Happy New Year, everyone! This post is deliberately going live after the holidays to avoid spoiling the Christmas surprise for one lucky piper.
I was contacted by a lady who was on the hunt for a few vintage Brigham estate pipes to present to her partner as a Christmas gift. Fortuitously, I had a few on hand already restored and ready to go. Guessing I had just enough time to squeeze in one more restoration before the holidays, I also sent a few pictures of estate Brighams from my refurb box. In the end, the client selected a total of four pipes, including this 1-Dot Shape 23 Bent Billiard.
Here is a series of pics showing the pipe as it looked when I brought it to the worktable. As you can see, the pipe was showing a bit of wear and tear – the stem was oxidized and had a crust of calcification at the bit, the finish was worn and patchy, and the rusticated rim was slightly out of round from careless reaming withe a knife blade and was packed full of carbon deposits. The chamber floor also showed several cracks running diagonally across the briar.
The smooth patch on the underside of the shank is stamped with a shape number, “123” , followed by “Brigham”. This dates the pipe to the 1990s.
I was hoping that the cracks inside the tobacco chamber were only in the cake layer, but after reaming out the old carbon layer, the cracks remained. The chamber floor also proved to be seriously over-reamed, leaving the draft hole about 3/8″ up the rear wall. This arrangement would leave a lot of tobacco unburnt during each smoke and created a real risk of a burnout due to the thinness of the remaining briar.
Some of the issues showing in this closeup pic of the chamber are from heat, but I think the big cracks on the floor are natural flaws in the briar that were exposed by the over-reaming.
I would eventually sort out the chamber with an application of JB-Weld, but before I did, I spent some time cleaning things up. I started by using a wire brush to remove the worst of the carbon deposits from the rim.
Here’s what was hiding under the lava crust – what began life as a rusticated rim was now beaten almost flat due to dottle-knocking on hard surfaces.
Rather than try to re-rusticate the rim, I elected to sand out the little bit of remaining texture. A light topping on 220-grit sandpaper did the trick. I also reshaped both inner and outer rims to erase a few wayward dents and recapture a round appearance.
Happy with the progress so far, I switched gears and used pipe cleaners and cotton swabs dipped in alcohol to clean the stummel’s internals.
I finished off the first round of restoration work by setting the briar up with an alcohol treatment to dissolve and remove any stubborn tars or odours that may have been lurking within. I also popped the stem into an Oxyclean bath and let both parts of the pipe sit overnight.
The next morning, I removed the cotton balls from the stummel. As you can see in the pic below, the alcohol soak did its job and pulled out a bit more tar and debris, and left the briar smelling fresh and clean.
While I had stummel in hand, I did a bit more finesse work on the rim with 320 grit sandpaper and 0000 steel wool, adding a small bevel to the inner rim and bringing up the shine. A full course of micromesh sanding pads finished the job.
I set the briar aside at this point and rescued the stem from its Oxyclean bath. 0000 steel wool and Magic Eraser removed the worst of the now softened oxidation from the Vulcanite and exposed a few deep tooth dents that had previously gone unnoticed. The stem also had two marks on the shaft that looked like burn marks – the rubber had melted slightly.
The stem’s airway was surprisingly dirty given the relatively clean stummel. I used a dental pick to scrape the slot clear of tar and debris, then relied on pipe cleaners and alcohol to clean out the rest.
I filled the tooth dents with a patch mix of thick CA glue and charcoal powder. After the patches had fully cured, I used files and sandpaper to level out the fills and blend them into the surrounding Vulcanite. The melted spots on the stem surface were thankfully not too deep. They sanded out nicely.
With the stem ready for the buffer, I returned my attention to the stummel, giving the briar a good scrub with Murphy’s Oil Soap and an old toothbrush. The pics below shop how patchy the finish had gotten.
Before re staining the briar, I decided to deal with the chamber floor. I mixed up a small amount of original JB Weld and used a thin stick to drop it into the bottom of the bowl until the epoxy came to just below the level of the draft hole. I also wiped some JB on the rear chamber wall where there were some small heat fissures.
I propped the stummel upright over night and let the JB Weld cure completely before sanding away the excess epoxy. The patches in the pic below look a bit excessive but, with the heat fissures and knife gouges filled, the chamber wall is now perfectly smooth. And as you can see, the new chamber floor meets the draft hole nicely. You can just see the end of a pipe cleaner poking out of the draft hole.
Now on to the refinishing! I applied two coats of stain – a coat of Fiebing’s Saddle Tan leather dye, followed by a coat of Black dye. After the dye had dried, I removed the black colour from the smooth areas of the stummel to reveal the reddish Saddle Tan hiding beneath.
Finally, I applied a bowl coating of maple syrup and activated charcoal powder to the interior of the chamber. This is both a cosmetic and functional step in the restoration as it hides the chamber repairs and provides a slightly grippy surface on which to build a new cake layer.
Then it was time to take the pipe to the buffer for a run of Red Tripoli and White Diamond compounds and a few light coats of Carnauba wax to shine and protect the restored pipe.
Apart from the cotton lint clinging to the pipe in the pics below, this nearly 30-year-old Bent Billiard is looking great and is ready for decades more smoking companionship with its new owner. I’m sure he will be happy unwrapping this pipe on Christmas Day. I know I would be!
Thanks for joining me for another estate pipe refurbishment. I hope you enjoyed the journey as much as I did. Until next time, Happy Piping!
Here’s the finished pipe.