I like Nørding pipes for three reasons: They smoke well, they look cool, and Erik Nørding is a badass. What other pipe maker have you heard of that manufacturers and sells his own bobblehead pipe stand? I bought a Nørding signature just to give mine some company.
It’s been a while since I’ve talked about pipes in general, and Nørding in specific. Some history: The son of a factory owner, Erik Nørding originally trained as a blacksmith before graduating from engineering school in the 1950s. A pipe-smoker from the age of 15, Nørding teamed up with a craftsman named Skovbo to create a line of pipes called SON, which was an acronym for their names.
After Skovbo left the partnership in the mid 1960s, Nørding renamed the company after himself. His freehand pipes -a hand-carved style that defies any typical shape chart- became hugely popular in the 1970s and 80s. Around the new millennium, Nørding and a team of six made about 15,000 pipes per year in a workshop in the lower level of his home. Today, most of the brand’s production is outsourced, but Erik himself makes some of the brand’s high-grade handmade pipes, which are all entirely out of my budget.
I own six Nørding pipes, from his ultra-utilitarian Compass poker to several from the brand’s handmade Extra series that feature exotic materials in their stems. The first new-to-me pipe I bought was a straight billiard from Nørding’s inexpensive Erik The Red series. Whether made by machine, crafted by hand, or some combination of the two, Nørding pipes just flat-out smoke well.
That brings us to the Seagull.
Every year since 1995, it’s tradition that Nørding produces a series of “Hunting” pipes inspired by the shape and color of wild animals. I’d love nothing more than to have one of his elephant or zebra pipes! The seagull, thankfully, is not part of that series, but it I wouldn’t mind helping make a case for it as a surprising amount of of those noisy, dirty fuckers fly over landlocked, midwestern Muncie, Indiana where I live.
At any rate, I better describe my Seagull before I bust out my trusty Ithaca 38 pump-action and violate the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918: My Nørding Seagull is a big pipe. It’s 6.72 inches long and weighs 2.7 ounces. The bowl’s just over 2.25 inches tall, and the chamber’s 1.78 inches with a diameter of .86 inches. That’s 4.28 cubic inches of tobacco to stuff down in there! It’s no Boswell jumbo sitter, but holy shit that lends itself to a lengthy smoke! In terms of shape, SmokingPipes (where I purchased this back in February for $92.48 with a 5% discount) calls it a bent brandy, but your mileage will almost certainly vary since it’s got a ton of plateaux on top and is more, to my eye, a freehand than anything.
SmokingPipe’s Andrew Wike described my exact pipe as follows: “Jet-black stains and a spot rustication of virgin briar is the overarching theme of Nørding’s Seagull series — a line inspired, quite obviously, by the bird itself.”
Generally, spot-rustication is used to hide a specific flaw in the briar. Take this Johs pipe for example, which has quite a lot of it:
It’s not typically used to over an entire stummel of flaws, and, although I see this as probably being a subprime piece of briar due to the dark stain and overarching carving, I wouldn’t call this pipe’s appearance spot-rusticated. I’d call it substantially or fully-rusticated.
That’s not a paean of Nording’s ingenuity. The Nording Seagull is almost certainly a gimmick to use up crappy wood. Right now, SmokingPipes has eleven unique models, all priced the same at $108.80. Thankfully, they’re up-front about taking pictures of each unique pipe, and what I ordered is what I got. I prized the shape of this pipe’s bowl, the rough plateaux on the rim of the bowl, and the way the stem fit into the shank of the stummel. I got the exact Seagull pipe I wanted. That’s much more than can be said for other online pipe vendors.
Someone on a pipe forum suggested that the pipe’s texture reminded them of koi more than the feathers of a bird. Fine! To me, this pipe doesn’t imply feathers nearly so much as it implies cartoonish seagulls flying in formation. Another comment said the carving looks like maggots. I can’t say I disagree- these pipes are aesthetically polarizing.
If you’re on the fence about the Seagull’s styling, check out one of Nording’s Spiral Freehands. They’re about the same size and feature a similar, contrasting finish. They do look less like a flock of seagulls, though; maybe their flowing channels better resemble the ubiquitous haircut that band sported.
I like it, though. To the naysayers, I recommend just buying one and smoking the damn thing. It smoked a bowl of Pirate Kake in it just as superbly as one of Nørding’s higher-end pipes, or a nice Boswell or decent Neerup would have. Despite its unconventional appearance, the thing did its job. I selected this pipe for a purposefully-long smoke and had no issue packing, tamping or re-lighting it. I will always let the pipe do its thing as I drew on it slowly. The result was a great smoke to break in an unusual-looking, polarizing pipe that, from the moment I saw it I knew I needed.
If you’re someone who wants to be different, wants a long smoke, or wants a cheap-ish way to get into Nørding’s freehand pipes, look no further than his Seagull series.