Tag Archives: waxing a meerschaum pipe

Restoring an older BRC Meerschaum Bulldog


Blog by Steve Laug

Jeff and I picked up old cased Bulldog on a pipe hunt on the Oregon Coast. We asked at the counter if the clerk knew if they had any pipes in the store. She opened the counter display and took out this pipe case. The case looked old enough to get my heart going. Generally they have something interesting in them – though I have had the disappointment of opening an empty case. When she handed it to me I felt the weight and knew that there was a pipe inside. I took a deep breath and opened the case and let out a sigh of relief. The pipe looked good and it looked old. Jeff came to the counter then and I showed it to him. A deal was struck and the pipe left the store with us. I left it with Jeff so he would work his cleanup magic on it. Jeff took a photo of the case and with it opened to reveal the pipe and in doing so I was able to relive this find. I still remember the two older women who ran the store and the conversation that the pipe initiated. It was a good day! Jeff opened the case and took a photo to show the embossed label in the cover of the pipe case. It was an oval that with a circle holding BRC split into three quadrants in the centre. On either side it was flanked by Genuine Meerschaum. The case was lined with plush red material and the exterior was covered in a worn brown leather.He took a photo the pipe as he removed it from the case and after he laid it on the table before he did the clean up. The pipe is actually very dirty. There is a thick cake in the and an overflow of lava on the rim top. There appear to be scratches in the rim top surface as well. The bowl is dirty and heavily scratched. The twin rings around the bowl are damaged and filed in with grit and grime. The shank and the lower part of the bowl was starting to get a nice patina. The silver band was very dirty and oxidized. There is no stamping on the shank or the band. The stem is not amber nor is it newer acrylic. I believe it is Amberoid – a man made amber material that was a material consisting of small pieces of amber or sometimes other resins united by heat and pressure. It appears to be the original stem as the fit to the shank is perfect and it is threaded for the bone tenon. There are light tooth marks and chatter on the surface of the stem ahead of the button. Otherwise it is a clean looking stem.Jeff took close-up photos of the bowl and rim top from various angles to capture the condition of the bowl and rim top edges. There was a very thick cake in the bowl and you can see the overflow of lava and scratches in the rim top and edges. You can also see the nicks and damage to the cap of the bowl.Jeff took photos of the sides and heel of the bowl to show condition of the meer. You can see the damage to the rings on the right side and the many scratches around the sides and heel of the bowl.Jeff took photos of the shank stem junction with the tarnished silver band. The shape of the stem is perfect for the shank and band. If it is a replacement stem it is very well done. The next photos of the stem to show the general condition of the amberoid stem shape. The flow of the stem is perfect for the diamond shank Bulldog. He took photos of the top and underside of the stem to show the light tooth chatter on both sides near the button.  He also shows the orific button on the end of the stem. I looked for the BRC brand on Pipedia and on Pipephil with no luck. I have no idea if the pipe is English, French, Austrian or otherwise. There was nothing to help me identify the maker. Ah well it is a well made mystery. If any of you can help out with information on the make I will greatly appreciate your help. Thank you.

Having seen the before pictures on this pipe I did not know what to expect when I unpacked the most recent box Jeff sent to me. The pipe was present in the box with other cased pipes so as I took each one out and opened it I waited to see if it was this one. When I finally opened a case and this pipe was there I did not know what to expect. I put the worn and tired case on my desk and opened it to see what was there. I opened the case and took a photo of the pipe inside.I was astonished to see how clean the pipe was. The pipe appeared to be very clean. The scratches in the meerschaum looked to have lessened a bit but I was not sure. Now it was time to take it out of the case and have a look at it up close and personal. Jeff had done another incredible job in cleaning up this meerschaum. He had carefully reamed the bowl with a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife, scraping away the thick cake on the walls of the bowl. He also scraped off the lava on the rim top. Though there were still scratches it was clean. He scrubbed the exterior of the bowl with Murphy’s Oil Soap and a tooth brush to remove the grime on the bowl and rim and was able to remove much of the grime and dirt. He cleaned out the interior of the bowl and shank with pipe cleaners, cotton swabs and alcohol until they came out clean. The rim top looked much better when you compare it with where it started. There is some still some darkening and scratching but the bowl was clean. He cleaned the stem with Soft Scrub to remove the grime on the exterior and cleaned out the airway with alcohol, cotton swabs and pipe cleaners. I took some photos of the pipe as I saw it. To show how clean the rim top and stem really was I took a close-up photo of the rim and stem. The bowl was clean and cake free. The rim top is quite clean and the inner edge of the bowl has all of the lava removed. There is still some scratching in the meerschaum on the rim top that I would like to remove but it is very clean. The rich golden amber coloured stem looks very good. The surface and the button edge look really good. There are no issues that are there to address. The tarnished silver band had a rich shine to it now as well.I removed the stem from the bowl and took photos of the parts. When I unscrewed it the stem came off the tenon. In this case it was made that way. It was older style bone tenon and it had been anchored in the shank of the pipe. The stem was threaded and screwed on and off the stationary tenon.I decided to address the darkening and scratching on the rim top and edges first. I also worked over the bowl and shank to polish out the scratching as much as I could. I polished it with  the micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-12000 grit pads to remove the darkening and the scratches on the rim top and bowl. I wiped it down with a damp cloth to remove the sanding dust. When I finished the bowl and rim top looked significantly better. I have had a jar of Clapham’s Beeswax Polish here for quite a while. I have used it quite often on meerschaum pipes in the past and it works great. I just had forgotten about it until today. I applied several coats to the meerschaum and buffed it out by hand. The bowl was finished so I set it aside and turned my attention to the stem. Since it was quite clean I decided to polish it with micromesh sanding pads – dry sanding with 1500-12000 grit sanding pads. I wiped the stem down after each sanding pad with a cloth containing some Obsidian Oil. I finished polishing it with Before & After Pipe Stem Polish – both Fine and Extra Fine and buffed it off with a cotton cloth. Even though the stem is amberoid I decided to give it a coat of Briarville’s No Oxy Oil to preserve and protect it. I put the bowl and stem back together again and buffed it with a microfiber cloth to raise the shine on the meerschaum and the acrylic stem. The hand buffing adds depth to the shine. I had already given the bowl multiple coats of Clapham’s Beeswax Polish so I buffed the stem with some Carnauba on the buffing wheel. The Beeswax Polish is a soft wax that I can apply with a soft cotton pad and buff with a microfiber cloth. The colours of the pipe came alive and looked great to me. It has a great feel in the hand and the interesting patina should continue to develop as the pipe is smoked. The finished pipe is shown in the photos below. The dimensions of the pipe are Length: 5 inches, Height: 1 ¾ inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 ¼ inches, Chamber diameter: 5/8 of an inch. This Meerschaum Bulldog has some age on it and it is a beauty whose scratches and dings tell a story of its journey. To me they make it interesting. It should make someone a great pipe. It is one that will be on the rebornpipes store very soon. If you are interested let me know. Thanks for reading this blog and my reflections on the pipe while I worked on it.

Waxing Meerschaums


Blog by Fred Bass

This is another short piece that Fred Bass wrote on waxing Meers. Once again this was saved on my hard drive. I am glad that Fred sent me these pieces and that I can now pass them on through rebornpipes. — Steve

I’m not sure how the wax functions to color Meerschaums, but I do know that coloring a Pipe requires wax, tobacco & heat. The Meerschaums that I’ve seen in the advanced stages of coloring get a sticky surface, especially while being smoked. It’s as if the Block is near total saturation and cannot contain the by-products of smoking as efficiently as new Block, so these resins & moisture migrate past the Pipe’s surface. I remember seeing older Pipe smokers in Pipe & Cigar shops having to smoke their Meerschaums while being held with a cloth, to catch the ooze that was fairly dripping from deep brown colored Meerschaums. That was years ago, when I was called “Kid.”

True Lattice Pipes (ones that allow light to pass thru the ‘windows’ are demonstrations of the Artisan’s high level of skill. They are functional art! I suspect that much of the same skills and technique are used in Figurals that are undercut so that light can pass thru the details of the carving. Admittedly, I’m drawn to the display of Patina these Pipes produce as they are smoked. Rewaxing presents more of a challenge, which I address by using the most refined Bee’s wax I can get (for better absorption) and only in sparing amounts. What I’ve discovered by doing this, is that it’s important to err on the side of caution… Better to use too little an amount of wax, than too much. This allows me to better gage how much wax the Pipe will absorb in a single application. I have better control of this if I paint molten wax onto the Pipe rather than immersion in a liquid wax bath. The key is not to get in a hurry.

The undercut Lattice Meerschaum is truly a reflection of the Carver’s skill and art! Most likely, the discussion of rewaxing them has been going on for as long as they have been smoked. I appreciate the knowledge and experience of Deniz on this topic. The literature does not make a distinction between Lattice and undercut Lattice (or undercut Figurals for that matter) when discussing rewaxing. In the Spring ’03 issue of P&T, Rick Newcombe’s article (How to Color Your Meerschaum Pipe: A Quicker Method Explored) rewaxing is discussed. His 3 points are: 1 – smoke the Pipe; 2- blow smoke on the Pipe and 3- melt beeswax into the Meerschaum. The method, of daubing melted wax onto the Pipe & then using a hair dryer or heat gun to melt the excess off, Rick credits to Beth Sermet of SMS Meerschaums. The Pipe shown in the pictorial displays is a Lattice, but it is not undercut. One thing that Rick does not mention, is that the bit & connector should be removed prior the application of the heat to avoid damage to them. The Pipe’s newly acquired color that results is likely to fade, but with repeated smoking, additional rewaxing and time the color will become permanent. It is possible to crack a Meerschaum with heat, if there are unseen flaws in the Block, but I’ve not experienced this or read of it from others.

Another method was employed by Sailorman Jack. He would rub highly refined beeswax on his Meerschaums while smoking them. This would melt the wax & promote absorption by using the heat of the Pipe created by smoking. I’m not aware if he made a distinction in this method when coloring true Lattice Pipes. The discussion of rewaxing will continue for as long as there are Pipesters that smoke Meerschaum Pipes. It’s an interesting topic, but should not become more important than the main event of actually smoking the Meerschaum. I enjoy looking at Meerschaum art as much as anyone, but I enjoy smoking them more.

I’ve found that quilter’s use high grade Beeswax to give their thread strength, so a fabric store is a good resource. Regarding your question: “Is it better to use 100% beeswax?,” it all depends on what you want to do. This is an area of the Meerschaum crafts that is most guarded by Carvers. Additives can be tallow, different grades of Beeswax, whale oil, lacquers, solvents and pigments. If you find out anything in this part of the arts, I suspect that I’m not alone in wanting to know more. I’ve even seen fire used, for effect. Either suspending a Meerschaum above a fire or wrapping the Pipe’s bowl in wax soaked rags & setting it on fire are done for effect.

What has worked well for me is to wax the Pipe while it’s being smoked. The wax will absorb according to the porosity of the Block and will stop when saturation has been achieved. The excess will wipe off with a clean cotton cloth and will enhance the gloss of the finish. This combination of wax, heat and the by-products of combustion that accumulate within the Block all work together over time to color the Pipe. The amount of wax absorbed by the Block is proportional to it’s porosity. Some Pipes will take a large amount of wax and others will take only a bit at a time. The length of time that the Pipe’s been smoked is also a factor. When I’ve applied wax to Pipes that have been in long service, with little attention paid to waxing, the coloring is darker with wax application & tends to persist for longer periods of time, eventually resolving into a darker color that is permanent. The quality of Block is the most important factor in this waxing for color technique, but other factors that will influence the result are also to be considered. The Pipe’s shape, size & mass present variables to coloration. I’ve read where Cavendish Tobaks will color a Meerschaum faster, due to the high content of oils. I cannot speak to this, as I prefer to smoke Tobaks that I enjoy, which do not generally include Cavendish blends. For me, the smoking experience that the Meerschaum affords is most desirable, while the coloring is secondary. Another factor will be the ambient air temperature. It seems that the Meerschaum breathes more efficiently on warmer days. On colder days, the Pipe’s surface will cool faster and this seems to slow down the absorptive qualities. Indeed, I’ve read of one Pipester’s experience of smoking his Meerschaum from start to finish in subzero temperature, which resulted in the Pipe’s color turn to a mottled grey. In general, it seems that the combination of wax, heat and the by-products of smoking the Pipe lead to coloration, over time. Maintaining a clean surface on the Pipe also seems to matter. The waxing serves to protect the Pipe’s surface, in addition to being a factor in coloration. It has been years since I’ve used the CAO Antiquing Compound, but from what I remember, it was a Beeswax. It may have had other additives or not.

The technique of hot wax application to a Pipe, followed by melting off the excess with a heat source, is one I employ less frequently. It’s just much easier & convenient for me to wax the Pipe as I smoke it. This practice of cold wax application also afford opportunity to finish it even after the Pipe has cooled following a smoke. Sometimes, the Pipe’s finish will be a bit rough, as it has absorbed all of the wax applied to it, leaving the surface unprotected & textured, like the inside of a bowl of an unsmoked Meerschaum. I’ll go ahead and apply more wax to the Pipe and then follow by buffing it with a white cotton cloth. The variations of waxing Meerschaums by the Pipe smoker are many. There are most likely as many technique styles as there are Pipesters. It is an area where individual preference and creativity combine with experience to result in habit. It has been the topic of discussion, for centuries, wherever Meerschaums are smoked. The goals of the Pipester differ from those of the Carver. While the Carver employs Beeswax for product quality, the Pipester uses it for coloration and protection of the patina. I cannot speak to the Carver goals of using signature wax finishes for effect, as I have little understanding of this part of the art. I can speak to the Pipester, from my own experiences… I say, smoke the Pipe & wax as you wish. Let the course of nature proceed over time, but enjoy the smoke while you wait.

Cleaning up an Echt Bernstein Dublin Shaped Meerschaum


Blog by Steve Laug

Something about the shape of this old meerschaum canted Dublin or Zulu that caught my brother’s eye so he picked it up and added it to the lot he was cleaning up to send my way. The worn red leather case had gold letters embossed on the edge just above and below the latch. At first I thought Echt Bernstein was the brand name but after a bit my high school German kicked in and I realised that it was not. The name was German and it read on the top edge of the case Echt Bernstein which means Genuine Amber and on the lower edge read Echt Naturmeerschaum which translates as Genuine Natural (Block) Meerschaum. The pipe is quite probably of Austrian origin and could have been made by Strambach. That is not provable because the pipe is not marked at all. But the German stamping on the fitted case lends itself to that idea.I looked up Strambach on Pipedia to see if there were any hints about the pipe I had in hand (https://pipedia.org/wiki/Strambach). I quote from that article some of the pertinent information.

In 1904 Edmund Jolitschke founded a company that, at the begining, produced cigar and cigarette mouthpieces and later meerschaum pipes. In 1922, Robert Strambach became the leader of the company and he expanded the business. He produced meerschaum pipes and Calabash pipes, and he developed a system to produce the meerschaum mass (this is a convolute of small sepiolite pieces, grinded down, and pressed together with a bonding agent). In 1974, Edith Corrieri succeeded to her father. She is a master-turner, and today, she is the only producing high quality calabashes and meerschaum pipes in Europe…

…(ed. quoting Edith Corrieri, current owner) My company was started in 1904 by my uncle Edmund, and in 1922 my father Robert took over the firm. In the following fifty years my father expanded the firm with many ideas e.g. he developed a special technique to transform raw meerschaum into workable material (so-called meerschaum masse), the secret formula to which he revealed to me shortly before his death. As I was the only child I had the chance in 1974 to become one of the first females in the field of pipe making. After three years of training I received a diploma as Master of Pipemaking. Today we are the only manufacturer of Meerschaum and Calabash Pipes in the European Union and are still making our pipes according the same age-old formula. In 1981 STRAMBACH PIPE CO. was awarded the Austrian “State Seal” for exceptional quality.”

Jeff took photos of the pipe as he opened it and removed it from the case. All of the previous and the following photos were taken before he cleaned up the pipe. Inside the lid of the case it read in English the same thing that had been stamped on the exterior of the case – Real Block Meerschaum in an arc over a six point star and Genuine Amber in an arc under the star.Jeff removed the pipe from the case and took some photos of it fresh from the case. The shape of the bowl was quite beautiful and there was colour beginning to happen on spots on the bowl and rim edge. The rim was exceptional dirty with a lava overflow from the cake that had formed in the bowl. The stem appeared to be a replacement – not genuine amber but an acrylic amber that obviously had been added later in the life of the pipe. The stem showed tooth marks and chatter on both the top and underside near the button. The slot in the button was not smooth but looked to be much like the slot cut in stem blanks that I purchase currently. The shape and the colour seem older but I cannot be certain of that. I know that it is not Bakelite as the colour goes all the way down into the bite marks and does not lighten as it goes deeper. Jeff took a close up photo of the rim top to show the build up and the darkening – not colouration of the meerschaum but burn and tars that was on the surface of the meer. The second photo below shows the shape of the bottom of the bowl. The meerschaum is quite clean and shows little scratching and damage. The smooth and gentle curves show a quality of carving that is not seen too much in more current production meers.The tenon on the pipe is a metal threaded tenon that screws directly into the mortise of the meerschaum and directly into the stem. The tenon has the same threads on both ends so it is reversible and interchangeable. It was incredibly dirty and caked with tars, oils and debris. The airway in the tenon was quite plugged with the tars.The stem itself had tooth chatter and marks on both the top and the underside near the button. In the photos it appears to be white but in reality as the stem is cleaned up the acrylic material is the same colour all the way through the bite marks. 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 worked over the rim top to remove the cake and lava on the surface of the meerschaum. He also removed the marks and grime that was on the exterior of the bowl and shank. When it 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. While Jeff was able to remove the tars and lava buildup on the rim top there was still some debris and buildup on the surface. As I examined it I could see that it sat on top of the rim surface rather than down in the meerschaum itself. The surface of the meer was smooth and undamaged so cleaning off the layer on the rim top should come off easily.Jeff was also able to remove the debris around the bite marks in the top and underside of the stem surface. You can see from the photos that the stem material remains the same deep into the marks.I used a fine grit sanding sponge to gently top the bowl. It is a flat surface and I turned the bowl into the sanding sponge. I carefully kept the rim flat against the surface of the sanding block. I worked it on the sanding block until all of the remaining buildup was gone. I polished the bowl and rim with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-2400 grit pads. I wiped the meer down with a damp cotton pad. I dry sanded it with 3200-12000 grit pads and wiped it down with the damp cotton pad after each micromesh pad. The photos below tell the story. I lightly sanded the area around the tooth marks to provide a rough surface to provide a surface for the repair to bond to the stem material. I cleaned out the tooth marks with a dental pick and alcohol on a cotton swab to remove any debris on the surface. I repaired both sides of the stem with amber super glue and set the stem aside to dry in the block of ebony.When the glue had cured I filed the repairs close to the surface of the stem and sanded them with 220 grit sandpaper to blend them into the surface. The repair on the underside of the stem still showed some damage so I refilled it with amber superglue and smoothed out the repair. When it dried I sanded it with 220 grit sand paper. The third photo below shows the underside after the touch up repair was blended into the stem surface.I polished the stem with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-2400 grit pads and wiping it down after each pad with Obsidian Oil. I dry sanded it with 3200-12000 grit pads and continued to wipe it down after each pad. When I had finished polishing it with the 12000 grit pad I gave it a final coat of oil and set it aside to dry. I put the stem back on the pipe and buffed the bowl and stem lightly with Blue Diamond polish on the buffing wheel. I gave the stem multiple coats of carnauba and the bowl several coats of Clapham’s Beeswax Polish. I buffed the pipe with a clean buffing pad to raise a shine and hand buffed it with a microfiber cloth to deepen the shine. The dimensions on this pipe are Length: 5 ½ inches, Height: 2 inches, Bowl diameter: 1 ½ inches, Chamber diameter: 3/4 inches. The photos below show the finished pipe. It looks far better in person than in these photos. If you are interested in adding the pipe to your collection contact me at slaug@uniserve.com or send me a message on Facebook. It will be going on the rebornpipes store shortly. 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!