|Jorn Larsen, Toreby
How I became a pipe maker
I'm born the 25. Marts 1949 in a little village 30 miles south of Copenhagen. When I was a boy I was very fond of outdoor activities like playing football and having a lot of fun playing in a big forest close to my home.
When I was 16, a friend and I had a great interest in pipes. We joined a pipe club, and we started to make our own pipes from briar blocks bought in Copenhagen. At that time I worked at a gas station, and sometimes while waiting for the customers, late at night, I had plenty of time for filing and polishing my self-made pipes. I was greatly satisfied with finishing my own pipes for my family, my friends and for myself although when I happen to look at these pipes today, naturally I must smile at the shortcomings of these first attempts in pipe making.
When I finished school at the age of 17, I wanted to work in the mechanics. I therefore was an apprentice to become a locksmith. I finished this education at the age of 21.
But at the same time during these years, I took a very active part in trying to CREATE things in different fields. I made experiments in the art of painting. It was fun, but I didn't become a new Van Gogh. But when I see Van Gogh's many paintings with sunflowers, I feel at tight relationship to his strivings, for in the same way I try to refine my favourite pipe shapes by making them several times.
I also played jazz- and rock music. I was only 15 when I travelled all the way trough Europe to Naples in Italy by train to play there with our jazz band during the summer holidays. In the train I brought with my double bass, which was bigger than me.
Later I played the guitar in a rock group together with my brother, my friend from the pipe club, and several others. I composed quite a lot of tunes myself, and this interest I have followed up since by composing tunes from poetry written by good Danish poets. When the members of a band are able to get the music to "swing", it's a wonderful feeling. My favourite rock group was the English "Ten Years After", but actually ten years after in real life I had chosen another way to get that "swinging" feeling, that is by making pipes.
Already as an apprentice I began to produce special tools for pipe making. I designed and built up a lathe for this purpose. This was the first of many machines that I built for pipe making. However I don't make pipes in the industrial way. The machines only help me making the hard work a little easier, and in the end every single pipe is finished in the handmade way.
Still for me the designing and making machines have an additional meaning being a creative challenge itself. Here of course I take great advantage from my experience in the mechanics.
When I had finished my education in 1970 (21 years old) and subsequently done my military service, I worked as a locksmith for many years. For some years the pipe making nearly stopped, but I developed my skills in the technical area and my interest in good workmanship including a sense of accuracy and perfection. In the course of time I got the opportunity to create machines also in my paid job.
When I was about 30, I came across a block of briar, and I started making pipes again and found great pleasure in it. I also got married at this time with Jane. We have got 2 daughters, Mai (born 1981) and Maria (born 1986).
The pipe club - as I have told you about earlier - had arranged a visit to Emil Chonowitsch. At that time I first had the dream to become a real pipe maker. Later - about 1985 - I visited him for the second time, this time in order to show him some pipes from my own hand. In this way I happened to get in contact with his son, Jess, who needed some special tools for pipe making. This was the beginning of a cooperation - and friendship, with Jess and his wife Bonnie, which has lasted ever since. I was lucky that he and his father could make good use of my technical skills at this time 15 years ago, for I must say that I have taken great advantage from their great knowledge of the briar.
In the time following my meeting with Jess I, made some semi-manufactured articles for Stanwell. I mounted silver rings, bamboo and horn. Soon I also found customers for my own pipes.
Four years ago my family and I moved to a bigger house in the island of Lolland in the southern part of Denmark. Here we have fitted out a big room as a very nice Workshop for my pipe making. This is really a fulfilling of the dream of working as a pipe maker in fine and beautiful surroundings.
As I said earlier I like to refine a certain type of pipe by trying to make it better all the time. I may make about 4 - 5 pieces of a shape I like. Maybe the bending should be a little longer or a little deeper, or the neck should be shorter etc.
I think the briar with its fine grain is very exciting to work with. It is always a challenge and deeply satisfying if you can get the shape and the structure of the wood to form a synthesis. I use briar from Greece and Corsica.
I make about 400 pipes a year, about 10 light flame, about 90 orange, about 150 red smooth and about 150 brown and black sandblasted, which I sell in Japan, Switzerland and USA. This year I will try to sell my pipes in Germany, which means that I have to make more 9mm filter pipes. A little part of the pipes I sent to Switzerland is 9 mm filter pipes.
If I make several pipes of the same shape, I have the opportunity to make them on a machine I have built myself. Otherwise the pipes will be hand-turned or make in the freehand way. All my pipes are finished in the hand made way. The retail prices for these pipes are from about 1.500,00 DKr 4.000,00 DKr.
The material of the mouthpiece I use for my pipes is mostly black ebonite, but I also use Cumberland and cultured amber. For the rings the material is Silver, Boxwood, Horn and cultured amber.
I am an A-person getting up early in the morning. I take a look out across the fields, and I listen to the birds' singing while remembering earlier times when the nature meant a lot to me too. I'm filled with joy as I get to work in my workshop thinking about what a privilege it is to work with, what you like most of all.
It's not that pipe making can't be a hard job. It certainly can, but in the end you are rewarded by looking at, touching, and holding the result of all your energies in your hand: The finished pipe.
Thank you for your time,