Tuesday, 28 June 2011

July meeting (1).

After the weather we had yesterday, I should really get around to updating the photo at the top of the page...not a cloud in the sky and temperatures approaching 20 degrees C!

Apologies were received from Colin (having tickets to the finals at Wimbledon sounded like a reasonable excuse lol). John was able to stay long enough for a couple of bowls (Peterson's Special Reserve 2009 in a no name billiard and St Bruno in a bent Falcon). Brian returned with his Dr Plumb and some Kentucky Nougat (which has a lovely room note!). I finished off a bowl of St Bruno Ready Rubbed in a Sandblast Peterson 303 Standard, before filling a Smooth 302 Standard with some Peterson's University Flake.

To prevent dehydration, John and Brian enjoyed some Belhaven Best with their pipes, whilst I had some Guinness Extra Cold.

Despite the lovely weather, we were left in peace as most of the other customers, who were eating and drinking outside, were gathered at the tables at the front door. The exception was the pleasant surprise I had of meeting Harry and his wife who had come outside to have a smoke whilst Harry finished his coffee after their lunch...by sheer coincidence he's another pipe smoker and he produced a very handsome, gold-banded, billiard filled with University Flake*, we helped to put the world to rights before the others arrived.

*Which prompted me to remember later that I had a part tin of UF left in my pipe bag.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Coming to Edinburgh for the Festivals?

If you're coming to visit during the Edinburgh International Festival (12th August-4th September 2011), or the Fringe (5th-29th August 2011)...or any of the other festivals during the summer...feel free to get in touch, even if there's not a meeting scheduled (and I'm planning on adding extra dates) I'd be delighted to join a fellow pipe smoker for a bowl between shows!

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

We're also on Facebook

You can also find Edinburgh Pipe Club on Facebook...to avoid confusion, I'll be keeping most of the content here on Blogger with the highlights on Facebook.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Before and After.

Following on from my "how to clean a pipe" post, I thought I'd share a "before" and "after" photo of a recent acquisition...a Peterson's Smooth 303 Standard System.

The "after" shot (on the right) still needs a bit more work...at this size, I can see that it needs a bit more buffing to get the hazed Paragon Wax out of the Peterson stamp. There's still a bit of tar on the rim that isn't as obvious when looking at the pipe.
I'm rebuilding the cake so I've left if with a layer of ash after my last smoke.

(Click on the photo to see a larger image).

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Cleaning an "estate" pipe.

If, like me, you can't afford to buy as many new pipes as you'd like and have been looking at "estate" (a nicer adjective than second-hand lol) pipes on ebay, you might have been put off them by the idea of having to clean a pipe that someone else has been smoking...possibly for many years.

However, with a few simple supplies and some elbow grease, it's possible to transform something, that you wouldn't dream of putting near your mouth, into a handsome pipe that should give you many years of faithful service and comfort.

Please note: Whilst I've restored over 20 pipes, I have only been doing this for less than a year! I am NOT an expert but I have found that the following techniques work for me...if you have an expensive "artisan" pipe or a treasured heirloom, please use caution! If in doubt, either take it to your local pipe shop or practice on cheap ones first!

The two main symptoms of old age (in pipes anyway) are oxidation and "cake". The first is when the stem goes that horrible sulphurous yellowy-brown colour and is a direct result of Vulcanite stems being exposed to UV light and heat. The second is the build up of carbon (from the natural sugars in burning tobacco) inside the bowl. If a pipe has been reamed regularly, the cake shouldn't be too thick but I've seen some bowls that you couldn't even fit a tamper or your little finger in!

Oxidation Removal:

The first thing to do is to CAREFULLY separate the stem and bowl. If it feels completely stuck, I like to drip a little 99% alcohol around the join and leave it to sit for a while. Alternatively, put the pipe in a plastic bag and stick it in the freezer (the bag prevents a "domestic"!) for a while. Being different materials, the bowl and stem will will contract at different rates.

As well as oxidation, an old stem is likely to be full of old tar and ash. To help remove this, I like to soak my stems in alcohol first (I either lay them flat in a shallow, square Tupperware dish, or stand them in a tall, narrow glass jar). Please note, any logos or inserts on the stem may be damaged by this process, so if you want to keep them try a different technique! For scrubbing out the interior of the stem (and the mortise) you can use bristle pipe cleaners. However, as I clean a few pipes, I got myself a set of airbrush cleaning brushes. They're reusable and the variety of sizes makes them more versatile.

To remove the oxidation itself, I soak the stems overnight in a bleach solution. Any painted logos can be protected by covering them with a dab of Vaseline. It's best if the stems are completely submerged, so that the finish is even. I'll usually turn them occasionally as well. After the bleach soak, rinse the pipe well in running water (I do it at the bathroom sink). At this point, the stem should be a matte black with a rough surface texture.

You can use any fine abrasive at this point...500grit wet and dry sandpaper is good, especially if you follow it with finer grades. However, I've found that Bar Keepers Friend (applied with a soft, fine weave, cotton cloth) works really well! I found it in my local ASDA. Wet the stem, then dip a damp cloth in some of the BKF and rub gently. Particular care should be taken when using any abrasive, as it's possible to remove too much material if you're not careful and round the button. Do not use any on the tenon as it's very easy to end up with a loose fitting stem! Because the BKF is a very fine abrasive, you're removing very little material so it takes longer but the results are worth it (imho). To finish off and get that "as new" shine, apply some Vaseline or lip balm to the stem and polish with a soft cloth (an old, cotton, t shirt is ideal). I've heard of people using olive oil and I've used Renaissance Wax in the past but the Vaseline has less after-taste and seems to give a long-lasting shine that resists oxidation recurring.

There are alternative methods, using a buffer and jewellers' rouge, but this is the technique I've found that works without power tools. I've also heard good reports about the "Stem Restore Kit" from Walker Briar works.

Rejuvenating the bowl:

You might have heard of the "salt and alcohol" treatment, for cleaning a bowl...it's particularly good at exorcising stubborn ghosts from tobacco you've smoked in the past. The general consensus (on the forums where the majority are American) is to use Kosher salt and Everclear...the former contains no iodine (or other additives) and the latter is 70% abv Grain Alcohol (drinkable but approaching "moonshine"). A UK alternative can be sourced using coarse Saxa rock salt and high proof spirits (the selection is limited to a few cask strength whiskies and white rums). To my mind this seems a criminal waste of "good" alcohol, so for "deep cleaning" my bowls, I use Isopropyl Alcohol. At 99% this is not suitable for consumption, so some extra steps need to be taken. Additionally, as an alternative to salt, I've found that a cotton wool ball makes less mess and is easier to remove...plus there's no risk of you ending up with your pipe soaking in brine!

Start by making sure that your pipe is empty and clean...I use a scrunched up paper towel to remove any left-over ash from the bowl. If you have a bent pipe you can leave the stem attached, otherwise remove the stem and insert a pipe cleaner to block the draught hole. I've tried various methods to keep a pipe upright during the cleaning process but found the simplest solution is to use an old egg carton.

Fill the bowl with salt or a cotton wool ball (or two), almost up to the rim...don't overfill or you risk ruining the exterior stain. Then, slowly and carefully, fill the bowl with your alcohol. I use a syringe as it makes it easier to control the flow. You want the salt/cotton wool to be saturated but not running over. Stand the bowl upright, preferably with the shank slightly raised (this reduces the risk of any leaks/drips). Leave the pipe for at least 24 hours in a well ventilated place...I use the kitchen windowsill...to allow the alcohol to evaporate. If you are using salt, you'll see a hard brown crust forming on the top. With cotton wool, the colour will also change to a dark brown (shade varies depending on how dirty the pipe was to start with). 70% alcohol can take up to 48 hours to evaporate.

After the salt or cotton wool has dried, carefully remove it (and the pipe cleaner from the draught hole)...if you're using salt, there might still be a saturated clump at the bottom of the bowl so watch out for any drips. If I'm happy with the "exorcism" at this point, I'll leave the bowl standing empty for another 24 hours...otherwise, I'll repeat the process. At this point, when I'm using the Isopropyl Alcohol, I'll give the interior a wipe out with some kitchen paper dipped in 40% abv spirits (supermarket "own label" Whisky, Brandy, Rum, or Vodka are all suitable), before leaving it to air dry again. I'm not a toxicologist but I'm happy that the extra swab and extended drying period are sufficient to remove any potentially harmful leftovers from the Isopropyl. If you use salt, give the bowl a good shake and a wipe out, with a dry paper towel and some pipe cleaners, to make sure all the grains are removed.

If the cake is uneven, or too thick for your taste, you can ream the pipe at this stage. When I started, I used a "Buttner Reamer", now I use a "Senior Reamer" as I find it's easier to control and fits my "U" shaped bowls better. However, if you have pipes with a "V" shaped chamber, the Buttner is generally a better fit. It is also possible to ream a pipe using fine sandpaper wrapped around a suitable diameter dowel or pencil. Tip out any loose carbon from the bowl and give it another dry wipe.

Tidying a "charred" rim:

If the rim looks charred, try cleaning it first before resorting to more drastic measures...most of the surface blackening will usually just be tar.
Moisten a cloth with saliva (it sounds rank but your mum was right, when she used to clean your face with a hanky and spit, it's a very efficient solvent) and start to rub the rim. You should see a lot of the black deposits lifting. The more stubborn rough areas can be scraped with a fingernail. Repeat as required. You can shorten the process using a cloth, or cotton bud, dipped in alcohol (40% abv should be sufficient strength) but make sure it's not soaked, otherwise you risk damaging the pipe's finish if it drips.

I've only had a couple of estate pipes with very badly damaged rims; one was beyond salvation (with my limited tools) and the other had some deep cracks and burnt areas from misuse, this needed to be sanded down past the damaged area. For this I used wet and dry sandpaper and a sheet of glass (to give a level surface). I started with 500 Grit paper and moved up through the grades to 2500 grit. Use a circular motion to keep the rim level as you remove material. Check frequently that you're staying level and not going too far. This process will change the shape of the bowl so it might be a bit extreme unless you have a pipe that's a particular favourite you want to resurrect!


Before reassembling your pipe, you can give the bowl and stem a quick clean with more pipe cleaners to remove any stray residue that might remain...there are "pipe sweeteners" available but I prefer to just use one cleaner dipped in Whisky/Brandy, then a couple of dry ones. Your pipe is now ready to smoke!

My apologies for the lengthy post. I was going to post this as a separate "page" but thought keeping it as a post, that could be commented on, would be more useful.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Which varieties do you smoke?

To get some idea of what might be a more popular choice for future raffle blends, I've added a new poll (see sidebar). You can enter multiple answers, so feel free to tick every box if you have no single specific blend you smoke.

The results won't make the decision final....after all, I'm sure I'm not the only person who likes to try something different.

Paragon and Halcyon II

I've just tried a couple of new (to me) products for polishing my pipes and have to say that I'm very impressed. So I thought I'd share the results.

Until now, I've been using Renaissance Wax to polish my pipes and it's been doing a very good job, particularly by the time I've applied several coats. A little goes a long way (a 65ml tin has lasted over a year, even using it for more than pipes) but I needed some more so I thought I'd check out some alternatives before restocking.

Fine Pipes International have developed Paragon and Halcyon waxes as an alternative to Carnauba wax (that needs to be applied using a buffer). You can purchase directly from them, or as I did from their ebay store. I've got a couple of sandblast pipes as well as smooth, so I decided to try both...about £10 for the two jars and they arrived within a week!

The Halcyon II has quite a runny texture but don't let that put you off, just apply a very thin coat to your pipe's bowl (I used my fingertip) then let it dry a bit before polishing with a soft cloth. I was a bit impatient the first time and buffed too quickly...leaving the pipe to sit makes a huge difference to the resulting finish. In future, I'll do a few pipes at a time, giving the wax a chance to set. It's a bit fiddly getting in all the rustication on a sandblast so I'll try it with a soft brush next time. On a smooth pipe, it's very easy to apply and gives a lovely finish.

The Paragon wax is thicker and harder, similar to butter that's been in the fridge. However, using my fingertip again melted the wax as I was applying it giving a nice even coverage. Again, leave it to "set" before polishing with a soft, fine cloth (I used a yellow household duster that I keep in my pipe drawer). A little goes a very long way, so apply sparingly. Fine Pipes recommend the Paragon is used only on smooth pipes.

Both waxes give a lovely, rich, shine to the briar that feels very nice to the touch...I'm anticipating that additional coats will just make it even more lustrous.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Hints for the Pipe Smoker.

The following is taken from the insert that came with my latest pipe (a Peterson Ebony 303 Standard System), but it's equally applicable to other makes.

1/. For the first few smokes, only half fill your pipe, firmly but not too tightly. Light up evenly and smoke slowly, using your tamper to keep the tobacco firm inside the bowl.

2/. By gradually increasing the amount of tobacco, you will ensure an even build up of carbon lining, but do not allow this to become excessive as a surplus of carbon "cake" may crack the bowl. The ideal thickness is 1.5mm

3/. When cleaning the bowl or removing "cake", use only a blunt edged tool or pipe scraper. Never use a sharply pointed knife, as this could penetrate the bottom of the bowl.

4/. For heavy smokers, it is recommended that you keep three or four pipes in use alternately. This will ensure optimum smoking pleasure and longer life to your briar.

5/. Avoid smoking a new pipe in windy or outdoors conditions, as the increased draught may cause it to flame and consequently burn.

6/. Always tap your pipe out in your hand, or use a pipe tool. Heavy knocking of a pipe or rough usage should be avoided.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Road Trip?

I'd like to try another Saturday afternoon meeting in July, in addition to the regular meeting...I've pencilled in Saturday 2nd July.

To hopefully increase EPC's exposure and appeal, I'd like to hold the meeting somewhere else than The Cuddie Brae (not that there's anything wrong with where we are).

If you live anywhere in the Central Belt and know of a nice, pipe friendly venue locally (a reasonably sheltered beer garden would be ideal), please let me know.

June meeting.

Last night's meeting was graced by some of the nicest weather we've enjoyed our pipes in...a welcome relief after the recent wind and rain!

There were only three of us enjoying the evening sunshine. However, John and myself were very happy to welcome Brian as a new pipe smoker, joining us from the Dark Side (another cigarette smoker wanting to "save" some money, whilst still enjoying his nicotine....wait until he discovers PAD and TAD!).

I'm still breaking in a couple of recent acquisitions (two Peterson 303 Standards, a Sandblast and a Red finish), so I enjoyed them both filled with St Bruno Ready Rubbed. I've added an update to the recent post about the change in cut, I'm getting more used to the new style RR...it just needs to be dried a bit then rubbed out a bit more. I then joined John in enjoying a bowl of Peterson's Special Reserve 2009* in my new "Aromatic" pipe...a Pete 317. John firing up a no-name bent Billiard whilst Brian was trying Gawith Hoggarth and Co's. Curly Cut DeLuxe in a Dr Plumb 9mm filter pipe. John and I were happy to share our limited experience and give Brian a few pointers on packing and lighting...I'd have welcomed similar real life advice when I started, rather than relying on trial and error and some grainy YouTube videos.

*John was the winner of the postponed raffle (he'd already bought a strip of tickets at the last meeting)...we've raised £20 for the club's funds, which I will use to get a couple more tins for future raffles (two 50g tins of different varieties should be a good start).

Monday, 6 June 2011


I'm pleasantly surprised to be able to announce that this humble blog has now passed 2,000 views (since November 2010)!

Unfortunately, the numbers attending meetings aren't growing at quite the same rate lol.

From blogger's stats, I can see that we're getting a lot of readers from overseas so I'd like to extend an open invitation to any of them to attend any of the meetings if they're in Edinburgh on the second Thursday of the month...and if you're visit doesn't coincide, feel free to get in touch anyway, I'll gladly join you in a bowl at other times.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

We are not alone!

Eagle eyed readers might have noticed the new picture, in the side-bar to the right. This is a link to "Pipe Smoking Bloggers"...a growing community of pipe smokers who blog. I found it via another blog that I was already following, The Pipe Smoker.
There are already several interesting blogs in the ring and I'm looking forward to discovering more on future visits.