|Teddy Knudsen is widely recognized as one of the true greats in pipe making today. As a legendary member of that truly elite tier of pipe makers, Knudsen is frequently cited along with the likes of Ivarsson, Chonowitsch and Nordh. To describe by comparison though, does not do Teddy justice. Teddy is not only a master of the craft from a technical perspective, but he brings an artistic brilliance to his craft that is breathtakingly original and strikingly insightful. Teddy was born in 1947 in South Zealand in Denmark. After apprenticing as a cabinet maker in the mid-to-late 1960s and serving in the Danish Air Force in 1967 and 1968, he turned to pipe making. He had been making the occasional pipe while he served, rapidly selling his work to officers. Following his military service, Teddy followed his brother, Sven Knudsen, to W. O. Larsen. W. O. Larsen gave him the opportunity to hone his skill as a pipe maker, working under Hans Nielsen (Former).|
Along with Pibe Dan, Sixten Ivarsson and Poul Rasmussen's shop, the Larsen workshop served as a vector for propagating Danish modernist styling, yielding carvers like Former and Tonni Nielsen (who considers Teddy his mentor). After a few years at Larsen, Teddy struck out on his own, establishing his own workshop and making pipes under his own name in the early 1970s. Needless to say, Teddy has been a force in Danish pipe making since then.
Today, Teddy's briar comes exclusively from one supplier on the north-west coast of Italy, nicknamed Mimo. Mimo is widely considered the finest briar supplier in Italy and is frequently described as a 'high grade briar cutter' (i.e. Mimo has brought the same rigor to briar cutting that high grade pipe makers have brought to pipes). Mimo's briar is not inexpensive by any means, but it's some of the best available in the world. As a result of the high quality of the briar that Teddy selects from Mimo every year during his annual visit to Italy, he has one of the lowest lossage rates around; he loses a mere 3-5% of blocks when he makes pipes (25% to 50% lossage being not unusual for high grade pipe makers). For Teddy Knudsen, as well as other high grade pipe makers, the relationship with Mimo has proven to be more of a partnership than a buyer-seller relationship. By finding the very best blocks and cutting to exacting specifications, many consider Mimo an integral part in their ability to make incredible pipes.
Teddy is incredibly fastidious and diligent with the mechanics and finishing
of his pipes. He shapes his pipes before he drills the bowl or draft hole,
something that only a few pipe makers do because of the added difficulty
associated with this method (drilling first gives the pipe maker parameters
and guidelines, but reduces his ability to adjust shape on the fly). Teddy
drills the bowl and the mortise once rough shaping is completed, but waits
to drill the draft hole until final shaping is complete. All of his draft
holes are drilled to 3.5mm (different top end pipe makers argue as to the
ideal size, but 3.5mm to 4mm is pretty much the consensus among the best
of the best). Teddy sands the bowls to an incredibly fine grit, yielding
a mirror finish on his pipes once they have been stained and buffed. Teddy's
light colored, yet high contrast, stains are famous. He has a handful of
stains that he uses, all to incredible effect. Indeed, much could be written
about Teddy's brilliant staining alone.
Teddy has a penchant for organic, natural elements in his pipe making, but to stop there would be a slight towards the great Danish pipe artist. Certainly, the role of the grain plays a great part in how Teddy makes his pipes. The grain of a given briar block can be a limitation on what the pipe can be. Alternatively, the grain of that block can define, in totality, the final shape of the pipe. Teddy, as is the case with many other high grade pipe makers, sees grain as a source of inspiration. He looks for the final shape in the grain pattern, neither letting the grain dictate the shape nor ignoring the grain in pursuit of the intended shape. While Teddy's shaping is intricate and extremely sophisticated, his work is deeply rooted in the Western artistic tradition: he favors balanced shapes and generally eschews wild asymmetry. That is certainly not to say that Teddy has a minimalist approach. It is simply to say that his pipes have a sense of balance and proportion that belies their intricacy. Though bilateral symmetry is commonly an important feature of his pipes, he does occasionally employ well balanced, carefully used asymmetrical elements (frequently seen on his uneven rims). That the asymmetry is carefully employed is a point that cannot be overstated. His use of asymmetry is not reminiscent of the Preben Holm "Fancy" style nor Tokutomi's more Eastern sense of balanced asymmetry. For example, the uneven rim asymmetry is frequently balanced by similar asymmetry on another (though not directly opposite) side of the bowl, lending a sense of balance to the imbalance created by the asymmetry. Teddy could be described as a restrained organicist.
While Teddy is firmly ensconced in the modern Danish tradition, which he
has helped to shape, his pipes remain distinctive and uniquely his own. There
is little mystery as to why Teddy Knudsen is widely recognized as one of
the very top pipe carvers in the world.