Rusticating a London Made Billiard

The work on this pipe has been started and stopped several times over the last few months, repeatedly sidelined in favour of more pressing repair jobs. It’s been so long, in fact, since I started working on it that it took me quite a while to find (most of) the pictures.

This series of pics shows the pipe as it looked when I initially pulled it from the refurb box.

As you can see, the stem was heavily oxidized to an ugly yellow-brown, though underneath all that it looked sound enough. The rim had a thin layer of lava and a spot of charring on the inner rim at about the seven o’clock position. There were also some large, ugly fills on the right side of the bowl that would need some serious attention.

The pipe is stamped only with “London Made” on the left shank. With the two large fills in the briar, I’m fairly certain this one was sold as a basket pipe. There is no way to know for sure where this pipe was made, though the build quality suggests that it may well have come from one of London’s great pipe houses.

I began the refurbishment of this old Billiard by reaming the chamber clean. The briar was in great shape under the old cake.

I was hoping the area of charred briar on the rim was only superficial. To get a better look, I topped the bowl very lightly on high-grit sandpaper to remove the lava.

OK, that rim was in worse shape than I had thought. The charred briar made the bowl look very lopsided. To clean things up and return the rim to round, I carved a bevel into the inner rim with some low-grit sandpaper wrapped around a marker, then smoothed and polished the new rim with 320-grit paper and 0000 steel wool.

This was about as far as I got with this pipe before setting it aside to deal with a large lot of estate pipes sent to me for repair. It’s also where the in-progress photos get a bit spotty, for which I apologize.

When I eventually got back to this project, I dropped the stem into an Oxyclean bath for a good long soak. When I fished it out about 24 hours later, I scrubbed the stem with 0000 steel wool and Magic Eraser to remove the now soft layer of oxidized rubber. Wet sanding with progressively finer sandpapers smoothed out the tooth chatter and other handling marks and brought up the shine.

Then it was time to deal with the stummel. It was clean inside and out, and the rim damage had been remedied but those old fills were troublesome. I could have refilled them with briar dust and CA glue, but that still would have left two large, difficult to hide, fills in the side of the bowl.

In the end, I decided to bypass the fill issue by rusticating the stummel. This isn’t really an option when working on more valuable or collectible pipes, but for this no-name English Billiard, rustication was just what the pipe doctor ordered.

To do the actual work, I mounted a small round carving burr in my rotary tool and worked carefully over almost the entire stummel, leaving only the rim and a small band of briar at the top of the bowl smooth. This was my first time rusticating a pipe right up to the stem/shank junction. I found it slightly nerve-wracking but I’m pleased with the way it came out.

You can see the results of my efforts in this pic, which also shows the first coat of stain going onto the briar. I went for a classic black over red finish. The red stain will show on the smooth rim and also peek out from the tops of the rustication after final buffing.

When the red stain had dried, I hand buffed the excess away before applying a coat of black dye to the entire stummel. When it was dry, I used a damp Magic Eraser to clean the black from the smooth rim, revealing the red colour underneath. A wipe of mineral oil completed the refinishing process for this pipe.

After what is likely a record amount of time from start to finish, this restoration was finally coming to a close. I mounted the refreshed stem to the stummel and took the pipe to the buffer for a good polishing, first with Red Tripoli, then White diamond compound. A few light coats of Carnauba wax finished things off.

The completed pipe, unsurprisingly, looks nothing like the somewhat battered and neglected basket pipe I started with. The stem, once a nasty swamp yellow, now glows a deep glossy black, and the large fills that once glared out from the briar are gone, submerged in the nooks and crannies of the new rusticated finish.

The smooth rim shows some handsome cross grain, but also now displays slightly softened edges, giving the pipe a more modern and slightly Scandinavian look reminiscent, at least to me, of Stanwell’s crowned rims.

It took a long time to get through this estate pipe repair and redesign, and I’ve become somewhat attached to the finished work, but I’ve got more pipes than I can smoke, so this revived Billiard is available to purchase on the Pipes Inventory page.

Thanks for joining me for another estate pipe restoration. Until next time, Happy Piping!

Here’s the finished pipe.