Restoring a Patent Era Brigham 232 Saddle Billiard

This old Brigham is the pipe I used when writing up my previous post on fixing common stem issues. To paraphrase the late Paul Harvey, here is the rest of the story.  – Charles

I spotted this old Brigham in a mixed lot of mostly basket pipes I bought recently. As many of you know, I’ve got a soft spot for these Canadian pipes, made in Toronto before Brigham moved production to Italy in 2001. This 232 is a smaller pipe, perhaps equivalent to a Group 3 Dunhill bowl, but in a rarely seen shape for Brigham, a saddle-stemmed billiard. The majority of vintage Brigham pipes came with a tapered stem to better accommodate the rock maple filter; this saddle stem is thicker than average for the same reason.

Overall, the pipe came to me in fairly good shape. The stummel was reasonably clean for an estate pipe, with only a small amount of tar on the rim. The stem was oxidized and had a crust of white salts and calcium buildup on the bit but was otherwise ok. The big issues with the pipe were two large chunks missing from the rim, the larger on the front edge, and a stem that wouldn’t seat properly in the mortise.

Given the rough treatment shown the rim, I was pleased to find that the stamps on the flat underside were crisp and clean, reading “232” then “CAN.PAT. 372982” and the “Brigham” script logo. The CAN PAT stamp indicates production between 1938 and 1955. This pipe likely didn’t see much handling from its original owner – just enough to bash up the rim and plug up the internals.

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I used my Castleford reamer to remove the thin, uneven cake from the bowl and followed up with a quick twist of sandpaper to clean up the tobacco chamber. The briar was in good shape, but the bottom of the bowl showed signs of over-enthusiastic reaming that left a dimple carved into the centre of the chamber floor. The dimple wasn’t deep enough to detract from the functionality of the pipe, so I decided to leave the chamber as it is.

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With the chamber sorted out, I topped the bowl with 220-grit sandpaper to erase the smaller rim dents and dings. After the topping the rim was looking pretty good except for the two larger damaged areas. I would have to fill in the missing pieces later.

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I prefer to work on clean pipes, so before addressing the rim fills, I worked to get the stem and stummel scrubbed up and fitting together properly. The stem would not sit flush with the end of the shank due to a buildup of crud in the airway. To get the ball rolling on the internal cleaning, I dropped the stummel into an alcohol bath to work on softening the tars, and popped the stem into its own bath of Oxyclean and warm water to lift the oxidation from the Vulcanite.

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The next morning, I rescued the stem from the Oxyclean soak and scrubbed it down with a bit of Magic Eraser and 2000-grit wet sandpaper to remove the oxidation from the surface. The pipe had obviously been smoked without the benefit of the Brigham rock maple filter, as the first pipe cleaner through the stem pushed out a mucky plug of tars and debris. Thankfully it didn’t take too many cleaners to make the interior of the stem as clean as the exterior.

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I pulled the briar from the alcohol bath and used pipe cleaners and fresh alcohol to scrub out the airway. It quickly became apparent that there was more muck in there than I had anticipated – the cleaners kept coming out of the pipe a sticky, dirty dark brown colour. Lovely. So I switched tactics and set up my retort to blast the tars and grime with boiling alcohol. This usually does the trick.

I pushed the stem as far into the shank as I could to ensure a seal, popped a cotton ball into the bowl of the pipe and flushed three test tubes of boiling hot isopropyl alcohol through the airway. Each tube turned the same burnt-caramel colour that you can see just forming in the picture below. Usually the alcohol in a retort starts out darkly coloured and gets lighter with each successive round; the fact that this wasn’t happening with this pipe indicated a very dense layer of tars indeed.

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Not wanting to spend hours with the retort, I decided to expedite the airway cleaning by reaming out the remaining tar buildup with drill bits, turned by hand to avoid changing the factory dimensions of the mortise and airway. I used several different sizes of drill bits corresponding as closely as I could to the varying internal diameters of mortise, filter holder and draft hole in the Brigham shank. The pics below show the internals before and after reaming with the bits. Notice the ring of hard tars lining the airway.

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With all the parts finally clean inside and out, the stem slid home snugly in the mortise.

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Now it was time to address the chunks of missing rim. I mixed a batch of thick CA glue and briar dust and filled the damaged areas. I made sure that the CA mixture overfilled the missing spots in order to get a nice sharp rim edge when I sanded everything down. A combination of files and sandpaper smoothed the cured fills. I had to go back over the large fill several times with clear CA glue to fill tiny holes left behind by air bubbles in the fill mixture, but it didn’t take long to reestablish the lines of the bowl.

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Cleaning the stem had highlighted a few tooth dents, so I dropped a bit of CA glue mixed with charcoal powder into them to fill the divots. When the glue had cured, I again used files and sandpapers to level and smooth the repairs.

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With the hard work finished on this pipe, I gave the stummel a light stain wash of diluted Fiebing’s Saddle Tan leather dye mixed with Dark Brown to rejuvenate the finish. The large rim fill was still a bit too prominent for my liking, so I used a stain marker to darken the smooth area of the bowl a shade or two and push the fill into the background.

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I finished off this restoration with a light buffing with White Diamond compound on the wheel followed by several coats of Carnauba wax. The pipe is looking good now, especially for its age. The rim repair is visible under good lighting if you choose to look for it, and the tooth dent repair on the top side of the saddle stem didn’t blend in as well as it could have (I really need to get some black CA glue), but as this pipe is destined for my private collection, I’ll live with these minor flaws until I decide to fix them – the pipe is now at least back in one piece and ready for use.

Here’s the finished pipe. Thanks for looking ant until next time, Happy Piping!

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