African Meerschaum Poker Churchwarden Conversion

I picked up this meerschaum Poker on eBay from a fellow Canadian seller. I like to buy “local” pipes where possible for the glimpse it gives me of pipe history in towns and cities across the country. It’s also nice to deal in domestic currency every now and again!

The stummel, which was in very good shape when it arrived, is carved from African meerschaum, the tan/brown version of its white Turkish cousin. Some of the blackening around the rim was soot and tars, but most was a factory-applied colour.

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There was no obvious damage to the meer, but the stem was another matter. The glaring issue was the enormous hole in the upper bit – it appears to be a bite-through tooth dent that someone later dressed off with a file, creating the almost round beveled gap you see in the pictures.

The face of the stem was also a bit off-looking. Closer examination showed that the stem had been damaged here as well, “repaired” by cutting away the damaged area and inserting a replacement tenon. The new stem face wasn’t cut very straight, leaving gaps at the shank.

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I decided straight away that I’d rather fit a replacement stem than go through all the finicky work of filling, filing and refacing the damaged vulcanite that came with the pipe. I got a leg up on this process by heating the old stem over my heat gun until the glue holding the replacement tenon let go. I could now use the old, well-fitting tenon in the new stem.

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I’d purchased a mixed lot of churchwarden stems about a month ago, and thought this stummel might be a good candidate for conversion. I’ve never worked on a churchwarden (or Hobbit Pipe, as my daughters insist on calling them) before, so this would be a bit of an adventure. Here are all three parts of the future pipe.

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I filed off the rough molding marks and gave the stem a quick sanding with 220-grit paper to smooth things out a bit before cutting off the molded tenon. From there it was an easy task to square off the stem face and drill out the airway to accept the tenon.

A dab of thick CA glue secured the tenon into the new stem, and voila! I had a (rough) churchwarden. With the new stem, the pipe is a whopping 10.5 inches long.

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There was more shaping and fine tuning to do but I delayed those jobs in favour of cleaning the stummel. I used a wire brush to remove the tars from the rim of the pipe. The bowl was lightly sanded to remove the very light cake. I then cleaned the internals with pipe cleaners and alcohol.

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Moving back to the stem, I worked with 220 and 320-grit sandpapers to tweak the fit of the stem at the shank. I found 0000 steel wool quite effective in removing the marks left by the coarser sandpapers. I’ll remember that for future stem work, as it saved me quite a bit of polishing work. You can see the stem after just the steel wool in the picture below, in which I am preparing to wax the meerschaum.

I melted a few tablespoons of pure beeswax in a small Mason jar. After heating the meerschaum over the heat gun, I painted the wax onto the stummel with a cotton swab. I continued to apply wax until the meer stopped absorbing it, then set the pipe aside to cool. A scrub with an old towel removed any excess wax from the cooled meerschaum.

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Before taking the stem to the buffer I gave it a very gentle bend to make it easier to handle during smoking. The long slender stem bent easily with only a short time over the heat gun.

I finished up the pipe by buffing the stem well with White Diamond compound on the wheel. The 0000 steel wool had really done a great job, as the compound was all that was necessary to bring up the shine. A light coat of Carnauba wax put the icing on this long Vulcanite cake.

I rather like the new lines of this unmarked meerschaum pipe. The rustic texture and Poker shape with its folksy appeal combine nicely with the Churchwarden stem to create the classic “Days of Yore” look enjoying a resurgence of popularity thanks to the impact of the Lord of the Rings movies.

I’ll probably add this pipe to my own rack unless someone talks me out of it. I’m curious to see whether it truly smokes any differently than a pipe fitted with a standard stem. It will certainly require longer pipe cleaners!

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5 comments

  1. Nicely done as usual. That’s an interesting looking pipe. I’ve never owned or smoked a church warden. Is there some benefit to the lengthy stem or is it a purely aesthetic thing. I’m beginning to wonder if you have any plans on carving your own pipes at some point….hmmm? I’ll get in on the ground floor if so.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The theory of a churchwarden is similar to that of a Canadian shaped pipe. The long stem is meant to cool and dry the smoke before it reaches the smoker. I’m looking forward to finding out if the churchwarden lives up to expectations!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. A first rate job, Charles. I recently acquired a Ropp Cherrywood Churchwarden and can tell you it does smoke cooler unless you are a heavy puffer. I found the length to be more of a problem as I am a clencher and prefer a pipe dangling from my jaw. Enjoy your pipe. The combination of Meer and the long stem should make for a dry and cool smoke.

    Liked by 1 person

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