Tip & Tail Touch-Ups for a Calich XX Large Bent Billiard

Here is the second of two John Calich pipes I picked up over the summer. While the first one, written about HERE, was a smaller, fully rusticated pipe, this Bent Billiard is more typical of John’s work in that it features a combination of smooth and rustic finishes.

This series of pics shows the pipe as it looked when I brought it to the worktable. Overall, it wasn’t in bad shape – no cracks, loose fills or char marks to worry about here – though that’s not to say it didn’t need a day at the pipe spa. The pipe was dirty and the finish dull and lifeless. A crust of lava had spread across the smooth rim, and the vulcanite stem was greasy and oxidized, with mineral accretions on both sides of the bit.

The pipe is stamped “CALICH” over “XX” on the smooth bottom of the bowl. As I understand it, John Calich’s “X” pipes (in X, XX and XXX grades) were sold directly to the public rather than through Calich’s retail partners and are considered “seconds”, although there is nothing second-rate about either this pipe or the other Calich XX I worked on. I have not found any fills, flaws or other obvious issues that would lead me to conclude that these X pipes are rejects in any way.

I began this restoration by reaming a light cake from the chamber and tidying things up with a bit of sandpaper wrapped around a dowel. Some restorers like to leave a thin cake in the bowl when they clean up estate pipes, but I prefer to ream the chamber back to briar to both eradicate the odours of previous tobaccos and to allow the next pipe steward to build a new cake according to his or her preference.

I used a bit of 0000 steel wool to remove the worst of the carbon “lava” crust from the rim, stopping when the briar grain underneath began to shine through. The rest would come off later when I cleaned the exterior of the stummel.

I then spent quite a bit of time, and quite a few pipe cleaners, cotton swabs and alcohol, clearing a surprising amount of old tars, tobacco debris and other gunk from the stummel’s shank and airway. Clearly this pipe was a favourite of its last steward.

A scrub with Murphy’s Oil Soap and a toothbrush lifted away the dirt, grease and old wax from the surface of the briar and revealed a more heavily worn finish than I had anticipated.

With the stummel now clean inside and out, I could see a patch of “road rash” on the front of the pipe near the rim, damage typical of carelessly knocking the pipe against a hard surface to remove the dottle.

While I worked on repairing the rim, the stem went into an Oxyclean bath to soften the oxidation.

I mixed up a batch of CA glue and briar dust and drop-filled the damaged area, over-filling the dents and surrounding briar. After the patch had completely cured, I used a needle file and sandpapers to remove the excess fill material and restore the original lines of the bowl.

I sanded the smooth area of the bowl to 2000-grit, then applied a coat of Fiebing’s Black leather dye. This restored the original finish on the rusticated areas and sank deep into the softer briar grain. When the dye was dry, I removed the black from the smooth areas to highlight the now black grain.

A light wipe with mineral oil enlivened the finish and gave it depth and pop.

Setting the stummel aside for a bit, I pulled the stem from the Oxyclean and scrubbed away the soft oxidized layer with 0000 steel wool and Magic Eraser. The cleanup revealed some deeper tooth dents near the bit.

Attempts to raise the dents with heat were unsuccessful, so I mixed up some thick CA glue and activated charcoal powder and filled the dents on both sides of the bit. The vast majority of the filler was filed and sanded away when the patches had cured, leaving a smooth surface behind.

I finished the stem repairs by sanding with progressively finer abrasives from 220-grit to 2000-grit.

Then it was time to reunited stem and stummel and go to the buffer, where I gave the stem and smooth portion of the stummel a run of Red Tripoli and White Diamond compounds to erase the last sanding marks and bring up the shine. The rusticated area also got a little love on the White Diamond wheel, but very lightly to avoid packing compound into the nooks and crannies. The entire piece then received a few light coats of Carnauba wax to shine and protect the rejuvenated pipe.

The finished pipe is a real looker. John Calich was certainly a master at his craft as this pipe makes the most of some truly lovely cross-grain, Birds-eye and even a touch of quilting on the smooth parts. The rustication is soft and subtle, and provides a comfortable tactile quality to the pipe as well as a visual transition from the smooth grain to the now deep black stem.

This John Calich XX Bent Billiard is available now on the Pipe Inventory page if you’d like to add it to your own rack and rotation or perhaps start your Holiday shopping for the pipe smoker on your list.

Thanks for following along on another estate pipe restoration journey. until next time, Happy Piping! Here’s the finished pipe.