Shank Repair & a New Stem for a Brebbia Palladio

Following closely behind broken tenons on the list of the most common pipe repairs is the shank crack. Lengthwise cracks – those that run up the shank from the mortise – are usually the result of the same accident that broke the tenon and are typically easily fixed with the addition of a shank band. Cracks that run across the shank, however, are often stress fractures caused by the pipe hitting a hard surface – perhaps an overeager dottle-knocking or an unplanned fall.

This is the kind of crack I was faced with when this Brebbia Palladio arrived on the worktable. As this series of pictures show, the pipe had two open cracks running across the top of the shank – one near the shank/bowl junction and one closer to the end of the shank.

The cracks are only part of the list of issues with this pipe. The inner rim had a few nicks and dings and the Vulcanite stem, itself a replacement judging by the slight mismatch between shank and stem, was in rough shape but destined to be replaced with a new acrylic stem.

I began work on this project by reaming the chamber of a light carbon buildup before moving to clean the shank mortise and airway. That’s where I had to pause for a bit as I discovered a significant buildup of tars and tobacco debris hiding at the bottom of the mortise. Given the size of the mortise, I’m sure this Brebbia started life as a 9mm filter pipe, but the stem that came with it had a standard 3mm airway. The tenon on the replacement stem likely didn’t extend all the way to the bottom of the mortise, leaving an air gap in which the gunk deposited during use. I snapped this pic before diving into the cleaning.

It took a fair few minutes to soften and scrape out all the accumulated tars using 99% isopropyl alcohol, cotton swabs, pipe cleaners and the square end of my flat needle file. The drill bit at the top of this pic was used to reopen the draft hole to the chamber.

With the pipe clean, I turned to the shank cracks. After making sure that the cracks did not extend into the airway, I flowed clear CA glue into and over both cracks and let the glue cure.

When I was sure the glue had fully cured, I sanded away the excess and smoothed the shank repair to 1000-grit.

This close-up pic shows that the cracks are now securely bonded and the surface of the shank is smooth and unbroken.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t much I could do for the appearance of the crack near the bowl, but a thin brass band covered the second crack nicely and provided some added stability to the mortise.

Next up was fitting a new Delrin tenon. Pipe makers start by fitting a tenon blank to the stem, but for repair work it is much easier to work from the opposite direction. I make up my own Delrin tenons from rod stock in a few common diameters and keep a supply on hand. I turned the end of one of these tenon blanks to fit inside the shank mortise.

I then used my tenon-turning tool to reduce the stem end of the tenon blank to roughly 5/16″ diameter. This step saves quite a bit of shop time as I can drill a smaller mortise in the stem face without sacrificing the tenon’s structural integrity. The larger “head” on the tenon also covers the rough edges of the stem mortise for a nice clean look.

The stem selected for this Brebbia Palladio was a rather fun orange swirl acrylic with enough girth to match the chunky oval profile of the shank. After squaring the stem face on the topping board and drilling the mortise, I used a bit of two-part epoxy to bond the two parts together. After carefully aligning the stem to the shank, I let the pipe sit upright in the vise overnight to give the epoxy time to fully cure.

A nice, light-tight stem-to-shank fit.

When I came back to the pipe the next day, I twisted the stem out and used a countersink in the cordless drill to funnel the end of the tenon for better airflow.

Then it was time to remove the excess stem material and rough in the shape of the new acrylic stem. A quick wrap of clear hockey tape over the shank protected both the briar and the new shank band from errant file strokes.

With so much material to remove, I took the pipe to the belt sander and carefully but quickly roughed in the new stem shape.

After some hand work to file out the rough sanding scratches and refine the profile, I began sanding the stem to its final shape. I took this series of shots to show how quickly acrylic stems take on a high shine. I particularly enjoy watching this process and thought you might like to see it as well. First, 220-grit sandpaper.

Then 400-grit wet sandpaper.

1000 grit. Starting to see more depth to the orange swirl.

And 2000-grit. My apologies for the pic – I inadvertently had the camera flash turned on, but even so, the change to the stem is evident.

Finally, this shot shows the stem after buffing with Red Tripoli on the wheel. The acrylic has started to show its typical glass-like shine. Unfortunately the buffing also revealed quite a few file marks and sanding scratches that hadn’t been evident beforehand.

The pic above shows some deep scratches running parallel to the stem face. Rather than risk removing too much material and throwing the profile out of whack, I dressed the end of the stem with some clear CA glue and sanded it flat again after the glue had cured.

While I waited to be able to work on the stem again, I gave the stummel some much-needed attention. After a quick wet sanding with 1000 and 2000 grit papers, I applied a coat of Fiebing’s Saddle Tan leather dye to refresh the original red/brown finish.

I let the dye dry, then buffed off the excess by hand with a towel. A light coat of mineral oil helped set the new stain and added some moisture to the dry briar.

With the CA glue finally cured, I went back through the sanding routine, starting at 400 grit. This time I got all the file marks and random scratches out. Just before final polishing, I warmed the new stem over the heat gun until pliable and added a bend to match the original. The pipe cleaner in the stem helps prevent the airway from collapsing during the bending process.

Then it was finally time to bring the complete pipe to the buffer for a run of Red Tripoli and White Diamond compounds followed by a few light coats of Carnauba wax to shine and protect this handsome Brebbia.

The pipe is looking great after its time on the bench. The shank cracks are solidly repaired, the briar is clean and healthy looking, and the brass band and new acrylic stem give this Palladio a rather jaunty appearance. Best of all, this pipe has been returned to its current steward for many more years of service.

I hope you enjoyed walking through this restoration project with me. A new stem and a bit of TLC has transformed a well-loved but somewhat tired looking briar into what could be mistaken for a brand new pipe! Is there a pipe in your collection that could use a bit of sprucing up?

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