Refurbishing an Intricately Carved Old Meerschaum Eagle Claw Holding an Egg


Blog by Paresh

The next pipe on my work table is an old intricately carved meerschaum Eagle claw holding an egg in its talons. The stummel has an intricately carved shape of an eagle claw complete with perfectly carved scales and claw knuckles. The shank extension is a beautiful colored amber hexagonal block with copper end adornments. The delicate thin horn stem has a threaded bone tenon with orifice slot. There is no stamping whatsoever anywhere on this pipe. The lack of stamping makes it impossible to establish the origins of this pipe. However, the intricate carvings and eye for details on this pipe makes me believe this pipe to be Vienna made. Here is the pipe as it sits on my work table. Initial Visual Inspection
The pipe comes apart in three sections. The first is the meerschaum stummel carved to resemble an eagle’s claw that holds an egg; the second is a block of beautifully colored amber with six chiseled sides. The shank end and the stem end of this hexagonal amber block are adorned with decorated copper end adornments. The airway through the amber shank extension appears to be made of bone which extends out and seats into the mortise. Lastly is the delicate thin bent horn stem with matching threaded tenon end face and the orifice slot end face and appears akin to the triangular head of a grasshopper.There is a light build up of cake in the chamber that has dried and is crumbly due to prolonged storage. The condition of the inner walls of the chamber can be ascertained only after the cake has been removed completely. No apparent cracks or damage to the stummel surface is seen from the outside. The rim top has darkened due to overflow of lava and burn marks. There are a large number of dings and chips to the rim top which are visible through the lava overflow. The right side of the outer edge of the rim is severely damaged (enclosed in red), the result of striking the edge against a hard surface to remove dottle, presenting lop sided appearance to the rim on to the right. The inner edge of the rim on the left side appears thin in 8 o’clock direction (enclosed in blue) and combined with the damaged left outer edge gives the appearance of out of round chamber. The inner rim edge is dented and chipped in few places. Topping the rim surface and creating bevels should address these issues satisfactorily. The stummel is exquisitely carved with intricate details of the scales and knuckles replicated real like!! The four talons are all intact and perfectly shaped. The stummel had developed a nice patina from years of usage. Every nook and cranny of the carvings is filled with dirt and dust from years of uncared for storage giving a very dull and dirty appearance to the stummel. The short shank is a flared round and flumed and there are a few scratches on the surface. The mortise is lined with cork and is intact all around. The mortise has strong odors akin to some sort of soap smell (?), a smell that I have not come across as yet. Cleaning of the stummel to dislodge all the grime and dust from the carving will have to be a deliberate effort. Preserving the old cork lining at the shank end while cleaning the shank and mortise will be a challenge as the cork is susceptible to easy crumbling.   The hexagonal large block of Amber shank extension has developed a crack towards the tenon end (indicated with yellow arrow). This crack is deep but thankfully has not progressed all the way down to the airway. The amber is also chipped (indicated with green arrow) in one place just above the crack. The decorative copper end pieces are decoratively cast and serve the dual purpose of protecting the amber end face while adding a very classic bling to the appearance of the pipe. The copper adornments and the block amber piece are joined by a hollow bone that extends out as tenon. The amber is loose with gap in between the copper adornments and would need to be fixed. The threaded stem end copper adornment is full of old oils and tar accumulations. The tenon end of the copper adornment appears to have had some sort of packing/ separator between the metal and meerschaum shank end that has now worn out and disintegrated.  The horn stem is very delicate and thin that is full bent. The profile of the stem lends the entire pipe a tapered profile that is both delicate and attractive. The peculiarity of this stem is that the tenon end and the slot are identical in shape and size. The bite zone on either surface of the stem has been chewed up and with the horn fibers exposed. The thin delicate buttons on upper and lower stem surface have deep tooth indentations. The tenon end of the stem is heavily scratched. The threaded bone tenon is covered in oils and tars. One of the challenges in this project would be to match the tenon end and orifice slot end profile.The Process
I started this project by reaming the chamber with my smaller fabricated knife and scraped out all the carbon from chamber. I used a 220 grit sand paper, pinched between my thumb and forefinger, to sand the inner walls of the chamber of the pipe. Once I had reached the bare walls, I wiped the chamber with a cotton pad dipped in isopropyl alcohol. This removed all the residual carbon dust and also rid the chamber of all ghost smells. The walls of the chamber are nice and solid with no signs of cracks. Using a sharp knife, I gently scraped out the overflow of lava from the rim top. The dents and chips on the rim surface are now clearly visible and so is the extent of damage to the outer edge of the rim. The inner rim edge too shows a few chipped spots along the edge. I followed up the reaming of the chamber with cleaning of the mortise and air way of the pipe using hard bristled and regular pipe cleaners, q-tips dipped in alcohol. The mortise and the draught hole were given a final clean with shank brushes dipped in alcohol. The shank internals and the draught hole are now nice and clean with an open and full draw. This was easier said than done. The pipe cleaners would not pass through the draught hole for the love of money!! A great deal of poking and prodding with a straightened paper clip got me there.Next I cleaned the internals of the stem and shank extension with pipe cleaners and alcohol. I followed up the internal cleaning of the stummel, shank extension and the stem with external cleaning. I cleaned the external surface of all the three parts with Murphy’s Oil soap and hard bristled tooth brush/ shank brush. The stummel surface cleaned up nicely. The scratches and dents and dings over the stummel and shank extension surface are now clearly visible. The crack in the block amber in the shank extension is wider and deeper than I had anticipated since the dirt and grime which was embedded in the crack has now been cleaned. The external cleaning was followed by carefully removing old and now moistened wax and gunk that remained embedded in the many nooks and crannies of the intricate carvings over the stummel surface using sharp dental tools. The stummel is now truly cleaned and prepared for the next step in restoration.   I scraped off the old remnants of the packing from the tenon end of the shank extension. This would provide a fresh and clean surface for a new packing between the shank extension and the shank end to protect and provide an airtight seal between the shank end cork lining and the copper adornment at the shank extension end. I intend to use a leather gasket (if I can find one!) to seal the joint between the shank extension and the shank end. It was at this stage that while cleaning the tenon of the shank extension that realization dawned on me that the tenon is not bone as I had appreciated but WOOD!! The wood tenon even has part of the old bark covering the tenon (encircled in green). I decided to let the piece of bark remain on the tenon to preserve the originality of the pipe. Next, I decided to address the crack, chipped surface in the amber and also the gaps between the amber block and copper adornments. I filled the crack, chipped portion and the gaps with clear superglue and set the amber shank extension aside for the glue to cure.  With the amber shank extension set aside to cure, I addressed the bit marks on the horn stem. I start by sanding the bite zone with a piece of 180 grit sand paper. I filled the bite marks on both lower and upper surfaces of the horn stem with clear superglue. Once the glue had set, I layered superglue over the button in the bite zone as well as over the tenon end and set the stem aside for the glue to completely cure. Once the glue at the either ends of the stem has cured, I shall sand the fill to match the button in the bite zone and at the tenon end.   Now that the amber shank extension and horn stem had been set aside for the superglue fill to cure, I turned my attention to address the stummel issues. To address the darkened and out-of-round rim as well as the dings to the rim edges,, I first top the rim surface on a folded piece of 180 grit sand paper. Once the darkened areas were addressed, with a folded piece of worn out 180 grit sandpaper pinched between my forefinger and thumb, I create a slight bevel over the inner and outer rim edges till all the dings were removed and the out of round issue was reduced to a large extent.   I set the stummel aside and checked the stem fills. The glue had hardened completely. With a flat head needle file, I sand the fills on upper and lower surface and reconstruct the button edges at either ends of the horn stem. With a folded piece of 320 grit sandpaper, I sand the entire stem surface, including the button edges, to blend and smooth out the repaired surfaces. I rubbed a generous amount of EVO in to the stem to rehydrate it and set the stem aside for the oil to be absorbed.    All the while that I was working on the stummel and the stem, the repairs to the amber shank extension were curing nicely. Once the glue had completely hardened, with a flat needle file, I sand off the excess fill to achieve a rough match with the surrounding amber surface. I further blend in the repairs by sanding the entire amber block with a folded piece of 320 grit sandpaper. Now moving on to the most tedious and time consuming process of polishing the three parts of the pipe with micromesh pads. I wet sand the entire stem and the block amber shank extension with 1500 to 12000 grit micromesh pads. I wiped these parts with a moist cloth to note the progress being made. Once I was done polishing with all the pads, I rubbed a small quantity of EVO in to the stem to rehydrate it. I am happy with the progress being made thus far.    I polished the top of the bowl and rim edges with micromesh pads to remove the dark surface that still remained on the surface. I wet sand the entire stummel with 1500-12000 grit pads. I diligently worked around the intricately carved scales and knuckles of the claw to polish these carvings. I wiped the bowl down with a damp cloth to remove the dust that was left behind by the sanding. I wanted to minimize the scratching but not necessarily remove them. These lacerations and dings must have had a history and I wanted to preserve it.   I rubbed a small quantity of “Before and After Restoration Balm” in to the meerschaum stummel. I rubbed this balm deep in to the nooks and crannies of the carvings with my fingers and let it rest for a few minutes. Though I use the balm on briars, I have seen Steve use it on meerschaums as well and it really helps to bring out the patina that has developed on the meerschaum!! I am very pleased with the way the meer bowl appears at this stage.   Next, I polish the copper adornments at either ends of the block amber shank extension with a multi-purpose polishing liquid. I wiped it clean with a soft cotton cloth and gave a final polish with a jeweler’s cloth. Wow!! These copper adornments are now looking fantabulous and add a very chic and classy look to the appearance of the pipe.The only aspect, and functional aspect at that, to remain unaddressed was the gasket at the tenon end of the shank extension. I had thought of using a soft leather gasket as it is easy to shape and would provide an air tight seal. However, I could not lay my hands on one and neither could fabricate one. I discussed this with Abha, my wife, about the non availability of leather gasket. Always the problem solver, she promptly suggested using cork!! This solution was both practical and most likely original to the pipe. I selected a piece of cork that comes from wine bottle/ whiskey cap. With a sharp paper cutter, I carefully cut a couple of very thin round rings. I cut a hole of the size of tenon in the middle and stuck it to the end of the tenon end face of the copper adornment with superglue. I tried the seating of the tenon in to the mortise. It was snug and a perfect fit.   To complete the restoration of this pipe, I mount a cotton cloth buffing wheel on to my hand held rotary tool and applied White Diamond compound to each of the three pipe parts. I wiped/ buffed the pipe with a soft cotton cloth to clear it of any leftover compound dust.   I then mounted another cotton cloth wheel on to the polishing machine and applied several coats of carnauba wax over the stummel, amber shank extension and the stem. I finished the restoration by giving the pipe a rigorous hand buffing using a microfiber cloth to raise the shine further. Admiring the pipe, it made me wonder, did he really have a spirit which kept him ticking after having suffered the kind of abuse which was evident from all the lacerations, dents and dings and chips. But he has survived his past nonetheless and will continue on his warpath with me…Cheers!! P.S. I wish to thank all the esteemed readers for being a part of my journey as I walked through this project.

Praying for you and your loved ones in these troubled pandemic spread. Stay Home and Stay Safe!!

1 thought on “Refurbishing an Intricately Carved Old Meerschaum Eagle Claw Holding an Egg

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