Tag Archives: restemming a meerschaum pipe

Restemming & Restoring -Antique Egg & Claw Meerschaum

Blog by Steve Laug

My brother Jeff picked up a beautiful old Meerschaum pipe when he was in Austin, Texas. There was something about the old pipe that caught his eye and he wanted it. The patina of age was forming around the claws and the egg. The feathers on the bottom of the foot that held the claws was also colouring nicely. The browns of a well smoked meerschaum were changing the shadows around the bowl of the pipe. The shank also showed some signs of the colourng. It was almost a meerschaum collar out of which the feather foot extended. The cross hatched look of skin extended beyond the collar on the sides of the shank and the small claw held the bowl at the back. The bowl blackened but the cake was scraped clean other than a slight buildup around the top portion of the bowl. The rim was blackened with tars and there was some road rash on the top right side of the bowl toward the front. The tip of one of the feathers holding the claw on the front of the bowl also had a small chip but it had coloured like the rest of the feathers so it was blended in. The pipe itself was an old timer that was clear.Claw1 The anomaly for me is that it should have had an amber stem. There is no way a pipe this age would have had a Lucite stem. The yellow Lucite stem looked that it had been adapted from a free hand pipe. The end had been drilled out to hold a replacement push tenon. It was set deep in the stem. The stem also had been counter sunk to cover the replacement threaded mortise in the shank. Instead of trimming it off to be flush with the end of the shank it stuck out about 1/8 of an inch or more. The stem maker had drilled the end of the stem so that with the tenon threaded in and the stem pushed into the mortise it would hide the mortise extension. The airway in the stem was pretty clogged and had blackened with tars. The stem had served the previous owner well. To my eye it just did not go with the either the age or the look of the pipe. It looked like two centuries had collided and joined to very different generations together with this stem and bowl.Claw2 The shank itself was clean though the tars had stained the tenon. The airway in the shank was open and clean. It was as if someone had cleaned out the inside of the shank and bowl before putting the pipe up for sale at the antique shop. There were signs also that the bowl itself had been wiped down on the outside as the colouration bore signs of scratching from scrubbing the exterior with something like ScotchBrite pads. There were a lot of scratches and scrapes around the rim edges. Fortunately whoever had cleaned it had not removed too much of the patina. This pipe deserved some tender loving care to bring it back to life and restore the appearance to more of its stately form. The stem would definitely have to go and in its place an amberoid or amber coloured Lucite stem would have to be shaped to take its place.

I called Tim West at JH Lowe to talk with him about ordering a stem and what would look best with this old timer. Tim suggested a tortoise shell amber Lucite stem. He said the chocolate swirls in the material would look good with the patina of the old meer and as the bowl darkened more would continue to look good. I gave him the dimensions that I was hunting for and ordered a tapered stem. As usual Tim was quick in getting the materials I ordered shipped to me. It did not take long for it to arrive. I knew that it would be longer than I wanted and would need to be cut down and shaped but the colour would be perfect.

I got home from work on Monday to find Tim’s package had arrived. I opened it and took a picture of the new stem blank, the stem that I was retiring and the old bowl. You can see from the photo below that it is about an inch longer than the previous stem. The taper shape should work well with the pipe. Lots of drilling and shaping will need to be done before it fits the shank well.Claw3 I am pretty limited in terms of a shop – no saws or power tools to make things simpler so I am left to resort to doing things by hand. I measured the length of the stem that I wanted and use a small hacksaw to cut off the excess stem material. Once it was removed I faced the newly cut end on my topping board to smooth it out and square it off. This is the hard way to do things I know but with careful attention to the verticality of the stem it is possible to get a smooth surface that is square to the shank end.Claw4

Claw5 The push tenon and mortise was smaller than any that I had in my stash so I removed the push tenon from the old stem. It was not difficult to do as it was threaded and could be unscrewed. The mortise was threaded into the shank but extended beyond the end of the shank. I would need to sand that smooth and bevel it inward to give a good fit to the new stem. I took the next two photos below to show the two stems side by side and give an idea of the length.Claw6

Claw7 With the length cut and the surface faced it was now time to start the drilling. I needed to drill the airway in the new stem to accommodate the diameter of the push tenon. Once it was drilled I would be able to thread it with a tap. The airway would also need to be drilled a second time to receive the collar on the tenon and give a flush fit with the stem end. I set up my cordless drill with a small drill bit to begin with and then worked up to the one that was the correct size for the tenon. I used a larger bit to countersink the end of the stem to take the collar on the tenon.Claw8 The photo below shows the roughed in drilling of the stem. I would still need to clean up the edges of the countersink and also the roughness of the area that I would be using the tap on. I used needle files to bring the countersink into round, smooth out the edges and the airway.Claw9 When I had finished with the airway I screwed the tenon into place and used a Dremel and sanding drum to begin smoothing out the mortise insert.Claw10 I sanded the end of the mortise insert by hand to bring it to the same height as the rest of the shank end. I cleaned up the area around the tenon so that when I put the two pieces together I would have a pretty flush fit.Claw11 I took the next photo to show the initial fit of the tenon in the stem. More sanding would need to be done to make the inner edges clean on the countersink.Claw12 I pushed the stem into the mortise and took the photos below to have a look at the new stem and its fit on the pipe. There was still a gap in between the stem and the shank – it showed light so more work would need to be done to bring it flush against the shank. The overall look of the new stem worked for me. I like the tortoise shell look of the stem with the patina of the meer.Claw13



Claw16 I carefully scraped the bowl with a pen knife to remove the small cake that was present in the bowl. It was more of a ridge than a full cake so I wanted to smooth out the sides of the bowl.Claw17 I used the knife to begin the bevel on the mortise insert at this time as well. I would need to give it more of a slope to accommodate the tenon but it was getting there.Claw18 I inserted a pipe cleaner in the stem and set up my heat gun. (I set it up on top of the dryer in our laundry room so forgive the socks and dishtowels in the background. I held the stem about 5 inches above the heat so that Lucite would not bubble (it did even at this height). When it was flexible I bent it to the same angle as the previous stem using an old rolling pin that I saved for this purpose. It took several time of heating it to get the angles correct so that the bend of the stem would match the curves of the bowl.Claw19

Claw20 I put the newly bent stem on the pipe and took some photos so I could see if I got the angles correct. I find that the distance of a photo gives me clearer perspective than just holding it in hand.Claw21

Claw22 With the fit of the stem and the bend roughed in it was time to work on the stem itself. The sharp edges of the taper and the thick button would need to be sanded and shaped. I would also need to get rid of the bubbles that happened when I heated and bent the stem. I started with emery cloth to quickly shape the button and take down the sharp edges. I also thinned the stem with the emery cloth and worked on the sides of the taper. I sanded it with 220 grit sandpaper to smooth out and further shape it and then followed up with a medium and fine grit sanding sponge.Claw23


Claw25 I cleaned up the mess left behind by the stem sanding and worked on the scratches in the meer bowl and the heavy build up on the rim. I used 1500-2400 grit micromesh to sand the rim and the area of road rash on the top of the bowl at the right side. I also sanded the scratches along the claws to clean up the mess that had been left behind. I was careful to no sand too much so as to keep the patina intact.Claw26



Claw29 I scrubbed the bowl and rim with a cotton pad and saliva to remove some of the grime and dirt left behind on the bowl.Claw30 I used a sharp Buck Knife to clean up the bevel of the mortise insert so that the stem would fit snugly against the shank.Claw31 I sanded and polished the stem with micromesh sanding pads- wet sanding with 1500-2400 grit pads and then dry sanding with 3200-4000 grit pads. I wiped the stem down with a little Obsidian Oil to give the final 6000-12000 grit micromesh pads traction in the final polishing.Claw32


Claw34 I also polished the meerschaum bowl with the micromesh pads to clean up and minimize the scratches. Here is a photo of the bowl with the 3200-4000 grit pads.Claw35

Claw36 I buffed the stem with Blue Diamond polish on the wheel and then gave it a light coat of carnauba wax. I hand waxed the bowl with carnauba and buffed it with a microfibre cloth to raise the shine. The finished pipe is shown in the photos below. I definitely like the look with the new tortoise shell stem. It just seems to fit the age of the bowl better than the free hand stem that came with it. Thanks for looking.Claw37









Prom Night – Dressing up a Cheap Meerschaum Apple

Blog by Steve Laug

I was given a batch of pipes from a friend on one of the forums that he had lying around a long time. He was pretty certain that they were not worth much but he thought they might be fun for me to fiddle with. One of them was a meerschaum apple-shaped pipe with a plastic stem. The draw on it was awful, like sucking air through a coffee stirrer. The bowl had a few issues at first glance. There were some gouges in the meer on the sides of the bowl and the shank. There were some small cracks in the shank from the end forward near the top. There was a Delrin sleeve so these may or may not be a problem. The tenon itself was small and rough. The stem had some damage from what appeared to be melting at some point in its life. But it was barely smoked and there was something about it that caught my eye. I could see some promise in it so it would be worth the fiddle.band1


band3 On the bottom of the exterior of the bowl there looked like there was a crack that ran for the length of the bowl. I examined it with a lens and it turned out to be a gouge in the surface of the meerschaum. It may be a crack but it did not go deep in the material so it was salvageable.band4

band5 I took a close-up photo of top and inside of the bowl. You can see that it is barely smoked and the crack does not appear to go into the bowl.band6 The plastic stem just bugged me. I could find nothing redeeming in the shape of it at all. The taper was wrong and it was pinched at the shank joint. The faux amber look of it was really fake looking. The material was very soft and I could scratch it with a fingernail.band7

band8 Everything about the way the pipe looked when it arrived made me think it would be one that I would clean up, polish and turn around and get rid of. I probably would not sell it but would pass it on to someone wanting a meerschaum pipe. I cleaned the inside of the bowl with a cotton swab and water. I cleaned out the airway in the shank and stem with cotton swabs, pipe cleaners and alcohol. I had finished the cleaning and had lightly sanded the bowl with 400 and 600 grit sandpaper to minimize the scratches and dings in it. I was done with the pipe and took it to the buffer to lightly polish the stem and bowl.

It has been a long time since a pipe got away from me when buffing but this one did. The Blue Diamond polishing wheel is a bit touchy and it grabbed the plastic stem and took the pipe out of my hand. It hit the tile floor right in front of the buffer and the stem snapped off at the shank. The tenon was stuck in the shank and the other end was glued in the stem. I was very fortunate as the pipe hit directly on the stem and not on the meer bowl or it might have been ruined. As it was it meant I had a good excuse to throw away the plastic stem and make a vulcanite one. I pulled the tenon out of the shank with a screw. It came out easily. I tried to pull the glued end out of the stem but putting in a screw and heating the screw but the glue held. I put the stem away and went on a hunt in my stem can for a suitable vulcanite stem for the pipe.band9

band10 I found just the right donor stem. It was a bent round stem that came from an old-timer somewhere along the way. It was thick and the diameter was close to that of the shank. I took the tenon down with the Dremel and sanding drum and finish it by hand with sandpaper to make a snug fit in the Delrin sleeve in the shank. I used the Dremel and sanding drum to take off the excess diameter of the stem and then hand sanded it with 220 grit sandpaper to make the shank and stem match. While I was working on it I examined the two small cracks in the shank. They bothered me. While they would not go anywhere as the Delrin sleeve was glued and held them together, they still bothered me. I used a small micro drill bit on the Dremel and put a hole in the end of both cracks on the shank. I put a drop of super glue in the holes to seal them. I then remembered that I had some brass plumbing pressure fittings that make interesting bands. I heated the brass with a lighter and pressed it onto the shank to cover the cracks and give the pipe a little more bling.

I finished shaping and fitting the stem and took the photos below to give an idea of what the pipe would look like when finished. The bend in the stem is a little too much at this point and I would need to take some of the bend out. The bowl looks good with the brass fitting and the stem length works with this bowl.band11


band13 I was able to sand out the gouge on the bottom of the bowl and it looks smooth and fresh now. I will need to sand the entire bowl with micromesh to polish the meerschaum and give it a shine.band14 I heated the stem with a heat gun to take out some of the bend. When the stem was flexible I pressed it against table surface with a towel to take out some of the bend. I cooled it with water to set the new bend. The second photo below shows the newly bent stem.band15

band16 I sanded the stem with a medium and a fine grit sanding sponge to take out the scratches and work on the oxidation that was deep in the edges of the button.band17



band20 You can see in the photos above that the stem did not quite seat properly in the shank. I used a sharp knife to bevel the inner edge of the mortise so that the stem would sit properly against the shank.band21 I sanded the bowl and shank with 3200-4000 grit micromesh sanding pads to minimize the scratches.band22



band25 I wet sanded the stem and the tenon with 1500-2400 grit micromesh pads and then rubbed them down with Obsidian Oil. I continued by dry sanding the stem with 3200-4000 grit micromesh pads and the giving it another coat of oil. I finished by sanding with 6000-12000 grit pads and gave it a final coat of Obsidian Oil. When it dried it was ready to buff.band26


band28 I buffed the bowl and stem with Blue Diamond Plastic polish on the wheel and then gave the stem several coats of carnauba wax. I gave the bowl two coats of white beeswax and the buffed it as well. I buffed both with a clean flannel buff and then by hand with a microfibre cloth. The finished pipe is shown in the photos below.band29







A Unique Vertical Oval Shank Meerschaum Reborn

I saw this old Meerschaum pipe bowl on Ebay and decided to put a low bid on it. I was not surprised to have won it and paid for it quickly. The seller packed it very well and shipped it off to Vancouver, Canada. Below are the Ebay photos that caught my attention. I think the thing that intrigued me the most was the vertical oval shank on the pipe. To restem that pipe would be a great challenge – find a stem large enough to work with and shape it until it fit. I thought I had just the stem in my box – a gift from a friend on Pipesmokers Unleashed Forum, Robert.

From the photos it looked to be in rough shape. The pipe case said it was a WDC but I have no way of knowing if that is true. The gold filigree on the band looks like the old WDC pipes of the late 1890s but I am still uncertain as to the maker. It was in rough shape as can be seen from the photos. There were many scratches and gouges around the outside of the bowl. The shank had marks on the top that looked like someone had taken a file to it. The rim was probably the worst. With the rough edges on the back right side of the bowl the rim/top appeared to be angled to the right side and worn down. The tar build up was heavy in the bowl and on the rim. The tenon was broken off in the shank. It appeared to be an old bone tenon and a bone insert in the mortise that was threaded to take the screw in tenon. I am assuming the pipe probably had an amber stem in its first appearance in the shop but that was long since broken and lost. The WDC case was also very rough – the edges were worn away, the wood broken and a hinge dangling unused. The inside was badly stained.





Yesterday afternoon I came home from work early and found a package awaiting me – I knew that the meer had arrived. I had to laugh when I cut open the box – it had a previous label a Funeral Home in Ohio. I don’t know if that was a commentary on the pipe bowl that resided inside the box or if a funny coincidence. I cut the tape and opened the box. The pipe inside was both in worse shape than I had imagined from the seller’s excellent pictures and in better shape. The meer under the band was cracked as can be seen in the photo above and that was as it was when it arrived. The scratches in the surface of the bowl were not as deep as they appeared in the photos and the pipe when place on the rim on a flat board was actually not slanted to the right – the damage to the outer edges of the right back side made it appear worse than it actually was in reality. The next photos show the pipe on the work table just out of the box.






After examining it carefully with my lens and a dental pick I decided to begin the clean up by trying to remove the tenon. I used the screw that I generally use to remove a tenon to no avail. The threads in the mortise were locked tight around the tenon. I picked at it with the dental pick and was unable to remove it that way either. I decided to drill out the old tenon. So I set up a cordless drill with a drill bit slightly larger than the airway in the broken tenon. I slowly drilled the airway with the bit and exchanged it for increasingly larger bits until I had the airway cleared of the debris. I then used a ¼ inch bit to open the mortise and clear out the remaining debris of the mortise and tenon. The second photo below shows the mortise after I opened it up. I used a dental pick to clean out the remaining pieces and hand turned the quarter-inch drill bit into the mortise to smooth out the walls of the airway and open it to receive a new tenon.



I took the pipe bowl back to the work table and set up a coarse sanding block on my worktable to top the bowl of the meer. I have used this block in the past with good success on the softer meerschaum material. I placed the bowl, rim down on the surface of the block and sanded it in a clockwise direction (no reason for that other than I am right-handed). I sanded it, checking often to see how the rim was cleaning up until the surface was clear and the top of the bowl once again level. Surprisingly I did not have to remove too much material from the rim to clean up the surface.





When I had finished the sanding, I used micromesh sanding pads to sand the top smooth once again and remove the scratches from the coarse sanding block. The micromesh sanding pads from 1500 – 12,000 grit bring a shine back to the surface of the meer and prepare it for rewaxing once the pipe is finished.


At this point in the process I decided to see if I could fit a new stem on the pipe. The diameter of the oval shank was quite large and would require a large diameter round stem. To make it an oval stem would require that much of the existing vulcanite of the stem would have to be removed in the shaping process. I had an old Brebbia stem that a friend on Pipe Smoker Unleashed Forum sent me for an old Peterson that I was restemming. The tenon was too small for the Pete but too large for the old meer. I used a Dremel with a sanding drum to remove the excess material from the tenon until the fit was very close. The remainder of the fitting was done with a wood rasp and sandpaper. Once the tenon was finished I pushed the stem into the old meer to check on the fit of the tenon in the newly opened mortise. As can be seen in the photo below, the fit was perfect. You can also see from that photo how much work would need to be done to fit the stem to match the shank of the pipe.


The stem had deep bite marks on the top and the bottom near the button. They did not break the surface of the vulcanite. I decided to heat the surface of the stem with a heat gun and try to lift the dents from both sides as much as possible. I also wanted to straighten the stem significantly to give a better profile to the pipe. The heat gun worked to achieve both aims. The tooth marks lifted quite a bit and would have to be filled with black superglue to finish the work and the bend straightened to the angle I wanted for the new stem.


I sanded the initial excess vulcanite off the diameter of the shank with the sanding drum on the Dremel. Once I had removed a large portion I took it back to the work table and used a rasp to continue to shape and reduce the stem to the right proportions. The next series of eight photos shows the effectiveness of the rasp in shaping the stem. (In the midst of the shaping my daughters brought down a bowl of popcorn for a snack while I worked – that appears in several of the photos.)









I removed the stem from the shank and cleaned up the tooth dents so that I could fill them with black superglue. The glue takes quite a bit of time to cure so I waited until I was finished for the evening and then filled the dents and set the stem aside to cure over night.



This morning I sanded the stem with 220 grit sandpaper and also sanded the superglue patch on the underside of the stem. The next four photos show the stem as it begins to take shape and the repaired spot on the underside of the stem. The oval is coming along nicely but there was still a lot of excess material that still needed to be removed.





I continued to sand the stem to further tune the shape of the oval to match the shank. I used 220 grit sandpaper to remove the excess and shape the stem. I worked on the superglue patch on the underside of the stem with the 220 grit sandpaper as well. In the next series of three photos you can see the shape I am aiming for with this stem. You can also see the size of the patch on the stem. The patch is still larger than the marks it covers so more sanding will need to be done on it to blend it into the vulcanite.




I cleaned up the bite marks on the top of the stem and applied the black superglue patch to that surface as well. I set it aside while I worked on the bowl. I wiped the bowl down with Murphy’s Oil Soap on a cotton pad to clean off the grime on the surface while leaving as much of the old patina as possible. The first photo below shows the superglue patch. I applied it and used a dental pick to push it around the surface and also build up a few tooth marks on the edge of the button. The second photo below shows the patch after it had dried and I had sanded the patch with 220 grit sandpaper.



While working on the stem I decided to open the button to make it simpler to insert a pipe cleaner. I used needle files to make the slot larger. The second photo shows the opened slot in the button. I sanded the inside of the slot with a folded piece of sandpaper to smooth the surface and polish the slot.



I took the pipe back to the Dremel and sanding drum to remove more of the excess vulcanite. I had the basic shape in hand and just wanted to get it closer to the size of the shank before doing the finish sanding. I brought it back to the work table and sanded with 220 grit sandpaper until the fit was right. The next four photos show the progress in the fitting of the stem.





I sanded the stem with a medium grit sponge backed sanding pad. It helped to remove the scratches left behind by the 200 grit sandpaper. Then I sanded the stem with micromesh sanding pads from 1500-12,000 grit to polish and shine the vulcanite and the patched areas. The white Lucite band that was a part of the stem began to take on a shine as well in the process. The next nine photos capture what took about an hour to achieve in the sanding process. I wet sanded with the 1500, 1800 and 2400 grit sanding pads and dry sanded with the remaining grits of micromesh.










I buffed the stem with White Diamond and a blue plastic polishing compound to bring out the final shine on the stem. I hand waxed the meerschaum with beeswax and hand buffed it with a shoe brush. The next four photos show the finished pipe with the new stem. I like the marks and scratches in the meer as they seem to speak of the long journey the pipe took to get to me. The white Lucite band on the stem fits nicely in my thinking against the gold of the filigree band. The slight bend it the stem works nicely for me. From the last two photos you can see the oval shape of the stem now that it is completed. It has come a long way from the round stem I received as a gift from Ron.