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

Welcome to Part II of Things I’ve Learned about Restoration over Three Years of DadsPipes Blogs!

I ended Part I of this series on the topic of Sanding and Polishing using both MicroMesh pads and buffing wheels. That got me thinking about all the things I’ve learned about using a buffer, so that’s where we’re going to start today.

Buffer Techniques

Buffers are a great addition to any pipe repair person’s workbench. Pipe factories use large (12″-20″) buffing wheels turned by sometimes complicated systems of drive belts. Most restorers I know use readily available 6-inch or 8-inch wheels powered either by something like a furnace fan motor or a retrofitted bench grinder. If space or budget don’t allow a dedicated bench tool, a buffing wheel can be attached to a drill press or hand drill. Dal Stanton of The Pipe Steward achieves amazing results using simple cotton pads mounted to his Dremel rotary tool – proof that you don’t need to go big to buff like a pro!

I’m not going to get into how to set up a buffing station or the pros and cons of different wheel sizes or spindle speeds. Google can pull that information up for you with relative ease. What I want to share here is the sum total of my buffing knowledge distilled into two phrases.

Keep a Firm Grip. I cannot overstate this one. A buffer can grab a pipe out of your hands and fire it across the room at terrific speed if you lose your grip on the work piece. In most cases this means at minimum a trip back to the worktable to sand out a few new dents and dings. Sometimes it means having to repair a broken shank, cracked bowl or chipped stem. Damaging your own pipe is bad enough; if you’re repairing a pipe for someone else, you’ll  have some ‘splaining to do, Lucy!

Less is More.  This refers to both the amount of buffing compound to use and the amount of pressure applied to the pipe against the wheel.

Very little buffing compound is required. It is not uncommon for me to buff two or three pieces before reapplying compound to the wheel. You’ll know immediately if you’ve overdone things, as the excess rouge will transfer from the wheel to your pipe, leaving a waxy mess on your freshly restored briar.  You can clean the wheel by holding a wheel rake (or just about any clean object with an edge) against the wheel to scrape the excess compound off the buff.

A similarly light touch is required when bringing the pipe in contact with the wheel. Many people new to buffers think that pushing the work piece hard into the wheel speeds up the buffing process while in fact the opposite is true. Hard pressure slows the wheel down, reduces the effectiveness of the buffing compound and increases the risk of giving your pipe a good friction burn.

What you want to do it bring the pipe into gentle contact with the wheel and let the compound do the work. If buffing this way isn’t producing the results you’re looking for, you may be taking the pipe to the buffer before it’s actually ready. Do a bit more hand sanding/polishing before going back to the buffer.

When to Work on Pipes

This may seem like an odd topic, but I’ve found it essential to identify when I am, or more importantly, when I am NOT, capable of working productively on restorations. This will vary from person to person, but I have learned not to go near a pipe (other than to smoke it) when I am tired or upset. If I’m angry, worried, anxious or otherwise unsettled, I do not sit down at my work table.

Pipe restoration by its very nature requires a good deal of patience paired with careful, deliberate action. Without these two basic elements in place, you risk doing more harm than good to an estate pipe. This sometimes pushes out the completion date for a job, but that’s much more preferable than having to redo shoddy work or creating more work for yourself through impatience or frustration.

Make Use of the Community

The best thing about the Internet Age is that no one, regardless of geography, need work in a vacuum. If you are stuck on how best to approach a certain repair, having trouble sourcing the right parts or supplies, or are simply looking for a bit of advice from someone who has been there already, help is just a few clicks of the mouse away!

I’ve learned almost everything I know about pipes from others who share their knowledge freely on restoration sites like and pipe forums like The piping community is full of generous people more than willing to help out when and how they can. I’m grateful for all the knowledge gained, the friends made and the opportunity to pass on what I know to others just starting out on their pipe journeys.

That’s it for today, folks. As always, thanks for joining me for another post. I’d love to hear your feedback in the Comments section below.

Until next time, Happy Piping!



2 thoughts on “Things I’ve Learned About Restoration over Three Years of DadsPipes Blogs, Part II”

    1. Thanks, Sean. If I can ease someone’s entry to pipe restoration, it’s worth taking the time to write these posts. Enjoy the journey and Happy Piping!


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