Blog by Steve Laug
In the late spring I received and email from Josh (misterzippo), a reader of the blog that he had some pipes that he thought I might be interested in. He sent me photos of the pipes so I could have a look at them. One of the pipes that interested me was a Malaga Bulldog with a twist in the carving and a scoop in the top of the bowl. The first picture he sent shows the overall condition and appearance of the pipe. The shape intrigued me – the diamond shank and stem with twists carved in the bowl, shank and down the stem as well. The pipe was dirty with the finish having thick sticky build up around the bowl and shank in all of the carved areas. The groove around the cap of the bowl was very dirty. The stem had oxidation and some heavy calcification. All of that was visible in the first picture. The tape measure in the photo shows that the pipe is about 5 ½ inches long with a saddle stem.That first picture set the hook for me, but it did not prepare me for what the next photos would reveal. The briar had white paint flecks all over the bowl sides. Under the dirt and sticky grime there appeared to be some nice grain on the pipe. There was a large burn mark on rear left side of the cap where it looked like the pipe had been set in an ashtray and a cigarette had burned a spot. There were also some burn marks along the outer edge of the bowl on the front and the rear.The cake in the bowl was incredibly thick and it was hard as a rock. The cake had overflowed the bowl onto the rim leaving behind a thick hard lava coat. Looking at the bowl I have no idea how the previous owner had ever been able to smoke it in this condition – maybe he smoked it until it hit this spot and then laid it aside. Looking to the bowl is like looking down into a dirty chimney that needed the attention of a chimney sweep.The stamping on the left side of the shank read “MALAGA” and looked like it had either a burn mark on the MAL or possibly just a lot of tarry build up. Only having in hand would I be able to really know what I was dealing with.
We struck a deal and I picked up a few of Josh’s pipes to work on. I was really intrigued with the shape of that little Malaga as I have worked on a few of them over the years but never one with this kind of shape. Here is a link to a blog I wrote on a beautiful little Malaga Lovat (https://rebornpipes.com/2016/02/27/a-beautiful-malaga-lovat-came-my-way/).
George Khoubesser (picture to the left) started Malaga Briar Pipe Company and located it in Royal Oak, Michigan in the USA in 1939. It closed its doors for the last time in 1999 after 60 years in business. I have an old Malaga Catalogue that I scanned and put on the blog (https://rebornpipes.com/2013/02/09/george-khoubesser-and-malaga-pipes/). The catalogue describes the manufacture of the pipes as follows:
Painstaking caution is exercised in selecting flawless, perfect briar wood for the purpose of making and Curing of the “Malaga.” You can be certain of this fact, because none other than the choicest and finest select briarwood will withstand the “Malaga” Curing process. Other than the choicest quality and grain, will split wide open in the Curing vats… The Curing method renders all “Malaga” pipes, light in weight… Most all “Malaga” Senior pipes are left in their natural state; except for a skillful waxing which brings out the rich beauty of the virgin grain. No artificial polishing stain, shellac or varnishes are added.
Malaga closed in 1999 after 60 years in business.
I had Josh ship it to my brother Jeff. I figured he would have a good time cleaning it up. I could not wait to hear what he thought of it. When it came he showed it to me over Facetime. The condition was dirty for sure – exactly like the photos Josh sent me. But it was in decent shape so it would be a fun one to bring it back to life. The finish was dirty and had some stickiness to the sides of the bowl and shank. The stem fit far better than the photos showed. The bowl indeed was as thickly caked as the photos Josh sent had shown but it was softer than I expected. The lava on the rim was thick but it was flaky so it would come off easier than I thought. The stamping on it read “MALAGA” on the left side of the shank as noted above but it also was stamped Imported Briar on the right side of the shank. Jeff took the follow photos of the pipe before he worked his magic doing the cleanup.The close up photos Jeff took of the rim top and bowl show just how thick and dirty this pipe was when he received it in Idaho. Looking at it I am glad that he did the cleanup work because it looked like a bear to work on.The next photos show the grain poking through the grimy finish on the sides of the bowl. It really was hard to see what was grime and what might be burn marks on the briar of the bowl and shank.The next photos show the stamping on the top left and right angle of the carved diamond shank of the pipe. You can still read the stamping. You can see the marks on the first letters of Malaga on the shank and it is not clear if it is damage or grime. The stem appeared to be in rough shape. Not only was it heavily oxidized and had thick clacification around the first inch of the stem from the button forward, but the button was worn and had tooth marks in the top and underside. The calcification and the tooth marks on the button made me wonder if the pipe had sported a Softee Bit before coming to me. I was looking forward to what the pipe would look like when Jeff had finished putting it through his cleaning process. He reamed it with a PipNet Reamer and took the cake back to bare briar. He cleaned up the little remnants of cake with a Savinelli Fitsall Pipe Knife. He scrubbed out the internals of the pipe – the airways in the shank, mortise and stem using alcohol, pipe cleaners and cotton swabs. He scrubbed the exterior of the briar and stem with Murphy’s Oil Soap and a tooth brush to remove all of the thick grime. He rinsed it under tap water and dried it off with a towel. He soaked the stem in OxiClean to bring the oxidation to the surface and soften it. The burn marks on the front outer edge of the bowl and the back left inner and outer edge – both moving onto the rim top. There was a burn spot on the left side on the cap where the bowl had been set in an ashtray and burned. I was not sure that I would be able to remove that. When the pipe arrived I was excited to have a look at it. Here is what I saw once it arrived. I took a close up photo of the rim top to show the burn damage to that part of the bowl and also of the left side of the bowl. I would need to see what I could do to minimize these marks without changing the profile of the bowl. Jeff had gotten the thick cake cleaned out and the inner edge of the bowl look to be in good shape.The oxidation on the stem was pretty heavy but it was on the surface. The calcification was gone. Underneath where it had been there were tooth marks and chatter that had been hidden.I decided to use the Before & After Pipe Deoxidizer again. I keep it in a flat plastic tray with a cover. I put the stem in the mixture and made sure that the stem was completely covered with the mixture. I put the lid on the tray and set it aside to soak for the day. I purchased the Deoxidizer from a guy on Facebook. His name is Mark Hoover and he is on the Gentlemen’s Pipe Smoking Society Group on Facebook. He has a pen making site where you can email and order the deoxidizer and the polishes (http://www.lbepen.com/). I have to admit I becoming less skeptical than I was at the beginning.I set the tray aside to let it soak for the day and turned my attention to the bowl. I took some photos of the bowl to capture the grain and the interesting shape of the carving. The photos also clearly show the damage to the side of the bowl and the rim top. I sanded the burned areas on the left side of the bowl and the rim top with 220 grit sandpaper. I was careful to sand all the way around the cap and the rim to keep things smooth. I wanted to remove the damaged areas on the edges of the bowl and rim as well as some of the nicks on the rim top. I wiped down the bowl with acetone on cotton pads to remove the grime from the sanding and the debris from around the damaged areas. I was able to remove much of the damage on the rim top and edges. The burn mark on the left side of the cap looked better but I would not be able to remove it much more than I already had. I laid the pipe aside and my daughter Sarah and I decided to go out for lunch. We caught the bus and headed down town to try a new place. We were gone for three hours including lunch and transit. When I returned I took the stem out of the Deoxidizer and wiped off the excess mixture. I dried off the stem with a clean rag. I took the following photos to show how well the soak had worked to remove the oxidation.I took some photos of the tooth marks on the top and underside of the stem near the button.I sanded the surface of both sides of the stem with 220 grit sandpaper to remove the tooth marks and reshape the button.The stem was loose in the mortise so I heated and awl with a Bic lighter and inserted it in the airway in the tenon. This caused the tenon to expand and correct the looseness in the shank.I polished the stem with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding it with 1500-2400 grit pads and wiping the stem down after each pad with Obsidian Oil. I dry sanded the stem with 3200-12000 grit pads and repeated the rub down with oil. After the final coat of oil following the 12000 grit pad I set the stem aside to dry. I then polished the briar with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding it with 1500-2400 grit pads and wiping it down after each pad with a damp cotton pad. I dry sanded the briar with 3200-12000 grit pads and wiped it down after each pad with a damp cotton pad. The dark spot of the burn mark really bugged me. I have been hunting for ways to minimize it without doing damage to the integrity of the briar. I googled and found a recipe that was supposed to remove burn marks or heat marks. I thought I would try it and see what happened. Here is the recipe.
Mix a generic baking soda and a non-gel variety of toothpaste in a small bowl until it is a sticky paste. Put the paste over the heat mark and give it a few minutes to set. After about five minutes, the heat mark should wipe away with a clean rag. Be sure to wipe away any remaining residue from the paste as well.
I took photos of bowl with the mixture on the burn marks. I applied the paste with my finger and rubbed it into the burned areas. I repeated the treatment twice this morning. It worked to some degree as shown in the photos below. It definitely removed the lighter burn marks on the rim top and took out a small spot on the front of the cap. It also lightened the burn mark on the front outer edge of the rim and the large mark on the left side. On advice from Mark Domingues I also tried to spot dab the darkest part of the burn with bleach, being careful to not get it on the rest of the surrounding area. It lightened it a little more but did not completely remove it. I think that probably the burn was too deep to actually remove all of it.I wiped the bowl down with a little olive oil on a paper towel and hand buffed it so that the oil would be absorbed. I buffed the pipe with Blue Diamond on the buffing wheel and then gave it multiple coats of carnauba wax. I buffed it with a clean buffing pad (many people do not do this step but it is critical to get a good shine). I hand buffed it with a microfiber cloth to deepen the shine. The finished pipe is shown in the photos below. Even though the burn mark bugs me it does give the pipe character and reflects on its previous history. I have to always remember that we hold our pipes in trust – we are stewards as Dal Stanton calls it. Our task is to take good care of the pipe while it is in our hands and to leave it in good condition to pass on to the next steward. Thanks for looking.