How to color Meerschaum Pipes
The best way to color your meerschaum pipe has been and will always be a much debated topic. Each block of meerschaum is unique and will color differently due to the many variables at hand. When and where it was harvested, how dense it is, any stress applied to it during harvest or turning, how it is drilled or carved into the pipe before you, what you smoke in it, as well as how you smoke it all play a part into the way the pipe will color. This makes finding the best way to color your meerschaum more like finding out how many licks it takes to get to the center of a tootsie pop…the world may never know. With that being said here is how I color and wax my meerschaum pipes along with a few pics to show just how effective this method can be. For reference I do not smoke these pipes daily and normally I smoke mainly Va./Per. or English Blends but very rarely aromatics. These pipes were estates I purchased on eBay but have only been smoked from very few times as far as I can tell from the color and the inside of the bowl. Personally I have smoked from them both only a few times. So one might compare these results to a new meerschaum after the first 30 bowls. This is the perfect time for a new coat of wax so first you will need a few supplies.
- Pyrex or steel bowl or empty candle glass 4″ deep 4″ wide or big enough to fit your pipe with cork in the bowl. Most standard glass is not designed to withstand heat so use care when selecting glass.
- Wine Cork
- Oven or Heat gun
- Cotton/Flannel cloth
First off a bit about the wax. I used yellow filtered beeswax for this but you can use brown or white as well. The main thing is separating any impurities which may float to the top. You can use a turkey baster to siphon this from the surface of the melted wax if any is found. If you have a good source of filtered wax you may not see any impurities. This will prevent them from sticking to the finish of your pipe. Many suggest using white beeswax (confectionery beeswax) under the misunderstanding that it is somehow “more pure”. However beeswax is naturally yellow or brown. Brown wax is usually cheaper since it is found in dying hives and extracted from honeycombs removed from these hives in an effort by the beekeeper to get some return from what would be waste. Also other factors can be temperature related as excessive heat will darken the wax as well so avoid overheating or boiling while melting the wax or the color may change. WARNING melting beeswax gives off flammable vapors! So avoid smoking or any other ignition source (gas cooktops) around this stuff. White wax if natural is actually ivory. Pure white is only achieved with chemical extraction and ivory is made using natural additives which bind to the nectar and pollen causing the yellow color so they can be filtered out. Other natural ways of lightening beeswax include sun bleaching and bleaching with hydrogen peroxide. So yellow filtered wax is as naturally pure as you can get without the use of additives. What color you choose is up to you as it is your pipe. The main difference being do you want an ivory, pale yellow, or tan pipe changing color eventually to solid black after many decades? Choose wisely as you will never lighten the wax finish without sanding quite a bit of the surface off. Obviously many choose white or yellow simply to show contrast.
Start out by setting everything out and melt your beeswax in your bowl/glass by either placing in the oven on a cookie sheet (to protect against accidental spills) at 300F for about 30 minutes. You could also use a double boiler or simply set the glass or bowl in a small pot of boiling water. I prefer the oven as it is just quick and easy for me.
(Lightly smoked with little coloration)
(Heating the wax….yes a hairdryer will work as well but the wife may may not approve you borrowing her hairdryer. Heat guns are much more manly anyway) I like heat the wax for a minute or two more right before soaking my pipe with the heat gun set on 600 and the fan on low. This will ensure the wax stays liquid during your 10 minute soak.
Next cork your bowl to form a tight seal and prevent wax from entering the bowl as it will create a bitter taste. Once you know how far to insert the cork you can trim some of the excess off the top to assist fitting in your glass. Be sure you leave enough to grip when pulling out later 😉
Dip and soak for 5-10 minutes (for lattice you will need to rotate the pipe some from side to side while submerged to free any trapped air bubbles). After soaking use the heat gun or blow dryer to blow the excess wax off the meerschaum. Take care not to heat the stem and concentrate mainly on the bowl. I left my heat gun on 600F for this and turned the fan up to medium. Try to avoid heating the meerschaum too much as most have plastic inserts for tenons and these will melt if you get your pipe too hot. Once you have blown most of the excess off quickly wipe the rest with your cotton rag/cloth to avoid uneven waxing. Continue to wipe and buff by hand until cool to ensure a nice shine. This will leave a nice shine and the temperature change along with the wax coating will have pulled a good bit of the resins within to the surface where they can be more easily seen!
Notice the change? While the wax is melted might as well dip all your meerschaum pipes while your at it right?
The pipe pictured above is fairly new. I’ve only smoked 3 or 4 bowls in it. I dipped it mainly to show the color change is not just from the wax and prove resins are being pulled to the surface. Do to the lack of resin inside this pipe the color change is just from the wax (notice the uniform color change). I didn’t take a before pic but we all know the new Turkish meerschaum bleach white look anyways. The color change isn’t instant from the hot wax but will appear as the pipe cools while your buffing it with your cotton cloth. Repeat this waxing treatment every month or so (smoke at least 50 bowls between coats). Some say not to handle your waxed pipe when you smoke it but this is a bit of overkill. The thing here is the wax will pull dirt and oil from your hands creating spots on your finish. Handle your pipe when you smoke if you want simply wash you hands to ensure they are dirt and oil free. It will take years of smoking to get a dramatic color change. So if you are looking for an instant way to skip years of smoking you must realize your skipping the best part…enjoying a nice relaxing smoke.