Modifying an Old Meerschaum Bowl to Fit a Kirsten Pipe Barrel


In a lot I picked up off EBay was a nice older meerschaum pipe bowl. I think it was originally made either for the WDC base that came in the lot or for a different metal or Bakelite pipe. The threads on the pedestal base were stripped out. As I was looking at it I thought, “Why not see if I can modify it to fit the Kirsten stem and barrel that I have waiting for a bowl”. In the first photo below is the lot of bowls I picked up on EBay. The Meerschaum bowl is in the bottom right corner. The base or nipple is visible in this photo.

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The next series of four photos show the bowl before I began work on it I wanted to line it up and see if it would possibly work on the Kirsten. I wanted to see if it was awkward looking or would look feasible. I took photos of the bowl and pipe from different angles to get a feel for the look of the bowl on the pipe.

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I decided to try the same process I use in topping a bowl to remove the nipple or base. I set up my sandpaper on a flat board and sanded the nipple to flatten it out. It seemed like it was going to take a long time to remove it so I took it to my Dremel and quickly removed most of it and then came back to the sanding board to finish it up. The next three photos show the process of removing the meer nipple.

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Now the bowl needed to be cleaned up and shaped to fit the barrel of the Kirsten. I sanded the bowl with a medium grit sanding sponge to remove the tar and finish of the bowl. Since I was going to reshape the bowl bottom I wanted to remove the old patina and dents as much as possible to make matching the bowl bottom simpler. The next three photos show the sanding of the bowl.

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After sanding the bowl surface I used my Dremel to remove the material from the bottom of the bowl and to reshape the bowl to fit the Kirsten. It was a slow and repetitive process as one thing I have learned it you can always remove more material but you cannot put it back. I wanted to shape the bowl with a more rounded bottom on it and give the overall look of a brandy shape. The next three photos show the new shape of the bowl after the Dremel had done its work.

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The next step in the process was to open up the hole in the bottom of the bowl in order to receive the bottom plate on the outside and the hollow screw on the inside. Kirsten bowls have a brass or vulcanite bottom plate that is inserted into the bottom of the bowl. This adapter or plate is cupped so I matched the bowl bottom to the cup on the plate. I had to drill slowly with increasingly larger drill bits until I had opened the airway enough for the plate to fit. Then I needed to open the bowl bottom enough to take the screw head. This particular bowl was a bit tapered so I needed to drill it so that the bottom was more flat on the inside so that the screw head would rest evenly on the bottom of the bowl. The outside drilling was ¼ inch when finished. The inside drilling was a ½ inch to let the screw sit evenly. The next three photos give an idea of the drilling and the end product. In the last of the three photos I placed the plate/adapter and the screw in the photo so that you can see where I was going with my drilling.

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After drilling the bowl to fit the pieces I put it together to see if it all worked. The first three photos below show the bottom plate and the screw attached. I tried to photograph the bowl from a variety of angles in order to show the fit and feel of the bottom plate. The top down photo shows the placement of the screw. The other two photos show the fitted bottom plate. The last photo of the three shows the view from the bottom of the bowl with the screw centered in the bottom plate and the bowl ready to place on the shank.

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At this point in my work I wanted to see how the bowl fit the barrel and stem. I wanted to determine if I needed to remove more of the meerschaum to ensure a good fit with the barrel. The next four photos give you a look at the pipe bowl fit at this point. There was still much work to do in making the fit perfect but I was getting there and the finished pipe had potential that it would look very good.

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The internal screw was still not sitting flat and deep enough in the bowl to ensure a good tight fit to the barrel. I rode too high in the bowl bottom to really be able to tighten the bowl snugly against the barrel. So I took it back to the drill and inserted a larger bit in the drill and carefully drilled the internal bowl bottom to let the screw seat more deeply. This process took care as I did not want to go too deep into the bottom as that would weaken the bottom of the bowl. I went slowly and checked the seating often until it was the correct fit. The next series of two photos show how I did the drilling and the finished fit of the screw in the bowl bottom.

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Once the fit of the bottom plate was correct it was time to sand the meerschaum bowl. This was a very messy proposition with the dust being similar to sanding Gyprock or drywall board after it has been taped and mudded. I had no idea that the sanding would be such a messy work. The dust was very fine and permeated everything, my hands and arms were covered with the fine white powder. Even my eye sockets were filled with the dust. I used 320 grit sandpaper to begin the process and sanded out the deeper scratches left by the Dremel and also the deeper gouges in the bowl from its previous history. I then used a medium grit sanding sponge to further remove those scratches and the finer ones left by the sandpaper. The next six photos show the sanding process and the increasingly smooth surface of the reshaped bowl.

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I stopped sanding at this point and put the bowl back on the barrel to make sure that the edges and bottom of the bowl sat correctly against the top of the barrel. While it was on the barrel I sanded it further with a fine grit sanding sponge. The next three photos show the look of the bowl on the barrel after sanding. The shape and finish is beginning to appear in the process.

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Once the fit and feel were correct it was time to work on the finish of the meerschaum bowl. Meer is pretty unforgiving in that it shows scratches in detail and as the bowl is smoked and heated any hidden ones suddenly will appear. I figured I would have to deal with that when it happened but in the mean time I would work to minimize that effect. I sanded the bowl with micromesh sanding pads. I used 1500-12,000 grit. The eight photos below show the progressive shine that developed in the bowl after each successive grit of micromesh was used. It was fascinating to me that as I sanded and polished the bowl more of the patina seemed to come to the surface and what was almost white in the newly sanded bowl began to yellow and darken around the top and bottom edges with the polishing.

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The final series of four photos show the finished bowl on the barrel and ready to use. I am very pleased with the look of this old meerschaum bowl on the newer Kirsten metal barrel. The marriage of old and new is actually quite pleasant to look at. The feel in the hand is also very nice and the bowl has a natural shine to it from sanding with the micromesh. I gave it a coat of white beeswax after the sanding and hand polished it. I will continue to give it coats of beeswax as I use it.

One thing I have learned in the process of working this meerschaum bowl to fit the barrel is that there is always a use for what appears to be a throw away bowl. I will think long and hard before I discard a pipe bowl as junk because who knows what beauty lies just beneath the surface and what a pleasant new life can be resurrected from the old pipe.

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17 Responses to Modifying an Old Meerschaum Bowl to Fit a Kirsten Pipe Barrel

  1. Herb Craven says:

    Excellent job, Steve! The Kirsten seems ideally suited to accept a meerschaum bowl, given that you don’t need to thread the meerschaum itself, which obviously doesn’t work very well. I’m sure all your hard work will be rewarded by years of cool, dry smokes from this pipe.

  2. Wonderful job, Steve – I’ve always wanted a meer bowl for my Kirsten but never would have thought of making one!! BTW, the yellow patina may be from the tobacco having migrated through to just below the (original) surface – my meers show yellow when warm – presumably the tobacco migrates more when warm? Lovely work!

    • rebornpipes says:

      Thanks Dallas. This one was a mess to work with but also a challenge. I loved shaping the meer and then polishing it. Time will tell if I got the scratches out of the surface but for now it is a beauty!

  3. upshallfan says:

    Beautiful Steve, the micromesh gave the bowl a beautiful finish.

  4. Greg says:

    All I can say is: Wow! What a great idea (that I’d never have thought of) and a beautiful end result! I think I like that repurposed one better than an original to be honest.

  5. I am sure I have never before seen such an original, innovative idea as combining a Meer bowl with a Kirsten stem or as beautiful a result. Do you think the same process would be the best for the Meer insert, or maybe a short, briar prince stem? Or maybe an elegant churchwarden? I’m confident you’ll think of the best solution yourself.

  6. David goodwin says:

    Very, very, impressive.

  7. LarryG says:

    I agree, Steve…never would have expected that bowl on that barrel to come out looking as good as this one ended up. You are truly gifted! Even knowing that you rarely “screw up” a project, I kept expecting SOMEthing to happen with the meer bowl. Truly amazing!! That bowl is gonna look even better as it gets some use. Smoke it in good health!

    • rebornpipes says:

      Thanks Larry. Believe me, I kept wondering when the shoe would drop and the bowl shatter on me! It was a bit nerve wracking to drill the opening inside and outside the bowl…

  8. Andy says:

    What a fantastic restoration/retrofit job. Have you tried to sand the meerschaum wet?? It would eliminate the dust.

    • rebornpipes says:

      No, I did not think of doing that. I will have to give it a try on the next one. I am working on a meer cup for a calabash that came with that other meer bowl so I will try it out now. Thanks.

  9. Chuck Rewalt says:

    Wonderful work.. Nothing like burning flakes in a good meer pipe..

  10. qdant says:

    superb, another work of Art

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