Cobfoolery Tip, revised: Replacing the stem (bit) on your Missouri Meerschaum corn cob pipe

In the several years since I originally wrote on this topic several sources have come and go, so here's the most up to date info on this topic, as of April 2017.

When we started selling Missouri Meerschaum corn cob pipes online at Aristocob.com back in 2007 one of the biggest internal debates I had was what to call the part of the pipe that people put into their mouth.  I had always called this the "stem", but others called it a "mouthpiece".  To make things even more complicated Missouri Meerschaum referred to this as a "bit".  My understanding was that the "bit" was the far end of the stem, where the biting takes place.  At any rate, we decided that for the sake of continuity that we would refer to them as bits, just as Missouri Meerschaum (MM) did, but to this day I feel that was a mistake, so from here on in this post I wall refer to these as stems.

One of the fastest ways of modifying a corn cob pipe is to swap the stem.  You can do this between genuine MM bits, as long as you understand that there are two different tenon sizes.  Oh yeah, the tenon is the part of the stem that is dowel-like and inserts into the wooden shank.  All of the MM filtered bits have an O.D. of 8.7-8.8mm and an I.D. that will accommodate a 6mm filter, but it's important to note that they can be smoked with or without a filter installed.  The I.D. of the wooden shank is approximately 9mm and this hole is often ever-so-slightly tapered. And all of these "filtered" bits are interchangeable, so if you want to switch the stem from black to amber, or if you want to swap it for a thinner or wider stem, you can do this at will.  My personal favorite is the Danish stem in either black or amber.

Amber Danish stem from www.Aristocob.com

Another range of genuine MM stems is the non-filtered "slim" stems.  These are found on the smaller pipes, like the Pony Express, the Mizzou, the Patriot, the novelty miniature cobs, and on the other end of the size spectrum this stem is standard on the MacArthur pipes.

Lastly in the original MM range is the non-filtered vulcanized rubber stem that is found on the Freehand pipe.  This stem is only available in a bent shape we have learned that it can be straightened using the hot water method shown in the video below. Though the Freehand bit is an unfiltered stem, the tenon is sized to fit into the filtered shanks only.  That makes this stem an ideal upgrade for the bent Legend, Washington, Country Gentleman, the Diplomat, the General, the Kolonel (5th Avenue) the Ozark Mountain, the Missouri Pride, the Woodie's and the Spool.  Find all of these stock replacement stems at Aristocob.com.

Want to bend a stock MM pipe?  Watch this video.


There are now several aftermarket options available if you want to move away from the stock range of stems.  Here are a few of your choices:

Custom Made Stems:

Walker Briar Works: When I last wrote about this Dave Wolff had been expertly repairing and restoring pipes for years and had created line of Vulcanite and Lucite (acrylic) stems for MM pipes that he called the "Forever Stem".  I purchased one of the Lucite stems for one of my pipes and found it to be of high quality and a good value.

Since then... Pat Morgan, the lovely bride of Missouri Meerschaum's Plant Manager Phil Morgan purchased the Forever Stem line from Dave and after some training from Dave and a rocky start due to wild fluctuations in supplies Pat has re-launched the website Old Log Cabin Pipeworks to offer the popular "Forever Stem" once again.  These are sized to fit the "filtered" Missouri Meerschaum corn cob pipes, but they do render the pipe "unfiltered".


An example of Old Log Cabin Pipeworks "Forever Stems"

Here are some DIY Stem options:

Vermont Freehand:
With the 2016 demise of Pipemakers Emporium many cob modders were left to wonder where to go for their pipemaking supplies. Well wonder no more. Steve Norse at Vermont Freehand had us covered. You'll find both acrylic and vulcanized rubber stem blanks in a staggering variety of shapes and colors. For example, click on this pic to see the color range of his acrylic stems alone.


On another note, pen makers will find that their acrylic rod offering is vast and very reasonably priced and would be my choice over the retail selection found in most woodworking stores.

One important fact to note: The stem blanks sold at Vermont Freehand are rough, unfinished and feature an oversized tenon blank that will not fit a pipe shank.  You must cut the tenon to size, remove rough casting lines and finish the surfaces yourself.  That's your reward for going it alone, so if that sounds daunting you might just want to scroll on back to Old Log Cabin Pipeworks.
 An example of a vulcanized rubber stem blank from Vermont Freehand 

Do you really want a challenge?  I like your style.  You can do like many professional pipe makers do and create your own stems from wood, bone, acrylic or hard rubber.  While you can get some of these from suppliers who cater to pipe makers (VF, for example), many of these components are also sold by knife making suppliers and woodworking stores such as Woodcraft and Rockler.  Search their sites for "Pen blank".

An example of an acrylic pen blank from Woodcraft

That about wraps it up for now. Don't forget that the Missouri Meerschaum bits (stems) are very inexpensive and therefore you can swap them for a new one for pennies!
Check them out on our very own website www.Aristocob.com / Spare Pipe Stems/Bits

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