207. Reverse, Restore, RePETE: A Cautionary DIY Tale

207. Reverse, Restore, RePETE: A Cautionary DIY Tale

Welcome to another episode of This Old Pipe, where the restorationist gets a crazy idea, throws caution to the wind, measures once and cuts twice and then walks away with expletives, a few tears, a lesson learned and two pipes back in fighting trim. I had not intended to write up this experience so there aren’t many process photographs, but there are one or two instructive points, both cautionary and otherwise that I thought you might find interesting.

This morning we’re looking at my two oldest Petes, my first Peterson, a System 309 (1979) and my first De Luxe (1981). I won’t tell you how many times I’ve renovated these pipes, not because I’m ashamed but because I really don’t remember. Common to both is 40 years’ smoking and the kind of affection and abuse that comes with that kind of mileage.

The 309 has been the better smoker overall but both have been languishing for some time in the rack in need of some beautification. Last summer’s success with a De Luxe 11A inspired me recently to think I might carry out a similar renovation or “reverse and restore” on these two by removing the original stain with Micro Mesh pads then buffing with carnauba. What could go wrong? Maybe just one thing: I forgot about bowl grades.

About every other month I see a surly comment about dark stain on K&P’s pipes. I’ve never read one about a Castello’s dark stains or Dunhill’s or even BriarWorks, but for some reason if every pipe Peterson sells isn’t a perfect unblemished Natural it seems to irritate someone. If you know one of those people, direct them here for some illumination.

Simply put, K&P grades their stummels by grain and flaws. At one end there’s a very, very few with stunning grain and no flaws. At the other end—well, you get the idea. And generally speaking, the lighter the color, the better the stummel quality (grain + flaw condition combined). Price, of course, enters into this equation and to expect a fantastically grained new Pete for $100 is a bit unrealistic (although I own some). Add to this the fact that fashions in pipe colors have changed over the decades. There were times when natural colors were preferred—one thinks of the Shamrock blondes of the 1950s and the NATURAL Kildares from the same decade. There have also been periods when fairly dark stains were used on top-quality grain: the Centenary commemoratives in 1975 and the De Luxe pipes in the early 1980s come to mind. But as much as we look on K&P as one of the great benefactors of the World of Pipes, it is nevertheless imperative that when they buy raw materials like stummels, they make a profit on them. And for us that simply means that we can always hope to find a Peterson that we can afford.

1982 De Luxe 11s

I’ve bragged about this pipe before, as my young bride couldn’t wait for Christmas to give it to me late one night while I was doing my bit as a radio dispatcher for Oklahoma Natural Gas Co.  The pipe has had some difficulties in the past, primarily to do with the chamber, but I was concerned here to see if I couldn’t do something about the exterior. So I put masking tape over the stamps and mounting on the stummel then begin at 400 grit and work up to 12,000 with the pads. If you’re wondering, beginning at 400 doesn’t strip all the stain. There’s still a deep memory of that in the wood. Anyway, with the sanding completed, I buffed the bowl with carnauba (having already restored the space-fitting mouthpiece) and you can see the result:

The reverse features my favorite type of K&P grain—birds eye, not the strongest “paisley” but very pleasing nevertheless. What you can see in the photo but probably wouldn’t notice if holding it in your hands is the area I covered the stamp and an area on the top of the shank at the mortise that I didn’t sufficiently sand. But I was pleased—this is far more attractive than it was before.

The obverse is just as striking, with the birds eye in the center and grain radiating out from it in all directions. In the photo you can see where I masked over the stamp, but it isn’t too noticeable and so far, so good.

Here’s the problem, on the bottom of the bowl. I had wondered when doing earlier work on this pipe if these two dark patches were heat-related, if the bottom of the bowl was burning out either from the inside or outside. I determined that it wasn’t a burn out from the inside many years ago, but it wasn’t until sanding it this time and buffing it that I could tell for certain that the dark bands are simply grain where the undercoat of black stain took hold originally. An orange stain in 1982 would have worked because there is no black undercoat. But once you put that black on—which was done here—you’ve got to go to a medium brown at the very least.

All in all, I still like this better than before, especially since I’m not looking at the underside while I’m smoking the pipe. And if it gets annoying, it’s easy to return it to a darker shade, as you’ll see with the 309 below.

309 (c. 1979)

This pipe has been with me almost since I began smoking. It’s possibly the ugliest-grained briar you’re likely to encounter, the grain running horizontally around the bowl. I’ve smoked it so much and for so long that it is seasoned to perfection, despite my best efforts to mess it up over the years. One thing I did when first under Rick Newcombe’s “open up the airway” spell was mistakenly enlarge the airway a bit. Even that didn’t mess it up too bad, although I do have to smoke it slower than my other Systems. At least I can now say with conviction that you should never, ever have to open up a System’s airway.  If you’re having troubles, the problem is usually that the airway needs a good scrubbing and gentle reaming. I’ve also swapped out mouthpieces at various times, thinking I needed the one it had for some other pipe. The one it’s got now at least looks right and cinches up correctly. It even has an aluminum tenon extension, a proven bonus in its smoking qualities. It is a bit shorter than the original, but with its classic bend it still looks every bit the part of a great 309.

What I did not show you here was that I gave the crown a very light topping (maybe 1 or 2 mm) to bring it into square. I have no idea why DIYers and even estate dealers don’t do this routinely, especially on Petes with sharp edges, but they don’t, and it’s one of the best things you can do to give the pipe a new look.

After taping off the stamping, I sanded it from 400 to 12K. This is another great things I’ve learned in reconditioning Petes in the last five years, as it gives the bowl a softness and patina that carnauba alone can’t give. I suppose estate dealers don’t do it because it takes time to do the sanding, but in my opinion it can make all the difference in bringing back a pipe to new life.

You can see that the reverse is actually quite striking:

Of course I forgot to factor in the fact that this was originally a dark-stained pipe. I could have probably looked a little closer at the pipe before I did all this, but I guess I just wanted to be sure. “Measure once, cut twice” as my Dad always said to me in an ironic and accusatory voice when I’d just bungled something. More to the point, it’s wise to remember that a smooth pipe usually has dark stain for a reason. You can see where the black stain took—not only the horizontal grain swirls, but that large patch at the front of the obverse side.

I don’t know how much sanding would have to be done to eliminate all the black stain—maybe John or another artisan maker could tell us? Is it even possible?

Anyway, while the reverse looked lovely, I knew I’d never pick this pipe up again looking at that Big Spot of Ugly. After a few days, I knew what to do—restain it, of course. You might think putting Feibing’s Medium Brown over it would be the thing to do, but what I in fact did was apply a 1:4 dilution of black dye three or four times until it looked pretty close to the current “System Dark”—an effect I think I achieved.

So both stories have a happy ending. I like the way the 309 came out, which is actually a bit darker than it was originally. The “blonde” grain is more pronounced. The Ugly Spot has disappeared. And now I’m reaching for it again on a regular basis. And I like the golden hues of the 11s as well. As for take-aways? Reversal isn’t a bad idea in restoration if you’ve looked closely at the grain underneath the grime and older stain. Restoration is sometimes the best thing you can do to keep a good pipe in your constant rotation. And RePETE? Well, this whole blog is about that, isn’t it?

 

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Jorgen Jensen
Jorgen Jensen
10 days ago

Good morning. Smoking a blast 3s. The blast is better than on any PSBs I have seen photos of. Good reading, but I never understand all that sanding etc on ones own Petersons. There were this old man ( I think I am at that age now) on a market holding a 9s it must have been. Very much smoked and knocks on the rim. You could see it was his pipe and he was proud of it. Or this young man in Bray with a knocked Premier 314. Mr Jensens Premier 314 was boring compared to that. Peterson systems… Read more »

John Schantz
John Schantz
9 days ago

Maybe a strange question Mark, but do you happen to be left handed? First let me say “I am no expert” and do not claim to be, so take my observations/opinions with a grain of salt. I have been thinking about these dark spots on pipes that I have restored in the past. They have all been well smoked pipes…sometimes too well maybe 🙂 Anyway, I have been wondering if the way a pipe is held can leave oils on the pipe bowl that soak in over time and leave the dark spots embedded in the briar? Your 309 (just… Read more »

John Schantz
John Schantz
9 days ago

Mark, I forgot to mention. Those pipes look great!

Erik Millqvist
Erik Millqvist
9 days ago

Hello friends and thank you Mark for this good post, I can’t keep my fingers from fixing and changing my pipes to my likings. That goes for all my things. Your pipes look great!!
I’ve noticed that the well on my two system pipes are shallow and a little tilt makes the gunk run down the chamber, I want to make it deeper. Does anyone know what drill size would fit, I got no drills so I have to buy some.

Last edited 9 days ago by Erik Millqvist
Stephen
Stephen
9 days ago
Reply to  Erik Millqvist

Erik, I know it will make Mark shudder, but I drill all of my Pete’s to 4 mm. If you don’t have drills, here’s a suggestion for the Senior Reamer: https://us.amazon.com/Senior-Reamer-Cleaning-Adjustable-Shank/dp/B00JD1XWNY/ref=pd_sbs_79_3/134-9640524-5403947?_encoding=UTF8&pd_rd_i=B00JD1XWNY&pd_rd_r=db5d2911-800a-4ed4-b58b-945644581a66&pd_rd_w=1lgS1&pd_rd_wg=uT1oc&pf_rd_p=ed1e2146-ecfe-435e-b3b5-d79fa072fd58&pf_rd_r=83RBQMG9M0T63FHYYMY2&psc=1&refRID=83RBQMG9M0T63FHYYMY2 This pipe reamer tool has a built in drill that is long enough for most pipes and no other tools are needed to use it. Mark, Thanks for this article. I burned up the green on my 2019 St. Peter’s Day green pipe. I later discovered that the green is applied over a layer of white paint. No wonder it burned off. I sanded off the paint and stained… Read more »

Jorgen Jensen
Jorgen Jensen
9 days ago
Reply to  Stephen

Stephen, great story in every way !

Erik Millqvist
Erik Millqvist
9 days ago
Reply to  Stephen

Hello, I got one of them. But I’m not thinking about the airway, I meant the reservoir but I wrote the well… But thanks for the tip.

John Schantz
John Schantz
9 days ago
Reply to  Erik Millqvist

I am not sure of size, I am sure there is a range though, some are different than others. I suggest that when you try it, to drill by hand and also, you can drill in reverse so the bit does not bite and either drill too deep, or crack the shank. It takes longer, but it is safer. Usually I start with a slightly smaller bit and slowly work up.

Erik Millqvist
Erik Millqvist
9 days ago
Reply to  John Schantz

Great advice, thanks. I’ll get a set of drills and work my way up, doing it in reverse. Thanks again!

Erik Millqvist
Erik Millqvist
7 days ago
Reply to  Mark Irwin

Thanks for the tip, I’ll be sure to tape the ferrule. And reading this article and reading the answers makes me feel better about drilling the reservoir, I first thought it was forbidden to tamper with Petersons! I’m just 6 years old in the wonderful world of pipe smoking and I learn new things all the time!

Jorgen Jensen
Jorgen Jensen
7 days ago
Reply to  Erik Millqvist

Erik, if you are not a member of Svenska Pipklubben, I think you should be.

Erik Millqvist
Erik Millqvist
4 days ago
Reply to  Jorgen Jensen

Oh, jag visste inte att det finns en sån! Thanks, I’ll look it up.

John Schantz
John Schantz
9 days ago

I too was lured by the “drill the airway” talk when I first started the pipe hobby. I very much regret opening the airways on the three? pipes I “brutalized”, though none were Pete’s. The 3.5mm-4mm, 9/64” works for me. I had an “Old Bruyer” Comoy’s lovat that had been augered out, either by design or many years of hardcore smoking? I made a new briar tube insert for the shank. The airway was nearly the same diameter all the way through the shank, so I drilled it out evenly, then turned the briar tube down to fit snugly in… Read more »

Steven Hersey
Steven Hersey
9 days ago

Many thanks for a fascinating and well-written article. The pipes in the photographs are simply lovely to see and they remind me of a 314 that I have that is now getting on for thirty years old. It smokes beautifully and the stain, as mentioned in one of the comments, has indeed darkened down the years particularly where my thumb and fingers have rested in countless light-ups. The restoration techniques are intriguing; as someone who is clumsy (to say the least) with tools, the thought of drilling would completely put me off in case I managed to cut through the… Read more »

John Schantz
John Schantz
8 days ago
Reply to  Steven Hersey

Speaking of cutting through the stummel😳. Yep, I did it once when I first started refurbishing pipes. A Savinelli Long John 601 half bent billiard. The airway was seemingly blocked with some metal that my drill bit was cutting out. I assumed it was a broken off pipe cleaner….nope😖. It was the internal connection tube for the shank extension…oops…I kept on a drill’in, ultimately right through the bottom front of the bowl…..ALL the way through…call me El Stupidido. I found out that the airway was drilled before the shank extension was attached. The airway was not straight, it was angled… Read more »

Steven Hersey
Steven Hersey
8 days ago
Reply to  John Schantz

An honest account of your mistake, John! Thank you. This is why I don’t go near drills! My repair job would be a complete disaster…350+ refurbished pipes is good going…

Jorgen Jensen
Jorgen Jensen
8 days ago
Reply to  Steven Hersey

Yes Steven, a disaster. I ruined the shank on a canadian once.

Joseph
Joseph
8 days ago

Well Mark, you’ve given me an idea. Thank you. I have never liked my new system dark stain. The photo was nicer than the actual pipe. Well, I’m taking sandpaper to it right now. I have no idea what I’m doing, but I’m sanding away into the future of this pipe. It will be okay.

Joseph
Joseph
8 days ago
Reply to  Mark Irwin

Thanks Mark, the wood is not an attractive piece or a quality piece of wood, and I really think Peterson needs to refine the shape of their acrylic stems.

John Schantz
John Schantz
2 days ago
Reply to  Joseph

Joseph, the reason for the dark stains (generally, but not always) is that the briar has some smallish pits, or is shy in grain pattern in some way or another. By using these types of briar and filling/staining/rusticating/sandblasting, in whatever combination, they are able to finish pipes to a lower price point. It is good for all. A nice sandblast will usually have a very nice grain pattern, but probably had a pit or two that were too deep to finish it as a smooth pipe. Rustication in whatever pattern is done on those stummels with deep pits and lackluster… Read more »

Joseph
Joseph
7 days ago
Reply to  Mark Irwin

Well Mark, I attacked my System 312 with sandpaper as I stated. The dark stain is gone and I’m left with a very nice, very blonde finish. I only use the word blonde so to be consistent with this post. Since I have no idea about what I’m doing, I applied 2 coats of undiluted Tung oil. I have a love for Tung oil. For being a quick job, it looks very nice and far nicer than the original dark stain which I will never purchase again! That is NOT a subjective statement! I did not use any kind of… Read more »

Linwood, eh Mr.Smith
Linwood, eh Mr.Smith
8 days ago

Now hold on just a doggone minute. Are you telling me that it is ALL RIGHT to love / feel good about my dark stained pipes – and to not WISH that they were all naturals? Well, Mr. Irwin – what a life change for me! you’ve just made me feel better about bringing them out at pipe club meetings – being around all of the other guys super blonde pipes, enjoying my smoke and being proud of doing so! Heck, next meeting I’m bringing out the dark reds too! I really enjoyed this posting – and the comments and… Read more »

Jorgen Jensen
Jorgen Jensen
8 days ago

Good morning. Smoking a 20s naturel. I bought two dark 9s from England yesterday. As Stephen said : I bought them to be smoked.
I have some naturel and some dark from older days. Thinking after, I think I prefer the darker ones.

Linwood
Linwood
8 days ago

And, that 309 is GORGEOUS!

Speedy D
Speedy D
6 days ago

Hi, I like this site the articles are great good reads. I’m a cob smoker and have tried several briars but didn’t care for them but always wanted to try a system pipe loved it. I’ve now got three system pipes with p-lip sure to get more but slowly selectively. Consider me a Peterson fan I don’t understand all the Peterson hate on different pipe sites.