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Vollmer & Nilsson

By Ib Fagerlund & Jakob Groth

Photo: Ib Fagerlund

Originally published in Danish in Piber & Tobak nr.110

 

One smooth and one sandblast Vollmer & Nilsson. The virgin tobacco chamber is standard on most pipes.

Teamwork and enthusiasm are the two keywords that best describe the two half-brothers Martin Vollmer and Anders Nilsson in Malmö.

There is plenty of enthusiasm among the fine pipemakers of the world, but teamwork is a scarce commodity in these circles. It is in this respect that the brothers really stand out from the crowd. Most pipemakers prefer to work alone and do their best work that way, but not these two. The great majority of pipes that leave their cozy little workshop are the result of joint efforts and ideas.

We are in a basement room in an imposing palatial villa in north-eastern Malmö. The workshop is a bit small, but efficiently equipped with all the tools a pipemaker may wish for – two lathes, band sander, disc sander, sandblasting equipment, worktables, grinder, all sorts of bottles with stains and other mysterious fluids, and a lot more. The coffeepot is always on, and there is always time for a chat with interested pipe enthusiasts. We visited Anders & Martin one Sunday in February and had a pleasant afternoon with lots of talk about pipes.  

Few pipemakers have such a posh location. The workshop is situated in the far left end of the basement.

Anders & Martin both have been pipesmokers since their teens, and slowly their interest in good pipes and good tobacco grew. At one point the desire arose to try their hand at pipemaking – inspired by Björn Thurmann's book "The Pipemaker's Handbook".  At first it was mostly for fun, of course, but as the boys started to master the different processes of pipemaking their friends also started to show an interest in their pipes. Slowly but surely, and adviced by other more experienced pipemakers – for example Bengt Carlson, Dura and Bo Nordh – their efforts started to give results. Surely you could have worse teachers than those!

At the same time the wish and dream of  working full time as pipemakers became stronger. They started to invest in the necessary machinery and tools at the pace the private economy would allow. A couple of years ago they felt that the time was ripe for the great leap. They gave up their day jobs, in order to give the pipemaking their undivided attention.

The first great test came to be the CORPS Pipe Show in Richmond, USA, to which Per Billhäll brought a selection of their pipes. The reception was beyond expectation, so when the European Championships were held in Copenhagen in 2004, they themselves had a table and where able to exhibit a larger selection of pipes to those attending the show. It was a great experience for them. Here they met their customers for the first time and got lots of response, which of course is immensely important for new pipemakers. Of course they also made many valuable connections. Now there was no way back.

So, what kind of pipes are these two making? They don't deny that the great Scandinavian pipemakers such as Sixten and Bo Nordh are great role-models, but the old classic pipe shapes, especially the English ones from the first half of the 20th century are most dear to them. It is definitely to be seen in their creations. The most beautiful and most well-proportioned pipes are all classical. This is a genre they master to perfection like few other. Spot on every time. The proportions and the lines are like leafing through an English pipe catalog from the 1920's. They also try their hand at more creative shapes. Some of those are certainly successful, but the general picture is that a bit more work is needed to find a more personal style. I would wish for a stricter, more personal style with marked, recognizable features. But hey, after all the boys have only been at it for a few years and a few hundred pipes. There must be room for development. I haven't the shadow of a doubt that it will come.  

Please notice the sublime sandblasting on these two. It can't be done much better.

On the other hand the technical aspects of the pipes are flawless. They work incredibly hard with the details in all stages of the manufacture. Nothing is left to chance. The mouthpieces are always handcut either from ebonite or Cumberland. Drilling, slits and bite are 100% spot on. Bamboo wasn't used to start with, but only because they couldn't find a good enough quality. They have since succeeded in that, and bamboo shanks can now be seen on several models. They also experiment to some extent with shank extensions made from so-called reconstituted gemstone in different colours. It can look great, but it is often a matter of taste, whether one approves of such decorations. On the other hand some silver is also used. Here, too, everything is handmade and homemade – of the best quality and execution. The staining is of course also a subject for experimentation. Once again the results are always very successful. It is apparent, that nothing gets out until it is truly tried and tested. Even sandblasting Martin has learnt, so that too is done in the workshop – again the results are nothing less than exceptional.

All in all Anders' & Martin's pipes hold a very high quality and the prices are very reasonable, in comparison with the quality and the works invested. Buy now, before they get really world famous, and the prices reach dizzying heights.

The thoroughness of the work also reflects on the productivity. At the moment only circa 150 pipes a year are made, and it isn't because of laziness. As a rule they work 10 hours of the day or more, seven days a week. There is no time for distractions such as wives or girlfriends. All waking hours are spent thinking about or working with pipes. There's commitment for you! It is no secret that they work on improving productivity to reach 2-300 pipes a year, and that will surely come with experience – only it must under no circumstances have a negative impact on the quality, as they say themselves.

Selling the pipes is not a problem. As for so many other pipemakers, the Internet is immensely important. This is where many connections are made and also where a lot of inspiration is found. There are already many private customers, notably in Canada and Switzerland. A few retailers in the USA take part of the production. They also place great importance in participating in Pipe Shows. They are booked for the Chicago Pipe Show in May, and of course the Danish Championships in March. "This is where we meet all the real pipe maniacs from all over the world", they say, and they take to it like fish to water. "Where else do you have the possibility to talk about pipes all day long, for days on end?" That would possibly be in the Pipe Club of Sweden, that also has been a tremendous source of inspiration for the brothers. It was a revelation for them to find so many nice people in one place, all sharing the same burning interest in good pipes and good tobacco.

If you have become interested in seeing more of the brothers' pipes, the best place to do so is their own website, www.vollmer-nilsson.com, from which you can also buy their pipes, if you are quick. Most pipes are sold shortly after being offered for sale. On the website you can also see pictures of the majority of the pipes produced so far. All pipes are photographed – something they learnt from Bo Nordh. They also print out the pictures in natural size, for later use as drawings to measure from if they should want to make more examples of the same shape; quite a creative idea.

Good times in the little workshop. As always the coffee pot stands ready. It is Martin on the right and Anders to the left.