Blog by Fred Bass
This article is a combination of various posts and emails that Fred wrote on the topic. He combined them into this piece and sent it to me for safe keeping. With his death I think it is important to make this articles available to the community. — Steve
For me, I believe that Steve has hit upon the root of the issue in regards to an earthy taste. To deliver a smoke’s full potential, a clean pipe is best. Before I smoke a new Meerschaum, I clean it with Everclear, a shank brush and pipe cleaners. There will be a lot of dust in the pipe from the milling of both the block and the bit, if it is hand cut. The first few smokes will burn off the wax. Many find this brief period not to their liking. This same event occurs after a pipe has been rewaxed. I guess I’ve done it so many times that it no longer bothers me.
The next part to this issue is to follow up every smoke with the proper cleaning. By doing this, I have no need to dedicate a pipe to a blend as I experience little to no taste carry over. It is best to be diligent in preventing any cake build up. A sharp, blunt tipped knife is best used to scrape this off. This is just the opposite of Briar pipes, where cake build up is good. The problem is that Meerschaums will develop a black tar like plaque that can impart a bitter taste to the smoke. There is much difference of opinion on the points I’ve touched on. I can only speak to what works for me. My observations suggest that by keeping the Meer clean, you stand a better chance of having the by products of combustion contribute to the coloring that many Pipesters seek with their Meers. When I reclaim an estate Meer that has been abused, it takes several cleanings between smokes for the pipe to flush itself and finally deliver the best smoking experience. The pipe is a filter. Like any other filter, it can become saturated and not be able to function effectively.
Again, I do not consider myself an authority on Meerschaum pipes. I’m as much a student as the next… All I can offer are my own observations and experiences. To this end, I hope that this helps other Pipesters, so that some benefit may be gained.
Back in my undergraduate days, I saw a pipe in the window of a luggage shop that I just could not get out of my mind. It was an Andreas Bauer from Turkey, after A. Koncak acquired the trademark. It was a simple Smooth Bent Paneled Block Meerschaum that had the lines of the paneled bowl continue into the Amberite plastic bit. It was the first pipe I’d seen with the Delrin mortise-tenon push/pull joint and came in it’s own fitted leather case. Before this my only other Meer had come in a cardboard box. This was no holds barred PAD, so I saved up my $40.00 and caved in.
Things soon started to go wrong. I dropped it. This resulted in a few nicks in the block’s surface, which I thought as obvious as a train wreck, but others did not seem to notice. Not having much experience with Meerschaum, I proceeded to char the rim to where it might seem that a booster rocket had been used to light it. Down at the local pub, things got spilled on it and it seemed like every drunk that came in just had to pick it up when I had it resting in it’s case. Matters got so bad that I became ashamed of how the pipe looked, so I put it in a drawer for many years.
A couple of years ago, I decided that I would put the lessons I’d learned to good use with the resurrection of this pipe. It has been a slow process, involving much Everclear, a shank brush, more than a few pipe cleaners and the patience to repeat the process until the old ghost of blends I’d just as soon forget were exorcised. This did not help the finish nearly as much as the pipe’s smoke. Today, for the second and hopefully the last time, I took the block to task with 600 grit wet sanding in Everclear followed by a rewaxing using Halcyon II. It is starting to look passable. It will never return to it’s original state but it is no longer a pipe I keep in a drawer. With enough time and determination, even an abused pipe can regain some of it’s radiance. Just don’t beat it up too bad.
It is very interesting to read about the use of Murphys oil soap in restoration of a Meerschaum. One of the things I enjoy about pipesters is the ingenuity and diversity of problem solving methods. I guess that my approach is more of an ‘old school’ technique… I use Everclear for both routine maintenance & cleaning. In restoration, I’ve experienced positive results using it on the exterior surfaces. Where serious abuse has left a Meer with rim burn and other finish problems, Everclear used with fine grit wet/dry sandpaper will get results. Even if it looks as though Grandad used a space shuttle liftoff to light up with, with a little time it will resolve. After the cleaning, I’ll use Halcyon II. It does not have the durability of Bee’s Wax but is much easier to buff, so I will do my maintenance in a more timely way. For cake buildup, I use a sharp, blunt tipped knife and scrape it down to the stone surface. For restoration, the use of Everclear, a shank brush and lots of pipe cleaners will help flush the pipe. It may take 6 to 12 cleanings after every smoke to help the Meer unload old ghosts, but it will happen. Restoration of estate Meers is more of a labor of love than anything else. It takes time and effort. In addition to the use of paper shims to correct an overturned bit, I’ve used clear finger nail polish with good results. Some of my older Meers have a Kaywoodie type metal screw joint. A sparing application of clear nail polish, left to dry for a couple of days with the bit in the desired rotation will form a temporary bond that will last for awhile before becoming necessary to repeat. I hope these observations serve to provide good information to pipesters.
These paragraphs offer information on this topic of care and is by no means exhaustive. As we evolve, so does our knowledge & while some things we do remain the same, some things will change. There is plenty of room here for diversity, and it is welcome.