Tag Archives: repairing broken meerschaum linings with plaster of Paris

Kenneth’s Pipe Incident Report #1

Blog by Kenneth Lieblich

Today, I thought I would try something a bit different. This is the first installment of what I am arbitrarily calling, Pipe Incident Report. My idea is to provide a brief write-up – focusing on a particular pipe-related problem and/or solution, rather than an entire restoration story. These reports will be intermittent and, hopefully, instructive. Please let me know what you think.

The pipe in question today is a leather-wrapped, meerschaum lined, pot billiard by Croydon. The pipe was made in Belgium, but, other than that, there is not a whole lot of information to be had about this company. Steve has restored a few over the years (and I checked his previous posts), but he had not gleaned any significant information either. The “incident” we will address in this report is some unexpected damage to the inside of the meerschaum bowl. We will get to that shortly – first some background. A friend of mine wanted this pipe – somehow, it spoke to him – so I was happy to bring it back to life for him. The pipe was in decent enough shape: the stem was well-used but not damaged, the leather was sound, the rim was a bit of a mess, and the bowl looked as though it had been reamed with a boat hook. Although it is difficult to make out in the photos, the bottom of the bowl was quite badly gouged and I wondered whether I should fill in the gouge or leave it as is. Steve had told me in the past about making a paste of egg white and chalk dust. Something for me to consider… Anyway, I began with the stem and inner tube, which I resolved fairly quickly. The leather enveloping the bowl was quite clean and in good shape, so that was also a quick fix. I then moved on to the rim of the pipe. As the photos show, it was filthy and slightly damaged.  I “topped” the pipe – that is to say, I gently and evenly sanded down the rim on a piece of 220-grit sandpaper. This was done with even greater care than usual, as I did not want to scuff the leather. I finished up the top with all nine of the MicroMesh pads to make a lovely surface and then used one of my furniture pens to liven up the colour of the rim. That done, I moved on to the inside of the bowl. Meerschaum does not do well with traditional reaming processes – it needed to be sanded. This was required – not just to clean things up – but also as there was a distinct aromatic ghost left behind. Well, I went sanding away happily, when – lo! and behold – a flaw or cavity appeared in the wall of the meerschaum bowl. Yikes!This is obviously a serious concern for this pipe. One is tempted to wonder: was there a manufacturing flaw? Not sure. Did I sand too hard and cause the breakage? Definitely not. Could there be other flaws? Not as far as I could tell, but it was difficult to be sure. This repair was going to need something more than egg white and chalk dust. After consulting with Steve, his recommendation was to repair both the gouge in the heel and the wall cavity with plaster of Paris. I agreed since plaster of Paris has the virtues of binding well to the meerschaum, resisting heat nicely, and (best of all) drying rock hard. I rushed out to buy some and started making my mix. In order to ensure that it works correctly in this context, the plaster of Paris must be much thicker than usual. Normally, the consistency would be something like thick pancake batter, whereas the mix I made was closer to cream cheese.As you can well imagine, actually applying the plaster of Paris properly to the inside of the bowl was a bit of a challenge. I used a dental spatula, which made the job much easier. First, I placed the plaster carefully in the gouge at the heel of the bowl. Next, I delicately filled in the cavity on the wall by inserting as much plaster as possible behind the intact areas of meerschaum. This would provide added strength and support to the repair. Finally, I filled in the hole itself and let all of the plaster harden overnight. On the morrow, the repair looked sound. The next step was to sand the plaster of Paris down to make it smooth and even with the surrounding meerschaum-lines bowl. I used 200- and 400-grit sandpaper to make this happen. I was very pleased with the way it looked in the end. As the photographs show, the plaster and meerschaum merged very well. I should add that the craze lines that you can see were also addressed, but I neglected to take a photo of that. In the end, the pipe was successfully restored and, what looked at first to be a fatal flaw in the meerschaum, turned out to be an educational and enjoyable repair. I was originally tempted to call this blog post “I got plastered in Paris”, but that seemed too cheeky in the end. It is a nice pipe and its new owner is very pleased with the results. I hope you enjoyed reading this first installment of Pipe Incident Report – I look forward to writing more. If you are interested in my work, please follow me here on Steve’s website or email me directly at kenneth@knightsofthepipe.com. Thank you very much for reading and, as always, I welcome and encourage your comments.

Restoring a Second set of Twins – English Made Tinder Box Liverpools

In a recent pipe hunt I picked up this second set of twin pipes. They came from the same collection as the pair of Royal Coachman bent billiards. These are stamped The Tinder Box over Meerschaum Lined on the left side of the shank and Imported Briar on the right side of the shank. I stated in the title that they are English-made and I came to that conclusion by the shape, size, staining and overall look of the pipe. Though I cannot definitively prove that, they are very similar to an older Orlik pipe of the same shape that I repaired and restored. The staining and finish were in very good shape. There were relatively few dents and dings in the bowl and shank though both were very grimy and greasy. The rims were clean other than the slight tar build up on the meer portion. The briar outer rim was in great shape with no nicks of dents. The stems were oxidized and had calcium build up all over the surface. There were also sticky places on the stem that looked like the residue from a sales label. Since they did not have a label when I bought them I am thinking this maybe the original labels on the pipe stems. Inside the bowl was slightly caked and had tobacco residue stuck to the walls. The inside of the shank and stem were very dirty with tarry buildup. The slot on both mouthpieces had narrowed with the tars.
meer1meer2meer3meer5The meerschaum lining on the two was in great shape except for the bottom of the bowl. The lining on the bowl of the top pipe above and below shows the break through on the lining. It was worn all the way through to the briar. The size of the hole was about the size and shape of a pencil. The lining on the bottom pipe was not as worn but was significantly below the airway and showed damage. It was very thin if my measurements were correct. Both of these bowls would need to be addressed in a restoration.
meer4I cleaned out the inside of the bowl and the shank to prepare for patching the bottom of each bowl. I used cotton swabs, isopropyl alcohol and pipe cleaners to remove the tars and grime from the inside of both. I also used a fine sanding sponge to remove the tars from the top of the rim and the meer lining. All of this was done to prepare for the repairs I was planning for the inside of the bowl.
meer6I scrubbed the outside of the bowl and shank with Murphy’s Oil Soap on cotton pads to remove the grime and sticky substances on them both. I also rubbed down the stem with the oil soap.
meer7I mixed a small batch of Plaster of Paris in a plastic bowl that I use for mixing and cleaning pipes. I generally pour in the dry powder and then use an ear syringe to add water slowly to the mix to get the right consistency for a patch. I learned the hard way to do this. I used to pour in the powder and then pour in water. I had to keep adding back and forth to get the mix right and always ended up with excess material. This way I can actually mix it in very minute batches, and add water as needed to keep it workable.
meer9I inserted a pipe cleaner into the airway and into the bottom of the bowl to keep the airway from clogging with the mixture. I then pressed the mixture into the bottom of each bowl with the spoon end of a pipe nail and a dental pick. The trick is to push into the bottom and use the dental pick to push it into the holes. Once it is tightly packed by the pick I use the spoon to smooth it out on the walls of the bowl and the flat head to press the bottom of the bowl. In this case the bowl was somewhat conical so I used the spoon the entire time.
meer10I cleaned up the bowl and smoothed out the surface of the repair with my finger. I wet the end of it with water and then rubbed it against the walls and bottom. I do this to knock down the ridges left behind by the spoon. I cannot get it absolutely smooth but it is smooth enough that after a few smokes it matches the surface of the meer lining. In the photo below the top pipe shows that it took the largest amount of patching. It was the bowl that was worn through at the bottom. The crack at the airway is actually not a crack but a pipe cleaner end pushed into the bowl. The bottom bowl took far less of the mixture to patch. I set them aside to cure overnight. The last photo of the bowls shown below shows the bowls after the plaster had cured. They were hard and slightly rough to the touch. I wet my finger again and rubbed down the ridges on the sides and bottom of the bowl until the surface was smoother. I sanded the patch with 220 grit sandpaper and with a medium and fine grit sanding sponge. I wiped down the inside of the bowl with a wet cotton swab to remove the dust from the sanding.
meer12IMG_6899I sanded the stems with 220 grit sandpaper and then a medium and a fine grit sanding sponge. I buffed the stems with red Tripoli and then took them back to the work table. I sanded them both with my usual micromesh sanding pads. I wet sanded with 1500-2400 grit pads and then dry sanded with 3200-12,000 grit pads. I had to stop several times and go back to the sandpaper and sponges to get the deep oxidation. I repeated the sanding with the micromesh pads. I wiped the stems down with Obsidian Oil. When it had dried I buffed the stems and bowls with White Diamond and then gave the pipes a buff with carnauba wax. I finished by buffing with a soft flannel buffing pad to polish. The photos below show the finished pipe. I will let them cure for a few days longer before loading them and giving them a first smoke. I have found that as the plaster heats when smoking it becomes harder and even more cured. It makes a durable and lasting repair.