Shane Ireland and Jess Chonowitsch
Widely considered the Mecca of pipe making, Denmark is home to some of the most illustrious and prolific pipe makers in the world. The Danes are credited with pioneering artisan pipe making, and they've both contributed a distinctive pipe design aesthetic and developed engineering techniques and standards that have elevated the craft. It's this rich history and decades' worth of paradigm-defining quality that have made Denmark a beacon within pipe making, with other makers around the world not only looking to the Danish tradition for stylistic inspiration but also traveling to Denmark to learn firsthand from these revered carvers. Artisans like Hans "Former" Nielsen, Jess Chonowitsch, and Tom Eltang have left indelible marks on the world of pipe making, renowned for their excellence and respected for their tutelage of younger makers, while workshops like Nørding, Winsløw, and Neerup combine efficient tooling with hands-on processes to create Danish-style pipes for a wide audience. In a nutshell: The Danes make damn good pipes, and they've been doing so for a long time.
As with all of the pipe makers featured on Smokingpipes, we — and Shane Ireland, in particular — enjoy personal relationships with these Danish makers, and typically, Shane visits Denmark at least twice a year to source pipes and foster relationships that go beyond mere business. The realities of the global pandemic, however, halted that usual travel for the better part of two years, but Shane and I were finally able to visit Denmark this past month — my first trip there and Shane's first since October 2019. For most of the makers, too, this trip marked the first international visitors they had received in well over a year, and such a hiatus made this reunion all the more memorable and impactful.
Appreciating a pipe maker's handcrafted work via our on-site photos or through firsthand experience with their pipes' smoking qualities is a delight and one that helps unite the pipe-smoking community, but such appreciation is somewhat indirect. A new layer of depth is added when one enters the workspace of an artisan, the workshop in which these instruments of functional art are shaped, drilled, sanded, stained, and polished. I wish we could all travel to Denmark and experience these workshops there together, but to be honest, most pipe maker workshops lack the square footage to accommodate more than three people. It's perhaps their one detracting factor, and all pipe makers really should consider expanding their workshops to full-scale manufacturing facilities complete with sofa-laden lounges, coffee bars, and pool tables, but that would make carving pipes nigh impossible and would detract from the intimacy and relational comfort — the hygge.
The workshops we visited during this trip personified the Danish ideal of hygge — pronounced roughly HUE-gah — a somewhat untranslatable term essential to Danish cultural identity. In essence, hygge means "coziness" and "comfort," but it's more a state of being that includes a sense of togetherness rather than simply a specific emotion evoked in a singular moment. It shares similar etymological roots to the English word "hug," but the exact etymology isn't concretely known, remaining somewhat elusive, and making hygge more a term defined by experience, not by a dictionary. In essence, hygge is a collective hug that stays with you even after the embrace is over.
In essence, hygge means "coziness" and "comfort"
Experiencing these pipe workshops in Denmark and spending time with individual artisans was a lesson, of sorts, in hygge. Our trip spanned more than simply "Smokingpipes business"; it prioritized fraternity and friendship — bonds that define the pipe-smoking community as a global whole — and it provided valuable insight into the people behind the pipes and the physical spaces in which they work.
Left to right: Tom Eltang, Shane Ireland, and Mike Sebastian Bay
Shane and I spent most evenings in Tom Eltang's workshop. Yes, we had a hotel room and technically we slept there, but Tom's space is among the most accommodating of all pipe-making workshops: It's an impressive affair, affording the space for both efficient and prolific pipe making as well as visiting friends. It even houses a small bedroom, bathroom, and shower that many a younger carver has benefitted from when visiting Tom for tutelage. Plus, Tom's infectious personality and endless supply of stories are a delight, and his work hours border on nocturnal, making his workshop the perfect end-of-day headquarters.
Multiple rooms comprise the Eltang workshop, some connected via small stairs for an intriguing architectural arrangement that maintains a strong personality. It's not exceptionally large, per se, but the labyrinthian outline feels as though it hides a secluded treasure ... or Minotaurian monstrosity. The entryway, best described as a foyer, features tables with a laptop and finished pipes, a kitchenette, and a bowl of small briar slices on which Tom has visitors sign their names — a pipe maker's guest book. To the left is Tom's main workspace, replete with a buffing wheel, sanding discs, a small desk, and a large, central table where Tom files stems. To the right of the foyer, then, lies the mother-in-law suite or, rather, the maker-in-law suite, where visiting carvers have stayed while learning from Tom. Straight across from the workshop's entrance lies a short, narrow hallway that leads to a small room housing the majority of Tom's larger equipment, like the largest of many lathes and a band saw.
Tom's collector mentality is evident in his workshop's décor, with vintage tobacco signs and posters adorning the walls, as well as cabinets and shelves full of tampers, pipes, and tobaccos he's accrued over decades. Chuck Stanion may have the most comprehensive tamper collection I've ever seen, but Tom's comes close, ranging from the hyper-minimalist to the wildly avant-garde. He's wont to show it off, too, almost as pleased with the keepsakes he's procured over the years as he is with the pipes he makes.
Like his tamper collection, Tom's interests are eclectic, and we conversed about his interest in vintage gold coins, watches, auto racing, the stock market, and soccer. He's a supporter of Premier League team West Ham United, whose match against Leicester City played on his workshop's TV the first night of our visit. His son-in-law even played professionally in Denmark and for the national team, and he now enjoys a career as a coach.
Tom is full of stories, random factoids, and endless, sarcastic jokes, and yet he never stopped working on pipes while we talked. Among the pipes he worked on was an array of Billiards all adorned with sleek bamboo shank extensions, and he also showed us a pipe set he recently finished and is proud of: a collection of 17 M-grade pipes. The set is arguably Eltang's magnum opus, and the cushioned, hardwood presentation box alone is worthy of display. Within, immaculate pipes wear smooth or sandblasted finishes, all marked by stunning grain and some adorned with accents of 22K gold, mammoth, bamboo, boxwood, and horn. It's among the best pipe sets we've ever seen.
Tom is full of stories, random factoids, and endless, sarcastic jokes, and yet he never stopped working on pipes
Tom enlists younger pipe makers, like Johannes Rasmussen of Suhr pipes, to help with the finishing and shaping of Sara Eltang and Eltang Basic pipes. He also still sends pipes to Mike Sebastian Bay — who also visited us in Tom's workshop — for help with rusticating: Tom's rustication style is among his signature techniques, and he apprenticed Bay in the method, both to be used in Mike's work and to help Tom with his workload. The rustication was inspired years ago by a pipe that Tom saw at a slow-smoking competition, fashioned by one of the carvers at the old S. Bang workshop — before it was passed on to Per Hansen and Ulf Noltensmeier. Tom put his own spin on the motif, and it's since become among the most recognizable finishes in the pipe-making world and a clear signature of Tom's work.
In the midst of the global pandemic, pipe making has remained a lucrative profession for Tom, and his rigorous work ethic and curated skill has done well to match increased demand. He's a creative craftsman, not just regarding shaping pipes but in improving processes as well, recognizing the pay-off of reducing cost and man-power where he can in order to devote more time and attention to the things that truly advance a pipe, like engineering, finishing, and construction. His pipes are among the best in the world, much in part to his efficient processes that prioritize quality.
Eltang's M-grade pipe set
Whereas Tom's workshop is located a few short miles from his home, Poul Winsløw's is situated in his backyard amid a paradisal garden. A street sign to the left of the entrance reads Winsløwsvej — "Winslow's Way" or "Road" — but Poul affectionately refers to his shop as the "U-Boat" or the "Submarine." Now, I'm not saying I have the skills commensurate of a CIA analyst, but I didn't not feel like Jack Ryan aboard Red October, which I guess would make Poul captain Marko Ramius. Or perhaps the Nautilus is more apt, with Winsløw as captain Nemo. The analogies break down when considering a defecting Soviet submarine captain or one overcome by grief and revenge, but I think the overall comparison stands. The workshop's long, slender frame and compact interior speak to that nickname, yet it isn't cramped or uncomfortable, the various tools and machinery smartly oriented to maximize space and production. Furthermore, an intricate ventilation system of fans and vacuums interweaves the workshop, with duct entries positioned strategically near the lathe and sanding discs to dispose of dust and briar shavings. Such a system isn't unique to Winsløw's shop, but his setup impresses as piping runs along the ceiling, adding to the space's submarine motif. While some workshops are spread out and spacious, Winsløw's prioritizes clean efficiency, with every aspect of production carefully considered and no station more than three paces from any other.
Poul affectionately refers to his shop as the "U-Boat"
Filling one section of the U-Boat is Poul's beast of a lathe, a pneumatic, Soviet-era machine (need I reference Red October again?) that looks to weigh no less than 500lbs. It's the nuclear reactor that powers Winsløw's submarine workshop, and the space looks to have been built around it — as if after procuring the lathe, Poul set it down in fatigue, saying, "Screw it. We'll just build the workshop here." It's the type of machinery you never want to move more than once.
Perhaps the most sacred station in the workshop is the table at which Poul stains his pipes. The area looks like a scientist's laboratory, with jars of various elixirs resembling vials of volatile compounds. Winsløw pipes are beloved for Poul's stunning stains, known for brilliant grain definition and long-lasting sheen, and he mixes his own proprietary hues at this table, a secret process he guards closely. Another signature aspect of Winsløw pipes are Poul's proprietary acrylic accents that he casts himself in unique hues and visual patterns. Evidence of his experimentation could be seen throughout the workshop, from new pipes with recently added adornments and rejected sheets of acrylic that didn't turn out as planned, to a large, decorative pipe that Poul made entirely from the material — just because he could. He also crafts his own silverwork, from handmade bands — some even rusticated — to the stem logo on all his pipes, (though he has yet to make a pipe entirely from silver).
Apart from making pipes, Poul is an avid golfer and professional painter, and at the time of our visit he had just returned from a golfing trip in Spain. He also showed us his art studio, a separate workspace located further back in the yard, and while he was currently using the space to dry several hundred briar blocks, a half-finished painting sat on an easel at the back. Poul does sell his paintings, but pipe making is his main profession. So, sacrifices must be made. He'll complete that piece once the briar has finished curing or, if he gets desperate, he might risk some brush strokes while standing precariously on a bed of briar. Both his pipes and his paintings reflect a similar artistic style, mixing vivid colors with abstract forms. His pipes are all entirely shaped by hand, artfully blending classic shaping cues with Fancy Freehand flourishes combined with striking stains and colorful accents, and his paintings feature a similar love of color and stylized lines. Poul enjoys the creative freedom afforded by pipe making and painting, and from his perspective, there are plenty of other carvers fashioning classic pipes, which is why he enjoys doing something slightly different. Such an approach adds freshness and distinctness to his work, and his pipes add to the milieu of diversity that elevates the pipe-making community.
Poul enjoys the creative freedom afforded by pipe making and painting
Poul Winsløw and his Soviet-era lathe
What appears on the outside as two individual sheds, likely housing a lawnmower, a wheelbarrow, and other such gardening tools, are actually a quaint apartment and Peter Heding's pipe workshop situated on opposite sides of his backyard. His workshop enjoys a pleasant view of the Danish countryside, and Peter enjoys a minimalist arrangement, with space for necessary machinery and some chairs for guests. Unlike Tom, with his Sara Eltang and Eltang Basic pipes joining his artisan offerings, and Poul Winsløw, with his various Crown and Winsløw series, Peter focuses solely on handmade pieces, enjoying a low annual production rate that allows for a more simple and straightforward workshop setup.
Peter focuses solely on handmade pieces, enjoying a low annual production rate that allows for a more simple and straightforward workshop setup
Most striking, however, were the fish adorning the walls, and at first glance, you'd be forgiven in thinking that Peter was actually managing a bait and tackle shop or fishing lodge. What appear to be mounted, taxidermied fish, though, are plaster sculptures, hand-shaped and -painted to seemingly impossible realness. A former biologist, Peter is also an avid fisherman, and he's recently combined that love with the craftsmanship skills he's developed as a pipe maker to fashion these spot-on replicas. And replicas they are, each one an exact facsimile of a real fish, either caught by Peter himself or commissioned by fellow anglers as commemorative trophies. Few would want to immortalize an average catch, so these sculptures depict massive examples, some even of record size. After hand-shaping the plaster based on the actual fish's exact specifications, Peter then paints each scale by hand — one piece boasting nearly 4,000.
Like pipe making, fish sculpting is quite a niche industry, I would imagine. (I neglected to research the popularity of life-size fish replicas, so I admit I could be wrong.) Regardless, it's equally impressive and is another avenue through which Peter flexes and exercises his creative muscles. He enjoys the movement and implied momentum he's able to capture in these replicas, curling the tails and orienting the bodies in ways that bring the sculptures to life despite their static nature. In a similar fashion, Peter often crafts pipes with a similar sense of forward motion, aligning the lines of the shape with the natural pattern of the briar's grain. Maybe one day he'll find a way to merge these two aesthetics — perhaps a realistically fish-shaped pipe, or a pipe-shaped fish, or a fish smoking a pipe. I didn't witness any such prototypes in his workshop; all we saw were beautifully crafted pipes in Peters's recognizable style, but we'll see what the future holds.
Left to right: Shane Ireland; Manduela Riger-Kusk; Nanna's son, Sixten; Nanna's sister, Kamilla; Nanna's son, Matthew; and Nanna Ivarsson
Nanna recently moved into a new house with her two sons, and the home and property epitomize quaint, Danish beauty and functionalism, the garden well kept and spacious and the décor sleek and modern yet infinitely cozy. My passion for pipes has begun to bleed into other areas of functional art like architecture and industrial design — a natural progression considering the influence of architects like Arne Jacobsen on Danish pipe design — and the Ivarsson home exemplifies the beautiful minimalism of Scandinavian style. A book shelved in the living room admittedly distracted me for several minutes, 1000 Chairs by Charlotte and Peter Fiell, cataloging the history and development of chair design. Nanna is a pipe maker, yes — among the best — but her skill and aesthetic eye permeate numerous areas of her life, from the layout of her home and the furniture arrangement to what's displayed on her bookshelf.
Unlike many other pipe makers, Nanna uses a section of her home as her workshop: The main space features her workbench, buffing wheels, and sanding disks, while a smaller room houses a lathe and sandblasting cabinet to better manage the noise of those machines. The workshop's walls celebrate the Ivarsson family's pipe-making tradition, with pictures of her grandfather, Sixten, and father, Lars, framed and mounted. She's seen in several, working alongside her father and grandfather, and the space emits a rich sense of awe-inspiring, generational history — a presence I'm sure she appreciates as she crafts pipes of her own and continues the Ivarsson legacy.
The workshop's walls celebrate the Ivarsson family's pipe-making tradition
Befittingly, Nanna's eldest son is named for his great-grandfather, and though not yet a teenager, he's already begun making pipes under his mother's tutelage. The younger Sixten is smart and thoughtful, and his interest in pipes bespeaks a conscientious understanding of what the craft means to his family while also aligning with his appreciation for methodical and creative endeavors; we played a chess match, and he impressed with his ingenuity and critical thinking. It would be an enormous contribution to artisan pipe making if he continues in the craft, and we hope he does. Already, the Ivarsson family is among the most long-standing lines of generational pipe makers, and adding the younger Sixten's name to the list would mean the world to Nanna and would, no doubt, delight the pipe-smoking community. We're always in favor of there being more pipe makers, especially those who continue a family tradition, and such a continuation of the Ivarsson torch would elevate the craft as a whole and enrich the community.
Nanna's workshop is homey and inviting, seamlessly integrated into her overall household in a way that evokes the familial aspect of her journey as a pipe maker. Not that a separate workshop is less comforting or less meaningful, but the way Nanna has incorporated elements of her craft into her home, and vice versa, is both unique and reflective of the family tradition she now curates and, hopefully, will pass on.
While at Nanna's, we were also able to spend time with Manduela Riger-Kusk. She lives and works in Svendborg, roughly a two-hour drive away, but she's good friends with Nanna and so it made sense to combine visits. It didn't afford us the opportunity to see Manduela in her own workshop, but sharing a meal together and seeing the pipes she brought with her certainly made up for it.
Among the most prolific Danish pipe makers, Erik Nørding boasts a workshop of impressive size, suited to his staff and production rate. To call it a "workshop" is a bit of an understatement: It's more of a compound, a full-fledged factory conveniently attached to the side of his residence and comprising two full floors to accommodate the machinery and tools required to produce pipes on a large scale.
The main level of the workshop is actually the factory's basement, and it's reminiscent of a subterranean bunker, with clean concrete walls and floor and a curling hallway joining adjacent rooms. God forbid there ever be a need for such a haven, but if a nuclear holocaust ever ensues, I'm finding a way to Nørding. Besides being safe and sturdy, the compound also stores enough whiskey, wine, cigars, pipes, and pipe tobacco to last years. Those resources certainly wouldn't be enough for survival, but they'd make an apocalypse exponentially more enjoyable.
... if a nuclear holocaust ever ensues, I'm finding a way to Nørding
Farthest back in the basement, containers full of briar blocks indicate Nørding's production level. Steel baskets — three high, at least three wide, and taller than I — were filled to the brim with briar ready to be shaped into Nørding Freehands, and seemingly endless cabinets contained stummels at various stages of the carving process. To be honest, I lost overall count of the machines present, but lathes and sanding discs and contraptions I couldn't identify formed the bulk of this level of the factory, with Nørding's pair of Zuckerman fraising machines acting as the centerpieces. These copy fraisers use twin blades to rough-cut stummels based on a particular mold, streamlining the pipe-making process and promoting consistency across Nørding's designs. That said, consistency isn't exactly Erik's style. He's known for his ornate and unique Freehands, so the copy fraisers simply provide a template on which Erik and his craftsmen can add Nørding's signature use of fluting channels and ridgelines, matching the stummel's specific grain and adding individuality to each pipe. To Erik, the beauty of shaping Freehands is in their individuality, allowing the pipe maker creative and practical control over the pipe's aesthetics while also shaping around any natural blemishes the briar may contain.
Erik Nørding and Shane Ireland
The upstairs portion of the factory mainly houses sections for the final pipe-making stages, like polishing and finishing. Buffing wheels line the corridor, and Knud, Erik's son and the Sales and Marketing Manager of Nørding, opened a set of drawers to show us a range of accenting materials, drawing special attention to various exotic hardwoods, tagua nut, and mammoth tooth. The use of such rare materials combines well with Nørding's Freehand aesthetic, adding further individuality and uniqueness to his pipes and also testifying to his continual innovation in the craft.
After the tour, Erik, Knud, Shane, and I shared lunch, ending with a serving of traditional Danish cheese. It's the kind of cheese that makes dogs rue their keen sense of smell, and Danes typically store it outside in cooler months, lest the other contents of their refrigerators flee and seek refuge in the freezer. They serve it on rye bread topped with onions if that's any indication of its strength.
We then retired to the Nørding home's lounge, outfitted with couches, armchairs, billiard and ping pong tables, and a whiskey and wine bar. The room featured vaulted ceilings and exposed wooden beams, likening it to a log cabin — an aesthetic furthered by the dozens of taxidermy mounts extending high up the walls. Among the most striking was a massive moose head flanking a bearskin. When Erik shot the antlered animal in Alaska, it was of record size, and it was shipped back to Denmark in a gargantuan crate that the Nørdings used at a later celebration, converting the container into a makeshift beer stall, replete with a serving window and enough room for a person to stand. Erik is an avid hunter, and those familiar with Nørding pipes will know the Hunting Pipe series, a line that celebrates ethical hunting and global conservation efforts of endangered species. Even at 82, Erik still enjoys hunting trips, the mounted trophies decorating his home speaking to his experience. It's a pastime he's integrated into his pipe making, and he even left on one such trip shortly after our visit.
... the Nørding Hunting Pipe series celebrates ethical hunting and global conservation efforts of endangered species
Erik Nørding; Knud Nørding, Erik's son; and Shane Ireland
Peder Jeppesen and his son, Christian, make an impressive number of pipes, requiring a small workspace attached to the garage at home as well as a large-scale workshop several miles away. Peder's a quiet man, though not timid, and his pipes reflect his charisma, known for their use of dramatically vivid finishes, multi-colored acrylic, and a distinct shaping style that often combines soft curves with robust muscularity. Looking solely at his pipes, one might expect Peder to be an exuberant extrovert, and the contrast between his soft-spoken demeanor and comparatively loud style of pipe design added depth and intrigue to my perspective of his work.
Peder's a quiet man, though not timid, and his pipes reflect his charisma
We didn't spend time at this larger shop; instead, we appreciated the hospitality and comfort of the Jeppesens' home, conversing about bygone pipe shows and other travels with Peder and his wife Bettina, who manages Neerup's administrative aspects. Peder may carve the pipes, but Bettina ensures that the business functions smoothly. Tom and Pia Eltang work together similarly, and it's an essential partnership, testifying to how making pipes goes beyond the manufacturing process. It's a small business endeavor.
We were able to witness Peder's smaller workstation, though, complete with a small lathe, a buffing wheel, and sanding disk — the usual suspects and perfect for quick, smaller projects that don't require the larger facility. Myriad blotches of stain bespeckled the walls, and the space as a whole oozed the creative energy and paradoxically chaotic organization typical of a pipe maker's personal workspace. From an outsider's perspective, what seems cluttered and disheveled is actually perfectly placed and oriented to maximize efficiency and foster the creative process.
Of special note were the 2021 edition of Peder's popular Harvest Moon pipes, an annual release often produced around Halloween, as well as a brand new shape in his Structure series. This year's Harvest Moon pipes feature the line's characteristic silver or brass moon shank accent adorning a robust bent Apple form, embodying the shaping style for which Neerup is known and dressed in his signature smooth and sandblasted finishes. The new Structure shape is a compact yet hearty bent Billiard fitted to a paneled shank, appropriate to the Structure line's defining, architectural features. We look forward to releasing these pipes in the coming weeks, and it was special to witness where they were designed and, ultimately, crafted.
Peder's smaller, at-home workshop
Shane Ireland and Hans "Former" Nielsen
Something of a repurposed garage, Hans "Former" Nielsen's workshop adjoins his home, offering a vast, impressive space for pipe making. It's not the maze of rooms that is Tom Eltang's, nor the multi-level compound of Nørding, but for a single pipe maker, Former's shop boasts a wealth of surface area that allows him to tailor his setup to fit his exact needs and processes, and Former's workspace is among the best examples of how being a pipe maker not only consists of crafting smoking instruments, but also requires an efficiency-oriented mind and a knack for machines and tooling.
Despite carving pipes completely on his own, Former utilizes no fewer than four lathes. He's not a lathe-hoarder, mind you; he makes use of them all — unlike my assortment of way too many shoes. Many artisans own only one lathe, maybe two, and they get on perfectly fine. Thankfully, a surplus of lathes isn't necessary for pipe making. However, Former's decades of pipe-making experience, from supervising the W.Ø. Larsen workshop to crafting Bentley pipes in Switzerland, has impressed upon him the importance of efficiency and streamlined processes, and multiple lathes facilitate that productivity in his workshop. While one lathe can be used for drilling airways and chambers, and fashioning tenons and turning bowls, to do so on a single machine requires adjustments between each step. Former saves time and effort by relegating each lathe to a specific procedure in the pipe-making process, ensuring that the settings and measurement remain consistent and allowing him to simply move an in-process stummel from station to station without wasting time readjusting his tools in between. It's a privileged method, to be sure, but as one of the longest standing pipe makers in the industry, Former has spent years understanding the minutia and exact needs of a pipe maker and, then, building a workshop to meet those needs. Like the tools that comprise it, his workshop itself is a fine-tuned machine that churns out beautifully crafted pipes under his hand. The Former workshop exemplifies the intangible, symbiotic relationship between a pipe maker and his tools, bespeaking a proficiency with and understanding of machinery that can result only from decades-long ingenuity.
The Former workshop exemplifies the intangible, symbiotic relationship between a pipe maker and his tools
A small entry-way leading to the backyard houses Former's significant briar stock, divided by source and age. He and Kurt Balleby have traveled to Italy numerous times to hand-select briar, and Former recounted a time years ago when briar-cutting was still a fledgling craft and many cutters were new to the industry. In practice, acquiring briar burls and cutting them into blocks is an arduous process, but it's also one that requires an aesthetic eye. Early on, briar cutters had mastered the mechanics of their roles but had not yet learned the discernment of cutting blocks in a way that maximized grain orientation — they hadn't yet developed the skill of looking at briar from a pipe maker's lens. Former was instrumental in this development: He shared with cutters how to read a briar's natural grain patterns and, therefore, how to cut blocks that retained the best orientation, resulting in blocks of higher quality grain that could combine aesthetically with the skills of artisan pipe makers.
Throughout the workshop, bowls and baskets hold numerous pipes of various origins that Former smokes personally, and as we sat conversing, he loaded a Billiard with tobacco — his line of tobacco. When asked about that endeavor, he remarked that he was given the option to receive monetary royalties for the blends' sales, but he instead opted to be paid in tobacco. It's a decision he's quite pleased with, providing him more than enough tobacco for his own personal use. His wife, Daniela, smoked with us, but she exclusively enjoys Orlik Golden Sliced. Also a pipe maker, Daniela met Former in Switzerland during his 10-year tenure managing the production of Bentley pipes. Daniela worked at the factory as well, and her pipe-making knowledge and interest in the hobby match her husband's. She still assists Former in his workshop, helping to finish pipes after he's carved them.
Former turns 80 this year, making him among the oldest pipe makers we visited on this trip — second only to Erik Nørding — but you'd never guess it when observing his work rate and spryness. He shows little sign of slowing down. His friends and neighbors are often surprised to hear that he still enjoys a thriving career, wondering why he doesn't just retire and savor the freedom of life after work, but Former finds freedom and peace in pipe making. He's at home in his workshop, and pipe making offers meaningful labor that aligns with his passion as an artist and craftsman. He has no plans to stop any time soon: music to the ears of pipe collectors everywhere.
Had J.R.R. Tolkien written of a Shire-based pipe maker in Middle Earth, Jess Chonowitsch's idyllic home and workshop would likely model the description. At over six feet tall, though, Jess would dramatically dwarf his hobbit neighbors (pun intended). Located in the Danish countryside, his residence features a garden similar to Nanna Ivarsson's and Poul Winsløw's in its beauty and quaintness. His home is cozy and inviting, and his workshop rests among the garden's elements — a rectangular, single-room space that calls to mind an old railway car.
Contrasting the immaculate nature of his pipes, Jess' workshop is a humble, minimal affair: A work bench sits on one side to the the left of a window, and a single lathe and other necessary machines comprise the other wall, with various cabinets containing smaller tools and prototypes that reflect Chonowitsch's pipe-making history. One drawer offered a basket of old pipes that Jess had made, a number of them the first renditions of pipes that have since become iconic across his portfolio, like his signature bent Brandy design. It was as if van Gogh himself were personally showing us the original sketches of Starry Night. I kept my composure well enough not to look like a wide-mouthed buffoon, but damn. To witness the origins of such a staple shape wasn't insignificant, to say the least, and the entire workshop exuded a sense of history and legacy, ruminating with creative energy and awe-inspiring talent.
It was as if van Gogh himself were personally showing us the original sketches of Starry Night
Returning to the house, we sat at the kitchen table as Jess showed us his latest batch of pipes, representing his work over the last two years. We spoke of the early days of his career, how he spent time between Sixten Ivarsson's workshop and W.Ø. Larsen, and how he met his late wife Bonnie. While he was at Sixten's, she worked across the street as an interior decorator, and the two storefronts faced each other, the employees of each able to see one another through the windows. He and Bonnie never officially met during that period, but they had seen each other. It wasn't until after Jess returned from mandatory military service that they spoke. Upon returning to Copenhagen from France, the young Jess visited Sixten's workshop once more and ran into Bonnie as she left her job for the day. Now officially introduced, he asked her on a date, beginning a relationship that would see them married and traveling to pipe shows around the world. Jess would later learn that the day they met had been Bonnie's final day at the shop across from Sixten's. Had they not planned a date, he likely wouldn't have seen her again. It seemed fate and serendipity were on their side. In 2006, though, Bonnie became gravely ill, and Jess stepped away from pipe making to care for her until she passed six years later. She was always interested in the pipes he made, offering admiration and constructive criticism, and Jess continues to honor that influence, with pictures of Bonnie keeping him company in the shop as he works.
Jess was one of four students of Sixten Ivarsson, and the only surviving member of the group, which included Jørn Micke, Bo Nordh, and Sixten's son Lars. Though they're all counted among Sixten's direct "disciples," they never all worked together at the same time, and Jess recounted a particularly special time in 1994 when all four were together — the only instance in history. René Wagner, the manager and owner of the Tabak-Lädeli pipe shop in Zürich, Switzerland, was hosting an event to celebrate the shop's Golden Jubilee, and having sold Micke, Chonowitsch, Ivarsson, and Nordh pipes, as well as knowing all four men personally, René asked if they could make an appearance at the anniversary celebration. It took some convincing, but the four of them met in Zürich at Wagner's shop, marking one of the greatest reunions in pipe-making history.
Jess was one of four students of Sixten Ivarsson
Nostalgia and wisdom defined much of our conversation with Jess, and he reflects fondly on his early days as a carver and the growth he witnessed and participated in to further artisan pipe-making across the globe. His workshop could well be considered the Platonic ideal of a pipe maker's workshop, balancing the necessary tools and organization with a distinct warmth and coziness — hygge — that reflect the care and passion through which he crafts all his pipes.
For me personally, this trip embodied the aspects that make the pipe-making and pipe-collecting community the unique and united body that it is, one that appreciates relationships as much as the craft itself. On a practical level, experiencing these workshops reinforced the fact that being a pipe maker requires skills and creativity beyond simply designing a shape and carving briar; a pipe maker must also develop their own tools and processes, single-handedly creating a space that best facilitates their pipe making. Beyond that, though, visiting their workshops and seeing these pipe makers in their natural element put their work into context. It gave insight into the people behind the pipes and who they are beyond pipe makers, putting faces to the names and work of people I'd only written about before now. Their workshops, homes, and generous hospitality personified this Danish ideal of hygge, and it's an ideal I think the entire pipe community values and embodies, even if we don't all speak Danish. Danish is a tricky language from an English-speaking perspective; thank goodness it isn't a prerequisite for appreciating Danish pipes.
Tagged in: Former Jess Chonowitsch Nanna Ivarsson Neerup Nording Peter Heding Tom Eltang Winslow