Creating a Mini-Warden from a Vintage Meerschaum Dublin

This old meerschaum stummel came to me in a lot of bowls I purchased from a pipe friend in the Netherlands. It caught my eye immediately due to its obvious age and deep amber coloration, though it had a few issues that would need to be sorted out before it found its next pipe steward.

As this series of pics shows, the stummel had been well used before it came to me, with the meerschaum fading form a light caramel colour at the rim to a deep near-black at the shank. The rim appeared slightly out of round and was obscured by a layer of old carbon “lava”, while the chamber had a buildup of (unnecessary) carbon cake lining the walls and floor. Turning the stummel around, I saw that the broken end of the old tenon was lodged inside the shank mortise.

My first task was to remove the broken tenon from the shank. Normally, a dribble of 99% isopropyl alcohol down the shank is sufficient to loosen the tars holding a broken tenon in place. This time, however, the pipe proved very reluctant to release its grip on the stub of Vulcanite, so I was required to take more drastic (and potentially damaging) action and drill out the remains of the old tenon.

Starting with a drill bit only slightly larger than the tenon’s airway, I worked up through progressively larger drill bits until the tenon was completely removed. I admit I held my breathe at several points during this operation as any lateral pressure against the walls of the shank could have cracked or outright shattered the meerschaum.

I was rather invested in the work on this stummel and forgot to take pics of the cleaning, but there really wasn’t that much to photograph. The light cake cake out of the chamber easily enough; the meerschaum underneath was in surprisingly good condition. Drilling out the old tenon also removed the worst of the tarry buildup from the shank, so I only needed a few cotton swabs and pipe cleaners dipped in alcohol to get the job done internally.

After scrounging around in my parts bins for a bit, I landed on a plan for the renaissance of this old meerschaum stummel. As the pic below shows, I chose a long, slender mini-churchwarden stem and a copper shank cap that would keep the end of the shank together when the stem is removed and replaced.

The square shoulder of the shank was not going to fit inside the rounded shank cap. A few strokes of the file added a bevel to the shank that allowed the copper cap to seat fully against the shank face. I also scrubbed the last inch or so of the shank with 0000 steel wool followed by a wipe-down with alcohol on a cotton pad to remove as much of the surface wax and grime as possible to ensure that the new shank cap would glue in securely.

I used a drop or two of thick CA glue to install the shank cap. The tenon end of the stem was only slightly oversized for the shank mortise. A few minutes with sandpaper sorted out the stem fit nicely.

There were only two things left to do before final buffing – re-wax the meerschaum stummel and sand and polish the new stem. Here again I forgot to pick up the camera in favour of getting the work done – oops!

After heating up the beeswax in my mini crockpot, I plugged both chamber and shank openings to keep the wax from flowing into the stummel, them put the bowl into the wax. I allowed it to soak for a few minutes on each side. The hot wax penetrated the porous meerschaum and pulled more of the coloration from deep within to the surface. On removing the stummel from the wax bath, I removed the corks at each end and let the pipe sit on a towel to cool. When it was cool enough to handle, I hand buffed the stummel with the towel to remove the excess wax and bring up the shine.

The stem was smoothed and polished with sandpapers from 220 through 2000 grit to remove the rough casting marks and refine the profile. Then I took it to the buffer for a run on both the Red Tripoli and White Diamond wheels. I finished up by applying a few light coats of Carnauba wax to shine and protect the Vulcanite.

I’m quote pleased with this newly-minted Meerschaum Dublin Mini Churchwarden. It is a smaller bowl as is usually the case with these old-timers, but the long, thin stem gives the pipe a sense of lightness and slender elegance enhanced by the polished copper shank cap.

I am also happy to report that this pipe has already from a new home with a new pipe steward. May he enjoy it for many years to come!

Thanks for joining me for this estate stummel restoration. I hope you enjoyed the journey as much as I did. Until next time, Happy Piping!

Here’s the finished pipe.