A Square Peg for a Round Hole – An Exercise in Working With What You’ve Got

In a perfect world, a repair shop has access to every part it needs and can get them from suppliers quickly and easily. Enter COVID and the accompanying supply chain issues, and parts that once took about five days to arrive now takes up to 10 days, assuming they are actually available to order.

Unfortunately for the North American pipe world, the majority of parts and materials are imported from a wide range of countries – briar from the Mediterranean, Ebonite from Germany and Japan, acrylic from Italy, shank bands from China, and so on. The Pandemic slowed or halted production of some items for a while, and we’re just now starting to see some products back in stock.

One item that is still short of supply is precast acrylic stems, which brings us to today’s estate pipe project. This Bent Billiard stummel, made by the Canadian pipe making company Paradis, arrived without a stem. As this first series of pics shows, the pipe was in decent estate condition on arrival but would definitely benefit from a bit of TLC.

The stummel is stamped “S.C. Oil” on the left shank and “116” on the right.

The pipe’s steward had specifically requested an acrylic stem, so I started digging through my rather depleted supplies and sent off a few options by email. While waiting for a reply, I got on with cleaning the stummel, starting with reaming the chamber back to briar and removing the tarry “lava” crust from the rim of the bowl.

The internals were surprisingly clean. Many lone stummels that come across the worktable need serious cleaning, but this pipe only required a few pipe cleaners and cotton swabs dipped in alcohol to tidy things up.

As is often the case, the cleaning process brings to light issues that may have been camouflaged by tars, surface dirt or greasy smears on the briar. While cleaning the mortise, I spotted a short crack in the end of the shank. The darker area surrounding it is evidence of a previous attempt to glue the crack shut. This shank would need a band.

By this point, word had come back from the pipe’s steward providing direction on stem choices. This shot shows the clean stummel with the Orange Swirl acrylic stem blank selected for this restoration.

The stem came with a few challenges. First, as many of you no doubt already noticed, the stem is a Square Saddle shape, while the stummel has a round shank. I’d have to make this square peg fit the proverbial round hole.

The second issue is unfortunately not uncommon with precast stem blanks. The airway (or perhaps the integral tenon) was molded off-centre. I’d have to cut off the integral tenon and install a new Delrin tenon to correct the issue.

I started the process by turning a short piece of 3/8″ Delrin rod to the proper diameter on the lathe to get a snug-but-not-too-tight fit in the shank mortise. I then drilled a 1/8″ starter airway through the Delrin rod to create the new tenon.

The stem end of the tenon was turned down to 5/16″ and a corresponding mortise drilled in the face of the new stem.

After roughing up the mating surfaces and applying a bit of epoxy, I slipped the pipe together and clamped it in the padded jaws of the vise overnight, allowing gravity to hold the stem in proper alignment with the shank.

I left the pipe to rest overnight while the epoxy cured. When I came back to it the next day, I chased the airway through the tenon again with the 1/8″ drill bit to remove the epoxy blocking the draw, then followed up with a 5/32″ taper point bit to open the airway a bit more all the way from tenon to where the airway meets the slot cut in the bit. The tapered point on the drill bit makes a nice smooth transition from round airway to fan-shaped slot.

While technically speaking the pipe was now smokable, it didn’t quite fit the bill aesthetically. To make the new stem look like it belonged to the stummel, those square corners on the saddle had to go!

After taping off the shank to protect the briar and stamps, I used a number of files to carefully round off the saddle to match the diameter of the shank. Part of the trick here is to maintain an even cylindrical shape along the length of the saddle.

Acrylic takes more effort to work than Vulcanite, but patience and perseverance pay off in the end. When I was happy with the overall shape of the new stem, I switched from files to increasingly finer grits of sandpaper to remove the coarse file marks and begin to bring up the glassy shine for which acrylic is known. As you can see in the pic below, I also installed a thin brass shank band to permanently repair the crack in the shank and prevent it from growing larger.

I finished off this project by giving the stem the required bend and polishing the entire pipe on the wheel with Red Tripoli and White Diamond compounds. A few light coats of Carnauba wax added more shine and some protection to the freshly restored pipe.

I’m rather pleased with the results of this estate pipe overhaul. The stummel cleaned up nicely and the brass shank band reflects the lighter tones in the orange swirl acrylic stem. Better yet, this Canadian-made S.C. pipe by Paradis has been given a new lease of life and should serve its steward well for years to come.

Thanks for following along with me on this restoration. I enjoyed watching this lonely stummel come back to life; I hope you did as well.

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


9 thoughts on “A Square Peg for a Round Hole – An Exercise in Working With What You’ve Got”

    1. Thank you! Sometimes part of the fun is working out a solution using the available material. Hopefully the supply chain recovers but if not, it’s good to have a few work-arounds in place. 🙂


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