Karl Erik Ottendahl was born in Aalborg in 1942, just a few miles from the very northernmost tip of Denmark. He began his career as a Lithographer as an apprentice in the craft at the age of 16. While working as an apprentice he began hand carving pipes as a hobby and to give as gifts to his more senior colleagues.
Upon completion of his apprenticeship he moved to Nairobi, Kenya to work as a lithographer during the 1962 war. While in that war torn country, he was unable to procure pipes for himself. In the face of such a predicament, he chose to continue to make pipes for his own use rather than go without. He returned to Denmark after three years and began making a few pipes on the side to boost his income. His reputation grew and he was finally able to purchase machinery and begin working full time as a pipe maker.
He began his career making pipes for various labels in Denmark and the United States. Often he would make the higher grade pipes for a well known brand that was known for their midrange or low end pieces such as Wally Frank or (less well known in the U.S.) Europa. While doing this he administered a factory of fifteen craftsmen. During this period he did make of some of his own handmade pipes, but he felt that the responsibility of managing the factory did not give him the freedom he wished he had.
Accordingly, in 1990, he went back to working on his own. He believed that he could produce better work if he worked alone, though his principle reason was simply that he missed the quiet, pleasant atmosphere that a one man shop afforded him. According to Mr. Ottendahl, he has been much happier since he returned to making all of the pipes himself. Certainly, the results reflect his rediscovered happiness with the pipe making craft.
Though Karl Erik's briar mostly comes from Morocco or Greece, he frequently purchases elsewhere too. He doesn’t consider the briar origin to be particularly important provided the briar is well cured. Therefore, he simply purchases the best briar he can find, rather than purchase from only one or two regions.
Karl Erik's style emphasizes the wood over all other contributing factors by allowing the grain to determine the ultimate shape of the piece. He further emphasizes the natural, organic, flowing shape of his bowls with hand cut stems and a variety of different bands.
These superb pieces of remarkable quality are, almost certainly, the least expensive high-quality hand made pipes coming from Denmark today.