A New Stem for a Hardcastle’s Seaton 172 Billiard

This week’s estate pipe restoration is the fitting of a new stem to a Hardcastle’s Seaton Billiard stummel, which came to me as part of a large lot of pipes for repair. As this series of pics shows, the stummel was in very good, if not unsmoked, condition. It had clearly been without a stem for most of its life.

The stummel is stamped “Hardcastle’s” over “Seaton” on the left shank and “Made in London” over “England” on the right shank. A shape number, 172, is stamped on the shank’s underside.

The briar was a bit dirty and greasy from storage, and the rim showed some dents on the rear edge. It also looked like someone at some point had scraped a layer of lava from the rim, leaving an echo of its outline behind. I would be dealing with none of these issues, however, apart from a basic cleaning. My brief on this one was to fit a replacement stem and leave the rest to the pipe’s owner.

One bit of cleaning that was necessary for my task was the shank mortise – any tars or debris left there while fitting the new stem would lead to a loose tenon after the offending material was removed. Thankfully, this was an easy one to check of my list. A single cotton swab dipped in alcohol showed that the stummel’s internals were in fact very clean already.

With the shank prepped, I dug about in my supplies for a suitable replacement stem and came up with a Vulcanite saddle stem that would do the job. The tenon was just slightly oversized for the mortise; a bit of sandpaper removed the excess material to achieve a snug fit.

As you can see in the above shot, the stem’s diameter was slightly larger than that of the shank. After taping off the stamps to avoid damaging them during the process, I used needle files and sandpaper to thin down the stem’s shoulder, creating a smooth transition from shank to stem.

After removing the tape, I smoothed and polished the shank and stem with progressively finer grits of sandpaper to remove the rough sanding scratches and bring up the shine. Here is the pipe sanded to 2000-grit.

A run of Red Tripoli and White Diamond buffing compounds at the wheel took the polishing the rest of the way, adding lustre and depth to both briar and stem. A few coats of Carnauba wax gave the pipe added shine and protection from sunlight, which will oxidize the Vulcanite stem.

And with that, this Hardcastle’s Seaton 172 Billiard was ready to send home to its owner. The finished pipe is whole again and will doubtless serve its piper well for many years to come. I hope you enjoyed following along with this stem fitting project. I think it is important for both pipe restorers/repairers and regular pipe smokers everywhere to understand that off-the-shelf replacement stems for their favourite briars and meers simply do not exist. Every stummel is different, requiring the custom fitting of a new stem every time. This one was fairly straightforward, while some are considerably more difficult and need more advanced skills and experience to complete successfully.

Until next time, Happy Piping! Here’s the finished pipe.