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Pipes with Shellac/Varnish Finishes

(49 posts)
  • Started 4 years ago by Bob
  • Latest reply from foggymountain
  1. python

    Bob

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    This discussion started in this thread, Meet an old friend, Nørding. I think it would be good for it to have its own thread. I am interested in hearing others experiences, thoughts, and opinions on the subject.

    Here is the start of the discussion:

    Cortezattic Said: The conventional wisdom is that pipes with finishes such as shellac, paint, etc., should be avoided because they don't allow the briar to "breathe." But I have five such pipes and I don't notice any difference from the naturally finished pipes. Perhaps my rotation is large enough to rest them sufficiently. It is also possible that, thru the miracle of modern chemistry, pipemakers have found a coating that allows the pipe to breathe. The alternative conjecture is that such pipes are condemned to a relatively short life (whatever that may be.)

    Does anyone have experiences or opinions regarding pipes with non-natural finishes?
    Would such a finish deter you from buying a pipe that appealed to you in all other respects?

    Kevin Said: Keep in mind there is a difference between shellac and stain. Shellac will block the pores in the wood and not allow it to breathe. Stain, on the other hand, will add a color, whether it be green or brown (which will look like a natural wood color) and allow the pipe to still breathe.

    The green Nording pipe above is stained green. I think green stained pipes were most popular in the '70s.

    Cortezattic Said: Right. The pipe pictured above has only stain and carnauba wax.

    The other pipes to which I subsequently referred were shellac'd (or varnished, whatever,) and a couple of them were "clear," not blasted. I really don't think I would have purchased them if I had known that, but they were online purchases. I tried them, they seemed to be OK, and they're smoking as sweetly as any other pipe I own.
    I was wondering if others had similar reservations and experiences with, shall we say, "coated" pipes.

    "When the Government Fears the People, There is Liberty;
    When the People Fear the Government, There is Tyranny." - Thomas Jefferson
    Posted 4 years ago #
  2. python

    Bob

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    I have two pipes that have shellac/varnish finishes. I bought both of them when I started to seriously get into and buying quite a few pipes. It was about 4 years ago or so.

    The first one is a Wessex pipe. I bought this pipe online because I liked the way that it looked and I got it for a really good price. It was new and un-smoked.

    The second one is a Chacom Crystal pipe. I bought this one from a B&M because I liked the way that it looked. It was new and un-smoked.

    The Wessex pipe smokes pretty well, but there is something about it that just doesn’t click. I can’t really explain what it is, but it just doesn’t smoke the same as the rest of my pipes. Every once in awhile, I will have a pretty good smoke from this pipe, but I don’t recall ever having a great smoke from it.

    The Chacom pipe is very temperamental. Sometimes it smokes OK and sometimes it doesn’t. It can turn a blend that I really like in other pipes into something that I don’t really care for. It is a very strange pipe. I have not had a great smoke from it yet. Heck, I don’t even recall having a pretty good smoke from it. I have had some decent and OK smokes, but no blends that I have smoked in it have shined.

    I would say that the Wessex smokes better than the Chacom. I am not sure if the finishes on the pipes are different or not. I am not even sure if the finishes are to blame. All that I can say is; that in my experiences with these two pipes, they do not smoke as good as my other pipes. All of the rest of my pipes have stain finishes.

    I have heard from quite a few people that Chacom pipes are so-so. I have the same problems with my Chacom as Sinistertopiary does with his. It looks really nice, but I have a problem getting it to smoke good. But unlike ST, I have not found the blend that matches my pipe.

    I smoke the Wessex more often than I smoke the Chacom. I hardly ever smoke the Chacom.

    Here are photos of the pipes that I am talking about (because we are talking about the finish, I have included close-up shots of the bowls):

    Wessex Pipe


    Chacom Pipe


    Posted 4 years ago #
  3. admin

    Kevin

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    Those pipes look nice, but they are saying, "Help! I can't breathe!"

    The clear stem is pretty cool looking on the Chacom.

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    Posted 4 years ago #
  4. maxpeters

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    I have also heard that a pipe with a shellac finish would smoke hot and wet, but I have a Hilson Bolero that has a shellac finish, or a finish that has never dulled anyway. Not sure if it is shellac or not, but it smokes great. Always has. I recently almost ordered two more just like it, but in different shapes. I still may.

    Posted 4 years ago #
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    Anonymous

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    So what is the common finish that is used on a bowl…

    Posted 4 years ago #
  6. python

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    Phil Said: So what is the common finish that is used on a bowl…

    Wood Stain would be the common finish.

    Posted 4 years ago #
  7. cortezattic

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    ... shined-up with carnauba wax or, these days, Halcyon II or Paragon waxes. I think the permanently shiny finishes are a polyurethane-like coating. Like maxpeters, I find that they smoke great. But come to think of it, I've only see those finishes on low and mid-grade pipes. Has anyone seen a hi-grade pipe with varnish?

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    Posted 4 years ago #
  8. python

    Bob

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    I have not seen a high grade with varnish. I would think that the reason for that is; grain is part of the reason that a high grade is a high grade. They don't want to cover it with varnish and stuff.

    Also, and I may be mistaken, artisan pipe makers do not like using varnish/shellac/paint because it would allegedly hinder the breathing of the briar. That reasoning does make sense to me.

    Posted 4 years ago #
  9. cortezattic

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    My question would be: what's being "breathed"? I never detect any of the pipe's "exhalations" on my hands, or on the inside of my gloved meers.

    Posted 4 years ago #
  10. python

    Bob

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    From my understanding, all wood breathes because wood is a porous material. By putting a varnish/shellac/paint on the wood, it is blocking up all of the pours and doesn't allow it to breathe.

    You can see this on pipes that have been smoked a lot from the patina that is on the bowl. Some of the patina comes from the inside of the bowl to the outside because the wood is absorbing some of the moisture from the smoke.

    You can really tell this from pipes with natural finishes; no stain just bare wood. It will start coloring (getting darker) pretty quickly from the moisture caused from the burning tobacco and the briar absorbing some of said moisture.

    Posted 4 years ago #
  11. jcosmoasp

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    All this pipe finishing discussion leads me to ponder if there's been any research done at the university level or in the wood products industry regarding the actual porosity and "breathability" of wood by species. It seems that the denser the species (especially considering the compaction and twisting of stump grain due to gravity and tree weight-the very thing we prize in briar) would affect porosity as much as any surface treatment. I'd bet that finishes throughout history have been mainly formulated based on the (1)availability (2)cost (3) visual appeal of final finish and (4) durablity, not necessarily in that order. The only pipe I ever owned that eventually leaked tar was a huge, straight-grained bent with a thin meerschaum lining. It was relatively inexpensive, and gave a cool, long-lasting (2 hrs, 45 mins as I recall) smoke. I used to sit in my ratty, overstuffed chair in my attic apartment, doing the thousands of pages of required reading for college courses, and was dismayed to find it leaking one day. I guess that's "breathing". Seems like a topic for investigation, especially in light of my plans to make a faux Ropp.

    Bruce.

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    Posted 4 years ago #
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    How much will the FED's "give" us for this study... Split that between 500 pipe smokers as experimenters... lots of pipe tobacco…!

    Posted 4 years ago #
  13. cortezattic

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    Bob said

    Some of the patina comes from the inside of the bowl to the outside because the wood is absorbing some of the moisture from the smoke.
    Okay, I think I get it. I'll just have to wait and see how my varnished pipes work out with time.
    One is a mid-grade Butz-Choquin,
    the other a Rattray's.
    (I think I read somewhere that they are both made in the same factory.)

    Posted 4 years ago #
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    I love the taste of varnish in the morning! Just joking, my Grabows do quite well!

    Posted 4 years ago #
  15. cortezattic

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    phil, you're not far off the mark!
    Bob has me pretty well convinced that pipes do breathe; but there's a thought that keeps nagging at me: Is breathing necessary, or is it just an irrelevant characteristic?
    So... as I was looking for something unrelated, I found the following discussion concerning some of the myths that have been argued over for a long time.
    Now admittedly, Jean-Paul Berrod, president of Berrod-Regad, the manufacturer of Butz-Choquin lacquered pipes might just be a little biased or dismissive; but here's what he says:

    I see absolutely no difference when I smoke a lacquered or non-lacquered pipe. In the old days, when a pipe was lacquered to make it shiny, the pipe was dipped so that the lacquer was both inside and outside the bowl. What gave the pipe a bad and hot taste was the lacquer inside the bowl. Today we spray lacquer on the outside of some of our pipe models. He dismisses the notion that briar has to breathe and must therefore be lacquer-free.

    So I'm beginning to think that pipes will breathe if left un-lacquered, but to the smoker it doesn't matter whether they breathe or not.

    Posted 4 years ago #
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    I would think that any product inside the bowl would give a bad taste...

    Natural wood just like Whiskey and Wine! Ummm Ummm Good!

    Posted 4 years ago #
  17. ejames

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    Probably 90% of the cheaper American factory made pipes(I can't say about European pipes etc) have some sort of finish on top of the stain. Lacquer I believe is the most common. There have been millions of pipes made by Grabow,Medico,Kaywoodie,Bradberry,Brewster and scores of other manufacturers that are lacquered or even painted. They are finished like this because it is the cheapest,fastest way to make the pipes shine,and hide fills.A high grade pipe will be hand sanded to 600-1000 grit and then buffed with buffing compound to make them shine and they will shine nicely even before waxing!! A Grabow etc. is sanded to 360-400 grit and then lacquered. Strip the lacquer off of a Grabow and you will see sanding scratches!! Sand that same Grabow to 800 and buff and watch it shine!! Of course stripping the lacquer exposes the fills!!
    I smoke cheap pipes. Can't afford the high grades. My rotation (about 30 pipes at present)mostly Grabows and Medico filter pipes bought mostly on ebay. When I get a pipe in,usually the first thing I look at is the condition of the lacquer.If it is worn or peeling etc. I refinish that pipe,strip the lacquer sand to 800,buff. Sometimes I stain,sometimes not.If the lacquer is nice I don't touch it other than to clean and wax. I have never noticed any difference in the way my pipes smoke. The lacquer as far as I can tell makes no difference!My painted Grabows(and the Kaywoodie White Briars I used to have) smoked fine!! Personally,I don't believe pipes need to "breathe".Rest and dry out sure,breathe ,no.

    Posted 4 years ago #
  18. igloo

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    Shellac incesct sh..t from India , Varnish tree sap think pine tar . Most newer stains are from Dow chemical . It just does not matter the pores are so small and get clogged up so fast with the tars from the tobacco you could coat the outside of the bowl with JB Weld and it just would not matter . If she does not smoke right she has to be opened up . The problem lies in the draft hole or the stem . Get your self a extra long drill bit from a tool supply co and overbore her like a small block Chevy .A wood stove can not be exhausted to one inch copper tubing and a smoking pipe is the same way the breathing ratio has to be right . Now excuse me while I clean my bowl with my pocket knife . It will be ok Iam allowed to play with sharp objects .And by the way a machine is just a faster way to remove wood to make a pipe [My pipe is better than yours because it was carved with a piece of flint in Europe in a really old building ]. Arrgh now where is my pipe .

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    Posted 4 years ago #
  19. ejames

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    I agree with what igloo says about opening up a pipe to make it smoke better.When I go to clean a nasty old estate pipe the first step is running a 5/32"(4MM works too)through the shank.Not only removes a bunch of gunk but opens it up for better air flow.An extra long drill bit is not needed for most pipes.I will also open the stem if possible.I have found that doing this and also making sure my tobacco is not to damp cuts down on gurgle.

    Not sure what kind of stains the factories use but most artisan pipe makers use aniline(alcohol based) stains.

    Posted 4 years ago #
  20. chuckw

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    I guess I'll chime in on this one. I have two Peterson's that were coated with clear acrylic. Acetone wouldn't cut it. The pipes smoked hot and became nasty in the heel. I sanded the pipes with 600 grit wet and dry, re-stained them then waxed and buffed them with carnuba. Both became better than average smokers immediatly because they could now "breath". That is heat could now escape thru the walls rather than be reflected back into the bowl.
    As for opening up a pipe, if it smokes well, I don't mess with it. One must realize that to do the job properly, the stem must be re-worked also. Straightening a bent stem to re-drill it or, better yet, taper drill it, is problematical at best.

    I've always been crazy but it's kept me from going insane.
    Posted 4 years ago #
  21. cortezattic

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    I have several lacquered pipes that smoke just fine, so I think I'll leave them alone. If and when they go bad, I'll go the sanding route to see if I can rescue them.

    Posted 4 years ago #
  22. dudleydipstick

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    I have a Butz Choquin Mars dress pipe that smokes extremely hot, no matter how gentle I am with it. I think if I puffed very fast it'd be about the same as having a fistful of tobacco and a stem stuck between my fingers.

    It's the dog of my collection and I'm planning to do what ChuckW recommends and sand and restain it. I may not even bother with a finish, I really just want to remove the varnish that is trapping all the heat. The draught hole is open enough, so this may be the only worthwhile solution. As it is, I'm tempted to chuck it.

    The site the image is from is asking 105 Euros for it. I didn't pay much more than $40 and feel really bad for the poor sucker that gets fleeced for that many Euros.

    Edit: The image upload didn't seem to work, so here's the link...

    http://www.lemaire-pipes.com/pipes-butz-choquin-mars-p-68.html

    Posted 4 years ago #
  23. dudleydipstick

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    I've since learned how to post pics, here's the BC:

    Posted 4 years ago #
  24. sapo59

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    Nice pipe dudley. I know conventional methods say to sand to the finest grit of sand paper obtainable then wax the pipe with carnauba wax till it shines. This is the way it's been done for along time. Why change something that is known to work???

    Posted 4 years ago #
  25. cortezattic

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    Please keep us posted on your progress with this pipe.

    Posted 4 years ago #
  26. maxpeters

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    I have two pipes that are as shiny as they were when I first bought them. One is a Hilson and the other is an Aldo Velani.
    I don't know what they were finished in, or what type of coating they have on them, but they have always smoked great. They have never smoked hotter than normal, or wetter than normal.
    On the other hand I have had some shiney drugstore pipes that I bought when I first started smoking a pipe that did smoke hot and wet, so I don't know.

    Posted 4 years ago #
  27. hauntedmyst

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    I'd be interested in knowing what Ser Jacopo's are finished with. They seem to maintain their shine but smoke hotter than all of my other pipes.

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    Posted 4 years ago #
  28. dudleydipstick

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    Over the weekend, I plugged up the bowl and sanded the finish off the BC dress pipe that is pictured above. The coat of lacquer was even thicker than I expected.

    I loaded it up yesterday with an aromatic, figuring that if I want to see if it'll still smoke hot, an aromatic would be ideal for testing.

    The result of my efforts is a much cooler smoking pipe. I'm thoroughly convinced that those sorts of finishes serve to trap heat in the bowl. I've seen claims to the contrary, but knowing first hand is all it has taken to make me a believer.

    A pipe I grew to despise and wanted to snap into two pieces is now a serviceable smoker I can live with.

    Posted 4 years ago #
  29. jonesing

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    Wierd.

    I was just reading this thread last night.

    Your first hand experience is the most telling. So it seems to answer the question.

    But I wonder if the type of finish could make a difference. The terms varnish,lacquer, shellac, and polyurethane are often used interchangeably but they aren't necessarily synonymous.

    I expect one could write a dissertation on the subject (how exciting would that be??) But a key difference is that all of these use different resins in different solvents and different drying process and curing. Most notably polyurethane which is most commonly used today is really just liquid plastic while traditional lacquers and shellacs are based in resin made from bug poop.

    So I expect the actual type of finish involved could make a difference.

    If you back away and think about it a typical pipe bowl is what?.... a quarter inch thick if you're lucky? And this quarter inch of wood is exposed to a sustained fire for an hour or so.

    It makes sense to me that air and moisture will be exchanged through it despite it being the "holy" briar. It's still wood.

    So if you wrap that wood in plastic I could see there being problems. Maybe not so much if a different resin base is used. Shellac might breathe while poly won't etc.

    Anyway, I dunno dude.

    You 'spose I should sand the "varnish" off my cobs? :>)

    I won't see any communication directed to me here. I'm no longer active at this forum.
    Posted 4 years ago #
  30. dudleydipstick

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    But I wonder if the type of finish could make a difference. The terms varnish,lacquer, shellac, and polyurethane are often used interchangeably but they aren't necessarily synonymous.

    I'll admit, I don't know the difference.

    One factor could be the quality of finish used by Butz Choquin. This pipe doesn't scream "quality". Since the stem is clear, you can see where the funneling is asymmetrical and despite being a billiard, I still have to bend the tip of a pipe cleaner a little in order the reach the bowl.

    I've got a Chacom that's decent, but isn't the greatest. The hand cut stem work shouldn't have made it past QC.

    At one time, I had no prejudice against buying a French made pipe, but my experience with the 2 I have has made me pretty much rule out buying anything to come out of St. Claude.

    Posted 4 years ago #
  31. mluyckx

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    Hi there,
    A relatively new pipe smoker here (a little over a year) and after starting the hobby with cheaper basket pipes, I am slowly expanding my collection. I just picked up a BC calabash and my wife bought me a nice Peterson. Definitely heaven and earth compared with the basket pipes

    To make a long story short, by local B&M has a Chacom Champs Elysees that I fell in love with. It looks great and felt nice in my hand. But I am little worried reading up on varnished pipes that this one my fall into this category. Here's a link to an on-line reseller.

    http://www.eacarey.com/champs-elyssess-862.html

    Any thoughts on this pipe or series would be appreciated.

    "The fact is, squire, the moment a man takes to a pipe, he becomes a philosopher. It's the poor man's friend; it calms the mind, soothes the temper, and makes a man patient under difficulties. It has made more good men, good husbands, kind masters, indulgent fathers, than any other blessed thing on this universal earth."
    -"Sam Slick, the clockmaker" aka T.C.Haliburton
    Posted 2 years ago #
  32. ejames

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    Shellac,which is supposed to be a breathable material is being used by many artisan pipe makers. Check it out over at the pipe makers forum. Lacquer on a pipe I don't mind. Don't think I'd want one with polyurethane on it.

    Posted 2 years ago #
  33. aussielass

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    To strip my pipes I soak them in alcohol overnight - it will not touch polyeurathane but will dissolve Shellac super fast (it is what is actually mixed with Shellac Flakes when they initially apply it). Then I just hand sand with wet & dry to remove all old finish, only takes a couple of minutes per bowl.

    So, do the majority of you just sand varnish or other finishes off prior to re-staining?

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    Posted 2 years ago #
  34. mcarnevale

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    Lacquer does allow wood to "breath". Being a guitar player, it's a hot topic as to what the guitars finished with. Lacquer being the choice for most "tone snobs" as it breaths vs polys that don't.

    Posted 2 years ago #
  35. lonestar

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    A lot more pipemakers than you think use light coats of varnish in the finish.
    Dunhill is definitely one of them.

    Posted 2 years ago #
  36. chopz

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    yes, mcarnavale many if not most wood finishes allow the wood to change humidity levels. therefore they do "breathe."

    i'd be willing to bet moisture and gaseous particles can pass more easily through a varnish or shellac than they could through the cake on one of my pipes. that stuff is dense, yo.

    Posted 2 years ago #
  37. buckeye

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    The shellac pipe makers use is a flake shellac cut with wood gain alcohol.
    i use it on my rustic pipes.They do not smoke hot.It is hard to buff a
    rusticated pipe.

    smokin my homemade rustic pipe. don`t get any better.
    Posted 2 years ago #
  38. User has not uploaded an avatar

    instymp

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    What is the best thing to get lacquer off? I want to do it to a red shiney Pete I have. 2 concerns, the metal band and getting the red out of the logo/sig/type that is stamped on the bottom of the stem.
    Thank you.

    Posted 2 years ago #
  39. ejames

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    I'm not too familiar with the finishes on Petes,have had only two. You may find though that if you remove the lacquer on that Pete,that it will no longer be a shiney Red ! On some lacquered pipes the lacquer is tinted,remove it and you remove the color! I had a Kaywoodie that was almost a "candy Apple" red,but had some spots where the lacquer was peeling-those spots were brown. Have a Brigham that is doing the same thing.
    There's a variety of ways to remove remove lacquer. Sandpaper,acetone,alcohol,steel wool... Once you strip it it will need more work to get it shiney again,buffing maybe some sanding then buffing and maybe staining to get the color you want.

    Posted 2 years ago #
  40. shawn622

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    I'm a painter by trade and my specialty is wood finishing. I know that linseed oil allows the wood to breathe, but not sure if it would be toxic if used on a pipe. There is a coating called Penofin that has a hardwood finish that supposedly allows wood to breathe. It is used on hardwood floors and such but again I don't know if it would be toxic or not. Here is a paragraph from there website:

    Only Penofin’s Hardwood finisH can penetrate dense hardwoods that need nourishing and stabilizing. This unique formula
    penetrates deep into the wood fibers and does not create a surface film. Unlike high-solid stains that simply coat the surface, Penofin’s
    Hardwood Finish, using sustainably harvested Brazilian Rosewood Oil, is the choice of wood experts who know that wood penetration
    is key to longevity and beauty. Penofin allows wood to breathe, important in working with exotic hardwoods such as mahogany,
    teak, Ipe, Brazillian Redwood, and many other species. Only Penofin Penetrating Oil Finish can meet the needs of hardwood in fiber
    protection, penetration, stabilizing, and nourishing.

    Don't know if this matters really, but it is a little informative!!!

    There's nothing quite like tobacco: it's the passion of decent folk, and whoever lives without tobacco doesn't deserve to live.
    -Moliere
    Posted 2 years ago #
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    Instymp, one thing you should be aware of is that once the finish is removed, the pipe's briar will show it's true colors, so to speak -- that could reveal one or many fills -- personally, I don't mind that since it won't affect the pipes smoking qualities.

    I've removed the finish on pipes with different results. On some, the finish did come off, but the dark original stain remained. On others, I ended up with a lighter finish -- on some of those, the briar had darkened to some degree over time the pipe was smoked.

    Personally, I'm more of a fan of natural briar -- am not into sealing the outside of the bowl with anything -- so I leave it as is and wipe it with a slightly damp paper towel after a smoke. Some folks use a pipe wipe cloth (you can buy one or make your own).

    Posted 2 years ago #
  42. whimsyt

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    @rothnh

    Some folks use a pipe wipe cloth (you can buy one or make your own).

    Could you please share how one would go about making their own? I'm very interested.

    Posted 2 years ago #
  43. topd

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    Believe it or not, I use old used (cleaned) cotton diapers... Very soft and broken in.

    Steve 'Top' Downey
    Master Sergeant
    USMC - Retired
    Posted 2 years ago #
  44. ejames

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    Borrowed this from another forum--

    Po man's pipe-wipe can be improvised from a thick felt-type cloth sprayed, saturated, with Pledge, Old English, or similar spray furniture wax. And then dried in away from sunlight overnight. They work for about a year and then need to be 're-charged'.

    Here's a "how-to" --
    http://briarfiles.blogspot.com/2008/02/how-to-make-pipe-wipe-cloth.html

    Posted 2 years ago #
  45. whimsyt

    whimsyt

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    Thanks, ejames! I wasn't sure if furniture polish had ingredients that would be safe for using on a pipe I'd be smoking. I'm going to go read that link now.

    -----hey looky! I just made my 50th post! I think that means something!!!!

    I'm a Junior, I'm a junior!!!! wooo hooo!

    Posted 2 years ago #
  46. clyde

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    As already mentioned even a simple soft cotton cloth sprayed with Pledge or furniture polish allowed to dry works very well even if the deep shine does not last very long. So just wipe the wax cloth as the last step in your normal cleaning/maintenance. Have found shiny finishes do smoke slightly hotter than naturals but most smokers probably subconsiously adjust their smoking cadence when they find the bowl is running hot. I like naturals and enjoy watching the grain develop over time a plus. The naturals are usually buffed when made and the combination of your hand oils and what small residue that comes through from the inside of the bowl makes for a soft buff finish that is quite nice in itself. Low, or no maintenance required and that's a plus too.

    C.M. George
    Posted 2 years ago #
  47. archerdarkpint

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    Have seven or eight (not the total collection) pipes I picked up along the way and each had either a heavy clear coat or synthetic finish. They all seemed to smoke much hotter than those with just a stain finish and at one point, I was looking at making them all go away. Thinking back they just seemed as if they were suffocating. They'd smoke hot, taste off, and just feel, I don't know, I guess they felt wrong. So I went wild over a weekend and stripped them all with steel wool, then finished with a fine grit sandpaper and kept them at the base appearance.

    Well, best move ever...the effort made all the difference and each is a regular now in the rotation. When stripped, some of them were a lighter shade, but after a period of time, they become darker with use/handling and they take on a nice contrast.

    Posted 2 years ago #
  48. wayneteipen

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    I'm still looking for where the lungs are located.

    Posted 2 years ago #
  49. foggymountain

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    There is also a question about the health safety of varnished pipes, which may use a synthetic such as polyurethane. Is it carcinogenic?

    Posted 2 years ago #

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