So, you outbid me on the Estate Pipe. Great! Congratulations! It finally arrives. Your smile is beaming, and then… What the..? The pipe was never cleaned. The bowl is caked with dried out carbon and cat fur or sand. The bit – as you examine further – has brown, dried residue – the finish of the bowl is streaked, and.. [sniff, sniff…] it stinks almost of stale body odor, or something. But this is a “white dot” pipe, and you purchased it for a price only obtainable if haggling in an open air market – and you are (after all), so worldly, knowledgeable, and, well… smart.
Cleaning an Estate Pipe
Happens every day. Many shops that professionally clean pipes, do an outstanding job, and worth every cent charged. Unfortunately, many people have no clue of what they are doing, and will merely spray Lysol into the bowl, and wipe the entire pipe down, declaring proudly that the item has been “cleaned and sanitized”. Unless you know for a fact, that the pipe is from a professional shop itself, and they indicate that it has been properly cleaned and sanitized, simply resign yourself to the fact that you have purchased a very nice pipe, at a very nice price, and that you, will need to clean it properly. I always inspect my estate purchases in the same manner I inspect newly manufactured pipes, as they too, can have their own share of issues requiring them to be cleaned.
Cleaning the Stem of an Estate Pipe
Gently, ease the stem while holding the shank firmly to prevent cracking the shank. Remove the stem. How does it look? If there is a filter, remove it and determine if it needs to be replaced. If uncertain, play it safe and discard it if it is not serviceable. Wipe the tenon with a paper towel, and inspect it paper towel and the tenon for waste particles. Using a common pencil, rub back-and-forth, depositing graphite liberally and completely onto the tenon. Run a dry pipe cleaner through the stem. How smoothly does it slurry its way through the bore of the stem? How does it look?
I cannot purchase 190-proof Everclear here in New York State, and it has been some years since any old timer brought a jug of Shine to me from somewhere unknown, so I use 140-proof rum, or vodka. Pour some liquor into a Dixie cup and insert a pipe cleaner. Place the pipe cleaner into the stem and let it sit for a minute to loosen anything glued to the inside wall of the stem. If there is no obstruction, or anything preventing me to thread dental floss though the stem, I do so. A foot of floss. Hold both ends with one hand, and vigorously move the stem back and forth, with the other hand. Pull the floss out and look at it. Expect to see some brown residue. Dip a fresh pipe cleaner into the Dixie cup that has the booze in it. Scrub the inside of the stem until a pipe cleaner eventually appears clean. Now, dip your finger into either olive oil, or mineral oil, and rub it all over the stem. Leave it wet. Put the stem aside.
Cleaning the Estate Pipe Bowl
The bowl… What are we going to do with this mess? Dip a pipe cleaner into the booze and wet the inside of the bowl and shank. Don’t get cheap with this. Wet it, real good. Let it sit for a minute. I fashion pipe picks, out of either mechanic wire, or a six inch piece of metal clothes hanger. Insert pick into the shank. Rub along the shank bore, going into the bowl. You will be bulldozing, but try to gently shave, any residue in the shank bore and being careful not to break the shank. Open the bowl orifice with the pick. Put the pick aside, and take a piece of 320-grit sandpaper, wet it with booze drizzled onto it with your finger, and put the sandpaper into the bowl. Round, and round, and up, and down [that’s a Chubby Checker song: the Twist], removing lightly, the carbon. Wet the inside of the bowl again, and let it stay wet. Turn your attention to the shank, with pipe cleaners dipped in booze. I work over a six inch brown ashtray I inherited from my Grandfather. Shank nice and clean, now back to the bowl. Look inside the bore of the bowl. If it needs to be reamed, now is the time. Dull bladed instruments or you risk serious damage. Start with easy pressure at first. Remove the carbon. You should have no issues with breakage as the inside of the bowl was soaked, and lightly sanded, already. Take out enough carbon that you can either see fresh briar just peering through the carbon, or you deem the bowl sufficiently cleared of carbon. Wet a paper towel by wadding it and dipping it into the Dixie cup with the booze. Stick it into the bowl, and twist away, rotating the wad of paper towel you inserted into the bowl bore. Of course, it will come out fouled. Using a fresh piece of paper towel, grasp a corner and tightly twist counter-clockwise to form a swab or bore mop. In a clockwise fashion, twist it into the shank. Twirl away, but not so much that you feel the dry paper towel shed or rip. Remove and inspect. Back to the pipe cleaners, and clean the shank until one cleaner comes out clean. Using either olive oil, or mineral oil, dipping your finger, rub thoroughly the outside of the bowl and shank. Leave it wet, and place aside for a minute.
Using a dry piece of paper towel, wipe off the stem, bowl, and shank of the olive or mineral oil. Assemble the pipe. Leave it aside overnight. The next day, you should be good to go. Take your finger and rub onto carnuba wax. I like Min-Wax. Lightly and gently massage the entire outside of the pipe with wax. Take particular care and use a cotton swab to help get into the crevice of the bit. Let the wax set three minutes. A piece of paper towel wadded lightly, to remove the wax. Turn the wadded paper towel as necessary. Once the wax is removed, start to buff with the paper towel. Looks okay? Put aside the paper towel, and break out a handkerchief. Double it over, and the more you buff, the nicer your pipe will look.
I have ruined stems by soaking them in bleach to clean them, so I tend to frown on it. I also realize that I am not the sharpest pencil in the cup.
Experiencing the Sweet Sweet Estate Pipe Smoke
I have had the bowls of three pipes fall off the shanks, when I soaked them too long in salt and Everclear. Not happy. I filled the bowls with Mediterranean Sea Salt [hey, only the best, for my pipes, right?] and topped off with 190-proof hooch. The next day, it looked like ink when I poured it out. Repeated the process, and let it sit two days. Finally, letting it air dry one week, it produced a sweet smoke, and it was heaven. Then the bowl of my Harry Gyer Plum Oil Finish Prince of Wales, fell off while I was smoking it. Oh, did I ever swear an oath! Off I run, 50 miles to my friend Dom, who owned Don-Lou Pipe Shop, in Brooklyn. “What’s this? You ‘dropped’ your bowls, bubby?” He made a joke of it, but said it could be from knocking the bowl hard, or a number of things, and this pipe, is toast. Then it happened to a Don-Lou Lovat, and a Don-Lou Oversized Canadian. Whoa! This, is serious. This time, it was no joke when I brought two of the $35.00 Plateau briars in. This called for an investigation. After intense Q&A, Dom tells me, “Bubby, you can’t run around dropping your bowls all over the place”. That was the end of soaking bowls in salt and Everclear. Both of those pipes were toast, also. My final remaining $7.50 Don-Lou pipe I still have, and the bowl is cracked.., you guessed it. Sadly, Dom passed away, and the pipe smoking world lost a truly wonderful man.
I hope this will help you, with your estate pipe purchases. As outlined, the pipe will be clean, and should smoke beautifully.
Make sure to check out the rest of the pipe smoking guide below. Also don’t miss our list of the most popular hobbies for men.