The Brigham System has been on the market since 1938 when it was patented by Roy Brigham in Toronto, Canada. The original system consisted of a long aluminum tenon/filter holder into which fit a tube of untreated Rock Maple, which absorbed moisture from the smoke stream as it passed through the stem. Pipes from this period (1938 – 1955) were stamped with the Brigham logo and the “CAN PAT” patent number.
The Patent Era Brigham pipe on the worktable today arrived as a lone stummel, marked with the stamps listed above and a three-digit shape code, “229” indicating a “Brigham Select” grade, Shape 29 (Author) pipe. In later years the grade name would simply be referred to as a “2 Dot” pipe.
As you can see in this series of pics, the stummel was in overall quite good estate condition. The smooth finish was clean and even, although the briar around the rim was darkened from use. The inner edge of the rim was noticeably out of round, likely the result of careless reaming with a pen knife.
The stummel is stamped “Brigham” over “CAN PAT 372982”; the shape code, “229” is stamped on the underside of the shank.
As this close up pic shows, the chamber was a bit of a question mark, with a heavy band of carbon cake wrapping around the middle section of the chamber. Thankfully, reaming the bowl proved that the briar under the cake layer was in great shape.
I cleaned the shank and airway with a good pile of cotton swabs and pipe cleaners dipped in 99% isopropyl alcohol. It had been some time since this pipe was cleaned.
Moving on to the rim, I topped the bowl lightly on some 600-grit wet sandpaper to freshen the darkened briar and reestablish a flat, smooth surface.
A few minutes with a scrap of sandpaper sorted out the charred briar around the inner rim and restored the round appearance of the chamber with a nice, even bevel.
Before leaving the shop for the night, I set the stummel up with an alcohol treatment to dissolve and remove any remaining deep-seated tars and odours lurking within the briar.
When I came back to the bench the following morning, I could see that the alcohol had done its job, transferring the tars and other impurities from the briar to the cotton wool. I removed and discarded the spent cotton and ran a fresh pipe cleaner through the airway to clear any stray bits of debris. I then sat the stummel aside for a rest while I worked up the new stem.
This image shows the component parts of the Brigham System – a Vulcanite stem, an aluminum tenon/filter holder and the Rock Maple filter itself. The tenon used here was a vintage piece salvaged from my small stock of used Brigham stems (as a repair man, I have learned to hold on to anything that may prove useful down the road!).
As the tenon was used, it needed a cleanup before I could install it in the new stem. A couple of cotton swabs dipped in alcohol did the trick.
And now I could get into the meat of this restoration, starting with some measurements. A Brigham System stem needs to be drilled three times – once for the airway, once for the filter pocket and once more for the stem mortise. As I was using a precast Vulcanite stem blank, the airway drilling was already done. To determine the depth of drilling for the filter pocket, I slipped the filter into the tenon and measured from the rear edge of the raised midsection (the actual tenon portion, which holds the stem firmly in the shank) to the end of the filter. In this case, the filter pocket needed to be 38mm deep.
I transferred this measurement to a 3/16″ drill bit. I also measured and taped off a larger drill bit to bore out the mortise. This pic shows everything ready to go.
Using the pre-cast airway as a guide, I drilled the stem out and test fit all the pieces of the System. Looking good!
A light wipe of petroleum jelly on the shank face helped ensure that the epoxy used to secure the tenon in the stem face did not glue the stem to the shank as well. Note that the Rock Maple filter was removed before gluing up the stem. It can be…. awkward… if the filter is left in place while setting the stem (don’t ask how I know this).
To glue the tenon into the stem face, I mixed up a small amount of two-part epoxy and added a few drops of black colouring. After mixing well, I applied the epoxy to both the knurled end of the aluminum tenon and the inside surface of the stem mortise and carefully slid the stem into position.
A padded vise helps a lot to keep the stem upright and in position as the epoxy cures. After lining everything up, I held the stem in place until the epoxy began to “grab”. Careful not to bump the stem out of position, I clamped the pipe upright in the vise and left it overnight for the glue to cure completely.
When I came back to the bench the next day, I chased the airway through the stem with a drill bit to remove the excess epoxy and test fit the filter to make sure everything still fit as intended. With all checks complete, I took the stem to the drill press where I used a cross-slide vise to hold the stem in position while I drilled two shallow shafts for the brass Dots.
Into each shaft went a drop of CA glue and a short section of 1/16″ brass rod. I let the stem sit until the glue cured fully before filing and sanding the brass pins down flush to the stem surface.
Hey! Those look like Brigham Dots!
Inevitably, the new stem needed some adjustments to achieve a smooth transition from shank to stem. After taping off most of the shank to protect both the original finish and the stamps, I used a few files and increasingly fine grits of sandpaper to establish and refine the profile.
This pic was taken after sanding the stem to 1000-grit. It still needed a little more work from this point, but it was looking pretty good.
When I was happy with the fit and finish of the stem, I slid a pipe cleaner through the airway and heated the Vulcanite over the heat gun to soften it enough to allow me to apply the correct bend. A dip in cool water set the new shape permanently.
From there it was a simple task to bring the 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 the restored pipe.
This Patent Era Brigham 229 Author is whole again and ready to provide decades of faithful service to its new steward. Though a bit on the fiddly side, and certainly more time consuming than fitting a basic push-tenon stem, crafting a Brigham System stem is not intrinsically difficult. While the repair tech needs to pay close attention to the process, the end result is very satisfying and, after all, the System is what makes a Brigham pipe a Brigham!
I hope you enjoyed this restoration post. I certainly enjoyed reviving this 80-plus year old Canadian made briar. With a modicum of care, this Brigham Author will still be going strong well past its hundredth birthday!
Until next time, Happy Piping! Here’s the finished pipe.