Blog by Steve Laug
In a previous post where I wrote about repairing the overturned stem on the CPF Bulldog for Michael I referred to a Meerschaum Bulldog that he sent to me as a gift project. I had no idea what he meant about that until I took it out of the box and started checking it out. It really was a rescue dog operation. It is shown in the photo below (the pipe on the right). The picture does not show half of the story about the state of the old stem. When the pipe was unwrapped what met my eye fit well with Michael’s “take a swing at it” approbation. It was in rough shape. The Meerschaum bowl was scratched and dirty and the bling was worn and tired. The rim was pretty beat up with dents and scratches but the bowl was solid. There was a light cake in the bowl and that was a plus, as it could have been heavily caked and have a clogged airway.
The worst part of the entire pipe was the stem. I am pretty sure it is not amber – at least it does not feel like amber or even have the weight of amber. I am guessing an early version of Bakelite but I am not sure. It is almost fibrous like material – reminds of fibre glass. Somewhere during its lifetime the stem had crazed and cracked all through from one end to the other. It looked like fractured glass. It was barely holding together. There was nothing hold it onto the shank but tars, oils and what seemed like thread that was wrapped around the dirty tenon. I carefully lifted the stem off the tenon and laid it aside. The tenon was covered with a thick tarry substance and what appeared to be thread. I am pretty certain that the previous owner had glued the threaded tenon into the shank and I would never get it loose. Here are a few photos of the pipe, carefully taken so as not to further damage the stem.
I am a sucker for these old timers. This was obviously someone’s beloved pipe. There was a time when I thought a badly abused old pipe was a sign of lack of care. I have come to understand that it is not that at all. It was someone’s constant companion through the good and the bad times. It was one that was always close at hand – to my thinking it may well of road along wherever the pipeman went in the course of his day and was always ready to be loaded and fired up. It is a small bowl so it would not have been a long smoke but it was one that he obviously enjoyed to the point that the pipe was worn and repaired and worn more and repaired more. His repairs were just enough to make the pipe smokeable again but not to make it beautiful. I wish it could talk and tell its story. It lived through two World Wars, the Wright Brothers and the birth of air travel, the first man on the moon, space shuttles and microcomputers. It has seen the turn of two centuries and still survives. Those are the things that I think when I look at a tired old pipe now. I can’t help but wonder about the fellow who once held it in his hands. My repairs are dedicated to carrying on his legacy in this pipe.
If you are observant you will have noticed the black circular mark on the stem on both sides at the button. That black mark was a large hole, a bite through. That was another thing about the stem that made me pretty certain that it was not amber. I took a close up photo of both sides of the stem to show the size of the hole. It is quite large and centered on both sides. The button was also quite worn down and the slot had been opened leaving the top and bottom of the button very thin. You can see all of the cracks and crazing in the stem material in both photos. The airway and the area around the holes were black with tars. This old pipe was not stopped by the holes in the mouthpiece; the pipeman just moved it deeper into his mouth and carried on smoking his favourite pipe.
I took a close up photo of the rim to show the dents and darkening on the metal cap. The ornamentation on the top the rim was worn down from many years of a thumb rubbing over the top of the bowl and leaving behind the remnants of what must have been a continuation of the pattern on the sides of the cap. I decided to deal with the issues in the cracked and crazed stem. It was rough along the edges with what looked like splinters. I carefully worked to stabilize the stem material with clear super glue. I liberally coated the outside of the stem with clear super glue, filling the cracks and chipped areas and smoothing out the surface with the clear gel. Once I had it coated well I set it aside and let it harden. I have used the super glue before on Bakelite and it does a great job getting into the cracks and crevices in the material and hardening and preserving the original material. Once it was covered in the glue I had to figure out how to allow it to harden without sticking to everything it touched. I decide to put an ice pick in the airway and lay it across a box – suspended above the work top until it dried.
After the stem had been sitting for four hours and the glue had dried to touch, I decided to “take a swing” at repairing the bite through issue on both sides of the stem. I cleaned the hole and the airway with a cotton swab and warm water to remove the oils and tars. I wanted a clean surface for the patch. I sanded carefully around the hole to roughen the surface to give the patch something to bond to. Then I greased a thick pipe cleaner with Vaseline and pushed it into the slot in the button. I wiped the edges around the whole so there was no grease on them. I put the first coat of super glue on the hole on the underside and sprayed it with an accelerator to harden the first coat of the repair. I repeated the process on the top of the stem until both sides were repaired with the first coat. I removed the pipe cleaner and set the stem aside to cure. The photos below show the process of the repair to the hole. You can see from the photos that the holes patched pretty nicely. They are rough but they are no longer holes. I will need to do a lot of sanding on the stem to clean up the patches and reshape the button but it will be usuable.
After about an hour I gave it a second coat of glue on top of the repair and set it aside to cure again. While the repaired stem cured I went to work on the bowl. I used a pen knife to carefully scrape out the light cake in the bowl. I cleaned out the rings around the bowl with the pointed end of a round needle file. I wanted to get the gunk out of the rings before I scrubbed the surface of the bowl. I scrubbed the bowl with Murphy’s Oil Soap on a cotton pad remove some of the grime and clean up the exterior of the bling. I used a cotton swab to soak alcohol around the threads of the bone tenon. I was able to pick out some of the thread that had been used to hold it in place. I am hoping that repeated alcohol applications will loosen the tenon so that I can unscrew it from the shank to do a thorough cleaning.
The repeating swabbing with alcohol did not loosen the tenon at all. I think that the previous owner must have glue it in the stem and just pressure fit the stem onto the tenon. I had to come up with a different way of getting the stem to fit the tenon as the threads on the inside of the airway in the stem were worn and the stem just wobbled now that it was clean.
I examined the inside of the cleaned and restored stem and could still see the threads. I thought of trying cork and wrapping the tenon with that but after trying that it was too thick to fit into the stem. I then thought of wrapping the end of the tenon with thread and then coating the thread with wood glue. I tried that and it worked well. I was able to twist the stem onto the tenon and the threads in the stem worked into the glue and thread mixture on the tenon. The fix was a success.
I sanded the stem with 220 grit sandpaper to smooth out the repairs. I took down all the high spots and bumps left behind by the super glue. I recut the edge of the button on both sides of the stem with a needle file and then sanded the hole repairs on both sides to blend them into the surface of the stem.
I reworked the button with files and cleaned up the slot with files as well. Once I had the look right I sanded the stem with a medium and a fine grit sanding sponge. The crackle in the stem material where all the crazing was and now the glue bonding it together gave the stem a bit of a sparkling look. An added benefit of the crackling look was that the patched holes at the button blended in quite well.
I screwed the stem in place on the bowl and took a few photos to see what the finished look was going to be like. The repair makes the material sparkle. I really like the look that is coming together. I still needed to polish the stem with the micromesh sanding pads but you can see the finished pipe taking shape.
I sanded the stem with micromesh sanding pads to raise the shine in the material. I wet sanded it with 1500-2400 grit pads and gave it a coat of Obsidian Oil. It would not absorb but it would give some traction to the next grits of micromesh. I dry sanded with 3200-4000 grit pads and gave it another coat of oil. I finished with 6000-12000 grit pads and applied several coats of carnauba wax to the stem by hand and hand buffed it with a microfibre cloth.
The wax on the stem, polished by hand gives it warmth and a glow that is beautiful. The repairs to the bite through on both sides of the stem blended in quite well do to the crackling of the stem material. All combined the stem came out quite well considering where I started with it in this process.
I sanded the bowl with micromesh sanding pads to give it a shine. I decided to leave the scratches and dings in the bowl as it adds character to the old timer and are part of its long history as someone’s favourite smoking pipe. I can almost see the old pipeman putting the pipe in his pocket and heading off to work or for a walk. It certainly was not coddled like a pampered thing that wisdom of the age taught about meerschaums. No white gloves or careful handling this pipe saw much in its long life and carries the scars and marks of the journey. Now it is good to go for the next portion of its journey, one in which it will have a bit easier life.