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How to take the stem off a Churchwarden pipe

Churchwarden Stem Help

Unfortunately, how and when to remove a Churchwarden stem this is one of the most debated topics in the realm of pipe smoking. Not only are smokers opinionated on this topic, but they stand very firm.

The illustrious Churchwarden tobacco pipe is not just a flight of fancy from film and literature. It has been a legitimate and popular way to smoke pipe tobacco since around the 16th century.

Ever since the inception of the Churchwarden, smokers have flocked to the shape. But with a design as risky and alien as this, the maintenance can be intimidating.

It may sound trivial but the basic process of removing the stem from a Churchwarden (or any pipe for that matter) is particular and requires a bit of training to ensure that the pipe remains in tip-top shape. With the help of this guide, you can rest easy with the knowledge of how to properly handle your Churchwarden pipes.


When to Remove a Pipe Stem

The first, most relaxed group of smokers believe that frequent stem removal is no big deal. It will not result in a worse smoking pipe than leaving the stem attached at all times.

Pipe smokers in this field claim that being able to remove the stem makes cleaning the pipe easier, which encourages them to thoroughly clean their pipe more often.


Never remove the stem!

Those on the opposite side of the fence consider, stem removal, under almost any circumstance, to be a big no-no.

Their reasoning is that unnecessary stem removal could cause the fit between the tenon and the mortise to loosen over time. This will eventually cause the stem to be too loose, and in extreme situations cause the stummel to fall off completely while smoking.


Which way is best?

As with most things in life, neither extreme is your best bet.

In our opinion, removing the stem of your churchwarden--or any pipe for that matter--is a necessary part of pipe ownership. It can’t and shouldn’t be avoided. But don’t abuse this permission. Taking the stem out after each smoke is overkill. Periodically removing the stem, perhaps each time you clean your pipe works best.

Churchwarden Pipe Shape


How to Remove a Pipe Stem

When removing the stem of any pipe there is one thing you should remember:

Let the pipe cool first!

The number one rule of tobacco pipe maintenance is to give your pipe plenty of time to properly cool before disassembling it.

We suggest letting your pipe rest at least six hours before attempting to remove the stem.

This number is not concrete. If you are smoking a larger churchwarden, or have handled more than one bowl in your pipe, giving it a few more hours to cool is necessary. But if your pipe is small then not all of the six hours is necessary.


Removing a Churchwarden stem

  • With one hand securely grab the stummel and shank.

  • With the other firmly grab the stem at the joint (where the stem and the shank meet).

  • Slowly twist the stem clockwise. We suggest turning it clockwise because that is the direction most drill bits turn when boering out the mortise.

  • Continue this motion with both hands wrapped firmly around the shank and stem until the stem comes loose and is removed.

When it is time to return the stem to its natural place, twist it back in place until it is firmly attached and lined up properly.


How to remove a stuck pipe stem

Unfortunately most of us will experience the despair of discovering a pipe stem is stuck to the pipe. At first it seems like no big deal, but the more you twist and the more you pull the greater the odds are that you will ruin the pipe.


So what should you do?


A quick and easy solution is to place the pipe in your kitchen freezer.


No really, we’re serious.


After 30 minutes remove the pipe and try again. The cold should relax and, ever so slightly, shrink the stem (which is less of an insulator than the briar). This makes stem removal easy.

If the stem is incredibly stubborn, then perhaps it is best to send it to a pipe restoration expert. Of course some pliers and a clamp could do the trick, but you will almost certainly harm the pipe in the process. It is best to trust those who have expertise in this area when the problem proves stubborn.

Once the stem is removed, rub a bit of wax on the tenon. This will help it slide out the next time.

If the stem makes no improvement and you are forced to repeat the freezer process, then take some fine sandpaper and gingerly take off a small amount of the tenon. Repeat this process until you are satisfied with the fit of the joint.


How to Tighten Pipe Stems

What if your pipe’s stem is already loose--so loose that the briar seems like it will fall off while you are smoking?

When your pipe is at this point you have no choice but to fix the joint or to not smoke anymore.

If you are a woodworker or all around handyman, then you may have a creative enough mind to fix your pipe yourself. If you are like most of us (which means you are better at typing than you are at being a handyman), then perhaps some advice will go along way.

The easiest and safest way to tighten the fit between the tenon and the mortise is to put a few coats of clear nail polish on the tenon. This will increase the tenon’s diameter, but only slightly. After a few coats, gently sand down the rough spots. Then test the fit. If you are satisfied, then mission accomplished! If not, then repeat the process until you are happy.

What if you don’t want to taint your high grade pipe by adding nail polish?

Then,  believe it is best to send your pipe either to the original maker or another restoration expert. It is always best to be safe with your pipe collection.

Whether you are working on your favorite Churchwarden pipe, a high grade artisan piece, or just a simple cob, proper stem etiquette should be observed by all smokers. After all, there is only one of your pipe in the world.