Tonni Nielsen – Learn why this Danish Freehand Masters Innovative Techniques make him one of the Most Diverse Pipe Makers in the World today.

Tonni Nielsen – Learn why this Danish Freehand Masters Innovative Techniques make him one of the Most Diverse Pipe Makers in the World today.

You remember the type of guy in high school who was not very talkative? The kind of guy who kept mostly to himself. Quietly walking through the halls. You’d notice that guy in class ever so often but you never really interacted with him that much. He probably also hung out at the edge of the school property during breaks with a small circle of like-minded friends. He was the type of guy who didn’t advertise himself in any sort of loud way. There was one thing about him though that was always a little intriguing. He always had this half-smile permanently etched onto his face. As if he knew something more than the rest of us and it was this knowledge that shielded him from the ill’s of society & somehow made him immune to them. Back then the ‘social ill’s’ were peer pressure, high school scandals and all the silly things that we embroiled ourselves in when we were young. This type of guy never took part in any of that stuff. That half-smile he always carried exuded this air of confidence and somehow it stimulated your thoughts about him and made you wonder who he was & what was he all about. This in my opinion, briefly begins to draw the personal outline of Tonni Nielsen, one of the greatest freehand artisans practicing the Danish style of the craft.

Tonni Nielsen – A variation on a Horn shape. Notice the soft lines throughout the entire piece. The briar is perfectly organic, even the rim is rounded. No hard lines to be found. The stem, notice how it’s shape interacts with the briar.

Tonni Nielsen – A near Full Bent Acorn Bamboo piece. From a bamboo collector’s perspective, this piece exudes utter perfection. It’s simplicity is it’s strength. Simple elegance speaking loud volumes.

Tonni Nielsen – A Bent Billiard/Brandy. A classical shape with the added twist of a variation on a diamond shank. Exceptional.

Tonni Nielsen – A Freehand shape that highlights the great attention to detail that Tonni brings to his work. Notice again the stem, connected with an added element of briar & the ebonite itself, the little wave at the front, interacting with the rear end wave in the shank.

These first 4 images of 4 random pipes highlight the immense variety in Tonni’s work as well as his care & attention to detail with regards to a complete pipe. Every square centimeter of the piece receives so much of his artistic attention.

His first few years in pipes were fully forged in the thought of classical shapes.

Tonni’s pipe life started with sweeping the floors at the old W.O. Larsen Pipe Factory in Denmark. Back then he was just an absolutely baby like16 years of age. To his most amazing luck, he was under the watchful of the factory floor manager who was none other than the amazing Hans ‘Former’ Nielsen.

The factory floor, where Tonni first started was a place where they would focus on one particular shape for as long as it took to fill the order. The same shape, in and out, over and over and over. It was during this time that Tonni learned everything there was to know about the classical shapes. When you make 100 billiards in a row and do the same thing over and over with each and every shape on the classical shape chart, you get a strong sense of comprehension in the basic’s of pipe design. It is without a doubt that these first few years were critical in his initial development. Understanding the pipe craft by way of learning it’s essential and most basic forms gave Tonni the foundation that any pipe maker needs in order to find their voice and eventually grow.

Tonni Nielsen – A half bent Dublin variation. Ignoring the beautiful accents throughout this pipe, both on the bowl rim and the pleasant stem bubble, a classical shape executed with precision. All the extra’s are a big bonus to this piece.

Tonni Nielsen – A half bent Dublin variation. Ignoring the beautiful accents throughout this pipe, both on the bowl rim and the pleasant stem bubble, a classical shape executed with precision. All the extra’s are a big bonus to this piece.

While it was a fantastic learning experience to make factory pipes and to be tutored by Former, the factory floor had one drawback in that there was absolutely no creative freedom in this department. Any factory setting is designed to be repetitive and very rigid in terms of the general goals. Make as many of the same shape as you can, as fast as you can & repeat.

Tonni Nielsen – Can there be a more perfect representation of a Bent Brandy? The ferrule, both in color and visual texture, was selected as the perfect match to the stain and the overall piece.

Tonni Nielsen – Can there be a more perfect representation of a Bent Brandy? The ferrule, both in color and visual texture, was selected as the perfect match to the stain and the overall piece.

Tonni Nielsen – Can there be a more perfect representation of a Bent Brandy? The ferrule, both in color and visual texture, was selected as the perfect match to the stain and the overall piece.

Within the walls of the big W.O. Larsen factory, there was however a department that did focus on creativity. It was upstairs and manned by none other than Teddy Knudsen. The moment that Tonni met Teddy and Tonni learned what it was that Teddy was working on all day long, freehand pipes, Tonni was completely hooked. Tonni was fascinated with idea of freehand pipe making. To be able to make whatever you liked as best you could, what could be better for someone with Tonni’s spirit? This was pure freedom when compared to the work he had to do on the pipe factory floor.

Tonni Nielsen – A quarter Bent Apple variation. Even when the overall piece is rooted in a classical shape concept, Tonni cannot help but add something wonderful, fantastic & different to the piece. Tonni enjoys the fun that comes from a diamond shank. Not an easy shank to execute but Tonni does it with masterful skill and a Classic shape gets a serious upgrade through added visual interest.

Tonni Nielsen – A quarter Bent Apple variation. Even when the overall piece is rooted in a classical shape concept, Tonni cannot help but add something wonderful, fantastic & different to the piece. Tonni enjoys the fun that comes from a diamond shank. Not an easy shank to execute but Tonni does it with masterful skill and a Classic shape gets a serious upgrade through added visual interest.

It soon became Tonni’s mission to leave the factory production floor and to somehow make his way into Teddy’s upstairs department. Whenever possible, Tonni would sneak up and go spend time with Teddy. Most often these ‘not allowed to leave your job post’ excursions upstairs, occurred when Former, still the factory manager, would have to step out of the building for a meeting or some other business. With Former out of sight you could be sure to find the sneaky Tonni heading upstairs to Teddy.

Tonni Nielsen – An expressive Bent Egg variation. Look at that beautiful shank to stem connection. Flawless beauty. Attention to detail. Another diamond shank interpretation turns this classic concept into a new form of expression. Visually follow the line from the bottom of the bowl & up and then around the shank and back down again. Thoughtful beauty applied to a Traditional shape.

Tonni Nielsen – An expressive Bent Egg variation. Look at that beautiful shank to stem connection. Flawless beauty. Attention to detail. Another diamond shank interpretation turns this classic concept into a new form of expression. Visually follow the line from the bottom of the bowl & up and then around the shank and back down again. Thoughtful beauty applied to a Traditional shape.

Tonni Nielsen – An expressive Bent Egg variation. Look at that beautiful shank to stem connection. Flawless beauty. Attention to detail. Another diamond shank interpretation turns this classic concept into a new form of expression. Visually follow the line from the bottom of the bowl & up and then around the shank and back down again. Thoughtful beauty applied to a Traditional shape.

Tonni & Teddy began to spend a lot of time together. Very quickly there after, Tonni and Teddy’s friendship began to blossom. I don’t know the exact amount of nagging that Tonni put onto Former with requesting that he be allowed to go work with Teddy in the freehand department upstairs but eventually Former succumbed. The nagging worked and Former let Tonni go upstairs to start full-time work with Teddy.

To this day Tonni credits much of his time with Former on the factory floor for instilling a good work ethic and a strong focus on the classical side of pipe shaping.

Tonni Nielsen – A Bulldog variation with a faceted shank and of course, his gentle touch of Freehand work making this classic shape carry additional appeal. Adding to a traditional shape is so difficult and Tonni does it consistently with the greatest of ease.

Tonni Nielsen – A Bulldog variation with a faceted shank and of course, his gentle touch of Freehand work making this classic shape carry additional appeal.Adding to a traditional shape is so difficult and Tonni does it consistently with the greatest of ease.

Tonni Nielsen – A Bulldog variation with a faceted shank and of course, his gentle touch of Freehand work making this classic shape carry additional appeal. The soft way that Tonni applies his freehand ideas is so pleasant to see. Adding to a traditional shape is so difficult and Tonni does it consistently with the greatest of ease.

Tonni & Teddy together

Tonni & Teddy are both very similar souls. Both rebellious yet at the same time very kind. They both adore nature & feel compelled to be inspired & excited by it. I guess that rebellious & fun free-spirits was a decent definition for these two back then and even to a great extent can be used to define them today as well. Yes, these two have remained very consistent over their lives. Conforming to a system was not on their agenda then and they definitely do not follow the rest of the crowd today as well. They walk their own paths and this contributes in a great way to their individual success today.

Tonni Nielsen being Tonni Nielsen. There’s that half smile I was talking about at the beginning. Relaxed, happy, mellow and most of all content. Tonni’s most pleasant soul on display in this image. Even his hands exude his content state of mind. Through and through, Tonni is a special one.

The fact that Tonni, who is a Dane, married the beautiful Barbara, an American & has been raising his family in the USA only highlights his non-conformist spirit. Tonni goes where the wind takes him. Not where society tells him to go.

Tonni Nielsen – This work is about 10 years old. The furthest back I will go when showing his pipes in this article. Even a decade ago you still see the same spirit we have been describing. This freehand Calabash variation is so clean, so simple and it’s lines are just perfect. The stem once again does the job of carrying the whole design forward & providing a completeness to the pipe.

Back to pipes. Working now in the freehand pipe department, Tonni & Teddy had a bi-weekly quota of 18 pipes. As long as they were able to complete that number, they were in the clear. So…if for example a one hour lunch break turned into a 3 or 4 hour affair, with a few detours to the bar’s to enjoy a beer or two, perhaps playing a few rounds of billiard’s, looking at the pretty Danish girls in the park, well, this was a common occurrence with Tonni & Teddy. They would come back to the factory and no matter how many wagging fingers Former would send their way, Tonni & Teddy would point to the quota and their finished production. No matter how much fun Tonni & Teddy had together while working both in the shop and outside of it, they always had their eye on the responsibility of their job & they always completed their required task.

Spending so much time with Teddy, quite naturally Tonni’s creative mind blossomed. Obviously Tonni and his natural way of being himself was already creative, even without Teddy. Tonni had always been in awe of and inspired by nature & in general, Tonni had an innate desire to not only be different but to do things different. Working with Teddy though was a catalyst for his internal spark to ignite even brighter. The timing that Tonni chose to get into freehand pipes could not have been better. You have to take note that as Tonni & Teddy began their relationship in the mid 1970’s, this was the very time of Preben Holm and some of the more unique looking Danish Freehand shapes. That period then is still considered today to be one of the greatest influencers on the overall Danish Freehand Movement.

Tonni Nielsen – A uniquely well balanced freehand sitter. This pipe contains the now easily recognizable bowl rim treatment that has been hypnotizing pipe collectors since we first saw it applied a few years ago. Tonni puts the most beautiful & unique top of bowl / rim treatment that any of us have ever seen. The rim is a combination of briar plateaux and birds-eye. The results are out of this world visual fun. Tonni creates the most amazing contrast in one of the most visually exciting places on the pipe. Your eyes simply cannot look away. The difficulty in placing this treatment in this location cannot be understated. Imagine the sanding process involved to execute this design idea. Incredibly difficult to say the least. The results however have amazed all that have seen it.

Tonni Nielsen – A uniquely well balanced freehand sitter. This pipe contains the now easily recognizable bowl rim treatment that has been hypnotizing pipe collectors since we first saw it applied a few years ago. Tonni puts the most beautiful & unique top of bowl / rim treatment that any of us have ever seen. The rim is a combination of briar plateaux and birds-eye. The results are out of this world visual fun. Tonni creates the most amazing contrast in one of the most visually exciting places on the pipe. Your eyes simply cannot look away. The difficulty in placing this treatment in this location cannot be understated. Imagine the sanding process involved to execute this design idea. Incredibly difficult to say the least. The results however have amazed all that have seen it.

Tonni Nielsen – A uniquely well balanced freehand sitter. This pipe contains the now easily recognizable bowl rim treatment that has been hypnotizing pipe collectors since we first saw it applied a few years ago. Tonni puts the most beautiful & unique top of bowl / rim treatment that any of us have ever seen. The rim is a combination of briar plateaux and birds-eye. The results are out of this world visual fun. Tonni creates the most amazing contrast in one of the most visually exciting places on the pipe. Your eyes simply cannot look away. The difficulty in placing this treatment in this location cannot be understated. Imagine the sanding process involved to execute this design idea. Incredibly difficult to say the least. The results however have amazed all that have seen it.

Tonni is Immensely Diverse & that is an Under Statement

In my personal view, Tonni Nielsen is one of the greatest Danish Freehand Designer for this very specific reason I am about to explain. If you took 20 of his pipes and laid them all out on the table. The degree of variance or the level of difference between any two pipes you pick up, is enormous. It is this high degree of dynamic variation that makes his overall body of work stand out. In this specific realm that I just outlined, Tonni is virtually all alone in that class. He is basically by himself. Very few pipe makers have the range that Tonni has. Tonni tackles each and every shape, both freehand and classical, sometimes combining elements of both and he does this in so much of his work. It truly is a great feat.

 

Tonni Nielsen – A Bent Billiard freehand variation. Let’s focus on the stem as it is so pronounced. Tonni elongated the stem and thus increased the overall line from under the bowl to the stem’s tip. Look at it’s length, it is huge. Notice how the overall feeling is not felt that way. The length Tonni chose feels sensible, it feels natural. Another great example of Tonni’s freehand style expressing itself in a very subtle but highly elegant way.

Tonni Nielsen – A Bent Billiard freehand variation. Let’s focus on the stem as it is so pronounced. Tonni elongated the stem and thus increased the overall line from under the bowl to the stem’s tip. Look at it’s length, it is huge. Notice how the overall feeling is not felt that way. The length Tonni chose feels sensible, it feels natural. Another great example of Tonni’s freehand style expressing itself in a very subtle but highly elegant way.

Tonni Nielsen – A Bent Billiard freehand variation. Let’s focus on the stem as it is so pronounced. Tonni elongated the stem and thus increased the overall line from under the bowl to the stem’s tip. Look at it’s length, it is huge. Notice how the overall feeling is not felt that way. The length Tonni chose feels sensible, it feels natural. Another great example of Tonni’s freehand style expressing itself in a very subtle but highly elegant way.

Why does this enormous diversity naturally occur in Tonni’s work? In my mind it is essentially because Tonni is very comfortable with the idea of exploring and it is through his exploration that Tonni is able to encounter a vast variety of new ideas and he is therefore exposed to a high number of new design concepts. Pretty simple.

Tonni Nielsen – This pipe exudes a classic Danish feeling. A simple design but as usual, Tonni has expressed it in a very elegant way.

Tonni Nielsen – This pipe exudes a classic Danish feeling. A simple design but as usual, Tonni has expressed it in a very elegant way.

Tonni Nielsen – This pipe exudes a classic Danish feeling. A simple design but as usual, Tonni has expressed it in a very elegant way.

Couple that exploring attitude together with Tonni’s fantastic talent for high precision finishing, the combination is untouchable. You cannot ask for anything more from a pipe maker.

Looking deeper inside his design you see that Tonni understands lines like few pipe makers do. That is why he is able to easily incorporate some of his more ‘unique ideas’ so well. Make no doubt about it, it is very difficult to merge a novel idea into a classical shape and to have the end result not be a loud and annoying eye sore that sticks out. We do not see that eyesore effect in Tonni’s work, rather quite the opposite. He masterfully blends his new ideas into the shape and the result is an overall enhanced pipe.

Tonni Nielsen – I adore this pipe because it combines so many of the unique elements that express Tonni’s work. A classic Bent Billiard taken to a new and wonderful place. The first thing to look at is the depressed dimple on one side of the bowl. The overall appearance is as if the briar is a pliable material and Tonni took his thumb and gently pressed in & down on this part of the pipe. The underside of the pipe is a world in it’s own. Again the depressed lines concept is flowing throughout this area and up through the shank and onto the stem. The treatment of the shank to stem connection is a piece of art all it’s own as well. A fantastic piece of smokable pipe art.

Tonni Nielsen – I adore this pipe because it combines so many of the unique elements that express Tonni’s work. A classic Bent Billiard taken to a new and wonderful place. The first thing to look at is the depressed dimple on one side of the bowl. The overall appearance is as if the briar is a pliable material and Tonni took his thumb and gently pressed in & down on this part of the pipe. The underside of the pipe is a world in it’s own. Again the depressed lines concept is flowing throughout this area and up through the shank and onto the stem. The treatment of the shank to stem connection is a piece of art all it’s own as well. A fantastic piece of smokable pipe art.

Tonni Nielsen – I adore this pipe because it combines so many of the unique elements that express Tonni’s work. A classic Bent Billiard taken to a new and wonderful place. The first thing to look at is the depressed dimple on one side of the bowl. The overall appearance is as if the briar is a pliable material and Tonni took his thumb and gently pressed in & down on this part of the pipe. The underside of the pipe is a world in it’s own. Again the depressed lines concept is flowing throughout this area and up through the shank and onto the stem. The treatment of the shank to stem connection is a piece of art all it’s own as well. A fantastic piece of smokable pipe art.

Tonni Nielsen – I adore this pipe because it combines so many of the unique elements that express Tonni’s work. A classic Bent Billiard taken to a new and wonderful place. The first thing to look at is the depressed dimple on one side of the bowl. The overall appearance is as if the briar is a pliable material and Tonni took his thumb and gently pressed in & down on this part of the pipe. The underside of the pipe is a world in it’s own. Again the depressed lines concept is flowing throughout this area and up through the shank and onto the stem. The treatment of the shank to stem connection is a piece of art all it’s own as well. A fantastic piece of smokable pipe art.

Tonni also fully comprehends the concept of being subtle. Overly loud is not a term you will ever use to describe his pipe design. Tonni’s ‘design sense’ is truly out of this world. He feels design incredibly well. He knows what will work and what does not. Truly rare qualities in a pipe maker.

Tonni Nielsen – The shape is called the Burning Flame. It speaks for itself but again notice the details on this piece. The two flame ends are perfectly in sync and placed so close together. The difficulty in shaping this is unimaginable. Once again the stem adornment is the perfect selection. A small rounded piece of horn provides the perfect accent to the overall pipe.

Tonni Nielsen – The shape is called the Burning Flame. It speaks for itself but again notice the details on this piece. The two flame ends are perfectly in sync and placed so close together. The difficulty in shaping this is unimaginable. Once again the stem adornment is the perfect selection. A small rounded piece of horn provides the perfect accent to the overall pipe.

Tonni Nielsen – The shape is called the Burning Flame. It speaks for itself but again notice the details on this piece. The two flame ends are perfectly in sync and placed so close together. The difficulty in shaping this is unimaginable. Once again the stem adornment is the perfect selection. A small rounded piece of horn provides the perfect accent to the overall pipe.

Tonni Nielsen – The shape is called the Burning Flame. It speaks for itself but again notice the details on this piece. The two flame ends are perfectly in sync and placed so close together. The difficulty in shaping this is unimaginable. Once again the stem adornment is the perfect selection. A small rounded piece of horn provides the perfect accent to the overall pipe.

We haven’t spent much time talking about the briar but from these pictures it is clear that Tonni’s understanding of it & how to maximize the visual use of it is incredibly high. He strategically places either the straight grain, the birds-eye or the plateaux in exactly the spot that he imagines. You get the feeling that somehow Tonni has some connection with the briar.

Tonni Nielsen beside a briar bush in the mountains of Italy.

Tonni Nielsen – An uppercut Danish freehand egg variation. I don’t even need to write and you can see the perfection that Tonni finds. The fact that he is comfortable to use an acrylic stem whenever the design calls for it is another testament to Tonni and his need to follow his heart rather than any other opinion. Enjoy looking at this fantastic piece.

Tonni Nielsen – An uppercut Danish freehand egg variation. I don’t even need to write and you can see the perfection that Tonni finds. The fact that he is comfortable to use an acrylic stem whenever the design calls for it is another testament to Tonni and his need to follow his heart rather than any other opinion. Enjoy looking at this fantastic piece.

Tonni Nielsen – An uppercut Danish freehand egg variation. I don’t even need to write and you can see the perfection that Tonni finds. The fact that he is comfortable to use an acrylic stem whenever the design calls for it is another testament to Tonni and his need to follow his heart rather than any other opinion. Enjoy looking at this fantastic piece.

Tonni Nielsen – An uppercut Danish freehand egg variation. I don’t even need to write and you can see the perfection that Tonni finds. The fact that he is comfortable to use an acrylic stem whenever the design calls for it is another testament to Tonni and his need to follow his heart rather than any other opinion. Enjoy looking at this fantastic piece.

Tonni Nielsen – An uppercut Danish freehand egg variation. I don’t even need to write and you can see the perfection that Tonni finds. The fact that he is comfortable to use an acrylic stem whenever the design calls for it is another testament to Tonni and his need to follow his heart rather than any other opinion. Enjoy looking at this fantastic piece.

Put all these factors together and you start to see why we see such an enormous amount of variation in his work. This high degree of final presentation options is an amazing asset. While there are many great and truly amazing Danish Freehand artisan’s, there are few who come close to Tonni in this very specific criteria. To define the specifics that separate him even more, it is all of these outlined design elements occurring within the foundation of Danish freehand thought. This is how Tonni stands out amongst his peers.

 

The Complete & Whole Pipe

Tonni was one of the first pipe makers within whose work I noticed a strong design focus that flowed throughout the entire pipe. What does this mean? That not only does an artisan like Tonni give great and immense attention to the briar itself but also to the other parts of the pipe, most notably the easily forgotten stem. In Tonni’s pipes you can see that the stem is in fact playing a key role in the entire pipe’s overall design. Whatever the piece of briar is doing, the stem is somehow emulating, adding to & even highlighting what Tonni has done with the block to great effect. The stem becomes a natural extension of the overall design. It is a part of the whole pipe and not considered a separate piece.

Tonni Nielsen – Beautiful Danish freehand accented to perfection with a stem that connects the pipe’s overall expression. The entire piece feels like one focused piece of art. Nothing is disconnected and everything is a part of one whole.

Tonni Nielsen – Beautiful Danish freehand accented to perfection with a stem that connects the pipe’s overall expression. The entire piece feels like one focused piece of art. Nothing is disconnected and everything is a part of one whole.

Tonni Nielsen – Beautiful Danish freehand accented to perfection with a stem that connects the pipe’s overall expression. The entire piece feels like one focused piece of art. Nothing is disconnected and everything is a part of one whole.

Tonni Nielsen – Beautiful Danish freehand accented to perfection with a stem that connects the pipe’s overall expression. The entire piece feels like one focused piece of art. Nothing is disconnected and everything is a part of one whole.

When you notice this in his work, you instantly, once again, feel the immense amount of care and attention that Tonni brings to his pipes. As Tonni himself says: “The stem is extremely important. I have a thing that I live by strictly that you can have a fantastic piece of briar and you’ve made a fantastic shape but you put a lousy stem on it and the briar is ruined. A bad stem ruins the pipe, it ruins the briar, it ruins the whole piece. In fact, you can have a terrible piece of briar and put a great stem on it and you get an overall wonderful pipe. Really, when it comes down to everything, the stem is just as important as any other piece of the briar.”

Another pipe maker who focuses on the stem being a part of the whole design & taking this idea to an entirely different level is Viktor Yashtylov of Russia. You can see his stems and read about them in my ‘Exploring Pipe Evolution Series’ found here.

Tonni Nielsen – His stem work can take an advanced approach where parts of the design are allowed to flow through it as you see in this particular pipe.

Tonni Nielsen – His stem work can take an advanced approach where parts of the design are allowed to flow through it as you see in this particular pipe.

Tonni Nielsen – His stem work can take an advanced approach where parts of the design are allowed to flow through it as you see in this particular pipe.

Tonni Nielsen – His stem work can take an advanced approach where parts of the design are allowed to flow through it as you see in this particular pipe.

I could not agree more and it is a pleasure to see an artisan focus and give birth to ‘completeness’ in the pipe. This element of completeness goes for each square inch of the pipe in Tonni’s work. Where some pipe makers can be satisfied with the rounded elements of the bowl, in Tonni’s work you can find some additional unique applications throughout the bowl. These design concepts extend or connect to a design element in the shank and to see all of the above highlighted in the specific way that he treats the stem, it’s just poerty in front of our eyes. I discuss some of these issue with Tonni and he is genuinely both surprised and happy to see someone take notice of the detailed work that goes into small areas of the pipes he makes. You can find these small design nuances all over his pieces, if you look carefully that is. Once you see them, the more you begin to understand the depth with which Tonni applies design concepts to every part of the entire pipe.

Tonni Nielsen – Conversely, his stems can take the opposite approach and exude a minimalist nature as in this piece. The briar has a very modern, somewhat bulky aesthetic and the stem in this pipe follows the briar’s lead and adds to the overall goal of this pipe. Briar and Stem are balanced in perfect harmony.

Tonni Nielsen – Conversely, his stems can take the opposite approach and exude a minimalist nature as in this piece. The briar has a very modern, somewhat bulky aesthetic and the stem in this pipe follows the briar’s lead and adds to the overall goal of this pipe. Briar and Stem are balanced in perfect harmony.

Tonni Nielsen – Conversely, his stems can take the opposite approach and exude a minimalist nature as in this piece. The briar has a very modern, somewhat bulky aesthetic and the stem in this pipe follows the briar’s lead and adds to the overall goal of this pipe. Briar and Stem are balanced in perfect harmony.

On The Business of Pipes

Quite a few pipe makers have had a lot of “stupid money” thrown at them over the past few years. “Stupid Money” being absolutely insane and out of this world prices that would quite literally make your jaw drop. We have had 7 Day Pipe Sets sell for multiple hundreds of thousands of dollars. Absolutely insane money. Many pipe makers are currently chasing this insane money and good for them. We live in a free market economy and if a pipe maker can sell a pipe for the price of a new car, good for that pipe maker. Tonni however has not followed this path at all. Not in the least. Back to the quiet guy you remember in High School, Tonni simply doesn’t have it in him to partake in that side of capitalism. There is no ‘behind the scenes’ motivation to be like this other than the fact that Tonni’s mellow and relaxed ways do not relate to the idea of chasing the money. Could he be one of those people? Perhaps! Does he, absolutely not.

Tonni Nielsen has always had a way of separating himself from the rest of the crowd & being very comfortable doing it.

Tonni chooses his usual, more casual route and as he explains: “Money is simply not that important for me. My life, my sanity & living the way I want to live, this is what is most important for me.” I have great respect for such an answer because it is this attitude, this mental view, this personal moral perspective which keeps Tonni whole and keeps his work what it is. It’s difficult to explain but Tonni is not able to be that person. Being who he is & what he stands for is critical for Tonni as a human being. You dear reader may be very different. You may blossom while chasing the money & good for you. For Tonni however, it is an ill way that would only lead him down a road of negativity. Therefore he chooses not to follow the money & I am so glad that he does not. If Tonni did choose the money, not only would his soul suffer but so would his work.

Tonni Nielsen at his most relaxed. Tonni has two studio’s to work out of. One in the US and this one which is in Denmark. Each studio has it’s own rhythm to it. The work he produces in one can highly vary from the work he produces in the other. Tonni cannot get away from being affected by his environment. Where ever he is, he soaks up what that environment has to offer and his work responds accordingly.

Tonni Nielsen at his most relaxed. Tonni has two studio’s to work out of. One in the US and this one which is in Denmark. Each studio has it’s own rhythm to it. The work he produces in one can highly vary from the work he produces in the other. Tonni cannot get away from being affected by his environment. Where ever he is, he soaks up what that environment has to offer and his work responds accordingly.

Tonni Nielsen at his most relaxed. Tonni has two studio’s to work out of. One in the US and this one which is in Denmark. Each studio has it’s own rhythm to it. The work he produces in one can highly vary from the work he produces in the other. Tonni cannot get away from being affected by his environment. Where ever he is, he soaks up what that environment has to offer and his work responds accordingly.

On the Sudden Surge of New Pipe Makers

The number of new pipe makers coming onto the market today truly is occurring at a pace that we have never seen before. You can read about this very dramatic & new trend in a past article I wrote called ‘The New Pipe Makers are Coming’ here. There are so many new pipe makers coming in and either chasing the dollars that Tonni ignores or there are the ones truly looking to establish themselves as artisan craftsmen with less ambitious goals in mind. Whatever the motivations are for these new pipe makers, Tonni is of the mind that in order for many of these new craftsmen to succeed, they have to master the Danish Design Aesthetic.

Tonni Nielsen – Another striking piece that has it’s simple elegance leading the way. Simple lines flow throughout the pipe. The stem, as usual, is aiding the overall flow in the entire pipe’s design. If the goal was incredible simple elegance, that goal was definitely achieved.

Tonni is likely correct for the most part. Learning the basic’s, be they from the traditional or Danish school of thought is a need that most people follow. Because of this need to learn an existing design philosophy, we come face to face with the common issue of copying.

Tonni Nielsen – Once again we see a relatively simple shape, an acron with a bamboo stem. Somehow however Tonni manages to take a simple idea and allow it to experience it’s maximum potential. The playful freehand application to the briar itself and specifically the bowl, slightly twisted and off center and a slight drizzle of plateaux on top.

Tonni Nielsen – Once again we see a relatively simple shape, an acron with a bamboo stem. Somehow however Tonni manages to take a simple idea and allow it to experience it’s maximum potential. The playful freehand application to the briar itself and specifically the bowl, slightly twisted and off center and a slight drizzle of plateaux on top.

Tonni Nielsen – Once again we see a relatively simple shape, an acron with a bamboo stem. Somehow however Tonni manages to take a simple idea and allow it to experience it’s maximum potential. The playful freehand application to the briar itself and specifically the bowl, slightly twisted and off center and a slight drizzle of plateaux on top.

Copying another’s work or replicating an idea seen elsewhere in the world is the most natural, most common, constantly occurring phenomena which you will find within any artistic medium. Pipe artisan’s or so-called artisan’s copy what others have previously shown to them will sell. This element of copying, placed inside it’s own specific & unique bubble is natural, normal and just the way things are. A big however though comes from Tonni when he correctly highlights the next step. What is this next step? After all you pipe makers have learned how to copy? Is it not some form of evolution? Taking what you learned with the basic’s and evolving your design expression. Tonni says: “I would still like to see more new pipe makers come up with their own shapes and styles. There are in fact many who are doing this but not enough of them are doing this. The one’s who are doing it though & on top of that, the ones that are doing it well, from those guys I personally feel a lot of pressure. When I see beautiful & unique work it reminds me that I have to continue to improve in my craft to keep my ground so to speak.”

Hearing an absolute Master Artisan like Tonni highlight that there are certain artisan’s out there who put pressure on him is a small wow moment for me. I look at Tonni and see him as untouchable and so unique that he simply has very little to worry about in terms of competition. This is who Tonni is however. His openness to the world & the new ideas it brings reminds him that he himself must keep improving.

 

Tonni Nielsen – Seeing work such as this pipe that is pushing some form of boundary or tackling an extremely difficult design concept is a regular part of his stable. The man is a natural explorer & it drives him to seek out new ways of expressing and utilizing the briar. The most difficult thing for any pipe maker is to not get stuck inside a zone of comfort. Something I hear quite a few very successful pipe makers complain about.

Tonni Nielsen – Seeing work such as this pipe that is pushing some form of boundary or tackling an extremely difficult design concept is a regular part of his stable. The man is a natural explorer & it drives him to seek out new ways of expressing and utilizing the briar. The most difficult thing for any pipe maker is to not get stuck inside a zone of comfort. Something I hear quite a few very successful pipe makers complain about.

Tonni Nielsen – Seeing work such as this pipe that is pushing some form of boundary or tackling an extremely difficult design concept is a regular part of his stable. The man is a natural explorer & it drives him to seek out new ways of expressing and utilizing the briar. The most difficult thing for any pipe maker is to not get stuck inside a zone of comfort. Something I hear quite a few very successful pipe makers complain about.

Tonni Nielsen – Seeing work such as this pipe that is pushing some form of boundary or tackling an extremely difficult design concept is a regular part of his stable. The man is a natural explorer & it drives him to seek out new ways of expressing and utilizing the briar. The most difficult thing for any pipe maker is to not get stuck inside a zone of comfort. Something I hear quite a few very successful pipe makers complain about.

Is Innovation Good for The Pipe Market?

We all know that the vast majority of pipes sold today remain rooted in traditional or classical shapes that were developed many years ago. When I asked Tonni if ‘Innovation is good or bad?’ he responded with: “I think it is very important but you will obviously never get away from the certain amount of people that love classics and there is nothing wrong with that. I myself like classical shapes even though I don’t make that many of them. In general though, you can never be wrong if you are trying to make a difference, trying to develop something new, trying to grow through your own work so that the pipe hobby evolves. Innovation is absolutely great for the pipe market!”

Tonni Nielsen – A pipe that has some unearthly quality to it. Tonni shows us the briar in a new way. Intelligent design in the various parallel effects going on both in the plateaux on the rim as well as the end of the shank. The general balance between bowl & shank is also crucial to the fantastic success of this pipe. The stem is once again working major over time by helping us better see the overall vision for the piece & obviously focusing our attention on key parts. The person who owns this pipe has one of the best Danish Freehand Artisan expressions we have seen in some time.

Tonni Nielsen – A pipe that has some unearthly quality to it. Tonni shows us the briar in a new way. Intelligent design in the various parallel effects going on both in the plateaux on the rim as well as the end of the shank. The general balance between bowl & shank is also crucial to the fantastic success of this pipe. The stem is once again working major over time by helping us better see the overall vision for the piece & obviously focusing our attention on key parts. The person who owns this pipe has one of the best Danish Freehand Artisan expressions we have seen in some time.

Tonni Nielsen – A pipe that has some unearthly quality to it. Tonni shows us the briar in a new way. Intelligent design in the various parallel effects going on both in the plateaux on the rim as well as the end of the shank. The general balance between bowl & shank is also crucial to the fantastic success of this pipe. The stem is once again working major over time by helping us better see the overall vision for the piece & obviously focusing our attention on key parts. The person who owns this pipe has one of the best Danish Freehand Artisan expressions we have seen in some time.

Tonni Nielsen – A pipe that has some unearthly quality to it. Tonni shows us the briar in a new way. Intelligent design in the various parallel effects going on both in the plateaux on the rim as well as the end of the shank. The general balance between bowl & shank is also crucial to the fantastic success of this pipe. The stem is once again working major over time by helping us better see the overall vision for the piece & obviously focusing our attention on key parts. The person who owns this pipe has one of the best Danish Freehand Artisan expressions we have seen in some time.

Throughout our conversation Tonni was reminiscing about the past. On this innovation topic his mind went back several decades and he clarified a few differences to me from how things work today. Tonni said: “Today it’s a little different compared to when I started. A lot of the innovations back then were basically from the mistakes you made. You turned the pipe on the lathe, you made a mistake and in order to cover up the flaw you stuck a piece of horn on it. Sometimes maybe you had made a flat & ugly pipe, a big imperfection came out & then you made a fancy groove to cover it up and voila, something special was now in front of you. In my opinion, imperfection is truly the master of creativity in the pipe business. It is both the source of innovation and the source of a pain in the butt. Almost all the innovations that we see & enjoy today have come from mistakes. Only afterward, when the shape turned out nice and you start to call the shape something, give it a name & suddenly a new concept was born.” Kudos to Tonni for discussing something that many of us already knew but it is not at the fore-front of conversation. Most pipe makers will take credit for innovating where in fact they are really just getting lucky in covering up a flaw in a creative way.

Another point that should be discussed is that when a flaw is encountered, it is the masters, like Tonni, who are able to turn that flaw into something beautiful. Other artisan’s either try to undo the flaw and fail or the chunk of briar gets tossed into the bucket.

Tonni Nielsen – A Freehand Dublin variation. Tonni’s freehand application is like a soft and gentle hand dance over the briar. This pipe has such a pleasant air to it. The shape is it’s main strength but additional reinforcement comes in the form of all the small & masterful details that Tonni has available to him in his pipe making arsenal. A simple pipe becomes a high class value work of art in Tonni’s gentle hands.

Tonni Nielsen – A Freehand Dublin variation. Tonni’s freehand application is like a soft and gentle hand dance over the briar. This pipe has such a pleasant air to it. The shape is it’s main strength but additional reinforcement comes in the form of all the small & masterful details that Tonni has available to him in his pipe making arsenal. A simple pipe becomes a high class value work of art in Tonni’s gentle hands.

Tonni Nielsen – A Freehand Dublin variation. Tonni’s freehand application is like a soft and gentle hand dance over the briar. This pipe has such a pleasant air to it. The shape is it’s main strength but additional reinforcement comes in the form of all the small & masterful details that Tonni has available to him in his pipe making arsenal. A simple pipe becomes a high class value work of art in Tonni’s gentle hands.

Tonni Nielsen – A Freehand Dublin variation. Tonni’s freehand application is like a soft and gentle hand dance over the briar. This pipe has such a pleasant air to it. The shape is it’s main strength but additional reinforcement comes in the form of all the small & masterful details that Tonni has available to him in his pipe making arsenal. A simple pipe becomes a high class value work of art in Tonni’s gentle hands.

Tonni Nielsen – A Freehand Dublin variation. Tonni’s freehand application is like a soft and gentle hand dance over the briar. This pipe has such a pleasant air to it. The shape is it’s main strength but additional reinforcement comes in the form of all the small & masterful details that Tonni has available to him in his pipe making arsenal. A simple pipe becomes a high class value work of art in Tonni’s gentle hands.

Tonni Nielsen – A Freehand Dublin variation. Tonni’s freehand application is like a soft and gentle hand dance over the briar. This pipe has such a pleasant air to it. The shape is it’s main strength but additional reinforcement comes in the form of all the small & masterful details that Tonni has available to him in his pipe making arsenal. A simple pipe becomes a high class value work of art in Tonni’s gentle hands.

Be Like Tonni

To some extent, I think we all wish that we could be more like Tonni. To follow our dreams, to keep to the path we started out on, to stay steady in our resolve & not to succumb to other systems of thought that we essentially dislike yet somehow absorb into our lives anyways. Those “other negative ideas” tempt all of us on a daily basis. Ideas & systems that once enacted & brought into our daily lives, well, we all know what happens, they fundamentally change the essence of who we are.

Tonni offers budding pipe makers some key words of advice: “If you get into a business you have to work your way up. I cannot even count the number of pipe shows I have been to. I cannot even tell you how many years I had when things did not go so good for me. So in a way it is unrealistic that these new guys want to walk in and suddenly be the king of the hill. Don’t get me wrong, I honestly don’t care and I honestly don’t mind that they are trying to do this. Everyone should be free to do what they want to do. It is just that the people I am speaking and talking to, we are aware that this is happening and if they are trying to do this then at the very least they should focus on trying to create their own personal style. You must start your own style. You have to innovate. You have to find your own voice. It is the most important thing when being a pipe maker. What you ultimately want is for people to see your pipes from across the room and know your pipes from this big distance. That is crucial. That is the most difficult part of this business but it is very crucial.”

Tonni Nielsen – A beautiful Horn variation with plateaux as well as a reverse calabash. Another gorgeous pipe carrying all the fine details we have been discussing throughout this article. Attention to detail and the addition of something extra special seems to be Tonni’s calling card. A funny side-note on the reverse calabash, while Tonni has made a handful of such pipes, he has yet to smoke out of one.

Tonni Nielsen – A beautiful Horn variation with plateaux as well as a reverse calabash. Another gorgeous pipe carrying all the fine details we have been discussing throughout this article. Attention to detail and the addition of something extra special seems to be Tonni’s calling card. A funny side-note on the reverse calabash, while Tonni has made a handful of such pipes, he has yet to smoke out of one.

Tonni Nielsen – A beautiful Horn variation with plateaux as well as a reverse calabash. Another gorgeous pipe carrying all the fine details we have been discussing throughout this article. Attention to detail and the addition of something extra special seems to be Tonni’s calling card. A funny side-note on the reverse calabash, while Tonni has made a handful of such pipes, he has yet to smoke out of one.

Tonni Nielsen – A beautiful Horn variation with plateaux as well as a reverse calabash. Another gorgeous pipe carrying all the fine details we have been discussing throughout this article. Attention to detail and the addition of something extra special seems to be Tonni’s calling card. A funny side-note on the reverse calabash, while Tonni has made a handful of such pipes, he has yet to smoke out of one.

I could not agree with Tonni more and with that comment in front of us I recommend that you take some time to read the 1st article ever printed on TobaccoDays.com. I titled it ‘These Guys Cant Hide’ and yes, I was referring to the fact that you can easily spot their work in a crowd just as Tonni is mentioning. You can read that four year old article here.

We truly have a great one in Tonni Nielsen my fellow pipe hobbyists. We have a pipe maker who roams free. Like an animal in the wild, he is choosing his own path. From A to Z, Tonni is the man who is truly doing his own thing and I am so thankful for it. I ask Tonni if he could help me find an alternative word. I want to illustrate him as the one of the ‘Kings’ of Danish Freehand Design knowing he would not like that word to be used in describing him. His answer was simple and pure Tonni. He said: “I don’t want to be the King of anything!” That’s the best answer this master could have given and it would behoove many of us to learn from & adopt this winning perspective.

Tonni Nielsen

So now you know that Tonni Nielsen and his pipe bag of tricks is filled to the absolute brim & he is adding to it every day. There is quite literally no classic shape nor freehand concept that he is not able to execute. If you can think it up and you want Tonni to make you a pipe, feel free to reach out to him directly via this email address:

thenielsens4@hotmail.com

Conversely, if you see one of his amazing pipes at these World-Class Pipe Dealers, I recommend you grab it right away. These retailers regularly get amazing Tonni Nielsen stock and if you see a pipe you like that already exists, it has been made already, it has no flaws & it has the specs that fit your needs, don’t pass up the opportunity & just buy it. Avoid the route of asking Tonni to make you a copy. No two pipes will ever be the same.

Most of the amazing images of Tonni’s work are from AlPascia. A very big thank you to Leo & Cosimo for sharing their photo content and I am so happy that they have such an amazing photographer who captures so many sides and details. Thank you AlPascia for being open with your work.

An additional very special and warm thanks also go out to Lars Kiel & obviously Tonni’s wonderful wife, Barbara Nielsen.

Additional Image Credits: Bisgaard-Pipes.com, ScandPipes.com, DanishPipeShop.com, SmokingPipes.com & Tom Eltang

 

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29 Comments

  1. David M. - August 30, 2014

    Comment from Dan Coomer

    Excellent article. Tonni has been a favorite of mine since I discovered his work some years ago. I don’t think anyone makes a better stem and button.

    – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

    Hi Dan,

    Must have been a pleasant moment to ‘discover’ Tonni’s work. I know I felt the exact same way when I had the same.
    He is an extreme perfectionist and unless you get one of his pipes in your hand and up close, it is hard to know how true your words are.
    Thank you for the kind comments on the article. I am glad it reached you.

  2. Ivan Blanco - August 30, 2014

    Realmente unas pipas exquisitas,

  3. Nikolaj Liberoth Nielsen - August 31, 2014

    Good article David about “The Dude” :)! And he deserves it. In our book (The Danish Pipe Shop) he does not get enough credit for his work compared to others. We see a lot of pipes an his attention to details and creativity is in its own league plus he has not gone crazy with his pricing.

    • David M. - September 7, 2014

      Thanks Nik. This was one of the longest ones I have worked on.
      As you can see with each new article there is always something new, something different. As I ask pipe makers to evolve their work, I do so as well with my own.
      Yes, “The Dude” deserves it and so much more.
      Exceptional & Amazing artist who is truly Exceptional & Amazing. Few people can sit in that company and feel good about being defined like that. Not Tonni though.
      He is there & deserves it & more.

  4. Google Plus G+ - August 31, 2014

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