Introduction: How to Restore an Estate Pipe

Picture of How to Restore an Estate Pipe

When I got in to this hobby of pipe smoking and collecting I had a slightly tricky time finding information on restoring estate pipes.  With more and more younger guys like myself taking up the hobby I've decided to make this instructable for the good of all.

I'll start things off by saying welcome!  This a very fun and enjoyable hobby and you should be able to find a lot of enjoyment in your pipes and a great community surrounding it.  

I will also say that yes, smoking is in fact bad for you be it a pipe, cigar, or cigarette.  Since you're here though you probably have already made the decision to smoke and all things considered it's good that you've chosen the pipe.  The dangers associated with smoking are greatly diminished with pipe smoking as inhalation of the smoke is not done and it, like cigar smoking, is largely for the flavour.  Yes nicotine is a part of it but certainly not the main attraction.

Well let's get started shall we?

Step 1: What You Will Need.

Picture of What You Will Need.

Alright here is what you'll need...

-An estate pipe to work on (obviously)
-Pipe cleaners
-Reamer. The one pictured is a Castleford set of reamers and is my preferred type.  The other that is used by many is the Senior reamer but I don't really care for it.
-Drill bits.  These are a maybe but good to have just in case.
-Buffing wheels and something to attach them to.  Not really needed but they make your life easier.  Mine attach to my drill.
-Jeweller's Rouge,
-Carnuba wax (optional really)
-High proof alcohol.  Everclear is the preferred but I just used this vodka.
-'Magic eraser' (not pictured)
-High grit sandpaper (not pictured)
-A pipe to smoke while you work (optional)

Now let's get to work.

Step 2: Determine What Needs to Be Done.

Picture of Determine What Needs to Be Done.

If you bought your pipe from ebay and the description was good you should already know.  But we will determine this now regardless.

 -Take a look at the rim.  Does it have 'cake' on it? Well if it does (like mine here) it will need to be removed.  If it's slightly charred there's only slightly destructive things that can be done to remove it but that's beyond the scope of this instructable.  
 -Look at the stem.  Is it oxidized?  Is there a lot of 'tooth chatter' around the bit?  There are several materials that a stem can be made out of and the type we'll be dealing with here is Vulcanite.  Eseentially hardened rubber.  This material will oxidize over time as the sulfur used in the hardening rises to the surface.  Lucite, and acrylic stems do not oxidize and are much easier to deal with.
-Can you remove the stem?  Gently twist the stem and try and remove it.   Don't twist or pull too hard as it's possible to crack/break the shank (the wood the stem fits in to) or break the tenon (the part that fits in to the shank) off which would be no good.

I couldn't take the stem out when I got this pipe so I put it in the freezer for a few minutes and the cooling allowed me to twist and remove the stem.

And now that we know what we need to do let's move on!

Step 3: Some Basic Cleaning.

Picture of Some Basic Cleaning.

I always start with a pipe cleaner with a little alcohol on it to swab out the stem and the draft hole in the pipe.  I was lucky with this one as it hadn't been smoked much (or just kept very clean) and took very little swabbing to get clean.  
You'll want to swab your pipe cleaner through until it comes out as nice as it went in and this can sometimes take a good deal of time.

Step 4: The Stem.

Picture of The Stem.

Now the stem.  I like to go here first as I find it's usually where most of the work is.  What we'll want to do is clean off the oxidization and tidy up the tooth chatter around the bit if possible.  

 Since the oxidization on this vulcanite stem isn't so bad we can get right to it but some stems require a little something more.  Some will be entirely a sick yellow/green colour and this will call for a bleach bath.  You'll want to coat the tenon, the flat edge that it leads in to, and any maker's marks on the stem (metal or not), and any metal in petroleum jelly so that they aren't eaten by the bleach and then drop the stem in some bleach.  I've used it undiluted with no ill effect so that's what I can recommend.  I will say that you should monitor it closely and check on it every few minutes so it spends no longer in there than it needs to.  This will leave it rough and badly needing a polishing.

We will start by masking the shank so that we can do our work and not lose the nice flush fit of the stem to shank as we do our work.

One option that you have is a so called 'magic eraser'.  Moisten it up like you normally would and start scrubbing.  The 'magic eraser' is a very fine abrasive so it suits this task beautifully.

 If you want or need to clean up the tooth chatter you'll need to hit it with some sandpaper.  Be prepared to spend a good amount more time cleaning up the sanding marks.  I used 600 grit wet/dry in it's wet state as the chatter wasn't bad at all.

After all of this it is time to bring it over to the buffing wheel to hit it with some rouge.  Be sure and tie your hair back it it's long like mine because you do not want to get it caught.  
This is a four inch wheel with the drill set at roughly 800-1000 rpm.  Be very careful not to let the stem get too hot as burning it is a possibility.
Touch your stem to the buffing wheel at roughly the 7 o'clock position if it is spinning towards you and don't let it catch any edges as it could rip the pipe from your hands and throw it wherever it wants.  It's hard to describe the motions that you'll use but you should get the hang of it pretty quickly. 

Step 5: Working the Rim.

Picture of Working the Rim.

Well by now the pipe you've been smoking may have gone out so now that you're done polishing the stem take this time to relight.  It's alright I'll wait.

   Okay now that the stem is out of the way we can take care of that rim.  Luckily this part is simple.  Take a cotton rag (I used old t-shirt scraps) and wet it pretty well with some saliva (alright so saliva isn't required, you can use water if you like).  Now get your elbow grease and start rubbing that gunk off.  

This takes time so don't be discouraged if you're not making progress very quickly.

Step 6: Reaming

Picture of Reaming

Well alright now we're going places!  Could almost be done even!

Now that our rim is nice and clean we can ream the pipe.  Reaming is the removal of some of the 'cake' or carbon build up in the tobacco chamber.  This 'cake' should not be very thick (about 1.5 mm ideally) and you will on occasion have a pipe in your hands that has a very large amount of 'cake' built up that you'd have trouble getting a golf tee down.  This is because some of the old hands of pipe smoking never reamed their pipes and viewed them as disposable tools with which to smoke their tobacco.  Not necessarily a wrong view but not one that goes hand in hand with collecting pipes.

This pipe didn't really need a ream but I did it anyway because that's just the kind of guy I am.  Take your reamer and gently start cutting down that carbon.

Now after reaming you may want to give your pipe the 'salt and alcohol' treatment.  This is accomplished by plugging the draft hole with a pipe cleaner, filling the bowl with the kosher salt (table salt will do but coarse and non-iodized is preferred), and saturating the salt with alcohol.  Leave it to soak for about a day and then empty it of salt and clean out the chamber.  The purpose of this is to rid the pipe of any ghosts of tobaccos past that it may have.  I personally always give the pipe an exploratory smoke to determine if it actually needs this treatment or not.  
One thing about alcohol though.  If you spill any on the exterior of your pipe be sure to wipe it off immediately.  The stains used on the wood are alcohol based and so alcohol will strip the stain from your pipe if you don't wipe it right away.

Step 7: But What Are the Drill Bits For?

Picture of But What Are the Drill Bits For?

You may be asking that question by now and here is where I'll tell you!
If your pipe (like this one here) has a bit of obstruction of the draft hole you may need to clean it out.  If you were able to pass a pipe cleaner in to the bowl in the first step you can just skip this step but if on!

 Now you must be very careful here because you don't want to be putting an unneeded hole in your pipe!  This is very easy with straight pipes but bents require a little more care.
Find a drill bit that will fit the draft hole nicely and feed it in.  Mine was 9/64.
Either hold the bit in a vise or grab it with pliers and gently turn it and it should clear it up easily.  If you feel that you need a drill here then you should probably take a smaller drill bit because you shouldn't.

Step 8: Done!...Well Almost.

Picture of Done!...Well Almost.

Technically you could call it done right here.  By now your pipe is in fine smoking shape and will perform just fine.  
However you're like me and want to bring it back up to looking like new you'll want to give a coat of carnuba wax to give it the shine it deserves.

Put a new buffing wheel on and get out the carnuba!
A nice no-stitch flannel wheel is the preferred but use what you can get.  There are some great wood buffing systems out there and one used by many pipe makers and wood workers is the Beall system  which is one that I'll be investing in at some point. 

Start your wheel spinning at about 800-1000 rpm and give it a small amount of carnuba.  You won't need much.
Give your pipe a coat of the wax.  Hold your pipe firmly and use a light touch, let your wheel do the work.

Step 9: Finished!

Picture of Finished!

After that coat of carnuba your pipe should have a beautiful and glass like shine and look fantastic.
You can now enjoy your new pipe and add it to your collection.

 Now that you've got your pipe you'll probably want information about the finer points of the smoking of it.  I recommend that you head on over to the forums at .  The community over there is great and is always willing to give a newbie the information they need to get the most out of their pipes.

You can also head over to for information on makers and various other things related to pipes.


EggersE (author)2017-05-17

Awesome dude informative and funny

KeithRedAllen (author)2015-10-23


gonzowizard (author)2013-06-09

This is a really great Instructable!

I do have one comment to add, however:
You recommend that your cleaning solvent be vodka, and I apologize in advance in I'm wrong, the cheap plastic jug kind. Springing for top shelf and cleaning your favorite pipe with Zyr vodka or another high-end vodka will leave your pipe with a cleaner taste, much in the same way that Johnny Walker goes down a lot smoother than Chymes whiskey.

Give it a try with your favorite high-proof flavored alcohol and post your reactions!

That's alcohol abuse, lol. I'll keep my expensive liquor in my cup instead of my pipe. That's like taking my best tobacco and using it for tinder for a fire bc it smells better. Using different flavors might make a difference as some people use rum for the added flavor to the pipe. Using better alchohol might help, but I doubt it.

Joel4019 (author)2015-01-17

Thanks for sharing! I'm new to collecting Estate Pipes, and have been fooling around with Trial and Error. The last few Estate Pipes I purchased had a smooth film of for cake, and I discovered that the Alcohol Soaking Trick enabled me to wipe it out. Problem is that even if you let it dry out for several days, if you aren't careful with the first several smokes it will burn through on you (see pic). Is there a method for reconditioning the pipe after an alcohol soak to minimize this risk?

jdsmithwesson (author)Joel40192015-04-20

Lol no way that an alcohol treatment caused that. Your talking about alcohol, it evaporates in minutes if not seconds. But what usually happens is you get a burnout from a defect in the wood, a hot spot where you are smoking the pipe too hard or a combination of both. Also that looks like someone took a torch to the bowl...hmmm.

Joel4019 (author)2015-01-17

A very thin coat of Clear Fingernail Polish works well if it needs more help.

Dannypinkowski (author)2015-01-14

Do you happen to know what Beall system is preferred by pipe makers?

RobertN5 (author)2015-01-05

Thanks, dude. Super helpful : )

Merlin228 (author)2015-01-05

One point about the "salt and alcohol" trick. Make sure it's Grain alcohol. Basically, everclear. AND, use an eye dropper and only put a few drops of the alcohol. If you use too much you can ( between the alcohol and salt) dehydrate the pipe to the point where it can crack. Further, when it comes to drilling out the shank. That's a good time to check the draw of the pipe. I find that I prefer a more "open" draw and will usually open up any pipe I purchase. Be it estate or new. Most pipemakers use a draft hole diameter of around 5/32. I usually open mine up to around 11/64 to 3/16 depending on the chamber size and OD of the shank.

paul.hillock (author)2014-11-03

This indestructable is also a good primer for restoring any old pipe. I have some that are easily 20-25 years old that could use a little love.

gigocorp (author)2014-02-26

One tip I thought was good from another pipe restoration tutorial was to always keep the stem moving. Also, you should never put so much pressure on the buffing wheel that it distorts the shape of the wheel. Always use a light touch.

toddzio (author)2013-06-18

So, using Saliva is actually a better method. Saliva contains enzymes that clean mildly, and faster than just water.
They actually use human saliva to clean thousand year old mummies.
I imagine the quicker process would prevent the wood from absorbing much moisture.

muldoon1987 (author)2012-12-03

Great instructable! I've been wanting to learn how to restore estate pipes for a while and now I believe it's really something I can get into. As a matter of fact, my wife has bought a dozen or so pipes for me for Christmas to start my new hobby! Thanks so much!!

Formatt (author)muldoon19872012-12-06

I'm happy that I could help! I hope that you find the process as relaxing, and as rewarding, as I do.

tevans1947 (author)2012-03-11

Another question about stems. I bought a Savinelli De luxe off Ebay and used your steps to restore it. In doing so, I noticed some sticky stuff in the hole where the stem fits to the pipe. Now it fits somewhat loosely and would fall off if I let it. Any idea how to get it to fit tight again without buying and fitting a new stem? THX

Formatt (author)tevans19472012-03-15

I'll direct you to a comment I made on this very same problem. Check the reply I made to gundom2501.
Giving the tenon a quick dip in boiling water can make it swell a bit and make for a tight fit. Just dip it, fit it, and let it cool.

tevans1947 (author)2012-02-05

Ive got a question about stems. I bought a Dunhill on Ebay but the stem doesn't have the dot so it's obviously a replacement and the bite is too thick for my taste. Any idea of what type stem - Vulcanite or Lucite - would have the thinner bite or where I might find such a stem? THX.,

Formatt (author)tevans19472012-02-05

Congrats on the acquisition! By bite I presume you mean the thickness of the stem and this isn't a materials problem but simply how the stem was shaped. You can buy a replacement stem in the material of your choosing from places like PIMO Pipecraft but it will be no small feat to fit it to your pipe. There are no off the shelf replacements for these unfortunately. The best solution to your problem that I can think of is to contact a professional repair person to have one made for you. has a section on "Care/Cleaning/Repairs" and in that section they list some repair places if that's what you need. The repair person you choose may even throw in a basic restoration.

Before I did that I would just get out a needle file and try to thin it to my liking. After all if you're thinking of sending it out anyway what have you got to lose?

Hope I helped a bit!

tevans1947 (author)2012-02-05

Really appreciate this guide. Two questions about the 'salt and alcohol' treatment.
1 - Cleaning out the chamber afterward. With a cloth or pipe cleaner or pipe tool? Is this to scrap out the chamber some or just to remove remaining salt?
2 - How long should I wait after the completed treatment to smoke the pipe?

Formatt (author)tevans19472012-02-05

By "clean out the chamber" I mean only to get the remaining grains of salt out. So no more work needed after you've reamed.
As for how long to wait. Your pipe should be dry before you smoke it so if you're confident that it's dry enough that should be just fine.
More detail? After leaving it for a day the alcohol will have surely evaporated and you would only have water left so the higher the proof the better. If you're not sure just leave it for another day if you can stand to wait. I do tend to have a bit of a problem with that myself.

Thanks for reading! I'm glad I can help..

jaysin (author)2011-12-30

i have a question i bought a really nice and would be expencive pipe at a auction
someone reamed it wrong the top of the bowl is bigger then the botom and advice how to correct this

Formatt (author)jaysin2012-01-13

Tapered bowls actually quite common. Is there a noticeable step where it gets more narrow or is it smooth? If smooth I would think that it was drilled this way originally.

To fix it yourself would require you to make or buy a bit for drilling bowls. Being a specialty tool these are pretty pricey. So unless you're planning on making and selling pipes it would be more economical to send it to a professional repair person. On the Pipedia website there is a list of professional repair shops. Tim West and Walker Briar Works get many a recommendation. Though I have never used them I would not hesitate if I needed their expertise.

gundom2501 (author)2011-08-31

Since you seem to have done this a bit, perhaps you can help me out. I have a pipe that was given to me by a friend, and the pipe belonged to his grandfather. However, the stem is extremely loose. Do you have any tips for dealing with that?

Formatt (author)gundom25012011-09-01

Well most times that problem can solve itself after a varying number of smokes as the briar absorbs moisture. Rubbing beeswax on the tenon can also be a quick fix. But if it will fall apart if you hold it bowl down by the stem more drastic measures may be needed. Sending your pipe to a professional is one option, giving the tenon a quick dip in boiling water is another, or investing in a "stem tightener kit" from PIMO pipecraft.

That's about all that comes off the top of my head. Hope it helps!

gundom2501 (author)Formatt2011-09-01

Thanks for the tips!

About This Instructable




More by Formatt:How to restore an estate pipe
Add instructable to: