On Fri, 16 Sep 2022 07:23:52 +0000, Michael Phillips wrote:
> ...Rather than buy new pipes I'm wondering if the oldsters can be
> revived. I have tried the salt and alcohol method without success. Any
First, I will provide an old set of instructions I wrote up decades
ago for cleaning estate pipes. Then, in another post, I will
provide my personal preferences. Your's will probably be (and remain)
much less rigorous than mine. But, to the first:
Estate pipes are a relatively inexpensive way to obtain good wood. Those
taking up pipe smoking most likely should buy their first few good pipes
new, as pitfalls exist among estate pipes that could easily sour one on
the art of pipe smoking. And those that have been accumulating good pipes
for years have likely developed preferences that make finding suitable pipes
on the estate market difficult. But between these two times in one's life
as a pipe smoker, there is a time when the need for numbers of good pipes
is likely to be greater than one's ability to pay for them at pipe shop
prices, or even at prices charged by those that buy, clean, sanitize, and
resell estate pipes.
Making the rounds of actual estate sales, flea markets, and antique shops may
allow acquisition of good pipes at very low cost. Dunhills, Lorenzos, GBDs,
Petersons, Savinellis, and other good pipes costing $2.00 to $10.00 are
neither common nor unknown, and one good haul of a dozen to three dozen pipes
for a total cost of under $100.00 can form the core of a good pipe collection.
These good pipes, however, are usually "as was" when their former owner no
longer needed them, and old pipe smokers may be notable for use of their
pipes but they generally are not noted for cleaning them. Strong measures
are often needed.
The instructions following are those I follow when cleaning and sanitizing
briars. Some may consider my approach unnecessarily thorough. After all,
the heat of burning tobacco will sanitize the bowl, the mouthpiece can be
cleaned with alcohol, and the toxic effects of nicotine and other components
in tobacco will likely discourage growth of bacteria in the shank. I
disagree. I consider hygiene very important, and do not consider alcohol
alone sufficient as a cleanser. (Note that in restaurants, tableware and
plates must be rinsed at 170 degrees Fahrenheit to kill tuberculosis bacteria,
and one usually does not heat a shank or mouthpiece to that temperature.)
I also much prefer a cleaning method that minimizes the taste of tobacco
remnant in the pipe, which usually does not match my personal preferences.
You will need alcohol to dissolve residues and leach out tobacco juices
that have soaked into the wood of the bowl and shank. I prefer grain alcohol,
but 151-proof rum, any distilled spirits, or isopropyl alcohol or ethanol
from the drug store will all work fine. Likewise "sterilizing solution"
(grain alcohol sold via medical supplies channels) and "technical alcohol"
(sold via industrial supply channels). Before using isopropyl or other
alcohols not expressly intended for drinking, smell it. If you would not
like that taste in your pipe, you need to find one with a different
denaturant, that has a pleasing or at least a neutral aroma.
You will need chlorine laundry bleach to soak and sanitize the mouthpiece.
Clorox works fine, as do other laundry bleaches.
You will need pipe cleaners, of course. Those that have bristly plastic
fibers in them help clean out heavy residues of crud, and you may need both
fat ("fluffy") and skinny regular pipe cleaners. Pipe shops usually have
little brushes, that look like tiny bottle brushes, that can be used to
scrub the interior of shank and mouthpiece.
And you will need salt. Regular table salt is fine. It does not need to
be iodized, but it is ok if it is.
You will need paper towels to wipe up alcohol spilled. The alcohol will
remove wax from the pipe, and dissolve or leach out stain and pigments applied
to give the pipe a pleasing color and appearance, so use care. I know I
will always spill some alcohol on a pipe being throughly cleaned, so the first
thing I do is wipe the pipe down with a paper towel wet with alcohol. This
lightens the color evenly, and after the cleaning and sanitizing is finished
I use a Dunhill Pipe Care Cloth to wax and restore the finish to something
I find acceptable in appearance.
You may need tools to ream the bowl. The old Kleen Ream adjustable tool
does a good job on the walls, but does not do too well with carbon in the
bottom of the bowl. It is no longer made, but there is a modern version with
a different name (El Senior). I have a set of four Pip Net reamers made
by a Swiss company that I like, because they do a good job on the bottom of
the bowl, but some pipes are too large or two small for them. Coarse
sandpaper, wrapped round a wooden dowel or even a finger, can be used for
reducing the thickness of the carbon cake in lieu of a tool, and some
prefer it despite it being a bit more work to use. It is also cheap. The
adjustable reamer, or a set of reamers, will usually cost $30 to $40 new,
though you may be able to get one used for a fraction of that price.
Finally, you may want to use buffing and polishing compounds on the
mouthpiece, or take the cleaned pipe in to a pipe shop and have them do
the buffing and polishing. The cost is usually small. As mentioned, I
use a Dunhill Pipe Care Cloth to wax a cleaned pipe, but one can also get
a can of Briar Wipe from a pipe shop and use it to make your own "pipe
1. Sanitizing the Bowl
The bowl will be sanitized wherever heated thoroughly by combustion of
tobacco. If the previous owner did not smoke to the bottom of the bowl, you
will need to deal with this area in the manner described for the shank,
below. Otherwise, simply ream the carbon cake in the bowl to the thickness
of a dime or less (1 mm or less).
2. Sanitizing the Mouthpiece
Remove the mouthpiece from the pipe. If stuck, try putting it in the
refrigerator or a freezer for 15 to 20 minutes and then turning it to free
up and remove it. If needed, run a pipe cleaner sopping wet with alcohol
down the stem and let the alcohol dissolve crud and loosen things up.
Remove any metal gadgets or filters. If you expect to sell the pipe later,
clean them and put them in storage. Otherwise, discard them. If stuck,
you may need to soak the mouthpiece in alcohol to dissolve the crud and
Use pipe cleaners wet with alcohol to scrub the interior and exterior of the
mouthpiece clean. First soaking the mouthpiece in alcohol makes it easier
to get the crud out with the pipe cleaners.
Once clean and dry, use vaseline, cold cream, or any protective coating to
cover any logos or lettering on the mouthpiece you wish to keep. Otherwise,
the bleach will dissolve them. Apply to a clean dry surface, or the
protective coating may detach and allow bleach to go under it and destroy.
Then soak the mouthpiece in chlorine laundry bleach. Check the mouthpiece
after a half hour or so, and if the mouthpiece is rapidly dissolving remove
it, rinse it, and go on to the next process in cleaning. Otherwise, I would
leave the mouthpiece in the bleach overnight, or perhaps for a full 24 hours,
before taking it out and rinsing it. Clean one last time with an alcohol-wet
pipe cleaner, and if more crud comes out put the mouthpiece back in the
bleach for a longer soak.
If a metal gadget breaks off in the mouthpiece, you can soak the mouthpiece
in bleach until the metal is dissolved. Use a pipe cleaner a couple of times
a day to remove any corroded metal that will flake off, and eventually all
will dissolve and corrode away. It may take a week or more, but it works.
After the chlorine bleach soak, the mouthpiece will be very rough. You can
leave it as is, rub it with olive oil, or use buffing compounds and polishes
to smooth and polish the surface. Or have a pipe shop buff and polish it for
you. Years ago I used a multi-speed Dremel tool with felt buffing wheels,
emery, tripoli, white, and plastic buffing compounds, and the Dunhill Pipe
Care Cloth^M for waxing. A Fordham or big buffing wheels work better, faster,
and easier, but are much more expensive. If you have the big buffing wheels,
Tripoli Green for rough work, Diamond White for a smooth finish, and
Carnauba Wax for the ultimate in gloss works fine, but you will need a little
practice to gain skill.
I now have a set of 8-inch buffing wheels, that turn at 1725 rpm. A speed of
1125 would be even better, but 1725 is not bad. There is a world of difference,
but also considerable difference in cost.
Alternatively, you can use fine sandpaper (starting with maybe 400-grit
and going up to at least 600-grit; higher is better. Then fine steel wool
followed by use of mouthpiece polish to finish up.
3. Leaching and Sanitizing the Shank
While the mouthpiece is soaking or being worked on, sit the pipe up so the
lowest part of the bowl opening and the lowest part of the opening in the
shank are about level. Fill the bowl and shank with alcohol. Use of an
eye dropper makes filling without spilling easy.
Allow the alcohol to sit for hours, topping up every hour or so if the
alcohol is evaporating rapidly. Then dump out the alcohol, wipe out the
interior of the bowl with a piece of paper towel, and use alcohol-wet
pipe cleaners to clean out and scrub the interior of the shank. This is
where the bristly pipe cleaners and little brush come in handy.
How long to let the alcohol sit in the bowl is a matter of choice. I
recommend at least 4 hours, and often fill the bowl and shank first thing
in the morning and (after topping up several times during the day) dump
the alcohol and clean the shank that evening. I scrub the interior of the
shank until no brown residues remain, and the wood is bare and clean. If
there are no brown residues for the pipe cleaners to pick up, but they
are turning yellow from tobacco juices leached from the wood, I will sit
the pipe up again, refill with alcohol, and leach the bowl and shank with
4. The Professor's Pipe-Sweetening Treatment
To complete sanitizing the pipe, and finish up leaching residues from
the wood, fill the bowl and shank with a slurry of salt and alcohol,
sit the pipe up, and leave it until all the alcohol evaporates.
A nice set of instructions is available at http://www.pipes.org
by Dennis Congos, now departed but not forgotten Carolina Briar Friar. My
version of the treatment is as follows:
First fill the shank with salt, and using an eye dropper add alcohol until
that salt is saturated. Then fill the bowl perhaps two-thirds full of
salt, and add alcohol until that is saturated. Then, finish filling the
bowl with salt, sit the pipe up as it had been when filled with alcohol,
and add more alcohol until any more alcohol would spill out.
When all alcohol has evaporated (usually 2 to 7 days later, depending on
the weather and humidity), dump all the salt out and clean the pipe one
last time with alcohol-wet pipe cleaners. If they come out dirty, you may
need to do some more cleaning.
Allow the wood to dry. Then reassemble the pipe, with attention to the
fit of the mouthpiece in the shank. Usually the fit will be ok. Sometimes
it will be too tight, and you will need to coat the tenon of the mouthpiece
with beeswax, or scribble pencil lead on it, or use graphite lubricant.
If too loose, use beeswax to coat the tenon (when the shank becomes warm
from the smoke, the beeswax will penetrate into the wood and cause it to
swell slightly, tightening up the fit), or put a little water or saliva on
the wood inside the mortise to encourage the wood to swell.
If the fit is terribly loose, you may need to heat the tenon, shove a tapered
metal cylinder into it to expand it (a nail set works ok, and sets of tapered
cylinders can be had for about $10 that are made specifically for this purpose)
and cool the tenon under running water. Check for fit. If too tight, heat and
allow to cool, which will cause the rubber to shrink back toward original shape
and size. If still too loose, repeat the expansion process.
If your cleaning has removed all, or almost all, of the carbon cake in the
bottom of the bowl, or if there was none to start with, you will need to
break in the pipe as if it were new. Otherwise, simply load up the pipe,
light up, and enjoy.