The history of Elliott Nachwalter’s career as a pipemaker and designer is in many ways the history of the American hand-made pipemaking tradition. In 1976 he formed The Briar Workshop with Jorg Jemelka in Vermont. Jemelka was fascinated with automated production, and the company acquired some turn of the century pipe-making equipment from Erlich’s of Boston, which Jemelka modified to be able to produce true copies of original hand-made pipes.
Nachwalter seems to have been more interested in designing and carving one-off original pipes, and moved the company to Florida. In 1980 Nachwalter relocated again, this time to New York City. In 1996, after a three-year hiatus from pipe-making, Nachwalter returned to Vermont and set up his current pipe studio in Arlington.
I share this condensed portrait of 40+ years of pipe making as an introduction to the pipe currently on my worktable. I have had this smallish Nachwalter pipe in my refurb box for some time – long enough, in fact, to forget where and when I acquired it – but rediscovered it recently and decided to work on it.
The pipe as found was in fairly good estate condition. It had obviously been taken care of over the decades since it was made, though it showed its age in a few places. There was a healthy layer of old cake in the chamber, and the rim of the bowl was obscured by lava. The acrylic stem fit well at the shank, but carried a fair bit of chatter at the bit and one good deep tooth dent on the underside of the button.
The pipe, as I mentioned, is on the smaller side, measuring only five inches from bowl to button. The bowl is 1-1/2″ wide and 1-5/8″ high with a 3/4″ chamber bore. The Horn shaped pipe weighs in at 31 grams or 1.1 ounces. Overall, it is a nice, lightweight, compact briar.
The briar is stamped on the left flank with an oval logo reading “THE BRIAR WORKSHOP” over “CORAL SPGS.” over “FLA. USA” over “DESIGNERS/PIPEMAKERS”. The right shank bears two signatures – both Nachwalter and Jemelka. The stem is marked with a snowflake, which Elliott Nachwalter still uses as his logo. From the information available, this pipe would have been made in the late 1970s before Nachwalter moved to New York.
I began refreshing the pipe with my usual reaming of the chamber back to briar. The chamber is funnel-shaped and as one might expect from a handmade pipe, the drilling of chamber and airway are spot-on, with the draft hole meeting the chamber floor exactly.
I cleaned the lava from the domed rim with a combination of alcohol on cotton pads and 0000 steel wool. When the crust was gone I discovered a rash of small dents on the front rim and a small flaw in the briar on the rear rim near the patch of rustication.
Topping a domed rim is not an option, so I worked with 220 and 320 grit sandpapers by hand to carefully sand out the worst of the pinhead sized marks on the front rim. A bit of clear CA glue flowed into the flaw sealed the briar there.
I completed the basic cleaning of the pipe by wiping the exterior with a cotton pad dipped in alcohol and using pipe cleaners, cotton swabs and more alcohol on the internals of both stummel and stem.
Continuing with the stem, I drop-filled the tooth dent with clear CA glue. When the patch had cured, I filed and sanded the repair smooth and used my needle files and sandpapers to sharpen the button and remove the tooth chatter.
With the stem repairs complete, I turned back to the stummel. I used the full set of micromesh sanding pads to polish up the freshly sanded rim before applying a coat of Fiebing’s Dark Brown leather dye to match the existing finish. The stummel then got a wash coat of a custom mixed Black/Brown diluted dye to perk up the faded briar. A wipe with mineral oil refreshed the wood and gave the new finish depth.
I took the completed pipe to the buffer for a run on the wheel with White Diamond compound and Carnauba wax.
The renewed pipe is looking every inch a handmade pipe after its time on the worktable. The briar glows with vitality and the acrylic stem shines with stripes of grey and black. The repair on the rim is noticeable, but could easily be mistaken for a darker grain line. This Nachwalter Horn is a lovely little pipe by one of America’s top carvers, and it shows.
After putting the work into the pipe, I’m tempted to keep it for my own collection, but I have my eye on a new workshop build this summer, so this one is up for grabs on the Pipe Inventory page now.
I hope you have enjoyed following along on this refurbishment. Until next time, Happy Piping!
Here’s the finished pipe.