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John C. Cameron – Before and After by Thomas Doucet

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

The following article was written by Thomas Doucet, master bagpipe restorer and owner of Thomas Pipeworks in Niagara Falls, Ontario.~

“I’d like to thank Gord at for hosting this article. I’ve been restoring and repairing pipes since 1994 and have had a lot of sets pass through my hands. Some sets stand out in memory for one reason or another; Lindsay Kirkwood’s set, Colin MacLellan’s father’s set and of course John Wilson’s MacDougall to name a few.
Pipers have been becoming more aware of the inherent value of vintage sets and Gord at Island Bagpipe has been helping get the word out by means of the vintage section on this site.
I’d also like to thank Doug Hamilton, the current owner of this J.C.Cameron set, for sending yet another beautiful set of vintage pipes to be restored.

Here we have a beautiful and rare set of J.C. Cameron of Dundee. Unfortunately there's not much known about J.C. Cameron but we do have this restored and fully functional vintage set to learn from. This picture shows the set as it arrived here at the shop of Thomas Pipe Works. Initial assessment showed many cracks throughout in both the ivory and wood. One area of concern was that the middle bass piece had a cracked tuning pin. Since most of this set is made of cocus wood, it was decided to save original pin by means of banding rather than replacing the whole pin with a piece of blackwood. Blackwood would have had to been used as cocus is no longer available. Although a blackwood pin would have sufficed, conservation of original vintage materials wherever possible is a top priority. (See pic DSCF7706 and DSCF7720 elsewhere in this article).

So, lets look at some highlights to see how we got from the pipes in the first picture to this, the finished set pictured below -

Complete set fully restored!

DSCF7672(below) You may be wondering to yourself why the rings on these tops are put on upside down. Well, actually they’re not. This is known as ‘pill box’ or ‘sailor’s cap’ when rings are put on in this fashion.

And just to be sure, below is a top down view of the top’s rings. You can see scribe lines along the top surface of the rings; a detail that wouldn’t have been added if the rings were to be put on in an opposite orientation.

DSCF7734 And just to be sure, here's a top down view of the top's rings. You can see scribe lines along the top surface of the rings; a detail that wouldn't have been added if the rings were to be put on in an opposite orientation.

Next, DSCF7730 Detail showing the heel and tie-in section of one of the stocks. The tie-in section ( being pointed at by a nail ) is cut out using a rounded hand gouge in a Sinclair-type fashion. Just above the tie-in section you can see where banding has been applied to the stock.

Detail showing the difference in the fountain section between the tenor top and bass top. The bass top has a bead and two combed sections. The tenor top on the left has just a comb.

Detail showing the shoulder sections ( the ogee transition from thinner part to wider part ) of the middle bass, tenor top and bass top. See pic DSCF7835 for explanation of terminology. Cameron added an extra ledge to the more traditional understated ‘scoop’ found on most familiar vintage pipes like Henderson, Lawrie, Robertson etc…

Drawing explaining shoulder section ( ogee edge profile transition ) of Cameron pipes. For a definition of ogee you can visit

Cast your thoughts back to yesteryear with me. Back to the dusty shops of old… or Thomas Pipe Works of present…( you’ll find no CNC machines there ).
There’s nothing a pipe maker loves more than getting a couple sets of billets, let them sit for a while, centre mark the blanks, let them sit for a while, rough round and pilot bore those blanks, let them sit for a while, rough bore and cut to length and let sit for a while, then get down to hand turned finish sizes, only to get hit in the face with a chuck of soft wood flying off the lathe in the discovery of… worm rot in a nice piece of cocus wood.
The dramatic pic with Gramp’s old pen knife shows the rot goes right through to the bore. Major surgery was needed here. Although pics were not able to be taken, the hole was originally filled with softened shellac. Pics were not able to be taken because the shellac fill was well hidden and mostly dissolved when finish was removed.
[ Ed note: For a cool video on how softened shellac was applied old-school go to

The next steps were to fill the hole, knock out that whole section of combing and then invisibly whip the entire length of that section.
Look back at pic DSCF7739 of the finished set. The bass top is indexed the same as it is in pictures DSCF7698 and DSCF7697. In that view you are looking at the hole in the bass top after it has been filled, invisibly whipped and finished.

This is the middle section. You can see a little chunk of wood missing from the hemp stop section of the tuning pin ( at the very top ). Following this was a crack that ran the length of the pin. As mentioned at the beginning of the article, it was decided to save original pin as part is made of cocus wood. Cocus is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to get anymore. For the first time ever, banding has been used to save a pin.

If you look back at pic DSCF7706 you’ll see discolouration in the wood underneath where the projection mount would be ( the projection mount is the white part sitting off to the side ). This pic ( DSCF7716 ) shows a close-up of that section with the worm rot and the resulting crack dug out. This section was filled and invisibly whipped.

This pic shows the darker banded sections on the middle bass tuning pin. This pic shows the first time ever that banding has been used in the application of saving cracked pins. Mark it down in your history books brothers and sisters. Saving original parts and materials whenever and wherever possible is a top priority.
You’ll also note a new blackwood hemp stop added to the top of the pin for extra reinforcement.
For more info on hemp stops see pics DSCF7720 and DSCF7727.

Here is the finished middle joint. Admittedly the banding on the pin is not very invisible but the original pin was saved, so, mission accomplished. What is invisible though is the whipping on the first four combed sections immediately following the projection mount. Give yourself a no-prize if you spotted them.

These are the four tuning pins. Each one received a blackwood hemp stop for added reinforcement since each one was cracked and/or chipped. Note blank portion in hemp combing of each pin.

DSCF7723 and DSCF7724
Detail showing the tuning pin before it gets a blackwood hemp stop.


Detail showing the hemp stop portion turned away and the crack revealed. Masking tape was used to hold the tuning pin together while the operation took place.

Detail showing two reconstructed hemp stops. The hemp stops are made of blackwood and are essentially wooden washers affixed to the tuning pin ends. This new wood will act as a reinforcement.

The finished pins with new hemp stops.

Starting with the stocks, the bass was in the worst shape. A crack running the entire length including the ivory ferrule needed to be addressed. The crack in the wood was dug out, filled and then the entire stock was invisibly whipped.

Unfortunately the crack in the wood ran through the stamp. After the crack was filled, careful consideration was used when removing filler material from this area. The filler had to be scraped off, rather than cut away on the lathe, in hopes of preserving the name stamp.
In order to ensure the ivory ferrule had the best chance of survival, it was not removed. Since the ferrule had gone ‘out of round’, it was filled rather than removed with a further intention of bringing it back into ’round’.

Here we see the entire length of the stock invisibly whipped and the ivory ferrule filled. A secret revealed; it’s very difficult to hide a break this big in an ivory ferrule so the next best thing, with a set of pipes this old, is to make the repair

appear very old as well. The fill used was an acrylic polymer that was later tinted.

Quite often during big restorations on vintage pipes there are more questions than answers. Take this chanter stock for instance. It is original to the set but somewhere along the time line someone cut the ivory ferrule in two ( a top piece and a bottom piece ) and added a piece of wood ( essentially a wooden washer {see pic DSCF7834} ) in an attempt to … ” enter your best guess here “.
The wooden washer and ivory ferrule halves were removed. Next, the ivory halves were put back on, without the wooden washer, and the stock was trimmed to size.

Here is the stock after the wooden washer was removed and stock trimmed to size. This stock, although original, now has no manufacture stamp. Interesting to note that the manufacture stamp would have been where the wooden washer was.


The two tenor stocks. One was in decent condition but the other was cracked for entire length.

The two tenor stocks finished. The lower stock in pic resting on the piece of paper has been invisibly whipped the entire length. You can see a section of banding at the very bottom of the stock’s heel. This was added as reinforcement because the whole stock was cracked.

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