Fixing Two Common Stem Fit Issues

I had a pair of Brigham pipes sent to me for some work, a 2-Dot Sportsman model bulldog and a 318 billiard. The owner had found the pipes in a local antique shop. The price was right but the pipes had a few issues to contend with, most notably stem fit.

The pipe stems were original as far as I could tell, but both suffered from opposite fit problems – the stem on the 318 was loose enough to fall out, and the bulldog’s stem seemed to be glued into the mortise. I had been asked to address the stem issues and give the pipes a general cleanup in the process.

Here’s how the pipes looked on arrival. They were pretty clean on the outside, and the 318 had been cleaned internally as well. I’d have to get the stem off the bulldog before any real internal cleaning could take place there. The bulldog also had a bit of buildup on the rim which would come off easily. The bowl of the billiard was slightly out of round – at some time in the past a scorch mark at the rear of the rim had been sanded out. I’d have to see if I could improve the finished rim. Stems on both pipes were fairly clean, with a spot of two of oxidation left over from the owner’s initial cleanup.

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My first priority was removing the stem from the bulldog. It was very firmly attached, though at this point I didn’t know if it was actually glued into the shank or if the aluminum tenon had oxidized in place. I managed to free the stem without damaging the tenon by plugging the airway at the bit and filling the pipe bowl with alcohol. I flushed the alcohol down the airway and let it sit for a few minutes to work on whatever was holding the tenon in place. This eventually let me twist out the stem, exposing a ring of softened white glue inside the mortise.

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There was also an old, dirty rock maple filter lurking in the aluminum holder. The maple was a nasty black-brown colour, which told me that the pipe had been well used after the stem had been glued into place. Definitely time to get rid of that. Ick.

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I cleaned out the old glue with more alcohol, cotton swabs and pipe cleaners and then ran a few cleaners through the airway of both stummel and stem. The alcohol flush had helped loosen up the gunk in there, and things cleaned up fairly quickly.

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With the tricky bit out of the way, I dropped both stems into an Oxyclean bath to raise the oxidation and let them soak while I cleaned the stummels with Murphy’s Oil Soap and an old toothbrush. The soft bristles of the toohbrush are great for reaching the dirt at the bottom of the rustication and for cleaning out the rings on bulldog pipes. I’m always impressed by the difference in the colour of the briar after a Murphy’s scrub.

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Time to address the out of round bowl on the 318. I used a scrap of 220-grit sandpaper held at a consistent angle to sand a bevel into the inner rim edge. This helped blur the lines between the old scorch mark and the rest of the rim. I smoothed the new bevel with medium and fine grit sanding sponges.

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The stain on the rusticated areas of the billiard was faded and worn, so I touched up the colour with my darkest stain pen. I let the stain sit for a minute before wiping much of it away with alcohol on a cotton pad. I find that especially the dark stain pen can leave an artificial-looking finish on the briar. The alcohol wipe helps tone things down to a more natural appearance.

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The Sportsman bulldog was originally sold unfinished, so no stain for it. Both pipes benefited from a light coat of mineral oil, though.

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With the stummels ready to go, it was time to address the stems. I pulled them from the Oxyclean and scrubbed them down first with 0000 steel wool followed by Magic Eraser and finally 2000-grit wet sandpaper. This removed the oxidation and any small tooth chatter from the vulcanite.

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I drop filled one or two deeper tooth dents on each stem with CA glue mixed with charcoal powder, sanding the fills smooth after the glue had cured.

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Nearing the end of the journey with these pipes, I finally sorted out the loose fit of the billiard stem. Vulcanite tenons can be heated and expanded to increase the tenon diameter, but these Brigham aluminum tenon/filter holders can’t be treated the same way. Instead, I flowed an even coat of clear CA glue around the tenon and let it cure. A bit of sandpaper readily adjust the new tenon diameter for a snug fit at the mortise.

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Then it was time to buff and polish the pipes before sending them home. I buffed both stummels and stems with White Diamond compound on the wheel before adding several coats of Carnauba wax. My work here is done and these pipes are ready for years of service with their new owner. Here are the finished pipes.

Thanks for looking and until next time, Happy Piping!

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10 comments

    • I am too! 😀 Glad it was white glue and not CA or epoxy.

      The stem likely became loose over time and the original owner dimply glued it in place – easier than having it fall apart in the fishing boat, I guess.

      Like

  1. Charles –
    Great fix and the pipe loot fantastic… their owner should be very pleased!
    Did you do anything to the aluminum to prep it for the clear CA – rough it up a bit with 220 grit or similar? Just wondering how well the CA bonds to the aluminum – I have not not tried it before.

    Liked by 1 person

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