Reviving a John Calich XX Bent Billiard

This Bent Billiard is the first of two pipes by Canadian pipe carver John Calich that I acquired as part of an estate collection earlier this summer.

Calich was a master pipe carver who operated in the Greater Toronto area for 40 years, hand carving each pipe from start to finish. Pipes sold through dealers were graded first by numbers 3-14, then on a scale of 3E-8E. Some of John’s pipe were sold directly to customers. These were stamped with X, XX or XXX and are generally considered to be second quality pieces.

The pipe on the worktable today is a petite rusticated Bent Billiard in good estate condition but needing a bit of love. The finish was worn and patchy and the vulcanite stem oxidized and sporting a crust of mineral accretions at the bit. The nickel shank band was grimy and looked like it had had some sort of sticky liquid spilled on it and not been properly cleaned. The tobacco chamber held a thin layer of cake.

This one is on the smaller side, measuring just 5-1/4″ long with a 1-3/8″ tall by 1-1/4″ wide bowl. The chamber bore is a hair over 5/8″ in diameter.

The pipe is stamped “CALICH” in block letters over “XX” on the underside of the bowl. The shank band bears the “SJV” logo of what is, as far as I can tell, an aftermarket producer of shank bands. A closer look at the shank face reveals a crack at the ten o’clock position, so it is quite likely that the shank band was added after the pipe was sold. A quick scrub with 0000 steel wool cleaned off the sticky gunk and brought back the shine.

I reamed the light cake form the chamber and tidied things up with a bit of sandpaper wrapped around a dowel. Underneath the carbon, the briar was in great shape.

Aided by a set of shank brushes, it only took a few pipe cleaners and cotton swabs dipped in alcohol to remove the buildup of tars and other gunk from the shank and airway. I used a few more cotton swabs to clean the carbon lava deposits from the deeply rusticated rim of he bowl.

Finally, a scrub with Murphy’s Oil Soap and a toothbrush lifted the remaining dirt, grease and old wax from the exterior of the stummel.

The cleaning had revealed just how spotty the original stain had become, and had also loosened the grip of the shank band, which twisted off in my hand as I was drying the stummel with a towel after its scrub. I took the opportunity to replace the SJV band with an unmarked nickel band form my supplies. This wasn’t a necessary change, but something about the SJV logo makes the bands look cheap to me. I had a suitable shank band lying around so I made the swap, which you will see in the rest of the photos below.

While I had been working on the stummel, the vulcanite stem had been soaking in an Oxyclean bath to raise and soften the oxidation. I pulled the stem from its soak at this point and scrubbed it down with 0000 steel wool and a bit of Magic Eraser to bring it back to black. A few pipe cleaners dipped in alcohol cleared out the tars from the airway.

As has become a habit for me, I took a minute to cut a funnel into the end of the stem tenon to improve the flow of air through the pipe. A countersink bit in the hand drill does this in just a few seconds.

I mounted the stem in the shank and applied a coat of Fiebing’s Black leather dye to the briar to restore the original look. When the dye was dry, I hand buffed away the excess with a bit of old towel then wiped on a bit of mineral oil to both moisturize the wood and give the new finish depth and pop.

Moving back to the stem, I smoothed and polished the vulcanite with sandpaper from 220 through 2000 grit.

To finish off this restoration, I reassembled the pipe and took it to the buffer. I gave the stem a run on both the Red Tripoli and White Diamond wheels to erase the sanding marks and bring up the shine. The stummel was touched briefly to the White Diamond wheel to polish the smooth stamping patch and to remove the slightest bit of black dye from the peaks of the rusticated finish, revealing the lighter brown underneath. Then the pipe received a few light coats of Carnauba wax – light on the stummel and heavier on the stem.

The finished pipe is a good looking classic Bent Billiard, in a compact size perfect for a jacket pocket and a short smoke on the go. The rustication is deep and craggy, and the new shank band gives the pipe a bit of bling, a bright spot of shining silver against the deep black of the refreshed stem.

Thanks for joining me for this estate pipe restoration. I am happy to report that this lovely smaller Calich XX has already found a new home. If you’d like to add a new-to-you pipe to your own rack and rotation, you can browse available pipes on the Pipe Inventory page now.

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