The aroma of a pipe is one of those olfactory experiences that can thrill the senses and trigger a flood of memories and emotions – chats with Grampa on the front porch, the texture of the bench seat in an aluminum fishing boat, the scent of a campfire or the warm hazy aftermath of Christmas morning. I’ve had fellow pedestrians deliberately alter the course of their afternoon stroll in order to get a whiff of my pipe and even stop me to share their pipe recollections. Sometimes I think that if I could bottle the scent of burning pipe tobacco, I could make a fortune.
Yes, the reaction to a quality tobacco burning in a good, clean briar is almost universally positive. But everything changes when that same pipe is neglected, transformed from a stalwart briar companion to a stinking wooden husk packed full of soured, congealed tars and fouled tobacco residues. Such was the state of this poor creature on my worktable.
The bowl was clogged with cake, the rim obscured by a crust of lava, and the airway impassable. Even the stem, oxidized and tooth-dented, was packed full of wet, sticky gunk.
The pipe in question is an intricately carved bent billiard marked “Champagne” on the left shank, “A Savinelli Product” on the underside of the shank, and “606 KS” over “Italy” on the right shank, along with the Savinelli crowned shield logo. The left side of the vulcanite stem also carries the faint remains of the Savinelli shield.
A Google search turned up lots of images of Savinelli Champagne pipes, all in a smooth, honey-gold finish. I was unable to find any information about the detailed relief carving that covers the bowl and shank of the Champagne pipe on my worktable, but I was pretty sure it would be a good looking pipe if I could get it clean.
And that was the challenge here. This pipe was dirty, and even more than that, it smelled. Badly. The minute I started reaming the dark, sticky cake from the bowl I was engulfed in a miasma of sour tars. I was glad I could close the door to my workroom and contain the odour. I worked carefully but as quickly as possible in order to get the worst of the smelly crud out of the pipe and into a plastic bag which I promptly tied shut and carried out to the garage.
The old towel I used on the table went directly into the laundry for a wash. (I was lucky – the stinky mess on the towel didn’t stick in the washing machine.) The results were not so good for the pipe itself – though the bowl was looking much better, the pipe still smelled to high heaven. There was still a lot of work to be done!
I used my set of drill bits, turned by hand, to augur out the mortise and airway in the shank. I managed to get the softer, more recent tars and debris out of the airway and allow air to pass through the shank again, but the older tars were rock hard and would not budge. I would have to soak the stummel in alcohol overnight to soften things up.
Before the bath, though, I took a few moments to correct a bit of rim damage. I topped the bowl to remove the lava buildup there, and then sanded a tiny bevel into the outer rim to dress off the knocking dents in the briar. I also freshened up the factory bevel on the inner edge of the rim.
I dropped the stummel into the alcohol bath and turned my attention to the stem, which was packed solid with wet, clay-like tars and debris. I used a dental pick to scrape the worst of the muck from the tenon and slot, then used a combination of bristle and regular cleaners dipped in alcohol to clear the Muck of Ages from the airway. Afterwards, I again had to clean up the mess thoroughly to remove the rank smell. I also set up an Odor Eater air freshener. Fun wow!
The next day I rescued the stummel from the alcohol bath and went back at the tars in the shank with cotton swabs, more bristle and regular pipe cleaners and lots more alcohol. It took a fair pile of supplies (and a fair amount of mouth-breathing), but eventually I found the briar hiding under the muck.The pics below show first the tars clogging the shank, then the cleaning, and finally the clean shank.
Although much cleaner, the odour in the stummel persisted, so I set it up with a salt and alcohol treatment. This usually does the trick, purging the remaining tars and their smells from the briar. I twisted an unraveled cotton ball into the shank and filled the bowl with kosher salt. Setting the stummel into the dimple of an egg carton to keep it stable and upright, I used an eye dropper to fill the pipe with isopropyl alcohol and let it sit for 24 hours.
Twenty four hours later, the salt was coloured a dirty brown with tars extracted from the briar. The cotton ball in the shank was black at the end, a testament to the contaminants lurking in the pipe.
I dumped the salt and removed the cotton ball from the shank and wiped any stray bits of salt out of the bowl. I set the stummel aside to allow the remaining alcohol to evaporate. While the stummel rested, I used a bit of Meguiar’s Scratch-X to clean the oxidation from the outside of the stem. The remains of the Savinelli Crown stamp is visible in the pics below.
I’d have to do more work on the stem to fix tooth dents and a worn button, but priorities changed after I happened to pick up the stummel and give it a sniff, immediately pulling my head away – the stink remained!
Thus began a long and frustrating string of attempts to purge the ghosts of tobaccos past from this 606KS – a retort; a second salt treatment; another retort; a third salt treatment. No dice. The leftovers of whatever was smoked in this pipe had sunk their claws deep into the briar and were not letting go.
It felt like I had been waging war on this pipe for weeks, trapped in an unending cycle of attack and retreat, never gaining any ground. Then I remembered an article on de-ghosting pipes by G.L. Pease I had read a few years ago. I had had the forethought to bookmark the web page back when I had read the piece, so it didn’t take me long to find it again here. I re-read the article to brush up on the process of Charcoal Deghosting outlined within, then I gathered a few supplies and planned my last-ditch effort to deodorize this stummel.
The theory is straightforward enough. Fill the pipe with activated charcoal and heat it in a low oven to open the pores of the wood. The charcoal can then work its magic and absorb/erase the odours previously trapped within the briar. Putting theory into practice, I dumped the contents of about 8 activated charcoal capsules into the stummel, filling both bowl and shank. Then I poured dry rice into a small oven-proof ramekin and pushed the stummel into the rice to hold it upright during its bake. I preheated the oven to 180F, slid in the pipe in its ramekin, and sat back to wait….
Three hours later, I turned the oven off and left the pipe inside to cool slowly. When the tray was cool enough to handle, I removed the pipe from the oven and let it finish cooling on the counter. With no small amount of trepidation, I dumped the charcoal out of the pipe and took a tentative sniff…. and then another, deeper this time….
Nothing! Well, not exactly nothing, but nothing except the gentle aroma of slightly warm, clean briar. In fact, the pipe, so long more nose-curdling than a dead skunk in a pig barn, now smelled (almost) as good as Amy Adams in a bubble bath. Success on all fronts! (and if my wife is reading this, I don’t ACTUALLY know how Amy Adams smells in the bathtub, but I’m pretty sure the answer is “really good”.)
The rest of the restoration work on the pipe seemed rather anticlimactic. I used CA glue and activated charcoal powder to fill the tooth dents in the stem and rebuild the button, and freshened the finish with a very light wash coat of diluted Fiebing’s Brown leather dye and a wipe with mineral oil. A final buff with White Diamond and several coats of Carnauba wax finished the job.
This Savinelli Champagne 606KS is looking, and smelling, like new again and ready to go to a new home and a new piper. I hope the next owner will enjoy it as much as the previous owner obviously did, but perhaps with a bit more regular cleaning.
Here’s the finished pipe. Thanks for looking and until next time, Happy Piping!