After working on the sandblasted English Kaywoodie La Roche 729 Dublin written about here, I’ve been keeping my eyes open for a Comoy’s 623 shape to confirm or disprove my theory that the two pipes share more than a passing amount of DNA. When this Comoy’s Skipper came up on eBay, I placed my bid and held on like an angry badger to make sure it ended up on my worktable.
I snapped this first series of pics soon after the pipe arrived in the mail. Its as-found condition was not the most encouraging – the bowl was clogged with cake, and a crust of lava covered both the rim and the entire front face of the bowl. It was impossible to discern the condition of any of the briar hiding underneath the muck. The rear of the bowl and most of the shank, however, looked good, with only a layer of dirt and dust to contend with. The stem was fairly oxidized, with a crust of dried salts over the bite area and a few tooth dents to contend with..
The stampings on the shank were crisp and clear, reading “Comoy’s” over “Skipper” in block letters on the top side. The underside of the shank bore the shape number “623”, the circular “Made in London” over “England” Country of Manufacture stamp, and the letter “P”, which indicates a Panel bowl.
This letter stamp is of interest, as (according to Pipedia) it indicates a pre-Cadogan pipe. The stem, however, offers conflicting information – it is the correct saddle type stem, but the Comoy’s “C” on the stem is stamped or laser engraved instead of the classic three-part inlaid “C”. Either the “P” stamp was used on a few post-1980 Cadogan-era Comoy’s pipes or this pipe has had the original inlaid stem replaced.
I began the cleanup of this pipe with a thorough reaming with my Castleford reamer. I took the cake back to bare briar, anticipating at least one internal issue that would need repair. Remarkably, given the extent of the lava flow on the pipe’s exterior, the tobacco chamber and draft hole were in excellent shape.
I used a pen knife to carefully scrape the lava from the rim. It was surprisingly soft and came off the briar easily (which begs the question of why the original piper failed to keep the pipe clean). With the rim finally visible I identified a few small dents and chips around the rim edge, and a wide burned out area at the front of the rim – the lava’s chosen course to the face of the bowl.
Before going any further, I took a moment to drop the stem into an Oxyclean bath to soften the oxidation while I scrubbed the stummel.
Turning back to the exterior cleanup, I got my first real surprise of the restoration. Using a scrap of 0000 steel wool dipped into the stem’s OxyClean bathwater, I began gently wiping the crust of lava from the bowl. With every wipe a bit more of the briar underneath was exposed. A few short minutes later, I had uncovered some of the most beautiful grain I have seen to date on a pipe. Absolutely stunning!
With the crud finally off the briar, I finished the exterior cleaning with a scrub of Murphy’s Oil Soap. I snapped these pics after rinsing in fresh water and drying the stummel. This pipe was carved from an excellent piece of briar – there are no fills or flaws anywhere, except the ones inflicted on it by its previous owner.
Hoping to correct the rim burn without having to add a fill that would detract from the briar’s beauty, I set up the topping board and began sanding the rim. I worked slowly and checked my progress often. The goal was to remove or minimize the damaged area without substantially altering the original lines of the pipe. This series of pics shows the progress of the topping.
I put the topping board away when the burn mark was reduced to a subtle rim darkening. There were still a few tiny rim dents showing around the outer edge of the bowl, but rather than reduce the height of the bowl further, I decided to sand a very (very) small bevel into the rim instead. Using a folded scrap of worn 220-grit paper, I worked my way around the bowl, careful to maintain a consistent sanding angle. Some of these pictures aren’t the best but they shown the bevel clearly enough – it is approximately 1mm tall at this point in the process, and will be reduced even more during refinishing.
I also beveled the inside edge of the tobacco chamber to tidy up the slight out-of-round appearance presented by the charred area left behind by the burn. Once the rim was sorted out, I gave the entire stummel a final light sanding with 320-grit paper and a fine grit sanding sponge to remove the marks from the coarser paper and blend the bevels in even more.
With the delicate work done, I moved to cleaning out the stummel’s airway. Given the original amount of cake in the bowl, I wasn’t surprised to find the draft hole plugged up. I used a few drill bits in varying sizes to carve out the carbon and dried tars blocking the airway, and then cleaned the internals with pipe cleaners, cotton swabs and alcohol. I finished up the stummel with a wipe of mineral oil to refresh and re-hydrate the briar.
The thrill of finding such beautiful wood grain under the muck coating the stummel was tempered slightly by disappointment when I pulled the stem from the OxyClean bath. The Comoy’s “C” had washed away completely – I could almost swear I saw it peel off the vulcanite as I removed the stem from the water. The impression was still present on the side of the oval stem, but it was uneven (you can see in the pic below that the stamp is much deeper on the bottom than it is anywhere else) and proved impossible to fill with either paint or wax stick. The logo should likely have been stamped on the relatively flat top of the oval stem instead of on the “pointy” side.
Rather annoyed at the cheapness of the modern stem manufacture – a rather sharp contrast to the quality of the stummel – I muttered a few choice words before forging ahead with the rest of the stem cleanup. The oxidation and mineral crust came off the stem easily enough with 0000 steel wool and Magic Eraser followed by a light sanding with 2000-grit wet paper. I cleaned the internals with more pipe cleaners and alcohol.
I filled several deeper tooth dents with CA glue and charcoal powder. After the glue had cured I filed and sanded the fills flush to the surface of the stem. I also used needle files to sharpen up the edges of the button.
The stem fit a little loosely in the shank, so I expanded the tenon using the smooth end of a suitably-sized drill bit. I heated the tenon over a lighter flame until soft, then inserted the drill bit, making sure the tenon stayed straight and that the drill bit inserted the full length of the tenon for even expansion and a wobble-free fit. When the tenon was cool I removed the drill bit and used a bit of sandpaper on the tenon to get the fit just right. The tenon now fits snugly in the mortise, although there is a slight mismatch of stem face to shank in a few places – another possible indication of a replacement stem.
Then it was off to the buffer for a run of White Diamond compound and several coats of Carnauba wax. The finished pipe is a real looker despite the damaged stem logo. The grain is positively three-dimensional, popping through the shine of the wax, and there is no sign of the burn damage that once marred the rim of this beauty. The micro-bevels on the inner and outer rim edges are nearly indiscernible – unless you look for them specifically, you’d never notice that the rim isn’t quite factory perfect.
Here’s the finished pipe.
And oh yes, one last fun part. I took a few pics of this Comoy’s 623 beside the Kaywoodie (England) 729 pipe. Any lingering doubt about the relationship between Kaywoodie and Comoy’s of London can safely be put to rest. Except for the sandblasted finish and aluminum fittings on the Kaywoodie, these pipes are identical in shape and size, though in this case the Kaywoodie is slightly heavier in the hand.
Whether you label the English Kaywoodie pipes as Comoy’s “seconds”, or consider it a “sub-brand” or a “sister brand”, the Comoy’s DNA is clearly in evidence, making the Kaywoodie (England) pipes distinctly different from their American cousins.
Thanks for looking, and until next time, Happy Piping!