A Challenging Refinish of a Vuillard Concorde 3S of St. Claude Chubby Billiard

I acquired this French made Vuillard Concorde Chubby Billiard in January 2017 from a seller in Giussago, Italy.  It was part of an interesting lot of 4 pipes which caught my attention.  The other 3 pipes were a Denicotea De Luxe Regatta, a Chacom Radford’s Seventy-Six, and a Machiavelli Cambio.  The final bid was sufficient, and the pipes came to Sofia, Bulgaria, where my wife and I were living.  The pipes were added to the For “Pipe Dreamers” ONLY! collection benefiting the Daughters of Bulgaria. Here is the Lot of 4 from Italy:This is the 4th pipe in pipe man Mike’s trove of commissions.  The Vuillard Concorde that got Mike’s attention I’m calling a Chubby.  Looking at it in the picture above, the 3rd pipe down, the size of the bowl in relation to the other pipes and the shorter saddle stem stature, gives the Vuillard its compact chubby appearance. The ‘chubby’ dimensions of the Vuillard are Length: 5 7/16 inches, Height: 2 inches, Rim width: 1 7/16 inches, Chamber width: 1 inch, Chamber depth: 1 7/8 inches.  The tenon is fashioned for a 9mm filter or air restrictor. Here are pictures of #4 of Mike’s commissions: The nomenclature is crisp.  On the left shank flank is stamped a diagonally rising fancy cursive, Vuillard [over also in cursive a straight] Concorde.  The saddle stem is stamped with a fancy ‘V’ matching the ‘V’ of the Vuillard shank stamping.  The right side of the shank is stamped ‘3S’ [over] ST CLAUDE, the birthplace of briar pipe production and the center of pipe making in France and arguably of all Europe.Pipedia’s information on Vuillard is brief:

The brand was founded by Henri Vuillard in Saint-Claude.  Vuillard had a London branch named Vuillard & Strauss, London EC1. It is safe to assume, that their brands Lord and Turf were produced in Saint-Claude. Emile Vuillard was the last owner. Henri Vuillard & Cie. was merged in the Cuty Fort Group (est. 1987 and headed by Chacom) till 1988 along with the pipe brands of Jeantet, and John Lacroix.

Pipephil’s Vuillard information is helpful.  The close ups of the stem logo and shank stamping confirm that the Vuillard on the table is from the E. Vuillard house and not the Henri Vuillard line of pipes, also of St. Claude.A link in the panel above opens a wonderfully informative page that chronicles the full life span of the E. Vuillard house beginning in 1863 on the rue du Faubourg Marcel in St. Claude (LINK).  I’m fascinated by the record of the number of employees as the years progress.  The ‘hay day’ of the Vuillard house was in 1901 when 150 employees were producing pipes with the Vuillard name.The last acquisition that Pipedia also cites is in 1988 when the Vuillard house was absorbed into the Cuty-Fort group.  The number of employees listed is 11.  The numbers reveal the realities that were true of most named pipe houses in St. Claude over the years.The Pipephil page also includes historical pictures of the factory location in St. Claude over the years.  These pictures are included here to fill out the historical feel of the Vuillard name in context and I enjoy the vintage feel the pictures bring 😊. After looking through the information provided by Pipephil, I realize that there is a contradiction with the Pipedia information which states that ‘Henri Vulliard’ was the founder in St. Claude.  Pipephil’s information concludes with this foot note:

(1) Do not confuse E. Vuillard & Cie (rue du Faubourg Marcel) with H. Vuillard & Cie, producer of the Corsica pipe. The two houses do not have any known family tie.

The other bit of information regarding the nomenclature of the Vuillard on the worktable is the pipe’s specific ‘line’ name – ‘Concorde’ which is the word ‘concord’ in English meaning agreement, peace, harmony according to an online dictionary (LINK).

I found one more bit of information from Tobaccopipes.com (LINK) that helps to fill in some of the gaps of what is known about the Vuillard name up to the present:

Vuillard History: French tobacco pipes develop

Vuillard history is an integral part of french tobacco pipes history. Although Emile Vuillard was the last of the family to produce them, the company’s distinctive white “V” has become a part of the Chacom family of tobacco pipes to keep it in French hands today.

Origins in Saint-Claude

Like most French brands it is centered in the town of Saint-Claude, where briar pipes were first designed. If you visit Saint-Claude today, you’ll see a dramatic interpretation of the city’s history from a giant pipe perched in a courtyard, paying tribute to the city’s history of excellent tobacco pipe makers.

Vuillard and the French military

The Vuillard brand has been a popular choice in France since its inception. These were the tobacco pipes issued to French troops during World War I. Many photos of French soldiers smoking their Vuillard pipes exist,  just as we see British soldiers smoking Peterson pipes. They quickly migrated to London and across much of Europe.

The first Vuillard and Strauss store opened in London specifically to supply these smoking pipes to French visitors and residents of the city. Originally, the company shipped all of their bowls and stems separately and assembled the pipes at the foreign shop by hand. In this way, the company was able to double-market their products as Made in London too.

Vuillard in modern life

In 1987 Vuillard merged with several other French manufactures. Chacom, Lacroix, Jeantet and Ropp all joined the company in merging with the Cuty Fort Group, under the direction of Yves Grenard and Dominique Jeantet.  Today the company operates under the Chacom name, but in deference to Vuillard’s history, the name remains on the original series.

The pipes are still produced in France, in a variety of traditional shapes and styles using fine briar wood. Choose a tobacco pipe with the distinctive Vuillard “V” and you’ll know you’re choosing a sleek piece of french tobacco pipes history to add to your collection.

The sense I get from the style of the Vuillard on the worktable is that it most likely is from the Cuty Fort Group era starting in 1987 and operating under the Chacom name.  This is a guess.  With a greater appreciation of the Vuillard Concorde on the worktable, I take a closer look at the condition of the pipe itself.

The huge Vuillard chamber has moderate cake buildup.  This will be removed to inspect the briar and to give it a fresh start.  The rim also is crusted with lava flow.The stummel presents the greatest challenges.  There are nicks and dents from normal wear over most of the stummel – normal blemishes.  Several pictures survey the blemishes that I’m seeing. In this next picture, and in some of the pictures above, the gloss of the reflection off the finish surface highlights the scratches and blemishes.  What is also clear, the old finish appears to be more of a shellac shell.  I call this kind of finish a ‘candy apple’ finish.  This description is apropos when the color scheme is factored in.  There is no way I know to repair the blemishes in the briar without removing the candy apple finish.  In removing the glossy finish to repair the nicks and dents, it will not be possible to salvage the color scheme of the red and black contrasting grains.  The daunting part of the restoration is taking the bowl back to the natural briar – removing everything and starting from scratch by repairing the blemishes and seeking to emulate the current color scheme.  This is not an easy task but if successful, I believe this Vuillard Concorde will look much, much better with focus on the briar grain rather than on a chemical gloss as it is now.  So, to restore this pipe, it’s an ‘all or nothing’ approach.The saddle stem has some oxidation, but it does not appear to be too severe.  The upper and lower bit show some tooth chatter and compressions. The stem also has some deep cuts.As some thought is given to how to approach the issues with the stummel, the restoration of the Vuillard Concorde begins with the stem.  The cleaning begins with pipe cleaners moistened with isopropyl 99% alcohol working on the airway.  Some cotton buds are also used to clean the 9mm filter cavity of the tenon.After cleaning the airway, the stem is placed in a soak of Briarville’s Pipe Stem Oxidation Remover for several hours to address any oxidation in the vulcanite.After soaking for several hours, the stem is fished out of the Oxidation Remover and rubbed briskly with a cotton cloth to remove the oxidation raised through the soaking process.  The Oxidation Remover does a good job.  A few more pipe cleaners with isopropyl 99% are used to clear the airway and tenon of the fluid.The Cyrillic lettering on the bottle that came with me from Bulgaria says, Liquid Paraffin.  Paraffin oil is a mineral oil that I use at this point to help condition the vulcanite stem.  After the oil has been thoroughly applied, the stem is put aside to allow the oil to be absorbed.Turning to the stummel, the cleaning process begins by reaming the HUGE (and I can’t get over how much tobacco this chamber will be able to pack 😊) chamber using blade heads from the Pipnet Reaming Kit.  A fresh picture is taken to mark the progress.The chamber was so HUGE that the first and smallest blade head was passed.  The chamber was reamed with the remaining 3 blade heads.  I rarely use the largest blade head reaming pipes.  The largest blade head was not even tight in the chamber as it reamed.  The reaming was followed by using the Savinelli Fitsall Tool which reaches deeply into the chamber continuing to scrape carbon cake from the hard-to-reach places.  Finally, the chamber was sanded with 240 paper wrapped around a Sharpie Pen for more leverage.During the sanding of the chamber and inspecting it, I detected some ridges that had developed in the chamber wall.  This happened from previous reaming expeditions.  To smooth the ridges, a sanding drum was mounted to the rotary tool that enabled me to reach into the chamber and smooth out the ridges.  It did a great job!A final inspection of the chamber shows healthy briar.  Moving on.Next, the cleaning continues using undiluted Murphy’s Oil Soap on the bowl’s external surface.A cotton pad is used to scrub the surface and rim.Working on the rim a brass wire brush is used as well as the blade of a pocketknife to scrape the rim surface carefully.The stummel is then taken to the sink to continue the cleaning using shank brushes.  Using anti-oil liquid dish washing soap and hot water, the internals are scrubbed.  This is the first time the camera followed me to the sink to capture the cleaning action.After a thorough rinsing, the stummel comes back to the worktable.  The glossy candy apple finish has dulled a bit.Continuing with the internal cleaning, pipe cleaners and cotton buds moistened with isopropyl 99% are used.  A small dental spoon also goes into action scraping the mortise walls to remove tars and oils.  The picture below is the first of many globs of gunk taken out with the spoon.  The more that is scraped off like this, the more efficient the buds and cleaners will be.To clean the airway, a drill bit the same size as the airway is used to scrape tars and oils.  The bit is hand turned and as it rotates through the airway, gunk collects in the drill threading.This picture shows how the gunk collects in the bit.After a lot of excavation, cotton buds and pipe cleaners, the work is called to a halt.  Knowing that the next step will be a soak in acetone to remove the finish, I know the soak will remove most of the tars and oils from the internals.Acetone is used to soften and break down as much of the old finish as possible.  The stummel will go into the acetone and soak through the night.The next day, the stummel is removed from the acetone soak.  000 grade steel helps to remove the old finish getting down to the natural briar.  The picture below shows the contrast.After the 000 grade steel wool, 0000 grade steel wool is used to finish the job. The grain looks great and should emerge very nicely throughout the sanding and dying process.Some fills are discovered after the removal of the old finish.  The fills are not flush with the briar surface so new patches need to be applied. Using a sharp dental probe, the old filler material is dug out of each pit and the stummel is cleaned with alcohol with a cotton pad.I discovered Durham’s Rock Hard Water Putty from a recommendation from a follower of The Pipe Steward.  This will be the second time I’ve used the water-based putty.  The benefit of this filler material is that it will take dye pigmentation.  The disadvantage is that it is not as strong as Briar Putty – CA glue mixed with briar dust.Per the directions, some of the filler powder is placed on the lid and a couple of drops of water are added.Using the small dental spoon, the filler powder is pulled into the water and mixed.  More filler powder is pulled into the mix until it thickens to a non-drippy consistency.  The filler is then applied to each pit and pressed.  After the pits are filled, the stummel is put aside for a few hours to allow the filler to cure completely.After the patches have cured, 600 grade paper is used to sand the excess patch material.With the patches completed, the next step is to focus on the rim.   It is in bad shape with scratches and darkened scorched briar.  To address this, the stummel will be topped.  A start picture is taken to mark the progress.To top the stummel, 240 grade paper is placed on a chopping board and with the stummel inverted, the stummel is rotated several times.After a few rotations, I eyeball the rim to make sure the topping is level.  The rotations continue.The topping comes to the place where enough briar has been removed from the rim.The 240 paper is exchanged for 600 grade paper and the stummel is rotated several more times.  The rim has cleaned up nicely but there remains a dark ring around inner rim edge from the charring.  The inner rim also shows some imbalance and is out of round at places.To address the inner charring and the roundness issues, a smart bevel is cut on the inner rim.  Using a small cue ball, a strip of 240 sanding paper is held to the ball and the cue ball is set in the chamber and rotated.  The picture below shows the paper with the circled pattern of the bevel cutting.The 240 paper is replaced with 600 grade paper with the same process applied.  The rim looks great, and the smart bevel cleaned up the inner rim nicely.The next step is to use sanding sponges to clean the stummel of the minor nicks and scratches.  Starting first with a coarser sponge, this is followed with medium then fine sponges.Continuing the sanding, the full set of 9 micromesh pads is used dry sanding in sets of three – 1500 to 2400, 3200 to 4000, and 6000 to 12000. After wiping the stummel with a cotton pad moistened with alcohol, the stummel is ready for dye to be applied.  The original black/red motif is difficult to emulate exactly, but I hope to finish with a result in the same motif neighborhood.  To open the grain and to help it to be more receptive to the dye pigment, the stummel is warmed with a hot air gun.The approach that I hope will have the desired results is to apply an undercoat or foundation of Fiebing’s Black Leather Dye.  This will be followed by applying an overcoat of red dye.  The main purpose of the black undercoat is not to turn the stummel black but to create the black contrasting grain – contrasting with the red dye that’s applied afterwards.  With the stummel warmed, the black aniline dye is applied in swatches with a folded pipe cleaner and then ‘flamed’ with a lit candle.  This immediately combusts the alcohol in the dye leaving the black pigment behind in the grain.  The dye is applied in swatches and flamed until the dye has been applied to the entire stummel.  The stummel is then put aside to allow the new dye to settle in as it rests through the night.The next day, to ‘unwrap’ the flamed crust on the stummel, a felt cloth buffing wheel is mounted to the rotary tool with the speed set to about 35% full power – a bit slower than normal.  Red Tripoli, a coarser compound, is then applied to the briar surface.  The speed is slowed a bit to prevent too much heating from the coarse felt wheel and the compound.  The picture shows the progress as the felt wheel ‘plows’ the flamed dye.  The contrasting of the black dye is emerging.After the flamed crust is removed with the felt wheel, a cotton cloth buffing wheel is mounted, and the speed is set at about 50% full power – a bit faster than normal to create more friction with the softer cotton cloth wheel.  Again, Tripoli is applied over the entire stummel surface.  I do this second Tripoli compound application because this seems to sharpen the grain contrasting even more and it continues to remove excess dye.After the Tripoli compound, the stummel is wiped with a cotton pad wetted with alcohol to blend the new dye and to remove excess dye preparing the surface for the next dye coat.The stummel is again warmed before the red dye overcoat is applied.After the stummel is warmed, a folded pipe cleaner applies the red dye to the stummel.  The red dye I have is not aniline, so it is simply ‘washed’ over the stummel.  Once thoroughly covered, the stummel is set aside through the night to allow the red dye to settle.With the stummel on the sideline, turning to the stem, I take a closer look at the scars in the vulcanite stem.  The appearance of the scars is over the entire stem and appear to be cuts from the pipe being in a can with a sharp edge or something like this.  There is some tooth chatter, but most of the damage are cuts and gashes.  I decide to try the heating method to see if the heating of the rubber compound will heal its wounds like with tooth chatter.  The heated vulcanite will expand and reclaim the original condition.  What I discover with heating the cuts is that the opposite happens.  The heating exasperates the scarring as the before and after pictures following show.  First, the upper stem:And the lower stem:Sanding and filing are the next steps.  First, a flat needle file is used to refresh the button lips – upper and lower.Next, the entire stem is sanded with 240 grade sanding paper.  Throughout all the sanding, care is given to protect the Vuillard ‘V’ stem logo.Following the 240 paper, the stem is wet sanded with 600 grade paper.  This is followed with applying 0000 grade steel wool.  With each stage of sanding, the sanding medium is finer and finer.  There is quite a transformation from the stem’s original cut up, ER condition.Continuing with the sanding, the stem is wet sanded with micromesh pads 1500 to 2400.  Following this, the stem is dry sanded with pads 3200 to 4000 and 6000 to 12000.  Between each set of 3 pads, Obsidian Oil is applied to condition the stem and to guard against oxidation.  Wow!  The stem has made quite a recovery. My usual practice is to reunite the stem and stummel to apply the Blue Diamond compound.  With the stummel continuing to rest from the final overcoat of red dye the sanding/polishing process continues with the Vuillard stem.  Another reason not to apply the compound together is that the buffing wheel will be clearing off excess red dye which colors the cotton cloth buffing wheel.  I think it is better not to use this wheel on the stem.  With a cotton cloth buffing wheel mounted on the rotary tool, the speed is set at a normal speed of 40% of full power.  Blue Diamond compound, a fine abrasive, is applied to the stem.To remove the compound dust that accumulates on the stem, the stem is wiped with a felt cloth.The next mini project with the stem is refreshing the Vuillard ‘V’ stem logo.  The ‘V’ is ghosted and worn down on the upper side.  We’ll see how well the paint adheres.Using white acrylic paint, a small drop of paint is placed on the logo.A cotton pad is then used to daub the wet paint to draw off the excess paint.  This helps the drying process to be more rapid as well.Using the flat side of a toothpick, the excess paint is gently scraped off the logo.  The flat side of the toothpick is scraped over the top of the logo which removes the excess paint on the flat stem surface leaving behind the paint in the trough of the logo.  The upper part of the logo and the flare off the top right spoke is thin, but overall, a nice improvement.After resting through the night for several hours, it’s time to ‘unwrap’ the red dye over-coating of the Vuillard stummel.  This really is the moment of truth to see how the dye found the grain and to see how it contrasts with the black undercoat.  My goal is to be in the same neighborhood as the original black/red motif and hopefully, an upgrade!  A cotton cloth wheel dedicated to the application of Blue Diamond on red surfaces is mounted.  The speed is set a bit faster at 50% of full speed.  The reason for this is to provide more torque on the surface with the soft cotton to help remove the excess red dye.  The more excess dye removed this way will help prevent dye leeching when it is initially put into service when fire in the chamber heats up the briar.  This is when fresh, green dye can come off on the hand of the steward.The picture below shows the red dye unwrapping in process and I’m liking what I see a lot!  The emerging grain pattern is more expressive than the original, candy apple finish. The natural grain is crisp and not obscured by heavy stain and shellac material.  After going over the stummel the first time with the main plowing done, Blue Diamond compound is applied another cycle around the stummel and then a final cycle simply with the buffing wheel without applying more compound.After the application of Blue Diamond, the stummel is wiped/buffed with a felt cloth which helps to remove the compound dust from the surface in preparation for application of the wax.The end of the day has arrived, and the internal cleaning will continue to make sure the pipe is fresh and clean for a new steward.  Using 2 cotton balls to fill the chamber (this is a large chamber!), another cotton ball is used to fashion a cotton wick that is guided down the mortise and airway with the help of a stiff wire.  The ‘wick’ serves to help draw tars and oils from the internal briar surface.After the cotton is in place, the stummel is settled into an egg carton to give stability and to angle the stummel so that the rim and shank facing are roughly level.  Next, isopropyl 99% isopropyl alcohol is put into the chamber with a large eye dropper.  It takes several dropper fulls before the isopropyl 99% surfaces over the cotton.After about 10 minutes the alcohol is absorbed into the cotton in the chamber and the shank.  The isopropyl 99% is then topped off once more and the lights go off.The next day, the cotton is removed from the stummel, and the soiling shows the process of drawing the tars and oils out during night.To remove any residual tars and oils, cotton buds and pipe cleaners moistened with isopropyl 99% are used.  Initially, the buds were very soiled, but they lightened quickly.  A whiff test confirms the freshness of the stummel internals for a new steward.One more mini project is planned with the stummel before reuniting with the stem and applying the wax.  To prevent dye leeching on the fingers of a new steward, heating the stummel is one more way to remove excess dye.  The stummel briar is warmed with the hot air gun emulating the pipe in service.As the stummel heats the new dye becomes more prone to leeching.  To prevent this (hopefully!) after the stummel is heated, emulating fire in the chamber, the stummel surface is briskly buffed/rubbed with a white cotton cloth.  The friction of the cloth removes the leeched dye.  The cloth in the picture below shows the vestiges of the red dye removed.  Hopefully, this will help to prevent future red fingers!After reuniting the stem and stummel, the final step in the restoration is to apply carnauba wax to the pipe.  After another cotton cloth buffing wheel is mounted on the rotary tool, the speed is set to about 40% full power. Carnauba wax is applied to the stem and stummel and then the pipe is given a vigorous hand buffing with a microfiber cloth to remove excess wax and to raise the shine.Discovering more about the history of the Vuillard house of pipes was interesting and deepened my appreciation for the Vuillard Concorde of St. Claude Chubby Billiard.  The greatest challenge was to emulate the red and black color motif of the original.  I’m pleased with the results.  The red/black contrast in the grain catches one’s attention.  The grain is a combination of vertical straight grain on the left side of the bowl and cascading patterns on the right.  The bowl is huge and this Chubby Billiard promises a lot of fellowship while nursing one’s favorite blend.  Mike commissioned this Vuillard Concorde and will have the first opportunity to claim him in The Pipe Steward Store benefiting the Daughters of Bulgaria – helping women and girls who have been trafficked and sexually exploited.  Thanks for joining me!

6 thoughts on “A Challenging Refinish of a Vuillard Concorde 3S of St. Claude Chubby Billiard

  1. Todd L. Platek

    Thank you Dal for this incredibly thorough exposition. You likely put more time and effort into the pipe’s repair than she received when being made.

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    1. ThePipeSteward

      That is correct Steve. The color blend was good. The only downside is that through the sanding, compound and polishing phases, the fill material wore off some leaving a bit of a ridge to the touch. I think the jury is still out.

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