From Cobs to Pipes
The first step in making corn cob pipes is to grow and harvest corn. When Missouri Meerschaum began production in the 1860s, cobs from any type of field corn were gathered to make corn cob pipes. However, years of hybridization modified corn to produce smaller cobs. As a result, we commissioned the University of Missouri to develop a corn seed that produces a bigger cob. Today, Missouri Meerschaum owns approximately 150 acres of Missouri farmland where we grow our corn, and sometimes we contract additional acreage with local farmers.
Shelling & Aging
After the corn is harvested, it is stored in outdoor bins until it can be shelled. Corn shelling is accomplished with a vintage sheller, since today’s newer equipment is designed to break up cobs. The cobs are then stored in the third floor of the factory for 2 years. This aging process makes the cobs harder and dryer.
Turning Cobs Into Pipes
When ready to become pipes, cobs are first loaded into chutes that carry them to the lowest level of the factory where they are sawed into pipe lengths and sorted by size. The size determines which type of pipe each will become. After each is turned on a lathe, the tobacco hole is bored into the bowl. Some pipes are bored all the way through and a wood plug inserted into the bottom of the bowl.
Then cobs go to one of several turning machines. Each machine produces a different shape. A few pipes, such as the MacArthur and the Country Gentleman, are hand turned on a lathe.
The next step is “filling,” which is applying plaster of Paris to the surface of the bowl. Bowls are then allowed to dry for a day before the next process, which is “white scouring” or sanding of the bowl to make it smooth. Bowls for less expensive pipes are varnished in a concrete mixer and spread out on wire racks to dry. Bowls for higher cost pipes are placed on spindles that rotate through a spray booth where they are coated with lacquer.
After the bowls dry, assembly begins. Wood stems are printed with ink so they appear coblike. A metal ferrule is then hammered onto the stem, and the stem is glued and tapped into the bowl. The bowls are patched around the stem, and any small irregularities in the cob are patched. Then the pipes are ready for packaging and shipping to all parts of the world!