I prefer Nørding pipes.
There, I said it- a bland statement using hopelessly out-of-date verbiage that calls to mind the predilections of authoritative mansplainers circa 1953 or 1954. I’m not trying to fool you into thinking I’m anyone but another idiot on the internet, though, so I’ll revise my statement:
I really, really like Nørding pipes!
A cheap Nørding – an Erik The Red that’s perfect for the pipe-smoking breadwinner who wants some extra pep in their step and some style in their mile- was the first pipe I reviewed here. Today, I want to talk about two more that, while sharing a common lineage, couldn’t be more different.
Or could they?
I own six Nørdings, including the Erik The Red. The first pipe of today’s chat is my Nørding Extra Smooth Paneled Bent Dublin, graded 3 out of 3. It’s the worst Nørding Extra money can buy! That said, it’s still a phenomenally-solid, premium, pipe.
Erik Nørding’s Extra series of pipes is inspired by patterns seen in nature. Aside from the obvious grain of the briar, the most striking component of the pipes tends to be their accent rings, which are made of palm, bamboo, nuts, and tropical seeds, along with other exotic materials. Extra pipes also tend to feature brightly-colored stems and a variety of finishes. Graded in descending order from 3 to 1 depending on the grain of the briar, Nørding Extras sell new for around $200, though they can generally be found from online retailers like SmokingPipes in the $165-175 range. I have two Nørding Extras, and they’re among the most expensive pipes I own.
Two we’ll discuss today is a partially-rusticated version I picked up for $147 from SmokingPipes, where I’m admittedly a Silver VIP member though I get no kickbacks for what I write here. Although the briar is of high enough grade to become part of this line, its lower level within the series is immediately evident due to the rustication at the heel of the pipe that extends to the lower third of the bowl. Rustication is a technique that’s normally used to save a less-than-perfect chunk of briar by obliterating its flaws, and the mottled rustication of this Extra terminates in channels at the stem and bowl. The carving is very similar to that found on his inexpensive Erik The Red series of pipes, at least compared to my own straight Billiard I’ve bleated on about already.
snobs people frown on rusticated pipes, preferring to appreciate the natural beauty of the briar’s grain. I chalk it up to personal preference: I like the visual and tactile intrigue it often provides, and it can turn an otherwise inexpensive pipe like my Erik The Red into something compelling. The rustication of this grade 3 Extra blends almost unobtrusively into the grain of the pipe’s bowl and transition and gives me something to grip when I’m smoking.
Admittedly, one side of the pipe’s bowl shows some great flame grain, while the other is humdrum. I don’t mind that one bit!
The top of this bowl features plateaux, or the exposed exterior of the briar burl. Plateaux briar is generally more sought-after by pipe makers than pieces called eubachons that are closer to the heartwood, because the grain pattern is more consistent as the briar grows outwards. Indeed, about 75% of the pipe’s bowl features an impressive flame grain that seems to radiate and rise from the rustication.
The bottom of the pipe’s shank is circularly stamped “NORDING(c) MADE IN DEMARK” surrounding the 3 that denotes the pipe’s grade. The shank itself terminates in an accent of what I believe to be cross-cut black palm sandwiched between two rings of black acrylic. The mouthpiece is acrylic and ranges in color from amber to a sunny yellow.
A word about grading: Traditionally, Nørding’s various lines of pipes have been graded all sorts of contradictory ways. Today, the pipes of the firm’s handmade series are graded in ascending order from 11 to 30, while the Extra series is graded in descending order from 3 to 1. Those are the two systems I care about because the pipes I have belong to both offerings.
The second Nørding Extra I picked up is very similar to the first: It’s an estate pipe and I purchased it for $150, but it’s a grade 1 and features a black, vulcanite stem instead of the sunny acrylic. The grain is better, though -spoiler alert- they smoke the same, coming from someone who likes gas station coffee from Meijer as much as I do something concocted in a French press by some asshole.
Though Nørding made his money by carving wacky, fantastical freehand pipes in the 70s and 80s, I don’t really own one (more on that another time) as I’m not Gandalf, and I’m not remotely Danish to boot. But these Extras are intriguing and, to me, represent the best of both worlds in a marriage of Erik’s heritage with more traditional shapes, particularly, the bent Dublin.
Before we move on: $150 is a lot for a pipe. I’ve spent that much on pipes only four times, but it has been worth it. If you’re interested, the most expensive Nørding on SmokingPipes right now is a grade-18 (said to be handmade by Erik Nørding himself at that number and upwards, according to yet another grading scale) Handmade Smooth Bent Dublin with a suggested retail price of $626. If you want to cash in all your chips, it will run you about five hundred bucks; if the link’s broken the pipe has been sold. I refuse to spend that much, so I won’t have been the one to have bought it out from under you.
The second pipe we’re going to talk about is at the other end of the spectrum that Nørding offers, and its called the Compass. Here it is:
These can be had for as low as $47.00 as an unstained briar bowl surrounded by a metal enclosure with an aluminum bit and a mouthpiece of some sort of cheap plastic. Early on in my reemergence into this hobby, I bought my brother a $47 orange Compass so he’d be compelled to smoke with me occasionally. Once we did, I was intrigued with its scaled-down Danish modern style, so I later bought a rusticated version for myself for just a hair over fifty dollars.
John whipped his out as I smoked the Erik The Red and some differences were soon noted, tobacco and lighting method all the same: The Compass was prone to a bit of gurgle compared to the Erik The Red, and it seemed to burn a little hotter. I don’t know jack about the science or heat dissipation of coating a briar bowl in some type of cheap metal, but I’ll happily chalk up the difference in heat transfer to the $20 or so difference in their cost. After the pipe cooled, the stem of John’s compass seemed a little loose despite the fact that he hadn’t fiddled with it while it was hot. This would be a deal-breaker if it were a more expensive piece.
A few weeks later, John’s schedule worked out with mine and we smoked again, me with my rusticated $50 Compass and he with his American-made, $170 freehand churchwarden made by J.M. Boswell. I, too, experienced some gurgle, but though the smoke was warm, it wasn’t unpleasant and didn’t impact the tobacco, which was a Boswell aromatic called Majestic 586. Aromatics -cased tobaccos with flavoring applied to them- are notorious for encouraging hot smokes, but the Compass took it all in stride.
Aesthetically, the Compass is interesting- mine a little more than John’s. Here’s a rusticated bowl that almost looks sandblasted, connected to a metal rod that you stuff in your mouth. It’s a horrible Freudian theory, but an intriguing juxtaposition! A closer look at the briar reveals why many of these are sheathed in metal, though: There are pits galore! A Nørding Extra would never feature such crappy wood, but the pipe plays its cards right in this cheap setting and comes out a winner. I’d much rather have this than a shitty Dr. Grabow or Medico.
At eighty-two, Erik Nørding is fond of saying his least-expensive pipes all smoke as well as his prized, handmade heirlooms. I have found that to generally be the case, though it’s worth stating that a pipe with a wider bowl and thicker wood will probably out-smoke one that’s more narrow. I’ve found that here, but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend one of his Compass pipes for a newbie, especially if it was considered next to something at a tobacco store in a blister pack. Beyond the Compass, I’d again recommend the Erik The Red Series, but the Compasses have a unique flavor all their own, especially with their MacArthur sub-brand that includes a long stem and a taller bowl. My advice to you: Get a pipe that comes in a pipe sock, for God’s sake! The price is secondary, and Nørding has proven that cost is just a number.
My Extra pipes are just that- extra. But if the top of Nørding’s line coincides so well with his bottom-level pipes, they’re a good bet- even if they’re a bit much for a pipe-smoking breadwinner.