Surprised by a French Made ‘Hetre’ Panel – Made of Beech Wood

First of all, I’m guessing that this interesting hexagonal Panel shape is French made.  I acquired it from a seller in Paris in August of 2018.  It came to me in what I have called the French Lot of 50, an acquisition that has produced several treasures for new stewards.  Most of the French Lot of 50 have found homes with new stewards, but the Hetre is like the grunt puppy of the litter or the ugly duckling – he just hasn’t gotten a lot of attention until now.  This is pipeman Mark’s fourth commission, and I was curious about what motivated him to commission this pipe.  His response was that he wanted a smaller bowl because most of his pipes had large bowls.  This would allow him the ability to experiment with different tobaccos.

Here are pictures of the ‘French’ made Hetre that got Mark’s attention. The only marking on the pipe is a stamping on the left side of the shank.  HETRE is stamped inside a quadrilateral polygon.To see if I can uncover some information about this pipe, searches with the key word ‘Hetre’ garnered no responses from Pipedia or Pipephil.eu – my usual information waterholes.  PipesMagazine.com Forums also proved to be no help as well as, ‘Who Made That Pipe?’ by Wilczak and Colwell.  All these info streams were running dry.  On a hunch, based upon my initial hunch that the pipe was of French origins, I entered ‘Hetre’ into Google Translate’s French to English form.  I think I hit something close to pay dirt.

The results gave two options, but the usage was heavily weighted in one direction: ‘hêtre’ translates as ‘beech’ as in the wood, or ‘mast’.  The results for ‘mast’ were deemed less frequent according to the Google Translate statistics.  It would seem, therefore, that the Hetre stamped on the pipe more likely is referring to the wood from which this pipe was fashioned, and this finding lends more credence to a French COM as I suspected.

With this knowledge, I take another look at the stummel which has been covered by a red dye – not just covered but soaked in a red dye which I can see covering the internals of the mortise as well.  Beech wood is a light wood with more of a sparse grain pattern.  Looking closely now, with the knowledge that this could be beech wood, it seems that it probably is.  At this point, I will leave the question until after cleaning the pipe and soaking the stummel in acetone to remove the red dye as much as possible to get down to the wood.Another interesting question comes to mind when examining the stem.  The stem type is what is called an ‘orific’ button.  This is based on the button’s airway being round and not today’s more common slot style.  This style of button gives me the sense that I’m dealing with an older pipe.  Steve posted a very helpful essay some years ago on the subject of stems (https://rebornpipes.com/2012/11/09/what-about-stembit-shapes/):

The orific or circle is exactly as it sounds. It is generally used on older pipe stems – both meerschaum and briar. I have found it on pipes from the 1800’s and early 1900’s.

In my research over the years on other pipes, I’ve come to understand that the ‘O’ airway gradually was replaced by today’s slotted buttons during the 1920s.  Based upon this, it is possible that this ugly duckling Hetre has an earlier 1900s dating.More questions than answers at this point, but with a better understanding of the Hetre name, the restoration begins with the stem.  Using pipe cleaners moistened with isopropyl 99% alcohol, the airway is cleaned.  It takes only a few pipe cleaners to do the job.The oxidation in the vulcanite stem is negligible, but to do a thorough job, it will be soaked in Mark Hoover’s ‘Before & After’ Extra Strength Deoxidizer (www.Lbepen.com) through the night.After the time has elapsed, the stem is fished out of the ‘Before & After’ soak and allowed a few minutes to drain.  The fluid is initially wiped off with paper towel then the surface is rubbed briskly with a cotton cloth to wipe off the raised oxidation.  The negligible oxidation seems to have been addressed by Mark’s Deoxidizer very nicely.The airway is cleaned of the fluid with a few pipe cleaners moistened with isopropyl 99%.To condition the stem, Paraffin Oil is applied and worked into the vulcanite.  The stem is then set aside to allow it to absorb the oil.Turning now to the Paneled stummel, the chamber has light cake build up and this will be cleaned to have fresh beech (?) wood in the chamber.Only the smallest of the Pipnet Reaming Kit’s blade heads is used.  This is followed by scraping the chamber with the Savinelli Fitsall Tool.  Finally, the chamber is sanded with 220 grade paper wrapped around a Sharpie Pen.After the chamber was wiped, a quick inspection shows no heating problems.Next, the stummel external surface is cleaned using undiluted Murphy’s Oil Soap.  I’m interested to see how much of the red dye comes off during the scrubbing.Starting first by scrubbing with a cotton pad, the leeching is evident on the white pad and on my hand.

The dark charring on the rim is scrubbed with a brass brush which is not as invasive as sandpaper but adds some muscle to the cleaning.The stummel is then taken to the sink where the internal mortise and draught way are addressed using hot water and anti-oil liquid dishwashing soap and shank brushes.  After scrubbing, the stummel is thoroughly rinsed and brought back to the worktable.Continuing with the cleaning of the internals, I discover that the internals have no tar and oil buildup after the sink cleaning.  What IS evident is the dye coming off on the cotton bud and pipe cleaner.At this point I use a cotton pad wet with alcohol to see how prolifically the dye would come off.  The dye came off on the pad after wiping with some effort as the picture shows.Since the dye is on the inside as well, not too much time is given to scrubbing the external surface.  Why?  As I look at the stummel and the way the dye has been absorbed into the wood, assuming that it is beech wood, I’m not sure if the dye will be fully purged.The decision to soak the stummel in acetone is not difficult to make.  I’ve used acetone to ‘cleanse’ briar stummels of dye, I’m hopeful that beech wood will cooperate as well.  The stummel is placed in a glass of acetone and since it is buoyant, a dental probe helps to keep the stummel submerged.  The stummel will soak for several hours – through the night and we’ll see what happens.After soaking for some time, I became concerned that my jar of ‘seasoned’ acetone was perhaps coloring the stummel instead of purging.  I was out of acetone so after heading to the store for more, I started the soak again with clear acetone.  After soaking for several hours in the new acetone, the picture shows the red dye leeching into the liquid.After taking the stummel out of the soak, some of the beech wood is lighter but overall, there is a lot of blotching as the picture shows.To remove the dye blotches to start as close as possible to a clean slate, 220 paper is used to sand the stummel.The sanding with 220 excluded the hexagonal panels, rim and the ‘Hetre’ nomenclature.  To sand the panels and rim, 240 paper is placed on the chopping board to ‘top’ the panels and rim.  This not only will help remove the surface dye further, but it will also refresh the geometric lines of the Panel.Starting first with the panels, instead of rotating them on the paper in a circular motion, the panels are ‘topped’ in a straight line by evenly pushing the stummel across the paper. The reason for this is that the surface area of the panels is too small for me to keep the panel surface flat on the paper.  The stummel waddled when I attempted a circular rotation – not good.  To avoid the risk of rounding the panel edges the straight approach is adopted and this did the job.  The following pictures show the concept. After the panels are ‘topped’, the rim is also topped on the board with 240 grade paper.  The results look good.Next, the 240 paper is exchanged for 600 grade paper on the board and the process is repeated for the rim and the panels.  The results look good.  The lines have been reestablished.  There remain scratches that need addressing.What I described as scratches in the pictures above, has turned out not to be scratches at all.  In the picture below (and above) there are lateral grain patterns moving uniformly across the wood – from panel to panel to panel.  Then, there are also vertical lines which I mistakenly identified as scratches.  However, when I focused sanding on the panel to remove the vertical lines, they did not disappear – beach wood??  Grain crisscrossing?Before sanding further, a simple search seeking information on the characteristics of beech wood grain turned up some interesting facts.  I found this info from a website, ‘Start Woodworking Now’:

Known for its light tones and its excellent performance against all types of finishes, beech is a hard, heavy and leafy wood. Its hardness is such that it was formerly used in mining to make rails before cast iron was introduced. In the 18th and 19th centuries it was also highly appreciated in the field of cabinetmaking for the manufacture of furniture, floors, doors or even bowls.

The beech is a European species and grows in the form of stable forest stands. This tree can reach 40 meters in height and is a long-lived species, since it can live up to 300 years. In addition, it is a highly appreciated species for forestry, as it can grow in very diverse environments. 

Beech, known by the scientific name Fagus Sylvatica, the wood of this deciduous tree is semi-hard, and its color is pale cream, although it can vary from whitish to brown. Over time, natural beech wood acquires a certain reddish hue, although it still retains its whitish essence.

From these paragraphs about the European species (which the article says is superior to the Americas species) beech is a hard and durable wood broadly used for many kinds of applications.  What I also found interesting is that the natural patina of beech is a very light wood and with age takes on a ‘reddish hue.’

The other question regarding beech is the grain patterns which seem to crisscross.  I found another site called ‘Research Gate’ (See: LINK) that described this seeming anomaly in scientific terms that had to do with water content in the wood and differing kinds of grain found in beech wood.  The following pictures were included in this article which show the different characteristics of the grain and a description in the text following the pictures. The takeaway from this is that the beech wood stummel on the worktable has grains that go in different directions seemingly crisscrossing each other. If one looks closely, especially in the second close up picture, this grain pattern is more visible. Polished upper surface of a beech wood sample with Z-oriented ripples; (A) sinusoidal outline of the sample edge marks the presence of circumferentially neighboring crests (red dot) and throughs (blue dot). The pattern of the annual rings shows the areas of ring widening and narrowing shifting counterclockwise in time; this means that the ripple pattern migrated downward; (B) magnified view of the ring pattern show sequences of narrower (blue) and wider (red) rings along radial cracks marking the course of wood rays; red and blue dots show how the same annual ring wide in one location becomes narrow in the neighboring area. Scale bars: 10 mm.

I continue the sanding of the stummel understanding that the ‘scratches’ are actually grain.  Using sanding sponges, sanding starts with a coarser grade, then medium and finally a fine grade.  I’m curious how this grain will respond to the sanding. Continuing the sanding/polishing, micromesh pads are used.  Starting sanding first with pads 1500 to 2400, then 3200 to 4000 and 6000 to 12000.  After each pad, the stummel is wiped with a moistened cotton cloth to clear the dust and to give each pad more traction. The results are interesting.  The wood generally bends toward a reddish hue through the process.  There are also white blotches which stand out very distinctly and are not minimized through the sanding.  They seem to be aberrations in the grain which change according to how light is reflected on them….  Another interesting thing that I can’t explain is that on the first and third picture above, the view is looking on the two side panels. In both of these, there is a red streak across the panel – like dye streaks.  I sanded these panels, and the red streaks would not go away.  There is little doubt that an application of dye is the only way to try to give the presentation of this beech wood stummel any sense of continuity.  In my reading about beech wood, I discovered that the light wood resists dye, but it can be dyed with a bit of ‘elbow grease’.  I’ve been giving it some thought and since the natural bent of the wood is toward a reddish hue, I won’t fight this.  As it is now, the color of the wood and/or remnants of dye are several shades of red which is hard to label as one color.  If I were pressed to say, it reminds me of cedar wood.  My approach will be to apply a dye mixture that is red and black.  Black tends to deepen the red color making it more like the color of a red velvet cake – which is not a bad thing 😊.Proceeding now to apply dye to the Hetre Panel, the stummel is warmed with a hot gun to help expand the grain to help it be more receptive to the dye – this is my practice with briar, and I’ll use the same procedure with beech.Aiming for the ‘red velvet cake’ red, a small amount of red dye is placed in the shot glass.  Flying solely by the seat of my pants, I use a large eye dropper to place 3 drops of Fiebing’s Black Leather Dye into the red and mix.  Next, using a folded pipe cleaner, the dye mixture is painted onto the stummel.  I only do a ‘dye wash’ because I have learned that when I mix an aniline dye (alcohol based) with the inert red tint, there’s not enough alcohol to combust using the flaming method.  To make sure the application of dye mixture is thorough, it is applied a second time to the stummel.The dyed stummel is then set aside to rest for several hours to allow the dye to settle in.  Just eyeballing it at this point, it looks like the hue is pretty close to the velvet cake red I was aiming for.While the stummel rests, the orific stem is back on the worktable.  Fresh pictures are taken of the bit with minimal tooth chatter.  To reduce or erase the chatter, the heating method is used.  Using a Bic lighter, the flame paints the bit causing the vulcanite to heat.  When the rubber compound heats, it expands to reclaim its original position to some degree.  The goal is to reduce the chatter signature so that only sanding is needed.  The heating method works well this time as the before and after pictures show.  First upper bit:Next the lower bit:To sand out the remnants of chatter, 220 sanding paper is used.After the bit is addressed, sanding with 220 sanding paper is expanded to the entire stem to address scratches from normal wear. A sanding guard is also used to guard against shouldering the stem facing.Next, the stem is taken to the sink where it is wet sanded using 600 grade paper.  Following this, 0000 grade steel wool is applied as well.The sanding process came to a halt when after the fine sanding of the steel wool I noticed specks in the stem surface.  I didn’t notice these earlier, but in the following picture, 3 blemishes can be seen. The upper and lower are on the surface, but the middle blemish is beneath the surface.I found two other blemishes on the side of the stem toward the button.  There were other blemishes as well, but they were not as ‘eye catching’ as these.  Sanding would not erase these specks.  I have never seen something like this before – colored specks in the rubber compound.I suppose I could have simply dismissed these blemishes and moved on, but this is where my OCD 😊 tendencies kick in.  I decide to address only the 4 most noticeable specks by picking out the coloration with a sharp dental probe and then fill the resulting holes with Black CA glue.The first two are dug out.Next, the two closer to the button are also excavated.  The blemish on the edge of the stem was trickier to work on since the stem was rounded and more difficult to keep the dental probe on target – not slipping off.Black Medium-Thick CA glue is spot dropped next on each hole. This is immediately followed by spraying the patches with an accelerator to quicken the curing process.To remove the patch mounds, a flat needle file is used to file the patch flush with the surface.Filing is followed by sanding with 220 grade paper.Following the 220 grade paper, the stem is again taken to the sink and wet sanded with 600 grade paper. This is followed by applying 0000 grade steel wool.Next, micromesh pads are used to sand/polish the stem further starting by wet sanding with pads 1500 to 2400. This is followed by dry sanding with pads 3200 to 4000 and 6000 to 12000.  After each set of 3 pads, Obsidian Oil is applied to the stem to further condition the vulcanite and to guard against oxidation. The newly dyed stummel has rested for several hours.  The next step is to remove excess dye by wiping the stummel with a cotton pad moistened with isopropyl 99% alcohol.  This also serves to blend the new dye.Next, after mounting a cotton cloth buffing wheel to the rotary tool, Blue Diamond compound is used to continue removing excess dye and to smooth the beech wood stummel with the fine abrasive.One of the issues of a newly dyed stummel is dye leeching on the hands when the pipe is first put into service.  To help to prevent this, the stummel is heated using the hot air gun to emulate the inaugural event.After the stummel is hot, a cotton cloth is used to wipe the stummel removing the leeching dye.Time to reunite the stem and stummel.  As often is the case after a stummel has been thoroughly cleaned, the wood in the mortise can expand a bit making the tenon fit too tight.  With beech wood, this seems also to be the case. The golden rule at this point is not to force the tenon which will undoubtedly crack the shank.  This shank is very thin from the get-go, it probably wouldn’t take much effort to do the damage.Instead of forcing the tenon to seat in the mortise, 220 grade paper is used to sand down the tenon a bit.  The paper is wrapped around the tenon and while pinching the paper, the stem is rotated.  This is done several times.What is also done is rolling a piece of 220 paper in a tube small enough to be inserted in the mortise.  When inserted, after letting go of the tube, it unwinds until it is against the mortise wall.  The paper tube is then rotated to help clear away loose debris and to smooth the mortise.The tenon is finally seated snuggly but not too tight.  Moving on.With the stem and beech stummel now reunited, Blue Diamond compound is applied to the stem with the rotary tool mounted with a cotton cloth buffing wheel.  The speed is set at about 40% full power.To clear away the compound dust in preparation for applying wax, the pipe is buffed with a felt cloth.One more step before applying wax.  Mark Hoover’s ‘Before & After’ Fine Polish and Extra Fine Polish help to condition the stem and make it look good.Starting first with the Fine Polish, some is placed on my fingers and then worked into the vulcanite stem.  After massaging the polish in thoroughly, the polish is wiped off with a paper towel.  The same process is repeated using the Extra Fine Polish.  The polishes to a great job.After again reuniting the stem and stummel, another cotton cloth wheel is mounted onto the rotary tool and with the speed remaining the same, carnauba wax is applied to the beech stummel and stem.  I’m interested to see how well the beech wood receives the wax.  After the wax is applied, the pipe is given a rigorous hand buffing with a microfiber cloth to remove excess wax and to raise the shine.This French made Hetre was a new endeavor for me.  At the beginning, I described the pipe as a runt of the litter or an ugly duckling.  I discovered that the beech wood has its own characteristics and these are much different from the briar wood usually on the worktable.  The grain patterns are unique and the interesting thing that can be seen in the second picture below, of the right-side panel, are the white ‘glow’ spots I have resolved are a beech grain thing.  No sanding or dye will make them blend in – they may be something like bird’s eye grain in briar. The ‘red velvet cake’ finish came out nicely.  It’s a unique beech wood Panel with an orific stem which should provide a nice break in the day for a new steward.  This is Mark’s fourth commission, and he will have the first opportunity to claim the Hetre Panel from the Pipe Store benefiting the Daughters of Bulgaria – helping women and girls who have been trafficked and sexually exploited.  Thanks for joining me!

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