Here is another pipe from the box of repairs I’ve been working through recently. This time I’m working on a lovely Peterson Christmas 2012 B11 with a very unfortunate issue – a long crack running up the bowl. Ouch!
Here is the pipe as it looked when I first brought it to the worktable. I somehow missed taking pics of the stamps, but the pipe is marked “Peterson” over “Christmas” on the left shank and “B11” on the right. The sterling shank band is stamped with a Christmas tree on one side and “2012” on the other.
As you can see, the crack was only the largest issue. Also in play were a ragged inner rim rife with knife gouges, an oxidized stem with some deep marks left by tool jaws and, on a minor note, a silver band that had been rotated upside down on the shank (the Christmas tree stamp should be on top).
Unlike some cracks that are caused by a buildup of cake in the bowl, the crack in this pipe appears to centre on a natural flaw in the briar. If you expand the closeup pic below and zoom in on the crack, you can see the remnants of some putty in what would have started as a surface flaw. Repeated expansion and contraction of the briar during use literally pulled that flaw open to form the crack you see now.
What was not visible in these first pictures was just how filthy dirty the pipe was internally. Whatever cake had once been in the chamber had already been removed but I needed to use a drill bit to reopen the airway before I could get a pipe cleaner through to the bowl.
Just to give an indication of the sheer volume of tarry crud lurking inside this eight year old pipe, here is a shot of the first of many alcohol-dipped cotton swabs used to clear the muck before I could start repairs. Ick!
I spent quite some time working on the internals of this pipe using drill bits, scrapers, pipe cleaners, cotton swabs and a lot of alcohol, but eventually I (thought I had) found the briar hidden underneath.
I completed the basic cleaning of the stummel by wiping the exterior with alcohol on a cotton pad. The alcohol loosened what was left of the glue holding the sterling band in place on the shank, so I removed it altogether and set it aside to tidy up and reinstall later.
Before moving on to the heavy lifting of pinning the crack, I worked on the ragged rim with some 220-grit sandpaper to smooth out the knife gouges and return the roundness of the inner edge. I also spotted a pair of tiny, tight cracks running across the rim. A drop of CA glue now to stop the cracks from growing would help avoid larger issues later.
I would ultimately set the stummel up with a deep cleaning salt and alcohol treatment but before I did that I wanted to stabilize the crack. A quick check with a strong light source confirmed that the crack did not penetrate the chamber but was rather a deep but partial parting of the wood along a grain line.
The crack started just below the rim and ran down the full length of the bowl and wrapped around the bottom edge by about a quarter of an inch. I marked both ends of the crack, then drilled a 1mm hole at each end to stop the crack from creeping any further.
The next process is the tricky part of this repair – drilling pin shafts across the crack without penetrating the chamber. Given the length of the crack, I decided to install three pins to stitch the briar back together. Using a marker, I drew out the pin shaft layout. Note that the pins are far from parallel; in fact, no two shafts run in exactly the same direction. This ensures that any movement of the briar due to expansion and contraction will be unable to reopen the crack.
This pic shows the stummel after I drilled all the pin shafts. A length of 2mm brass rod is test-fit in the middle shaft. When I was happy with the fit of the rod in the shaft, I marked the rod where it met the briar and then cut the pin deliberately shy of the mark.
A drop of CA glue went into the shaft, followed by the pin, which was pushed home using the remaining rod. The second pic below shows the pin glued into the shaft. It is tucked far enough into the shaft that there is no risk of accidentally exposing the brass while refinishing the stummel.
I repeated the pinning process with the other two shafts, then moved on to filling both the pin holes and the open crack with a mix of thick CA glue and briar dust. I cut one end off a cotton swab to make a disposable applicator, then pushed my patch mixture deeply into the holes and along the full length of the crack. I was very generous with the patch, letting it fill the voids and flow over the surface of the stummel around the damaged areas.
Ugly as the stummel was at this stage, it was now structurally sound. As I was approaching the end of my day anyway, it was a good time to set up that salt and alcohol treatment I mentioned earlier.
Regular readers will be familiar with this deep cleaning technique, but for those new to the blog, the salt and alcohol process allows for the removal of deeply ingrained tars and odours – and it’s dead easy.
After twisting some cotton wool into the shank, I filled the chamber with kosher salt, then filled the stummel with 99% isopropyl alcohol. Kosher salt contains no iodine, commonly added to table salt to both keep it from clumping and inject some iodine into our diets. Unfortunately, some pipe restorers have reported a foul taste in the mouth while smoking a pipe cleaned with regular table salt, so I avoid the issue by using kosher salt instead.
I left the stummel to sit overnight to allow the alcohol to penetrate and dissolve the old tars I knew were still lurking inside the briar. I came back to the worktable the next day and found this:
Both the salt and cotton were heavily discoloured from the amount of tar absorbed overnight. Yuck. I removed the cotton and dunped the salt from the bowl, then started cleaning the internals again. You can see from this pic that a good amount of gunk came out of a pipe I had already cleaned!
Satisfied that the stummel was, in fact, clean this time, I moved on to cleaning up the mess of hardened patch mixture filling the crack. I used files and sandpaper to remove the excess material and level it with the surrounding briar and also lightly sanded the rest of the stummel to even out the finish, carefully avoiding the stamps as I worked.
The repair was starting to look like it just might work out but there were, somewhat inevitably, some small pits and irregularities in the fill material that needed retouching. To smooth things out, I topped the repair with some regular clear CA glue and let it cure before sanding away the excess. There is a bit of work left to do in the second pic below – a bit more sanding will remove the “ghosts” of glue from the sound areas of briar on either side of the crack. It’s important to remove these ghosts as any stain applied to the briar cannot be absorbed by CA glue.
With the repairs as smooth and minimized as possible, I applied a coat of Fiebing’s Black leather dye to the entire stummel. I let the dye dry, then removed as much as possible. This left the black only in the softer, more absorbent grain and started the task of blending the crack repair into the finish.
I followed the black dye with a coat of Fiebing’s Dark Brown leather dye to recreate the original “Walnut” finish of the Peterson Christmas 2012 series. I did, however, go over the repaired area a few times to ensure that the repair was pushed as far into the background as possible.
I let the second stain coat dry, then buffed the briar by hand with an old towel to remove any excess dye sitting on the surface. A light wipe with mineral oil completed the refinishing, adding depth and pop while injecting some moisture into the briar.
I let the oil sit on the briar only briefly before buffing away the excess. Just before setting the stummel aside I used a drop of CA glue to reattach the sterling silver band, making sure it was correctly oriented with the Christmas Tree stamp on top of the shank.
Both the stummel and I needed a break at this point, so I set the stummel aside, dropped the stem into an bath of Oxyclean and warm water to soak and turned off the lights in the shop for the night.
The next day I pulled the stem from the soak and scrubbed away the oxidation with some Magic Eraser before tackling the stem’s internals with alcohol and pipe cleaners. Given the state of the stummel when I started this project, it will come as no surprise to you that the stem’s airway was also packed with tar and debris. Thankfully, the Oxy soak had softened the worst of the crud, lightening the cleaning load here. Note the dental pick in the pic below, used to remove hard-packed tars from the slot.
The cleaning did reveal one nice surprise – the somewhat faded Peterson “P” logo on the left flank of the stem that had been completely invisible before!
Sadly there were also those deep gouges in the vulcanite left by an overly-aggressive set of pliers. Apparently someone at some point got impatient trying to remove a seized stem – poetic justice in a way, as the stem would have turned freely if the previous owner had cleaned his pipe once in a while.
There were also a few tooth dents to attend to while rehabilitating this stem,
After giving each spot a light sanding to level the peaks of the gouges, I drop-filled the damaged areas with clear CA glue and let it cure completely before sanding things smooth. I also attempted to fill the stem logo, dabbing some acrylic paint into and over the stamp to fill what remained of the P.
I got only sort of lucky with the logo, and as fate would have it, the paint that did stick to the stem was ultimately buffed away during final polishing, but the rest of the stem repairs came through with flying colours.
I sanded and polished the stem to 2000-grit before taking both halves of the pipe to the buffer for a run on the Tripoli and White Diamond wheels. A few light coats of Carnauba wax added a glassy shine and some protection to the freshly restored pipe.
This Peterson Christmas 2012 B11 is ready to go back to its owner and start a new life with an appreciative piper. It is both structurally sound and nearly as beautiful as it was new. The repairs, while visible to the camera’s critical eye under bright light, fade into the background on casual viewing by actual humans.
Thanks for joining me on what turned out to be quite an involved restoration. I hope you enjoyed taking the journey with me.
Here’s the finished pipe. Until next time, Happy Piping!