Rescuing a Forsaken ‘No Name’ Smooth Meerschaum Billiard

Blog by Dal Stanton

This No Name Smooth Meerschaum Billiard was obviously much loved and used by its former steward, but he is a mess!  I’m glad Daniel chose this needy Meerschaum as one of the 7 pipes he commissioned from the For “Pipe Dreamers” Only! online collection.  The ‘Dreamers’ collection is available for pipe men and women to peruse and choose vintage pipes of varying conditions to be resurrected and adopted.  Some pipes are more needy than others and this No Name Meerschaum qualifies as among the needier!  Yet herein is the challenge for those of us who seek to restore pipes to their former glory and sometimes even better than new: so that they will have another life in service of a new steward.

I acquired this No Name Smooth Meerschaum in 2018 when my son, who was then studying in St. Louis for his master’s degree, came upon a lot of 26 pipes in an antique shop.  Josiah proposed that he contribute to part of the purchase price with the condition that I would choose one pipe among the 26 as a Christmas gift from him – an offer I could not refuse!  I chose the huge French made Champion Churchwarden in the center.  It was a good Christmas for me! The No Name Meer is on the bottom of the picture below – a pipe that pipe man Daniel chose, a Green Bay, Wisconsin, resident, that required a lot of dreaming on his part!Taking a closer look now at the No Name Meer, I take more pictures to show its condition. Now, looking even more closely at the chamber shows a thick cake which Meerschaum pipes do not need!  In fact, no carbon cake buildup is better.  In briar pipes the rule of thumb is a cake the width of a US dime is good to maintain to help protect the briar from premature burn deterioration.  Meerschaum is a mined material that does not deteriorate from the heating of the chamber.  A thick cake could result in cracking the Meerschaum as the carbon expands with its heating.  A quick review of the qualities of Meerschaum come from the Altinok Pipes’ website:

The noble Meerschaum is unique among pipes. Its mysterious properties make it a perfect smoke and, at the same time, a work of art; a pipe highly prized by the Connoisseur and beginning smoker alike. Meerschaum is a German word meaning sea foam. The geologist knows the light, porous Meerschaum as hydrous magnesium silicate. The pipe smoker knows it as the perfect material for providing a cool, dry, flavorful smoke. The mineral itself is the fossilized shells of tiny sea creatures that fell to the ocean floor over 50 million years ago, there to be covered and compressed over the ages by layer upon layer of silt. Profound movements in the earth’s crust raised the creamy white stone of Meerschaum above sea level. Their men eventually discovered it and created an incomparable pipe from it. The first record of Meerschaum as a pipe dates from around 1723.

The rim is also severely caked with lava.  The smooth Billiard stummel surface shows many scratches and cuts amid the dirt also caked over much of the surface.  These closer pictures survey the stummel’s condition. During the stummel survey, I see a small crack in the Meerschaum’s right side of the shank.  Looking at the shank facing, the crack line continues to the acrylic push tenon insert.  It doesn’t appear that this crack is creeping and might pose a problem of integrity to the shank.  This observation is based upon the push tenon insert prohibiting any expansion of the mortise.  The crack most likely happened with a hit on the stem or a drop – only guesses.  One thing is for certain, this crack certainly has not kept the pipe from rugged use!  After cleaning the area, it may be helpful to place a small line of CA glue to seal the hair line crack and to reinforce to be on the safe side of things.The acrylic stem has seen better days too!  It needs a thorough cleaning inside and out.  The acrylic stem is rough and faded.  The bit has been chewed up. To begin the restoration of the No Name Meer Billiard, I begin with clearing the cake in the chamber.  I do not use the Pipnet Reaming Kit blade heads as is the norm with briar pipes.  This could create more surface torque than is good and crack the Meerschaum.  Instead, a slower and less invasive approach is to begin with carefully scraping the chamber with the Savinelli Fitsall Tool and Winchester pocketknife.  With these tools in hand, the caked rim is also carefully scraped.  I repeatedly use ‘carefully’ describing the approach to cleaning the Meerschaum.  As a stone-like substance it can crack and gouge if I’m too aggressive.  Patience is good.  From the scraping, I transition to sanding the chamber using a Sharpie Pen wrapped with 240 grade paper.  I like the progress. Continuing the cleaning process now on the external Meer surface, I use undiluted Murphy’s Oil Soap on a cotton pad and scrub the stummel and rim.  I take a couple ‘starting’ pictures to mark the progress.  I’m looking forward to what the Murphy’s Soap can do for this ‘No Name’! After scrubbing with the cotton pad and Murphy’s, instead of rinsing the soap off in the sink, I use a wet cotton cloth to wipe the stummel and remove the soap.  I don’t want to saturate the Meer with water in the sink.  The pictures may not show it as clearly as I can see it, but the difference after the cleaning is remarkable.  Not only is the dirt and soil removed, but now the residual hue is identifiable as patina.  There is a gentle darkening of the Meerschaum and some identifiable ‘hot spots’ of the coveted patina.  As the Meerschaum pipe is smoked, the Meer absorbs the oils of the tobacco and smoke and this gradually darkens the stummel with a honey-like hue.  The value of Meerschaum pipes increases with this patina.  Before moving to cleaning the internals of the stummel, I address the darkened scorching of the rim.  The scraping improved the rim’s appearance appreciable, yet it still needs to be cleaned up further.  To do this I use medium and light sanding sponges to top the stummel.  Using sanding sponges gently is not as intrusive as sanding paper. A closeup of the rim not only show the staining but also small chipping on the rim’s edge. After inverting the stummel on the sponges, starting with the medium grade sponge, the stummel is rotated over the sponges.  The results are good.  The rim still shows some patina but is cleaned up considerably.     The pictures above and below show two distinctive and distracting (to me!) residual dark spots in the chamber just below the rim.  I use the Sharpie Pen wrapped with 240 grade paper carefully to sand the spots to remove them.  The potential problem with this pinpointed sanding is to create in the rim a wobble in the circle of the inner rim lip.  This I want to avoid as well.The result is good!Next, I use the light grade sanding sponge and lightly sand the stummel to clean and smooth it somewhat.  Again, the sanding sponge is gentle on the surface. To polish and smooth the surface, next I apply to the stummel surface the last 4 micromesh pads, 4000 to 12000.  It is not my purpose to sand out all the nicks and marks that have left imperfections in the Meerschaum.  I want to guard the aged patina that this No Name Meer has earned.  I’ve read on groups and forums that often restoration of Meerschaum pipes is too aggressive, and the goal is somewhat different than briar pipes.  With briars, a restoration seeks to return the pipe to its original pristine unsmoked state.  However, with Meerschaums that have aged, the value is to preserve the current good state of that aging process – preserving the hues and patina.  Aggressive sanding would remove all imperfections but also return the Meerschaum to a pure white state – the color that Meerschaums generally have in the store (there are exceptions to this!).  Before moving on to the stem, I clean the internals of the stummel using cotton buds and pipe cleaners dipped in isopropyl 99%.  A small dental spoon is used to reach into the mortise, beyond the push tenon insert, to scrape the walls.  Shank brushes also were used to complete the task.Now to the stem.  Using pipe cleaners dipped in isopropyl 99% I go do work on the internals of the stem.  The tenon is also cleaned up using cotton pads and alcohol.  I use a long dental probe to scrape and clean around the internals of the tenon as well.  My assumption is that the stem is acrylic, but it feels almost like plastic in some ways.  It doesn’t appear to be a high-grade acrylic, but it does clean up in time and I move on!   I mentioned earlier that this pipe was well loved by his former steward.  Well loved. but poorly maintained!  With the stem clean, I take another look at the condition of the bit. The bit has been chewed excessively with tooth compressions littering the landscape on the upper and lower bit.  The former steward obviously used this pipe to contemplate much or comfortably clinching while his hands were free actively engaged in other activities on the workbench or table.     An attempt to only sand out this damage would leave the acrylic dangerously thin so I decide to build up the bit area using clear CA glue which will be transparent and able to allow the stem color to come through.  The bit is thoroughly cleaned using a cotton pad wetted with isopropyl 99%.  I want the bit as clean as possible because I don’t want to encase a dirty stem!  Discoloration will show through the patch.  To build up the compressed and chewed bit I apply a few layers of CA glue.  I use an accelerator after the application of each layer to build up the patch material.  The accelerator causes the glue to cure very quickly keeping it in place.  I also apply a few layers of CA to the button lip – upper and lower, which have also sustained some chewing damage.  After applying the CA glue, with the hour late, the lights are switched off and the stem will await tomorrow’s efforts!   The next morning, I have a few hours in the earlier morning to work on the No Name Meerschaum and to do some activities on the ‘to do’ list with my wife!  Still getting settled here in Golden, Colorado, had me hanging pictures in the foyer as one of the items on the list!  Also, grandchildren will be coming over this morning while their super mom goes to the local Costco to stock up on the necessities.  The CA patch has cured through the night.  With the bit CA patch ready for filing, I begin the shaping using a flat needle file. I initially file along the button to reestablish and refresh the lip.  I’ll leave the button lips for sanding later.  After the lip has been scored and defined, filing continues to bring the patch down to the acrylic stem’s surface.  The process is the same for the upper and lower bit.And lower:Next, I use the flat needle file to flatten and define the slot facing.  Then, using a sharp, rounded needle file, the slot itself is cleaned up and sharpened.  I like how it’s looking!With the main filing completed, the process transitions to 240 sanding paper.  The focus is on continuing to smooth and shape the bit and button patch area, but the sanding is expanded to the entire stem to clean the roughness and cuts.  I utilize a plastic disc on the tenon side to guard the crisp edge from shouldering.   Transitioning next to 600 grade sanding paper, the entire stem is again sanded followed by applying 0000 grade steel wool. The transformation of the stem has been remarkable.     On a roll, the stem is next the recipient of the full regimen of micromesh pads.  Starting with pads 1500 to 2400, the stem is wet sanded.  Then, with pads 3200 to 4000 and 6000 to 12000, the stem is dry sanded.  Between each set of 3 pads, Obsidian Oil is applied to help rejuvenate the acrylic stem. As I was sanding, I asked my wife what kind of material she thought this stem was?  Her response was that it was acrylic, but that it had a different feel to it than other acrylic materials.  I had asked her because I noticed as I was moving through the micromesh pads, normally I would expect the acrylic to shine more during the micromesh progression.  This stem did, but only little. Instead of glossing up, it deepened it color and remains a more of a matte finish. I asked her next what color she would say it was?  Her response after rattling off a few colors and then shaking them off – ‘no’, she settled on a dark mottled ivory.  That sounds good to me!    After completing the micromesh cycles, the stem and stummel were reunited to get a look at the progress to this point.  I’m liking very much what I’m seeing.     Before moving forward, the question of the small crack on the right side of the shank is in view.  Because the crack is not a new one and it doesn’t appear to have any pressure on it so that it would progress, it wouldn’t appear to be an impediment to the integrity of the shank. Yet, I decide to be on the safe side to apply a small amount of clear, thin, CA glue to the crack line.  In the picture below, the scratch to the left of the crack is not a crack, but a deeper scratch.  At first glance one is left with the impression that it is a triangular fissure that would inevitably break.  I’ve inserted arrows to identify the crack. To shore up the crack, the thin CA glue applied fills the fissure and when cured, should provide additional reinforcement.  I put the stummel aside to allow the CA glue to cure.After the CA glue cures, using a 240 grade piece of sanding paper tightly rolled, I surgically sanded the thin mound of patch material running down the crack line.  I want to keep the abrasion of sanding off the Meerschaum surface surrounding the patch.  When the mound is removed, I follow by wet sanding with grade 600 paper to further smooth and blend.Call me a perfectionist and it would not be false.  After finishing sanding the shank crack patch, I did a quick survey of the surface of the Meerschaum Billiard stummel and I wasn’t satisfied that the surface was as clean as it should be.  I decide to run the stummel through the full micromesh regimen by dry sanding with pads 1500 to 12000.  I’m satisfied now. Next, I apply beeswax to the Meerschaum stummel.  Beeswax has been used to polish and protect Meerschaum for a millennium.  The beeswax on my table came with me from Bulgaria and it is a darker hue.  The Meer seems to respond well to it.  I keep the wax in a mason jar that is impervious to heat.  I use a hot air gun to heat and melt the beeswax in the jar.  I then use a real, horsehair paint brush to apply the melted wax to the stummel surface after the stummel is also warmed with the hot air gun.  I’ve learned the hard way not to use a synthetic brush because it will melt.  When the wax has melted, I paint the stummel.  I direct the hot air gun on the stummel while I’m doing this to help keep the wax thin during application.The beeswax congeals quickly and I allow it to cool.After cooled, the edge of a former clothespin is used to scrape the excess wax off the stummel surface.  This helps to remove the hardened wax before using a cloth rag.Next, using a microfiber cloth I continue to wipe and rub the stummel to remove the excess congealed wax.  This takes some time because the beeswax is firm and isn’t easily wiped off.  When the excess is finally removed gradually in the progression, it’s nice to see the beeswax shine on the clean Meerschaum emerge!   The beeswax is absorbed into the microscopic, porous surface of the Meerschaum.Next, with the stummel now waiting for the stem, I mount a cotton cloth buffing wheel to the rotary tool and set it at about 40% full power and I begin to apply Blue Diamond to the stem alone.  The effort did not last long. As I started applying the Blue Diamond compound with the rotary tool, I notice almost immediately that the surface of the stem rippled from the heat generated by both the high spin of the buffing wheel and the compound.  I stop immediately.  I discovered that the material composition of the stem does not tolerate the speed and the friction. I decide to forgo application of Blue Diamond and try my hand at applying carnauba wax to the stem.  I set the speed slightly slower and move the wheel more rapidly over the surface of the stem as I apply the carnauba wax.  It works well and I had no further difficulties.After some thought, I decide on one additional project for the No Name Meerschaum Billiard.  Earlier I started thinking about adding a band to the pipe to not only give added support for the shank crack repair, but in addition, give this No Name a bit of classy bling.  I went through my assortment of brass bands and ferrules and found a perfect candidate.  I found a perfect brass ring that wraps the facing edge and fit just over the end of the shank.  To complete the mounting of the ring fully over the shank facing, I heat it with a hair dryer which softens the metal allowing it to expand.    After the ring is heated enough, I firmly direct the shank downward pressing the ring more firmly in place over the end of the shank facing.  It works perfectly.I like the look of the brass ring – it adds a bit of class to a very deserving No Name that has come a long way, endured a lot and ready to serve again! The stem and stummel are reunited and the restoration is finished with a rigorous hand buffing with a microfiber cloth.  I’ve enjoyed seeing this battered pipe come back to life.  As I said at the beginning – the fact that it had been used into almost oblivion proves that he’s a good smoker as a classic Meerschaum.  Now he’s ready for a second life.  This No Name Meerschaum Billiard is Daniel’s third pipe of seven that he has commissioned and he will have the first opportunity to claim the Meerschaum in The Pipe Store benefiting the Daughters of Bulgaria – women who have been trafficked and sexually exploited.  Thanks for joining me!

4 thoughts on “Rescuing a Forsaken ‘No Name’ Smooth Meerschaum Billiard

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