While revisiting places in Dublin from her college days, my wife Sarah Kelly and I came upon the Peterson Store. Once inside, odd pieces and parts came together … my college professor father’s office with pipes and tobacco lying around (and me sneaking in to draw on unlit pipes)… a coming-of-age hitchhiking trip through Ireland… a love of working with wood…my March 17 birthday (St. Patrick’s Day) also figuring in somewhere.. . Out the shop I went with a beautiful smooth Watson, a silver Peterson lighter, and a few ounces of Peterson Deluxe. Sarah spent a good part of the rest of our visit waiting for me trying to either light the darn thing or keep it lit. Eventually I could light up a bowl and not burn my tongue too badly. That’s all it took. I was hooked.
Back home in Connecticut I enjoyed the Watson, experimented with tobacco and started to buy more pipes. The Savinellis, the Vauens, and Butz-Choquins all came and went. The feel, the look, the history and of course the great System smoke made me a Peterson devotee. As the collection grew, it became time for pipe racks. Designing and making them added a whole new dimension to it all.
The Watson, Far Right (Pipe Rack by Ken)
If I could make turn scrap cherry from the shop into a pipe rack, I ought to be able to take a tired estate pipe and end up with a nicely refurbished estate Peterson.
A Rogers Import Shamrock 493
Lo and behold, with a little help from my friends, those first efforts weren’t all that bad!
Let me digress. A most satisfying aspect of this whole process was and continues to be making friends with fellow pipemen and women.
Early on in this journey I made the acquaintance of Steve Laug (Reborn Pipes). I called him to ask a few simple refurbishing questions. I admit to being astonished when Steve matter-of-factly said it would be easier to explain in a Zoom meeting, and so my learning from Steve began. He is a wonderful mentor. Now, over a hundred refurbished pipes sold as well as those I have kept in my collection. l continue to learn from Steve and count him as a friend. Our calls have become part pipe talk, part life talk.
With the Peterson passion came a need for more understanding of Peterson history and all the various pipes. At the time Mark Irwin’s book was out of print in the US. I finally found a new copy from a seller in Italy. Mark was another pipeman generous with his knowledge. I was thrilled when a pipe rack of mine made it into the PPN blog last Christmas. Mark’s frightfully encyclopedic knowledge of Peterson pipes only fueled my Peterson passion.
Mark is a fine pipe craftsman in his own right and we began talking pipe refurbishing. Those discussions led to discussions of pipe collecting in general.
With the number of Petersons approaching 100, I started thinking about the underlying spirit (philosophy) behind amassing all these pipes. That became a topic unto itself. It was then that Mark introduced me to his concept of Pipe Companioning as opposed to pipe collecting. “Keep pipes that smoke well, feel good to hand, and are pleasing to the eye. The older ones allow us to muse about their histories and the stories they could tell.” That made perfect sense to a guy with an MFA who enjoyed working with wood, making pipe racks and giving tired old pipes a new life.
I spend lots of time making tired old Petersons look almost like new. I also feel that making an estate look like the day it left the factory (if it’s even possible) takes away some of the character of the pipe. Even though we will never know what stories it could tell, there are always hints.
Once you accept the concept of pipe companioning, it is no leap that you and a particular pipe can write a story of your own.
Enter the ugly duckling. I bought this pipe on e-Bay for a pittance. I figured it had to be worth it, since no pipe could look as bad as this one did. Wrong. When it arrived, it looked worse! The photo below was taken after hours of Murphy Oil Soap scrubbing. The pipe was black when it arrived.
“The Beater”: A Sterling 01 P-Lip
Not only did it look bad but the mortise was completely blocked. The bottom third of the bowl was a mass of carbon and tar. The photo below captures only one pass at freeing up the airway. There were probably a half dozen more before the pipe was even ready to clean.
Once I got the pipe roughly cleared out I tried to figure what I was actually going to do with it. Steve Laug listened patiently while I bemoaned my foolish purchase. Then he simply said, “Rusticate it. Make it your own.” “I have no idea how to do that” I replied.
Steve told me to buy some $5.00 pipes and start trying. So I did. I tried a piece of pipe wrapped with nails, flower frogs (the spiked piece in the bottom of the vase that supports the stem), small carving tools, and rasps. Nothing really gave me what I wanted. Then finally I tried a small round tungsten burr on my Dremel tool.
That worked. I made lots of briar dust and chewed up the sacrificial pipes. Once I felt confident that I could actually cut nice patterns into the briar, I took the Dremel to the Peterson.
I felt like I was making this pipe my own. What followed next was nothing unusual. The everyday refurbishing techniques, leather dye for the stummel, Simichrome to polish the mount, followed by Briarville Deoxidizer with Micromesh pads for the stem. Bit marks got lifted by painting with an open flame. Then polishing, buffing waxing and all the rest.
This ramble is not a DIY piece on rusticating pipes. It’s a pipe story. The story of how and why I fashioned a Peterson for myself. I took an old beater and made it into a pipe I liked, not a beautifully refurbished number such and such, but a unique pipe that maintains its Peterson lineage.
I still enjoy bringing tired old Petersons back to life. I love watching how the grain emerges as the briar is cleaned and polished. I get huge satisfaction of making a grimy old tooth-marked stem shine a brilliant black.
This is about something else. It is a chapter in the life of the pipe and a story of how I moved forward in my journey as a pipe companion.
Borrowing shamelessly from the Wind in the Willows, “There is nothing quite so fine as messing about with pipes . . . .”
“Wishing You Joy” banner by Brian Heydn
Cheyen Lloyd, 44/90