Things I’ve Learned About Restoration over Three Years of DadsPipes Blogs, Part I

Hi folks. I had a chance recently to read back through the last three years of DadsPipes blog posts, an experience I found both interesting and informative. Apart from becoming more comfortable writing the blogs themselves and some technical improvements in my photography skills, I have noticed several changes in my restoration process and techniques that I’d like to share with you, along with some words of advice (I won’t call it wisdom), which, I will warn, may end up being worth exactly what you’ve paid for them.

Your journey as a restorer or repair person, your tools and techniques may be very different from mine. If so, I hope the information laid out here provides some useful tips for you and I encourage you to share your processes with the rest of the DadsPipes readership in the Comments section below. That said, let’s jump right in!

Alcohol Baths

When I started writing blog entries for DadsPipes, the alcohol bath was part of my regular estate pipe cleaning process. In retrospect, this may well have been due to the very poor condition of most of the estate pipes I used to buy!

As many restorers do, I developed my skills working on pipes that others wouldn’t look at twice. A lot of these junkers were really heavily caked and an alcohol soak was the only effective method of softening the cake to clear the chamber.

While alcohol does a great job of removing age-old tar and carbon deposits, it also strips the factory finish off most pipes. Working with “practice pipes”, this didn’t matter, as I wanted to practice staining and refinishing the briar anyway. When I reached the point where I started working on better quality pipes, preserving the original finish became more of a priority and the alcohol bath slowly dropped out of my standard restoration process. Now I will use an alcohol bath only in cases of dire, rock-hard cake in the chamber, and on pipes I know I will need to refinish anyway.

Deoxidizing Stems

I have used Oxyclean from the very beginning to soften the oxidation on rubber/Vulcanite stems. I find it inexpensive, readily available and easy to use. I can process stems in batches and leave in the soak for as long as I want – from a few hours to a few days, which has happened more than once when I’ve been distracted by other things.

My approach to cleaning up the stems AFTER the Oxyclean soak has evolved somewhat. I used to scrub the soaked stems with 0000 steel wool and Magic Eraser followed by 400, 600 and 1000 grit wet sandpapers. In the end, I found the lower grits of sandpaper unnecessary, and now incorporate 800 and 2000 grit sandpapers instead.

Another, more recent change in my stem de-oxidizing process is the use of the buffer with Red Tripoli compound at 3450 RPM, almost twice the speed of my usual polishing routine using White Diamond compound at about 1700 RPM. I have found this particularly useful for removing the last stubborn bits of oxidation left in troublesome stems after I soak in Oxyclean and scrub and sand to 2000 grit.

I would not have dreamed of trying the faster buffing speed when I first started repairing and restoring pipes. I had enough trouble initially controlling things at the lower speed! Taking into account the greater potential for erasing the stamps from a pipe or burning a swath of briar or Vulcanite with the friction of the wheel, I cannot recommend this method to a novice. I also heartily suggest a lot of practice with junker pipes before you attempt to buff out a hand-cut stem from someone’s prized possession.

Sanding and Polishing

Before I bought my buffer I was required to do all my sanding and polishing of stem and stummel by hand using MicroMesh sanding pads. These are hugely popular with a lot of woodworkers, pen turners and pipe restorers alike, and with good reason. They simply work. The fact that they are relatively easy on the pocketbook is also a bonus, and let’s face it – watching the depth of shine develop as you work through each grit of sanding pad is really quite rewarding.

Primarily due to physical restrictions since my surgeries in late 2016/early 2017, I’ve moved away from the exclusive use of MicroMesh pads in favour of some mechanized assistance from the buffer. If I’m working on a particularly delicate pipe (meerschaum comes to mind here), I’ll revert to an all-manual approach, but for most briar pipes, I will hand-sand to 2000 grit and let the buffer do the rest of the work for me. In a side-by-side comparison of pipes polished with each technique, I’d be hard pressed to tell the difference.

I’ll leave it here for this post. Next time I’ll look at a few more areas of my own pipe restoration and repair work that have evolved over the last three years. I hope you’ve found this post interesting – I know some of you will have been comparing your own techniques to mine while reading along! I encourage you to join the conversation by leaving a comment below,

Thanks for joining me. Until next time, Happy Piping!