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Pipe Mud

Article originally posted in alt.smokers.pipes by Fred Hanna

A Solution to the Problem of the High Draft Hole, and Other Pipe Bowl Problems

There is a frequently occurring problem among pipes of nearly all grades and brands that seldom receives the attention it deserves.
Unfortunately there has been no satisfactory solution that pipe collectors and enthusiasts can actually put to use with relative ease.
 It is the problem of the high draft hole (also known  as the air hole or shank drilling).  A high draft hole is a condition that occurs when
the drilling through the shank of a pipe meets the bowl or tobacco chamber at a point higher than its bottom.  In other words, the draft
hole and the bottom of the bowl do not meet flush.  The net result is that due to the high drilling, the bottom of the bowl of the pipe does
not get properly caked.  It gets wet and sometimes rank, and the pipe may not draw as well as it should.  It seems to occur more often with
bent pipes.

High draft holes are a problem with workmanship and are seldom  mentioned among pipe smokers or carvers, as most people believe that
little or nothing can be done about them.  I have known several pipe collectors who will avoid any pipe with a high draft hole due to the
fact that the condition severely diminishes the proper function of the  pipe as a smoking instrument.  I have seen many expensive Dunhill's,
Charatan Supremes, Castello Greatlines, and other high grade pipes with this problem.  I would like to offer an approach to this dilemma.
 I make no claims to this being the perfect solution but it does seem  to work, and seems relatively harmless as well.  It was jointly
developed around 20 years ago by myself and my good friend Terry McLoughlin who is now the manager of the fine Port Royal Pipe and
Cigar shop in Toledo, Ohio.

The Technique

Our solution is what we call "pipe mud."  We experimented with other solutions to the problem, including many variations involving the use
of honey, but pipe mud was by far the best.  Please allow me to  describe it to you.  Pipe mud is a mixture of fine cigar ash crushed
into fine powder, and then mixed in the right combination with water, so as to produce a thick "paste" or "mud" that can fill in the bottom
of the bowl of a pipe.  The bottom of the bowl is filled in with mud to eventually meet the lower end of the draft hole.  Unlike honey and
ash combinations, pipe mud is a non-sticky paste, and it can be formed or molded in any way the smoker wishes.  But the best way is by using
a pipe cleaner inserted through the shank, to serve as a guide to build a well shaped "false bottom" at the entrance of the draft hole.
This simulates the actual conditions of a proper drilling by a competent pipe-maker, and compensates for the lack of precision in the
making of that pipe.  The best tools to form the new bottom seems to be the rounded outside of the "spoon" of a pipe tool, and the rounded
end of a pipe tamper (if you have one of that sort) to round out the new bottom.

The single most important point to remember about making pipe mud is that the cigar ash and water must be mixed properly or the entire
effort will be wasted.  If too much water is used in the mix, the pipe  mud will easily crumble, flake away, and disintegrate.  The mixing
should be thorough and complete.  When mixing, as little water as possible should be used, so that there is no reflective "sheen" of the
water showing on the surface of the "mud."  If too little water is used, the ash will separate and the mix will not become cohesive.  The
ideal combination is to have so little water in the mix that any less  will cause that separation.  Mixing should be very thorough, and I use
a pipe tool spoon to do the job.  It takes a bit of practice but eventually one gets the knack.  After creating the "false bottom" of
the bowl, the mud should be allowed two full days to dry, so that the water can evaporate and the pipe mud can harden and "grab" onto the
walls of the bowl.  After the mud is dry, it is a good idea to gently  rub it with a finger and blow out any loose grains before smoking.
The pipe can then be smoked and a new cake can be formed over and upon the new surface.  When done right, the pipe mud job is completely
unnoticeable after a few bowls of tobacco.  Of course, one would want  to inform any new or prospective owner of the pipe that it had
undergone this treatment.

Pipe mud has several important advantages.  When properly mixed it dries very hard, almost as hard as cake.  It adds little or no flavor
to tobacco, and is made of a completely inert, noncombustible material.  Unlike honey, it will not run down the sides of the bowl
when it heats up, and leaves no carbon residue from excess sugar.  It is very readily and easily caked over by the normal process of
smoking.  Remarkably, it is absorbent of moisture, more so than briar itself.  Another advantage is that it can be removed with a standard
reaming tool if one decides to get rid of it.  A final advantage of pipe mud is that it is inexpensive, costing no more than the enjoyment
of a fine cigar or two.  It is important to add that only high quality cigars should be used for this process, so that no bits of tobacco
residue are embedded in the ash.

Other Uses of Pipe Mud

In addition to adjusting high draft holes, we used it to fix heat  fissures in the inside of bowls for customers, and to fill in heat
cracks around a draft hole that is starting to burn out.  Hungarian and full bent shapes are especially prone to such burnout due to the
steep angle of the shank bore into the bowl.  Pipe mud can protect  areas that are starting to burn.  With regard to another form of draft
hole problem, my friend Jeff Goldman once acquired a Ser Jacopo Picta that had one side of the draft hole literally burned away from
combustion.  He used pipe mud to fill in and restore the old draft  hole and the pipe now smokes wonderfully.  Recently, a friend from the
Christopher Morley Pipe Club in Philadelphia told me with some concern that a favorite old Ben Wade had mysteriously formed large heat cracks
in the inner bowl walls.  This sometimes happens through no fault of the pipe smoker.  After all, briar is a thing of nature and subject to
the laws of physics.  My friend made a batch of pipe mud and pressed it into those cracks and caked it over with great success, saving the

Another use for pipe mud has been for bowls or tobacco chambers with a "U" shaped bottom, that is, one that does not allow tobacco to burn
completely and, consequently, leaves too much dottle in the bottom of  the bowl.  In these cases, pipe mud can be used to reshape the bottom
of the bowl, tapering it gently into the draft hole, as it might appear in a well bored pipe.  This greatly increases the efficiency of
the draw, and makes for much less accumulation of dottle.  In another  case, I once acquired a Castello Collection Greatline that was so
poorly reamed that the cake was plagued with large uneven lumps, and with craters in the cake that went all the way down to bare wood.  It
was quite disconcerting to see that such a great pipe had been so  poorly treated.  I carefully smoothed the lumps with a 3-sided pipe
knife/reamer (made by Savinelli), filled in the craters with pipe mud (to protect the bare wood), and caked it over by smoking my favorite
tobacco.  After smoking 3 or 4 bowls one would never have known there  was a problem.   Although there is a just a hint of cigar taste when
pipe mud is applied to the walls (but not draft holes) of a pipe, in this case that Greatline was smoking great after those 3 or 4 bowls.

Many of my fellow pipe smokers have used pipe mud successfully.  My  friend Bill Feild, a discerning collector and a long time critic of
high draft holes, has used pipe mud to great advantage to compensate for the poor drillings of several of his pipes.  I should mention,
however, that we use this stuff very conservatively, only if and when  there is need.  There is no point in overdoing it or getting fancy
with this method.  In closing, I know that this approach might be controversial for some, but please bear in mind that pipe mud can
usually be removed with a good pipe reamer.  We have never had any  negative consequences as a result of using it.  In any case, I welcome
comments, criticisms, suggestions for improvement, or better solutions to the high draft hole, a problem that remains, nevertheless, in need
of more attention.

Fred Hanna
Baltimore, Maryland