Looking After my Friends
Tomorrow is the day I look forward to every year. It is the Danish National Championship day, in slow pipe smoking. I will not win. I have no chance of winning. I never do. But I will go there and be part of the madness. That is all part of the fun. I will see old friends, make a new one perhaps, and will get to see a heap of the carvers best offerings. Maybe, I will come home with a new pipe. I don’t know until I’ve seen them.
One thing I know will happen, is that someone, sooner or later, will ask me about my pipes and how much I smoke them. This is because all my pipes, even the old ones, look like new. I lavish care on my pipes. They were expensive, to a greater or lesser degree, they give me pleasure, they are my friends. They have been with me through rough times as well as good. They have never let me down. I feel I owe them the same loyalty.
Not only that, someone, at some point in time, worked hard to match a piece of wood to a piece of vulcanite or acrylic rod, to give them shape and definition, to polish them to a high shine and were then kind enough to put them up for sale. After all that, how could one not appreciate the effort and not, at least attempt, to preserve the item at hand? Even my less expensive pipes get looked after.
To prove my point, here is an old Stanwell “Royal Prince”, model no. 50. It is as old as any of my pipes. I picked it up at an auction and paid very little for it. The stem was brown with oxidisation, the bowl was full of cake and it was dirty beyond belief. I bought it because I felt sorry for it. It deserved more. With the oval shank and stem, it is the classic billiard type that all men should own at least one of.
I washed it. Literally. With liquid soap to remove the gunk on the outside of the bowl. I soaked the stem in bleach overnight to remove the oxidisation. I swabbed the insides of the airways out with alcohol on pipe cleaners. It took ages.
I took my trusty penknife to the inside of the chamber, gently scraping out the cake that had built up over who knows how long, until I had a carbon layer a hair’s breadth left.
The stem gets rough from being soaked in bleach. It turns beautifully black again but needs sanding down to be smooth afterwards. I used some old worn out 1000 grade sand paper to gently remove the roughness.
Finally, I had the pipe in good condition again. No pits, no fills, no scratches or dents. One very tiny tooth mark remains on the top of the stem but it is so small that it is invisible unless one has a magnifying glass. No charring on the rim.
The fact that I have a buffing machine is a great help. Using a wax loaded with jewellers rouge I brought the stem back to a shining black tube. I changed wheels and used a soft white wax to polish the entire pipe and then finally, I gave it a buff with carnauba wax. This can be done by hand using a special additive known as “elbow grease” but it is a time consuming job. The results were stunning in comparison to what I had bought. Friends did not believe it was the same pipe. All that was four years ago and the pipe is still looking good today.
One recurring problem with these older pipes is that the vulcanite stems continue to oxidise. This is due to the sulphur content in the material itself. To combat this, one should keep vulcanite stems out of direct sunlight. I find that if I coat my vulcanite stems with a thin layer of beeswax, they are more resistant to oxidisation. Just remember to wipe the stem before smoking the pipe and give a little wax afterwards when cleaning the pipe before returning it to the rack.
A little care goes a long way and if one does it regularly, one’s pipes will be there for life.
My wife jokingly accuses me of caring more for my pipes than I do for her. I tell her that there is only one of her. I have 90 odd pipes. Do the math!