Blog by Steve Laug
I was sitting this morning with a hot cup of Nepali coffee that I was gifted on a recent journey to Kathmandu and reflecting on the state of our refurbishing hobby. I remember when I started buying my first estate pipes and stumbling through the process of cleaning them up. I joined several online forums and sent incessant emails to pipe carvers for help with my questions. There just was not a single resource out there to help the pipeman who wanted to purchase and clean up estate pipes themselves. On top of that there were few repairmen out there who I knew of. I talked with Dave Wolff at Walker Briar Works, Ronni Bikisan at Night Owl Pipeworks, Tim West at Lowes Pipemaking supplies and a few scattered others for help when I ran into something I did not know how to tackle. I called pipe makers like John Calich, Steve Downie, Mark Tinsky and bugged Rad Davis at the few pipe shows I went to as well. I spoke with online estate pipe sellers like Tom Myron to pick their brains on what to do with the pipes in my hands. Categorically, these gentlemen were always willing to help me in any way they could. There was no unwillingness to share what they had learned of their craft with me.
Throughout the years most of what I have learned I learned like most everything else in my life worth learning – the hard way through mistakes and much practice. Trial and error, through more trial and error led eventually to most of the methods I have learned today. I have never been afraid to ask questions from those who are far better at things than I am and to learn from them. I generally have to make it my own just because I don’t have access to a lot of tools or a good shop. I work on a worktable/desktop that serves as a multipurpose piece of furniture for me. I have added a few tools over the years – buffers, Dremels and modified many others from my tool box to make up my work kit. But the point is that through the majority of those years there was nowhere to go to learn the craft. It was a matter of hunting down those willing to teach and working to know what to ask them when I got a hold of them.
Even three years ago when I started rebornpipes blog there was not a lot of information available. Most of the online forums had a section dedicated to restoration/refurbishing/repair where a lot of show and tell happened and some were gutsy enough to give constructive critiques of people’s work. I have always learned from that so I appreciate good constructive observations bent on helping me do it better. A criticism for the sake of criticism from someone not doing the work is a useless expulsion of noise and air in my opinion. I prefer the way I am doing it wrong to the way they are not doing it at all. Thank you very much.
However in the last three years there has been significant change. There is a growing community on You Tube that provides ongoing videos on all the aspects of pipe refurbishing and repair. These are visual demonstrations of the work of refurbishing with descriptive monologue as the work is done. Many are excellent resources and some are even humourous and a delight to watch. I never laughed as hard as I have at some of these You Tube videos. They are doing a great service to the community. There are also several blogs on most of the pipe repair sites such as Rebornbriar and Briarville giving simple how to methodologies for cleaning up your own estate pipe. Additionally new bloggers are popping up across the web with how to photos and steps in how to repair and refurbish your own pipe. There is no end to material available to a person who wants to repair a stem, restem a pipe, refinish or just spruce up one of their own.
Along with this is a bit of a down side – the cost of estate pipes has gone up considerably. Even the most worn out broken down low end pipe often costs more than a new pipe on eBay. Care must be exercised when looking at estate pipes there. One of the plagues that to me are increasing is the new descriptor that I am seeing more often there is “fully restored and ready to smoke” on pipes that look merely polished. I have bought a few of these over the last few years and found that they are actually more work than the old foul smelling awful looking pipes I used to pick up for very cheap prices. Along with that is the fact the “refurbisher” will often do irreparable damage to the stamping on the shank. They damage the fit of the stem – rounding the edges at the shank stem union. They “paint” the pipe with a shiny coat of varnish and in the worst case urethane to give it a shiny new look. All of these make my work and that of any other refurbisher who truly loves the craft difficult indeed.
The craft has become more accessible through the windows of the internet but with it have come some drawbacks that must be understood and observed if you are to continue to learn and develop a skilled craft. But then again you have found your way here and probably are reading other blogs and checking out You Tube videos on our craft so you do not need to be warned. Help carry the commitment to doing the work well to others who want to learn and give freely of what you have learned from others. Pass on the craft to all who ask – never hesitate to help where you can and teach others what you know. In doing this we will see the craft we love passed on to the next generation of pipemen who are already entering the community.
Truly that is my commitment with rebornpipes. That is really the only reason we are here. Thanks for being a part of this growing community of refurbishers. If you have learned something here please submit a write up of your work to share with others. If you have added a trick or a tool that came through trial and error write it up and share it with the community. The blog is yours and will only be as good as the work that we each contribute. Thank you.