Refurbishing Pipes

If the stem has been oxidized over time (you'll notice an orangey rust) or the bowl gives off an unpleasant odor and unpleasant smoke, it's time for a good cleaning! I use a multi-step process; cleaning the inner, outer and between parts of the pipe.

1. Reaming out your pipe: Carefully ream out your pipe, removing all the old gunk that has been building up on the inner walls. Take extra care not to damage the inside of the bowl. Use a pipe reamer to clean the bowl. Pipe reamers can be purchased at most tobacco shops. NOTE: NEVER use a pocket knife to clean a pipe bowl.

2. Bleaching the stem: If needed, the stem can be put into a jar of bleach. Allow badly oxidized stems to sit in a bleach bath for an hour. Don't leave the stem in the bleach bath too long, the bleach will turm the stem white. This process will save on labor and time when restoring a stem. Clean out the inside of the stem with 150 proof alcohol and pipe cleaners (I like to use Vodka).

2a. Sanding the stem: If the stem is really bad or has any metal parts, such as a metal shaft protruding from the tenon or metallic nomenclature, it may be necessary to carefully sand the stem using a combination of fine grit wet/dry sand paper and water. Bleach will corrode the metal. Use 320, 400, 500, then a very fine 600 paper. Remember always sand in one direction, along the LENGTH of the stem. The stem will end up looking worse than before you started, but after step 3, you'll see a big difference!

2b. Removing oxidation from the stem: Sanding and bleaching can involve a lot of work and the bleach even can be dangerous to use. Another method for removing oxidation from a vulcanite stem that works very well is using "polishing" or "rubbing" compound, such as those by the brand name Turtle Wax or Simoniz. Apply it to the stem in the same way you'd apply it to a car. Use a damp cloth and polish. DO NOT use wax. This will do nothing to remove the oxidation. Rubbing compound is gritter and will cut the oxidation faster. Use caution around logos.

3. Polishing the stem: I use of two different buffing compounds that will make the stem look new. The first buffing wheel is devoted to orange tripoli, a buffing compound that works well to scrub off any residue from the stem. Careful precision is required in order not to remove the valuable nomenclature, or buff down the mouthpiece. The tripoli wheel is used until a moderate shine is achieved. Next, carnauba wax is carefully added to seperate wheel and polished onto the stem. The stem is on to the bowl.

4. Salt-treatment (non-iodized salt): The salt treatment is a process of plugging the shank with a small piece of twisted cloth or paper towel, filling the bowl with non-iodized salt, and saturating the salt with 150 proof alcohol. If you can't find a 150 proof alcohol, use any high alcohol "spirit" that is available, such as Gin, Vodka or Jack Daniel's. Leave the salt treatment in for 4 to 5 hours before scraping out the bowl and cleaning it thoroughly with pipe cleaners. This process will remove all the tar and gunk that has built up, leaving the pipe clean and as good as new. Do Not leave the salt treatment in the pipe any longer than a few hours. If the salt is left beyond this amount of time, it may damage the briar or crack the shank. If necessary, you can repeat the salt treatment several times for those really dirty pipes.

5. Polishing the bowl: Polishing the bowl is a simple procedure, but caution is required. Careful precision is required in order not to remove any nomenclature. First carefully buff the bowl with a buffing wheel charged with orange tripoli (a buffing compound). When the bowl begins to show a nice shine, switch to carnauba wax. I have two different buffing wheels, one for tripoli and one for carnauba.

Make sure the buffing wheel being used is running between 1600 and 2700 rpm's, when using a 6" buffing wheel. Motor speed is VERY important, if it's too fast it will melt the wax. If it's too slow, buffing pressure will slow the wheel too mcuh and not buff properly. Don't use the standard work bench "grinder" motors. They run at 3400 rpm's and could send your pipe or stem across the room.

If you feel the least bit uncomfortable in doing any of these procedures on your pipes and stems, it might be best if you took them to a qualified pipe maker for cleaning. Most quality tobacco shops offer repair and cleaning services for pipes and stems. In many cases they don't perform this work themselves, rather they contract out these services with pipe makers like Clarence Mickels or Mark Tinsky.

If pipe repair is what you need, check out this page. It offers the names of three quality pipe and stem repair shops. I also outline an easy way to tighten loose stems.

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