is not only one of Denmark’s top master pipe-makers, but also one of a handful of the world’s most important pipe carvers. Even among the many talented pipe producers in Denmark, Nørding’s keen business sense has helped him carve more than just pipes, but also a unique market niche that has elevated his brand to top billing among collectors.
“Some Danish master carvers make beautiful custom pipes that sell for $1,000 or more,” explains the 68-year-old Nørding. “By making pipes in numbers, mine are more affordable, which puts them in the hands of many more pipe smokers. So, Nørding Pipes have become far better known.” This strategy has served Nørding well. When asked, most pipe enthusiasts will mention Nørding’s pipes as being at the pinnacle.
In the early 1960s, Nørding was one of the pioneers in the newly-emerging Danish “freehand” school of pipe creations. Inspired by an artistic interpretation of nature’s shapes, colors, and textures, these briars are totally unlike the rigid rendition of traditional pipes. Upon holding a Nørding freehand-style pipe, the fingers cannot seem to stop stroking and exploring the liquid, compound curves and contrasting textures. Startling changes in symmetry challenge the imagination to put a label on such a smokable museum piece.
It is no exaggeration to call these masterworks museum pieces - even the high-volume, popularly-priced Nørding-designed Freehands that his carvers produce. And, when you get into his “top-drawer,” custom-crafted Freehands, there’s no doubt they could stand on their own in revolving, halogen-lit glass museum cases, for even tobacco non-initiates to admire.
The Copenhagen native’s background would never lead one to predict he’d be a pipe carver. His father owned a blade-making factory, but died when Nørding was 16 and just entering training as a machinist/ blacksmith. In addition to working at the family business, he obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in Machine Engineering, Production Specialty (similar to our Industrial Engineering). “I studied it for our family factory, but ended up using it for my pipe-carving company... tools, machinery, and fixtures.” When Nørding was 15 he discovered the art and pleasure of pipe-smoking from his father. Though he never carved a pipe until his university days, Nørding says he had four or five carvers working for him by the time he graduated.
Soon after, a fellow pipe craftsman was so impressed with his design skills that he asked the young engineer to equip a facility for him. But, when he received the equipment, the pipe-maker was unable to pay for it. The young Nørding was sufficiently business-minded to strike an agreement to enter into a pipe-making partnership. The firm’s name was SON, a contraction of the partners’ names. Later, the partner asked to bow out, leaving the business to Nørding, who continued to operate under that name for several years.
With the Danish Freehand movement’s liberation of expression, Nørding hit his artistic stride. In years hence, the master has had many a present-day Danish master as an apprentice, including some of the custom carvers mentioned earlier.
Nørding chanced upon a decision that has helped distinguish him from all other pipe masters. “Over my entire career, I’ve collected over 1,000 pipes,” he says. “Some were rejects, unsold pipes, and returns. One day in 1987, my wife said, ‘Why don’t you throw them out?’ That gave me the idea to make the world’s largest pipe. I cemented a thousand bodies together into one solid pipe shape. I then epoxy-glued 1,000 old vulcanite stems and fashioned them into one stem. There’s nothing else to the pipe…just bodies and stems.” The bowl of the pipe is solid, not hollowed-out like a real pipe, but it’s still functional, Nørding stresses. “I centered one individual pipe bowl on its top face, attached a tube to it, and fed it right out to the end of the mouthpiece. You can load that bowl with tobacco and smoke it.”
The pipe is seven feet long, and weighs 120 pounds. Sure enough, after checking all the facts, Guinness Book of Records awarded it world record status in 1987. Nørding has press clippings of celebrities, entertainers, and world leaders smoking it. It was on display in Copenhagen International Airport for years, and now tours the world. Nørding looks forward to the 2008 International Premium Cigar and Pipe Retailers Association International (IPCPR) Annual Convention and International Trade Show in Las Vegas, where he hopes to see it in the exhibit hall entrance. “Maybe we can get someone famous to smoke it,” he laughs.
Nørding Products in America
In January, 2008, Arango Cigar Co. of Northbrook, Illinois, became the exclusive U.S. distributor of Nørding products. The company now stocks five Nørding pipe lines (Nørding, Nørding Handmades, Hunter, Eriksen, and Kriswell), plus Nørding Hunter Pipe Tobacco Blends.
At the top of his current lines of briar pipes sits his personally hand-crafted Nørding Handmades, in custom designs, with no two alike. These stunning showpieces retail for up to $700.
Each year since 1995, a new Hunter freehand emerges from Nørding’s workshop, inspired by Nørding’s impression of a wild animal, which in the past has included wild boar, moose, and mallard duck. The Hunter pipes, especially prized by collectors, retail for $150–225. Those from 1995–97 are currently selling on the Internet for $1,000 or more, says Nørding, “so, they have earned true collectible status.”
Eriksen is a line of standard shapes, named to honor his pipe-carving son Knud (“Erik’s son,” or “Eriksen,” in the Danish idiom). The twelve models retail in the $39–49 range.
Kriswell pipes have a unique background of its own. “I bought the Kriswill factory about 30 years ago, when the company went bankrupt,” Nørding explains. “It had been a well-respected Danish brand, on a level with Stanwell.” The designer of these original pipes was a renowned architect/designer, the brother of Princess Ingrid of Sweden, Queen of Denmark (1910–2000). “I am now making standard pipes of a later Kriswill design, as a value-priced line. In the future, I plan to reintroduce the original pipes the Swedish architect designed.” The Kriswill models retail in the $35–75 range.
“I’m most excited about the new Nørding brand pipes. These pipes look like our Handmade models, but are turned out a thousand at a time,” Nørding explains. “They’re selling…it’s crazy,” he laughs. “At $45–100, we can’t keep them in stock.”
Nørding’s pipes come in a variety of finishes - smooth red natural, sandblast, orange or black grain, and rusticated. Nørding describes the last as a process superior to sandblasting the softer fibers out of the briar root. “We use a pick-shaped hand tool to painstakingly remove the soft fibers to create a sandblast look, but with greater control over the final appearance.”
Stem choices include traditional vulcanite (hard black rubber) and black or colored Lucite. Some Nørding pipes carry his personally-inscribed signature on their bowls or stems, and are completely unfinished. Nørding states, “They quickly darken, like meerschaum, and are our best sellers.” Silver bands and bowl caps are available on many models, and the Handmades are silver-inlaid, a luxurious touch.
To make his pipes smoke as sweet as they look, Nørding relies on principally Moroccan and Grecian briar. Both are noted for their close, tight grain structure, which makes them far lighter and more absorbent than other briars. “The higher up the mountains one goes in search of one-hundred-plus year-old briar roots, the drier, lighter, and more absorbent it is,” he explains. “It costs more, of course, but it’s the best. All of our pipe briar comes from high-altitude roots.”
Nørding Pipe Tobacco Hunter Blends are available in one lightly aromatic and two natural blends. All are made for Nørding by McClelland Tobacco Co., Kansas City, Mo. The line include the Virginia and Burley tobacco-based Retriever blend, described as a “lightly sweet and mellow, naturally aromatic smoke.” Fox Hound, a Cyprian Latakia and Oriental blend (Macedonian and Turkish) tobaccos, is a straight-ahead English-style smoke. Pointer’s Virginia/Burley combination is “subtly flavored and aged under pressure in the Danish tradition, for a smooth and seductive aroma.” The tobaccos wholesale for $5.25 per 50-gram tin.
Nørding also offers Keystones, which Nørding describes as “ice cubes for hot-burning pipes.” They are small pellets of naturally-occurring mineral clays, found only on a Danish island that cool and dry the smoke, sweeten the pipe, and extend its life, due to their heat- and moisture-absorbency.
About two years ago, Nørding developed his own line of premium, hand made cigars blended, made, and distributed by Rocky Patel Premium Cigars. “I thought, ‘if smokers like my pipes and tobaccos, they might like my premium cigars’” he explains. “Sales to date have been good, and they continue to climb steadily.”
Medium-bodied Nørding cigars feature Nicaraguan colorado wrapper and binder, and Nicaraguan/Dominican filler. The available sizes and suggested retail prices are a 5 1/2 x 52 Robusto ($6.50), a 6 x 56 Toro ($7.50), and a 6 x 54 Torpedo ($5.50). “If Rocky had known how well this blend would become after a few months of aging, he would have kept it for himself,” Nørding laughs.
The Nørding Legacy
Nørding’s factory size and work force have varied in size over his five-decade profession. At present, his home-based factory in Slangerup, Denmark covers 4,400 square feet. He has shaved costs and management headaches by only having ten employees working there. He moved work-stations with machines into many of his other carvers’ basements, where they work independently. “I’m not sure how many home-workers I have,” he admits.
Nørding’s son Knud is also a pipe man who worked in the business for years, says Nørding, but is working in Switzerland for now. “As business increases, he is getting more interested. He has exhibitions, knows the business and industry, and can run the business some day. The pipe business could come back. As cigar prices increase, smokers may cut back from five a day to two, and have a little pipe now and then.”
At this stage of his life, Nørding is doing exactly what he loves doing the most. As he says, “I’ve been in this business all my life. I know the customers, and seldom make a pipe that doesn’t sell. That’s because I ask people what they want, and try to make a pipe that fits that need.” Seeing him in his home workshop, with his plaid work shirt, leather shop apron, baseball cap, and covered with wood chips, one witnesses a true artisan at work, creating breathtaking pipes.
He’s every bit a successful entrepreneur, who has built an empire upon his tasteful creations and flawless workmanship and materials. With roughly 80 percent of his 25,000–30,000 briar pipe production going to the U.S., and with the dawning of a new era in market penetration via Arango, it’s certain we’ll be fortunate to see his pipes on display for decades to come.
Arango Cigar Co., Northbrook, IL, Toll-free: (800) 222-4427, Tel: (847) 480-0055, Fax: (847) 480-1221.