“Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and fearful change.”
— Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, 1818
The great English author and creator of the science fiction genre, Mary Shelley, had she been a pipe restorer, might have been writing of the feeling of dread I experienced after a single swipe of sandpaper destroyed any chance I had of restoring a beautiful Hilson Mardi Gras meerschaum-coated and kilned billiard to its original glory. All I could do with the monster I created with that foolish attempt to remove a small blemish, once I summoned the nerve, was to go to my friend and mentor, Chuck Richards, and confess my sin with the hideous evidence in hand.
Oh, I beseech you; do believe me when I confess that before doing so I attempted to cover up my evil act with multiple layers of yellow and orange marker ink and Super Glue, which surgery proved fruitless, as all can see from this hideous disfigurement committed by yours truly. I can now only plead that in my Godforsaken state of pride and arrogance I believed I could re-animate that which I knew was dead. Thus the poor monster appeared before the sparkling eyes of the master, Chuck. To my great combination of horror and expectation, he seemed amused, and so I chose to have the satisfaction of describing the facts as I imagined them before he could state them himself.
So I guess what I have here is a once beautiful pipe that I can keep for myself and enjoy smoking,” I said. “But there’s no hope of fixing it.”
Chuck nodded and allowed his face to reveal the big grin I deserved. When he had reigned in his jolly fun, Chuck explained that the process Hilson (http://www.pipephil.eu/logos/en/logo-h3.html) uses to make this variety of meerschaum pipe is to coat the inner and outer bowl with the magic white porous claylike material made of hydrated magnesium silicate, and then glaze and heat the bowl in a kiln. Once that process is complete, there can be no meddling with the basic elements of the pipe form.
However, following my basic nature of stubborn curiosity, I began to meddle.
Refusing to accept that there was yet no hope for this mangled creature of my own unmaking, I decided there was no good reason not to sand off the rest of the fixed glaze and see what lay beneath. Yet nothing could have prepared me for my utter dismay when I reached a small patch of that which could only be described as wood. And where there is wood, for those who are of such a mind as mine, there is hope, however lunatic the notion may be. I proceeded to strip the bowl down to the bare briar birthday suit. I also reamed, sanded and micro-meshed the bowl and rim.
No doubt the Reader can see the many reasons why this hunk of briar, despite its likely latent lineage, might not be conducive to preparation for the average pipe smoker’s, or, dare I say it, even restorer’s viewing without extreme measures. Yet just such extremities did I have in mind to make this once fair Hilson born of a line of solid stock starting in Germany and traveling to Belgium and lately found in Denmark under another owner.
After sanding the tenon to make the stem flush with the shank, I still noticed (and thanks to a preview email to our host, Steve, was confirmed with invaluable constructive criticism) that the stem itself was never properly fitted. I broke out my 1500 micromesh and ever so slowly worked away until the two met and formed a whole. Several attempts later at finishing with the unnatural briar stained brown and buffed with White Tripoli, White Diamond and carnauba waxes I even thought I had my Hilson’s Monster restored to life. Alas, the mishmash of grains still shone through. I have made a few attempts with pipes that had far less reason to conceal the visages of their fearsome, uncomely wood entirely with black stain, all of which met with disaster due to various problems, most of them being the necessity for a baby smooth surface. This time, however, I had overcome that hindrance and set out to try again, with satisfactory results. The only difference was that I mixed equal parts of black and maroon stains, then re-buffed, to this initial end. True, this was a far cry better than where I started, but not quite what I was looking for. I was deathly afraid of taking the next step in trepidation of doing something I have already done enough to know better: taking one step beyond the edge and ending up ass over teakettle. So call me what you will – a madman, a reckless fool, yes, sling whatever epithets you will at me, but I did what my conscience bade me and gave the bowl a whirl of Red Tripoli with another, light coat of carnauba.
And there it is. The difference is subtle, I know, but present nonetheless. At long last I can revel in the knowledge that I have felt the power to give new life, though the original may have had, shall we say, more complexity. If it is an argument you want from me, you shall be woefully disappointed indeed. I say, trudge off to the Arctic Circle in search of your own gods and monsters, if you believe in them, for they do exist.