Truly, this is the story of both Kai Nielsen and his father, Viggo. Viggo was central in the Danish pipe making renaissance in the 1960s and 1970s. Born in 1927, he began carving pipes in the mid-1940s. As was the case in England during and immediately following World War II, briar was extremely scarce and Viggo began his career making pipes from other, local, hardwoods. In 1951, he received his first shipment of briar and his first son, Kai.
Viggo, now 75, still carves a handful of pipes each year (approximately fifty pieces), but mostly considers himself retired. Given that he has been making pipes since 1945, he now has almost sixty years of experience as a pipe carver.
Almost needless to say, Viggo passed on his passion for and knowledge of pipe making to his eldest son, Kai Nielsen. Kai began working with pipes at the Bari factory, of which his father was part owner, in his teens and became a full time employee at 21, in 1972. He worked there three years until the Bari factory was sold. Thereafter, Viggo, Kai and Jorgen (his younger brother) began making pipes. The focus of the new brand was on higher end work. It was really during this period, rather than his time at the factory, that Kai came into his own as a pipe carver.
Jorgen Nielsen late went his own way and works at his own studio. Today, Kai and Viggo work at a studio on the island of Fyn. They air cure all of their briar, which is primarily from Corsica, though they occasionally use briar from other regions. They have become well known for their diligent attention to detail.
This is perhaps most evident in the incredible stem work seen on pieces from both Kai and Viggo Nielsen. Their stems, usually cut from Cumberland rod though vulcanite and acrylics are also used, demonstrate a care for details and attention to minutia that is laudable. Small details like making sure that the transition from stem to bamboo (on bamboo shanked pipes) is seamless speak volumes about the skill and care of a pipe maker.
In addition to bamboo, they often use horn, boxwood and other exotic woods as shank treatments.
With a production of less than 1000 pipes per year, Kai Nielsen is increasingly being recognized as one of Denmark's great carvers.
Nomenclature as follows:
V, VV, VVV, VVVV, VVVVV -- In order of increasing grade. His pipes are available as sandblasts or smooths, with the former dominating in the first two grades and the latter in the top three. However, We have seen VV smooth pipes and VVV sandblasts with relative frequency.