Constructing Your First Pipe - As I Have Experienced
Walter L. De Visser, Sr.
Black River Cigar
Constructing a pipe can be both a fulfilling, rewarding experience
and a disappointing project depending on what you wish to do
with the finished pipe. Almost any home constructed pipe can
be smoked with great delight. We just hope the finished product
meets our preconceived ideas of a successful project.
Tools of the Trade
Let us first discuss the equipment required in the shop or
workroom. One of the most important machines for making pipes
is the Dremel (or equivalent) rotary tool and a small collection
of tools and fittings. You can use the Dremel, or as I shall
call it, rotary tool as it comes from the factory
or you can add the flexible shaft attachment for a little extra
cost and do away with the problem of holding the tool itself.
I have my rotary tool suspended above my workbench and use the
flexible shaft attachment. It is smaller, fits my hand better,
and allows better control of the tool bits or sanding spools.
The bits, sanding spools, and buffing components will be the
most used with the sanding spools being the most important. The
medium or fine grits in the 5/16 and 1/2 inch spool size fits
the bill for most applications.
The next tool you will most likely need, at least to do it
my way, is the 1 inch wide belt sander with a small 6 inch disc
sander on one end. I have a Dremel but there are others that
will do the same thing. Mine has a 30 inch belt that is easy
to change and the belts are cheap. I get them from the flea market
for about a dollar apiece but they are available at most hardware
stores and even Wal-Mart. The price of belts goes up to about
four dollars or so if purchased there. Either way, you can get
a lot of life from a belt. Use a little coarser grit of perhaps
150 or even 100. The fine grit works well but does have a shorter
life than the coarser grits. I use this to remove large amounts
of wood fast and to do the rough out of the pipe. I use the disc
sander to square up sides and sometimes to remove stock fast
also. I have a shop vac I hook to a manifold system of PVC pipe
that allows me to connect the sander to the vacuum to remove
a good portion of the dust that is all over the shop but that
I don't want to kick up in my face.
A drill press is really required for the drilling of the smoke
hole and the tobacco hole. I also use it to square the shank
end and to drill the mortise. In fact I also use it to finish
the tenon end of the stem. A nice tool to have with the drill
press is a drill press vise. I have made many pipes without one
but they do make it a bit easier to hold the stummel when drilling
the holes. You can in fact, make the tenon without the drill
press but the result is either very careful work with sandpaper
or a poorly fitted tenon. I have done both and the result with
the drill press is by far the better way to go. If you do not
have a drill press a jig for drilling can be constructed as shown
in the STEMCO-PIMO book although I have not attempted it that
way. If you have a metal working engine lathe, you may not require
a drill press, but it is a pretty expensive way to go if you
do not know for sure you will like the hobby.
When purchasing a drill press for pipes, assuming you don't
have one just waiting to be used, be sure the stroke of the quill
is at least several inches long. I purchased a small drill press
that won't allow me to use regular length bits and still get
the stroke I require on normal stummels. The table is too close
to the chuck and using the base is all right except it is too
far away and requires a spacer. So think about it before purchasing
a new drill press.
You will need only a few bits. I use a 3/16 for the smoke
hole and a 3/4 spade bit that I modified for the tobacco hole.
I was a tool maker in another life. You can also purchase from
STEMCO-PIMO, a tobacco hole kit of three sizes. Not a bad idea
if you are not at least an amateur tool maker. Additionally,
their tenon tool and mortise tool are perfect. The cost of the
tenon turning tool is a bit high at around sixty dollars but
it really is a time and frustration saver. The mortise tool is
also nearly a must have. It drills the mortise and squares the
shank so the stem fits square. I made several pipes without this
timesaver and always found there was a visual crack between the
stem and the shank. No matter how hard I attempted to make it
square, it always seemed to be off. Only after I purchased the
mortise tool did I have perfect fits. It is well worth the money.
Now for the saws. If you have a well supplied wood shop you
will likely have all the saws you need. For a long time I made
do with a decent scroll saw and you can too. I since have acquired
a three wheel bandsaw which works much better. If you have a
scroll saw available, it will work fine. Make sure you have rather
coarse teeth in your blade as you will have to be cutting through
a couple of inches of briar and that is a big enough job without
trying to do the job with a fine toothed blade. You can do without
the saw all together if you don't mind a lot of extra sanding
dust. On the other hand, you could use a hand saw, a dovetail
saw, a coping saw and even a table saw. The Bandsaw is by far
the best choice. If you have one you are all set, if you don't,
try one of the others but do be careful. Missing fingers make
it hard to hold the pipe bowl for sanding in the future.
Another tool that costs little but is very much required is
a buffing setup. There are grinders on the market that can be
fitted with buffing wheels and there are double ended buffers
that are driven by a belt that also work well. I use a liberated
motor with a simple shaft adapter mounted on the shaft. This
adapter is 1/2 inch and has screw threads the length of it. I
put a buffing wheel on and tighten the nut. Works well for me
because it has no framework surrounding it to interfere with
my buffing or tripoling operation.
You need at least one stitched buff of muslin to use when
working with tripoli brown and perhaps others if you decide to
use other tripoli compounds. You also need a wider but unstitched
buff of flannel for applying wax. These come with a 20 ply or
so width and you apply wax and do the finishing with it. It is
nice to have a last buff that you use only to do a finish buff
with. I don't use one but it does make a little better gloss
on your prized project.
All these buffs are available at STEMCO-PIMO for about four
or five dollars each. Tripoli and wax are also available at the
same source. The tripoli brown and the carnauba wax are available
in 2 oz. sizes for the wax at about three and a half dollars
and the compound in 1 1/2 oz for two dollars. If you have a couple
of motors you can make a setup for each type of buff. One motor
will do the job very well though. Use a motor speed or 1750 rpm
I do have a contour sander also but it has not proven to be
very helpful. It does help in the final shaping but sanding by
hand does a good job also. I purchased the contour sander because
of trouble in my elbow. The trouble with it is that it vibrates
and that is just as bad. I do use it as a bit of help in finishing
the roughing process as it will round with little effort. Not
required but something for the future.
Other supplies you may require are sandpaper, stains, cloths,
brushes, and a few other things. Sandpaper I use is whatever
is available. I purchase a good share at the flea market but
a couple packs from the hardware store will do just fine. I use
150 grit for rough in work and final shaping. I use 220 grit
to start my finish and work out any scratches from the 150. I
use a 400 as my last grit unless I have some 600 which I may
use if the job is super. I dont think much work is done
with the 600 but it makes me feel better. I often finish with
a bit of artificial steel wool of 0000 grade. The stuff is plastic
but does make a nice finish before staining.
Alcohol stains are available from STEMCO-PIMO and I have all
the offered colors. The brown mahogany is really quite red and
the cherry is really brown. The colors depend on how much you
apply. I went to my local drug store and got some of those brown
bottles that medicine comes in for a few cents apiece. They are
alcohol resistant and you only need about 2 oz of alcohol per
mix. I use finishing alcohol which is denatured and cheap. It
is also used for fuel in marine stoves. I also keep a bottle
of rubbing alcohol on the bench to check grain in a briar block
and I use it to wipe down my work on the stummel from time to
time as well as my hands before beginning work on the last sanding
operations. Either that or you must wear gloves to keep the oil
on your hands from contacting the briar. Just a bit of this oil
and you may leave a bald spot in your staining.
I keep a few rags around to use when wiping down my project.
I also stain using rags although others use brushes. I don't
mind a stained finger for a day and even that can be eliminated
by using a little of the rubbing alcohol right after staining.
About all that is left is a radio to keep you company or some
other source of your favorite music and a few drawing tools.
I use a circle template and a French curve set to help draw
the pipe and I also use a draftsman's compass to help transfer
lines. A small square is a big help in squaring up the briar
block before starting operations. I would suggest you purchase
a mask or other breathing protection device. I use the throw
away ones and hate using them. I do use them when ever roughing
on the sander and during the initial shaping with the rotary
tool. I must confess I do away with them as soon as the worst
I think that about covers the shop requirements and of course
you can do without most of them if you have a lot of time and
dont mind many hours of carving. Bring your coffee, tea
or brandy and, of course, your pipe. It's a nice hobby and you
should have no trouble crafting a suitable pipe of which you
can be proud.
Briar is available from several sources. STEMCO-PIMO offers
briar in their catalog and you can get very nice briar from Mark
Tinsky also. It is available as ebauchons in different sizes
and as plateaux. The ebauchons offered by STEMCO-PIMO are suitable
if you dont purchase the smaller sizes. Some of the sizes
offered are too small by far. Stick with the middle and larger
sizes. The plateaux is fine but remember that the shapes are
All of the plateaux available comes in shapes and sizes too
weird to describe. The grain is nicer and the blocks larger but
you do pay a price for the good stuff. I now get my briar from
Mark Tinsky. I get a hold of him and ask him to select some nice
blocks of about 6 oz size. The larger ones do offer a choice
of how you arrange your pipe on the block and if you get a real
big size of about 10 to 12 ounce size you may be able to get
two pipes from the same block. It rarely works out that way and
my recommendation is to order 6 ounce blocks. There is less waste
of your hard earned money that way.
There are always flaws of some sort in any of the briar you
buy and there is no way to tell if you have a fatal flaw in yours.
All you can do is pray and hope it wont show up at the
last minute. Mark also has very fine ebauchons in large sizes.
I have made fine pipes from that grade and can recommend that
also. Plateaux runs about a dollar and seventy-five cents an
ounce. Ebauchons about three to five dollars per block. I have
put a few blocks on my workbench and just looked at them for
a couple of hours trying to figure just where to put a desired
shape. Sometimes I just put them all back and try with something
The last time I ordered briar, I just asked for $200 worth
of plateaux in the 6 oz size. The next time I order briar I will
ask for 4 or 5 pieces of plateaux in 6 oz size and the rest in
ebauchons of good size. I give away too many pipes as it is and
have been selling only enough to keep me in supplies. If I am
going to give them away, I can do more with less money invested.
I now try to make only sellable pipes and if they wont
make the grade, then I may give one to a friend or I may rusticate
and sell them at lower prices. One of the advantages of having
a smoke shop to market through.
A word about stems. You can get stems from several sources
including STEMCO-PIMO. The cheapest ones are cast. I suggest
you try your first pipe with one of these. Later you may want
to make your own from rod. They are not very expensive and I
suggest you get at least a few of those shapes you like best.
They come in a bunch of sizes so be sure of what you order. I
find that 1/2 and 5/8 inch sizes fit most pipes. Of course if
you can afford it, get a few of as many as you think you will
likely use. Sometimes you make an error and have to scrap a stem.
At least they dont cost too much. Wait until you have made
a couple of pipes before getting into the more exotic versions.
There may be chips or bad mold spots on a couple of the stems
you purchase. You can normally work these out and use them. If
you like the freehand type, get a couple of them too. In the
case of these, you wont have to make the nice joint between
the stem and shank. Dont let that prevent you from getting
the others though because the job is not that difficult.
The first thing you have to do is decide what you want to
make and then lay it out on the block selected to be the first
victim. Before you get to that part you may wish to sketch and
draw and sketch again until you have a good idea of what you
wish to make. I would suggest a straight pipe for the first one.
The angles are easier to drill and your chance of success is
much greater. If you have purchased a pre-drilled kit from Mark
Tinsky or another source, you may make anything you desire. Still,
a straight pipe is easier.
I assume you are working from scratch so after deciding the
size and shape, you can either draw it on a manila folder and
cut it out with a blade or draw it on your block of briar. To
make the whole operation easier, first take the block and attempt
to get it square all around. This may not be possible so at least
make the facing surface and the bowl end square. This is because
you will be locating your drilling from these surfaces.
Now, having squared
your briar as best you can, take a bit of rag and your rubbing
alcohol and wet the surface of the block to enhance the grain.
This makes it easier to find the best place to draw your pipe.
Take advantage of the grain if you can and the block is of good
grain quality. You may not have much choice and your pipe will
turn out just as well anyway. Now with circle template, French
curve, freehand and anyway you can draw the pipe on the block.
If you have drawn it on manila cardboard, you can just trace
During the process of drawing place a line down the center
of the tobacco bowl and down the center of the shank. Draw the
line well through both ends. Where these two lines intersect
will be the bottom center of the bowl. If you have a spade bit
that you intend to use, use it to draw the bottom of the bowl
also so you can see where the airhole will come through the side
of the bowl. Depending on the shape of the bit, you may have
to adjust the depth of the bowl or change the line down the shank
to make you happy. Remember the airhole hole drill has width
and you must take that into consideration when determining the
hole penetration into the bowl. If you are using a 3/16 bit be
sure to allow for that as you may not have much room for error
at the bottom of the pipe.
Now, having drawn the outline of your pipe on the briar and
the center hole lines are clear, you proceed to the next step.
This step depends on if you are using a vise to hold your briar
for drilling or not. If you are using a vise you may not need
this operation but please read on anyway. Using a square or at
least something square like your circle template edge and bottom,
draw a line perpendicular to the bowl center line but across
the bottom of the bowl but outside the pipe bottom line. Do the
same thing to the airhole hole centerline. This is so you will
be able to set the block on the drill press table and drill straight
Sometimes there may not be enough room to make these lines. You
really need them unless you have a vise to hold your work. This
method permits the block to set firmly on the drill press table
for drilling. With a vise, you can hold the block firmly anyway.
Now you go to the
saw and cut lines 1a, 2a, 3 and 4. Leave a little extra so you
can finish to the line. After sawing to the lines, you will take
the block to the sanding disc and finish to the line in the case
of 2a to 2 and 1a to 1. These lines do not have to go right to
the line but may be below the lines but must be parallel. 2a
to 2 and 1a to 1. Lines 3 and 4 should be within an eighth or
Now it is time to lay out the airhole hole and the tobacco
hole. Using your compass as a hermaphrodite tool, set the distance
from surface 1 to the centerline on the tobacco hole. Transfer
this line to the top of the bowl surface on line 3. This gives
you the center right across the top. Now do the same thing from
line 2 to the centerline of the airhole hole and transfer it
to surface 4. This should give you a line across the end at the
height of the airhole center. You may not be able to do this
exactly as described because of the briar block. In this case,
take a pencil and stack and shim it up so you can slide the block
along the pencil point at the airhole centerline. Then turn the
block 90 degrees and scribe across the end without moving the
pencil. You can, of course, do the tobacco hole in the same manner
if you need to. You get the idea.
Taking your circle template, center it on the top in the position
you desire the tobacco hole. The center of your template will
align with the projected centerline you just made across the
bowl. You will be able to move the template across the block
to avoid faults and whatever to a good position. Be sure to check
that the shank will also clear faults as the center of the circle
you scribe on the top will also be the center of the airhole
hole. Scribe the circle or top view of your bowl and mark the
centerline on top in the other direction so you have a cross
on top with the center of your bowl clearly marked and a circle
around it where you expect the outside of the bowl to be. Using
one of the methods described above transfer this centerline to
the end of the block so you also have a cross on the airhole
end. Now you can use your circle template to draw a circle around
this cross where your stem will go. Check your work. It should
look something like this.
This drawing shows
the top, side, and end view. The lines can be transferred using
one of the methods described above. This is about all there is
to layout. On a curved pipe, the same method applies but it may
be a bit more difficult because of the angles. Remember to make
lines 1 and 2 perpendicular to the centerlines of your airhole
and your tobacco hole regardless of the angle and you will be
able to drill straight down. There may not be much to be flat
on the bottom, but it is better than trying to drill down while
the block tips. This in regards to the airhole. Once you understand
how I have been doing it, you will decide how you want to do
it. I am sure there are other ways. Now lets get on to
the drilling part.
Drilling the Block
Now you are ready to drill the block, if you are still with
me. If you dont have a vise, you will need a way to hold
your block while drilling. I have used a pair of 1 x 2s
with a couple of holes drilled in them to match the holes in
your drill press. Next, with bolts of suitable length, I fastened
the pair of boards to the drill press table lightly.
Now I take the block of briar and set it on the table with
the shank hole mark upright under the check. You should have
your airhole drill mounted in the check. Lower the spindle down
so the drill bit contacts the briar in the exact center of you
crossed lines. Hold the briar in place with the lowered drill
bit and slide one of the boards up to the side of the block.
Tighten the bolts. Now check to see if the drill bit still contacts
the crossed lines correctly with the block pressed against the
1 x 2. Now move the other board to Pinch the briar
between the two boards. Tighten this board also and recheck to
see that the drill bit is going to drill right at the crossed
Now the depth has to be set. Use a spacer or small block of
wood that is the same thickness as the distance between surface
1 and the point that the tobacco hole centerline and the shank
centerline meets. This should be the same as the distance between
surface 1 and the bowl centerline in the case of a straight pipe
but will be somewhat different in a curved pipe because surface
1 may not be parallel with the centerline of the bowl. In this
case, measure to where the two centerlines cross. You might use
a spacer of any material, a scale, rule, or if your drill press
has a good depth gauge, use it. The idea is to set the depth
of the bit at a point that will meet where the intersection of
the two centerlines will meet. Check it several times because
you want the hole to be just right and not too deep. Sometimes,
I can just run the centerline around to the bottom of the block
(surface 2) and with the block in the clamps, lower the drill
bit to the line scribed on surface 2 and set the depth stop.
Try it several times to be sure the stop is where you want it.
Next move the briar back into position under the drill bit
and while steadying the block with your hand (it is also pinched
in the boards), start the drill press. It should be running at
quite high speed. Something around 2000 rpm would do. Lower the
drill and touch the crossed lines. Check that your mark is correct
and continue drilling. You will have to repeatedly raise your
drill bit to clear the chips. If it has chips stuck on the bit,
tap the bit with something to vibrate them off or stop the bit
and remove them before continuing. Drill down to the bottom of
the stop, clear the chips and run the drill down one more time.
This is a good time to also drill the mortise and square the
end of the shank. If you have one of STEMCO-PIMOs tools,
set it for a 5/8 mortise with the set screw. Change your speed
to slow on the drill press and insert the tool. Steady the briar
as before and when aligned with the airhole, press down with
the press firmly . After the mortise is down, continue down to
contact the squaring cutters and finish with the squaring cutter
wings well into the wood. You should have a nice square, smooth
end on your shank to match the stem. If it went well, give yourself
a pat on the back and get ready for the tobacco hole.
If you do not have the mentioned tool, use a 5/16 bit to drill
a hole centered on the airhole already drilled Use your drill
press stops and make the mortise 5/8 deep or perhaps a little
deeper. Next use a spade bit to make a square, flat surface for
the stem. You may use any size spade bit that is larger than
your stem. The mortise tool mentioned above will only work on
stems 5/8 inches or less in diameter. If you have a larger stem,
you will have to use the spade bit method anyway. It is not as
nice as the tool, but it does work. You may have to cut off the
spade drills shank a bit (maybe 1 to 1 1/2 inches) so you
can use it and so it does not bend while drilling.
Now, clear away the shavings from the drill press jig you
are using and put the block back in. Move it back and forth until
the bowl cross lines are under the chuck. Using a random small
bit, drill a pilot hole in the exact center of the bowl crossed
lines to about 3/4 the distance to the bottom of the hole. Do
it by feel. Next get a larger bit and enlarge the pilot hole
to about 5/16 or 3/8. Now using your bowl bit, set it with a
stop like you did with the shank airhole. Set it so it will stop
when you should be at near the bottom of the tobacco hole depth.
Using low speed, drill the tobacco hole to the stop. If you are
careful, you will feel the small break as the tobacco hole bit
meets the airhole. You may be better off to stop short and lower
the stop a little at a time as you feed the bit down. When you
feel the airhole, stop and check your work. Proceed a bit at
a time until the airhole and the bowl bottom are as you like
them. You should now get another pat on the back. You have a
good start on your pipe. With the pipe drilled, you no longer
need surface 1 or 2. They have done their work. Now lets
start on the stem.
Turning the Stem
This is a good time to turn the stem. Waiting until later
will increase our danger of splitting out the shank. Now there
is good wood around the mortise and that makes it easier. Select
from among your collection of stems. Select one you think will
be long enough to do the job and when bent or straight, will
suit you. Most likely you will be using a rubber stem for your
first pipe. If you have a kit, it will be fitted for you although
you will have to bend it if required. We will assume you are
going it from scratch.
Here is where the tenon tool is such a good thing. If you
do not have one, you will have to either turn it on a lathe (if
you have one) or using your sanding rig, proceed to rotate the
stem by hand and make the tenon round, square to the shoulder,
and in line with the rest of the stem. Not easy but it can be
done. The problem is that a bit too much and the tenon fits like
a tatter in a sack. A little to little and the force you use
to make it fit will crack the shank. If you do have to do it
this way, put a bit of wax, beeswax, or paraffin on the tenon
when try fitting. The wax helps smooth out the rough surface
of the tenon. I say again, it can be done, but I dont recommend
With the tool, you proceed as follows: First, using a 1/8
inch drill bit, drill the hole in the tenon to a depth of about
1 1/4 or a bit more. You can use a hand drill or the drill press.
Hold the stem straight and run the bit in and out a couple of
times. Next, put the tenon tool into the drill press chuck. Now
if this is the first time you are using the tool, it will have
to be adjusted to make the tenon the right size. You may try
a different pipe stem in your stummel to see how it fits. If
it is close, you may push the test tenon up on the pin of the
tenon tool and adjust the setscrew to just touch the tenon. It
will give you a place to start. Otherwise, adjust the setscrews
until you think the cutter is a bit larger than you wish and
tighten it up.
Now set the speed of your drill press at about 2000 rpm. Take
the drilled stem and hold it firmly in one hand. Start the drill
press. Push the stem up on the tenon tool until it starts to
cut a little. Try the fit in your mortise. Adjust a bit and repeat
until the tenon is close to the mortise size. Now continue and
press the stem firmly and truly up on the tool until it bottoms
out and makes a cut on the shoulder of the stem. Be sure you
are clear of the tool with your hands and clothing. The push
should be firmly and with authority. If you delay and are tentative,
it will not cut as well as otherwise.
Try the fit but dont press it home. If it starts snug
but seems to fit well, rub some wax on it and push or twist it
home. It may not fit all the way to the shoulder but it should
at least show you it fits correctly. If it is too small and loose,
you will have to scrap one stem (providing it is real loose).
If it is too large, adjust the tenon tool just the smallest amount
and run it again. When adjusted, the tenon tool will work well
at that setting for a long time and does not have to be adjusted
again unless you are changing tenon sizes.
Now you will have to take your rotary tool and using either
the 1/2 sanding drum or a cutting tool, relieve the edge of the
mortise. The tenon has a slight radius where the tenon and the
shoulder meet. You must relieve the edge of the mortise to allow
for this. Once done, you should be able to press the tenon home
in the mortise. The stem and shank should meet tightly and squarely.
You should not even be able to see any light between them when
held up to the light.
If the tenon will not go any further into the mortise, the
mortise hole may be too shallow. In this case, either you must
shorten the tenon a little by sanding on your belt. Put a point
on it about the same angle as your drill bits. It may fit now.
If it does not, check the depth of the mortise. If it is shallow,
use a 5/16 drill bit in a vise and press and rotate the briar
block onto the drill a little at a time to deepen the mortise
until the tenon fits correctly. Remember to adjust the mortise
drill to drill a little deeper for your next pipe. Congratulations,
you have a pipe. A bit rough, but a smokable pipe. Next we begin
roughing it out of the block.
Roughing Out Your Pipe
Now you should have a briar block with a tobacco hole and
stem. This is where you come in if you purchased a kit. A block
with holes and stem. What we do next depends on the tools you
have at your command. I will proceed as if we have a band saw
although a scroll saw would work and you could use hand tools.
Stepping over to the saw you will have to make the first cut.
Make the first cut down the bowl line and along the shank. Be
sure you are well outside the lines you have drawn outlining
Proceed to cut the entire outline out leaving some material
to sand away. If you get it close, you may not have as much to
remove with sanding but you also leave no room to rotate and
sand. Things are too close and the result is possible flat sides
or at least less than round. When you finish, you should have
a pipe shaped stummel that is wide. Now you must transfer the
width of the shank to the stummel using some of the methods indicated
above. Transfer from the face surface and be sure to leave enough
room to sand and round. Also, check to be sure your lines are
correct in relation to your shank hole. Of course, you will not
have the stem in the stummel and can see from the end where you
should place your lines. Draw them all the way to the bowl. Again
at the saw, cut away the waste sides of the shank. Cut to the
bowl and then to the outside. Now you will have a block on a
square shank. You are getting there.
Some bowls have the shank attached widely at the bottom, some
have a straight tube stuck in the side, some have a large radius
at the top of the shank where it attaches to the bowl and some
a small radius. Remember all this as you make your cuts. Finish
up using the saw on any parts that are of a size to use a saw
on. Just rough it out with the saw. Cutting a corner or so to
get the biggest portion of waste off the stummel.
Now moving to the sander. Be sure you wear your dust mask
for this operation and use your vacuum if available. Begin shaping
with the belt or disc. If using the disc, you can rotate the
stummel and make the outside of the bowl. The disc cutting from
the top to bottom. The idea is to make a cylinder of the bowl.
Next move to the belt and remove and shape the bottom of the
bowl. You can rotate the bottom across the belt to remove material
from the bottom. Round the edges of the shank. In general, use
the belt to shape the pipe.
Dont worry about the sand spots or flatter areas, or
even getting real close. Just remove material and shape as best
you can with the belt, leaving the final rounding and shaping
for the next step. You can do a lot with the belt. Just dont
remove too much. It is easier to take off a little at a time
than moan over too much taken off.. Dont forget the top
of the bowl and the leftovers at the extreme shank end. At least
remove enough to make the shank round and within a 16th or 32nd
of the diameter of the stem. In fact, put the stem in and it
may help get the shape you want. Be careful about sanding spots
on the stem because they are hard to take off.
Final Shaping of the Bowl
At this point, you will need to use your rotary tool. Use
the 1/2 inch drum and after a deep breath, start using the tool
to remove the high spots and blend in the entire shape. Use it
in a rotating fashion. I hold the stummel in my left hand and
the tool in my right. I use small rotating strokes at a low speed
of the tool and smooth and blend the shape. A little at a time
I just keep going over the pipe. A high spot here, a little more
round there. You are actually carving with a rotary tool. You
will notice that there are tool or sand marks on the stummel.
That is OK but dont let them get away from you. Light touch!
Deep marks will be a problem so take your time.
After a while, the entire stummel will have little tiny, shallow
marks all over it but the pipe will start looking like a pipe.
Keep at it. You may have to shift to the smaller drum for the
radius between the bowl and shank. Just keep at it until the
final shape is close to what you want. Remember there will be
sanding yet but the final shape is mostly what you will end up
with. If you have to make major removal, now is the time, little
at a time, but do it now. Finish blending everything into what
pleases you. It will take some time but its got to be done.
Its time to begin sanding. You have a pipe in progress.
Use 150 grit paper and get at it. I find one of those 1/4 inch
thick pads, sandpaper on both sides of foam rubber, works very
well. Sand with the 150 grit until the pipe starts to feel quite
smooth. Dont forget the bowl top and the shank. If you
think it is feeling smooth, you are about half way.
Now is the time to bend a stem if you are going to. It can
be done several ways. I use a heat gun now but did a few in the
oven and even boiled a couple. Stick a pipe cleaner in the airhole
and mark the top and bottom. The stem can be laid on a bed of
salt and covered with salt in the oven at 240 or so for about
10 minutes. Watch it though cause it can get too soft. Take it
out and bent to shape, holding under cold water to cool and hold
its shape. You can boil it for a while and then bend it,
or use a heat gun. A heat gun works in about 5 minutes or less.
I hold and rotate the stem in the heat stream. When hot enough,
I bend it to shape and put it under water to cool. If it isnt
quite right, do it over again. Be sure not to bend the tenon
or the stem wont fit the shank anymore. After cool, look
at the pipe and decide if it is correct.
Now, back to sanding. Sand, sand, sand. Sand the edges of
the shank to the shape of the stem and then sand the stem. Get
the edges of the stem with a file if you need to but dont
use the rotary tool. It is too course. After you think you are
done, get the bottle of rubbing alcohol and wipe the pipe down
with some. Notice any uneven spots, tool marks, rough spots,
and fix them. Finally, after a few applications of rubbing alcohol
and much sanding, you are ready to move on to the next grit.
Next, use 220 grit. If you havent bathed your hands
in enough alcohol by now or are just starting for the day, you
will have oil on your hands. Either use alcohol to remove it
or use a glove on one hand to hold the bowl. You can use a rag
but either a glove or bare hands work better. I use alcohol for
the most part. Sand, sand, sand. Sand until you think youre
done and check. Use alcohol to wipe it down and look for tool
marks in the shine. I assure you there are plenty of tool marks
left there you missed that will only show up after you finish.
But if you are sure you are finished and have gone over the stem
very carefully, it is 400 grit for you.
On the 400 grit, you need to be careful to get every bit of
the pipe, You do not need to follow the grain as 400 is too fine
to make a difference. Go over the entire pipe. Check for tool
marks and if you need to back up then do so and go back to a
courser grit. Work it out again and dont forget the top
of the bowl and the stem. Every square centimeter. If you use
600 grit, have at it and follow with the 0000 steel wool.
By this time it should look nice, feel very smooth, shine a bit
and even have all the grain showing well. The next step is staining.
At this point, you have in fact completed your first pipe.
Most people would want to stain their pipe at this point. Remember
to keep your hands off the thing without protection from the
oils in your hands at this point. You will prevent stain from
taking if you touch it much.
I use the alcohol stains that come in a dry little packet.
They can be mixed with alcohol to make up to 2 oz per packet
or so. This is the way I mix them although they may be mixed
a little stronger. Some like to apply with a brush. I find this
makes the dye run a bit more and leaves a heavier line in places.
I use a cloth on the end of my finger.
Apply the stain evenly over the entire surface with the cloth.
It will appear to dry quickly. Put on additional layers to get
the pipe darker. It is important that the stain be applied evenly
so take your time. It will look dull and perhaps not even the
same color you expected. You can highlight by using some alcohol
to dilute areas on your pipe or even remove some of the stain
in areas. You may also desire to wipe off excess after a little
while. Perhaps you wish to apply a new color over the first.
Maybe you wish to stain black and then using a bit of fine
400 grit paper remove the stain which will leave the grain highlighted
dark and apply another stain over it. Experiment on a scrap of
briar before you attempt to do any of these fancy things. They
work and can be beautiful but experiment first. For your first
attempt, I would recommend nothing fancy. Just apply the stain
evenly and allow it to dry. Sometimes, when in a hurry (which
you should never be), I will move on to the next step after an
hour. You really should allow the pipe to set overnight before
moving on to tripoli. If you use a darker stain, you should remember
that every tool mark and blemish on the pipe will hold the dark
stain and thus will show up. Not that that is bad, just remember
it. A virgin finish, which has no real stain, will not show up
the tool marks as bad. In fact, the tool marks and blemishes
you miss will show up on any final gloss you do, but they show
up less in a virgin finish. You may just want to wax your masterpiece
instead of stain it. It is up to you. Now that you have a stained,
dull looking pipe, it is time to go to the tripoli buff.
The Buffing Operations
On your buffer, whether motor or grinder or even a special
buffer, put a 20 ply (two if you want), muslin buff. Tighten
the nut and turn it on. Now you take the brown tripoli bar and
apply it to the buff. Use a firm pressure as you want to take
the tripoli material from the bar and transfer it to the buff.
You dont have to apply a real lot but charge the buff well,
at least for the first time.
Now, take your pipe, stem installed, and press it against
the charged buff. Keep your fingers out of the tobacco hole if
you dont wish them broken. Turn the bowl upside down and
press firmly against the buff. Cover the entire pipe with nice
firm applications against the buff, recharging the buff from
time to time. The pipe will become glossy and smooth. Remember
that you can take off the stain with this material so keep at
it only until the surface is smooth, glossy, and you have covered
the entire pipe evenly. You may, in the future, use other materials
that are courser, finer, or somewhat different than the brown
tripoli. This is just a good place to start. Remember to cover
the stem also from end to end.
At this time you may wish to thin the bit or shorten the little
knob on the end of the stem. You can use the sanding belt but
be aware that care is the word. Carefully press the end of the
bit against the belt. In a second, the bit is thinner. Touch
the corners to remove the sharp points there. You may wish to
reduce the thickness of the little knob a bit also. Be careful
and dont remove too much as that little knob is what may
keep the thing in your mouth. Try it for fit. It may not taste
good from the rubber but see if it fits correctly as you go.
A little bit more, and it fits fine. Touch up the work with a
file a little and perhaps a little sandpaper. Now again at the
tripoli buff to finish up the stem, bit and to remove any scratch
marks left after your earlier work.
Now you have to change buffs, unless you have a double wheel.
Replace the muslin buff with your 20 ply flannel buff. This time
charge it with the carnauba wax. When charged, apply your pipe
to the buffs. Apply firmly as you have to have a bit of heat
generated to get the wax on the pipe. Continue to apply wax to
you pipe and dont forget to wax the stem also. You may
continue to apply wax until you get a good coating. After getting
the wax applied, use a light touch to finish the job. You may
wish to put on a new buff for the final touch without using any
new wax. This is just for that final high gloss.
Congratulations, you have just finished your first pipe. You
will probably keep it forever. Enjoy it!
Making a pipe this way may not be the only way or in fact,
the best way. Each pipe carver has his or her own way to get
the job done. The way I have illustrated is how I started and
I have made many pipes that have turned out well. I have also
made a few that have been ruined by flaws, hurry, or errors.
Things happen. I enjoy sitting on my stool in the pipe shop,
listening to my radio, and sanding away on what at the moment,
is the greatest pipe ever made. Will you find flaws and tool
marks? Sure, and you will correct your technique on your next
The pipe will probably smoke great, and even if it has a few
flaws, it will fit into your rotation very well. I have a couple
of pipes that have massive flaws in them. Most of the time natural
flaws. I worked on one chunk of briar until I found a flaw. I
kept working on it and several hours, found that the whole side
was nothing but a massive flaw. A dozen of them. I started with
a nicely rounded bent and ended up with the skinniest, most flawed
pipe you ever saw. I use it to sample aromatic tobaccos. Smokes
fine but wouldnt want to be seen smoking it.
Enjoy your hobby, and if you have any questions about any
of this, please contact me via Email. I will give you my phone
number and you can call and talk about it. Good Luck!
Walter L. De Visser, Sr.
Black River Cigar
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