How to clean a tobacco pipe


Every now and then, by chance, a couple of used pipes, which are in an outwardly rather dubious condition, play into your hand. On the other hand, a nice grain flashes out here and there, the mouthpieces are tarnished but not defective and the question arises whether these pipes can still be saved and if so, how.

1. Basics of my understanding of working up

My aim of refurbishing is to bring the pipe into a hygienically perfect condition and, moreover, a purely external condition as close as possible to the good original condition to reach. I mean by working up Notto sand a pipe until its original condition is unrecognizable and to stain it again at will - which does not mean that you are not allowed to do something like that - only then you should not speak of "refurbishing" but rather of "reworking". I also think that one can confidently see from an old pipe that it is an older piece.

The processing requires a lotpatience - less in the individual work steps than in intervening times, in order to move something in or let it dry. It is not easy to be patient, but it is necessary. Hustle and bustle and impatience stand in the way of a good result more than small mistakes in the individual work steps.


A approx. 30 year old pipe by Arne Ljung (1913 - 1998), carefully refurbished.

A beautiful, older Savinelli autograph, carefully worked up,
without sanding or using new stain

In general, one can say that a pipe that has a thick but dry cake in the combustion chamber and the edge of the head is also heavily encrusted can often be restored to a very good condition without any problems. The chances of getting a damp, "soiled" pipe back on, on the other hand, are rather modest, even if at first glance it appears to be in good condition.

2. Preparations for work

In order to refurbish pipes, you need some space and, above all, the opportunity to pursue this task undisturbed, which is why the domestic kitchen or even the parlor are not suitable for this. It is a noisy and odor-intensive activity. A well-lit place in the basement is certainly ideal. What do you need in general and how do I proceed?

In order to first establish clean conditions, there is actually no need for a large fleet of equipment or a chemical store. Plenty of pipe cleaners, 70% alcohol from the pharmacy, 1200 steel wool or 1200 sandpaper, a pipe wrench (with different attachments or infinitely variable) and tweezers (which should then only be used for this purpose) and plenty of kitchen paper can be found somewhere with every pipe smoker in the household.

3. Cleaning the pipe

I proceed as follows: First, the mouthpieces are unscrewed and later cleaned separately. Acrylic mouthpieces can be "soaked" in lukewarm water, but I strongly advise against using ebonite mouthpieces.

The first thing I do is "soften" incrustations from the edge of the head, to do this, kitchen paper is moistened really well with alcohol and the crust is gradually wiped off or dabbed off. Stubborn residues can be carefully removed with the steel wool (or 1200 grit sandpaper). When I first look at the surface of my head and especially the Edge to the combustion chamber "shown" cleanly, the cake is removed from the combustion chamber - gently and with a pipe wrench of increasing diameter, so please do not start with the largest possible diameter!

After you have created clean external conditions in this way, it is now time to deal with the "inner workings" of the pipe, mortise and smoke duct. You can experience all sorts of surprises here: Some smokers of filter pipes think that using and regularly changing the filter and cleaning the mouthpiece is sufficient. Unfortunately, the mortise is often not looked after. The Mortise is also often the "dirt hole No. 1" in filterless pipes. I have already seen that the mortise of high-quality, filter-less pipes was so dirty that the previous owner sanded the peg to make everything fit again. A very unsuitable method.

For cleaning the mortise, I use kitchen paper balls soaked in alcohol, which I grasp with the dental tweezers shown above. This means that I can work with pressure and get into "every corner" easily. In the case of filter pipes, the Filter sleeve on the inside of the mouthpiece just as much attention should be paid. If the mortise is so clean, the smoke channel is cleaned again and again with pipe cleaners slightly moistened with alcohol until the pipe cleaner stays clean at some point. You can work alternately with "damp" and "dry" cleaners. The procedure for the mouthpiece is basically the same. This work, as with the refurbishing of pipes in general, requires a lot of patience, it is not an activity that you do on the side.

For pipes that I really want to completely refurbish, which should also be given a new smoke paste (see below), after grinding the head (by hand) a Salt-alcohol treatment indispensable in order to create really clean conditions and to remove as much condensate as possible from the wood. For this I use normal, uniodinated Household salt and 70% isopropanol. A pipe cleaner is inserted into the smoke channel, then the head is filled with salt up to just below the rim. Then the alcohol is slowly added dropwise, preferably with a pipette, until the salt is moist but not wet. One should be here in patience practice and really let this mixture stand until all the alcohol has evaporated. Then remove the salt, wipe the inside of the head clean and all for a few more days with good ventilation dry off to let.

Some whistling during the salt-alcohol treatment. The mixture changes color depending on the use of the pipe and also in different places.


4. Polish

It is much more fun to polish it when the pipe comes back to life. The question that is often debated is whether you can really a buffing machine needed. After trying all the variants, from the commercially available polishing agents that can be applied with a cloth, to handpieces with micromotors that can hold small polishing felts, to the polishing discs for the hand drill, I can say: Definitely yes! There is no substitute for machine polishing with different polishing discs and waxes! Before you work your way through all these mistakes or "buy through", the undecided newcomer is strongly advised to purchase a polishing machine. Polishing machines are better suited for continuous operation, they are also quieter, the shafts are better supported and wider polishing discs can be attached.

Practical note: Such machines are often offered quite cheaply at on-line auctions (search term: PolierMOTOR). You should make sure that the machine has conical polishing tips (see below), which make changing the polishing discs very easy. It is also helpful if the machine has two speeds. Important: Wear protective goggles when polishing! Observe the machine manufacturer's safety instructions!


I only use the dark wax for prepolishing heavily tarnished mouthpieces and for polishing bite marks and only very rarely for the pipe bowl. The polishing pad can be made of cloth or flannel be. I use the light-colored wax for further polishing of mouthpieces, of course with ebonite mouthpieces but also with acrylic mouthpieces. The latter have a reputation for not starting up, but the result of a machine polish is astonishing. I also use the light-colored wax to prepolish the bowl of the pipe. The polishing pad should definitely be made of flannel. Wax and disc take away very little "material" and, in principle, the parts to be polished should not be held against the polishing disc under excessive pressure.

Practical note: When polishing, as the pictures show, discoloration of the polishing discs also occurs due to the build-up of material residues and wax. With the flannel discs, the individual layers of fabric can literally "bake" together. This can be removed quite easily by removing an untreated piece of wood (Bar or board), holds the edge against the rotating polishing discs and "polishes off" the residue.

Polishing machine with conical polishing tips for easy changing of the polishing discs

For further polishing I then use another polishing machine, the one with the so-called "Plush Mulls" are equipped. I like to use the blue wax on the now dark plush bowl to polish silver applications. The bright plush bowl is reserved for the carnauba wax and I mainly use it for the final polishing of the pipe bowl. I use this second buffing machine for convenience and because I have room to leave it. A single polishing machine is completely sufficient.

Practical note: When polishing you should put something soft under and behind the polishing wheel. I use an old, large sweater for this. Even if you proceed carefully and carefully, your pipe can be torn out of your hand. This is often accompanied by dents or scratches without appropriate "suspension"; I completely destroyed a beautiful old Dunhill on this occasion.



A Winslow "B" before and after processing

Practical note: Carnauba wax is extremely economical and comparatively hard. With the carnauba polish, unsightly "polishing noses" are sometimes left behind. Such polishing noses can be encountered as follows: Carefully heat the bowl of the pipe (with the "polishing noses") with a hair dryer. To check it, hold the pipe bowl in your hand, it should be warm, but not hot. Carnauba begins to melt at around 35 degrees Celsius. So if the "polishing nose" begins to run slowly, you immediately go over it again with the plush bowl at high speed on the machine and thus distribute the wax on the wood. A final polishing by hand with a soft cloth ensures an impressive shine.


5. Refurbishing sandblasted pipes

Another, but equally exciting, challenge is the refurbishment of sandblasted pipes. Sandblasted pipes are generally quite robust and easy to care for. Nevertheless, there are contemporaries who apparently think that they can demand everything from their sandblasted people without ever having to clean them. Then the sandblasting gradually becomes clogged with a mixture of dust, dirt and hand sweat, which means that the relief disappears and the color is barely recognizable.


With such pipes it is important to start with the dirt to deviate. In order not to damage the color, alcohol was used instead of a cleaning fluid (e.g. Savinelli or cleaning fluid for eyeglass lenses). After a certain exposure time, you can then wipe the head with a cloth. If necessary, you have to repeat the procedure several times. Nevertheless, residues of dirt remain in the relief. Around by hand to remove I use a brush with plastic and metal bristles. When the dirt is completely removed, which is not that time consuming, I rub my head with it diluted Zappon varnish a. The Zappon varnish has to dry out really well. There is no harm in taking a break of 2 - 3 days here. Then the bowl of the pipe is polished on a hard polishing wheel and the indentations are reworked by hand with a soft brush. Then the usual polish with carnauba wax (see above).

Two older, sandblasted pipes by Jess Chonowitsch, carefully refurbished



6. Removing dents using steam

Small, flat scratches can be countered well with a machine polish. Deeper scratches but usually require the grinding of the entire bowl and a completely new surface treatment including staining. You should do this if you have one Result as true to the original as possible desperately wishes the help of one Pipe maker claim - or accept the scratches. Only an experienced pipe maker has the necessary skills to, for example, protect the punches when grinding and a selection of stains that come close to the original.

It is different with not too deep Dents without any noticeable loss of substance, in which the wood was simply "compressed". A simple method helps here, which requires a little patience, but leads to very impressive results: You "brush" the dent local with very hot water, preferably so that there is a drop of water on the dent. Then you warm up, also if possible only locally (Tea light, alcohol burner) the spot and repeat this process several times in a row. After a short time, the dent becomes visibly flatter and finally disappears completely, the wood straightens through it Steam on. A subsequent complete polish ensures a condition that lets you completely forget the dent.

A Hasso Baudis "N" with a 1 cm dent before and after the treatment described
with steam. There are about 10 minutes of work between the two pictures.

A Bo Nordh with about 0.7 cm was a dent on the head edge before and after
the described treatment with steam.



7. New smoke paste

The question of whether a refurbished pipe should be provided with new smoke paste must be decided individually. Personally, I've basically been doing this for some time. It is necessary to clean the pipe very thoroughly beforehand, to remove the cake completely and to make another one to be on the safe side Salt-alcohol treatment makes. Then it should already the one described above Complete polish connect, the Tobacco room as well as possible with kitchen paper locked so that no wax or polishing dust can penetrate. Afterwards, the paper is removed and the inside of the head is briefly sanded again, the dust is carefully blown out and then the smoke paste is applied.

A completely reconditioned, approx. 25 year old Bo Nordh pipe. With the new smoke paste, the result is really round and almost perfect!

I use a smoke paste made from medical charcoal, pumice stone flour and water glass, which is freshly mixed in each case.

And now have fun trying it out!


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(c) Pipendoge, 2009