Tag Archives: polishing a meerschaum pipe

Restoring the final pipe from the Florida lot – a Meerschaum Bacchus


Blog by Steve Laug

Back home after the first day at work in 2019. It was a long day and I need the down time to relax and unwind so I made my way to the basement workshop. My wife and kids know my habits and that after a day of talking I am talked out – used up my verbal quota and need down time. Of course they are also convinced that working on pipes is an illness but at least it keeps me out of their way! Tonight I feel a lot like Spencer in the photo below. He is pacing around me this evening having missed me today. So I am still working under the watchful eye of my buddy and Shop Foreman, Spencer. He has seriously enjoyed having me at home with him the past two weeks. His life is pretty much laying on a blanket by my feet while I am fiddling with pipes. At 14+ years old my fiddling does not faze him much him, he just wants to make sure I stay put with him in the basement. He snoozes, comes over to me now and then to smack my leg and beg for a treat and then retreats to nap again. He really is company in the shop and keeps me mindful to get up and move around now and then.Tonight I am working on a meerschaum that came in the lot. It was by far in the best condition of the five pipes but was still dirty. It came in its own unmarked case. It is a well carved figural of Bacchus, the Greek god of wine, in a well inebriated pose suggestive of having enjoyed his wine. There is no stamping on the shank or anywhere on the pipe. The stem is amber coloured acrylic and is in decent shape. It has a threaded tenon and screws directly into the shank. It is the fifth and last pipe that came to me in a lot of five pipes that I bought from a pipeman in Florida. The other pipes in the lot were the two Mastro de Paja and the two Savinelli Autographs that I have already restored. I decided to work on this final pipe and be finished with the lot. It is a change of pace from all the briar pipes that I have been working on these past weeks. It is shown in the bottom left side of the photo below.I had the fellow in Florida send the pipes to my brother Jeff in Idaho for the cleanup work. He does a great job and expedites my restoration process a lot. He took the following photos of the pipe before he worked his magic on them. The first photo gives a frontal view of Bacchus and gives you a feel for the quality of the carving and craftsmanship on this meer. The pipe is dirty but the meer is undamaged. There is some colouring starting to happen around the grapes and vine on the top of the bowl.Like his other pipes in this collection this Meerschaum must also have been a terrific smoker because the bowl was pretty caked and the shank and stem were dirty. The lava flowing over the rim top was light and there was some darkening from lighting on the edges of the rim and top. It really was a mess and the cake was hard from sitting. The Florida pipeman had laid aside his pipe some 15-20 years earlier and it had been in storage. It was going to take some work to clean out that bowl and be able to see what the rim looked like underneath the layer of lava. The next two photos give two different exposures and views of the top side of the pipe.The rest of the bowl looked dirty but the carving was quite well done.  Jeff included a photo of the beard from the underside that shows the intricate carving of the hair and shaping of the beard and chin of Bacchus. The pipe was dusty but the case had protected it very well. The rich amber coloured acrylic/Lucite stem was in decent condition. It had a threaded nylon tenon or connector that screwed directly into the shank of the pipe. It was dirty, was scratched and had tooth chatter and damage to the stem surface. The button looked like it had some damage and tooth marks on the sharp edge but I would know more once it arrived in Vancouver.Jeff cleaned the pipe with his usual thoroughness – carefully reaming the bowl with a PipNet pipe reamer and cleaning up the remnants with a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife. He scrubbed the internals of the bowl, shank and stem with alcohol, cotton swabs and pipe cleaners. He scrubbed the exterior with dish soap and a soft tooth brush to clean off the dust and grime on the finish. The rim top looked very good under the thick lava coat. There were just a few nicks and scratches to deal with. The inside of the bowl itself looked great. The stem was in great shape other than a bit of tooth chatter. I took photos of the pipe when it arrived here. You can see the developing patina on the grapes, leaves, vine and beard… it is going to be a beautiful pipe as it darkens. I took some close up photos of the rim top, bowl and stem to show what they looked like after Jeff’s cleanup. It is a startling difference. The rim top still has some darkening that will need to be dealt with while not damaging the developing patina around the rim top. The stem was dull and there were tooth marks and chatter on both sides near the button.I polished the rim top and the area around the inner edges of the bowl with micromesh sanding pads to remove the scratches and to remove the remaining dark areas and tar – wet sanding with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanding with 3200-12000 grit pads. I wiped the rim top down after each pad to remove the sanding dust and get a sense of the how the finish was developing. The photos show the progress. With the rim top cleaned, polished and still showing a lot of patina I set the bowl aside and worked on the stem. I wet sanded it with 1500-2400 grit micromesh sanding pads. I was able to remove it. I dry sanded it with 3200-12000 grit pads to polish it further. I wiped it down with a damp cloth after each sanding pad. I finished polishing the stem with Before & After Pipe Polish – both Fine and Extra Fine polishes. I wiped the stem down with a damp cotton pad afterwards and buffed it with a soft microfiber cloth. I lightly polished the stem with Blue Diamond to polish out the scratches in the acrylic and raise a shine. I hand buffed the meerschaum bowl with a microfiber cloth to polish it. I gave the stem multiple coats of carnauba wax. I carefully buffed the pipe with a clean buffing pad to raise the shine. I hand buffed it with a microfiber cloth to deepen the shine. The pipe polished up pretty nicely. The contrast of the beautiful developing patina on the white meerschaum with the polished amber colour Lucite/acrylic stem is quite stunning. The carved figural of Bacchus is well done and looks very good. This is another beautiful pipe that is for sure. The finished pipe is shown in the photos below. The dimensions of the pipe are Length: 6 inches, Height: 2 3/4 inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 2 ½ x 2 inches, Chamber diameter: 3/4 of an inch. I will be putting the finished pipe on the rebornpipes store shortly. Thanks for walking through the restoration with me. It was a great break away from the briars that await me. Cheers.  

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Refreshing a Damaged CAO Lattice Meerschaum Pipe


Blog by Steve Laug

We probably paid too much for this beautiful meerschaum pipe but the shape and the carving are so unique that we had to buy it. It is made by CAO and is a shape I would call a Grecian urn. It has lattice carving around the bowl side and the rim is smooth. The shank has a pattern that looks a lot like scales and swirls. There was some very nice colouring happening on the shank and lightly on the bowl sides and rim. There was a cake in the bowl and some lava overflow on the rim top. There were some missing separators between two of the lattice windows but otherwise the bowl was undamaged. The stem was Lucite and had a round brass CAO logo on the top left side of the saddle. The stem had metallic gold flecks mixed in with the Lucite so that it had a natural sparkle to the reddish amberlike stem. There were not any tooth marks or dents on the stem surface but there were small scratches in the Lucite. There was also some wear and tear to the sharp edge of the button that would need to be cleaned up. Jeff took some photos of the pipe before he started the cleanup. The next series of close up photos show the condition of the bowl and rim and the overall condition of the bowl sides. You can see the bowl and cake with the overflow of lava on the rim top. There is also some fuzz that has attached to the cake. It was a dirty bowl. The sides of the bowl look very good other than the damage to the separators between three of the tear drops in the lattice work on the front of the bowl. The second, third and fourth photos below show the damaged portion circled in red. Other than that damage to the front of the bowl the rest of the carving is in excellent condition. The pipe, though imperfect will nonetheless be a beautiful addition to someone’s collection. They will just have to overlook the damaged area and enjoy the pipe.The connector between the shank and stem is a push tenon. There is a Delrin insert in the shank of the pipe and a Delrin tenon threaded into the end of the stem. It is dirty and stained but is undamaged.The round brass logo is dirty but it is undamaged. It is inset into the left topside of the saddle stem. The surrounding stem is quite dirty but there is no damage.The next two photos show the condition of the top and underside of the stem. You can see the metallic sparkles in the saddle portion and the scratches in the Lucite.Jeff carefully reamed out the bowl with a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife and took it back to the bare meerschaum walls. He scrubbed the rim top and scraped off the lava on the surface with a knife. He carefully cleaned the exterior of the bowl with a damp cloth to avoid further damage to the front of the bowl. He cleaned out the shank and airway in the bowl and stem with alcohol and pipe cleaners. He cleaned out the recessed area around the inset tenon in the stem with alcohol and cotton swabs. He washed the exterior of the stem with clean water. I took photos of the pipe when I brought it to my work table to show the condition of the pipe after Jeff’s work and before I polished it. I took a photo of the rim top to show how well it cleaned up. Jeff did a great job getting rid of the lava overflow. I also took a photo of the cleaned up damaged area of the bowl.The stem cleaned up really nicely. The gold flecks in the Lucite really stand out now and the gold/brass logo inset looks really good now. The stem should polish up nicely.The mortise insert in the shank had a ragged edge to it. I used a sharp knife and a pen knife to clean up the ragged end. I wanted a smooth fit in the shank. Once I had finished that part of the shank and sanded it down I worked on polishing the rim and ring on the top of the bowl. I polished it with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanding with 3200-12000 grit pads. I wiped the rim down after each pad with a damp cotton pad. I polished out the scratches and marks in the metallic Lucite stem with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding it with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanding it with 3200-12000 grit pads. I wiped the stem down with a damp cotton pad after each sanding pad. I lightly buffed the stem with Blue Diamond on the buffing wheel. After the final pad I wiped it down with a damp pad and rubbed it down with a final coat of oil and set it aside to dry. I put the stem back on the bowl and carefully worked the pipe on the buffing wheel with a clean pad. I used a gentle touch on both the meerschaum and the Lucite stem so as not to damage either of them. I gave the meerschaum bowl multiple coats of Conservator’s Wax and hand buffed it with a shoe brush and a microfiber cloth to deepen the shine. The finished pipe is shown in the photos below. Even with the damaged area on the front of the bowl it still looks better than it did in the beginning. The unique shape and lattice work carving work together to make this a beautiful pipe. The dimensions of the pipe are: Length: 6 inches, Height: 2 ½ inches, Diameter of the bowl: 1 1/8 inch, Diameter of the chamber: 3/4 inches. I will be adding this one to the rebornpipes store shortly if you are interested in adding it to your collection. It will make a fine addition to the rack. If you are interested email me at slaug@uniserve.com or send me a message on Facebook. Thanks for looking.

Giving the Sultan a much need facial


Blog by Steve Laug

Several months ago, I received a box of pipes to be refurbished from a friend in northern British Columbia named Steve. The box contained some nice Danish briars, some meerschaum pipes and a ceramic as well that needed attention. I went through them and made suggestions for him. Together we did a bit of prioritizing. I have cleaned, restored and sent quite a few back to him already. In the box there were several that I took out of the equation because I was not sure of the point in cleaning them up – one was a black pyrolytic “The Pipe” billiard with a very rough stem and another was this little meerschaum sultan.

My original plan had been to send this pipe and The Pipe back to him untouched but the other evening I had been working on an old C.P.F. with some major issues and I wanted to work on something that was a bit more mindless. Sometimes a change of view is as good as a rest. I just was not ready to shut down the shop for the night so I thought through what I had in the repair and renovation queue and opened the box that Steve’s remaining pipes were in. I looked through them and decided to work on the Sultan.

The Sultan looked rough to me as it had definitely seen better days. The meerschaum was a dirty grey colour with darkening in all of the grooves and around the cheeks and eye sockets. There was a heavy cake in the bowl and the rim had a heavy lava overflow that was thick on the surface. The stem had tooth marks and what looked to me like marks left behind by a pair of pliers when someone was adjusting the fit against the shank. Somewhere along the way someone had put a paper washer on the metal threaded tenon and wrapped thread around the tenon so that the stem lined up with the shank a bit better. One thing that could be said in the pipe’s favour was that the shank was beginning to show some colour. I took some photos of the pipe when it arrived and have included them below. The close up photo below shows the rim top and the thick cake in the bowl. The inner edge of the rim looked pretty rough but I would be better able to tell its condition once I had reamed the bowl.I put it on the work table and took a few more photos in better light to see if I could show the condition of the pipe before I started my work. These pictures more adequately show the dirt on the meerschaum in all of the grooves of the turban and the face.The next photo looking down the bowl from the top shows the crumbling cake in the bowl and the thick tar on the rim top. The second photo shows the dirt in the grooves in the carved beard.I reamed the bowl with a PipNet reamer to take the cake out of the bowl completely. A pipe man should never let a cake build up in the bowl like this one had. I cleaned up the reaming in the bowl with a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife and took every remaining bit of cake out of the bowl. I unscrewed the metal tenon from the stem and used a pair of pliers to unscrew it from the mortise of the pipe. The metal tenon had been turned through a cork and the cork screwed into the mortise of the meer. It provided a tight connection but when the stem was in place the metal tenon turned in the cork. I had a new replacement tenon in my box of tenons. I used the Dremel to reduce the threads on the portion of the tenon that screwed into the stem. The other part of the tenon had the proper threads for the mortise. I aligned the tenon in the mortise and twisted and pressed the stem onto the other end.  I did a bit of fine tuning to adjust the alignment but it worked very well. I filled in the tooth marks and the marks on the saddle portion with some amber super glue. I lightly sanded it to blend it into the rest of the stem material.With the stem finished, the new tenon in place I turned my attention to the meerschaum bowl and giving the sultan a facial. I scrubbed it with a tooth brush and Murphy’s Oil Soap. I scrubbed it under gently running water and rinsed off all of the grime and darkening from the grooves, around the eyes and in the beard and turban.I dried off the bowl and put the stem in place in the shank. I buffed the pipe with Blue Diamond on the buffing wheel to give the stem a shine and polish the minute scratches that were in the meerschaum. I took photos of the pipe when I finished buffing it. You can see from the above photos that I was able to remove the grime from the meer and leave behind the patina. It had potential to be a beautiful pipe once it had darkened even more. I waxed it with a product that is made of White Beeswax called Clapham’s Beeswax Polish. It is soft so it is easily applied to the meerschaum. I warmed the meerschaum so that it would absorb the wax. I buffed the pipe and stem with a clean buffing pad and hand buffed it with a microfiber cloth. The finished pipe is shown in the photos below. It turned out to be a nice looking pipe. I think Steve is going to enjoy this one. Looking forward to hearing back from him. Thanks for looking.

Jen’s Trove No. 3 – Meerschaum Hand Carved Vineyard Bent Billiard


Blog by Dal Stanton

This is the third pipe I’m restoring for Jen, a colleague working here in Bulgaria.  She handpicked, with great care and deliberation, several pipes from my ‘Help me!’ basket (and boxes) that she desires to present as gifts to the men folk in her family when she returns to the US this summer.  What makes it better, each pipe Jen culls as a gift benefits the Daughters of Bulgaria, our work here with women and girls who have been trafficked and sexually exploited.  Thank you, Jen!  The Meerschaum now before me caught her eye very quickly as she trolled through the many hopeful pipes!  I remember acquiring this pipe from eBay last year after communicating a few times with the seller from North Carolina about bundling a few pipes she had on the auction block.  One of those was an attractive French made, Pickwick Arms Bulldog along with the Meer.  This is what I saw, first the Bulldog, still awaiting his turn in the ‘Help me!’ basket and the hand carved Meerschaum.The last restoration I did on a Meerschaum was my first (LINK), when I was challenged with the rebuild of the Bakelite stem using a somewhat experimental method – mixing powdered furniture dye and CA glue to rebuild the stem and most of the button.  Since it was experimental, Steve encouraged me to put it to the test before putting it in The Pipe Steward Store.  I did, the patch has held true, and the beautiful Meerschaum continues as a regular friend in my rotation.  So, the patch works!  And a picture of that eye-catching Meerschaum restoration.With Jen’s Meerschaum on my worktable, I take several pictures to fill in the gaps. The scorch on the rim shows the former steward probably used a lighter over the back to light his tobacco.  The carbon cake buildup in the fire chamber is moderately thick – for a Meerschaum no cake is needed or desired unlike briar pipes.  Meers are popular for this reason – they do not need to be broken in nor do they need to be rested between use.  Smoke a bowl, reload it and he’s ready to go!  I’ll remove the cake bringing it down to the Meer surface.  When I first saw this Meer on eBay, something wasn’t right.  It didn’t take long to determine what was not resonating.  The bend of the Bakelite stem is too much for my taste.  I will see if I can straighten it out a bit – better symmetry!  While there’s no way to tell how old this Meerschaum is, I note that the pipe is fitted with an orific stem – the airway in the button is rounded rather than a horizontal slot.  These stems were mainly used before and during the 1920s when they gradually were replaced by the horizontal slot style. The vineyard carving is very attractive and a classic Vineyard design.  However, I see some damage to a grape cluster ensconced in the rounded fresco on the left side of the stummel.  I take a close-up picture to show this.  The missing grapes aren’t very noticeable – the damage blends quite well as part of the fresco, but I will try to mask it a bit more by doing a bit of Meer sculpting myself. The other potential challenge is the metal tenon/mortise system.  This shows that this pipe has some age as most new Meerschaum pipes I see now in my trips to Istanbul’s markets, are the acrylic push/pull systems.  For the sake of ease of future cleaning, I may go in that direction, but I need to look more closely.  One last thing I see that is good news – there is a bit of the coveted patina developing around the scalloped shank and climbing toward the back of the bowl.  This is good.  This brief description from Meerschaum.com that I’ve previously cited is helpful:

Meerschaum is a very rare mineral, a kind of hard white clay. Light and porous structure of the pipe keeps the smoke cool and soft. The pipe itself is a natural filter which absorbs the nicotine. Because of this peculiarity, meerschaum pipes slowly change their colors to different tones of gold and dark brown. This adds an esthetic enjoyment to its great smoking pleasure. The longer a pipe is smoked the more valuable it becomes due to the color change. Today many old and rare meerschaums have found a permanent place in museums and private collections.I first start with the metal screw in tenon.  I want to see if I can easily remove it and clean it before I try to remove the more difficult mortise receptor.  Carefully, I heat the tenon with a lit candle and counter clock the tenon with needle-nose pliers.  I wrap the tenon with a cloth to protect it from metal on metal scratches.  With little trouble, the heating of the tenon loosens the grip and it easily unscrews holding the tenon/stinger stationary with the pliers and rotating the stem.  Examining the tenon, I can see daylight through it but the slot is very small and clogged with gunk.  I’m not sure it’s possible to run a pipe cleaner through it.  I drop it in alcohol to soak it a bit and then clean it. I dig gunk out of the slot using a dental probe and run a bristled pipe cleaner in it to clean the internal.  The pipe cleaner will go through the slot but not without a good deal of coaxing.  I use a brass brush on the stinger with alcohol and then shine it us with 0000 steel wool.  Since it cleaned up well and a pipe cleaner will pass through it, I will leave well enough alone and use the stinger system. I now turn to removing the carbon cake in the fire chamber.  I insert a pipe cleaner through the draft hole because it was covered by debris.  I discover that the drilling of the draft hole is a bit off center, but this should not be any trouble.  I use the Savinelli Pipe Knife to scrape the carbon buildup off the chamber walls.  It does a great job getting down to the smooth Meerschaum surface.  I follow the reaming by sanding the chamber walls with coarse 120 grade paper wrapped around a Sharpie Pen and then with 240 grit paper.  To remove the carbon dust left behind I clean the chamber out with a cotton pad wetted with isopropyl 95%.  The surface in the fire chamber looks great – I can see no problems.  The pictures show the progress. Turning now to the rim.  The backside of the rim is scorched from flame being pulled over it in lighting.  I first use the spittle test to see if I can make a dent by rubbing my own spittle over the surface with my finger.  No progress.  I then use a cotton pad wetted with isopropyl 95% but with results close to spittle.  I then use a medium grade sanding sponge and lightly (very lightly) top the stummel to break up the carbon.  This did the trick.  There is a bit of the carbon scorching left on the inner lip of the rim.  I role a piece of 240 grip paper to cut an internal rim bevel to remove the last of the scorch stain from the Meer.  I like the inner bevel on the rim and I’m pleased with the progress.  The pictures show the progress from the original state. I like working on a clean pipe so I turn now to the internals of the stummel.  I use cotton swabs dipped in isopropyl 95% and pipe cleaners to do the work.  After a bit of effort, also digging and scraping with a spaded dental tool, the cotton swabs and pipe cleaners start emerging clean.  Just a word here that I’ve heard from others, never clean the internals of a Meerschaum using an alcohol/salt soak.  This will have adverse effects on the Meer.  I finish up by shining up the metal mortise receptor with 0000 steel wool. The picture shows the cleaning.With the internals of the stummel clean, I now clean the external Meerschaum surface.  I use undiluted Murphy’s Oil Soap with cotton pads and a bristled tooth brush.  I use the brush to clean the sculpted carving lines of the vineyard frescoes. I then rinse the stummel with cool tap water using the bristled brush as I rinse.  Wow!  I didn’t expect cleaning the surface would result in the patina of this Meer Vineyard to pop! The honey brown patina around the shank is more distinct now.  The picture shows the results.With the stummel cleaned, I take a closer look at the damaged cluster of grapes.  The Meer took a hit somewhere along the line.  I think that all I want to do is to smooth out the inside of the damaged grapes.  The round external shaping of the grapes remain and I want to keep them intact.  I know I need to be very careful. I mount a pointed shaping instrument on the Dremel.  I will use the Dremel carefully to remove the rough area and blend it more.  Ok, I’m not a Meer carving master!  What I did was use the Dremel tool to hone out the center of the grapes, then I use a 470 grade piece of sanding paper and ‘feather’ the edges around the damage.  The sand paper has the effect of smoothing the edges around the damage and blending the trauma.  I decide ‘less is more’ and leave it and not fiddle with it too much.  I don’t want to make things worse!  The pictures show my Meer sculpting debut. Now I turn to the Bakelite stem and clean the internals first using different sizes of long, wired bristle brushes.  This set of brushes has come in very handy to ‘plow’ the airway when pipe cleaners won’t break through – usually when stems are clogged up and have more severe bends.  I begin by deploying the long-bristled brushes dipped in alcohol to do the heavy lifting.  Then I follow with pipe cleaners.  After they are coming out clean, I reattach the screw-in stinger and reattach the stem to the stummel to see where things are.  The pictures show the progress. I mentioned earlier that I believed the stem was over bent.  The stem’s bend should flare out and be close to parallel with the plane of the rim.  I will heat the stem up and bring it closer to this ideal.  To keep the airway integrity, I insert a pipe cleaner through the stem.  To help achieve the right angle, I make a sketch on a lined index card to help as a template.  I also notice that the bit is over-clocked just a bit.  I’ll try to straighten that as well.  Since the hour is late, and my workstation is adjacent to where my wife has turned in for the night, I take my heat gun to the kitchen and set up on the counter.  I insert a pipe cleaner through the airway which also serves as a handle to help manipulate the stem as it heats.  With the heat gun on, I rotate the stem over the heat focusing on the bend area.  After a short time, the Bakelite becomes supple and gradually I begin to straighten it while I rotate.  I find too, that pulling on the two ends of the pipe cleaner helps facilitate this.  After reaching where I think I need to be with the bend, I hold the stem under cool tap water to set the bend.  The first time I did this, and compared to the template, I decided I needed a bit less bend.  I repeated the process, cooled with tap water and compared with my make-shift template.  I reassemble the Meer Vineyard and it’s looking good!  I’m happy with the new look of the stem.  The pictures show the process. I want to complete work with the Bakelite stem. There is some very light tooth chatter around the upper bit area and there are ‘stretch marks’ along the area where the tight bend had been previously. Using 240 grit paper, I work on the ‘stretch marks’ on the upper side as well as the teeth chatter.  I follow the 240 by wet sanding with 600 grit sanding paper and then with 0000 steel wool.  At this point I wet sand using micromesh pads 1500 to 2400 then I follow with dry sanding with pads 3200 to 4000 and 6000 to 12000.  After each set of three micromesh pads I apply Obsidian Oil to the Bakelite stem to revitalize it – and now that I am writing that this is what I’ve done, I’m not at all sure if Obsidian Oil has the same effect on Bakelite as Vulcanite!  Creature of habit.  Following the micromesh cycles, I mount the Dremel with a cotton cloth buffing wheel and apply Blue Diamond compound to the Bakelite stem for a very fine abrasive polishing.  I complete the stem work by applying carnauba wax with a cotton cloth wheel mounted on the Dremel set and speed 2, one notch up from the slowest speed.  The pictures show the stem progress. Turning now to the stummel, unlike briar pipes, Meerschaum does not use carnauba wax to finalize the finish.  The practice of using bees’ wax to shine the Meer is the standard practice.  I went back to a post from Charles Lemon at Dad’s Pipes that I filed to use as my guide (See: Quick Clean-up of a Tulip Meerschaum Sitter).  I mentioned before how Meerschaum pipes change color as they are smoked and this patina increases the value of the pipe.  Not only does bees’ wax shine the Meer but it also enhances the growth of the patina as one smokes the pipe and the tobacco oils are absorbed. I reattach the stem to the stummel, but place a pipe cleaner between the stem and shank to tighten against – creating a gap so that I don’t get wax on the stem and the stem acts as my handle.  From the last time I did this, I had congealed bees’ wax that I had melted in a mason jar.  I use the hot air gun and reheat the wax until it liquifies, and then I warm the stummel with the air gun.  Using a cotton swab, I paint the stummel with the liquified bees’ wax and am careful to work it into all the nooks and crannies of the vineyard frescos carved into the Meerschaum.  After this is completed I put the stummel down on a cloth for it to dry.  I must say, this time was much easier than the last time when it was in the middle of the Bulgarian winter and the wax cooled and congealed before I could apply it!  I use a clean cloth to remove gently the excess wax then I buff up the shine using a micromesh cloth. The pictures show the bees’ wax application.

I’m pleased with the bees’ wax application.  The Meerschaum absorbed and colored in ways that I wasn’t expecting.  The rim absorbed a great deal and the patina looks great around the stummel.  This Meerschaum hand carved Vineyard has a bit of wear and tear character, with some missing grapes, but he’s ready to go.  With time, his patina will only deepen and increase the attractiveness of this classic Meerschaum carving.  I’m glad that this Meer will be put back in service with one of Jen’s family members.  Her gift benefits the Daughters of Bulgaria, our work with women and girls who have been trafficked and sexually exploited.  For more information, check out my blog, The Pipe Steward.  Thanks for joining me!

 

 

Challenges of a Bakelite Stem Rebuild – A Meerschaum Carved Vineyard


Blog by Dal Stanton

When I first saw the Meer before me on the eBay auction block, I was first attracted by the patina showing on the combination smooth and sculpted surfaces.  The base of the billiard bowl showcases two opposing sculpted frescoes, one with the vineyard in expectation of fruit, and the other with the fulfillment – a rack of grapes appearing from behind the grapevine leaves.  Hope and fulfillment are always pleasing themes for reflection as one smokes a bowl of his (or her!) favorite blend.  The patina of the aging meerschaum is concentrated at the base of the stummel, encompassing the frescoes and then gradually thinning and lightening toward the rim and toward the shank.  The other characteristic that drew my attention was the color and taper of the Bakelite stem completing the bent billiard flow.  It just looked good to me.  I have no idea of a carver as there are no markings on the Meer, and the only information from the seller was that its origins were in Europe – it was a gift to the original owner by his sister who lived in Belgium in the 1970s.  Taking it from the ‘Help Me!’ basket, I place it on my work table here in Sofia, Bulgaria, and record the Meer’s condition when it came to me. The characteristics and make-up of meerschaum are not widely understood – I know because I was among those who looked at the white coral-like material and wondered what exactly it was!  The word ‘meerschaum’ has German origins, literally meaning ‘sea foam’.  This brief description from Meerschaum.com is helpful:

Meerschaum is a very rare mineral, a kind of hard white clay. Light and porous structure of the pipe keeps the smoke cool and soft. The pipe itself is a natural filter which absorbs the nicotine. Because of this peculiarity, meerschaum pipes slowly change their colors to different tones of gold and dark brown. This adds an esthetic enjoyment to its great smoking pleasure. The longer a pipe is smoked the more valuable it becomes due to the color change. Today many old and rare meerschaums have found a permanent place in museums and private collections.

Meers are popular because they require no breaking in, no cake, and no resting between smokes. Many consider Meers to be a cooler and dryer smoking experience.  The one main issue with Meers is that they don’t like to be dropped on hard floors – that is never a good thing!  Most Meerschaum is mined in Turkey and for the curious who want to know what exactly the material is, one last excerpt from Altinok Meerschaum’s facts page:

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. There men eventually discovered it and created an incomparable pipe from it. The first record of Meerschaum as a pipe dates from around 1723.

The stummel on the Meer before me has a lot of grime and dirt with nicks showing his age and that he has been well used.  The challenge with Meer is always how to clean and restore but not to remove the patina, which for a Meerschaum, is the honorific equivalent of the respect owed to those blessed with gray hair and long life in the Bible.  The rim has thick lava and the bowl has moderate cake which will need to be removed with care – cake is not needed on a Meer!  The more daunting questions focus on the stem.  The obvious challenge is the large chip on the end of the stem which also has removed almost half of the button.  I could prepare for this repair by ordering and having someone bring from the US to Bulgaria Behlen’s Medium Yellow Furniture Powders to form a putty patch.  I will attempt to repair the stem with the help of others – we’ll see!  The other challenge that I was not able to discern from the eBay pictures, was the push tenon.  The mortise was threaded for a screw in tenon but the tenon I see connected to the stem has no threads and only engages the mortise as the mortise narrows after the threads.  You can see how much of the tenon is engaged by the coloration (last picture above) – only about half.  When I test the engaged tenon, there is a bit of a wiggle to the stem and it isn’t solidly seated as one would expect.  While the stem, when connected to the shank is usable, it isn’t ideal.  I’ll give some thought to this challenge and perhaps seek counsel.

Leaving the question about the approach for the tenon, I decide to start on the clean-up of the stummel.  I first clean the rim by using cotton pads wetted with isopropyl 95% – I just want to see how much of the lava and stain will come off.  Not much did.  I then decide to use a medium grade sanding sponge and lightly top the rim – not aiming to take off the meerschaum but to break through the crusty stuff and remove the burnt areas.  That did the trick.  Pictures show the progress. I can now see the inner edge of the chamber wall and using both a pin knife and the Savinelli Pipe Knife carefully I ream the bowl and remove the cake.  I follow this by using 240 grit paper and sand the walls to remove more of the carbon. I wasn’t satisfied with the 240 grit so I rolled up some coarser 120 grit wrapped around a Sharpie Pen and that did the trick. Much nicer.  I complete the reaming with cleaning the bowl with a cotton wipe wetted with isopropyl 95%.  The fire chamber looks good.  To remove the blackening on the inner ring of the rim, I give it a very gentle bevel with 240 grit sanding paper rolled.  The pictures show the progress. With the bowl reamed I clean the mortise internals.  Using pipe cleaners and Q-tips, dipped in isopropyl 95%, I discover quickly that I’m not able to get a pipe cleaner through the mortise through the draught hole.  I twist, turn and angle – it feels like there’s an obstruction.  I blow through the mortise and find that air is moving through without pressure build up.  Finally, the pipe cleaner moved through.  Looking more closely in the mortise with a directed light I see in the throat of the mortise just beyond the end of the threading appears to be a plastic tubing.  I manage to take a picture of it.  I’m not sure if this is part of the internal system or something broken off and lodged. Yet, this plastic tube is what the tenon is engaging.  With great difficulty, I can probe the area what appears to be beyond the tubing and find the airway which seems to be a sharp turn up from the angle of the mortise’s drilling as the pipe cleaner emerges from the plastic tubing.  This doesn’t seem right.  I’ll research more to see what the tubing is.  The mortise is clean, so I move to the cleaning the externals of the bowl.To clean the external surface of the stummel, I use undiluted Murphy’s Oil Soap with a cotton pad as well as scrubbing the sculpted lines of the vineyard frescoes.  The amount of grime on the surface becomes apparent as from the before and after pictures.  The pictures show the progress. I then sanded the bowl with micromesh pads not to remove every scratch, which is a sign of character and age, but to restore the shine of a vital meerschaum surface.  I wet sanded the surface using pads 1500 to 2400 then dry sanded using micromesh pads 3200 to 4000.  I was not aggressive but careful not to damage the patina.  I like the result.Regarding the stem and tenon questions I referenced above, I sent a note off to Steve and about the push-pull tenon system and what to do with this Meer.  In the end, I decide to order a new replacement system.  I sent a note and measurements off to Tim at http://www.jhlowe.com/ and am waiting for his recommendations.  Since I live in Bulgaria, ordering parts from the States is no small thing as I have it sent to someone coming and they carry it for me.  Saves a bit on postage. With the tenon situation on hold and on order, I turn to the technical part of this restoration that I’ve been anticipating for some time.  Repairing the Bakelite stem or per Steve, possibly a similar material called Amberoid, has been a subject of my research.  The stems most often associated with Meerschaums are the attractive, rich honey yellow color.  The challenge in a repair is matching the yellow color and glass-like texture of the Bakelite or Amberoid.   When I researched this question, I came across Reborn Pipes contributor, Joyal Taylor’s (aka holymolar) 3-part series on patching amber colored stems in 2014.  Starting at the first essay, Stem Patch Using Amber Super Glue, Part 1, I benefited from Joyal demonstrating not only what did work well, but what didn’t.  Also of benefit were the comments many others contributed at the end of the blogs.  So, thanks to Joyal’s trial and error approach, I’m able to jump to a solution in Essay 3 that worked best for him.  I hope I can emulate his success!  Before beginning on the repair, I want the stem internals to be clean.  Taking pipe cleaners dipped in isopropyl, I go to work on the stem.  The resistance was a bit more than I expected.  The cavity behind the screw-in tenon was gummed up good and I expended several Q-tips and a sharp and spade dental tools helped scrape the cavity walls to break up the gunk.  There is some dark staining on the internal airway but the pipe cleaners are now coming out clean.In essay 3, Joyal employed the use of Medium Yellow Behlen Furniture Powder (pictured below) which I found on eBay at this LINK.  Previously, he had employed amber colored superglue which came out too clear – lacking the opaque quality needed for a good match.  In the second essay, he tried to employ a mixture of Fiebing’s yellow and orange leather dyes and thick superglue.  He found that the chemistry of the dyes caused the superglue to setup instantly.  Also in essay 2 he mixed StewMac 2-part clear epoxy with Fiebing’s yellow and orange dyes, which mixed well, but the results were less than satisfactory – for both the hue and the texture.  The final essay he tried the powder approach using Behlen Medium Yellow with extra thick superglue and the results were the best.  Below I picture the match-up between the colors of the powder and the stem.  Not bad.  Joyal’s final assessment was helpful for the stem I’m looking at now:

This time I tried Behlen’s yellow powder w/ StewMac’s thick clear superglue.  This is the best so far. Good color and opaque. Some of the powder didn’t mix in but it all polished smoothly. I had to leave the patch thick at the edge because every time I tried to sand it – smooth it [next] to the acrylic, I would remove more of the original color from the acrylic and have to add more patch material. Oh well, this may be as good as I can do, for now.

The last observation is helpful because it lets me know that the basic solidity of the patch could be ‘softer’ relatively speaking, than the stem material so that he was removing more collateral stem material than he wanted.  So, off we go!  I begin the patch on the Meer’s Bakelite stem by taking another close-up focusing on the patch areas.  The patch has two parts.  First, the side of the stem chipped off parallel with the right-side stem edge until it enters the button area.  At this point the break encompasses the entire corner – stem and button.  It appears to me the break was caused by dropping the Meer on a hard surface and the impact point was the end of the stem.  The second part of the patch is to rebuild the button.  To do this, I’ll apply a ‘surplus’ amount of the patch putty not only to the damaged, missing part, but over the entire button.  This will allow me to shape a new button with adequate edges.  To mix with the Behlen powder I have a newly acquired bottle of BSI Extra Thick Maxi-Cure CA glue.  I’ll start the mixture aiming at a 50/50 ratio and eyeball things.  I want to mix it well so that the powder is fully dissolved.  I’m also not sure how much time I have before the new CA glue starts setting.  I first take 240 grit sanding paper and rough up the entire patch area to increase the bonding potential between the Bakelite and patch putty.  Now, I construct a ‘slot mold’ for the button.  The slot area is shaped like a concave canoe that the button edges encompass.  I need to keep putty out of this area and form a mold of sorts for the putty.  The results of this mold would remind one of the Wolverine in X-Men.  As menacing as it appears, the center toothpick anchors the mold in the airhole and the ‘wing-picks’ are wedging the edges. The folded index card forming the mold I cover with smooth tape so it won’t adhere to the putty.  Prep done, I pour some Behlen powder in a plastic egg crate to double as a mixing trough.  With tools and toothpicks at hand to serve as putty trowels, I add BSI Extra Thick Maxi-Cure CA to the powder and begin mixing.  Well, if this were a science experiment it would remind me of my first chemistry set in 5th grade.  Every 10-year-old with a new chemistry set sees the formula included for a ‘skunk bomb’ and tries it as his first experiment.  I was no exception.  After adding the glue to the powder and mixing, the mixture began to smoke and harden very quickly.  After running the smoking egg crate to the bathroom and adding water to the mix, the smoke stopped and I return to the work table and record my science experiment with a picture capturing the toothpick forever encased in the hardened yellow putty.  The pictures show the progression. Now fully in step with Jowal’s methodology of ‘Trial and Error’ progress, I ask the question, what happened?   I’m not sure, but my guess is that I started with too much powder and adding the glue to it was not sufficient to keep it in liquid form.  My guess is that the rapid hardening created the reactions (chemical energy!), which created the smoke, leading to my emergency procedures.  This time I will approach the process like I do with a charcoal and super glue mix – put both powder and glue on an index card together and mix more gradually and see what happens.  Well, I’ve proven that the methodology is not the culprit.  Again, smoke was produced from the mixture on the index card while I started applying the putty to the stem.  At this point, I’m thinking that the new glue I’m using might be the problem.  I’ll try again with a glue I’ve used in the past.  Thankfully, I could remove the hardened putty that did make it to the stem, by carefully scraping with my thumb nail.  The bright side of this is that the color match with the stem looks great!  Lesson 2 learned – what not to do.  Pictures show the progression of lesson 2. While contemplating the next step, an email came in from Tim at J. H. Lowe in Ohio, and as expected, his note is very helpful:

The regular push-pull set is what you need. Are there threads inside the mortise? There are two sizes of these sets but the larger one is only used when the threads are very worn out and the oversize mortise part has to be fitted in the shank to fix this kind of worn out repair sleeve. I sell these by the each for $3 and by the dz. for a discounted price. You’ll need to change out the stem peg and the sleeve in the Meers pipe repair.

I responded by ordering 3 of each size so I’ll have some on hand for future projects.  So, in a couple weeks, the new push-pull system order will arrive with a friend coming to visit Bulgaria.  By that time, the rest of the Meerschaum Carved Vineyard should be ready and waiting with a quick finish to the restoration.

For the third go – I repeat roughing the patch area with 240 grit sanding paper to remove putty residue from Lesson 2.  Then, after replacing Wolverine, I change glues using Hot Stuff Special ‘T’ CA glue and mix the same way that I did in Lesson 2, placing a puddle of glue alongside the Behlen Medium Yellow powder and gradually mix by drawing the powder into the glue until (hopefully) the mixture reaches a molasses like consistency.  If it doesn’t ‘smoke’ this time, we’ll know the problem of Lessons 1 & 2. Unfortunately, the ‘smoking’ is repeated and the putty hardened very quickly.  My conclusion to the problem, and the pictures below show the progression of my solution.  The problem is that I’m adding too much Behlen powder to the mix or not enough glue.  I’m estimating that instead of a 50/50 mixture, I need an 80/20 ratio of glue to powder.  I’m not sure of the chemistry involved, but the smoke produced happens when the mixture hardens.  I had more time gradually to build up the patch with the greater glue ratio.  Of course, the question remains, will the lesser powder content change the color match or texture?  We’ll see.  The pictures show the several cycles of building the patch around the button area.  I had only so much time before the hardening would happen and I would make another small batch.  The last picture shows the successfully removed Wolverine mold and the success of guarding the slot area from the putty.  The proof of this yellow pudding will be in the filing, sanding and shaping of the Behlen powder and superglue putty patch.  I use needle files and 240 sanding paper to do the initial shaping.  Starting from the slot side – the end of the stem, I like to create a baseline by re-establishing end by removing the excess.  After removing excess putty on the end, I find the original button.  Since the left side of the button needs to be totally rebuilt, as it was broken off, I use the remaining right side of the button and slot shape to help me form the left side of the slot so it will match. With the baseline established, using the flat edge needle file, I begin to contour the general proportions of the button – lower then upper.  The pictures show the gradual progress. With the general contours of the button established, I then score a line with the flat needle file to mark the upper button lip edge.  With this edge established, I then file down the score line to establish the lip.  I turn the file vertically and use the short edge as a saw and set the edge deeper.  I like to have that edge established so that I can then begin to remove methodically the excess patch putty more accurately to the left of the lip on the second picture below.  After removing as much of the excess putty as possible with the flat needle file, to avoid collateral filing into the Bakelite, I then use 240 grit paper to smooth the surface and remove the putty.  The upper bit looks good so far!  The pictures show the progress. I flip the stem over and repeat same process starting with defining the bit and creating a lip to guide the excess putty removal.  While I work, I’m keeping an eye on the right side (lower in the picture below) of the stem where the major stem rebuild was.  I recall Joyal’s observations of having to keep the patch high because during the smoothing and blending process sanding on the edge of the patch was taking too much of the stem material in the process.  He then described having to refill with more patch the ‘border’ between patch and stem.  The pictures show the progress on the lower bit area. The next two pictures show the completion of the filing and use of 240 grit sanding paper.  I then use 600 grit paper to smooth and blend more and finish with briskly rubbing with 0000 steel wool.  At this stage of the stem repair, I look at the patch areas (3rd picture) and the use of Behlen Furniture Powder Medium Yellow and Special ‘T’ CA glue is strong.  Building up the chip area and missing button portion wasn’t easy but it looks good.  The color is good though it has a speckled quality to it created by small air pockets in the patch which were exposed during the sanding. This I have found is normal.  To fill the pockets, I apply a dab of Hot Stuff CA glue on the stem patch and then ‘paint’ it over the patch using a toothpick.  I do the same with the button lips – upper and lower.  I repeat sanding with 600 grit and then steel wool (I forgot to take pictures of filling the air pockets!).  The pictures show the progress. With the repairs to the stem completed, using micromesh pads 1500 to 2400 I wet sand the stem.  Following this, I dry sand the stem using pads 3200 to 4000 and then, 6000 to 12000.  The Bakelite (or Amberoid, I’ll have to figure out how to tell the difference) stem gradually shines up nicely with each successive micromesh cycle.  The pictures show the progress.I follow the micromesh cycles with applying Blue Diamond compound to the stem with the cotton cloth Dremel wheel set to the slowest speed.  I then mount the carnauba cotton cloth wheel on the Dremel and give the stem 3 coats of carnauba wax.  I follow the carnauba with a hand-buff using a microfiber cloth. Wow!  I like it. The Bakelite or Amberoid has the appearance of glass – the patch has no textural differences with the original stem.  The last two pictures are flipped to show what I’m seeing after the buff. Stem completed for now – the new push-pull tenon system should be in transit. With the stem completed and on hold for the tenon, I look to complete the stummel of this Meer Carved Vineyard.  With of the unique characteristics of Meerschaum pipes, they’re like wine – they get better with age!  For Meerschaums, their value increases with use as the oils in the tobacco interact with the unique composition of the Meerschaum the bowl will change color gradually, darkening to the golden, honey brown which is its patina.  The Carved Vineyard displays this growing patina and to enhance this natural coloring process, treating the stummel with bees’ wax is the long-used practice of choice.  This is my first application of bee’s wax to a Meer and Charles Lemon’s, of Dad’s Pipes, descriptive posts have been helpful as I’ve done my research (See: Quick Clean-up of a Tulip Meerschaum Sitter).  One thing very much available in Bulgaria is bees’ wax, which I found in a local outdoor market at the honey kiosk.  My price was 3BGN for 100gr (Translation: $1.63 for 1/5 pounds).  I don’t know if it’s a deal or a steal.   After I unwrap the package, I break off some chunks of the bee’s wax and put them in a small mason jar, which I’ll be able to keep unused wax for the next Meer treatment.  Using my hot air gun, I melt the wax in the mason jar.  After melting the wax, I hold the Meer over the hot gun to warm up to better absorb the wax.  Blame it on Bulgarian winters, but when I finish warming the Meer, the wax has already cooled down and congealing!  So, a more rapid wax melting follows, and a re-warming of the Meer stummel.  I used a Q-tip cotton swab to paint the bowl with the melted bee’s wax.  I was careful to paint the sculpted vineyard lines – getting the wax in the nooks and crannies.  I put the stummel aside to cool.  Since this was my first time to apply the bee’s wax treatment to a Meer, I was a little surprised how thick the congealed wax was on the stummel after it cooled.  It could be that the Meer wasn’t hot enough and the wax was cooling too quickly.  Either way, the Meer received a treatment!  After cooled, I try buffing with a towel to remove the thicker waxy residue, and I discover that it’s not too easy.  I’m thinking that the wax is too thick and it congealed to fast (3rd picture below). I improvise and I think the improvisation benefited this Meer.  Using a Q-tip as a brush, I start passing the thick-layered bees’ wax stummel over the air gun – like passing over a lit candle, it liquefies the wax on the portion impacted by the heat.  As the wax liquefies, I paint it into the surface – working it in well and removing the excess with the Q-tip. This time applying wax around the Meerschaum seems to absorb the wax instead of being smothered by it. It didn’t take long and the application of bees’ wax is complete (4th picture below)!  Then, before the stummel cooled down, while yet warm, I buff the stummel with a towel and then with a microfiber cloth and WOW.  I’m a believer.  The shine and deepening of the patina is evident!  The pictures tell the story. With the Meerschaum’s stem and stummel complete – almost – I set both aside waiting for the arrival of the push-pull tenon from the US.  I’m beginning to wonder whether this Meer Carved Vineyard should go to The Pipe Steward store, or remain in my collection – often I have that problem 🙂 !

A few weeks later the push-pull tenons arrive via a friend who was willing to carry them to Bulgaria.  I open the package sent by Tim West at J.H. Lowe in Columbus, Ohio, and have my first look at what a new push-pull system looks like.  I unscrew the old tenon and easily screw the new one in place.  The mortise sleeve’s threads worked perfectly as well.  The problem though, is that it will not screw all the way in.  Previously, I identified a tubing of sorts deeper in the mortise which was the only thing the old tenon was locking into – though poorly.  My first inclination was to cut the new mortise tenon sleeve so that being shortened it would fit in the limited space.  It was then that I started questioning whether what I was looking at was part of the design or that it was in fact, the left-over remains of the bottom end of the old mortise sleeve which had broken off.  After looking closely at the inner tubing, I can see fragments of the old break.  Ok!  Now I understand that I need to exorcise this vagabond mortise sleeve. I first try wedging a small flat head screw driver in the tubing to ‘unscrew’ it by turning it counter-clockwise.  I was hoping that it might be loose, but will not budge.  So, using appropriately size drill bits and wood screws, gradually I clear out the obstructing portion by shaving off the material of the old sleeve which I think might be acrylic. I am careful to keep the bits and screws straight so they do not nick the Meer threads.  This was not an easy or fast process, but eventually I was satisfied to remove most of the old sleeve – leaving only a very thin ‘skin’ over the threaded area deeper in the mortise, which may indeed help in keeping the mortise cleaner.  After this, I screw the new insert into the mortise and trim and sand the protruding ‘head’ of the sleeve to improve the fit and alignment of the mortise and stem.  I also sand down the tenon diameter to improve its fit into the sleeve.  I’m pleased with the results.  The pictures show the replacement of the push-pull tenon system.  I’m pleased with the stem rebuild that has blended very well with the Bakelite stem and has put this Meerschaum back in service for a new steward. The patina of the Meerschaum Carved Vineyard has a very healthy start and will only season more with good, aromatic tobaccos.  I also like the blending of smooth and carved Meerschaum – a very stylish pipe.  If you would like to adopt this Meerschaum Carved Vineyard, look at the Pipe Store in my new blog site at ThePipeSteward.com.  The profits of my pipe sales go to help women and children who have been sexually exploited and trafficked through the Daughters of Bulgaria, an organization we work with here in Bulgaria.  Thanks for joining me!