Trevor makes a Pipe - #3
And now, it's time for a volcano...
Sometime in 2009, I was over visiting Stephen Downie and was discussing the possibility of trying my hand at making another pipe. I had visions of Volcano shaped briars floating through my head and had done a number of sketches of pipe ideas.
I popped over to his shop and was digging through his box of Discarded Denizens (cast off briar blocks that didn't make the grade due to flaws) and found a piece with pretty nice grain (I thought) and already drilled. Apparently the drilling was a bit off for Stephen's high standards, but for my amateur pipe making needs, it was perfect.
I put my volcano pipe sketch on the table in front of me and began grinding away at the block in my hands. The disk sander is amazing at taking material off a piece of wood, but we all need to be aware that it can't be put back again. I twisted and turned the stummel in my hands, trying to find the shape inside the block, and trying to get it to match the shape I drew on the paper. After a couple hours it was time for me to head home and contemplate what I had accomplished.
The stummel was shaping up nicely, but more details needed to be revealed. A few more visits to Stephen's shop, some more grinding with different disk sanders and the shape was getting closer to what I had envisioned. Eventually I settled down with the 'sandpaper wrapped around things' process of final shaping and bought the stummel to near completion.
Another day in the shop was needed to start the process of hand cutting the vulcanite stem from rod stock. I chose a length of vulcanite and sawed it off the rod with the band saw. This piece was chucked up in the table mounted lathe to square up and turn down to the correct diameter.
I sketched the stem to have an angled boss, matching the angle of the rear of the pipe's bowl. I turned the stem on the lathe with a flare at the one end, with the plan to 'cut it off' at an angle later. The 'cutting off at an angle' turned out to be much harder than I anticipated. My first attempt at shaping it looked lumpy and uneven. How was I to shape this? How could I achieve the sharp angled edge I was looking for?
I sat at home later that week staring at this nightmare of a stem. I drew on the rough vulcanite the line where I wanted the flare to end, and the angle it was supposed to have. I stared and thought. I tried sanding at it with coarse sandpaper....no good. Suddenly the happy thought of a hacksaw blade came to me! No, I wasn't planning of quartering the stem, burning the evil pieces in effigy and starting again, I thought I could use the saw blade to cut along the pencil line a drew, then it would be a simple (sure!) matter of sanding down the stem to match!
I chose the finest saw blade I have, and set to work cutting around the stem, following the forward angles on the sides, backward angle on the top of the stem
and forward angle (upwards?) on the bottom. Eventually all the cuts lined up, the discarded bits of vulcanite came off, and the process of sanding began again. Happily, everything worked out better than I hoped and the stem was finished with a minimum of fuss.
Back in Stephen's shop I finished fine sanding and buffing the stem, and then the discussion turned to the finishing and staining of the bowl. I was loving the look of the bare briar and wanted to enhance and preserve the lightness of the wood. He suggested Danish tung oil. Over the next hour or so, while he was working away at his own projects, I applied 5 or 6 layers of tung oil, letting each coat dry for about 10 minutes between applications. The wood grain showed up beautifully at this point, and I felt I had a real winner of a pipe!
The final step was to buff it and apply a thin coat of carnauba wax to bring out the shine. I applied the wax. Standing at the buffing wheel, putting the final shine on the bowl, it happened. The wheel grabbed the edge of the pipe, nearly ripped it out of my hands, and slammed it down hard on the edge of Stephen's work bench. Where the sharp rear bottom edge of the bowl had been, a new dent appeared.
I switched off the buffer and looked at Stephen. He looked at me and said 'you can sand it out and refinish it'. I said no, it will stay as a lesson. Never lose focus, pay attention to the wheel, keep the leading edge away from the buffer. The pipe smokes great.