Kathy’s Dad’s Pipes #8– Restemming & Restoring George Koch’s “Malaga” Freehand


Blog by Steve Laug

This is the eighth of the “Malaga” pipes that I am working on from Kathy’s Dad’s pipes. I will retell the story of the estate. Last fall I received a contact email on rebornpipes from Kathy asking if I would be interested in purchasing her late Father, George Koch’s estate pipes. He was a lover of “Malaga” pipes – all shapes and sizes and she wanted to move them out as she cleaned up the estate. We emailed back and forth and I had my brother Jeff follow up with her as he also lives in the US and would make it simpler to carry out this transaction. The long and short of it is that we purchased her Dad’s “Malaga” pipes. There are some beautiful pipes in that lot. I have never seen this many “Malagas” together in one place in all of my years of pipe restoring and refurbishing. They varied from having almost pristine to gnawed and damaged stems that will need to be replaced. These were some well used and obviously well loved pipes. Cleaning and restoring them will be a tribute to this pipeman. (Here is a link to some history of the Malaga Brand if you are interested: https://rebornpipes.com/tag/malaga-pipes/. There are also links there to a catalogue and the maker George Khoubesser.)Knowing about the pipeman who held the pipes in trust before me gives another dimension to the restoration work. This is certainly true with this lot of pipes. I can almost imagine George picking out each pipe in his assortment at the Malaga shop in Michigan. I may well be alone in this, but when I know about the person it is almost as if he is with me work on his pipes. In this case Kathy sent us not only information but also a photo of her Dad enjoying his “Malagas”. Once again, I am including that information so you can know a bit about the pipeman who held these pipes in trust before they are passed on to some of you. I include part of Kathy’s correspondence with my brother as well…

Jeff…Here is a little about my dad, George P. Koch…I am sending a picture of him with a pipe also in a separate email.

Dad was born in 1926 and lived almost all his life in Springfield, Illinois. He was the youngest son of German immigrants and started grade school knowing no English. His father was a coal miner who died when Dad was about seven and his sixteen year old brother quit school to go to work to support the family. There was not much money, but that doesn’t ruin a good childhood, and dad had a good one, working many odd jobs, as a newspaper carrier, at a dairy, and at the newspaper printing press among others. He learned to fly even before he got his automobile driver’s license and carried his love of flying with him through life, recertifying his license in retirement and getting his instrumental license in his seventies and flying until he was grounded by the FAA in his early eighties due to their strict health requirements. (He was never happy with them about that.) He was in the Army Air Corps during World War II, trained to be a bomber, but the war ended before he was sent overseas. He ended service with them as a photographer and then earned his engineering degree from University of Illinois. He worked for Allis Chalmers manufacturing in Springfield until the early sixties, when he took a job at Massey Ferguson in Detroit, Michigan. We lived in Livonia, and that’s where his love for Malaga pipes began. After a few years he returned to Allis Chalmers and we moved back to Springfield. I remember that when we went back to Michigan to visit friends, Dad had to go to the Malaga store and acquire a few new pipes. Many a year I wrote to Malaga and they picked out a pipe for me to purchase that I could give Dad for a Christmas or birthday present. He was always pleased. His favorites were the straight stemmed medium sized bowl pipes, but he liked them all.  He had some other pipes, but the Malagas were his favorites. I remember him smoking them sitting in his easy chair after work, with feet up on the ledge by the fire burning in the fireplace.  Growing up it was my job to clean them and he liked the inner bowl and stem coated with Watkins vanilla, leaving a little of that liquid in the bowl to soak in when I put them back on the rack. Dad quit smoking later in life and so they’ve sat on the racks for many years unattended, a part of his area by his easy chair and fireplace. Dad passed when he was 89 years old and it finally is time for the pipes to move on. I’m very happy they are being restored by you and your brother and hope they find homes who enjoy them as much as Dad did. Thank-you for your care and interest. — Kathy, the oldest daughter

Kathy, once again I thank you for providing this beautiful tribute to your Dad. We will appreciate your trust in allowing us to clean and restore these pipes. I am also trusting that those of you who are reading this might carry on the legacy of her Dad’s pipes as they will be added to the rebornpipes store once they are finished.

The eighth of the pipes that I chose to work on is another “Malaga” Freehand. This one is a smooth pipe with a carved faux plateau top on the rim and on the shank end. It has a look that is similar to an Alpha Freehand. It had a chewed and ruined vulcanite stem. Some great grain peeks through the grime around the bowl. The warm brown finish on the bowl appeared to be good condition under the dust and tars of time. I am even more certain that Malaga pipes must have been oil cured. The uniform finish and the light weight lead me to think that is the case. Once more there are no fills in the bowl or long shank. I have yet to find a fill in any of the bowls I have worked on in this lot and looking through what remains I think it is fair to say I won’t find any in them either.

The plateau style rim top on this Freehand was originally covered and almost filled in with an overflow of lava from the thick cake in the bowl. The rim top and the inner and outer edge of the bowl were in good condition. The stamping was on the underside of the shank and was clear and read “Malaga” near the shank/stem junction. The black vulcanite stem was ruined with bite marks on the top and a large hole on the underside of the stem. It would need to be replaced. The interior of the pipe was dirty. I know that George thoroughly enjoyed his pipes as is evidenced by the wear that all of them show. Jeff took these photos before he started the cleanup work on the pipe. Jeff took close up photos of the bowl and rim to show the condition of the pipe before he started to work his magic on it. The exterior of the bowl and shank were dirty. You can see the lava on the rim top, the cake and remnants of tobacco in the bowl and the nicks on the rim top and bowl around the outer edge of the rim. The second rim top photo shows the thick cake and debris in the bowl. It is dirty but in otherwise good condition. He also took photos of the side and of the faux plateau on the shank end. He also took a photo of the shank to show the stamping on the underside of the shank. You can see the overall condition of the shank before cleanup.The next photos show the damage to both surfaces of the stem near the button, the worn and chewed down button and the missing underside of the stem. The stem is a write off – misshapen and ruined.Working on this eighth pipe followed the same pattern as all of these pipes. Jeff had reamed the bowl with a PipNet pipe reamer and followed up with a Savinelli Fitsall pipe knife to remove the cake. He scrubbed out the mortise and the airway in the shank and the stem with alcohol, cotton swabs and pipe cleaners. He scrubbed the exterior of the bowl, rim, shank and stem with a tooth brush and Murphy’s Oil Soap to remove the oils and tars on the bowl, rim and shank. He rinsed it under running water. He dried it off with a soft cloth. The lava mess on the rim was thoroughly removed without harming the finish underneath it. Without the grime the finish looked really good. As noted above the stem was a write off and would need to be replaced with a suitable one. I took photos of the pipe to show its condition before I started my work on it.    I took a photo of the rim top to show the condition it was in after the cleanup. Jeff was able to remove all of the lava on the rim top and edges. You can see the faux plateau that has been carved into the top of the rim. It is a nice looking finish. The stem was clean and you can see the tooth chatter and marks on the surface near the button and the bite through on the underside.I went through my can of scavenged stems and found one that was suitable for a replacement for this chewed Freehand stem. It was similar in terms of shape and less than a ¼ inch shorter than the chewed through original. Once it was cleaned up it would work nicely. The tenon was very close to the right size which was a bonus. I took photos of the replacement stem to show the condition it was in. It was lightly oxidized and had some light tooth chatter and dents. I painted the surface of the stem with the flame from a Bic lighter to heat and lift the dents in the vulcanite. This is one of those times that I am glad vulcanite has memory. The marks lifted to the surface and a bit of sanding would smooth things out.There was a nick out of the top of the button on the inner left side. I filled it in with a drop of clear superglue. Once it was dry I sanded it smooth with 220 grit sandpaper. I sanded the rest of the stem at the same time and removed some of the oxidation on the surface.Finally I had a pipe to restem that was quite easy. The only thing I did was smooth out the tenon and then build it up with a light coat of clear nail polish. When the coat dried I put the stem in the pipe and took the following photos to show the progress. I kind of like the look of the stem. It works with the pipe quite well. I polished the briar with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanding with 3200-12000 grit pads. I wiped the briar down after each pad with a damp cloth to remove the sanding dust. I rubbed the bowl down with Before & After Restoration Balm to deep clean the briar and particularly the reshaped areas. The product works to clean, enliven and protect the briar. I hand rubbed it with my fingers and wiped it off with a soft cloth. I buffed the bowl with a horsehair shoe brush to polish it. The briar really began to have a rich shine. I took some photos of the bowl at this point to mark the progress in the restoration. I cleaned out the stem with alcohol, pipe cleaners and cotton swabs. This replacement stem was in far better condition than some of the others I have been using. It did not take much scrubbing  before the airway was clean.I polished the stem with micromesh sanding pads – wet sanding with 1500-2400 grit pads and dry sanding with 3200-12000 grit pads. I wiped the stem down after each pad with a damp cloth to remove the sanding dust. I used the Before & After Pipe Polish to remove the small minute scratches left in the vulcanite. I finished by wiping the stem down with a final coat of Obsidian Oil and set it aside to dry. You may have noticed the roughness of the tenon in the above photos. It is smoother than it looks but I polished it some more to finish it for the final photos.I the polished stem and bowl with Blue Diamond to polish out the remaining small scratches. I gave the bowl multiple coats of Conservator’s Wax and the stem several coats of carnauba wax and buffed the pipe with a clean buffing pad to raise the shine. I hand buffed it with a microfiber cloth to deepen the shine. The pipe polished up pretty nicely. The finished pipe is shown in the photos below. This is the eighth of the many “Malaga” pipes that I am restoring from Kathy’s Dad’s collection. I am looking forward once again to hearing what Kathy thinks once she sees the finished pipe on the blog. This one is heading to India to a pipeman there who will carry on the trust from her father. The dimensions are Length: 5 ½ inches, Height: 2 inches, Outside diameter of the bowl: 1 ½ inches, Chamber diameter: 7/8 inches. Thanks for walking through the restoration with me as I worked over this Malaga from George’s estate. More will follow in a variety of shapes and sizes.

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