Tag Archives: working on a stem

Opening the Slot in the Button with Needle Files – A Photo Essay


Blog by Steve Laug

This afternoon I was thinking it would be helpful to write up a tutorial on how I use needle files to open the slot on a pipe stem. In this photo essay I describe in a step by step breakdown the process I use to open the slot. I will describe it and illustrate it with pictures of the stem at each step and the files that I use to do the work. In the past I have just done the work but never documented it so this will be interesting for me as well as you.

The stem I have chosen to open the slot on is a Peterson 69 that has a replacement bit that was fit by Howard Schultie of Schulties Pipe Repair. Howard did an amazing job of fitting the stem with a great tight fit in the end cap of the older Peterson that I sent him. I topped the bowl and restained it when it arrived yesterday. I only had one issue with the stem when I examined it and that was that it came with a fairly small slot that made fitting a pipe cleaner a chore and the draught a bit tight as well. I removed the stem and blew air through the bowl and the airway was nice and open. I slid a round needle file into the stem from the tenon end up to the bend and it too appeared to be open. From that point on the airway narrowed as it moved toward the slot. The slot was narrow and the v shaped funnel at the slot was shallow. I like a more open slot and deeper v in the button and end of the stem so I went to work on it with the files.
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Picture of stem before opening the slot Image

The files that I use – (left to right) flat rectangle, rounded blade with point, flat blade, wedge blade, oval blade, round blade
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I do the filing with my right hand while holding the stem in my left hand. I probably could use a bench vise to hold the stem but I do not have one set up on my temporary worktable. I start the filing with the flat rectangular bladed file or a flat pointed file depending on which fits in the slot. In this case the flat rectangular blade was too thick so I used the pointed flat blade to begin. I filed the top and bottom edge of the slot to open it up wider. My preference for the slot is that is an elongated oval shape so I started by opening these top and bottom edges first. I also slanted the edges of the slot inward toward the airway. I have found that doing so allows me to use the thicker round and oval files to shape the ends of the slot.

The next series of four pictures show how the stem progressed as I used the pointed needle file to open the top and bottom of the slot and the slope of the edges inward. Each photo shows more progress until the fourth picture which shows how the slot looked when I was finished with the flat pointed blade.
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Once I had opened the top and bottom of the slot I could use the wedge file to deepen the v funnel in the airway. This takes a bit of work to keep the angles even on both side of the airway. The wedge file keeps the slot rectangular and really focuses the cutting of the file on the sides of airway and slot. Once I have the angles filed and the v deepened I change to the oval file and keep working both sides of the slot until I get the slot to the correct depth. The oval file also rounds the edges of the v on the inside of the slot and also rounds the corners of the outer edges of the slot. The next series of three photos show the progress of the rounding of the edges and the deepening of the v funnel. The last of the three shows the state of the slot when I had finished this step in the process.
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When the v funnel is completed I used the round file to round the edges of the slot on both ends. I also used it to widen the slot in the process so that it extends the equally to both sides of the button and the top and bottom. It is getting closer to the goal of the oval smooth slot.

At this point in the process I use the folded piece of sandpaper in the photo above to work on the inside of the slot to smooth out the roughness left by the filing. I used 240 grit sandpaper to work on the inside until it was smooth and then shifted to 400 and 600 wet dry to finish the sanding. The final picture below in this series of four photos shows the state of the slot after sanding.
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After finishing the basic shaping of the slot I decided to line up the files that I used to get the stem to this point. The next series of four photos show the files and the current appearance of the reshaped and opened slot. ImageImageImageImage

After taking these photos I did quite a bit more sanding on the internals of the slot. I used the folded sandpaper pictured above to open it up and smooth it out. The first photo shows the finished shape of the slot. From there I used fluffy pipe cleaners to clean out the sanding dust and vulcanite bits that were left in the stem and slot from the sanding. The second photo shows the finished slot after I had sanded it with the 240 grit, 400 and 600 grit sandpaper and water to get it smooth. ImageImage

The final photo below shows the finished slot. It is no longer the slight slot but is now a wide open and oval shaped slot. It easily takes a fluffy pipe cleaner with little effort. The draught is now very open. The internals are shaped in a wide open v shaped funnel that comes to a point ½ inch into the slot. Each side of the v is gradually sloped to the airway at the bottom. The whole process did not take too long. From start to finish I spent 45 minutes. I like the finished appearance of the slot far better than the original one. The feel in the mouth and the draw is comfortable. Image

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