A Dirty Gourd Calabash Brought Back to Life


Blog by Steve Laug

When my brother Jeff saw this pipe he went for it. He picked it up May of 2018 from an online auction from Lusby, Maryland, USA. This pipe appeared to be in rough shape. The meerschaum cup/bowl was full and top was filthy. It had definitely seen better days. Jeff seems to be drawn to the Gourd Calabash pipes so he continues to pick them up. There is no identifying stamping on the pipe – not on the bowl, gourd, shank or stem. It is unidentifiable. The shape and composition reminds me of many of the Pioneer Calabash pipe I have worked on but this one remains a mystery. The meerschaum bowl had a chip in the lower edge and was dirty with a thick cake and tobacco debris inside. With the bowl removed the calabash interior was also quite dirty with buildup of tars and oils. There was a heavy overflow of lava on the edges and the rim top that made it hard to know if the rim edges were damaged. The grime and dirt had been ground deeply into the finish of the gourd exterior. The briar shank extension was lifeless and dirty looking. The stem was calcified and heavily oxidized and was a mottled brown in colour. There was light tooth chatter and marks on both sides of the stem near the button. Jeff took some photos of the pipe before he did his cleanup. You can see from the photos the issues that we would be dealing with in the restoration of this pipe. The next photos show the bowl and rim top. You can see the cake in the bowl and the overflow of lava and grime on the top. You can also see the likelihood of damage to the rim edges but also that it is impossible to know what it would look like once it was clean. The photos of the stem show a mottled appearance from the oxidation and some light tooth chatter and marks on both sides of the stems.   Jeff took a photo of the chip on the meerschaum cup and the joint of the briar extension and the gourd. The joint between the extension and the gourd does not align and there is an edge on the top and bottom where they don’t match up.   Now it was time to work on the pipe. Jeff had worked his magic in cleaning up this pipe. He scraped the bowl clean with a Savinelli Fitsall pipe knife. He scraped the rim top with the edge of the knife to remove the lava coat. He scrubbed out the mortise and the airway in the shank and the stem with alcohol, cotton swabs and pipe cleaners. He scrubbed the exterior of the gourd exterior bowl, the meerschaum bowl, rim and shank with a tooth brush and Murphy’s Oil Soap to the oils and tars on the bowl, rim and shank. He worked on the interior of the gourd at the same time. He rinsed it under running water. He dried it off with a soft cloth. The cleaning of the stem raised more oxidation in the vulcanite. He put it in a bath of Before & After Stem Deoxidizer to remove the oxidation. The tooth marks and chatter looked pretty good at this point. I took photos of the pipe before I started.  I took photos of the condition of the rim top and stem before I started working. The rim top is pitted and scratched and the inner edge of the rim is rough and damaged. The stem has light oxidation remaining and some tooth chatter and marks on both sides near and on the button.   I took the meerschaum bowl/cup off the gourd and the stem from the shank to show the parts. It is a great looking gourd that has a well curved shape. The briar shank extension also looks very good. The underside of the meerschaum is darkened but otherwise in excellent condition.  I started my work on the bowl by dealing with the damage on the inner edge of the rim top. I was able to smooth it out and preserve the roundness of the bowl. I was happy with the results that will become clearer in the photos of the polishing of the bowl with micromesh sanding pad. I set the meerschaum bowl aside and turned to work on the shank extension. I sanded the joint of the briar and the gourd with 220 grit sandpaper to smooth out the transition without damaging the shank or gourd. I wanted to remove the lip on the top side of the briar and the underside of the gourd. Once finished it looked and felt much better.  I rubbed the gourd down with Before  and After Restoration Balm to clean and rejuvenate the  gourd and give the calabash and briar a fresh look. I used some Vaseline to rejuvenate the cork gasket in the gourd. I rubbed the Vaseline into the cork, let it sit for a while and repeated the process until the cork came alive and was more elastic than it was when I started.When the cork had absorbed the Vaseline and was soft once again I pressed the meerschaum bowl into place in the calabash. It fit snugly in the bowl and looked very good.  I was able to polish out the majority of the scratches in the meerschaum and the patina in the meerschaum rose to the surface or the bowl. I set aside the bowl and turned my attention to the stem. I polished the stem with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding it with 1500-12000 grit pads. I polished it further with Before & After Pipe Stem Polish – both fine and extra fine.     I really enjoy finishing the work on a pipe because I love the final touches that make it sing. I put the Gourd Calabash back together and lightly buffed the bowl with Blue Diamond on the buffing wheel. I gave the gourd and stem multiple coats of carnauba wax. I buffed the pipe with a clean buffing pad to raise the shine. I hand buffed it with a microfiber cloth to deepen the shine. It is fun to see what the polished meerschaum bowl looks like with the smooth finished gourd and the black vulcanite stem. This richly finished Gourd Calabash is light weight and ready for you to load up a tobacco of preference and enjoy smoking it. Have a look at it in the photos below. The dimensions are Length: 6 inches, Height: 3 ½ inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 2 ½ inches, Chamber diameter: 1 1/8 of an inch. The weight of the pipe is 56grams/1.98oz. This is one that will go on the Meerschaum Pipemakers section of the rebornpipes online store shortly. Thanks to each of you who are reading this blog. Remember we are not pipe owners; we are pipemen and women who hold our pipes in trust until they pass on into the trust of the next generation.     

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