The Nørding Compass- is it worth finding your way with one for fifty bucks?

I really like Nørding pipes. I own seven, from handmade pieces of art made with exotic materials to machine-made cheapies. An inexpensive Nørding – an Erik The Red that’s perfect for a pipe-smoking breadwinner was the first pipe I bought when I got back into the hobby! I eventually got more, and the cheapest of the bunch is the ultra-utilitarian Nørding Compass poker we’re going to talk about today.

My Nørding rusticated natural Compass poker.

Erik Nørding originally trained as a blacksmith before he graduated from engineering school in the 1950s. Since then, he’s gone on to make a legendary name for himself in the pipe-smoking world, particularly through the sale of his freehand pipes that are carved without the reference to a traditional shape chart. Nørding brought that style to prominence nearly singlehandedly! Today, pipes that Erik Nørding makes himself by hand are insanely expensive, available at price points far beyond what I can afford. 

My Nørding Extra #1.

Before we move on to the utilitarian Compass, here’s an example of a mid-tier Nørding pipe that I have as a point of comparison: It’s from Nørding’s ,”Extra” series, and here’s what Erik Nørding says about it:

“Nature creates some of the most magnificent and amazing patterns which has inspired us for this line of pipes. As a result the rings have been made of Natural materials like Bamboo, Palm, large nuts and seeds from tropical plants. For the finish of the briarwood we use a large spectrum of colors from matte to more glossy surface. We wanted a strong contrast between the accent and the briarwood. Giving the pipes that little Extra

Nording extra are classified in three groups, depending on the graining; the briar with the finest grain goes to Extra #1.”

Erik Nording
My brother’s orange Compass Sailor.

Having said that, the Nørding Compass sits at the complete opposite side of the spectrum. An example can be had for as low as $47.00. At that price, the pipe consists of 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. 

The Compass series began its life as a metal-finished line that Erik Nørding called the Sailor line- my brother John’s metal Compass is, technically, a “Compass Sailor.” According to the company, the Compass brand is derived from the “vegvisir,” a Viking rune stave and legendary device used for navigating the sea.

Another view of my Compass. You can see some of the pitting towards the heel of the pipe.

John whipped his out when I first smoked my Erik The Red. We soon noticed some differences, though our tobacco and lighting methods were the same: John’s 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. That’d probably be a deal-breaker for a more expensive pipe. 

Those issues aside, I found myself intrigued with the scaled-down Danish modern style of the Compass, so I later bought a rusticated briar version for myself, without the metal coating, for just a hair over fifty dollars. 

A few weeks later, John’s schedule worked out with mine and we smoked again, me with my Compass and he with his American-made, $170 freehand churchwarden made by J.M. Boswell. I, too, experienced some gurgle, but although the smoke was warm, it wasn’t unpleasant and didn’t impact the flavor of the tobacco, which was a Boswell aromatic called Majestic 586. Aromatics are cased tobaccos with flavorings applied to them, and all that sugar is notorious for providing a hot smoke. The Compass took it all in stride. 

Here’s the top of the pipe.

Some aromatics, like Captain Black or certain varieties of Borkum Riff, are also notorious for “staining” “a pipe with their flavor. Somewhere around here, I’ve got an old Ben Wade freehand that will never stop smelling like cherries thanks to Captain Black! I’m more prone to smoking codger blends like Carter Hall or Half & Half, but a cheap pipe like the Nørding Compass is perfect for those dalliances into an aromatic’s prominent flavors.

Aesthetically, the Compass is interesting- mine a little more than John’s. It’s got a rusticated bowl that almost looks sandblasted to my eye, connected to a metal rod that you clamp down on with your teeth. A close look at the briar reveals why many of these are sheathed in metal: There are pits galore! A Nørding Extra would never feature such low-end wood, but then again, a Nørding Extra  would not cost fifty bucks. I am positive that the Compass line exists to allow Erik Nørding to use up aesthetically-compromised briar.

The Compass-branded pipe sock that came with the pipe.

That said, as a Danish Modern interpretation of the classic poker shape, the entire package is pretty compelling, at least visually. All Compasses come with a cool little pipe sock that features the Compass branding. What’s really cool about these pipes, though, is that they come in a variety of flavors. A smooth Compass stained black is the cheapest, at around $48 (I get mine at a 5% discount as a VIP member of Metal Compass Sailors in silver, copper, blue, red, and orange like I got my brother start at $50 nowadays, as do rusticated versions like mine. A rusticated Compas in raw and natural stain is $54, and smooth-finished, stained pipes start at $56. The aesthetic quality of the briar increases in accordance with the price- generally, smooth pipes just cost more. The top tier of Nørding Compass pipes ranges from $66 to $74 and include a second, “MacArthur” churchwarden stem that I believe would help alleviate the hot smoking issues my brother and I found while smoking ours.

The bottom of the Compass features Nørding’s compass symbol.

If you’re fan of this stripped-down interpretation of a poker but wary of the issues the Compass presented me and my brother, the Eltang Basic pipe is a compelling alternative, though it starts at about twice the cost of a basic Nørding Compass. Tom Eltang is widely considered to be one of the most talented pipe makers the world has ever seen. Another option is the Tsuge Roulette series of sandblasted tankard pipes share a similar look and cost around $120. Unfortunately, I’ve not smoked either one to tell you anything more about them.

My other NOrding Extra, a grade 3. It’s very similar to the previous expensive Nording I posted.

That being the case, we’ve talked about other inexpensive pipes here before, including the Rossi Piccolo and the Scott’s Pipes Burner series. Erik Nørding is famous for asserting that his cheapest pipes smoke just as great as his most expensive, but in this case, I think that may be some marketing argle-bargle. I’d rate the Compass a little lower than either the Scott’s or the Rossi due to the heat of the bowl, the pitting in the briar, and for how loose the stem was after John’s pipe cooled down. Of all the cheap pipes we’ve reviewed here, it only surpasses the Dr. Grabow.

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