Vermont Freehand: The man Behind the Business
I’ve been active in the smoking pipe industry for about the last half dozen years or so. Within the last four my focus has been more on the media side, and less on repairs, sales and shows. In that time, I have met and made some wonderful friendships with people all over the world. I have met literally hundreds of pipe smokers and artisan pipe carvers, and reviewed dozens of pieces of their work for my readers enjoyment. It’s a job I truly love, and can’t imagine not being part of this industry.
It should be said that there are pipe carvers of all ages and skill levels on virtually every continent of this great world. This is great, and we live in a wonderfully explosive time in pipe smoking history. More importantly pipe MAKING history. I equate this time, these last 30 years and the coming 30 more, as akin to the time of the explosion of impressionist art. Every year, the pipe smoking and collecting community is discovering a new Monet, Cezanne (who looks oddly like Franco Harris!) and Van Gogh every year. This is the pipe smokers Renaissance! But I was struck by something today: Who supplies these artists?
I try to cover the source of some of the briar, and even stem and shank materials, as well as stains used when I’m reviewing pipes. Sometimes an artist will share a source willingly, and with pride. Other times, and understandably so, sources are kept close to the vest. While my goal with this piece is not to provide an all encompassing resource of pipe making materials, I do think it is important to mention one of the biggest distributors in the U.S. of briar and all all things pipe making. That company is Vermont Freehand, and the man behind that company is Mr. Steve Norse.
Everyone starts somewhere in this industry, and while pursuing the hobby for some time, Steve began making pipes for commercial sale about 10 years ago. While that kept him busy, Steve quickly found a niche in the supply side of the industry.
Started the supply end in 2005 with just an eBay store, then stopped in 2008 to pursue other jobs.
One of these other jobs resulted in a damaged back and ruptured disc. Back injuries are not to sneeze at, and with that limiting the amount and style of physical labor one can do, Steve got right back into the supply business right after the accident.
Vermont Freehand, the Name of Steve’s business now has well over 15,000 sales and (as of the time of this writing) 614 items available for sale in his eBay store with 100% positive feedback – a feat not easily accomplished these days with the new feedback rules and regulations on eBay. Products range from stummel material (both Algerian and Italian Briar and Motra), plus stems, stains, acrylic and ebonite rods, plus bamboo, tolls accessories and even back issues of popular magazines.
With the pipe industry renaissance upon us, business for these items is apparently brisk. Shipping 20-40 packages a day, now to over 60 countries world wide and distributing over 25,000 blocks of briar a year, it’s safe to say that Vermont Freehand is one of the busiest industry suppliers in the world.
It’s a pleasure catering to pipemakers 18 hours a day, 7 days a week. They are the best folks to work for, very laid back.
But that is not all Steve does. Steve is a busy man. A 9th generation native ‘Vermontonian’, pipes, and pipe supplies are a large part of Steve’s life, but that is primarily business. In his private life Steve is the caretaker of an estate, and avid forager gathering from the wilds of Vermont woods, their natural goodness of mushrooms, and ginseng. Actually, he is 1 of only 6 licensed Ginseng dealers in Vermont, and the President of the Vermont Ginseng Association.
Growing up making furniture, it was through this and his time in the forest that he garnered his addiction to wood grain. Currently Steve does still make a few pipes, but typically only 2-4 a month, and has quite a knack for briar jewelry (that he makes by commission only currently), and briar accessories such as pipe stands, puzzles and boxes.
Having met and conversed with Steve on Facebook, he is a knowledgeable, kind man who many people have said is willing to take the time to answer your questions. As his eBay rating shows, customer satisfaction is paramount to him, and every review I’ve read of his service is that he loves people, and is quick to answer emails or messages. My experience has been no different.
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