Tag Archives: PME tenon tool

An Old Meerschaum Bowl Restemmed and Reborn

Blog by Greg Wolford

Over the past couple of months I’ve been moving my workshop upstairs to an empty bedroom. With winter’s quick approach, I wanted to be ready for the bone-stiffening cold so I could do more restorations this year. All but the buffer had been moved into its new home and was close to being tidily organized when my plan went south; our son was moving back home and would need my new space back for his room!

It was a rather quick transition so all of my supplies were hastily packed up and moved back to the basement garage. In my rush, I didn’t think to make notes on boxes or anything else to help me sort through it later, I only packed quickly and securely and moved it all out. I felt like I got evicted! (Please note, that is not what happened to my son.) So finding any of the half-dozen projects I had in the works is now a daunting challenge; our garage serves as a catch-all of sorts, with our laundry area, my workshop, my wife’s “over flow” from her antique booth, and all of my son’s extras now piled in there.

The other day I did manage to find an old meerschaum bowl that I’d began to work on. It came to me in a lot I had gotten a couple of months ago I think, along with another bowl and aOld Meer couple of pipes (this is the only before photo I have).  In fact, this bowl was the main reason I got the lot; it looked old and interesting to me.

After doing a little research and getting some comments from friends on Instagram and Facebook I think it may be an Austrian meerschaum; I originally thought it was African. If I am correct, this pipe, well, bowl, is probably over 100 years old. It originally had a wooden shank extension which is now long gone. At first I thought of trying to make some sort of extension to replace it but soon decided that was more than I was willing to risk/attempt on this bowl.

(I forgot to take photos along the way; sorry folks.)

There was a think but soft and crumbly cake in the bowl and lots of oily build up in the shank. I gently reamed the cake back to very close to the meerschaum walls with my Castleford reamer, followed by an old round-ended, dull knife that I use for this purpose. Then I used some 400 grit wet/dry paper to get the last of the cake out and leave a nice, smooth bowl.

For the shank I stared with the poker-end of a Czech-tool, opening up the airway very gently. Then I moved to pipe cleaners that were dampened with isopropyl alcohol. Then I used alcohol dampened and dry cotton swabs to clean the shank. Do note the term dampened here; you do not want to get the meerschaum too wet. It took some time and many cleaners and cotton swabs to get the shank clean; there were also bits of meerschaum that were loose or came loose in the cleaning process that had to be removed. I also wiped out the bowl with several dampened cotton swabs after cleaning the shank. I also wiped off the outside of the bowl with alcohol dampened cotton balls; other than the rim, the exterior was quite clean. Then I let the pipe rest, to dry, overnight.

The next morning I examined the shank and found it to be a little rough inside. There was also a small divot in the bottom of the “lip” where the extension was and the new tenon would enter. I took the same dull reaming knife and scraped the mortise very gently to smooth it out; this took only a couple of passes and removed very little material but made a bug difference. I put a drop of amber superglue in the divot and sprayed it lightly with glue accelerator (I used a cloth to cover the pipe from over-spray) and then let it cure for a little while as I piddled with other things in the garage. I repeated this a second time and the result was a nice hard, smooth mortise entrance. Now it was time to decide on a stem.

Since the extension was gone, the mortise was very large, which would limit my stem options. I looked through my stems and found two candidates that had tenons large enough to work: a fancy vulcanite one and a long, round tapered acrylic one. It was a pretty easy choice when I put them up to the pipe to compare: acrylic wins by a long shot! The amber/bronze color of the stem just looked “right” with this bowl to my eye so now it was time to fit it.

I used my PME tenon turning tool to slowly reduce the size of the tenon.I noticed as I was cleaning the shank that the mortise narrowed a bit, probably from material loss both previously and current, closer to the bowl. So, as I test fit the tenon and found it stopping at the point of the narrowing I began to turn the tenon only about halfway up the total length. By doing this in small increments I was able to tell when the tenon was almost a perfect fit, which is when I switched to 320 grit paper and sanded the tapered tenon smooth and to a very nice fit.

The new stem was in nice condition, without a lot of drawer-dings, so it didn’t require much polishing: a little sanding with 220 and 400 grits, some plastic polish and a buff (lightly) with Tripoli and white diamond. I then used a heat gun to soften the stem and put the bend in it that I wanted and was pleased with. One more round of plastic polish and then everything got a coat of Halcyon II wax.Old Meer (1) Old Meer (2)Old Meer (3) Old Meer (4)

I’d love to tell you how wonderful the old ‘meer smokes but I can’t. You see, my son, the source of my “eviction”, saw the bowl on my work table and fell in love with it, before it was even cleaned up. So, after I got it all finished I took it straight to him to “see what he thought”; he really went nuts over it all reborn! As you have probably guessed by now, the old ‘meer now has a new home in his pipe rack, his first meerschaum pipe, which I hope and expect will serve him well with many good smokes for many years to come.

Pipe Maker’s Emporium Tenon Turning Tool

Blog by Greg Wolford

Several weeks ago I obtained a tenon turning tool from Pipe Maker’s Emporium (PME). I have been planning on writing my “review” of this tool since I mentioned it in the Big-Ben post but have put it off due to time and wanting to get better acquainted with the tool. Well, I think I am ready so here we go!

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The tool can be purchased from PME here and is, essentially, the same tool that PIMO sells and Steve has and uses. There is at least two differences that I can see: An extra adjusting screw )which is rarely used) and the price of the PME tool is about $9 less. (Having bought from both sources, I have a personal preference for PME: their S/H costs are a bit less and speed and service are better, again in my opinion; I have no affiliation with either company other than being a customer.) Both tools are used in the same way and they both have similar limitations on size. They also both lack precision measurements/adjustment mark, requiring one to go slowly and check often the tenon size so as to not over-turn it.

Steve describes the use and adjustment very well in an article he wrote nut I can’t find at the moment. He also compared the PME and PIMO tools in this article so I won’t go into a lof ground he has already covered, but try to add my impression of the PME tool,

I found the tool relatively easy to use overall. I experimented on a few old stems before re-stemming Big-Ben and have since turned several other stems for different stummels and corn cob pipes. I have had mostly good results but there have been a few massive failures, too.

As Steve has pointed out, the best use of this tool is gotten by turning the tenon very close to size and then finishing the job by hand sanding. I have also learned that the tool not only has no markings to gauge the amount of material to be removed by a single adjustment (you have to look at the cutter head relative to the tenon) but one cannot gauge the amount consistently by using a “formula” such as 1/4 turn of the adjusting screw has been giving me .5′ decrease in diameter so each 1/4 turn will continue to do so – I have over-turned two stems using that type of “formula”!

PME doesn’t sell the right size drill bit for the guide pin (a size #30 or .128″) so you will have to obtain it from another source (PIMO does sell it for $2.50) or make due with another size. At first I used an 1/8″ bit on the vulcanite stems which, while tight, worked okay. However, I had to move up to a 5/32″ bit for Lucite/acrylic and be careful to not get it out of round. I have since ordered the .128″ bit from PIMO and am happy with that.

The extra set screw on the PME tool is really not used except for turning multiple tenons of the same style to the same size: For instance if you needed to slightly turn several tenons for corn cob pipes you would use it. This second locking screw just really sets the cutter head to zero movement but the main locking screw is the one that is generally used since you will mostly be taking more and more material off of a tenon.

I find that using the tool at different speeds helps to get a nice, smooth tenon. I like to start out fairly slow and make my first pass, then increase the speed on subsequent passes. The final passes I will be at full speed and will slowly rotate the stem as I make the pass up then back down the tenon. Generally, this gives me a nice smooth tenon, without a lot of turning marks/lines.

As I mentioned above, the adjustments are not always equal so one has to watch carefully how much the cutter head advances with each movement of the adjusting screw. And in order to get a good, even result it is very important to lock the locking screw with each adjustment. I have found that my digital micrometer (bought very cheaply from Harbour Freight) is a good help in getting the size of the tenon down to where it needs to be. But due to the lack of real precision with the tool, I don’t think one can rely solely on the micrometer; when it is getting close I begin checking the tenon to mortise fit after every pass.

My analysis, then, would be something like this: If you wish to re-stem pipes you have to have one of these toolsI think that either the PME or PIMO tool would work as well as the other and which one you should purchase is simply a matter of preference or economics; the PME is cheaper but if you are ordering from one company or the other buying it with your order will save you on S/H costs. My personal recommendation would be (if you don’t already have some stems to experiment with) buy the tool from PME and order a dozen or two of whatever Carolyn has on sale that week to practice on (usually there are 2-3 styles of vulcanite stems on special for $4-$5) and maybe a couple of closeout acrylic ones, too, to get a feel for the difference (which is big!) in the two materials. The learning curve isn’t huge but it is there. But, if you are like me, learning a new skill to add to your arsenal of restoring these wonderful old pieces is a lot if fun and a big part of the draw of the hobby.

So what are you waiting for? Place your order and step into the next phase of the art of restoration.