Flow Dynamics in Meerschaum Coloring – A Theory


Blog by Fred Bass

Here is another reflective piece by Fred Bass that I had in the files saved on my computer. I think it is time to resurrect this discussion. Anyone with contributions, thoughts or comments please note them below… thanks. – Steve

I’ve been giving some thought to the issues of flow dynamics as they relate to Meerschaum coloring. With little else but the most rudimentary exposure to scientific thought on flow principles long ago, my grasp of this concept is weak. Still, it seems a topic of interest to both myself and others. I offer these thoughts in the hopes that others will take some interest. The combination of burning tobacco and beeswax cause Meerschaums to color over time. OK, so what’s going on? It seems that heat will cause the wax to migrate into the Block. Continued heating/cooling cycles will cause the wax to migrate in a progressive manner, but at some point, the wax evaporates. This process works like a wick to the by-products of tobacco combustion and draws them into the Block, where they accumulate, in a progressive result of color, that changes character over time. If I understand it, this is the process that results in the patina that Meerschaum smokers prize. Is this what’s going on? Do I have a cogent theory in this line of thought?

An interesting observation to add to this is that Meerschaums that have been smoked for long periods of time, without rewaxing, may not demonstrate a well developed patina. When such a Pipe is rewaxed, it will quickly display colors. Like all coloring in Meerschaums, the repetition of rewaxing in concert with smoking the Pipe, will eventually produce coloring that does not quickly fade.

I believe that I’ve addressed the path of wax dissipation. Continued heating/cooling cycles will cause the wax to migrate in a progressive manner, but at some point, the wax evaporates. This process may account for wax loss, but certainly some will also be lost to friction on the Pipe’s surface. I’ve not taken any additives that the Carver may choose to mix in with the wax or the porosity of the Block into account.

Smoke from the tobacco smoking is giving the brown color, that is certainly a factor. The heat and the moisture of the tobacco are also involved. The Pipe’s shank usually starts to color first, as it is the site of major condensation via cooling, of the tobacco being smoked.

I agree that the wax protects the outer surface of the Pipe, which is not to say that it doesn’t migrate into the Block. As I understand it, the Carver blocks off the Pipe’s draft & the bowl, so that the wax does not get into the Pipe, but this is done to avoid having the first few smokes taste like burning wax. I also agree with you about the wax not being the coloring agent for the Block, but instead, it serves to wick the by-products of the smoke along it’s migration routes. The point that has me stumped, is the quick color shown by waxing Pipes that have not been rewaxed, but have been smoked. This suggests that some part (or all) of the nicotine, tars & moisture are already in the Block from smoking, but do not display this coloring as fast, if left without rewaxing. Even if the wax’s role is to wick and protect, how does it contribute to the Pipe’s color. Your idea of the wax serving to seal the Block from loss of these smoke by-products may be a demonstration of this idea. It is an interesting puzzle.

I’ve been turning this bit of a puzzle over in my mind, as it seems that it will not let me rest. Perhaps the wax, the heat and the burning tobaccos also interact chemically. This would explain how rewaxing a Pipe, that has been smoked for a long period of time, will produce coloring with a rapid permanence more dramatically than a Pipe that has been smoked less that has been rewaxed. It is also quite possible that the Meerschaum itself plays a part in this chemical interaction. I suspect that this has all been thought of before, and tested by Carvers. Such knowledge would enable a Carver’s work to stand apart from the competition, and not likely to be widely known, as with anything in the Meerschaum trades. So much is lost to us in the guarded history of the Carver’s art. 😉

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