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.