Identifying Stem Materials

PipesMagazine Approved Sponsor

.
Peterson Tobacco Ad
.

alaskanpiper

Preferred Member
May 23, 2019
2,595
2,535
Alaska
All,
Over the last few months I have acquired a few fun restoration projects that I am finally getting started on working on. This will require some deep cleanings on the stems of some Barlings, Grabows, Petersons, Castellos, and a wind capped Butz-Choquin. Right now I am working on removing decades worth of oxidation on many stems. Afterwords, I will need to clean them all inside. I have been told that alcohol based cleaners (which I use for all my shanks, etc. so far) should not be used on Acrylic stems. So my question is this: How does one tell what material a stem is made out of? They all just look like black plastic to me, so how do I know which ones are Acrylic vs. Vulcanite, Ebonite, Lucite, Kryptonite, Meteorite, etc?
Once I get this figured out, it'll be back to youtube to learn how to sand out dings and scratches and refinish/stain briar. Let the journey begin....
Thanks!

 

chasingembers

Preferred Member
Nov 12, 2014
17,254
3,312
Rub the stem with your thumb until it's warm. If the stem smell like hot rubber it's ebonite/vulcanite if not, it's lucite/acrylic. Then there are other tests for amber, but doesn't sound like you need those yet.

 

alaskanpiper

Preferred Member
May 23, 2019
2,595
2,535
Alaska
Rub the stem with your thumb until it's warm. If the stem smell like hot rubber it's ebonite/vulcanite if not, it's lucite/acrylic. Then there are other tests for amber, but doesn't sound like you need those yet.
Good to know! Every single one of them began to stink like burning rubber when I was using the magic eraser on the oxidation. Does that indicate Vulcanite?
And yes, I have not begun to F with amber in any capacity whatsoever.
Thanks!

 

chasingembers

Preferred Member
Nov 12, 2014
17,254
3,312
Every single one of them began to stink like burning rubber when I was using the magic eraser on the oxidation. Does that indicate Vulcanite?
That it does. Even the presence of oxidation indicates it. Acrylic doesn't oxidize.

 

chasingembers

Preferred Member
Nov 12, 2014
17,254
3,312
Another test is tapping the back of your thumbnail on the stem. A dull tap=vulcanite and a sharp tap=acrylic.

 

burleyboy

Senior Member
Jul 30, 2019
328
535
Another test: Acrylic / lucite should be slightly translucent. Ebonite / vulcanite isn't. If there is no sign of oxidation, I use a strong light source on a thin part of the mouthpiece to test this.
Have fun refurbishing. It's a great part of pipe passion!

 

mso489

Preferred Member
Feb 21, 2013
27,003
1,732
Not all plastic stems are acrylic or lucite. I consider those the up-scale plastics. Others are softer, or just different. Most name brand pipes that use plastic stems use acrylic or lucite. As for the non-lucite and non-acrylic, I'm not sure what they are, nor how you can identify them. Savinelli has a series called "Oscar Lucite," with lucite stems and, unlike many Sav pipes, no filter. Many factory pipes have shifted over to acrylic stems, as have a number of hand-carvers. They have a harder feel against the teeth, but don't oxidize which is a real plus over time. High end pipes tend toward sticking with Vulcanite and Ebonite, as a matter of tradition it would seem, and better feel against the teeth.