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Routine pipe maintenance - not "restoration"

JCinPA

The Lather Maestro
I've been looking around the Interwebz looking for routine pipe maintenance, to keep them from becoming the filthy, oxidized, caked messes we see in restoration blogs. I've seen Muttonchop Piper (Lordy he loves the sound of his voice, doesn't he? Nice guy and great info, but all his vids are at least 4X as long as they need to be, but I digress), Stuff 'n Things, the forum at pipes magazine, etcetera. Being the OCD type I am, I've tried a lot of the ideas I've seen there. Chapstick on stems, olive oil on stummels, flavored alcohols for sweetening stummels, etcetera.

While 'home remedies' often work well, or repurposed products, like my Howard's Butcher Block conditioner, I've found a few pipe-specific products I really like and think are likely worth the money, and thought I'd share. Also, I'd love it if you shared any tips you've found that are particularly helpful in maintaining your pipes, too! There is no excuse for a pipe to get so nasty it's no longer usable, it's so unecessary.

Anyway, I like clean, shiny pipes, but I go more for the matter look rather than the hard shiny you get from buffed carnauba wax, but that's just me. It's a personal preference, for sure. After reading about them, I ordered two pipe waxes, Halcyon II, intended for blasted and rusticated pipes, and Paragon, intended for smooth stummels and stems. I've also had Obsidian stem oil for years. Before going on, I note that an olive oil polish with a t-shirt or microfiber cloth does work. And mineral oil or chapstick on stems does work. So these are by no means necessary. And debate rages about Obsidian stem oil, with many saying it's just mineral oil, and the maker and fans saying it has some magical ingredients. All I know is I love it, and a small bottle is a lifetime supply for any of us, I'm sure.

Photos then chat.

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That is a pipe I purchased refurbished from rebornpipes.com. Linky here:

He, in fact, used Halcyon II on it, I just touched it up this morning. It's become a favorite pipe, maybe right behind the stunning LE 2021 @Whisky so generously PIF'd which I am not the proud owner of. Supposedly the Halcyon II and Paragon are speciically designed for use without a buffer, although you can also buff them. They are supposedly harder than carnauba, but how would I know? After a few uses I dampened the pipe stummel with a paper towels and wiped it thoroughly, then spread a very small amount of Halcyon II on it with my finger. I also used the Obsidian on the stem. You just top the bottle with your index finger and invert it, then put the bottle back down, and you have the perfect amount for one stem. Spread it liberally. Let each set for a little while, then come back and buff the stem with a microfiber cloth. Then put the pipe back together and rather than rub the cloth over the stummel, hold the pipe and rub it vigorously on the cloth in your open palm to build up a little heat. A minute or so of that and you have a gorgeous, clean and shiny pipe again.

I will try the Paragon wax on a smooth stummel later today. I endorse both of these products heartily.
 

JCinPA

The Lather Maestro
On cleaning ghosted stummels, I've seen a lot of ideas, the mosty popular of which is the kosher salt and alcohol treatment. I have no clue how the salt thing started, but cotton balls and alcohol work just fine, it's how they do things at rebornpipes.com, and I can't imagine why I'd bother using salt. I've also seen a Rube Goldberg affair called a pipe retort, in which you boil alcohol up through a stummel with rubber tubing, a test tube and alcohol burner, but that, while often written about, seems even more ridiculous than the salt, and an accident waiting to happen (burning rubber, alcohol fires, ruined stains on stummels).

Perhaps most surprising to me is that the consensus at pipesmagazine forum seems to be that running hot water through a stummel works just fine 90% of the time! Justs rinse in hot water and dry the stummel thoroughly and let it dry. Most find the alcohol treatment unecessary. But when a pipe is really ghosted, Here's a shot of a pipe ready for alcohol treatment with cotton balls from rebornpipes.

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Easy peasy, no brain damage. Now as for alcohol, a lot of folks worry about Isopropyl alcohol being poisonous. It's just fine, it will evaporate quickly and a couple of wet pipe cleaners through the stem cleans out any potentially harmful alcohol, but I think it's just not worth worrying about. I use 91% ISO from the pharmacy. Everclear is also popular and eliminates any worries about toxicity. Some folks sweeten it with liqueur, but I'm confused by that. Isn't the purpose of this to remove tastes from pipes, not add them?

With my regular pipes in rotation, I think I'll try the hot water rinse after 5-6 uses and see how it works. I'm surprised how many say that's all they do. The alcohol is reserved for really badly ghosted pipes like the ones we refurbish.
 

JCinPA

The Lather Maestro
My after-smoke routine.

  1. Run bristle cleaner through the stem first, then through the stummel airway.
  2. Twist up paper towel into little plug, stuff into the bowl and rotate, cleaning out the bowl, especially the heel
  3. Run fluffy pipe cleaner though the stem, then the stummel airway
  4. I use Obsidian oil on the stem after every smoke
  5. Place pipe in rack, stem up waiting for the next smoke

About every 5th smoke I've been wetting a bristle cleaner with alcohol, running that through the stem and stummel airway. I add more alcohol and keep scrubbing the stummel airway until it is clean. This usually leaves a little residual alcohol in the bowl, and I do the twisted paper towel thing to sop that up. Run fluffy pipe cleaner though stem and airway, then maybe the wax the stummel if I want to, put back in the rack.

If I ever feel this is not enough, there's always the cotton ball alcohol trick.


What is your routine?
 
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luvmysuper

My Elbows Leak
My after-smoke routine.

  1. Run bristle clearner through the stem first, then through the stummel airway.
  2. Twist up paper towel into little plug, stuff into the bowl and rotate, cleaning out the bowl, especially the heel
  3. Run fluffy pipe cleaner though the stem, then the stummel airway
  4. I use Obsidian oil on the stem after every smoke
  5. Place pipe in rack, stem up waiting for the next smoke

About every 5th smoke I've been wetting a bristle cleaner with alcohol, running that through the stem and stummel airway. I add more alcohol and keep scrubbing the stummel airway until it is clean. This usually leaves a little residual alcohol in the bowl, and I do the twisted paper towel thing to sop that up. Run fluffy pipe cleaner though stem and airway, then maybe the wax the stummel if I want to, put back in the rack.

If I ever feel this is not enough, I'll try the hot water rinse and let you know how that goes. There's always the cotton ball alcohol trick.


What is your routine?

I hate those guys on YouTube that just ramble on instead of getting to the point.
To that point, that fellow over at Rebornpipes has two blogs on cleaning, and between the two it covers:

Before the smoke
During the smoke
After the smoke
Weekly
Monthly / Periodic

The guy is pretty thorough I must admit.


 

JCinPA

The Lather Maestro
Thanks, Phil! I had not found those yet, I am always perusing their 'pipe porn'! Going to read those right now.

Edit: Read them, and I'm happy it is pretty much what I had settled on for my routine. Great find, Phil!

In the meantime, I tried the Paragon wax on a smooth pipe, my Tom Eltang designed Stanwell. Same process as for the Blue Hill in the OP. I've concluded that unless we are starting a 'pipe hospital' like those guys, a buffer is not necessary. Unless you really like that super-hard glossy finish you get with buffed Carnauba, and I don't particularly care for it. I much prefer this matte-gloss look.

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I highly recommend both waxes and the Obsidian oil. If you get them, you will leave leftover product to your heirs. I cannot see ever running through it all.
 
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AimlessWanderer

Remember to forget me!
I'm a lazy chuff. I'm also quite utilitarian in mind, and consider them more like everlasting Rizlas, than style accessories. My care routine may well be viewed by many as neglect.

After a smoke:
Poke pipe cleaner down the suck hole, then spin it around, and poke the other end down. If the second end comes out filthy (or I've been smoking something with Cavendish), I'll follow up with a second pipe cleaner. Both standard dry, fluffy affairs. No scrubby things or flammable liquids.

I'll then fold the pipe cleaner in half, not tightly, but a kind of U shape, and wangle that around the inside of the bowl. After it's cooled and aired, I might remove the stem, and run a pipe cleaner around the inside of the mortice, before returning the pipe to the drawer. Depends on how many smokes it's done, what was smoked, and indeed whether I have the presence of mind to do it.

Periodically:
If I think it's a bit funky inside the plumbing, and maybe not tasting quite as it should, I will leave a clean pipe cleaner in the stem immediately after the post smoke clean. if the stummel is still warm and wet, the pipe cleaner will help the draft hole "sweat" out accumulated gunk and tar. Once that comes out the following day, I'll follow up with a scrubber cleaner. Alcohol on a pipe cleaner would be last resort.

I will clean up the stem once it gets to the point of "not wanting to put that thing in my face". I have some Savinelli polish for it.

I don't often clean up the woodwork. Wax goes matt after the first smoke anyway, and as I buy and smoke budget pipes, they're not exactly works of art. I tend to do it when it feels grubby, rather than how it looks.
 

Hirsute

Used to have fun with Commander Yellow Pantyhose
I would say just take the "advice" on some pipe forums with a grain of salt. I know the whole water to clean a stummel is the latest rage on some forums. But consider this: I don't know any professional pipe restorers who use water. Salt-alcohol (or cotton ball) or retort are the standard methods that have been used repeatedly by professionals for decades with a long history of success.

Alcohol has the ability to mix with both oil-based compounds and water-based compounds. Running water through your stummel. might flush some gunk out, but the point of the S-A treatment is to let the alcohol soak and slowly draw out gunk that's absorbed into the wood. That's why it gets the ghost out of a pipe.

So, remember to take internet forum advice with a grain of salt, especially some forums. A few years back there was another raging debate on a particular forum, which was coating your bowl with stuff prior to the first smoke. Guys swore by grape jelly, honey, water glass and carbon, sour cream and carbon, and a whole bunch of compounds. But basically, just don't. ;-) I'm not a professional, but I've restored probably 400 pipes, and I get my advice from people who restore pipes, not from guys on the internet who have restored a pipe or two or have a bunch of opinions and no experience.
 

nortac

"Can't Raise an Eyebrow"
My routine is much like that of @AimlessWanderer , until things get pretty funky. I have done the salt and alcohol treatment when I have first acquired an estate, if needed, but that is a rare occurrence these days, as I have too many pipes as it is. I have even done the retort thing a time or two. I have the waxes and Obsidian oil, but only occasionally use them. I probably should use them more, but I'm rather lazy in that regard. I usually use a dry fluffy or two after every smoke, sometimes preceded by an Everclear soaked fluffy pipe cleaner if needed. Then there is the bowl, to cake or not to cake. Generally, I don't try to build up cake, but I don't necessarily remove all remnants from the bowl either. Suffice it to say I have never had the need to reem a bowl other than a funky estate that someone else had caked up. I would NEVER use water, it causes things to swell up.
 

AimlessWanderer

Remember to forget me!
Then there is the bowl, to cake or not to cake. Generally, I don't try to build up cake, but I don't necessarily remove all remnants from the bowl either.

I'm ambivalent about cake too. I have had to take a penknife to cobs a time or two, but not had to with briar yet. I don't "try" for cake, but am probably not diligent enough in cleaning to entirely avoid it either
 

JCinPA

The Lather Maestro
@Hirsute Thanks for that! That was brilliant, I never even thought about oils and water! It would likely be useless. And my first restore saw a pretty yellowed cotton ball after sitting overnight with the alcohol. Makes perfect sense.

@nortac That also makes sense. I was wondering about the swelling potential.

NO WATER. Too late to delete that from my earlier post, I think.
 

luvmysuper

My Elbows Leak
@Hirsute Thanks for that! That was brilliant, I never even thought about oils and water! It would likely be useless. And my first restore saw a pretty yellowed cotton ball after sitting overnight with the alcohol. Makes perfect sense.

@nortac That also makes sense. I was wondering about the swelling potential.

NO WATER. Too late to delete that from my earlier post, I think.
I fixed it for you.
 
Similar to the others I normally just pass a pupe cleaner after smoking (although sometimes I forget 🤣) and then double it over and swab out the chamber. Every now and then its an isopropyl alcohol (never had an issue using isopropyl) soaked cleaner. I always use standard cleaners. I'm pretty relaxed on the cleaning and only apply polish if it is bugging me haha.
 
I don't routinely rinse with water, but I have done it. I agree, it wouldn't be of much use for restoration, or exorcising a ghost, but that's not what it's for. The idea is that a quick rinse regularly will cut down on the frequency of deep cleaning, and help ward off ghosting in the first place. As for swelling, I think 30+ minutes of hot smoke (which always has some moisture in it) will have more effect than a 1-2 minute rinse under a hot tap.

Bear in mind, I'm not advocating for the water rinse. As I said, I don't do it regularly, so I don't find it necessary for my cleaning routine. But I don't think it's going to hurt anything. I do find it useful for cleaning System pipes.
 
Those pipes look the way pipes ought to look!

I generally tap out the pipe, run a pipe cleaner down the stem, remove it, fold it, and swipe the cleaner portion around the bowl. Once the pipe has cooled, I break it down and repeat the above, with cleaner dipped into either the old "pipe sweetener" I bought years ago -- almost gone now -- or alcohol I keep in a former vanilla extract bottle. (If you don't drink, like me, you can buy those tiny $2.00 bottles of rum or brandy at Walmart.) Then I set the 2 pieces of the pipe aside to air and dry until I smoke again, when I reassemble the pipe and pop it back into its rack spot. That's pretty much been it.

One exception: I read on Smokingpipes.com's blog about one extra step you should take with a Peterson System pipe. Break it down, but don't tap it out yet. Run a pipe cleaner or Q-tip down into the moisture reservoir first; otherwise you'll dump the nasty moisture and liquids into your bowl. And yes, the Q-Tip does come out pretty browned and yellow. Then proceed with the swabbing as above. Same deal with my Savinelli Dry System pipe from the '80s.
 
As for the exterior of the pipe: I've followed instructions here on how to remove the oxidation from old vulcanite stems (and I never want to go through all that again). Some olive oil on the stem and a good rubbing keeps them shiny after that. I have some very old Tinder Box "pipe polish" I've applied to smooth bowls; not sure it does much. I've even tried applying a little high-quality car wax w/ carnauba to a smooth bowl, and it seems to work, but as someone says above, one smoke and the gloss dulls a bit.
 
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