Tag Archives: rebuilding a broken amber stem

COMPLICATING A SIMPLE RESTORATION OF A CUTTY MEERSCHAUM!!


Blog by Paresh Deshpande

Truth be told, this project which started while my friend and mentor Steve, Jeff and Dal Stanton were visiting us here in May of 2019, had become a mental block for me to work on. I had this meerschaum pipe that came without a stem and I had requested Steve if he could get me one when he came visiting. He brought along a potential stem for either the meerschaum currently on my work table or for an early Ben Wade Fancy cutty, again from my inheritance. In the course of our time here we looked over the stem that he had brought along and tried it on the meerschaum and the Ben Wade. We chose not to use the stem on the meerschaum and it was too large in diameter for the Ben Wade. It was decided that Steve would take the Ben Wade back home to find a suitable stem from his bag of spares (https://rebornpipes.com/2019/05/20/restoring-restemming-an-1851-ben-wade-silver-clad-cutty/) while an amber stem from my spares of odds and ends would be used for the meerschaum. The selected replacement amber stem is shown below.This meerschaum pipe in a Cutty shape, with a forward canted bowl that flows in to the shank, is in its original leather case. In looks alone, it has unparalleled beauty with nice deep egg yolk yellow coloration to the stummel and shank with a black flume to the rim top which extends ½ inch down. The shank is devoid of any stampings and the only stamp seen is on the case. The leather covered wood case is stamped on the inside of the top lid in an oval as “Alfred MASSIN” over “LIEGE” over “R. DELA CATHEDRALE, 56”. On the lower lid, on the outer edge, it is stamped as “A MASSIN, LIEGE”Other than a known fact that Liege is an important economic hub of Belgium, there was no information found on the internet to establish the provenance of this pipe. The only guess that I can afford is that Alfred Massin was/is a tobacconist in Liege, Belgium who either made or bought pipes to be sold under his name. In all probability, the later holds true and this could be a Vienna made meer (famous for making meerschaum pipes).

PART I
Since my esteemed guests were to leave in next couple of days, we prioritized the work that would need to be done while Steve was in town and thus I have departed from my usual process of initial visual inspection. This, I shall be carrying out before I start the Part II of the process.

As brought out earlier, the chosen replacement amber stem, though not a perfect fit, had a nice flowing profile that matched the flow of the meerschaum cutty.  More importantly, it sat over the threaded bone tenon in the mortise with an acceptable flawed flush which could be addressed during the course of restoring this beauty. There was a slight difference in the shoulder size of this stem as compared to that of the shank end. It was shorter too, but nothing could be done about it!! The least we could attempt was to make it smoke worthy again and that is what we set about to achieve.Steve suggested that a sterling silver ring should help masking this gap while adding a nice bling to the monotonous profile of the pipe (which by itself is eye catching!!). Steve, Jeff, Abha and I visited many of our city jewelers on a hunt for one such sterling silver ring without any success. At one of the jeweler’s shop, we got a lead to a person who would fabricate one such ring for us and when we reached this shop, it was primitive, small, dingy and not confidence inspiring for sure. But when we saw him work, it was amazing and he excelled in his work. He did not have any complicated and sophisticated instruments for measurements or for fabricating or welding, but he sure made us the perfect ring for the oval shank end at an astonishingly low cost!! And the fit was excellent. His workmanship and skills did leave Steve and Jeff highly impressed. Here are some pictures of the Silversmith in action and the end result. At this stage, Steve and Jeff had to bid farewell to us as their stay had come to an end and I would have to continue this restoration alone.

DISASTER STRIKES AND HOW!!
After we had dropped Steve and Jeff at the airport, I came back to a void as suddenly there was nothing to do, nothing to look forward to!! I decided to continue my work on this pipe by cleaning the internals of the replacement amber stem. But the moment I started to clean, DISASTER struck! I dropped the amber stem to the floor. Everyone in my house looked on with stunned silence as it hit the tiled floor…the stem chipped at the slot end!! Luckily, even though the chip was a large chunk of amber, the stem had not shattered!! It could still be repaired by gluing the piece back. I took a deep breath and tried to insert a pipe cleaner to clean the air way. And lo!! I managed to drop the stem again on the hard floor!! There was a moment of silence followed by a pandemonium with every member in the family contributing to my agony with their barbed comments and advice!! The damage was still controllable with another large chip to the button end, the stem still being intact. I could work on the stem no further and set it aside and called it a day, carefully packing the chipped chunks in a zip lock pouch. I am sure that none of the readers of rebornpipes.com expected me to take pictures of this disaster and if any one does, I am sorry, I did not take any!!

I did not touch the stem or pipe the entire next day.

A new dawn and I did think of working the stem again deciding to glue all the chipped chunks back together. Steve had brought me a few tubes of superglue that he uses and I was looking forward to using it. I requested Abha, my wife, to work her magic and clean out the chamber and shank internals. While she was at it, I carefully removed the chunks from the pouch and got the stem out and laid it out on the dining table. I opened the container and removed the glue. As I was unscrewing the tube cap, my hand slipped, pushed the stem over the table and further crashing down to the floor!! Not a single word from anyone at the table as they simply left save for Pavni, my youngest daughter’s remark, “BUTTER FINGERS!!” She is not the one who would let such a golden opportunity pass by!! I too sat in stunned silence as I couldn’t vent my anger on anyone, but me!! There was nothing that I could do, but assess the damage. The stem was still intact; the damage was again localized to the slot end, albeit this time the breakage was akin to shattering and I could see the beginnings of a fault line on the top surface near the tenon end!! Another crash and the stem will most likely shatter along this fault line. I picked up the stem and the pieces of broken amber (as many as I could collect) and packed them in a zip lock bag and put the pouch away with no further desire to work on this pipe!! Abha, on her part, flatly refused to even touch the pipe and so back it went in to its case where it would be safer than in our hands (read that as my hands!!)

I DID NOT TOUCH THIS PIPE THEREAFTER FOR THE ENTIRE DURATION OF MY LEAVE, TO THE EXTENT, THAT I DID NOT EVEN GET IT BACK TO MY PLACE OF WORK ALONG WITH THE OTHER PIPES!!

PART II

In the month of July 2019, Abha had sent me a huge lot of 40 pipes that she had cleaned up and there at right at the top of the pile was this meerschaum pipe in its case!! I further procrastinated for another 3 months before working on this pipe.

INITIAL VISUAL INSPECTION

This is how the pipe was received by me. Oh my!! Do I really want to work on it, not really!! My expert workmanship is gloriously on display if you observe closely at the slot end of the stem….LOL!, me and my butter fingers!! Before the above disaster struck and we finally put the pipe aside, Abha had partially reamed out the thick layer of cake from the chamber. Now on my work table, I would need to completely ream the chamber and clean out the little remaining cake. Unfortunately the rim of this pipe too appears to have been subjected to being banged on the edge of the table to remove the dottle, albeit with a little gentleness, as can be seen from the damage to the inner edge of the rim. The chamber is out-of-round towards the left side in 9 o’clock direction. Overflow of lava can be seen on the rim top surface. In my appreciation, these are not major issues to address.  The stummel surface has developed a glorious patina over the years of smoking and I need to preserve it. However, the surface is covered in dust and grime. Numerous scratches can be seen to the front, back and sides of the stummel. The shank top and bottom surface too has numerous scratches. The bottom of the shank appears to have a small fill which has been circled in red. This fill/flaw in meerschaum felt solid on light probing with my pointed dental pick. The threaded bone tenon is fixed in to the shank end over which the replaced Amber stem will get attached. This bone tenon is covered in oils and tars and the shank internals are heavily clogged with accumulation of old and dried gunk making airflow through it laborious and restricted. The stem is where my patience, diligence and skills are going to be tested. The following pictures tell the story themselves. The reader will now get a picture as to why this project has been kept pending for the last 5 months! The fault line or beginnings of a crack that I had mentioned earlier are marked in blue circle. Amber stem repair is the most delicate and difficult of all stem repairs and is sure to test my patience and mental robustness. I need to arm myself with as much information on these repairs as possible. The air way can be seen through the broken portion of the stem surface is covered in dried gunk. This will have to be cleaned. The leather covered wooden case is solid with all the hinges and locking mechanism in excellent working condition. The dark brown lining along the edges has come off at certain places and at some places has been completely torn off. The leather covering is in excellent condition, save for heavy accumulation of dust, dirt and grime. The leather has dulled under all this grime and dirt. This should clean up nicely. The satin lining inside the box lid cover has become dirty and stained over the years. However, the markings are still crisp and shining. The gold velvet lining which houses the pipe too has dulled and covered in dirt and grime. The insides and outside of this case should clean up nicely. THE PROCESS PART II
I decided to restart this restoration with the stem repairs. Actually, I wanted to fight the demons in my head as far as this stem repair is concerned. I first discussed this repair with Steve and read all the write ups on Amber stem repairs on rebornpipes.com. This helped me get a fair idea as to how I should be generally going about this project. I carefully removed all the broken bits and pieces of the stem from the zip lock pouch and meticulously laid them out over the broken stem surface, something akin to solving a jigsaw puzzle. I made a mental map of all the pieces and also of the pieces that were missing. The second picture shows the placement of broken pieces of amber, the missing parts and overall intended repairs required.Once this mental map was ready, I moved ahead with first cleaning out the internals of the stem airway. Now, I was cautioned by Steve not to use alcohol to clean the amber stem and so I used plain warm water with pipe cleaners and shank brush. I was cautious when I cleaned tenon end of the stem so as not to stress the developing crack. Steve also had given me a Mantra of going about this project; LESS IS MORE!! Well, this shall be my guideline as I go about repairing the stem and further restoring this pipe. With the stem internals as clean as I could possibly get, I insert a petroleum jelly smeared pipe cleaner in to the stem airway. This prevents the CA superglue from flowing in to it and subsequently clogging the airway. I applied CA superglue over the broken surface of the stem with a toothpick and stuck the broken portions of the stem making sure that they are aligned perfectly. The portion that had missing parts was filled with clear CA superglue. I applied the superglue over the developing crack at the tenon end so it would permeate in to the crack and stabilize it. I set the stem aside for the repairs to cure.Next I worked on the stummel clearing out all the remaining cake from the chamber using PipNet reamer size head 1 and 2. I used my fabricated smaller knife to remove the cake from areas not reached by the reamer head. To remove the last traces of old cake and even out the chamber walls, I sand the entire chamber with folded piece of 180 grit sand paper. I gently scraped off the lava overflow from the rim top surface with my fabricated knife.

Continuing with internal cleaning, I cleaned out the shank internals and the mortise using hard bristled and regular pipe cleaners dipped in 99.9% isopropyl alcohol. The shank internals were so clogged and dirty that while cleaning at one point I thought that I would never get a pipe cleaner to come out clean!! But eventually I did manage to get a few pipe cleaners to come clean and the shank internals are now nice and clean and fresh. I wiped the threaded bone tenon with a cotton swab and alcohol to remove the dried gunk from the surface. Slowly and surely, progress is being made and I am happy with it.The stem repairs had cured nicely by the next afternoon and so I decided to work the stem. I sand the repairs with a flat head needle file, huge mistake that was!! A small chunk came off the stem. The demons came back to haunt me again. Muttering a prayer for divine intervention, I set about gluing the chunk back on to the stem surface. I again aligned the broken chunk with the surface and applied generous coat of super glue over the complete repairs, including the tenon end repairs and set it aside.  While the stem repairs were set aside to cure, I wiped the stummel surface with a cotton swab and Murphy’s Oil soap. The stummel surface is now free of all the dust and grime. I also cleaned out the last traces of lava from the rim top surface. The stummel and rim top surface now looks dull, but it is clean. I shall bring back the rich shine when I polish it further.    I followed up the external cleaning of the stummel with addressing the issue of uneven and out of round inner rim edge. I created a bevel to the inner edge with a folded piece of 220 grit sand paper. This helps to mask the out of round chamber while addressing the uneven inner rim edge. I could still see one major dent within this freshly created bevel and the only way to address this without further compromising the thickness of the rim was to sand it down at the cost of altering the profile of the beautifully shaped stummel. This was not acceptable to me and I decided to let it be. It shall remain as part of this pipe’s journey till date! Back to the stem repairs!! The glue had shrunk while curing and not wanting to take any more chances, I apply another coat of superglue over the repairs on both upper and lower surfaces of the stem. I set it aside for the night to cure.Reaching back for the stummel, I was caught in a conflict; should I sand the stummel with 220 grit sand paper to remove all the scratches to make it look pristine and loose the patina that has developed over the years or preserve the coloration and patina. I decided on the later, after all it is the coloration taken on by the meer over the years which is more important and the existing scratches are a part of its journey through the years, is how I convinced myself!! I polished the stummel surface by dry sanding it with 1500 to 12000 grit micromesh pads. Some minor scratches were also addressed while imparting a nice deep shine to the stummel. The patina was also preserved. All in all, I am pleased with the appearance of the stummel at this stage. Even though the black flume has been lost at places from the rim top surface, it is an easy fix and I shall address it next. I painted the discolored flume from the rim top surface and adjoining areas with a permanent marker and shall blend it further subsequently.Other than final polish using Blue Diamond followed by Wax, the stummel work is complete. I need to concentrate only on the stem repair now. What followed over next two days and nights is fill, cure and thereafter sand!! I did not get a needle file anywhere near the stem. For sanding, I used 400, 600 and 800 grit sand papers only and completely avoided the coarser grades.   I still found the repairs did show themselves in all their ugliness and sought Steve’s advice on the same. He put my mind to rest by appreciating the repairs while commenting that it’s a repair and can never look like original!! He also suggested I take a look at all the amber stem repairs he had done so far and that in all cases the repairs do show. Such is the humility of this gentleman!! Well, truth be told, I too had no heart to work any further on the repairs and moved ahead with polishing the stem. I wet sand the stem with 1500 to 12000 grit micromesh pads, frequently wiping it with a moist cloth to monitor the progress made. I am satisfied with the appearance of the stem at this stage. Remember the mantra for this restoration…Less is more!! Stummel done, stem done!! All that remained was the original case that housed this pipe. Firstly, I reattached all the dark brown linings that had come loose with superglue. I wiped the brown leather cover with Murphy’s Oil soap on a cotton swab. The color on the swabs should give the readers an idea of how dirty the surface was!! I wanted to further scrub the leather surface, but unsure that I was as to how the leather would hold up to all the scrubbing, I left it at that (remember my mantra… Less is more!!). I cleaned the inner satin and velvet linings of the lid and bottom respectively, with a mild soap in warm water and a soft bristled tooth brush. I was very gentle with this as I had no intention of either tearing the lining or messing up the stampings. I completely dried the lining using paper towels. It now does look nice and rich. With the externals and internals of the case all cleaned up, it remained to rejuvenate the leather. I applied a generous coat of neutral color shoe polish (it is basically wax!) on either surfaces and kept it aside to be absorbed by the leather. Prevalent heat in my part of the country also kept the polish in a semi-liquid state which further helped in absorption. I polished it with a horse hair shoe brush to a nice shine and gave a final buffing with a microfiber cloth.This project was finally nearing completion!! When I attached the stem to the stummel, I realized that the fit is overturned due to all the cleaning of the tenon and the stem. I applied a thick coat of clear nail polish over the threaded tenon and after it had dried, I turned the stem over the tenon. The fit was snug and aligned perfectly. Thank God for such mercies!!To finish, I re-attach the stem with the stummel. I mount a cotton cloth buffing wheel on to my hand held rotary tool.  I set the speed at lowest power and applied Blue Diamond compound over the stummel and the stem surface. I wiped/ buffed the pipe with a soft cotton cloth to clear it of any leftover compound dust. I then mounted another cotton cloth wheel on to the polishing machine and applied several coats of carnauba wax over the stummel and the stem of the pipe. I finished the restoration by giving the pipe a rigorous hand buffing using a microfiber cloth to raise the shine further. The completed pipe, with its golden hues and aged patina and a dark egg yolk colored amber stem, looks lovely, fresh and vibrant; the photographs speak for themselves. The beauty, size and shape of this pipe, not to mention the challenges and time it took me to get around restoring it, make it one of my favorites and will find a place of pride in my modest collection. If only the pipe could tell some of the stories of its provenance and experiences gathered on the way as it found me…Cheers!! P.S. I did smoke this pipe and enjoyed the fruits of my labor. It’s a fantastic smoke to say the least.

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