Cleaning a the pipe

by Billie W, Taylor II, Ph.D. All rights reserved.

Offered without warranty or guarantee!

If you are unfamiliar with the terminology used to describe the parts of a pipe, you may find it to your advantage to review my Anatomy of a the pipe page before and/or during cleaning your pipe.

WARNING: These procedures may ruin any pipe other than those marked the pipe, THE SMOKE, or Venturi!
For pipes made of other materials, look elsewhere!

One of the great advantages of the pipe is that it is made of a plastic shell with a bowl liner of pyrolytic graphite. This means that, unlike briar pipes, it is indifferent to water. The advertising says that it can be put in a dishwasher for cleaning. I have never tried this, preferring a more thorough yet gentle cleaning method. If you have a the pipe that you purchased used or if you have been careless running a pipe cleaner through the pipe and wiping out the bowl with a paper towel after each smoke, you may need to take firmer measures to restore its original smoking properties.

WARNING: Before removing the mouthpiece from the shank read this entire paragraph carefully! These pipes are old and can be very fragile where the tenon fits the mortise. It is best not to disassemble the pipe until you have reached Step 9 below and still are not getting a good draw. Great care must be taken not to break the mouthpiece or split the shank. Remove the mouthpiece only when the pipe is cool. Grasp the stummel of the pipe firmly in one hand and the mouthpiece firmly in the other. Gently but firmly, pull apart straight while rotating the mouthpiece clockwise and the stummel counter-clockwise. If the mouthpiece just won't budge and you fear breaking something, a briar smoker's old trick is worth a try - place the pipe in the freezer and try again after a couple of hours. To reassemble the pipe, reverse the procedure, again being careful to push the tenon straight into the mortise while turning the stummel and mouthpiece in opposite directions.

Smoke the pipe while you read this to soften the cake somewhat which may accelerate the process. If you are concerned about sterilizing the pipe before smoking it, run a pipe cleaner soaked in rubbing alcohol through the mouthpiece first. Do not yield to the temptation to soak the mouthpiece in alcohol, it may discolor and damage it.

The first eight steps below will be necessary; we can only hope that nine through eleven will not.

1. Fill a dishpan with just enough hot water to submerge the pipe. Add a cap-full of a gentle soap. (I use Murphy's Oil Soap but any will do. Don't use a dish-washing detergent such as Dawn or Joy; sometimes they fade the paint.)

IMPORTANT: For a the pipe with "Imported Briar" stamped on the shank opposite the pipe marque, skip Step 2; soak the toothbrush or pad only and go to Step 3. And, instead of car wax, use carnuba wax in Step 8. (If your the pipe looks like it is wood, but is not marked "Imported Briar" it is one of the equally uncommon Rare Woods pipes which were plasticized and may be safely soaked and waxed as described below.)

2. Place your pipe in the dishpan to let it soak only until the cake softens. (It is best to do this with the pipe assembled so the fit of the mouthpiece into the shank is not spoiled. It will also allow the stem to be used as a handle for the next step.) Do NOT allow the pipe to soak too long, it may fade the paint! The cake should be softened in a matter of ten to fifteen minutes.

3. Use an old toothbrush and/or no-scratch scouring pad such as Scotch-Brite to scrub away any cake build-up in the bowl. If the cake does not remove easily, repeat steps two and three. DO NOT SCRAPE THE BOWLS OUT WITH ANYTHING, ESPECIALLY ANYTHING METAL! If you do, you run a great risk of damaging the bowl liner. (Should you discover that the bowl liner has already been damaged by improper cleaning, contact me. There is no way I know of to repair damaged pyrolytic graphite, but there is damage and then there is DAMAGE. I will be happy to evaluate your bowl liner and give an opinion as to whether or not your the pipe retains its unique smoking properties. Usually I can do this from your description of the type and extent of damage.)

4. Run a pipe cleaner repeatedly through the airhole until it moves freely back and forth. Use as many pipe cleaners as necessary until one comes out clean.

5. If there is a severe blockage in the airhole, use a straightened #2 paper clip to punch it out, being careful to not ram the side of the bowl liner across from the airhole entrance into the bowl. If this does not clear the airhole wait until step 9 below to work on it some more.

6. Rinse thoroughly while gently cleaning the shell with a no-scratch scouring pad. It is sometimes difficult to tell the difference between paint damage and dirt, be careful to not enlarge any areas of paint damage.

7. Dry with an old bath towel.

8. Apply a light coating of car wax (I use Turtle Wax, but any good brand will do nicely) to the outside surfaces, following the directions on the can.

9. If the pipe still does not draw freely, disassemble the pipe after it has thoroughly cooled and repeat steps 4 and 5 above until it does. Patience is the key here. Read second WARNING at top before disassembling the pipe.

10. As a last resort, if the mouthpiece has been crushed so much as to restrict air flow or if the blockage in the airhole simply will not budge, cut the straight bottom piece off a wire coat hanger with tin snips and use it as a straight reamer to force through the mouthpiece from the tenon end and/or through the shank from the mortise end. If the blockage is in the mouthpiece, heating the lip and bit region (being careful not to melt it) or the coat hanger piece with a match or lighter can make this task a bit easier. WARNING: Do this only if you are resigned to replacing the mouthpiece if it doesn't work. Be aware, too, that this procedure works best with straight (Apple, Billiard, Dublin, Pot and Bulldog) shapes; less well with curved (Author and Bent.) The Canadian shape is particularly treacherous as the tenon is stepped down and the smaller step is easily broken off. While this does not affect the smoking characteristics of the pipe, it will, of course, reduce its value as a collectible.

11. Reassemble the pipe. If the tenon no longer properly fits into the mortise:
A. Too loose - coat the tenon with a thin layer of clear nail polish and allow to dry thoroughly before reinserting into the mortise. Repeat as often as necessary to get a snug fit.
B. Too tight - use a very fine sandpaper on the tenon (000 grade or finer) lightly and uniformly around the tenon. Be careful not to overdo it. Keep testing the fit after each few passes with the sandpaper. WARNING: Never attempt to adjust the size of the mortise!

Good luck and feel free to contact me if you have any other questions or problems cleaning your pipe.