For Father’s Day this year I decided to take my Dad’s favorite pipe, a Late Republic sandblast 301 System, give it refurb and smoke it with his favorite tobacco—MacBaren’s Scottish Mixture (also one of my regulars). He passed away in 2019 just a few months before the Peterson book was published. While it sits on my desk where I can look at it every day, it reminds me of my past with him instead of my present and future. And since I don’t go more than a few days without thinking of him, it seemed like the best way to sustain our relationship right now is to get it fixed up and back on the road.
As I’ve said in earlier posts, Poppa Tom (what my wife always calls him) was very much a smoker of his generation. While he appreciated what pipes can bring, he did so very much in the style of his peers, so that his first rule concerning pipe care was be sure to knock out the old tobacco before putting in new. There were a few more. The second rule was if it’s clogged, use your penknife to get it unclogged. I never worried when I got to his house if I’d forgotten pipe cleaners, because I could be sure to find the same pack he’d had for the last three or four years. That being said, he did have his favorite smokers, and this was one of them. I know I told you he accidentally bounced it on the garage floor (while hot) and then left off smoking it, thinking he’d cracked the bowl. So I thought I’d set about seeing what could be done to bring it back to life.
The first thing was to determine whether it does, indeed, have a serious crack. Turns out it doesn’t. I’ve seen this kind of hairline rupture on several estates—in fact, I’ve even bought great-looking ones only to discover this kind of problem afterwards. But it’s the kind of split that only goes down a few centimeters and isn’t going anywhere.
Next up was the condition of the button. In fact, the whole restoration pretty much hinges for me on whether I can recover the stem without a cyanoacrylate (CY) glue patch. I understand why refurbers like to use this, as it’s a way to forgo throwing away the stem and possibly the whole pipe. But for me as the years go by, I just don’t want to do it. My teeth can feel the glassy slickness of the glue and after smoking a pipe with a stem repaired in this way, I can see the patch, which is just too much of an ugly spot to endure.
I used to occasionally sell an estate restored with CY, but it’s kind of like not telling your bride you’ve got an artificial leg before the wedding night. Most retailers who accept estates on trade won’t even take a patched stem. All this being the case, I first looked to the divot on the underside of the button, but not until putting the kettle on for a cuppa Lyons Original Blend (Ireland’s favorite tea).
There’s no reason not to begin with a low grit sandpaper with a divot like this. I did pass a soft flame over it to see if the heat would pull up the divot just a bit. It did.
As the stem isn’t flat but slightly oval, I used the edge of a Micro Mesh pad for the core, wrapping 150 around it, being careful to rock it back and forth across the stem so as not to unduly flatten it. I followed with 220 and then 400.
Finishing up the rough work on the underside, I noticed in a closeup photo that the top of the button has just as serious a problem as the lower did, but which I hadn’t seen before because of the extreme oxidation. There is a flattened area which spreads out from the clenching wall about 5mm. Again, 100, 220 and 400 took care of it.
Finally, there was a divot on the top right of the button itself. To get rid of it, I sanded at an angle beginning at the outer tip of the button then up the hill to the top. Afterwards, I rounded the other hemisphere to bring it down just enough to match this new lower one.
After this success, it was smooth sailing, following up with 600, 1000, 1200 and then through the normal Micro Mesh sequence to 12000, using Obsidian Oil every two or three grits to aid in the wet-sanding process.
At this point I stopped to rebend the stem. I don’t know why some stems seem to come unbent, but they do. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Dad set the pipe on a hot engine block while he was working on one of his project cars, causing the stem to unbend a bit. While there’s not just one System bend but several, I like to use a photograph or, if I have it, additional pipe of the same shape and approximate year, to get an accurate bend. As the original issue 01 / 301 / 73 is one of my favorites, I can pull one from the rack to use for guidance. This is one of the most beautiful of all K&P’s stems, so I want to get it right.
The 73 Dunmore Premier short dutch, c. 1978.
The process (as if you haven’t read this a million times before) is fairly painless. Use a heat gun or lower-heat craft heat gun and pass the stem over the heat. If the heat is too much for your fingers, then it’s going to be too much for the vulcanite and burn it. Be patient. It only takes 4 to 5 minutes and the vulcanite will begin to unbend of its own accord.
Bend the stem, using your thumb to the joint underneath and your forefinger on top of the button. When you get it where you want it, dunk it in cold water for a minute or so. When it comes out, if you didn’t get it right, you can go back and do it again. Sometimes I have to do this three or four times.
After the bending, I’m ready to deoxidize. Sometimes it’s possible to skip deoxidation and just use Micromesh pads and buffing compound, but as often as not when I try this I end up with a shiny stem that looks black until I get it under the light. Then I can see the brown.
I’ve also deoxidized before sanding, but again have found it sometimes problematic, with the oxidation appearing—especially round the button—after a few smokes. I don’t know why this is, but now I always deoxidize after sanding but before going to the wheel.
You’re getting the picture my Dad was extremely old school. His third and final rule for pipe smoking was never ream the bowl or clean the stem if you can help it. The chamber was about half plugged, but the cake came out quite easily with the PipNet tool. Everything came out easily and the bowl has an amazing aroma—not surprising, since he only smoked Scottish Mixture in it. I’m going to smoke the same tobacco in it he did, so everything should be better than fine. So after cleaning the bowl’s airway with isopropyl, I was finished with the inside of the stummel.
Whenever you find one of your Systems isn’t performing like it used to, remember that the problem may lurk in the tenon-end of the stem, especially if it’s an old-school vulcanite one like this one. Eighty percent of the tar and build-up was in twenty percent of the airway, right there at the tenon end. That’s because the cyclonic action drops everything that wasn’t already dropped into the reservoir right there, as you can see in the photo. I use a wire bristle tube brush with lots of isopropyl 91% (although Everclear is probably just as good or better). There was a huge amount of gunk to clear away.
The extra sanding near the button of the stem left some scratches, so I had to begin with tripoli, followed by rouge then white. The only caveat with tripoli and rouge is not to spin the wheel too fast, as it can burn the vulcanite which is a real problem.
I used to stop with the white compound, following it only with Obsidian for protection. But an estate dealer whose work I admire told me to follow up the white compound with carnauba to achieve an incredible ebony / obsidian effect. He’s right: it’s an extra boost, sending the shine on into outer space. After deoxidizing, remember, the purpose in all the sanding and buffing is to block all the pores and surface nicks on the vulcanite. With those gone, all you get is shine. After a smoke or two, I’ll apply the Obsidian, since I keep my pipes out where I can keep an eye on them. I’m really pleased with the way this came out.
FERRULE & BOWL
The ferrule has scarred the stem, as I said earlier, because there’s jagged ridges from 9 o’clock pm to 1 am. I don’t have hopes for resolving this issue, since the ferrule is nickel-plated with base metal beneath. Filing would be ideal if it were sterling, but a file here is simply going to rip off the nickel plating.
So I just push the crimps down by pressing the mortise end of the bowl into one of my wife’s heavy metal pizza baking sheets (you know, the kind you use when someone is firing a bazooka at you). The result isn’t pretty, but now there’s no sharp edges sticking up to cut against the stem.
Dad’s 301 is a great example of an automated rotary drum sandblasted Pete:
This method of sandblasting, stummels are placed in an automated rotary drum sandblasting machine. (Aidan, if you’re reading this, have you ever seen a rotary drum blaster at the factory?) If you’ve never heard of it, don’t think less of yourself. Neither had I until Josh Burgess at K&P told me about it. The photo above may not be exactly like the machine K&P has used over the years (well into the Dublin era), but I’m hoping it’s close. If Jonathan Fields or anyone at Peterson is reading this, perhaps they can chime in and let us know.
Moving on to the bowl, I wiped it down with isopropyl 91%. I then used Murphy’s Oil Soap undiluted over the surface, wiping first with a cotton pad and then scrubbing in the soap with a wire brush over the rim. While the bowl originally showed very little sandblasting scrubbing the rim revealed some ripples that were interesting.
Here’s where things got interesting.
Now I decided to take a risk and see if I couldn’t heighten the sandblast appearance. I scrubbed the entire surface of the bowl with the wire brush, wetting the bowl with the soap, then scrubbing. This took a bit of time but was fun. As you can see, what happened was that the wire brush in combination with the Murphy’s oil soap took off most of the stain in the crevices but most all of it on the top surfaces.
Afterwards I used some 220 on the highest features and along the edge of the rim, just enough to remove the black stain but not soften the edges. If I had ever gone over the bowl with alcohol, it would have bled the remaining stain right back onto the highlights I was trying to expose.
Once I had my highlights, I cleaned the bowl by applying the edge of my buffing wheel using white compound. Sounds crazy, right? An estate dealer at the Chicago show told me about this method. He goes over the entire surface of the stummel three times with the edge of the wheel. At first it doesn’t look very pleasing, but wait—there’s more! Next he goes over the stummel with carnauba, again using the edge of the wheel. Presto, chango! And, yes, it really seems to work.
Doing all that wire brush-work took off what little there was of the bowl stamps. I didn’t mind, although it would be great if I could remember just once to do Dad’s “measure twice, cut once” kind of thinking. Sigh. So I had to go back and sand the stamp area, which wasn’t a big deal, then buff it.
And the finished pipe:
THE FATHER’S DAY COMMEMORATIVE (2010-2014)
The Father’s Day Commemorative (2010-2014) was just about the last gasp of the decorative-sleeve brick & mortar-intended lines. As Mario Lubinski once opined, “What are you going to do with a holiday-pipe the day after the holiday?” He even had one of the Summertime pipes renamed for the Italian market. Curiously, this hasn’t stood in the way of continuing support for the SPD and Christmas pipes, and of course the POY as a singular, one-of-a-kind type entry, has never had to worry about a shelf date.
Like the July 4th pipes, the Father Day sounds like a good idea, especially as Father’s Day is celebrated in most countries around the world and the majority of those celebrate it on March 19th. Perhaps with the POY, Christmas and St. Patrick’s Day annuals already doing well, this was just one too many, especially as it was executed as a bare-bones kind of entry-grade line. Not, as I have said about the Aran line, that there isn’t something important about both entry-grade lines and meat-and-potatoes types of pipes, but the Father’s Day pipes were essentially Aran pipes dressed up with a nickel band engraved “Father’s Day.”
The 2010 FD pipes featured the hot foil gold P (which I always like) and a brass and black acrylic sandwich band, also quite classy, as it brings out the black grain. I don’t know how many shapes were produced, although the practice throughout the Dublin Era was to issue the numerologically correct Celtic dozen. I don’t know if there was a sleeve, so if you have one, let me know so I can include it here.
The 2011 FD took a step back insofar as design was concerned. In my opinion. The nickel band with engraved “Father’s Day 2011” just isn’t as classy as the 2010 sandwich band. And why didn’t they change the hot foil P to silver? That would’ve helped a bit.
For 2012, a reboot of the 2011 FD. Change the nickel engraving to “2011” and give the box a new sleeve. At least the hot foil P is silver this year! It’s difficult to see the maker stamp in these photos, but it’s that great forktail P:
Back when we were writing the big book, Gary and I used to argue with Peterson “authorities” that the forktail P stamp didn’t mean the pipe was a Patent.
Whether he was a saint or sinner, pipe smoker or somewhere in-between, I invite you lift up your pipe tonight to your Dad. Without him, you wouldn’t be who you are. You wouldn’t be at all.
Poppa Tom Irwin (1931-2018)
Aurley Dean Harris (1900-1971)
Alex Willemetz (1894-1972)
George M. Irwin (1891-1964)