Daily Archives: September 26, 2014

A Face Lift for a Battered Old Meerschaum Bulldog – Robert M. Boughton

Guest Blog by Robert M. Boughton
Member, North American Society of Pipe Collectors
Photos © the Author

“Age should not have its face lifted, but it should rather teach the world to admire wrinkles as the etchings of experience and the firm line of character.”
— U.S. author Clarence Day, 1874-1937

I agree that facelifts in most cases are attempts, nothing more than vain at best and narcissistic at worst, by those with money to burn to avoid the inevitable, and often enough have undesired effects the recipients deserve. However, in the case of a very battered and generally abused meerschaum pipe, as with some people who have suffered at the hands of others, at least a bit of a makeover is in order. This holds true with a bulldog, the animal breed of which many coarse or misguided folks think lacks beauty in the first place.

The unknown brand I will discuss, clearly a fine Turkish block example, is one of those exceptions. For reasons which will be obvious it resembled a dog that had been in a fight. I received it as part of a lot of eight from eBay that I purchased in large part because I saw the poor bulldog alone among all of the briars, and upon closer scrutiny with the magnifier observed it was filthy and somewhat oddly colored and had horrible scratches all over its once smooth, white, pristine body. Some unknown carver trying to eke out a living as his father and generations before him had done likely made it without even a signature of any sort, as is unfortunately all too common among Turkish crafters due to the central nature of humility in Islamic beliefs.

This unfortunate meerschaum was in about as bad shape as I had ever seen any pipe I still wanted to buy. I thought, if not I, then who? There were others of more merit in the lot, but that one cried out to me. Then again, I do have a sizable collection of meerschaums and knew I would be more than happy to keep that one if things didn’t work out restoration-wise. A former roommate told me many years ago that I am attracted to strays, and although he said it with sarcasm I told him he was right. I see nothing wrong with that trait. By the way, I also tend to root for the underdog – although not as often in organized sports– such as the bull versus the matador. Nothing pleases me more than seeing a jerk in a pompous outfit, with all kinds of helpers, gang up on a bull and find himself gored and bleeding out. But that’s just a dark part of me.


I have had fair success restoring meerschaums, including the following befores and afters: Robert1 Robert2 Robert3 Robert4And so I figured I would give this poor ol’ dog a shot:Robert5 Robert6 Robert7 Robert8 Robert9 Robert10 Robert11Despite the deplorable condition of the bowl and rim, I knew from the past that they would be the easy part of this job, so I tackled them first. I reamed the bowl and then used #800 micromesh to smooth it out. Surprisingly, with a light touch and a piece of 400-grit paper, I took the blackness right off of the rim and didn’t hurt the coloring at all. There were a few dings that rubbed out easily with #1000 micromesh.

The hard part, I knew and remember already indicating, but it bears repeating, was to remove as many of the scratches and other blemishes as I could with a minimum of damage to the nice if oddly distributed color on the outside of the bowl and shank. The spread of yellow and orange, not to mention the lack of any shine to the meerschaum, suggested over-hot smoking of this delicate if strongly shaped and named pipe. That conclusion would seem to be a no-brainer given horrendous caking within the bowl and cooking of the rim. And somehow I doubt the maker never treated it with beeswax or something else, yet it was as flat as could be.

My experience with washing the outside of a pipe with distilled water in general is that it seems to give a brighter light on the job at hand by removing all of the filth that has built up over time smoking any pipe. I could see this one was going to be worse than most, but nothing prepared me for the indefensible groping with dirty hands by whatever anti-aficionado of pipe smoking who had abused the bulldog with apparent joyful perversity. Why, I even had to scrub the muck out of the trademark groove beneath the rim! The result was not one or two, but three small pieces of cotton cloth spent and blackened with the physical dirtiness of some variety of pipe lecher.

Therefore, with the highest care, I applied stronger use of the #1000 micromesh to the seemingly endless scratches and other stray marks, like signs of skin cancer, that were everywhere. When I had stopped and resumed again time after time, finding more and more marks upon this wonderful pipe, I was at last as satisfied with the results as I knew I would ever be.

Then I used more stem cleaners and pipe freshener than I had ever expended on a single pipe, let me just say that, to sanitize the stem, shank and bowl, and by the end of it I have to admit only the stem came out perfectly clean. But I knew it was sanitized and ready to smoke one good bowl of tobacco, so I chose my own blend of burleys, Oriental, perique, a touch of Cavendishes and a bit of Virginias including red cake that I call Sneaky Rabbit (and which will soon be a house blend at my favorite tobacconist) to smoke the pipe once.
True enough, I wanted to know how this unusual bulldog smoked, but my main reason for lighting up a pipe I intend to sell and therefore knew I would have to give another quick clean was to heat the meerschaum enough to melt beeswax from a bar evenly over the outer area. I swear to it! I had researched online different processes for accomplishing this necessary completion for previous restorations, and the method I described had worked before so I knew it would again.

And so, once the smoking enjoyment had reached a high enough degree, I began applying the beeswax as described, and it worked just as well as I was certain it would. I took my last puffs of the pipe and cleared out the ash with care quickly before rubbing the beeswax vigorously into the meerschaum with a big soft cotton cloth.

The stem, despite the awful damage inflicted on the meerschaum, to my great surprise was in okay shape and only need some sanding and micro-meshing to prep it for a spin on the wax wheels.

Here are the final results:Robert12 Robert13 Robert14 Robert15 Robert16 Robert17 Robert18CONCLUSION
This was a work of love, and I know the results are a little rough around the edges. But I was determined throughout the process to assure that no more damage than had already been perpetrated against this pipe be made. It is already up for sale, but if nobody ever buys it, I know it is safe in my possession.

Restoring a Dunhill Shell Billiard 42121

Blog by Steve Laug

Of all my finds on my recent pipe hunt this little Group 4 Dunhill Shell is one of the favourites. It has a great sandblast that really had some nice craggy grain. The finish was in good shape. The rim was dirty and had a slight build up of oils and tars. The bowl was caked with a thick cake. The stem was oxidized and also had a calcium buildup for the first inch of the stem. The stem had an inner tube inside that was slightly bent that kept the stem from seating correctly in the shank. There were several shallow bite marks on the top and bottom sides of the stem near the button. Internally the stem and shank were surprisingly clean.IMG_2201 IMG_2202 IMG_2203It is stamped on the underside of the shank with 42121 Dunhill Shell over Made In England and next to the D of England was an underlined and superscript 20 next to that was an underlined 23. Using John Loring’s Dunhill Briar Pipe book the dating is 1980 as seen by the underlined 20 slightly elevated and following the D. The underlined 23 indicate that it was sold in 1983, due to the one year guarantee.IMG_2204The next photo shows the buildup on the rim that needed to be dealt with in a cleanup and restoration of the pipe.IMG_2205I cleaned out the shank and the stem with pipe cleaners, cotton swabs and 99% isopropyl alcohol until the cotton swabs and pipe cleaners came out clean.IMG_2206 IMG_2207I scrubbed down the bowl with undiluted Murphy’s Oil Soap on cotton pads and then rinsed it off with running water. I dried it with a cotton towel.IMG_2208IMG_2209IMG_2210IMG_2211IMG_2212I scrubbed the rim with a soft bristle brass tire brush to clean off the tars and oils and open up the sandblast on the rim. I scrubbed it with a soft cotton pad and alcohol to remove the pieces left behind by the wire brush.IMG_2213I touched up the finish around the edges of the bowl rim and the end of the shank. I also touched up spots on the sides of the bowl and the bottom of the shank. I used the Guardsman Stain pens that Greg sent me to do the touch up work. I chose to use the lightest stain pen as it matched the colour of the bowl precisely. When I use these pens I always start with the lightest stain and work toward the darkest until I get a match.IMG_2214 IMG_2215 IMG_2216 IMG_2217I sanded the stem with 220 grit sandpaper and then with medium and fine grit sanding sponges to remove the oxidation and the calcium deposits. I “painted” the tooth marks with the flame of a Bic lighter to lift them closer to the surface and then sanded what remained with 220 grit sandpaper and the sanding sponges.IMG_2218Taking a cue from Al Jones I made a plastic washer to put between the shank and the stem to make the sanding of the saddle simpler. I could sand right up to the edge without damaging the end of the stem and rounding the edges.IMG_2219 IMG_2220 IMG_2221I sanded the stem with my usual array of micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanding with 3200-12,000 grit pads. Between each set of three pads I rubbed down the stem with Obsidian Oil before moving on to the next set of three. When I had finished with the 12,000 grit pad I took the pipe to the buffer and buffed the stem with White Diamond.IMG_2222 IMG_2223 IMG_2224I lightly buffed the bowl and the stem once again with the White Diamond and then used Halcyon II wax on the bowl and carnauba on the stem. I hand buffed the pipe with a shoe brush and raised the shine. The finished pipe is shown below. I am looking forward to loading an aged bowl of McClellands 5100 and having the inaugural smoke in this beauty.IMG_2225IMG_2226IMG_2227IMG_2228