A New Stem and a Refresh for a Briar-Bowled Gourd Calabash

As we move through September and people settle into their Fall routines, I’ve finally been able to get to work on some of the pipe I acquired over the summer, including this interesting, though sadly unmarked, Gourd Calabash.

As you can see from this set of pictures, the pipe came to me without a stem but fitted with a somewhat unusual bowl carved from briar instead of the more common block meerschaum. Though dirty and obviously unused for some time, the pipe showed potential to be a real looker with a bit of work.

I started cleaning the pipe with a few pipe cleaners dipped in alcohol, scrubbing a light deposit of old tars from the vulcanite shank extension and wiping the interior, being careful not to saturate the gourd. A bit of petroleum jelly wiped around the cork gasket injected some much needed moisture there.

Next up was the briar bowl. There was only a light layer of cake there, which surrendered easily to some sandpaper wrapped around a dowel. I also used a scrap of 220-grit paper to tidy up the inside rim and remove a layer of smoke residue from the underside of the bowl, sanding lightly until I could see briar grain.

I gave the exterior of the gourd and briar bowl a wipe with alcohol on a cotton pad to remove the worst of the surface dirt, grease and old wax. The rest of the polishing would be done on the buffing wheel later when I removed the light oxidation fro the shank extension. In the meantime, I worked on finding and fitting a new stem to the pipe.

After some digging around through my supply of both new and used stems, I chose a long, slender vulcanite piece that I thought would lend a bit of elegance to the finished pipe. Here is the stem sitting alongside the gourd section.

The tenon end of the stem was a bit too large for the shank mortise, so I used my tenon turning tool to cut it down to size to achieve a nice snug fit. While I had the drill in hand, I used a countersink bit to cut a small funnel into the end of the tenon. This will help improve air flow through the pipe when it is fired up.

The next task was to bend the stem to get the button end more in line with the top of the bowl. After sliding a pipe cleaner though the slender stem to make sure the airway stayed open, I warmed the stem over the heat gun until pliable. I bent the stem and held it in position until the vulcanite cooled enough to set the new shape.

There were a few shallow tooth dents just ahead of the button that needed taking care of. I used 220-grit sandpaper to smooth out the stem’s surface, then worked through progressively finer grits to remove the sanding scratches and begin the polishing process. Here is the stem sanded to 2000-grit.

Finally, I took all of the pieces of the pipe to the buffer. I polished the briar bowl and stem with both Red Tripoli and White Diamond compounds to erase the last of the sanding marks and bring up the shine. The gourd got a light run on the White Diamond wheel as well, after which I gave the entire pipe several light coats of Carnauba wax to shine and protect the refreshed finish.

This was a fun restoration to work on, using parts collected over the last year or so. It really pays off to have a stock of used stems and other parts around – you just never know when something will come in handy!

The finished pipe has lived up to my original expectations – a classic, elegant Gourd Calabash with the modern twist of a briar bowl. The briar shows some lovely vertical grain up the sides, morphing into a field of birds-eye sweeping across the rim. The bowl fits snugly into the top of the gourd, thanks to the revitalized cork gasket, and the gourd itself, now clean and shiny, tapers gently down to meet the jet black of the revived vulcanite shank extension. The elegant line continues up and around the curve of the somewhat unconventional yet, for me anyway, compellingly slender stem.

This refreshed Gourd Calabash is ready to find its next pipe steward. If you are interested in adding it to your rack and rotation, this pipe is available on the Pipe Inventory page now.

Thanks for joining me for this estate pipe refurbishment. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. Until next time, Happy Piping!

Here’s the finished pipe.