The hunt for hidden gems keeps a good number of pipe smokers and collectors wandering through antique shops, secondhand stores and other repositories of the past. One such treasure hunting prize, a John Brumfit Billiard, was sent to me recently for restoration along with its original box and sock.
The manufacturer was unfamiliar to me here in Canada but many Europeans may recognize the brand as an entry-level pipe offering made in Italy for Gowith & Hogarth. With a bit more digging, I learned that the firm of John Brumfit was established in London in 1864 and operated as a family company until sometime around World War II. I was unable to trace the line of ownership from that period to G&H, but as you will see, that part of the story isn’t really relevant to the pipe on the worktable.
Here is the pipe as it looked on its arrival at the shop. The first thing that jumped out at me is the striking straight grain on the stummel, followed closely by the holes in the bite zone of what appeared to be the original stem.
The box, with its guarantee pasted to the inner lid, helps to provide a bit of dating evidence for the pipe. The guarantee states that “Over seventy years of experience” go into each Brumfit pipe. Counting up from 1864, the firm hit the 70 year mark in 1934. Add in the appearance and overall age of the box and I am quite comfortable dating this pipe to the World War II era.
The pipe itself is marked “Brumfit” over “London” over “Straight Grain” on the left shank, while the right shank is stamped “Made in” over “England” and “Z”, which I think is more likely to be a quality mask than a shape number. If anyone has any more information on Brumfit pipes, please chime in below!
Overall, the pipe was quite clean, though there was a fair amount of old cake in the chamber that needed to go. I reamed the chamber back to briar and cleaned off the rim with a bit of 0000 steel wool while I was at it.
A wipe of the exterior of the stummel with alcohol on a cotton pad removed the surface dirt and any remnants of the old wax finish. The shank and airway were surprisingly clean already, so I moved on to fitting the new stem.
This pic shows the original stem above the new replacement stem blank. They are nearly identical in diameter and length, with the difference made up primarily by the larger button on the new blank.
I did attempt to utilize the integral tenon on the Vulcanite stem blank, but after turning it to fit the shank, I was, as usual, disappointed by the result. I could not get a tight shank to stem fit, as this pic illustrates.
A quick trip to the miter saw removed the integral tenon. After facing the stem on the topping board, I drilled a mortise to accept a new Delrin tenon, and sized the business end to fit snugly in the shank. These pictures show the progression.
After roughing up both the stem end of the tenon and the inside of the stem mortise to improve the mechanical bond, I applied some two-part epoxy to both pieces and assembled the pipe in my padded vise. Ironically, this vise gets more use this way than it does in the drill press!
I left the pipe to sit overnight while the epoxy cured completely. When I was certain that the tenon was not going to shift out of place, I sanded and polished the new stem by hand to 2000 grit then took the entire pipe to the buffer for a run on the Red Tripoli and White Diamond wheels to bring up the shine. A few light coats of Carnauba wax completed this restoration project.
Besides the joy of working on a beautiful old pipe, this project also gave me the chance to learn about a new-to-me pipe manufacturer, which is always a treat. I’m also glad to have been able to return this lovely John Brumfit Straight Grain to active service.
I hope you enjoyed following along with me. Until next time, Happy Piping!
Here’s the finished pipe.