This smaller Comoy’s Sandblast Army Billiard arrived at the workshop recently as part of a larger lot of estate pipes sent in by an Ontario pipe shop for repairs and restoration. As this first series of pics shows, the stummel was in quite good condition, needing only a good cleaning and buffing to prepare it for its next pipe steward. The stem, on the other hand, sported a rather large dent on the underside of the bite zone and a smaller linear mark on the upper stem surface, created by the previous custodian habitually clenched the pipe between a lower canine tooth and an upper incisor. The round dent on the bottom was quite deep, very nearly punching through to the stem’s airway.
The pipe is stamped “Comoy’s” (straight line, sans serif, with “C” larger than other letters) over “Sandblast” followed by a shape number, “24” and a linear “Made in London” over “England” COM stamp. The silver shank cap is marked “HC” in a cartouche (for Henri Comoy, founder of the firm) over “Sterling” over “London”.
Given the information available on Pipedia.org, this pipe was certainly made between about 1950 and 1980 when Comoy’s was taken over by Cadogan. My sense is that it belongs to the earlier decade of this period – loosely the 1950s to perhaps the mid 1960s – however, the lack of silver hallmarks (common on English pipes made for export to North America) makes setting an exact date impossible. The Comoy’s Shape Chart identifies Shape 24 as a Small Straight Army Mount Billiard.
With the pipe’s provenance established, I got started with the restoration work, beginning with the large dent in the stem. The crushing action of the previous piper’s teeth had pinched the airway closed in the area of the dent. To open it back up, I warmed the Vulcanite with a lighter, painting the flame across the stem until it became pliable. A pipe cleaner could then be slipped through the stem, holding the airway open while the rubber cooled and set in its new shape. The heat also raised the compacted material inside the dent. After a few minutes of work with the lighter, the dent looked a lot better.
This closeup shot shows a crack in the Vulcanite at the lower side of the now raised dent. Without a repair, this stem was destined to crack the length of the airway – yikes!
To fill the remaining depression and seal the nascent crack, I mixed a small amount of thick CA glue with a roughly equal amount of activated charcoal powder and dropped it into the damaged area, allowing the patch mix to flow over the edges of the dent. I set the stem aside overnight to give the glue time to cure properly.
While I was waiting on the stem patch to cure, I cleaned up the stummel, first reaming the old carbon cake from the chamber and then cleaning the shank and airway with cotton swabs and pipe cleaners dipped in 99% isopropyl alcohol. As you can see below, the stummel was actually quite clean – a welcome change to some of the estate pipes that pass across my worktable.
As this Comoy’s Army Billiard was destined to go to a new pipe steward, I gave the stummel a deep cleaning alcohol treatment to draw out any ingrained tars lurking within and eliminate the lingering odours of tobaccos past. One cotton ball packed into the bowl and a second twisted into the shank did the trick. I filled the stummel with more isopropyl alcohol and set it aside for the night to let the treatment do its work.
When I came back to the shop the following day, the cotton balls had taken on a slight tinge of yellow/brown, proof that despite the cleaning I performed the previous day, there were still some tars to pull out of the briar. I discarded the cotton and set the stummel aside to air while I carried on with the stem work.
The CA and charcoal patch had cured overnight, so I started filing the patch smooth and flush with the surrounding Vulcanite. I have ground a smooth “dead edge” on one side of my flat needle file. This allows me to place the dead edge right up against the button without damaging it while I worked the patch down to size.
Once the initial shaping was complete, I switched to successively finer grades of sandpaper to smooth and polish the stem. This series of pics shows the progress.
This shot shows the patch sanded to 2000-grit. The orange peel texture of the patch is caused by tiny microbubbles which form in the CA glue as it cures. When the patch is filed, the air pockets are exposed, creating the honeycomb effect seen here.
This is a common issue with CA glue, but one that is, thankfully, easy enough to overcome. The solution is to simply flow some thin CA glue over the patch to fill in the bubbles. If the bubbles show white against the black Vulcanite, a black Sharpie marker can be used to colour then in, but in this case I was lucky and didn’t need that step.
I set the stem aside for the night to allow the skim coat of CA glue to fully cure before once again sanding the stem smooth. This time I got all the bubbles filled and could take the finished repair to the buffer for final polishing with Red Tripoli and White Diamond compounds to erase the last of the sanding scratches and bring up the shine. Then both stem and stummel received a few light coats of Carnauba wax to shine and protect the revived pipe.
The finished pipe is looking every inch the classic English Billiard that it is, from the freshly cleaned sandblasted briar to the repaired and revived Army Mount stem, whose shine is reflected in the bright Sterling silver shank cap. This mid-20th Century Comoy’s Sandblast has been returned to the pipe shop, where it awaits its next pipe steward.
Thanks for following along with me on this fairly simple restoration job. For me, this pipe is a good representation of the power of a good cleaning and a few simple repair techniques. It’s also a good example of how much time stem work can take. While this restoration took only a few hours of working time, the pipe spent three full days on the bench.
Until next time, Happy Piping! Here’s the finished pipe.