Tag Archives: polishing meerschaum bowls

Refurbishing a Gourd Calabash

Blog by Steve Laug

In the past weeks I finished up some pipes for a guy here in Vancouver and when he came to pick them up he brought some more for me to work on for him. I finished up some of the ones on the worktable so I decided it was time to work on these. The fourth pipe is a Gourd Calabash with a Meerschaum bowl. It is a nicely shaped gourd that makes up the base of the bowl. The meerschaum cup is in excellent condition – a few minor scratches and nicks in the bowl. The shank end is plastic/acrylic and seals the end of the gourd. It is made to fit a bent vulcanite stem. The meerschaum bowl had a thin and uneven cake. The upper half of the bowl was more thickly caked than the bottom half. I would need to ream it to even out the cake. There was some slight darkening around the inner edge of the rim top as well as some scratches and nicks in the top of the rim. The inside of the shank was dirty and needed to be cleaned. The black vulcanite stem had tooth marks and chatter on the top and underside of the stem near the button. I took photos of the bowl and stem to give a clear picture of the condition of the pipe before I started to work on it.I removed the bowl from the gourd bowl. The cork gasket was in tact but dry. The inside of the bowl had some build up of tars and oils on the walls.The bowl was dirty and the rim top scratched and worn. There was some darkening on the top and around the inner edge. There was also some uneven cake that is visible in the photo below. I scraped out the excesss cake with a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife to even the cake on the walls of the bowl. I sanded the walls smooth with sandpaper wrapped around a piece of dowel. I worked over the top of the bowl and the inner edge of the rim top with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanding with 3200-12000 grit pads. I removed the most of the damage to the rim top with the micromesh sanding pads. I was able to smooth out the scratches with the micromesh pads. I wiped the bowl down after each pad with a damp cloth. I scraped out the hardened tars on the walls of the gourd with a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife. This is done with care so as not to dig too deeply into the skin of the gourd. I just wanted to knock off the high spots and smooth it out. I blew out the debris onto a paper. I cleaned out the airway in the stem and shank, the mortise and shank interior with pipe cleaners, cotton swabs and alcohol. I forgot to take photos of this as I was on a roll and moving quickly through the process.I rubbed down the outer surface of the gourd with Before & After Restoration Balm. I worked it into the finish with my fingertips and finished working it in with a shoe brush. The balm worked to clean, preserve and enliven the surface of the gourd. I also rubbed some Vaseline into the cork gasket to soften and enliven it at the same time. I really like the effect of the product on the gourd bowl so I took some photos of the pipe at this point. Once the outside and inside of the gourd was as clean as I was going to get it I set the bowl aside and turned to address the stem. I sanded the tooth marks and chatter out of the stem surface with some folded 220 grit sandpaper.I polished the stem with micromesh sanding pads to remove the scratches in the acrylic. I wet sanded it with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanded it with 3200-12000 grit pads. I wiped the stem down with a damp cloth after each sanding pad. I polished the stem with Before & After Pipe Stem Polish – both Fine and Extra Fine polishes. I wiped it down with a cotton pad and gave it a final coat of Obsidian Oil. I set the stem aside to dry. I put the stem back on the gourd bowl and buffed the pipe with Blue Diamond polish on the buffing wheel. I gave the gourd outer bowl, the meerschaum inner bowl and the stem multiple coats of carnauba wax and 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 finished pipe is shown in the photos below. I have four more pipes to finish for him – these are some finds he made while pipe hunting. This is a fun bunch of pipes to work on. I look forward to moving through the rest of them. Thanks for looking.  

Recommissioning a Sculpted Gourd Calabash for a Man Serving His Country

Blog by Dal Stanton

Last year, when my wife and I were in the US for some months for our periodic furlough reconnecting with friends, family, and sponsors of our work in Bulgaria, I was also trying to connect with pipes –  I love the search!  As I’ve done many times before, I was trolling through the eBay offerings.  I came across a listing for a lot of pipes, which the seller described as:  Huge Lot Of 66 Smoking Pipes Pre-Owned Pre-Smoked and Deeply Loved.  The further description was that the Lot of 66 was a donated item, that the collection belonged to one owner, and they repeated that the collection had been “Loved”.  There were several other pictures providing break downs of the overview below.  As you might expect, I started going through the pictures to see what I could see – the seller said that they were not pipe people, they did not know the brands nor the specific histories.  This is always a good sign – treasures could be lurking in the mass of 66 pipes!  I could see very easily one OBVIOUS treasure – a Gourd Calabash.  Well, I did the math, determined a budget, and with my wife’s blessing, went to the auction block and I won – which surprised me.   There turned out to be several treasures in the Lot of 66 which will gradually make their way to The Pipe Steward worktable to be restored and recommissioned to benefit the Daughters of Bulgaria, helping women and girls, and their children, who have been trafficked and sexually exploited.  I toted the Lot of 66 back to Bulgaria with me (thanks to a very patient wife!) and now the Sculpted Gourd Calabash is now on the worktable.  What prompted the Calabash’s retrieval from the ‘Help Me!’ basket was a text message I received from a man who said he was looking for a Meerschaum pipe and a Calabash.  Brian had met one of my colleagues in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, and through their conversation, he discovered that I restored pipes and that he had a bucket list of sorts, of pipes he was trying to acquire while in Europe for a short work stay.  Brian and I began to text back and forth, and I told him I did have a Calabash and a few Meerschaums.  He was able to look at the Sculpted Gourd Calabash on The Pipe Steward site in the ‘For Pipe Dreamers Only’ section – unrestored pipes that folks may commission. We agreed on the Calabash and since he was leaving Bulgaria soon, I went to work straight away on his ‘Bucket List’ Calabash along with the other projects on my worktable.  Only later, as we continued to text each other, did I discover that Brian was an Airforce serviceman from Washington State and lives on a farm where he and his wife provide foster care for children.  He said he was on a short military training exercise in Bulgaria.  My sense of appreciation grew – not only for the service to his country, but their care and concern for children.  I also discovered that Brian has become very interested in pipe restoration and may give it a go!  So, to work on the Calabash.

One of the discoveries I made when I looked at the Calabash for the first time in hand – what I could not see in the pictures, was that the gourd was sculpted – a very interesting and attractive design that both adds an unexpected ‘fresco’ of sorts on the gourd, and also a different, tactile feel.  On my worktable here in Sofia, Bulgaria, I take pictures of the Sculpted Gourd Calabash to chronicle his condition. The first thing that draws the attention to this Gourd Calabash after the sculpted design is taken in, is the sheer size of the pipe.  From the end of the Meerschaum cup to the end of the fancy push tenon stem is just at 9 inches!  The cup is 2 ¾ inches wide and the cup chamber is 1 3/8 inches deep. The pipe has no markings to reveal its origins.  The gourd is generally in good shape and carries with it the normal signs of age – nicks and scrapes on the gourd surface.  The surface shows the latent shininess of former finishes which look like blotches in the pictures above – these need to be removed.  When I investigate the inside of the gourd I see dust and loose particles that need to be cleaned.  The cork gasket which forms the connection between the Meerschaum cup and the gourd is in good shape but is dry. On rebornpipes, one of Steve’s best practices is to apply a little petroleum jelly to the gasket to condition it and to create a renewed seal.  I’ll try this out as well.  The cup itself is solid but sports some small chips on the top, near the chamber opening.  There are also nicks and scratches revealing the bumps and bruises he’s collected along the way.  I’ll work on sanding these out.  The push tenon stem has significant oxidation and tooth chatter.  The shank extension is made of plastic and is scraped up a bit on the end, but it should clean up nicely.

I begin the restoration of this treasure of the Lot of 66 for Brian’s bucket list by first cleaning the internals of the stem with pipe cleaners and isopropyl 95%.  After this, I add the stem to the Before and After Deoxidizer bath, along with a couple other stems in process. I let the stem soak in the Deoxidizer overnight.  The next morning, I fish out the stem from the Deoxidizer, let it drain off, and wipe liquid and oxidation off with cotton cloth pads wetted with light paraffin oil.  This removes the raised oxidation.  I wipe and buff the vulcanite and put it aside to dry.  The Before and After Deoxidizer has grown in my appreciation for the job it does.  The stem looks great. Turning now to the gourd, I look again inside the gourd and the walls are dark, with some dried tars.  I won’t be able to get it all cleaned, but I take a dental spatula to scrape what I can off.  I put down some paper towel to help in cleanup. I also employ a long-wired shank brush to reach into the gourd and travel the curve.  I do the same thing with a brush through the mortise into the gourd.  This loosens more hardened tars.  After I finish with the scraping and the brushing, I clean the mortise with pipe cleaner and cotton bud dipped in isopropyl 95%.  The internals are as clean as I can manage! Before I turn to the external surface of the gourd, I finish the internal by applying petroleum jelly with my finger to the cork gasket to rejuvenate it.To clean the grime from the gourd surface and in the sculpting crevices as well as to remove the old shiny finish, I use undiluted Murphy’s Oil Soap with cotton pads and a bristled tooth brush.  I then gently rinse the gourd using the toothbrush and a very light flow of water – avoiding water getting inside the gourd. I hand dry the gourd with paper towel and let it set to dry thoroughly.  While I had the Murphy’s out, I did a quick clean over of the Meerschaum cup using a cotton pad. After the gourd thoroughly dries, I want to rejuvenate the surface.  Using Before and After Restoration Balm I work the balm into the sculpted gourd with my fingers.  I take two pictures to mark the beginning for comparison. I’m looking forward to seeing what the Balm does with the thirsty, dry gourd!  I was not disappointed – oh my!  The richness of color that exemplifies a classic Gourd Calabash is evident.  Every pipe man and woman hopes to have at least one Gourd Calabash in their collections!  I put the gourd aside to rest and pick up the Meerschaum cup.  I take another close look at the chamber and at the chipping on the cup dome.  I think that the chips are too deep to sand out totally, but I take a piece of 470 grade paper and lightly sand the surface of the Meer cup.  I strategically and lightly sand out nicks on the surface and the bevel of the cup.  I’m not able to remove the deepest divots next to the chamber lip but it looks better. As I sand, I use a dampened cotton cloth to wipe off the Meer dust. Before going further with the Meer cup surface, I take the Savinelli Fitsall Tool and gently scrape the chamber.  The cake is very light, and it doesn’t take much.  I follow by sanding the chamber with a piece of 240 grade paper around a Sharpie pen and then wipe the chamber with a cotton pad and alcohol.  Now I bring the Meerschaum cup through a micromesh pad cycle by wet sanding with pads 1500 to 2400 then dry sanding with pads 3200 to 12000.  As I sand, I do not get carried away!  Sanding Meerschaum is a much gentler activity than briar!  As I progress to the latter, more polishing pads, the Meerschaum begins to reflect like glass.  Nice!The next step with the restoration of the cup is to apply bee’s wax to the Meer surface.  Bee’s wax is excellent in protecting the Meer surface as well as encouraging a rich patina.  I have Bulgarian bee’s wax available and I melt it with a hot gun.  When it liquifies, I apply it to the surface with a cotton bud. I also warm the Meer cup with the hot air so that it allows for the more even application of the melted wax.  I prop the cup in a small plastic cup.  As I apply the melted bee’s wax with a cotton bud, the wax congeals very quickly as it cools on the Meer surface.  At the end of the application, the wax is caked on the surface.  It takes some work as I begin removing the excess, congealed wax, using a cotton cloth.  As the excess comes off, it reveals the surface and it buffs more easily.  Finally, with all the excess removed, I use a micromesh cloth to give the cup a hearty hand buffing.  The Calabash’s Meer cup is now ready for a gourd.  It looks good. Now, to the fancy push tenon stem.  The bit is rough with chatter.  I will remove it by using a piece of 240 grade paper.  I also take a flat needle file to redefine the button.  I follow the 240 paper with 470 grade paper removing the scratches left by the 240 paper.  Then, I use 600 grade paper and sand the entire stem to remove rough spots in the vulcanite as well as removing the tracks of the 470 paper.  Finally, I buff the entire stem with 0000 grade steel wool. Following the steel wool buff, I want to rejuvenate the vulcanite.  First, I apply Before and After Fine Polish then Extra Fine Polish to the stem. I work each in with my fingers throughout the stem.  After each application, I wipe/buff the polish with a cotton cloth.  The vulcanite responds well with a deeper black – it looks good.Now to the micromesh pads.  With pads 1500 to 2400 I wet sand followed by 3200 to 4000 and 6000 to 12000 are dry sanded.  After each set of three I apply a coating of Obsidian Oil.  The polished vulcanite pop is nice to behold! Now to the Calabash’s sculpted gourd.  Using the Dremel, I mount a cotton cloth buffing wheel dedicated to Blue Diamond compound.  Using the fine abrasive compound, I sand the smooth gourd areas to bring out more gloss.  I also want to test carefully the application of the compound to the sculpted area which has peeks and valleys.  I’m interested to see if Blue Diamond will also enhance this area.  Using the slowest speed on the Dremel, I work the buffing wheel around the gourd – both smooth and sculpted.  The sculpting is very intricate and the more I look at it the more amazing it is – very nice touch on an already classic shape.  I can work the compound into the sculpting and the results are good.  The surface is shining up well.  I take a picture applying the compound – no small feat with only two hands!  I also run the buffing wheel with Blue Diamond on the shank extension as well as on the unattached fancy stem.No – this next picture is not repeated from above, unfortunately.  In the interest of full disclosure, as I was working the Blue Diamond compound on the stem, I noticed oxidation that I did not see before – or wasn’t as obvious until I started buffing up the vulcanite with the compound.  Well, I’ll spare you all the pictures of starting from the beginning by re-sanding the stem starting with 240, 470, 600, steel wool and the full run of 9 micromesh pads…  Let this picture represent the whole…. Thankfully, back to ‘now’ with the second picture.I give the gourd and stem a quick hand buff with a felt cloth to remove compound dust in preparation for the application of wax.  I mount another cotton cloth buffing wheel dedicated to carnauba wax onto the Dremel.  I increase the speed up to about 40% and apply the wax to both gourd, stem and shank extension – the cup and stem are not assembled.  I find that the compact Dremel buffing wheel allows me to work in a much more directed way.  To spread the carnauba wax over the sculpted, rougher area, I steer the buffing wheel in the same direction as the sculpted valleys.  In this way, the wax does not gum up but continues to spread evenly over the surface and crevices.  As I watch the waxing unfold, oh my!  Gourd skin loves carnauba wax!  After some coats of wax, I use a micromesh cloth to buff up the gourd and stem surface.  I also buff the Meerschaum cup with the cloth.

I am very, very pleased with the results of this Sculpted Gourd Calabash.  The design created on the gourd surface attracts the eye and holds it.  The smooth gourd ‘bands’ below the Meerschaum cup and over the gourd shank, connecting to the shank extension, create a symmetry that works well.  The Meer cup looks good.  It carries some of the former scars and cuts – a sign of the Calabash’s history.  I’m glad that Brian will take good care of this Calabash as he returns to the US after his tour of service in Bulgaria.  I appreciate his service to his country and that his bucket list Sculpted Gourd Calabash benefits the Daughters of Bulgaria, women and girls (and their children) who have been trafficked and sexually exploited.  Thanks Brian and thanks for joining me through this restoration! 

Restoring a Lovely Carved Pine Cone Bent Meerschaum

Blog by Steve Laug

I think Jeff was drawn to this one because of the interesting carving on the bowl and shank, the developing colour on the meerschaum, and the colour and patterns of the acrylic stem. I think he knew I would be interested in it as well. It came in a case that was a bit large for the pipe so I think it may not have been the original case for this meerschaum. Even though it is too large, it does protect it and holds it firmly in place. The shank and the bottom of the bowl have darkened nicely. The rest of the pipe is also darkening with the colour moving from the dark bowl bottom and lightening as you move up the bowl. The rim was dirty with tars and oils and there was a cake in the bowl. The stem has tooth marks and chatter on the top and the underside near the button. The first five photos were the ones that the EBay seller posted with the description of the pipe. To me the pipe showed a lot of potential and I was looking forward to hearing from Jeff if he thought it was a nice as it looked once it arrived in Idaho. We talked and he was pleased with the overall look of the pipe. There was one of the ends of a pinecone “leaf” that was cracked and poorly repaired but otherwise it just needed a cleanup.

Jeff took photos of the pipe when it arrived in Idaho before he started his cleanup work. It looked pretty good – the seller’s photos and description matched what he saw when he had it in hand. When he opened the case the left side of the pipe looked really good. There were no chips of cracks, not damaged areas on the bowl side. The fit of the stem to the shank was perfect.He took this photo of the pipe when he took it out of the case and I was hooked. I really liked the sense of how the pipe captured the pine cone. The shank and base are the stalk and branch that the pine cone hangs on. The sides of the bowl curving over the rim gave the clear picture of a pine cone. It is well carved.The grooves and small crevices on the rim top were filled in with tars and oils. The deep open areas of the rim were not visible under the grime. There was also a lot of dust deep in the grooves of the carving. The underside of the shank and the bottom of the bowl also formed the cluster that held the cone. The bottom of the bowl had darkened significantly to a rich brown patina. The shank had darkened to a dark brown with shades of the rich brown peeking through the grooves. The swirls of colour in the Lucite stem match those in the patterns of the bowl. The close up photo of the rim top shows the cake that had formed in the bowl and the thick lava that was filling in the grooves of the carved rim top. The rich browns of the underside of the bowl are really beautiful and give the pipe character. The transition from the bowl to shank shows the various shades of colour that were developing in the meerschaum. The only flaw if you will, or damage that I could find in the carving was one of the “leafs” of the cone was cracked on the bottom third of the bowl on the right side. It had been repaired with a black rubber cement like substance but there was a lot of seepage from the glue below the repair and the crack had never fully sealed. At least the broken portion was not lost as is often the case in pipes that we purchase as estates.Jeff removed the stem from the shank and exposed the Delrin push tenon on the end of the stem and the fitting that was in the shank itself. The amber portions of the stem were very translucent.The turned stem looked good with the pipe bowl and with a little imagination you can envision a tree branch holding the pine cone in place. The third and fourth photo below are close up photos of the stem surface and show the damage to the button surface and the tooth chatter on both sides of the stem. I love the swirling patterns in the stem material as they remind me of the colours of pine sap that I used to get all over my hands when I was a kid cleaning up our yard. I feel like there is a certain redundancy to this section of the blogs that I do on my restoration projects. But I write it each time to keep the cleaning process focused for those of you who read the blogs to learn our methods. So here it is again. Jeff cleaned the pipe with his usual thoroughness – he reamed the bowl and cleaned out the internals with alcohol, cotton swabs and pipe cleaners. He scrubbed the exterior with Murphy’s Oil Soap and a tooth brush and rinsed it under running water to remove the soap. He focused his work on the rim top to remove the cake and lava on the grooves and crevices of carving there. He cleaned up the stem surface and the internals in the stem to remove the tars and oils in the airway. When the pipe arrived in Vancouver it was in clean shape and ready to be restored. I took some photos of the before I started to work on it to show its condition. Jeff was able to remove the grime and build up from the grooves of the rim top. When I received it the lava was gone from the rim and it was clean. His cleaning had still left behind the patina on the meerschaum so it still showed some colour. The bowl was spotless and the cake was gone leaving behind bare meerschaum walls.The close up photos of the stem show the tooth marks on the top and underside of the button. They are the only deep marks on the stem. I have circled them in red in the photos below. The rest of the stem has tooth chatter but no deep tooth marks.I decided to repair the broken/chipped piece of meerschaum on the right side of the bowl. It was loose so I removed it and cleaned off the black epoxy that held the piece to the bowl. I scraped off the glue and cleaned the piece with a cotton swab and alcohol. I was able to remove much of the brown/black glue overflow between the pieces. Some still remained but it was not nearly as thick as before. I put drops of clear super glue on the chip itself and on the area where it fit and slid it in  place with the point of a dental pick. I aligned the two parts and set the bowl aside to dry. The fit looks far better, though there is still a thin black line between the two parts. It is shown in the photo below.I filled in the tooth marks on the top and underside of the button with amber super glue. Once the glue had dried I sanded the stem surface with 220 grit sandpaper to blend the repairs in to the button surface. I sanded out the tooth chatter on the stem surface until it was smooth. I used a needle file to recut, shape and clean up the sharp edge of the button. I polished the stem with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-2400 grit pads and wiping the stem down with damp cotton pads to remove the sanding dust. I dry sanded it with 3200-12000 grit pads to polish it further and wiped it down after each pad. I buffed the stem with Blue Diamond on the buffing wheel. A soft touch is critical when polishing acrylic – a heavy hand and you overheat the acrylic and it melts and makes a mess. Melt it and it makes more work for you. I buff gently to keep from making more work. I gave the bowl a light coat of Clapham’s Beeswax Polish. The polish needs to be heated and put on lightly to ensure that it does not fill in the grooves in the meer. I hand buffed it with a shoe brush and a microfiber cloth to deepen the shine. I put the stem back on the bowl and hand buffed the pipe a final time to give it a deeper shine. The colouration that is beginning to work up the shank toward the bowl is beautiful. The colours on the bowl are progressively darker as you work your way up the bowl. The rim colour once it was cleaned is getting darker as well but is no longer coloured with tars and oils. The acrylic stem goes really well with the colouring meer bringing out some of the same colours in both as the stem darkens. The dimensions of the pipe are Length: 6 inches, Height: 2 ½ inches, Bowl diameter: 2 inches, Chamber diameter: ¾ inches. I think this is a pipe that will join my collection. I really like the stem and bowl and how they work together – the pine cone shape and the variegated stem work together like a branch and a pine cone. Thanks for looking.