Here’s something I’ve been working on for quite some time, a finish color for a very specific purpose. While most pipes fall easily into either smooths or sandblasts, every once in a while I get the rarity that is surface-flawless enough to be a smooth, but just doesn’t have very interesting grain. Maybe it’s loose, maybe it’s uneven, maybe it’s just plain meh, but for whatever reason, I have a perfect bowl that isn’t going to make a particularly grain-pretty smooth nor a dramatic sandblast. In other words, the perfect subject for a “Dress Black” finish similar to Dunhill’s.
My recent work on the Halloween pipe reminded me of the other reason I wanted to nail down a nearly-black finish – For use on Halloween pipes. And this is another perfect opportunity for our Ligne Bretagne pipes to serve as a testbed for techniques that will be carried upward… and probably not come back down again, because this is not an easy finish to pull off, especially in the LB price range.
The thing is, it’s actually quite hard to create a nearly full-black finish, and that is exactly what I have in my mind’s-eye – A nearly full-black finish. What I want is not a 100% black but a 96% black… Almost fully opaque but with just the slightest grain showing, a hint here and there. That’s where the problems come in. In most cases, the manufacturer wanting a dress black finish would simply paint it with an opaque stain, giving it a 100% even-colored surface. That wouldn’t leave me with any grain to display so I had to stick with other coloring methods – In the end, what I settled on was a natural wood darkening trick I learned in France to take the wood almost to black while still leaving some grain visible. It has the advantages of being a deep color and not being something that will rub off with handling. That’s the issue that keeps me from simply using aniline black dye, because even without any compounding, a black-stained pipe would first come off too much under a carnuba buffing wheel (Giving me a lighter pipe than I want, plus a black-stained wheel) and then all over the smoker’s fingers during early break-in. This way, there’s nothing to bleed out.
…Or at least I hope not, but I had to go and add one extra step for the pipe pictured here, which was a final application of a deep red stain, which helped give the black extra visual depth – An old artist’s technique. I’ve rubbed it back with alcohol to take off the excess, so I hope it won’t give red fingers for the first couple of smokes. A final bit of oil rubbing gave it a deep, natural, semi-gloss sheen that is not the high gloss of a compounded/waxed/polished pipe or a shellacked/lacquered pipe.
This is another example of a market test – I think it looks interesting and yes, a bit sinister in its monolithic darkness, but whether I make more will depend on whether this one sells. I’ve got plenty of spot applications where I can use this finish on Halloween pipes, but whether it becomes a regular look among our Ligne Bretagnes and Talbert Briars will be up to whatever feedback I get on this one.