Tom Eltang (Feb. 2005)

An enchanted day

TEv3“It is good to be a pipemaker!” That is a byword for the pipemaker Tom Eltang, and there is no doubt that he means what he says. Tom likes what he’s doing, and he’s been enjoying it for quite some time, having made pipes for 30 consecutive years, a milestone that ought to be feted with a special celebration. The question was: How? A party is a good idea, but Tom wanted this party to be unique, something no one had experienced before, a party everyone could enjoy and remember for a long time. Tom knows not only every pipemaker in Scandinavia, but also most of the acknowledged pipemakers in many other parts of the world, and he wanted all of them to join him and take part in this special celebration. And if pipemakers gather in one place, what is the logical thing to do? Make a pipe, of course, a very, very special pipe.

Invitations were sent all over the world, to pipemakers, to friends, and to people in the tobacco trade. Everyone who could attend accepted the invitation, so a large crowd was expected to be in Tom’s workshop that special day in late October 2004. It takes time to make a pipe, so all the pipemakers were invited to be present at 2 o’clock in the afternoon.

TE212Tom has a large workshop, but it is not large enough to host that many guests. More important, hungry pipemakers do not work well, so there had to be somewhere to eat. The weather is quite chilly in Denmark in the fall, so an expansive restaurant tent was placed in the yard in front of the workshop. Additionally, pipemakers who are thirsty do not work enthusiastically, so there had to be a bar. Tom and his wife Pia found a place for that too. With the plan in place, all that was required were the guests.

But what about the pipe? This pipe had to be special, and there was only one chance to make it, and no time to start again if something went wrong. The first problem was to find an extraordinarily fine piece of briar. This delicate problem was handed to a real expert, the pipemaker and briar supplier, Italy’s Romeo Domenico. Tom called Mimmo, as he is usually called, and told him to find the very best piece of briar available, a piece without flaws, with excellent grain, the most exquisite piece of briar the world might ever see. Tom issued specific instructions: “Find it, fly to Denmark and never lose sight of it, until it is delivered to my workshop”. I do not know if Mimmo slept well after Tom’s call, but he certainly looked tired when he arrived. He was relieved to find that Tom was satisfied – yes, almost lyrical – about the block he had brought, and for the first time in many weeks, Mimmo relaxed and slept well that very night.

TE23On the appointed day everything was ready, the tent erected, the food prepared, the bar well supplied with assorted drinks and, most important, that special piece of briar was ready to become a pipe. Shortly after noon guests from Denmark, Japan, Germany, the USA, and several other countries arrived, everyone was welcomed, drinks were served, old and new friends mingled, and a party atmosphere was immediately evident.

At 3 o’clock work on the pipe began. A real veteran in the business, Hans Nielsen (better known as Former), accepted the challenge to take the lead. Another experienced pipemaker, Jess Chonowitsch, was entrusted to start, and he decided the shape of the pipe. The pressure to work under these conditions – skilled pipemakers watching, four video-cameras in operation, and several photographers present – was enormous. Yet Jess worked as if he had been alone at home in his own workshop. After a while we learned, that the pipe was to take the shape of a horn.

TE241Drilling a pipe is always a challenge, and drilling this particular pipe was a much greater challenge. Tonni Nielsen, a Danish pipemaker living in Kentucky, was entrusted to do this, and he executed this step perfectly, while his own pipe never left his mouth as he worked. A pipe needs a stem, and the tenon must be formed first. Kent Rasmussen performed this task. Next, Teddy Knudsen and Poul Ilsted formed the stem to fit the pipe. Peter Hedegaard showed his skill with a file, forming the bit and lip exactly the right size to feel comfortable in the mouth. The next step was to grind the stem, a job that, together, Ulf Noltesmeier (Bang), Peter Heeschen and Søren Refbjerg accomplished successfully.

The pipe was near-ready, but several hours of work remained. Grinding is an extremely time-consuming step in making a pipe. Kurt Balleby began this operation, followed by Erik Nielsen, Bjørn Thurmann, Dura Semjaniv, Bengt Carlson and Peter Heding.

TE28Then she arrived – the grand old lady of Danish pipemaking, Anne Julie. In her red cap she was like a flower in the workshop, and a flower was what she left behind. Being a skilled artist, her contribution to this pipe was an engraved rose at the bottom of the shank. She then gave a speech to Tom in which she honored the freedom of pipemakers, the only time during the entire day when it was absolutely quiet in the workshop.

However, the host had to work, even though it was his “birthday.” Tom assumed responsibility of the time-consuming process of coloring the pipe, an operation that requires much grinding in between applications of stain. Tom had aided by Arne Urup, who is normally more comfortable working with meerschaum, João Reis from Portugal, Jan Windeløw, and Rainer Barbi from Germany. Then, Kurt Hansen polished the stem.

TE30Former, who had been in the workshop all day leading the job, now had to do his own part, bend the stem. The final task – the pipe cleaner test – was entrusted to Bo Nordh, after which he ceremonially placed the pipe in its bag.

It was now 11 o’clock, and after seven hours of uninterrupted work, the most uniquely crafted pipe in the world, a pipe bearing all the delicate and precise effects lovingly applied by 24 of the world’s most renowned briar craftsmen, had just been created.

TE31All those who participated in the various operations put their stamps on a stick of briar and signed a sheet of papyrus; these items will accompany the pipe. The pipe will be sold on the internet, and the money will be used to finance a site for pipemakers, a professional forum for exchanging ideas and information about this specialized handicraft.

Text and pictures: Jan Andersson