Lockdowns, closures and other by-products of the COVID pandemic have revived (for some) or reintroduced (for others) the “Mend and Make Do” attitude prevalent among the British during World War II. Purchases of new things – cars, clothing, home improvement projects, etc – have been delayed or given up altogether as people tighten their proverbial belts and hunker down until the crisis passes. I have noticed a similar shift among pipe smokers.
While I applaud the reduction in what might be labelled “convenience buying”, there is a point at which it is always better to bring in qualified help, and pipe repair is, more often than not, one of those times.
This Savinelli Chocolat 122 is a good example of a “mend and make do” DIY repair that had outlived its usefulness. When it arrived on the work table, it became clear to me that this was a well-loved pipe that had been reasonably cared for but not cleaned in some time. The rim was completely hidden under a thick crust of carbon “lava” and the chamber was almost clogged with a hefty but uneven layer of cake.
The stem, though very loose in the mortise, was in surprisingly good shape considering how well-used the pipe was, but the real issue was hiding under a layer of what appeared to be duct tape wrapped around the shank. Poking out from the edges of the tape was a few wraps of red wire or perhaps thread, and a few random globs of what appeared to be dried PVA glue.
The tape covered most of the stamps but enough was visible to identify the pipe as a Savinelli. Exactly what kind of Savinelli would have to wait for now.
Peeling away the tape didn’t help a great deal with identifying the pipe as most of the adhesive from the tape stuck to the shank. Enough came off that I could at least identify the wrapping as red thread and not wire.
It took about ten minutes of work with isopropyl alcohol and cotton pads to get the tape residue off the briar and unwind the red thread. When it finally was clear, the pipe revealed itself as a Savinelli Chocolat 122. It also revealed the reason behind the DIY repair – the shank had cracks in several places, but at least all the briar was present and accounted for.
With the scope of the repair work now made plain, I set to work reaming the old cake form the chamber and scraping the lava crust from the rim. Underneath it all, the rim and chamber were in fairly good shape.
Given the amount of cake reamed out, I had expected to find a lot of tars and other goodies in the shank and airway. I was pleasantly surprised to get the job done with only a modest number of pipe cleaners and cotton swabs dipped in alcohol.
While I had the supplies in hand, I took care of the stem cleaning too.
With the basic cleanup accomplished, I made a permanent shank repair by installing a nickel band wide enough to cover the damaged briar. The band is slightly undersized and pressure fit using heat. When warmed over the heat gun, the metal band expands and can be pushed home flush with the end of the shank. As the band cools, the metal contracts, clamping the cracks tightly closed without needing any adhesive.
A salt and alcohol treatment made sure that any tars I had missed during cleaning came out overnight. As you can see in this pic, I had several pipes on the bench at one time, which is not uncommon. The Savinelli Chocolat is at the far left.
A quick side note regarding the alcohol treatment: If you are going to use salt, I strongly recommend using 99% isopropyl alcohol. If you can’t find 99% isopropyl, or you prefer to use a consumable alcohol like rum or vodka, skip the salt and use cotton balls in the bowl instead. The reason for this is that lower concentrations of alcohol contain more water, which can dissolve the salt crystals and deposit them inside micro-fissures in the briar. When the water evaporates, the salt crystals can re-form and press outwards on the cracks. This pressure can result in significant damage to a pipe. While I have not experienced this problem myself, a quick search on the pipe forum of your choice will garner several posts on the subject.
With the stummel taken care of for now, I turned my attention to the stem and sanded out the tooth chatter and a few light scratches from the acrylic.
A small spot of deeper damage got a drop of CA glue to fill the pit. After the glue cured, I sanded things smooth again.
When the stummel was finished its alcohol treatment, I topped the rim lightly to sharpen the edges. A polishing with micromesh sanding pads brought up the shine and deepened the colour of the briar.
The charred rim at the six o’clock position, seen in the pic above, was distracting and gave the bowl an out-of-round appearance, so I sanded a bevel into the inner rim. This removed the charred briar and gave the rim a more finished look.
Then it was time to freshen up the finish with a fresh coat of Dark Brown leather dye. This evened out the colour across the entire stummel and amped up the “chocolat” look. A wipe with mineral oil helped set the new stain and injected some moisture into the dry briar.
Finally, I took the pipe to the buffer for a run of Red Tripoli and White Diamond polishing compounds followed by a few light coats of Carnauba wax to shine and protect the revitalized pipe.
The finished pipe is definitely more appealing after its time on the bench. Gone are years of carbon buildup on rim and chamber, and the well-intentioned but structurally inadequate DIY shank repair has been undone and replaced with a proper shank band that also adds a touch of bling to the pipe without obscuring the stamps. The rich chocolate brown finish has been revived, prepping this handsome Savinelli Chocolat 122 for decades more smoking companionship for its owner.
I hope you enjoyed following along with me on this estate pipe restoration. Is there a pipe in your collection that could use a similar bit of TLC?
Until next time, Happy Piping! Here’s the finished pipe.