Tinder Box Meerschaum Lined Estate Pipe

“Estate pipes” is a euphemism for “used”. Some come from estate sales, others are just used. This is the first one I bought from an eBay listing. I like the shape, it’s meerschaum lined, and it was inexpensive enough that if the restoration doesn’t go well I’m not out much. I think after sales tax and shipping I’ve got less than $22 invested in this total.

It was in a little better shape than I expected when I got it. The vulcanite stem is of course oxidized and looking pretty nasty. The wood had a lot of accumulated grime and crud on it, including some stuff I assume was from some sort of label or sticker. The meerschaum bowl lining had a pretty heavy layer of carbon caked onto it. That said, the bowl appears to be in great shape. The wood is smooth with no fills or cracks, and I like the shape even more after seeing it up close and holding it. I honestly hadn’t even noticed that the shank and stem are oval shaped.

I started out with some Oxy-Clean in a bowl and dropped the stem in there to remove the oxidation. While that was soaking, I washed the outside of the pipe with Murphy’s Oil Soap – being careful not to get the bowl lining wet. Just that amount of cleanup made a huge difference; the pipe looked quite a bit better already. I carefully wiped the rim of the bowl with some soap and water as well.

Next up was the inside of the bowl. I started with 320 grit sandpaper and got the carbon off of the top third or so of the bowl. I noticed, however, that it was removing some of the extremely soft meerschaum lining, which I didn’t want to do. I tried some sandpaper wrapped around a dowel, but it kept unraveling before I could get any work done with it. Even the most careful scraping with a sharp knife blade resulted in occasionally scraping the cleaned portion of the bowl, so I’ll have to try a different approach. As of now the top half of the bowl is clean, but the bottom half still has considerable carbon buildup.

I pulled the stem out of the oxy soak and cleaned it up with a Scotch-Brite pad and a piece of Mr. Clean Magic Eraser pad. That got the oxidization off, Some wet sanding with 600 grit and polishing with some automotive buffing and polishing compounds got it at least to the point where it’s usable for smoking — not perfect, but usable. I did make some mistakes here! I inadvertently slightly rounded off the edges of the stem where it meets the shank. I’ll address that later. I had already noticed that the stem and shank aren’t a perfect fit.

As the wood was looking pretty pale and dull, I gave it a quick rub with butcher block conditioner, which is just mineral oil and beeswax. It’s enough for now. With the stem cleaned out it was ready for a test drive!

The pipe feels great and smokes quite well. I have noticed that the last half of the bowl, where it gets to the built-up carbon layer, is not great. There’s some “ghosting” from decades-old tobacco there that has to be fixed. I’m going to try a Dremel on low speed with a sanding drum to see if that works better. Aside from that it passes a pipe cleaner well, smoked cool, and feels great in the hand.

There’s more work to be done. The mortise and tenon are a very good fit, but there’s about .004″ gap on the right side of the joint when it’s pushed in completely. I haven’t figured out yet whether it’s the stem or the shank that’s not quite square. I figure I can make up a sanding fixture to shave a couple thousandths off the end of the stem to return that to a nice sharp cornered face. I may be able to slightly work it to match the shank at the same time. Worst case I could sand the shank and stem as a unit, but that would probably mean I’d need to strip, sand, and refinish the whole pipe. I wouldn’t mind that, but I don’t want to risk damaging the meerschaum so I’d like to keep the stain as it is.

The stem will need more polishing, and I’d like to get some good hard carnuba wax on the stummel. I don’t need a perfect mirror shine, but I think it would look great with some deep gloss to it. I also want to get the stem/shank fit just perfect with no gap and a perfectly smooth transition. It’s been a fun project, and the reward is having a pretty nice pipe that I enjoy smoking. I can see maybe doing it again.

Sutliff Match Sunrise

This is supposedly Sutliff’s attempt to match Peterson’s Early Morning Pipe blend. I ordered an ounce from Smokingpipes.com to see if it’s close or not. I really enjoy Early Morning Pipe, as well as Consummate Gentleman, when I’m in the mood for a little of that smoky Latakia flavor.

The tobacco is ribbon cut, a little more “stringy” than EMP. I found a couple of chunks of leaf in there – nothing alarming or inconvenient, it’s just a different cut than the Peterson branded product. It needed a few minutes’ worth of drying time, again nothing out of the ordinary. It’s not excessively moist or too dry. I loaded up the bowl of my recently refurbished meerschaum lined Tinder Box pipe.

First, to address the main question: I don’t think the flavor is really that close to Early Morning Pipe. There’s not really enough Latakia for that. It is however quite nice. It burns well with no tongue bite. I didn’t dry this lot out quite enough, I guess, because the tail end of the bowl got pretty soggy and I had to cut my sampling short. Just based on what I’ve smoked so far, I would characterize the flavor as being closer to a Balkan than a Latakia-forward English blend. I also didn’t get much of the more exotic Oriental notes, but I’ve still got a bit of a head cold that’s not helping me at all with tasting things. It’s still early, and I reserve the right to change my opinion as I have more experience with this blend. Overall so far I like it. It’s not an EMP clone but it is quite nice; it’s mild, not overly smoky,

Peterson Early Morning Pipe

I decided to try this blend based on some very enthusiastic recommendations from the Reddit r/PipeTobacco forum. It’s a blend of Oriental or Turkish, Virginias, and some Latakia. I can’t help but to compare it to Consummate Gentleman, an Ashton English blend. EMP definitely has less Latakia; it’s not as smoky either in the tin, in the pipe, or in the room after you smoke it. So it’s not quite as in-your-face. Think Johnny Walker Black to Consummate Gentleman’s Aardbeg or something similar.

I find that it burns well, if I’m careful and diligent to keep it tamped (but not too tight). The further down in the bowl I get, the more conscious I have to be about not puffing too fast. This blend will stand up and slap me with a harsh note if it gets too hot, but it rewards taking it easy and smoking it slowly. Along with that comes a slow smoke; I spent probably 45 minutes and, when I thought I was done with the bowl, found there was a pretty large dottle of unsmoked tobacco left. I could have gone a full hour or more and still not hit the end of that bowl, and that was with a pretty conservative loading of the pipe. A guy could probably get a couple hours of smoking out of a full pipe. That would, at this point, be way too much nicotine for me. I’ll have to remember, though, that I could let the pipe go out after my morning coffee, tap out the ash, and get a nice lunchtime smoke out of it as well.

I still like my aromatics, but I like EMP more and more every time I smoke it. Pipes & Tobacco sells a “Match” blend that I’m going to try out and see how it compares, since it costs about a quarter as much per ounce.

The Gurgling Pipe

I like this pipe. It’s a nondescript Italian-made “basket” pipe, which are often factory seconds. I picked it up at Ted’s, and I overpaid shamefully for it. Didn’t know any better. But I hadn’t smoked a pipe in many years, and wanted to get started again. It’s got a couple of fills and a minor crack right at the end of the stummel that doesn’t affect the smoking at all. I just liked the look of it; I still do. I like the lines, the feel, and the finish. It’s a nice pipe.

That said, there is one issue that just irks me. This thing seems to think it’s a hookah. By the time I’m a quarter of the way through a bowl of tobacco, it’s gurgling and spitting water through the stem. It’s much worse, of course, with aromatic tobaccos since those tend to be quite a bit more moist than, say, an English blend or something not wetted down with flavorings and propylene glycol. Problem is, I like some of those aromatics. Let’s face it; Lane 1-Q won’t put hair on your chest, but sometimes a guy just wants a nice mild smoke.

I’ve found that I can minimize the issue by smoking slower… much slower. I took a look at how the pipe is drilled, and now I know the why of it. The draft hole is drilled way off. It’s OK at the chamber end, but it’s badly off center where it meets the mortise. I don’t even know how you could drill a hole that far off. As a result, you can’t even shove a pipe cleaner down to the bowl; it gets to the end of the stem and hits wood. There’s a good 1/8” gap between the end of the tenon and the bottom of the mortise; that’s probably the only way the thing can be smoked at all.

I don’t know if opening up the draft hole a bit to smooth out the airflow enough to stop some of the condensation from forming or not. I’d hate to dedicate this pipe to smoking only non aromatic blends; I like it too much for taking walks when I prefer something lighter. I’ll try smoothing things out as much as I can and see where that leads.

It’s disappointing; I have two bent pipes that I love, but both of them gurgle like mad. The Peterson Atlantic also has a poorly drilled draft hole, a lesson to me to more thoroughly inspect pipes before buying them.

UPDATE as of 10/29/22: I tried a bowl of Peterson Early Morning Pipe this morning. I loaded up about 2/3 of a bowl and paid attention to taking it easy. I smoked it slowly, and had really no issues with too much moisture. At one point I did get a hint of a little burble, but at that point I just backed off a bit. I let the pipe rest for a minute, tamped, and it went away. So maybe the answer is to limit this pipe to non aromatics. It just seems like the more moist tobaccos — those with a lot of propylene glycol (PG) or something added to keep the flavorings from drying out, I suspect — cause problems. There’s enough moisture in the smoke that the turbulent air flow in the stummel and stem of the pipe causes it to condense out and collect in the gap. It’s not ideal, but I doubt the any minor surgery I do to this pipe would improve it significantly.

It’s not the end of the world; I still like the pipe, it just requires some care and isn’t a “smoke anything, anywhere, any time” pipe like my Savinelli or a corncob.

Mac Baren Vanilla Cream

I bought an ounce of this because I wanted to try another vanilla blend. Some of the others I have are pretty well flavored with vanilla, but this one sounded good.

The first two bowls I tried didn’t end well. Although the moisture level felt about right in the bag, smoking it resulted in a dense, soggy plug in the pipe that would neither stay lit nor pass air. The second time I actually broke it up with my pipe tool and re-lit it. Then I dumped it out, as I found it harsh and not at all pleasant to smoke.

For the third bowl I let the tobacco sit out for about 45 minutes on the deck railing. It felt quite dry and crispy after that. On the plus side, it lights well and seems to stay lit pretty well. On the minus side, it seems somewhat harsh and has a fair amount of tongue bite. On top of that, I’m smoking it in my Peterson Atlantic. That pipe tends to collect water and gurgle with almost everything, but this stuff seems to generate more moisture than most.

It’s just not what I was hoping for at all, really. I’m glad I only bought an ounce of it. I’ll probably give it one more chance in a straight pipe with a filter – either a cob or the Kildare. I don’t really think that’s going to help much, though. I’ll likely dump the last bit into a new jar to be joined with other odds and ends to make an “infinity jar” and let it hang around with some good influences for a while.

Borkum Riff revisited

OK, I tried it again. My first experience with Borkum Riff Bourbon Whiskey didn’t end well. Tonight I loaded up my MM Country Gentleman cob with another bowl, no filter, and gave it a smoke. It was fine, all the way to the end.

Next time I’ll dry it a little less, and load a little bigger bowl. It is, in my humble opinion, pretty unremarkable. I didn’t get anything resembling a Bourbon flavor to it, but I’ve come to terms with the fact that either my palate is utterly undeveloped (or just unrefined) or I just can’t taste anything. People post tasting notes on tobacco and booze like they’re wine connoisseurs. I see claims of getting notes of chocolate, citrus, figs, plums, and so on. To me it tastes like pipe tobacco. There was a time many many years ago when I sometimes smoked Sobranie Black & Gold cigarettes; in those I could taste chocolate and spice. In pipe tobaccos… whiskeys… nope. Well, except for certain Islay Scotch. Iodine, Band-Aids, rusted sea anchors, for sure. And there’s a Latakia blend that I can taste some resinous Mediterranean or Middle Eastern woods. The more subtle points, though, escape me. Maybe I just need to be clubbed over the head to notice a flavor.

Late October 2022 update: The more I smoke of this stuff, the less I like it. I’ve got at least an ounce left, so I’ll try a few different approaches before writing it off completely, but of all the aromatics I’ve tried, this one keep disappointing me. It seems really easy to get a “scorched” taste that is really unpleasant. I don’t know if it’s too much topping that burns too hot, or what. I’ll try it in different pipes, and see if I can slow down my cadence enough to enjoy it, but so far it’s not been worth the effort. There’s no hint of Bourbon taste or anything close to it, and if it’s not going to live up to its name I’d rather be smoking 1-Q or something reliable.

Letsencrypt, Duckdns, and Cox

Like some other ISPs, Cox blocks all incoming access to port 80 on residential connections. They also use DHCP to assign dynamic IP addresses, which can can and do change occasionally — especially when you reboot your router. That’s fine in most cases, but can be a real pain in the ass if you run any local services that you need to access from outside the home. For example, if you run your own email and want to use IMAP, you’re likely going to need an SSL certificate. You need a way to have your DNS update to point to your new IP when it changes.

One way to do all of this without paying subscription fees is with Duckdns and Letsencrypt. Duckdns is a free DNS service with an easy to use API that can be updated by a script when your IP address changes. Letsencrypt is a free SSL certificate CA; I can’t say enough good things about Letsencrypt and encourage you to support them with a donation as I have.

So. First we can use cron to run a command that updates our duckdns IP address every ten minutes or so.

echo url="https://www.duckdns.org/update?domains={my_domain}&token={my_token}&ip=" | curl -k -o ~/duck.log -K -

Simple, right? Now we have a hostname that always points to our own home IP address – or at least always does within ten minutes of an IP address change, which is probably good enough for most purposes.

Now for the SSL certificate. Letsencrypt will happily issue free a 90 day SSL cert for your domain. Normally, one runs a script from cron that renews the certificate if the cert is expiring in less than 30 days. IF you can expose port 80 to the web, even temporarily, then life is good — just run ‘certbot renew‘ once a day, or even once a week, and everything happens for you in the background. If, however, your ISP filters port 80… well, there’s the pain-in-the-ass part. The certbot script renew script will only work if you have port 80 open to the web. I haven’t found a way to get Letsencrypt’s server to use any other port to reach your web server, so forwarding a non-blocked port (8880, for example) to your local server’s port 80 does you no good.

All is not lost; it just means a bit more work. Letsencrypt will also issue certificates using DNS challenges for authentication, placing specific TXT records to prove that you have control of the domain or subdomain in question. The process looks like this:

certbot certonly --manual --preferred-challenges dns -d example.com-d -d example-com.duckdns.org

The certbot script will tell you to create TXT records in DNS for your domain, and will wait for you to do so before proceeding. You can use your DNS provider’s web or API interface to add or change the TXT record accordingly. Duckdns now supports TXT records in addition to A records, and updating yours is simple:

curl 'https://www.duckdns.org/update?domains={my_domain}&token={my_token}&txt={my_txt}&verbose=true'

Once you’ve verified that the TXT records are there using, say, ‘dig _acme_challenge.{my_domain}.duckdns.org TXT‘ — simply hit ENTER to let the script finish. You should end up with a renewed SSL cert.

My previous ISP didn’t block port 80, so I never had to do any work at all for this. I ran the ‘certbot renew’ command from cron once a day, and it automatically updated the certs for me. Now that port 80 is no longer an option, I will need to manually renew the certificate every 90 days. I’ll actually do it at around 75 days, because Letsencrypt helpfully sends out emails to let you know when your certificate is within 15 days of its expiration.

Missouri Meerschaums

I ordered a couple of Missouri Meerschaum corncob pipes on line a couple of years back. As I recall I ordered them from Penn Valley Pipes along with a couple of clays. I’ve learned that a lot of pipe smokers like corn cob pipes for some very good reasons. For one, they are inexpensive, so one could – if so inclined – dedicate one to each blend of tobacco. Or have one for each day of the week, or whatever. They don’t require much break-in, if any. I’ve found that they don’t have a problem with condensation, and they will accept a paper Medico or Dr. Grabow filter. There’s a lot to like about them, really.

I don’t smoke them all the time, but I do use them for times when I’m not willing to risk one of my really nice pipes. Out in the garage, in the hangar, fishing, etc. If I happen to drop or lose a $15 pipe, oh well. Buy another one. Not so much the case for a really nice Peterson or Savinelli or something!

More recently I see MM has added a bunch of new pipes to their lineup. Fancy ones, Hobbit-themed churchwardens, all kinds of stuff. I don’t know that I’ll build a massive collection of cobs, but honestly — what I originally assumed were just a novelty item are really quite nice pipes that are as useful to experienced pipe smokers as they are to novices just wanting to test the waters with something cheap.

Battle of the Codgers, Part 3: Borkum Riff Bourbon Whiskey

I should wait to post this until I’ve given it another chance. I really should. But I won’t. I’ll update later, when I have had a second bowl… any maybe a third, if the second one isn’t as absolutely horrible. You see where this is going?

I tried this tobacco the other night. The first thing I noticed was the utter lack of anything that I would describe as “bourbon whiskey” about it, either the aroma when I opened the pouch or the taste when lit. And I mean anything. But, hey, I have – apparently – a completely uneducated, uncultured palate. Still, I was a bit disappointed. I remembered Dad smoking this stuff back in the 70s, and it smelled amazing. Well, the blend has been through at least two manufacturers since then, and the years have apparently not been kind. Happens to us all, I suppose.

The first half of the bowl was entirely unremarkable. Not particularly pleasant, not particularly unpleasant. No real apparent flavoring, at least not in my uneducated opinion. Still, not a bad smoke. Just not a great one.

Then about halfway through or maybe a little further than that, something magical started to happen. And I don’t mean magical in a wonderful Good Fairy wand waving kind of way. More like magical in the witch dipping an apple in poison kind of way. The kind of magic that brings Chucky to life. The tobacco developed a very distinct flavor profile. Unfortunately that flavor profile was nearly identical to the aroma that I got years ago when I was using a propane torch to remove integrated circuits from a fiberglass circuit board. Yes, the smell of scorched epoxy is what I noted. I’m not making this up.

I’ll try it again, if for no other reason than I can remember the dating scene from Hitch, where Will Smith has a date with Eva Mendes that turns into a complete disaster. Who knows? Maybe I accidentally got a big chunk of the plastic pouch in there when I packed the bowl. Maybe one of the stink bugs that take up residence when the weather cools off crawled in and I didn’t notice. Maybe someone set fire to an old TV set and the wind was blowing int he wrong direction. But I’m all about second chances, so I’ll try it again.

Eventually.

Ireland

This trip has completely changed my views on:

  • Lamb. Done properly, it’s heavenly.
  • Guinness. Done properly, it’s amazingly good.

It has not changed my views on:

  • Driving on the wrong side of the damn road. Just say no. There’s a reason 99% of the world does it the right way.