove the damaged areas on the rim and created a smooth well defined edge on both the inner and outer parts of the bowl. I used a folded piece of 220 grit sandpaper to clean the inner edge and remove the darkening there.I wiped it down another time to clean off the rim and the edges of dust. I used a dark brown stain touch up pen to stain the sanded areas on the rim, bowl side, shank top and bottom and shank end. I was not too worried about coverage at this point rather providing a base coat before I stained the bowl in its entirety. My thinking was that the base coat would blend in with the existing stain and then the top coat would tie it all together. I stained the pipe with a dark brown aniline stain and flamed it with a lighter. I repeated the process of staining and flaming until the coverage was even around the bowl. I set the pipe aside to dry for a few hours and worked on the stem.I wiped the bowl down with alcohol on cotton pads to remove the dark crusty finish. I wanted the stain to be more transparent to let the grain show through. I sanded it with micromesh sanding pads to polish the bowl and shank. The grain really shown through now and the flame grain, birdseye and cross grain were beautiful. The fills have blended in on most of the bowl while the repair on the right side of the shank at the bowl is dark but smooth. I scraped out the remnants of cake that remained inside of the bowl with the Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife and sanded the walls with 180 grit sandpaper to smooth them 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 rubbed the stem down with Obsidian Oil between each set of three pads. I took it and buffed it with Tripoli after the 2400 grit pad and followed that with Blue Diamond. Then I went on to continue polishing it with the higher grits of micromesh pads. I buffed the pipe and stem with Blue Diamond on the buffing wheel and carefully buffed around the stamping. I did not want to damage it any further than before. I gave the pipe and stem multiple coats of carnauba wax and buffed the pipe with a clean buffing pad. I hand buffed it with a microfibre cloth to deepen the shine on the briar and the vulcanite. The finished pipe is shown in the photos below. It is a long pipe that is just under 7 inches long and the bowl is 1 ¾ inches tall. The bowl exterior is 1 1/8 inches in diameter and the bowl chamber is ¾ inch in diameter. What started out as a major mess came out looking like a fine pipe. Even though the airway enters the bowl on the far right the draw is still very good. I think it should smoke fairly well and provide a decent looking long pipe for someone who wants to add it to his collection. Thanks for walking through the challenge with me.