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.

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.

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.

Peterson Kildare

Picked this beauty up in Belfast, Northern Ireland today. I looked at a lot of pipes in the shop, and this one was really my favorite. There’s no substitute, really, for checking pipes out in person to see the grain and everything else. For instance, Lisa liked one with a beautiful smooth finish and striking gold acrylic stem. I liked it a lot too, but there was a place where the black end of the filter holder in the tenon showed through the acrylic part of the stem. I knew that was going to bug me every time I looked at that pipe.

Peterson silver mount Kildare smooth #120

This one is a smooth silver mounted 120, a nicely sized billiard with a P-lip stem and 9mm filter. The shop owner was nice enough to throw in a Peterson pipe tool along with the pipe and filters I bought. In fact he threw in the filters and pipe cleaners, too. Nice guy.

Peterson Atlantic Rusticated 221

I was in London for a couple of weeks around Easter 2022. I had not taken a pipe along with me, kind of on purpose. I did take some tobacco and a lighter, but not a pipe. I figured that if I had time, I could visit one of the pipe shops in London. With my work schedule I didn’t have the time to get to any of them while they were open. I did, however, find out that Selfridges has a James J Fox tobacconist in the store. That was a short tube ride and walk away, and they were open late, so off I went.

They had a small selection of pipes, and this one caught my eye. It being JJ Fox, in Selfridges, in London, I overpaid shamefully. That said, I love the pipe. It a favorite of mine that I use regularly. That said, it seems to have an issue with condensation and gurgling that sometimes cannot be overcome even with the Peterson “system”. I don’t know if it’s the shape or something else. (see edits below)

Rusticated Peterson Atlantic 221

Update Jan. ’24: I still like this pipe. The gurgling issue is partly the shape, and partly (the bigger part) a case of very poor drilling. The draft hole in the shank is drilled way off, intersecting around the very end of the tenon. This causes a large amount of turbulence in the airflow, and causes the moisture to condense out of the smoke. Of course there’s no way to get a pipe cleaner down there without removing the stem, so one either just deals with it or ends up with a large, soggy dottle — or both.

The peanut gallery is by now screaming, “But you just need to smoke slower!! Dry out your tobacco!” I can assure you — doing both these things will still result in a healthy gurgle about halfway through the bowl. I may do some work on the upper end of the draft hole one of these days when I’m feeling adventurous, but for now I just put up with it. I’m happy that Peterson is kind enough to hire the blind, I just wish they didn’t give them drills. 🙂

Savinelli Bing’s Favorite Limited Edition Arlecchino

There is probably only one thing that the late Bing Crosby and I have in common. I’ve got none of his talent and I don’t golf, but I love this pipe.

Savinelli makes a line of “Bing’s Favorite” pipes in various finishes. I was visiting my local shop, Ted’s Tobacco, partly to look at some of the Savinelli pipes I knew he carried. I was mostly interested in the 320KS shape, a chubby “author” bowl design. What caught my eye was this polar opposite. The Bing’s Favorite is a billiard with slim, elegant lines and a long shank. There were several in the case with various colored stems, but this one is the very unique “Arlecchino” stem that I love. When I saw pictures of the Bing’s Favorite on line I thought the stem would be a little longer than I would like; I was wrong.

I’ve smoked this pipe a number of times and it’s been wonderful. It accommodates a 6mm filter, either the standard Savinelli balsa or a cut-down Medico or Dr. Grabow paper filter. I get no gurgling or tongue bite at all. I love the size, the balance, the feel of it. I’m fond enough of it that I’m seriously considering buying a regular Bing’s Favorite in a smooth finish with the regular stem.

Savinelli Bing’s Favorite Arlecchino

Pipe smoking

I’ve smoked a pipe before at various times. The first was back in the very early 1980s for a while. I started up again back around 2016-2017, and in fact picked up some absolutely wonderful tobacco at the Danish Pipe Shop in Copenhagen. I hadn’t smoked one in probably a year or so until earlier this year, when I stopped by Ted’s Tobacco again.

Once upon a time, we had some pipe shops in Omaha that also carried a few cigars. I’m reaching back to the 1970s and 1980 here… the days of David’s Briar Shop at Westroads. You could also likely find pretty fresh pipe tobacco at your local grocery or drug store. You could even buy pipes, albeit cheap ones, at one or two of the local drug store chains.

Those days are, of course, long gone. I don’t recall the last time I encountered another pipe smoker, either around here or while traveling (not counting the pipe shop staff in Copenhagen). I can find four shops in Omaha that sell pipe tobacco now — and all of them clearly sell cigars as their overwhelmingly major primary business. Of those four, two are way too far away to be practical — one is in the Old Market, the other on the northern edge of town. One, Ted’s Tobacco, is only a few minutes’ drive from my house. that’s where I’ve done most of my shopping for tobacco and pipes. Of the five pipes I currently own, two came from Ted’s, two from Missouri Meerschaum, and one I bought at Selfridge’s in London.

I’ll be posting more about the pipes and the tobacco I have tried and like, or dislike, or simply can’t smoke, as time goes on.