Pipe care/cleaning

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The articles presented here were originally started with permission from the excellent FAQ from the Alt.Smokers.Pipes FAQ

Many thanks to Missouri Meerschaum Company for their Underwriting support



After a pipe has been smoked for a long time its cake may become so thick that it significantly reduces the capacity of the bowl. In very extreme cases, an overly thick cake may actually crack the bowl due to differential expansion. Ideally, the cake should not exceed one-sixteenth of an inch (about 1.5 mm) or so. When the cake exceeds this thickness, it should be carefully reamed. Some pipe tools have a blunt-pointed (to prevent gouging of the bowl bottom) knife blade for this purpose. While these will work, it is very easy to trim the cake unevenly or even inadvertently dig into bare wood. Numerous adjustable, multibladed reamers are available commercially, and these will do a much neater job. A favored tool for this task--suggested by pipe maker extraordinaire JT Cooke--is nothing more than a series of short wooden dowels of varying diameters that are wrapped with fine grit emery cloth or sandpaper. Whatever device you choose to use, work slowly and carefully so as not to damage your pipe. The idea is to gradually shave the cake down to the proper thickness, not scrape it out in chunks. If you have more than the usual number of thumbs, you might want to take the pipe to your tobacconist, who will usually perform this task for a nominal fee.

What can I do when my pipe "turns sour"?

A pipe, properly cared for, will probably outlast its owner. Occasionally, however, a pipe may begin to taste bitter or "sour." Sometimes this is caused by not allowing the pipe sufficient time to "rest" between smokes; other times, no cause can be determined with certainty. In any event, such a pipe can usually be rejuvenated by applying the "Professor's Pipe-Sweetening Treatment," publicized by Dennis Congos.

First, find some salt (non-iodized is preferred, but not essential), some alcohol (preferably "Everclear," or some other form of near-pure, non-denatured ethanol), and a place to rest your pipe in a semi-upright position. Insert a pipe cleaner into the stem of the pipe so that it extends into the shank. Fill the bowl to the rim with salt and drip or carefully pour alcohol into the bowl until the salt is just saturated. Try not to get any alcohol on the pipe's exterior, as this may damage the finish; any spills should be wiped up immediately. Leave the pipe alone for a day or two. After this time the salt will have turned brown from the absorption of "tars" from the bowl. Thoroughly clean all salt from the bowl and set the pipe aside overnight to dry completely. Your pipe will now be revitalized, and all traces of bitterness should be gone.

WARNING: Many people swear by this process, but the procedure is not risk-free. Some people have had pipes crack after this treatment, particularly when they allowed the salt and alcohol mixture to enter the pipe's shank and/or when they left the mixture in the pipe for several days. Any pipe with significant monetary or sentimental value should be sent to a professional pipe repair person.

You might also want to give the stem draft-hole a thorough cleaning by periodically cleaning it with a scrubbing bristle pipecleaner dipped in alcohol or a "pipe sweetener".

G.L. Pease also offers a more effective method:

"I reamed the pipe almost back to bare wood, pre-heated my electric oven to 220°F, and turned it off. After removing the pipe's stem, I filled the bowl with activated charcoal pellets purchased from the local aquarium supply shop. Placing the pipe on a soft towel in the oven, I left it to sit while the oven cooled - about an hour... No perceptible difference was detected.

A couple of conversations with Trever Talbert, friend, pipesmith extraordinaire, and constant experimenter with briar, provided an important piece of information; briar heats very slowly. He explained that it could take several hours for a piece of briar's temperature gradient to reach equilibrium with the ambient temperature. Clearly, my pipe's short stint in the Sauna was insufficient to do the job.

I reheated the oven, this time setting the thermostat to 180°F, knowing from my tests that the temperature in my empty oven would vary between about 180°F and a bit over 200°F, well below the temperature at which the briar would scorch. Stemless and empty, I placed the bowl on its towel in the oven, on the upper rack, far away from the source of radiant heat, where it would be left to sit for three hours.

After removing the now hot pipe, I filled the bowl with the activated charcoal, and placed it back in the oven for an additional three hours. When the pipe was finally removed, and emptied of the charcoal, there was absolutely no trace of its prior scent ... After allowing the pipe to cool overnight, the stem was refitted, the bowl filled with a favored blend, delicate enough to allow any vestigial flavors from the pipe to come through clearly. I sat down to experience the fruits of my labors. Success! Only at the very bottom of the bowl was a slight hint of the previous aroma, and this disappeared completely after a couple of smokes."

Polishing stems

Vulcanite stems can oxidize, turning a disgusting brownish green color caused by a reaction between sunlight and the sulfur in the rubber. This is one case where "an ounce of prevention" definitely pays off. Avoid exposing vulcanite stems to direct sunlight whenever possible, and wipe off your stems after each use. Products such as Obsidian Oil also claim to stave off the development of oxidation. When oxidation does begin to form, it can often be removed with a mild abrasive, such as baking soda or toothpaste. If the oxidation is too severe for this treatment, jeweler's rouge or an automobile rubbing compound will often do the trick. For truly stubborn stems more drastic measures may be required. An overnight soak in household bleach will turn your stems black again, but you should be careful to cover any stem logos with a blob of petroleum jelly to protect them prior to soaking, and you should be prepared to apply some elbow grease to polish the stem surface, which will be roughened by this treatment.

The method now commonly preferred to a bleach soak is to soak the stem for up to an hour in a solution of warm water and oxygenated bleach such as Oxyclean, then rinse and scrub thoroughly with melamine foam such as a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. While the method will remove paint from a stamped stem logo, it will not damage metal fittings. However, the stem will often be in need of either buffing or sanding with micromesh sanding pads to return it to its original shiny condition.

Professionals (and "serious amateurs") remove oxidation with a buffing wheel loaded with Tripoli or some similar abrasive and then apply carnuba wax to protect the stem and bring out a high shine. If you wish to use a buffing rig, consult with someone experienced in such matters. It's all too easy to burn a stem on a buffing wheel running at excessively high speed or, for that matter, to catapult a briar into your face. Extremely deep oxidation is almost certain to require sanding to remove, and may only be visible under angled light in a dark room. An oxygenated bleach soak can help in bringing deep oxidation to the surface, but will not eliminate the problem completely if the oxidation is severe.

Another method is using a Metal Polish Paste "Brasso Multi purpose metal Polish" a product of Reckitt. Put a little quantity of paste on the stem, rub it, after this use a soft cotton cloth and rub heavy, the shine back to last. The paste is very effective, the Liquid Brasso less.

Care for meerschaum pipes

First, and most importantly, don't drop it. Meerschaum is fragile, and it is very unlikely that your pipe will survive a dive to the kitchen floor. Second, do not allow a cake to build in the bowl. The forming of cake can be slowed considerably by, after letting the pipe cool and holding it with a cloth, removing loose dottle from the bowl with a pipe cleaner and "reaming" the bowl out with a twisted paper towel. This does not eliminate the formation of cake, however. If your pipe does start to build a cake, do not use a standard pipe reamer. The appropriate method instead is to use a sharp knife with a rounded tip and to carefully scrape the cake off the block, keeping the blade perpendicular to the surface at all times.

Meerschaum experts often warn about extremes in temperature, and caution against taking a hot pipe into cold weather or putting it down on a cold surface. The best manner to rest a hot meerschaum in any case is with a pipe holder that holds the pipe by the stem, and not the bowl. For a cold meerschaum, the pipe should be returned to its case, but only after it is fully cool and dry.

Most modern meerschaums have a two part connection between the stem and shank, originally invented by Andreas Bauer of Vienna. Because the mortise insert unscrews counter-clockwise, it is important to remove the stem by turning it clockwise only. The mortise insert should only be removed when it is damaged or otherwise in need of replacement, and if either part of the "push-pull" tenon and mortise is removed the other part should be replaced as well. The tenon should be regularly unscrewed from the stem in order to permit cleaning behind it, as tar can collect in this space and affect the pipe's performance. Meerschaum is a very absorbent, inorganic material, and does not require the same "rest period" that briars do. Still, I would at least allow the pipe to cool and dry completely before loading up and smoking it again.

Many meerschaum aficionados claim that to ensure proper "coloring" of the bowl you should never hold the bowl with your bare hands while smoking, and continuous holding of a hot meerschaum pipe can go so far as to embed fingerprints into the pipe itself. Many choose to take the chance given the convenience of holding the pipe like any other, but holding by the stem will ensure that wax is not removed and dirt is not deposited on the pipe.

Meerschaum colors because of its thin coating of pure beeswax, which assists nicotine and tobacco oils in migrating in and out of the block of the pipe. If it is smoked too hot, or handled too much, the wax coating will be removed and the color will stop migrating. Should the pipe begin to look dry or chalky in spots, pure beeswax can be melted with a hair dryer on low heat and applied directly to the pipe while smoking, using a cotton swab to leave an even coat. After the pipe has cooled it can be buffed with a cotton cloth to remove any excess wax and return the shine to the block.

Should I store my pipe with a cleaner in the stem?

There are three schools of thought on this issue:

  1. Those who do not leave a pipe cleaner in their pipe between smokes. These people believe that doing so prevent their pipe from drying quickly and or doing so properly.
  2. Those who do leave a pipe cleaner in their pipe between smokes. These people believe that doing so assists in the absorption of nasty stuff.
  3. Those who compromise by leaving a pipe cleaner in their pipe for a short period (usually overnight), then removing it to allow the pipe to dry completely.

Personally, I belong to group #1 a about half the time. The rest of the time I'm a #3, unless I forget to remove the pipe cleaner, in which case I'm an accidental #2. Bottom line: It really doesn't matter. Whatever works for you is fine.

Breaking In a New Pipe

See a great article by Fred Hanna called The Mysteries of the Briar Break-in Process.

Basic Repairs


Airflow issues are not exactly a repair, per se, but could perhaps be contributing to a pipe that is simply not smoking up to its potential. Rick Newcomb suggests that pipes with an open air flow smoke better. It is controversial, but bears exploration, as many pipe smokers are now sold on this concept. With it working for so many, it might just work for you and that problem pipe. Ken Campbell wrote an interesting article for The Pipe Collector called Airflow: The Key to Smoking Pleasure.

Fixing a loose stem

Even if you're careful to never remove the stem from a hot pipe, you may occasionally be faced with a loose stem. Often this problem will fix itself with time, but if the stem is so loose that it is in danger of falling out, then something must be done. The safest bet is to take the pipe to a tobacconist or send it to a repairperson. These people will have a great deal of practice performing this task, and they will do it for a very modest fee. It is remarkably easy for an amateur to crack a shank while attempting this repair, as many of us can sadly attest.

Nevertheless, if you are determined to do this yourself, you must first determine what sort of stem you have. If the stem is lucite, the easiest fix is to apply a very thin layer of clear nail polish to the tenon, allow this to dry *completely*, and then carefully sand the tenon to fit. A vulcanite stem, on the other hand, is a bit more complicated, as you will need to heat the tenon and expand it in some way. There are a number of variations to this procedure, but the most common one is described below.

First, remove the stem from the pipe and insert a pipe cleaner into the stem so that it just reaches the end of the tenon (this is to ensure that you don't collapse the air hole). Next, carefully heat the tenon over a match for about five seconds (the intent is to soften the vulcanite, not melt it). Then gently press the end of the tenon against a flat surface, keeping the tenon as perpendicular to the surface as possible, taking care not bend the tenon to one side or the other. After the stem has cooled, test fit it. If the stem is still too loose, repeat this procedure. If it is now too tight, then see "What should I do with a stem that's too tight?" below. NOTE: It is *very* easy to ruin a perfectly good pipe with this technique, and I feel I should reiterate my earlier statement that this job is best undertaken by a "professional."

A variation on the above that has less chance of bending or ruining the tenon is the following: Insert a tapered mandrel into the tenon. Apply heat to the mandrel (an alcohol flame is recommended). As the heat from the mandrel transfers to the tenon and softens it, move the mandrel further into the tenon. Repeat as necessary to get the desired expansion. Remove the mandrel and place tenon in cold water to set. Note that PIMOmakes a 'Stem Tightening Kit' that uses this principle.

A less radical (and *much* safer) procedure that has been recommended to me by several people is to simply rub the stem's tenon against a block of beeswax until the tenon is well coated. Once this is complete, reinsert the stem. I am told that the joint will tighten after a smoke or two.

Another less radical approach to try if the beeswax method doesn't work, is to simply heat the tenon and then allow it to cool. Very often the tenon will have expanded just enough to make a decent fit. Rather than an open flame, I suggest carefully using a heat gun, or a handheld hairdryer on high heat aimed at the tenon.

Fixing a stem that's too tight

If the stem is still inserted in the pipe and is so difficult to remove that you fear your pipe may be damaged, then place the pipe in the freezer for several minutes. This works the vast majority of the time; however, if the stem still proves too difficult to remove, smoke the pipe, allow it to cool, and try to remove the stem again. If neither of these techniques work, then send the pipe to a reputable repairperson.

If you do manage to remove the stem, place some sort of dry lubricant, such as graphite (from a soft pencil) or wax, on the tenon and attempt to reinsert the stem. If this does not provide satisfactory results, you will need to remove a small amount of material from the tenon. Wrap some very fine (400 grit or so) sandpaper or some "O" or finer grade steel wool around the tenon and twist the stem gently. Work very slowly and carefully, and check the fit frequently until it is satisfactory.

Professional repair videos

George Dibos

Reknown pipe repairman, George Dibos has been doing an excellent series on high grade pipe repair, which can be seen on Youtube. Here is a link to his playlists including the various procedures he has videod so far: George Dibos High Grade Pipe Repair and Restoration Playlists.

Bare Pipe

40+ episodes about pipe restoration

Professional repair shops


Repair pipes. Representative to sale Brebbia Pipes, Gasparini Pipe, Sahin Pipo, mastro de Paja and many others in Iran. Also we can repair steams. Call us: +98 21 77 6 22 460 -1 or +98 912 892 0 390 Managed by Mr. Artin Abrahamian see us: www.pipe.cafeartin.com


Bear Briar - Thomas (Bear) Tessier, Address: 3452 Mendocino Ave., Suite C, Santa Rosa, CA 95403. Phone: 707.545.0701, Fax: 707.545.2440.

Briar Pipe Repir - David Smith has 30 years experience repairing tobacco smoking pipes since 1986. He has repaired pipes for tobacco shops big and small for years around Indiana and takes pride in his work. And has a fast turn around. Briar Pipe Repairs, 127 W. Hendricks St. , Greensburg IN 47240. Phone: 812-614-6278. E-mail: briarpiperepairs@gmail.com. Website: Briarpiperepairs.com

Briarville Tobacco Pipe Repair and Restoration, "Pipe Repair and Close as Your Mailbox" - Briarville is the prefered shop at TPC/GPC, serving the online pipe community, brick and mortars and smoking pipe enthusiasts in the United States and abroad. 2773 West Division St. Hermitage, TN 37076. Telephone: 615-957-7582. Read our customer reviews at Briarville.com, E-mail - Briarville is the repair and restoration shop at Joe Case Pipes. You may enjoy listening to Brian Levine's interview with Ric Farrah of Briarville Pipe Repair on the Pipes Magazine Radio Show

Mary Ann Keller, owner of the American Smoking Pipe Repair Company [1] and who has mad skills, now does her considerable magic for online vendor E.A. Carey. website. Mary Ann can be emailed directly at mailto:mak11@ptd.net

George Dibos began collecting, refurbishing, and repairing pipes in the 1970's as hobby, and went full time in 2007. He now has the most comprehensive dedicated repair shop in the United States. To control demand/workload he no longer accepts blind mail-ins, but asks that work requests be made via phone, usually with emailed photos and discussion to follow. His specialties are high grade collectables, and technically difficult repairs that require high precision and specialized tools. He can be reached at (816) 605 1341. In 2018 he also started making and uploading repair and restoration videos to YouTube to assist hobbyists and other professionals. Here is a link to his playlists including various procedures: George Dibos High Grade Pipe Repair and Restoration Playlists.

Norwood's Pipe Repair, 1160 Norwood Lane, Clifton, Tennessee 38425, (731) 925-1836. E-mail, Website Floyd Norwood is the repairman of choice for numerous pipe and tobacco shops throughout the U.S. and is known for his quality work, fast turn around time and prices that are often 1/3 that of his competitors. Floyd also crafts quality freehand pipes as a hobby which can be purchased at his website.

Ronni Bikacsan does excellent pipe repairs and alterations. Contact information: NightOwl Pipe Works, E-mail: mailto:rbpipeworks@gmail.com PLEASE NOTE: website says Ronni is not taking new customers.

Schulte's Pipe Repair is the best around! They are the only authorized repair shop in the U.S. for Dunhill pipes. Contact Howard Schulte at (772) 564-0079. 678 Old Dixie Highway, Vero Beach, Florida 32962. All work is done by mail order, but call first. Your pipe will be like new!

Stem & Briar LLC., owned by James Connelly, operates a small estate pipe shop, and restoration business. Offers several estate pipes, racks and accessories for sale as well as pipe repair and rejuvenation services. Address - 9211 S. Nicholson Rd., Oak Creek, WI 53154; Phone: 414-949-7473; E-mail: stemandbriar@gmail.com . Website

Tim West owner of J.H.Lowe, has been a Briar Pipemaker and a Pipe Repairman since 1975. Address - 1588 Grayling Ct., Columbus, OH 43235-5950; 614-761-3465; E-mail mailto:info@jhlowe.com . J.H.Lowe Main Website Repairs Page

Walker Pipe Repair, LLC, 1210 Franklin Blvd., Ann Arbor, MI 48103. Telephone: 734-945-1691. Dave Wolff restored and repaired pipes for more than 40 years before turning the business over to Mike Myers, who now owns and operates the business. He sells a Vulcanite Stem Restoration Kit (which works)on his website, and Walker Briar Works, the other side of the business, carries hand finished Lucite and Vulcanite 'Forever' Stems for Corn Cob Pipes.

Wall's Pipe Repair, 12 S. Main St., Mansfield, OH (419-522-6218)

REPAIR SHOPS NO LONGER ACTIVE (or not offering repairs):

E Pipe Repairs, 144 Linebrook Road, Ipswich, Ma. 01938. E-mail, Website PLEASE NOTE: this site is down; 404 not found.

Jo Barnfield, manager of Monarch Pipe Company made and repaired pipes for E.A. Carey for many years.
PLEASE NOTE: Jo retired in January 2015 and no longer does repair work.

Randy Krempp did repairs and refurbishing and has an excellent reputation.
PLEASE NOTE: no contact information found. Please update with any additional information.

Raphael Estate Restoration, owned by Raphael Fiedler, offering repair and restoration of all manner of pipes. On facebook at Raphael Estate Restoration, by email to damnedatom@gmail.com, via mail to 125 Fort Charles Drive, Supply, North Carolina 28462, or by telephone to (631) 816-5886.
PLEASE NOTE: Mr. Fiedler retired November 2015 and no longer does repairs.

Restoration Pipe Repair, owned by Frank Storm. We have just learned that Frank is now retired and no loonger doing pipe repair work.

Shane Slayton - 73 Hill Top Church Rd. Glenwood, AR 71943 - Repairs broken tenons at a ridiculously low price. For the most part a hobbyist, who learned out of necessity, his work is a great alternative to replacement stems. Usually around 5 bucks. scorpio2billion@yahoo.com
PLEASE NOTE: Mr. Slayton passed away in May 2015.

Smokers' Haven, 2106 N. High St., Columbus, OH (614-299-2442) Website
PLEASE NOTE: according to Mr. Premal Chheda, Smokers Haven no longer does repair work.

Starfire Pipe Works owned by Howard Rasmussen. PLEASE NOTE: No more pipe work being accepted. Howard still does laser engraving, however, and will engrave pipes.


Blatter & Blatter - 375 President Kennedy ave., Montreal Quebec H3A 0B3. Tel: 514-845-8028: In business since 1907, make their own tobacco blends & pipes, and are the only pipe-oriented tobacconist in Montreal. http://www.blatterpipes.com/

Before-n-After-Pipes, Pipe repairs and services,1178 phillips suite 420,Montreal,Quebec 514-554-1756
PLEASE NOTE: Site and email address no longer operational. Please update with any additional information.

Reborn Pipes: Steve Laug of Reborn Pipes has recently started refurbishing and repairing pipes for customers, as well as for resale. You can hear an excellent interview Brian Levine did with Steve on the Pipes Magazine Radio Show

UK & Europe

Reborn Briar Estate Pipes - Reborn Briar offers pipe restoration services, from a clean and polish to a complete restore and refinish. They also offer a large range of fully restored pipes for sale in their online shop Reborn Briar Estate Pipes, E-mail - Reborn Briar is a TPC/GPC preferred vendor. - 56 Hillview Road, Carrickfergus, BT38 8GY. Tel: 07950-131631 http://www.estatepipeshop.co.uk/

Baard Hansen Tabago Pipemaker of Bergen Norway. Repair and restoration [2] Mail box: Tabago pipemaker, PO Box 18, Birkebeinersenteret, N-5831 Bergen.Phone: +47 41 02 08 80 E-mail Website

Der Pfeifenputzer Repair and restoration, Christian Oehme, Prahlsdorfer Weg 50c, D-21465 Reinbek, www.der-pfeifenputzer.de - no longer active