A Mobile Restoration from Minnesota via Nebraska to Colorado of a Beat-up Napoleon of Italy Billiard

This ‘mobile restoration’ begins on Mother’s Day as my wife and I embark on a trip from Golden, Colorado, to Minnesota to visit family – mainly to see my wife’s father who now lives in an assisted living facility.  When we returned to the US from Bulgaria last year, amid all the world pandemic concerns with COVID, we acquired this small travel trailer as a way to travel and stay safer.  We are all packed and ready to go – my pipe tools and supplies packed too!

The next pipe on the ‘mobile worktable’ from Darren’s selections from the ‘For “Pipe Dreamers” Only! collection is a ‘potentially’ attractive straight Billiard marked ‘NAPOLEON’ on the left shank flank.  One would expect a COM of France, but instead on the underside of the shank, ‘ITALY’ is stamped.  I acquired this classic tapered Billiard in August of 2018 in what I have called the French Lot of 50.  This Lot, acquired from a seller in Paris while still living in Bulgaria, has given up several treasures which are now in the racks and rotations of new stewards.  I have no idea where the Napoleon is in the beautiful, tangled trove of pipes!

Darren has chosen several pipes already each benefitting the Daughters of Bulgaria – helping women and girls who have been trafficked and sexually exploited.  This I appreciate so much!  When the Napoleon arrived on the worktable along with the ruler showing its 5 1/2 inch length and 1 3/4 inch height, more pictures are taken to get a closer look.

The nomenclature stamped is bold and crisp, NAPOLEON.

On the underside and slightly diagonal is the COM: ITALY which is an island amid several fills.

Very thin and ghosting, the stem has a star stamped on the left side.

To try to identify the origins of the Italian Napoleon, I first look to Pipedia and then http://www.Pipephil.eu and both come up with nothing specific about the name ‘Napoleon’.  While at Pipephil.eu, I looked through the many stem stampings on display with many stars to examine and compare.  The only ‘star’ that resembled the star on the Napoleon’s stem and was Italian was a Savinelli second, ‘Baronet’ line pictured below.  Though the ‘star’ imprint appears to be a good match, this is far from a conclusive match to call the Napoleon a product of Savinelli.

One last place to look also comes back empty – ‘Who Made That Pipe?’ by Herb Wilczak and Tom Colwell.  Sometimes, we just don’t find leads on a pipe that comes through our stewardship.  The interesting thing to me though, is what would motivate an Italian pipe maker to put the name, ‘Napoleon’ on his pipe?

I did a little reading simply to find a plausible reason why the French Emperor of the late 1700s/early 1800s would be commemorated by an Italian pipe maker.  During the early 1800s Napoleon had conquered Italy – at least the northern parts, and through all the political intrigue, eventually declared himself to be the ‘King of Italy’.  The title was short-lived when Napoleon was ousted as the French Emperor (See LINK).  It is interesting reading but does not help in determining the provenance of the Napoleon on my worktable!

Looking at the condition of the pipe, the chamber has moderate cake buildup, and the lava flow has crusted over the rim.

The bowl has an interesting base color.  The grain beneath the heavy finish appears to have a black base to darken the grain presentation.  It is attractive.  A survey of the surface shows spots which look like fill but may simply be blemishes on the thick, acrylic-like finish.  The shank is especially marred with what look like several fills which need a closer look.

The stem also has heavy oxidation and calcification.  The bit and button appear to be in OK shape.

To begin the restoration of this Napoleon of Italy, I start by cleaning the airway of the stem.  There is a good bit of gunk I scrape out of the slot reaching up into the airway with a dental probe.  Pipe cleaners wetted with isopropyl 99% also works away at the stem until it is clean.

Next, to address the thick oxidation the stem is placed into a soak of Briarville.com’s, Pipe Stem Oxidation Remover for several hours.  I have been testing this product now for a few weeks and it has consistently worked well.

After several hours, the stem is removed, and cotton pads are used to wipe off the raised oxidation.  The stem looks good – the Pipe Stem Oxidation Remover has done well again.

To condition the stem, paraffin oil, a mineral oil, is applied to the stem and put aside to absorb the oil.

My wife and I reach our destination in Minnesota at my wife’s sister’s home near the town of Hastings.  Becky and Phillip live and care for a small ‘hobby farm’ which is alive with goats, chickens a llama.  I set up my worktable on their front porch that provides a wonder landscape capturing spring taking hold.  What a wonderful oasis we came to and the hospitality was superb!

Turning now to the Napoleon stummel, the chamber is reamed using the Pipnet Reaming Kit.  The chamber only receives the smallest of the 4 blade heads available.  As far as the chamber goes, it is 5/8 inches wide, and the chamber depth is 1 3/4 inches deep.  The stummel, for its size, is on the ‘Chimney’ designation side, though I would still call it a straight Billiard.  After using the lone reaming blade head, the Savinelli Fitsall Tool continues to scrape the carbon off the chamber walls and finally the chamber is sanded with 240 grade paper wrapped around a Sharpie Pen.

After a quick inspection of the chamber walls, the briar appears to be healthy with no heating problems.

Transitioning now to the external surface, a cotton pad is used with undiluted Murphy’s Oil Soap to scrub the briar.  A pocketknife is used to scrape the rim carefully helping to remove the caked lava flow.  A brass wire brush also is used to scrub the rim.

The stummel is then taken to the sink to continue the cleaning.  With hottish water and using shank brushes and liquid anti-oil dish soap, the internals are scrubbed.  After a thorough rinsing, the stummel is taken back to the worktable.

Next, to continue the internal cleaning, pipe cleaners and cotton buds are used.  A small dental spoon is also used to excavate the tars and oils by scraping the mortise walls.  After a good bit of effort, the buds start coming out lighter and this phase of cleaning is completed.

With the day ending, to further clean the internals and to refresh the briar, kosher salt and alcohol are used to soak through the night.  I like doing this extra cleaning process because it helps to freshen the internal briar and remove the ghosts of the past.  First, a cotton ball is stretched and twisted.  This serves as a ‘wick’ that helps to draw the tars and oils from the briar.

Aided by a stiff wire, the end of the wick is guided through the mortise down the airway.  Kosher salt is then added to fill the chamber.  Kosher salt is used because it doesn’t leave an aftertaste unlike regular iodized salt.  The stummel is then placed in an egg carton to stabilize it and to angle it so that the rim and the end of the shank are roughly level.

Isopropyl 99% is then added to the bowl until it surfaces over the salt.  After about 10 minutes, the alcohol absorbs into the salt and saturates the wick, and a little more alcohol is added to top off.  After I cover my mobile workstation with a sheet, the porch lights go out.  During the evening hours, coyotes can be heard howling and racoons can be seen prowling in the night!

The next morning the soiled wick and salt are indications of the drawing process that has happened through the night.  The expended salt is shaken into the waste and the bowl is wiped with paper towel to remove excess salt crystals.  For good measure, blowing through the mortise a few times helps to make sure all the salt crystals are cleared.

Just to make sure all is cleaned, one bud wetted with isopropyl 99% confirms what is hoped – the bowl is as clean as it can be and is ready for a new steward.

With the cleaning of the stummel completed, a survey shows more clearly the issues.  The rim shows raw briar and a smattering of the shiny, old finish.  The rim edge shows skinning and some dents.  The inside rim edge shows some residual charring and nicks and dents.

I counted at least 13 dents and pits around the shank where old fill patches have been revealed through the cleaning process.  The reason for a darker finish on this Napoleon is becoming more obvious.

The bowl itself also has old fills.  This huge hole has been left cleaned and emptied of fill material through the cleaning.

Over the entire stummel, vestiges of old finish are evident.  The spotty, old, shiny film is contrasted with the duller bared briar.

The first thing I do is to see if the rest of the old finish can be removed using alcohol and a cotton pad.  While there is some soiling evident on the cotton pad, there is no progress in removing the remainder of the old finish.

Next, a cotton pad wetted with acetone is used.  The coloring in the cotton pad in the picture below comes from the acetone ‘stew’ that develops from soaking several stummels in the acetone.  With scrubbing using acetone and cotton pad, again, no visible progress is perceived in removing the old shiny finish.

Next, I decide to give the acetone some time to soften the old finish.  I put the stummel in the acetone to soak for several hours.  The reason there is a graduated approach in removing the old finish is to preserve the grain hue and patina as much as possible.  The lesser invasive approaches are in the hope of avoiding heavy-duty sanding.  Sanding will be needed in the end however, because of the work needed to patch the briar surface.  The general principle of approach is to do less until more is necessary.

While the stummel is soaking in the acetone, the stem awaits attention.  It is nice that there is no tooth damage on the bit and button.  The button only appears to be worn some and refreshing the button lips by filing will be good.  Generally, the stem is rough.  The oxidation seems to have been removed in large measure.

My concern is to safeguard the ghosting ‘star’ stamping.  I’m doubtful that the white acrylic paint that I normally use will be able to grip the thin lines remaining of the stamping, but we’ll see.

I pause to chronicle again a look at my mobile worktable and the beauty of the day in Minnesota.  One added benefit to being on the front porch is that I can enjoy a bowl of tobacco and fellowship with one of my pipes that was specially chosen to accompany me on the trip.

While enjoying the day, I start with a flat needle file to help freshen the button lips – upper and lower.

Next, 240 grade sanding paper is used on the whole stem.  A sanding disk is used to prevent sanding ‘over’ the tenon facing edge.  This is called ‘shouldering’ when this happens.  Throughout the sanding process, care is given to protect the star stamping the side of the stem.

Following the 240 paper, wet sanding with 600 grade paper is used followed by applying 0000 grade steel wool.

To address the oxidation over the star stamping, Mr. Clean Magic Eraser is gently applied to clean the stamping area.  I have learned the hard way that the sponge can erode the stamping if used too aggressively.  The sponge is used very gently to clean but avoid erosion.

Next, the full regimen of micromesh pads is used to sand/polish the stem further.  Between each set of 3 pads, Obsidian Oil is applied to further condition the stem and to guard against oxidation developing.  I love to see the glossy shine appear through this process.

The stummel has been soaking in an acetone soak.  With the help of 0000 grade steel wool, the acetone soak has helped to soften and remove the spotty shiny parts of the old finish.

The next step is to work on the plethora of holes and crevasses mainly on the shank.  The first step in the process is to clean out the holes of old filler with the use of a sharp dental probe.  There are several holes to excavate – probably the most I’ve done on a single pipe!

The crater on the front of the bowl is also cleaned out using the dental probe.

After wiping off the areas with a cotton pad wetted with alcohol to clean, the next step is to refill the holes with a briar dust putty mixture.  First, the plastic mixing palette is covered with scotch tape to help in the cleanup.  It peels right off and off it goes to the waste bucket.  When I create CA glue mixtures, in this case with briar dust, I always mix on a ‘liquid resistant’ surface.  The reason for this is to prevent the liquidity of the CA glue to be weakened by being absorbed into a porous surface – like on a paper surface or on card stock.  This allows the mixing to remain consistent and if it becomes to dry, the mixture will solidify.

Next a small mound of briar dust is placed on the palette and next to it a small puddle of regular CA glue.

I use a toothpick to pull the briar dust into the puddle and mix at the same time.  The goal is for the mixture to have the viscosity of molasses – not runny but thick enough to adhere to the patch area and not run away.  The problem of adding too much briar dust is that is over dries the CA glue and it will solidify with a crackle and a puff of smoke which reminds one of his first chemistry set concoctions!  When the briar dust putty is the right thickness, small portions are troweled to each hole and applied.  I use the end of the toothpick to stir and knead the small blob of patch material to release possible air pockets before the patch material cures.  The pictures show the multitude of patches which concern me regarding the very faint stamping of ITALY on the underside of the shank.  Will it survive being at the center of a major ‘reconstruction site’?

With this many patches, a cork is fixed into the chamber and positioned in the candle holder to cure for several hours.

With the patches now fully cured some hours later, the flat needle file goes to work on each patch mound.  The goal is to remove the excess patch material down flush with the briar surface.  I start with the lone patch on the fore section of the bowl.

Along with the flat needle file, a smaller diameter squared file helps to focus the filing to the mound.  From the pictures that follow, a sampling of pictures shows the progress.

With the filing completed, the sanding transitions to using 240 sanding paper over the entire area of patches – through out I’m seeking to guard the lone area next to the shank facing that holds the ghosting ITALY COM.  I’m hopeful it will survive.

So far, the ITALY stamping has survived – I am glad!  It isn’t easy preserving a small area with so much filing and sanding surrounding it.

Next, with the main shank repair completed, I start at the top with the rim, and then work to the bowl in general.  The rim has several dings and skins along the edge – external and internal.  The internal edge has a ring of dark briar remaining from heating.  On the very bottom of the picture below, marked with the arrow, the internal rim has a dent or where it is worn off significantly.  This is most likely from the right-sided lighting of pulling the flame over the edge of the rim.

To address the rim woes in general and to refresh the rim lines, topping is utilized using a chopping board.  With 240 paper spread over the board and with the bowl inverted, several rotations are applied to the stummel over the paper.

The first check after a few rotations on the topping board shows more clearly the burned place where the briar is worn away – now on the top of the picture.  The dark ring from charring persists around the circumference of the chamber opening.  Significant skin marks and dents are evident on the external rim, especially on the shank side of the rim and the toward the 4 o’clock position in the picture.

Several more rotations on the 240-paper show progress but still some issues.

Topping with 240 paper is followed by 600 grade paper and I am satisfied with the progress.  Sanding will address the remaining outer edge issues and introducing a smart bevel on the internal rim edge will clean things up on the chamber side.

The burn notch persists as well as the darkened ring around the inner edge.

Introducing a smart bevel will help to remove the worn area and reestablish a rounded chamber.  Using 470 paper then 600 paper, a bevel is created by pressing the paper along the edge with a hard surface behind providing the even pressure.  I like the results a lot.  The rim is looking good.

With the rim in good order, sanding sponges are used to clean the external briar surface.  Starting first with the coarser sponge, then following with the medium grade then fine grade, the sponges are applied to the stummel and it looks better.  The grain is an interesting chaotic storm of shapes and dark hues which reflects the older darker stained patina.  The grain shows some promise but still needs a good bit of TLC.

Well, as things go, the next step in the process was to apply the first 3 micromesh pads – 1500 to 2400 grade.  As per my norm, I started with wet sanding with these initial pads.  During the wet sanding, lo and behold, more old fill spots appear on the shank…!  Ugh.  The old fill material is a water-based mixture and when it becomes wet, it softens and often contracts. My OCD pipe restoration tendencies would not wink at this.  It almost appears that each grain pattern in the shank had imperfections that needed filling.  The result is backtracking a bit and continue digging out more old fills, refilling them with briar dust putty and filing and sanding….  I’ll only show some pictures of the repetitive process and go from there.

Briar dust putty fill –

Filing –

Sanding with 240 paper –

Finally, sanding sponges –

The detour is completed and again I arrive at the step of applying the full regimen of micromesh pads to the stummel.  I don’t think I’ve every worked on a pipe that required so many fills in the shank area alone.  The shank, with all the patches, looks pretty ruff from a cosmetic perspective.  However, the patches are smooth to the touch and from a structural perspective, that’s good.  The cosmetic issues will hopefully be addressed at the later stage of applying a darker dye which helps to mask the fills.

The micromesh process is next by first wet sanding with pads 1500 to 2400.  Since I did this earlier and discovered the additional fills that needed addressing, on this second run I simply dry sand with pads 1500 to 2400 around the shank.  Following this is dry sanding with pads 3200 to 4000 and 6000 to 12000.  The grain comes out very nicely during the micromesh process and the dark, chaotic tempo of the grain is more evident.

The next step is to apply dye to the stummel surface.  The grain on this stummel is very dark – it appears black to me.  The grain is also busy and complicated – it reminds me of a storm that is unorganized and breaking up.  There’s some pattern, but much seems unorganized and random.  It strikes me that this pipe, with all its mended wounds, could be destined as a pipe meant for deep, deep contemplation, when thoughts are seeking order in difficult times and seeking a pathway forward.

A few earlier pictures show the very dark complect of color.  To emulate this color piggy backing on the dark grain already present, I decide to use a predominantly black dye and adding dark brown to take the edge off the black a bit.  Earlier pictures show the effect is almost producing an orange cast in the lighter grain palette.  After unwrapping the initial dye application, if more brown is needed, I can apply an overcoat of dark brown and see how it goes.

With the plan set, after assembling the dyeing components on the table, I first wipe down the stummel with a cotton pad wetted with alcohol to clean.  Then, after mixing Fiebing’s Black Leather Dye and Dark Brown Leather Dye at about a 1 to 1 ratio, the stummel is warmed with a hot air gun to expand the briar making it more receptive to the dye mixture.

Using a folded pipe cleaner, the dye is painted on swaths of the stummel and while still wet, the aniline dye is ‘flamed’ with a lit candle.  This immediately combusts the alcohol in the dye while leaving behind the pigment in the briar.  This process continues until the entire stummel has received the new dye.  The newly flamed stummel is then put aside to ‘rest’ allowing the new dye to settle in the grain.

The stummel had a few days to rest as my wife and I said our goodbyes to family in Minnesota and started a slow trek back to Colorado camping along the way in our R-pod travel trailer.  I continue work on the Napoleon of Italy at a beautiful state park in Nebraska.  Transitioning from the view of the front porch in Minnesota, Lake Ogallala became the vista I enjoyed while continuing work on the Napoleon.  My wife helped to capture my lakeside workstation with my tools and supplies packed nicely in 3 DeWalt carriers.  Not a bad way to restore a pipe!

After the stummel rested for a few days, the ‘unwrapping’ process utilizes a more abrasive felt buffing wheel mounted on the rotary tool.  With the rotary tool’s speed set a bit lower than normal, about 35% full power, to prevent overheating during the process, Tripoli compound is applied to the crusted flamed dyed surface.

The felt wheel and Tripoli gradually ‘plows’ the crusted surface revealing the newly dyed surface.  It is looking good!

After completing with the felt wheel, a cotton cloth buffing wheel is mounted and the speed set higher than normal – about 50% full power, and again Tripoli compound is applied to the surface to further clear the excess dye and to reach the crook of the shank which is too tight for the felt wheel to reach.  This second application of Tripoli helps to fine tune the grain definition removing more excess dye.

After completing the application of Tripoli with the cotton cloth wheel, the stummel is wiped with a cotton pad wetted with alcohol.  This helps to clear away more excess dye and to blend the new dye.

After reuniting the stem and stummel, the next step is to mount another cotton cloth buffing wheel to the rotary tool and the speed is set at about 40% full power.  Blue Diamond compound is then applied to the entire pipe – stem and stummel.

After application of Blue Diamond compound, a felt cloth is used to wipe down the entire pipe removing the compound dust left behind.  The abrasive compounds leave the powder behind and it can cake up on the surface.  This is removed before applying wax.

At this point I look at the ‘mine field’ of fills on the shank.  It is interesting.  There are too many fills to mask or make invisible.  In an interesting way, the fills have become part of the chaotic briar landscape adding a unique look.  It’s not half bad – a bizarre showcase of swirls that seem somehow normal on this briar landscape.  The wounds are there but have found a modicum of healing.  I like it.

I decide to apply a bit of a fine point Sharpie and a dye stick to darken the lighter parts of the fills to blend a bit more.  It looks good. I’m very pleased with the repair of the troubled shank.

One more mini project before applying wax.  I know that the thicker white acrylic paint will not grab the thin lines of the Napoleon’s star stem logo.  I saw how Steve used European Gold Rub ‘n Buff in one of his restorations to refresh and rescue a stem stamping that was severely worn.  My question to Steve was about the mismatch of colors – substituting the native white for gold.  His response was good – the line is so thin that its not easily recognized that the colors are switched.  The gold Rub ‘n Buff provides just enough definition in the thinner lines to see the logo without much in the way of color recognition.  If only a white Rub ‘n Buff could be found!

I decide to apply the gold Rub ‘n Buff which adheres nicely to the thin lines.  A dab of the paint is placed on the logo.

The edge of the toothpick rubs over the logo to clear away excess and then the logo is rubbed briskly with a cotton pad.  The Rub ‘n Buff works well.

Next, another cotton cloth buffing wheel is mounted on the rotary tool remaining at the same speed.  Carnauba wax is next applied to the entire pipe.  The pipe is then given a rigorous hand buffing using a microfiber cloth to removes excess wax and to raise the shine.

We made it back safely to our home base in Golden, Colorado.  Along the way to Colorado, we also stopped at another lake in Nebraska – Lewis and Clark Lake where my Altinay Meerschaum I acquired on a trip to Istanbul’s Grand Bazar.  This Meer enjoys a steady diet of Lane BCA and 1-Q and shows his gratitude with an unbelievably darkening patina.

This classic Billiard turned out nicely.  The Napoleon with the origin of Italy stamped on the shank, came to the worktable with more wounds than most pipes have, and each has been repaired, though the scars remain.  The grain is mesmerizing, and it is easy to see why the effort was afforded to repair all the blemishes with fills to save the rich showcase of briar.  Every angle offers a different complex picture of grain.  I mentioned earlier that this pipe’s briar landscape was reminiscent of a storm – swirls and twirls and bird’s eye circles.  With the wounds and now scars carried of the shank, it gives a picture of life.  To me, this Napoleon is a pipe for reflection.  Darren commissioned the Napoleon of Italy and will have the first opportunity to claim him from The Pipe Steward Store benefitting the Daughters of Bulgaria.  Thanks for joining me!

One thought on “A Mobile Restoration from Minnesota via Nebraska to Colorado of a Beat-up Napoleon of Italy Billiard

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