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Saddle from a Taper – A New Stem for an Isle of Man African Meerschaum Bulldog

This Isle of Man Bulldog, made by Manxman Pipes Ltd, was purchased as an estate pipe by a DadsPipes reader and sent to me for some TLC. The restoration brief included a good cleaning and polishing along with a new stem that would allow the pipe’s new steward to avoid having to work around the tooth dents left by its previous caretaker.

As this series of pics illustrates, the pipe, made from Tanzanian meerschaum, was in pretty good condition overall, though a layer of carbon cake on the rusticated rim made it difficult to determine how much of the dark coloration at the top of the bowl was dirt and how much, if any, was a factory “fumee” finish. There was also a thin layer of cake inside the tobacco chamber, and the diamond saddle stem was oxidized and, as mentioned already, somewhat chewed up.

The only markings on the pipe appear on the original stem – a male symbol on the left upper flank and the words “Isle of Man” on the lower left. The stummel is unmarked, so to allow the pipe’s owner to maintain the provenance of the pipe, the original stem would get cleaned and sent back with the completed pipe.

Starting the basic cleanup, I reamed the carbon cake form the chamber and tidied up with some sandpaper wrapped around a dowel. The interior of the chamber was in very good condition under it all.

Unsurprisingly, the shank and airway were pretty dirty. It took a fair pile of cotton swabs and pipe cleaners dipped in 99% isopropyl alcohol to get things cleaned up.

To lift away the dust and dirt of years without softening the meerschaum, I scrubbed the exterior of the stummel with a toothbrush barely wetted with clean water.

The toothbrush removed a surprising amount of dust from the rusticated meerschaum, but as you can see below, it didn’t do much for the layer of old cake jammed into the nooks and crannies of the rim.

To get the rim clean, I worked slowly over the entire surface with cotton swabs damped with good old saliva. The natural enzymes in human saliva do a surprisingly good job breaking down the carbon deposits. Great Aunt Gertrude may have been on to something when she scrubbed your face as a child!

With the stummel cleaning complete, I moved on to fitting the replacement stem. I had originally been asked to fit an acrylic stem but I didn’t have a suitable stem blank in my stocks, nor could I find any to purchase, so after discussions with the pipe’s steward, we moved forward with a Vulcanite stem.

Thankfully, I had one diamond-shank stem in stock, but it was a tapered profile instead of the original saddle stem. It would take a bit of doing to turn this diamond taper blank into a clone of the original diamond saddle stem, but it was doable. This pic shows the replacement stem blank below the original stem. I’d have to reduce the new stem by both length and width on top of cutting the saddle.

To get the ball rolling, I used my tenon turning tool to cut the oversized integral tenon down to size and fit it to the shank mortise. The Pipe Gods were smiling on me here – the stem face matched up with the end of the shank very nicely without too much fussing!

Then the real work began as I used masking tape and a Sharpie to mark out the rough dimensions of the saddle. I used my benchtop belt sander to remove the bulk of the excess material, then switched to a series of files to get the stem closer to the final dimensions. As the second pic below shows, I still had some work ahead to thin down the saddle and refine the overall shape.

Working in relatively short shifts of about 40 minutes each to avoid fatigue nd the errors that come with it, I slowly but surely brought the new stem closer and closer to the dimensions of the original. I wasn’t attempting to make a perfect replica here. but it had to be darn close to avoid looking odd.

After a few hours, the new stem profile was taking shape. I left the blade of the stem somewhat thicker than the original, both to allow room for future refurbishment and to avoid sanding through to the airway. I have a general idea of the airway’s location and size here, but as I mentioned above, I had ONE stem blank available, so I could not afford to get careless.

While I put the finishing touches on the new stem, I melted beeswax in my tiny crockpot to give the stummel what was probably its first waxing since leaving the factory. After plugging both the shank mortise and the chamber opening, I popped the stummel into the hot wax for a soak, turning it every minute or so until the meerschaum had absorbed all the wax it could hold.

I pulled the stummel out of the wax and let it cool on a clean towel until I could handle it without wincing. I have found it easier to remove the corks while the stummel is still warm. With that done. I left the meerschaum on the towel to cool to room temperature. A quick hand buffing in the towel removed the excess wax and brought up the shine.

Then it was time to mount the new stem and take the complete pipe to the buffer. I polished the stem only with red Tripoli and White Diamond compounds to erase the last of the sanding marks, then finished it off with a few light coats of Carnauba wax to shine and protect the Vulcanite.

The freshly restored pipe is now looking great and smells gently of honey instead of old tobacco. The new stem fits well, looks good and should hold up to many years of use – all without the last pipe-man’s tooth dents getting in the way. This Isle of Man African Meerschaum Bulldog has been returned to its steward where I hope it will serve him well.

Thanks for following along with today’s estate pipe restoration. African meerschaum is somewhat rare as it is no longer being mined, but from a “care and feeding” perspective, it isn’t much different from its Turkish cousin.

Until next time, Happy Piping! Here’s the finished pipe.

4 thoughts on “Saddle from a Taper – A New Stem for an Isle of Man African Meerschaum Bulldog”

    1. Thanks, Steve. I admit I was holding my breathe at a few spots, but got the job done in the end. Diamond stems are tricky enough (all those angles!) without adding a saddle. 🙂

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