Overcoming a Severely Charred Rim for an Unbranded Horn Stem Bulldog

The next pipe on the worktable is unbranded, but I’m 99% sure it is French made.  It came to me in August of 2018 from Paris, and I have called this acquisition the French Lot of 50.  I have only a few of this French lot left as the majority have found homes with new stewards.  Here is a picture of this lot on the French eBay auction block – a picture I couldn’t ignore! The Bulldog is marked by the arrow.Pipe man Mike, founder and admin for the FB group, Brothers by Briar, also heard this pipe whispering his name along with an Orlik Royal Sovereign Prince that turned out very nicely (See: A New Beginning for an Elegant Orlik Royal Sovereign Made in England 188 Prince).The Bulldog, even though unbranded, shows promise. Here are pictures of Mike’s next commission. I like the horn stem a bunch.  I’m almost positive that the Bulldog has a COM of France since it came from France and there were several pipes in the French Lot of 50 that had horn stems and were French made.  The straight Bulldog shape has a stout presence.  From the outset, the most daunting issue this Bulldog has is the condition of the rim and upper dome.  It has experienced significant charring damage.  The forensics are easy to interpret.  The former steward lit the pipe predominantly over the forward right quadrant.  The next picture shows the burned damage over the rim.  The inner chamber rim edge has deteriorated away – charred severely then gradually chipped away.  Interestingly, the opposite side of the rim – the aft rim, also shows significant burn damage.  So, the steward was a front lighter and rear.  The circumference of the chamber is out-of-round because of the burn damage.This pictures shows the charring on the dome moving over the rim.  This kind of charring will be difficult to remove and not leave a dark stain in the briar.Now from the rear, less severe than the forward quadrant, but still the burning dropped beneath the rim to charring the dome.I could find only one very small fill on the right lower shank panel.The horn stem is in relatively good condition.  There are expected scratches and grime to be addressed.  This picture shows well the sinewy material that comprises horn.The bit and button are in good condition.The stem has a metal tenon which is seated in a cork lined mortise.  There is some cracking in the cork and after cleaning it, the cork will receive a conditioning with petroleum jelly.Starting with the stem, pipe cleaners are used with isopropyl 99% to clean the airway. After a few bristled pipe cleaners emerged caked with crud, the pipe cleaners started emerging lighter.The nickel tenon also is shined up with 0000 grade steel wool.Taking another look at the stem surface, I see a chip on one of the edges.Before proceeding with the sanding of the horn stem, I apply a small drop of regular CA glue to the chip to fill it in.  After applying the CA glue, an accelerator is used to keep the patch in place and to quicken the curing process.To remove the excess patch material, a flat needle file is used.Following the filing, the entire stem is sanded with 220 grade paper not only to remove the filing marks but to clean and smooth the entire stem.Following the 220 paper, the stem is wet sanded with 600 grade paper and then 0000 grade steel wool is applied.Continuing with the sanding/polishing of the horn stem with micromesh pads, the stem is wet sanded with 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, Paraffin oil is applied to the stem to help condition the horn material.  I do not use animal or vegetable oils on pipes in my restorations, but only mineral oils.  The reason for this is that animal and vegetable oils can become rancid.  Mineral oils are pretty stable.  The micromesh process brought out the hues in the horn – not bad. With the stem on the side, attention is turned now to cleaning the stummel.  Cleaning starts with reaming the chamber using the Pipnet Reaming Kit.  After using 2 of the 4 blade heads available, I take a look at the chamber.This is what happens when lighting methods pull the flame over the rim!  The char has to be removed and cleaned.  This will leave a vacant spot on the rim and result in an inner rim edge that is out-of-round which also results in a rim plateau of differing widths.  Stewards, lighter OVER the tobacco not over the rim!The chamber cleaning continues using the Savinelli Fitsall Tool scraping the chamber walls and removing the charred patches on the rim.  Following this, the chamber is sanded with 240 grade paper wrapped around a Sharpie Pen for leverage.After the chamber is wiped, an inspection ensues.  The good news is that there are no heating problems in the chamber proper.  All the problems are concentrated on the rim.   The dots in the chamber show the lower line where the briar begins to thin as it moves up to the rim.  The lines on the rim show the area where the rim has thinned the most.  The circle is damaged area on the rim plateau as well as inner deterioration.  After cleaning the rim we’ll know more about this area.Another view looking at the chamber. The dots trace the same ‘ledge’ as traced above.Continuing with the cleaning, using undiluted Murphy’s Oil Soap and cotton pads, the external surface is scrubbed. We’ll see if cleaning makes a dent on the black charring on the rim and the dome.The cotton pad does a good job scrubbing the bowl.  The soiling of the pad shows the grime on the stummel.Going to work on the rim, I use both a brass wire brush and the edge of a pocketknife to work on the charring.A sharp dental probe is also used to clear way anything lodged in the grooves circling the dome.Not shown is next taking the stummel to the sink where using shank brushes, anti-oil liquid dishwashing soap and hot water, the internals are worked on.  After the stummel is thoroughly rinsed, it returns to the table.Moving ahead with the internal cleaning, cotton buds, pipe cleaners are used with isopropyl 99% alcohol to clean the internals. A dental spoon is also used to scrape the mortise.  Care is given to avoid the cork lining in the mortise, but it is difficult to do with all the activity.  This one was really grungy.  I find that a lot of oil and tar has collected just beyond the cork liner.  The small dental spoon helps to scrape it out, but it is difficult to avoid the cork itself.The internals are still needing help and I transition the cleaning using the cotton ball and alcohol soak. I’m hopeful that the soak will continue to clean the internals.  Two cotton balls are used along with isopropyl 99% alcohol.One cotton ball is pulled and stretched to form a ‘wick’ that is guided down the mortise to the draft hole with the help of a stiff wire.The other cotton ball is stuffed into the chamber.  After the stummel is placed in the egg crate for stability and to angle it so that the rim and shank facing are roughly level, Isopropyl 99% is then placed in the chamber until it surfaces over the cotton.After a few minutes, the cotton absorbs the alcohol and is then the alcohol is topped off.  The soak will go through the night.The next morning, the soiling in the cotton shows the continued process of cleaning the internals through the night.To make sure all is clean, several cotton buds and pipe cleaners follow moistened with isopropyl 99% alcohol.  The buds start emerging lighter and things are good to go.  This soak not only does the finishing touches on the cleaning process, but also refreshes the briar for a new steward.After the cleaning is completed, petroleum jelly is applied with a cotton bud to the cork lining in the mortise.  The jelly help to moisten and condition the cork.With the cleaning completed, a survey of the stummel shows the lingering dark stain on the rim and the dome.  Since the charring lingers, the approach will be to top the stummel and sand the briar.Other than the black staining, the stummel is in very good condition.  I can find only one very small fill.Looking at the keel of the Bulldog, the grain is impressive.The rim has been cleaned and this picture serves to mark the progress. The rim repair has a couple of dynamics.  First, topping needs to address the black staining over the rim.  Hopefully, it will be erased in large part, but this will take an aggressive top sanding regimen.  The other dynamic is the out-of-round chamber due to the charring damage.  The topping and ‘round’ go in tandem.  I will first top the stummel to see how the round emerges.  Then, cutting a smart bevel will address the ‘round’ and hopefully even out the rim presentation.  That’s the plan.After placing 240 grade paper on the chopping board, the stummel is inverted and then rotated over the paper.After a few rotations, the contours of the damage are outlined. The black on the back of the rim (right) and on the front, show the deterioration on the rim.  These places are below the rim plane and not contacting the sandpaper.  A good bit of topping will be needed to erase these gaps.After a good bit of topping, I transition to creating a bevel to address the areas in the inner rim edge which are still showing unevenness and out-of-round.  The circles show the problem areas on the back and front of the rim.  Hopefully, cutting a smart bevel will even out these areas as the bevel cuts the other areas of the rim edge.  This hopefully will also create a much better ‘rounding’ of the chamber.Using a wooden sphere, 220 paper is pinched between the sphere and the inner rim edge and rotated.The bevel is aggressive, but I like the results of evening out the rim and improving the round.Back to the topping board, 600 grade paper is used next.After rotating several times on the 600 paper, the rim is much improved, but some darkened briar lingers.The topping is matched with sanding the bevel with 600 grade paper as well.   Overall, I’m very pleased with the rim’s restored condition.Before beginning the sanding of the stummel, the small fill on the shank is addressed.  Using a sharp dental probe, the old fill material is dug out.The pit is patched with regular CA glue and then sprinkled with briar dust to help blend the patch.A flat needle file removes the patch material down to flush with the briar surface and then it is sanded with 220 paper.The patch is completed with 600 grade paper.Addressing the entire stummel, sponge sanding is applied to clean the entire surface.  Four sponges are used starting from a coarse grade graduating to finer grades. The sanding/polishing of the stummel continues by applying micromesh pads.  The stummel is dry sanded starting with pads 1500 to 2400, then 3200 to 4000 and then pads 6000 to 12000.  Between each pad, the stummel is wiped with a damp cloth to give the pads more traction. I’ve come to a decision point.  The stummel grain has come out beautifully through the micromesh process.  However, I am not satisfied with the charring stains that persist on the rim.  To me, they are an eye-sore and distract me from enjoying the overall grain presentation.  So, to mask the charred dark spots, Fiebing’s Dark Leather Dye will be applied.First, the stummel is heated to expand the grain to help the grain to be more receptive to the dye pigment.Next, using a folded pipe cleaner, Fiebing’s Dark Brown Leather Dye is painted onto the stummel a section at a time and then flamed with a lit candle.  The ‘flaming’ ignites the alcohol in the aniline dye, and it immediately combusts leaving behind the dye pigment.  The stummel is painted and flamed a second time to be sure the dye has thoroughly covered the stummel.The newly dyed stummel is put aside overnight to allow the new dye to settle into the briar which helps to prevent the dye from leaching on the hands when the pipe is put into service.The next morning, the ‘unwrapping’ process is done with a felt buffing wheel mounted on the rotary tool with the speed set about 40%.  Tripoli compound is then applied to the encased flamed stummel.  The felt wheel coupled with the coarser Tripoli compound does the initial ‘plowing’ of the crust off the briar surface.Stopping mid-way, the picture shows the dyed grain beneath the crust emerging.  I’m liking what I see.Another round of applying Tripoli compound is done after mounting a softer, cotton cloth wheel to the rotary tool.  With the speed set a bit higher, at about 50% full power, Tripoli is applied.  I do this additional round of Tripoli to reach into the crook where the diamond shank and bowl merge.  The stiffer felt wheel is not able to remove the flamed crust here, but the cotton cloth wheel can.  An additional reason for the second round is that it continues to remove excess dye thus, sharpening the grains.After completing the application of Tripoli compound, the stummel is wiped with alcohol to help blend the new dye and to remove Tripoli dust that adheres to the briar surface.After rejoining the horn stem and stummel, another cotton cloth wheel is mounted with speed set at the normal 40% full power.  Blue Diamond compound is then applied to the entire pipe.In preparation for application of the wax, the pipe is buffed with a felt cloth to remove the Blue Diamond dust on the briar surface.The final step is to mount another cotton cloth wheel at the same speed and apply carnauba wax to the entire pipe.  After application of the wax, the entire pipe is hand buffed to remove excess wax and to raise the shine.I’m very pleased with the way this probable, French made Unbranded Horn Stem Bulldog turned out.  The char staining was daunting, but the application of dye did the trick.  This classic straight Bulldog has very active and eye-catching grain with lateral patterns along with Bird’s Eye.  The horn stem shows off the hues and lines which give it a homey, sit-back and relax yourself feel.  Mike commissioned this Bulldog and as the commissioner will have the first opportunity to claim him from The Pipe Steward Store benefitting the Daughters of Bulgaria – helping women and girls who have been trafficked and sexually exploited.  Thanks for joining me!

Please pray for the people of Ukraine.







6 thoughts on “Overcoming a Severely Charred Rim for an Unbranded Horn Stem Bulldog

      1. Mike Hulsey

        You’ll get a photo for sure my friend. It may be a couple of weeks before I’m able to do so as my entire household has gotten sick since Megs and I returned from Las Vegas. Unfortunately, yesterday I tested positive for not only the dreaded COVID (again), but also Influenza A as well. All of the kids have now caught it, and poor Megs is running ragged trying to care for us all. Super Mom to the rescue, and boy does she shine in that role. Anyway, you’ll get that photo, just need to power through this first. Say a prayer for us if you would.

        Liked by 1 person

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