Meerschaum mines are found in the environs of Eskisehir, Turkey. Working conditions are very primitive and miners find their way through openings like the one in the picture, to go as deep as 500 ft. below the surface, where they start opening sideway galleries by simple tools in very limited working spaces. Meerschaum mine galleries do not have the wooden supports, such as in the coal mines, due to the natural 5 layers that form the required support. There has not been any reports of a collapse or mine accidents nor fatalities due to the lack of a support structure. But, today, the number of the miners are rapidly diminishing with the fast pace of the changes seen in the socio-economical structure of Turkey.
Meerschaum blocks are found in various sizes and in irregular formations. Raw blocks are brought into the workshop. The first process is the cleaning of the the natural blocks by shaving off the soil. The blocks are then cut into various sizes of smaller blocks to be made into pipes. Experienced pipe makers determine how to down-size and visualize the yield of each raw block.
There are SEVEN grades of meerschaum.Grades are based on the "purity" of the meerschaum.
The best quality and grade is the most porous and light-weight blocks.They will turn into the best pipes to be smoked as the heat from the smoke will be dissipated giving a pleasent and cool smoke.. Some grades of the magnesium silicate (meerschaum) may contain foreign particles, resulting the heavy weight of that particular block and the disability to give a cool smoke. Also the more porous blocks will absorb more beeswax.
Carving is done by the help of "knives" . These knives are not standard or generic, usually the carvers order them to their own personal specification.
The raw blocks may be moist and ready to be worked on. Otherwise they are soaked into water and they will soften to the consistency of a soap thus allowing the carvers to proceed with their work.
Drilling is achieved by the help of machine but is still done by hand. The intricately bent shapes and figures require great skill for making these air holes with the help of a straight drill bit.
After the pipe is handcarved and drilled, it is allowed to dry app. 24-36 hours. The impressions of the knife-work, any scratches or scars will be eliminated by the sand-paper process. A specially trained sand-paper professional will use different grades of sand-paper to conclude with the finest grade, in order to achieve the smoothness of the surface of the carving without eliminating the art-work of the carver.
The final stage of the meerschaum pipe making is the "beeswax" process. This, too, is another important processs as all of the above. The pure and high grade of beeswax, the correct temperature while heating, the exact "dipping" timing of the pipes are all vital factors for the completion of a perfect meerschaum pipe.
The above and additionally a pre-paraffin process and/or a second beeswax dipping may contribute to even better results resulting in dramatic features as will be seen in the Shevket and Mesut pieces we are offering.
All cases are hand-made to be fitted to that individual pipe. No pipe will fit another case and no case will fit another pipe. The individual pipe is outlined on a light piece of wood. The piece is cut and slit into 2 halves,the inside is scraped off by hand, and then sanded for smoothness, it is lined with velvet. The outside sanded also to become smooth and it is lined with leather, hinges and clasps are then attached to finish off the protective carry case.
Today, meerschaum-carving is a dying art. The scarcity of the "quality" blocks due to the vanishing breed of the miners have created a serious shortage of raw material and an increase in the prices. Because of this, many carvers have been quitting the profession and there are no new apprentices to replace them since the last 10 years.
As of 2003 carvers have started applying RAW NATURAL BEESWAX instead of the conventional "bleached" wax. The new end result is a golden brownish HUE a nice PATINA. Of course the looks vary depending on the carver's technique and his ability. It is a cumbersome process and requires