A Fresh Start for an Unbranded Italy Slightly Bent Oval Shank Billiard

The next pipe on the worktable got my attention when I saw it in January of 2018 on the online auction block from a seller in Hillsdale, Indiana.  Even though the only clue to its provenance was the stamp, ‘Italy’, I liked the oval shank and that gentle, slight bend that lends itself to the feel of an elegant pipe.  The grain was attractive but wanted to emerge once more.  The bid I placed was sufficient to add this elegant pipe to the ‘For “Pipe Dreamers” ONLY!’ online collection benefitting the Daughters of Bulgaria – helping women and girls who have been trafficked and sexually exploited.  Here are the pictures I saw on the block. The only stamping on the pipe is the COM – ITALY, located on the upper side of the oval shank.After pipe man Bill from South Carolina, inquired about this pipe, I wrote back asking him a bit about himself and how he came across The Pipe Steward.  This is what he initially wrote:


Thanks for the email. I’m interested in proceeding with this pipe. The grain and the slight bend are what drew my attention as well, in fact looking at the grain as-is my first thought was “wow, this should really pop after Dal works his magic on it!”. Since it looked like it didn’t need major work and that it was a ‘no name’ I thought the price might be reasonable, my guess was pretty much in the ballpark of your estimate. I was also impressed that you’re doing this to benefit a truly worthy cause. So yeah, I’m IN on this one, keep me posted.

I think I must have stumbled on The Pipe Steward in a post in another Facebook group, or maybe it showed up as a suggested group since I’m in a number of pipe groups. I’ve followed your FB page for a while and always enjoy looking at your finished pipes and the write ups. This was the first time that I had looked in Help Me baskets, I’m sure I’ll keep my eye on them more in the future.

 I’m a Control System Engineer by trade, contracted to the Department of Energy. I’ve only been pipe smoking for about a year and now suffer from both Tobacco Acquisition Disorder and Pipe Acquisition Disorder!


It’s amazing what a small world we live in.  We discovered that we had common friends on FB and I shared with Bill how my son did his Navy Power School Training nearby him in South Caroline that resulted in my son serving as a nuclear technician on an attack sub.  Bill responded saying more about his family – married with 4 grown kids and 5 grandkids and acclimation of a tolerant wife!  I discovered that we have other things in common as well – we both follow Jesus, and Bill has served overseas several times with short term projects through his church.  I always appreciate getting to know the pipe men who commission pipes and who also appreciate that they go to help the Daughters of Bulgaria.  Now, a closer look at the Slightly Bent Billiard Bill commissioned.

The bones of this pipe look good.  It has some grime that needs cleaning, and the stem has some oxidation.  Beginning with the oxidation, the airway of the stem was cleaned using pipe cleaners moistened with isopropyl 99% alcohol.The stem then joins other pipes’ stems in a soak of Mark Hoover’s Before & After Oxidation Remover. The stem soaks for several hours.When the stem is fished out of the soak, the fluid is drained off.The stem is then vigorously rubbed with a cotton pad to remove the raised oxidation.  A few additional pipe cleaners are used to clear out the fluid from the airway.After the soaking and rubbing, Paraffin Oil is wiped onto the stem to help with the conditioning of the vulcanite.  The angle and aperture of the picture below shows the residual deep oxidation which will need to be addressed via sanding.After the soak and cleaning, I also notice a challenge that I had not seen before.  The upper button lip has a crack running through it.  The pictures show the crack.  To reinforce the button, it will need to be rebuilt.Before beginning the stem repair, the regular cleaning regimen will continue.  Turning next to the stummel, the chamber is addressed.  A picture shows the starting point with the chamber’s light cake build up.  The picture also shows the heavy crusted lava flow over the rim.Using the Pipnet Reaming Kit, 3 of the 4 blade heads available are used to ream the chamber.  This is followed by scraping the chamber with the Savinelli Fitsall Tool. Using 240 paper wrapped around a Sharpie Pen, the chamber is sanded to remove the last vestiges of carbon cake allowing fresh briar to emerge.After wiping the chamber, an inspection of the chamber reveals something that got my attention.  There appears to be a fill on the very top of the chamber.  Instinctively, I check the opposite side of the fill on the external side of the bowl and find a dark area that I had seen before, but assumed it was grime that would be cleaned.Taking a closer look at the external blemish, I’m not sure what it is.  It could be a fill, but the first thing one thinks of in this scenario is that this was a burn through.  Yet, this is not usually where you get burn throughs in the chamber.  Usually, burn throughs are on the floor of the chamber or lower on the sides – not at the top where burning would be minimal. One possible explanation is that the blemish is a natural knot that manifested itself on the inner chamber side as well.  In the picture above, the grains seem to be spidering out from the blemish point.  This makes more sense that a burning problem.  I feel the fill on the internal side and it seems solid.  I decide to continue with the cleaning process before making further assessments.Next, the external briar surface is cleaned with undiluted Murphy’s Oil Soap using a cotton pad to scrub.  Additional pictures are taken surveying the external briar surface.  The rim has thick, crusted lava flow.Over the stummel surface, vestiges of the old finish are showing as shiny spots.  The finish is gone when the briar has more of a matte or dulled finish. Along with scrubbing with the cotton pad, the rim is also addressed using a brass wire brush which helps provide more cleaning muscle without being invasive to the briar.The stummel is then taken to the sink where the internals are cleaned using shank brushes and anti-oil liquid dish washing soap.  After the scrubbing, the stummel is thoroughly rinsed and brought back to the work table.  A few pictures show the initial assessments of the cleaning.  The old darker stain persists especially toward the top of the bowl near the rim.The cleaning also shows that there is indeed a fill opposite to the fill on the chamber side.  I’ll look at this more after completing the cleaning process.Continuing with the internal cleaning, pipe cleaners and cotton buds moistened with isopropyl 99% alcohol goes to work. A small dental spoon is also used to scrape the internal mortise removing tars and oils.After a time, the pipe cleaners and cotton buds emerge lighter, and I call the internals completed.The stummel goes to the side and the stem is the focus again.  The crack on the upper lip has caused unevenness between the two sides of the crack where the left upper side of the slot has compressed down more than the right side.Coupled with the button crack are the bite compressions on the upper and lower bit.  The bit compressions need to be addressed first to see if they too will need to be patched or be dispatched with only sanding.  To address the bit compressions, the heating method is first used to paint the bit with the flame from a Bic lighter to heat the vulcanite and this causes the rubber compound to expand to reclaim the original positioning – or to some degree.  The heating is done first before patching the button crack as the patch material – CA glue, will not expand with heating as an epoxy. So, this is why, this is done before the patching.Since, I’m heating the bit area, I want some pressure to bear on the uneven sides of the slot while the vulcanite is heating and becoming supple.  This might help to recast the slot before patching.The upper and lower bits are painted with the flame after ‘before’ pictures are taken.  The results are good.  The upper bit’s compressions were lessened somewhat.The lower bit’s compressions and chatter are still very much evident, but I believe they may be addressed with sanding alone.  That’s how I will proceed.The slot also looks like the heating did a bit of correction, but the crack over the top of the lip is more visible now.The same pressure wedge is used for the patching of the crack by rebuilding the button and patching the crack as it moves onto the bit.  This time, the card stock wedge is covered with scotch tape and a bit of petroleum jelly is placed on the tape to keep the patch material from sticking to the Black CA glue.Using Black Medium-Thick CA glue, a few layers of CA were placed over the upper button.  CA was also applied over the button facing and over the crack area on the bit.  An accelerator was used to hold the CA and cure it more rapidly as the button was built layer by layer.The lower button lip also received CA glue to build it up.As hoped and expected, with a little tug, the pressure wedge came out of the slot.After the patches are fully cured, a squared needle file is used to frame the button.  First, the lip edge is established on the upper and lower button. Next, the excess patch material on the slot facing is filed flush with the facing.With both sides of the button defined, a flat need file is used to rough out and shape the button lips upper and lower. The button looks good after filing and shaping with the flat and squared needle files.Next, 240 sanding paper is used to remove the file marks and to smooth and continue shaping the button – upper and lower.The sanding with 240 paper is next expanded to the entire stem addressing scratches and the oxidation that is still visible.  To protect the stem facing from shouldering, the plastic disk is mounted between the shank and stem.The sanding continues by wet sanding with 600 grade paper which is followed by applying 0000 grade steel wool.The sanding/polishing continues with applying micromesh pads starting by wet sanding with pads 1500 to 2400.  Following this is dry sanding with pads 3200 to 4000 and 6000 to 12000.  The stem has come a long way and the button patch and rebuild look great. The stem is put to the side and the stummel is next.  Fresh pictures are taken of the patch on the upper side of the bowl and the old finish.  The stummel is in rough shape.  The large fill is tested with a dental probe and surprisingly, it’s solid.  The fill is solid, but the circumference of the pit has an edge.Old finish is in patches around the stummel.The rim has scratches and the smart bevel in the internal circumference is darkened from the lava flow that has now been cleaned.It doesn’t take much thought to know that the stummel needs a ‘make-over’ with a new finish.  The stummel will be sanded, the rim topped, the bevel re-established and a new finish to help the expressive grain on this Billiard to make a statement.  To remove the ridges around the edge of the patch, 240 paper is used to sand the area.  A darker dye will be used later to mask this patch as much as possible.Next, working from the top down, topping the stummel gives the rim fresh lines and removes the multitude of scratches and nicks. Topping the stummel starts with 240 grade paper on the chopping board.  With the stummel inverted, the stummel is rotated several times over the paper. After 240 paper is used, it is exchanged for 600 grade paper and the stummel is again rotated several times over the paper. The result is good.Next, the stummel has a smart bevel which will be cleaned and refreshed.  The way this is done is using a wooden sphere that rests in the hollow of the chamber. The picture shows the concept.With 220 paper wedged between the rim and the sphere, the sphere is then rotated to re-establish a bevel.  Following the 220 paper, the same is done with 600 grade paper with the sphere.  Wow, I’m liking what I’m seeing.Next, sanding sponges are used on the stummel to clean the surface further and to remove scratching.  Starting with the coarser sponge, the stummel is sanded, then with a medium sponge, and finishing with a lighter grade sponge.The sanding and polishing continue with the use of micromesh pads.  Starting with wet sanding, pads 1500 to 2400 are used.  This is followed by dry sanding with 3200 to 4000 and 6000 to 12000.  The grain comes out nicely through the process. To mask the large fill on the upper left side of the stummel, and to bring out the grain more distinctly, Fiebing’s Dark Brown Leather Dye is applied to the stummel. The process starts with warming the stummel with a hot air gun.  As the briar warms, the grain expands and makes it more receptive to the dye pigment.With the stummel warmed, a folded pipe cleaner paints the stummel with the aniline dye section by section. With each section applied, the wet dye is ‘flamed’ using a lit candle.  The flame immediately ignites the alcohol in the dye, and it burns off leaving the dye pigment in the briar.  This paint then flame process continues around the stummel until the entire surface has been covered with dye.  For good measure, the process is repeated a second time.With the dye applied and flamed, the stummel is set aside to allow it to rest through the night hours.  This settling in of the dye helps it to solidify the pigmentation in the grain.The next morning, the process of ‘unwrapping’ the flamed, crusted dye encasing the stummel is done using a coarser felt buffing wheel and a coarser compound, Tripoli compound.  The speed of the rotary tool is cut a bit, down to about 35% full power to avoid over heating with the coarser components.A few pictures are taken during the unwrapping process.  The grain has absorbed the dye and the goal of the buffing with the felt wheel is to remove the excess dye from the surface.  The excess will appear has cloudy areas or blotches.  The wheel with the coarser Tripoli compound goes back over these areas and grain emerges.After the felt wheel has done the heavy lifting, it is exchanged for a cotton cloth wheel with the speed of the rotary tool increased a bit faster than normal.  Tripoli compound is again applied to the stummel a second time.  The reason for this second application with the cotton cloth wheel is, first, to fine tune even more the sharpness of the grain by continuing to remove excess dye.  The second reason is to reach into the crook where the bowl and shank meet.  The felt wheel is not able to reach into this space which leaves dark, cloudy excess dye.  The cloth wheel cleans this area of excess dye.After the application of Tripoli compound, the stummel is wipe with alcohol and a cotton pad.  This is done not so much to lighten the finish, but to remove excess dye and to help blend the new dye.The stem and stummel are reunited and another cotton cloth buffing wheel is mounted on the rotary tool.  With the speed set at about 40% full power, the finer, Blue Diamond compound, is applied to the pipe continuing to fine tune the grain sharpness and shining the stem and stummel.After the compounds have been used, the pipe is wiped with a felt cloth to remove the compound dust and caked compound on the briar surface.  This is done in preparation for application of the wax.  Mixing compound dust and wax is not desired.Next, another cotton cloth wheel is mounted on the rotary tool.  With the speed remaining the same, carnauba wax is applied to stem and stummel.  After the application of wax, a microfiber cloth is used to give the pipe a rigorous hand buffing to remove excess wax and to raise the shine.One mini project remains.  With the discovery of the fill on the upper side of the chamber, coating the chamber with a charcoal/yogurt mixture helps to establish a starter cake for the chamber.  The mixture is applied and hardens quite nicely to form the provisional cake.  NOTE TO A NEW STEWARD: After the pipe is put into service, for the first several occasions, do NOT scrape the chamber with a metal tool to clean it.  Allow ample time for the cake to develop.  To clean during this stage, use a folded pipe cleaner simply to rub the chamber wall removing the excess ash.

Usually, I have mixed way more than needed.  This time I intentionally use less than I have before.  Using plain, unflavored yogurt (sour cream will work, too), a small amount is placed in the cup along with about two scoops of activated charcoal dust using the pipe nail tool.The pipe nail then mixes the charcoal and yogurt, and it turns a nice black when mixed. The viscosity should not be runny, or gravity will collect the mixture in the chamber.  I shoot for the viscosity of molasses – not too thick so it spreads and not too thin, so it is runny.After placing a pipe cleaner through the draft hole to make sure its not blocked, the cake starter mixture is troweled into the bowl with the pipe nail and then spread over the chamber wall – like applying spackling on the wall.The picture doesn’t give a good look of the black surface, but the chamber is covered.  The black starter cake also is aesthetically pleasing.  The pipe is set aside for a few hours for the cake starter to set up and dry.As with most restoration projects, challenges emerge along the way that were not obvious at the beginning.  The grain on this unbranded Italian slightly bent Billiard is beautiful and the new finish helped it to pop.  The slight bend gives an elegant feel to the pipe and the bowl fits well in the palm and promises much fellowship with one’s favorite blend pack and ready to go.  Bill commissioned this pipe, and as the commissioner, he will have the first opportunity to acquire the Italian Billiard from the Pipe Steward Store benefitting the daughters of Bulgaria.  We start with a picture from before so we don’t forget how far we’ve come!  Thanks for joining me!





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