Blog by Greg Wolford
I own two meerschaum pipes: an old African block estate pipe and a Turkish bulldog shape my son bought me for Christmas two years ago. Both of these pipes smoke well but they are also both quite large, for my evolving taste anyway, as a result, I don’t smoke either of them very often. So of late I have been on the lookout for a smaller ‘meer that was both affordable and appealing to my eye in local flea markets and antique shops. Most of what I find locally is priced too high, either in general or for my budget, and often they are in poor condition. But a couple of weeks ago I stumbled upon a little pipe that met all of my conditions and it became mine. I took it (and an old Kaywoodie that I’ve yet to touch) home and it waited in my “to do” basket until yesterday.
At first glance I saw that the pipe was dirty and likely had never been waxed. The screw in stinger was also out of time. But these were small things considering the price and my intended use: As a smoker not a show piece. The pipe also appeared to have a Bakelite stem that looked dirty but in good shape. Here are a few photos of it before I began:
I knew that I wanted to re-clock the stem and also to even out the bigger chips on the bowl and rim. For the chips I remembered Steve’s post on the meerschaum bowl he modified to fit a Kirsten pipe. So I got out some wet/dry paper in about 400 grit and also some well-worn 1000 grit to sand/polish the bowl and rim. after setting the needed paper out, I removed the stem to clean it and the shank well before anything else.
The first thing I noticed was that the stem looked and felt different from I expected; at the antique mall I didn’t look too closely since I was hoping to score a better deal on the pari of pipes. The stem seemed heavier and just, well, different from the Bakelite stem on my African meer. Not owning a pipe with an amber stem I had nothing to compare it to so I messaged Steve and sent these photos:
After a few exchanges, he directed me to a link to test to see if I had real amber. I started with the alcohol test: pass. Then I moved to the acetone test: pass again. In fact, after the tests and then cleaning the stem well with alcohol it was much shinier and better looking! The final test, which was inconsequential, was the taste test: Not only a pass but I could really feel a different in the mouthfeel of this stem versus any other I have. Now I was excited to get her cleaned up and tried out! As sort of a last test, I heated the stinger with my heat gun to see if I could loosen and straighten it; there were no bite marks to remove, thankfully. After a bit of heat the stinger did loosen but the stem didn’t soften like Bakelite or acrylic would. I began to adjust the stinger to find that the metal apparatus was a screw in tenon, threaded into the amber. So I removed it and dropped it (the tenon) into a bit os alcohol to loosen and dissolve the grime in the threads. While it soaked I began to clean the shank and stem with cotton swabs and pipe cleaners and alcohol. To my great surprise the shank and stem were very clean. I only used two pipe cleaners and two cotton swabs and they were not at all grimy:
After cleaning and drying everything I reassembled the pipe. I wasn’t able to get it 100% straight but it is better. I tested the draw now and it was open and clean tasting, though the air hole in the stem is not very large. There were, after the cleaning of the stem, some scratches and dings, all small, present. But the shine was pretty good and since I don’t feel comfortable with it I opted to not try to sand/remove them. I may at some point go back and wax it but I’m in no hurry for that. Time to move to the bowl.
I began by gently sanding at the deep chips, especially on the bowl.
This took some time with the 400 grit paper because I didn’t want to remove too much material. When it was close to what I wanted, I topped the bowl slightly to clean up and even the rim. I then moved to the well-worn 1000 grit to polish off the entire stummel, removing some stuck on pieces of tobacco and most of the dirt/grime. Then I tore off a piece of the 1000 grit paper and polished the bowl out a bit. There was some grime, some scratches and some “digging” marks in the bottom of the bowl. I wanted only to smooth it a bit as I thought it would remove too much material to attempt to fully even it out. Lastly I wiped the entire pipe down with a barely dampened with alcohol cotton pad to remove any dust that might have been remaining. This is the result:
I let it dry out for a few hours and loaded it up with a rubbed out bowl of Peterson Irish flake last night and rubbed beeswax on it as I smoked it. I must say it smokes as well or better than either of my other ‘meers! Unfortunately, I accidentally grabbed up a non-lint free rag to polish it after it had cooled and now have some lint specks in the wax. But I’ll be re-waxing it soon anyway and will fix it then. I also may sand it a bit smoother with 800 grit paper; there are a few scratches still visible but not too irritating to me. This morning I triad a little Rattray’s Accountant’s Mixture in her as I was writing this article and she smoked equally well. This is a look at her after the first wax application.
All in all, I’m very pleased with my new no-name ‘meer. She is exactly the size I was hoping for, smokes great, looks pretty good and will look better with time and I got an amber stem that I’d not bargained for! The joys of the hunt and the rewards of the work: That’s why I love bringing these old pipes back to a useful, if not beautiful, state.