His site is a fantastic source of all things outdoors with a mixture of adventures, kit lists, recipes and crafts. As well as providing us with his recipe for Campfire Fish and Chips, Gavin has also been generous enough to share with us his first attempt at carving a kuksa and the end results look brilliant! So how did he do it?
Let me first of all start by offering a disclaimer; I am by no means an expert in this field, indeed it is the first time that I’ve carved a kuksa! I’m writing this post very much from the layman’s perspective with the hope that you might learn from my mistakes!
What is a kuksa?
Popular among bushcraft and outdoor enthusiasts, the kuksa is a traditional style of drinking cup originating from the Sami people of northern Scandinavia. Usually carved from wood, but modern variants have been produced from plastic or wood/plastic composites.
Sourcing the wood:
The process of creating my kuksa started several months ago in the summer of 2018. My wife and I were out walking the dog when we discovered that a Sycamore tree beside a public footpath had been felled and the remnants were bucked up into small sections. I immediately noticed a piece that I could make use of which seemed to be big enough to make a decent kuksa. The wood pile had been sat there for a few weeks before I plucked up the courage to take the bit that I’d spotted! I considered that, as it was on public land, it was probably fair game!
I carried the wood home (it wasn’t far!) and left it in my garden to ‘season’. Rightly or wrongly, I had reservations about using green wood to carve a kuksa. Even though the wood is easier to carve when it’s green, I’ve heard there’s a risk that it will crack up during the drying process, rendering the cup useless!
And here I am, several months later in March 2019 and I thought the time was right to start work on my very own kuksa. I recall having conversations with my wife about Kuksa’s, she rightly pointed out the lovely examples that I could purchase from a variety of shops and crafts people. I agreed that they were indeed lovely, but were crucially missing one key element – I hadn’t made them! What a thrill it is to be able to put something that you’ve made into regular use.
Before we get into it, I thought it would be good to run through the tools that I used on this project. I was very keen to keep things simple by using basic hand tools, here’s what I ended up using
- Axe – I actually used two; my Wetterlings Outdoor Axe to do the splitting and bulk waste removal. I then switched to my Gransfors Bruks Small Hatchet because it offered me more control as I got nearer to my markings. To be fair, I was a bit indulgent here as the Wetterlings was more than capable.
- Bahco Laplander Saw – For stop-cuts and bulk waste removal
- Mora Companion Knife – For shaping the outside of the cup
- Mora 120 Carving Knife – For the more detailed shaping of the cup
- Casstrom Crook Knife – To carve out the bowl of the cup
- Pencil – To mark out the shape of the kuksa
- Whetstone and Leather Strop – this was used a lot to keep the blades in good order!
- Sandpaper – starting with a course 60 grit and moving up to a fine 240 grit
I also kept a first aid kit close by – just in case, indeed there were one or two incidents which required a plaster!
Stage One: Splitting the Wood
The first stage of the project is to split down the log. I carefully selected a piece of Sycamore which was relatively straight grained and not compromised with any nasty knots or twists. I split it down the middle and selected the section which offered me the greatest depth for the kuksa. I felt it was important to have a Kuksa which was deep enough to hold a decent cup of tea!
Using my axe, I then removed the pith and flattened off the split section so that I had a surface on which to mark out my kuksa shape. I sought inspiration from my plastic Kasa Kuksa (made by Wildo) for the design that I was working towards.
Stage Two: Roughing out
With the design marked out, I started to axe out the rough shape of the kuksa. In some sections, I created some stop cuts with the saw so that I could split away some of waste material. In this sense, I was following a similar process to what I would usually do when carving a spoon.
I did however choose to leave an extended section of the wood on the handle end of the Kuksa. This was for safety reasons so that I could keep my hand out the way while using the axe.
Stage Three: Scoopy scoopy time!
Time to get the crook knife out and carve out the bowl. In all honesty this is the hardest bit and will take a bit of time. My hand took a bit of a beating from the crook knife. I picked up blisters and scrapes and took regular breaks to rest the muscles in my hand and wrist. At times, I forced myself to stop as I was fearful of losing control of the blade and causing myself an injury.
The crucial lesson that I learnt in this stage was to just take my time. I’d often take the opportunity to stop when I noticed the blade was starting to dull and I’d touch it up with the strop or whetstone.
While carving the bowl, I took care to ensure that I wasn’t removing too much material. I was conscious that I still had to refine the outside of the cup and was also concerned that some cracks may appear as the wood continued to dry out.
This process could be simplified by using power tools. For instance you could drill a series of holes into the bowl at set depths to remove the bulk of the waste material and then refine the bowl with a crook knife. It’s also plausible that a curved gouge might have been easier. Alas, I was keen to use the tools that are available to most whittlers and spoon carvers.
Stage Four: Time to refine
Nearly there now! The final job is to refine the outside of the cup and the handle. At this point I used my two Mora knives. My main objective here was to remove any rough axe marks, keep a fairly flat base to the kuksa and shape the sides so that they curve nicely up to the lip of the cup.
Thereafter, I turnt my attention to the handle. As mentioned earlier, I sought inspiration from my plastic Kasa Kuksa. I like the ergonomics of that design and did my best to replicate it.
I tried to produce a kuksa which was aesthetically pleasing, but inevitably found that I’d left a few uneven areas where I’d removed too much waste! But with that said, I reached a point where I was pretty happy with the overall shape and feel of the kuksa.
Stage Five: Finish
The final job was to sand and oil the kuksa. I started with a course grit of sandpaper and moved my way through a series of papers until I got to a 240 grit which left a nice smooth finish. I then poured some water over the cup. I don’t fully understand the science behind this but, in my experience, this process opens up the grain and exposes any rough spots. When it’s dried I gave it another go with the 240 grit sandpaper and then it was ready for oil.
Confession: I did cheat ever so slightly by using my drill to make a hole in the handle for a lanyard loop. This could be done with an auger, but I don’t have one!
Finally, I liberally applied a couple of coats of Walnut oil and left it in my shed to dry.
Stage Six: The Christening!
This is the best bit! Now is the time to take the cup to back to nature and enjoy a nice cup of tea!
Barney’s final thoughts…
I’m very proud of this little cup. It was a lovely project to undertake and put a lot of my wood crafting skills to the test. In all honesty, it didn’t quite turn out as well as I’d hoped. I’d really liked to have created a cup with a slightly larger capacity. It currently holds around 180ml when I was aiming for something closer to 250ml. I was also hoping to create a better finish on the outside of the cup, unfortunately I think I just ran out of talent!
With that said, I’ve intentionally left the side walls and base of the kuksa a bit thicker than I’d like as I still have concerns that it might develop some cracks while the wood seasons. If this doesn’t happen then I shall definitely return to it with my crook knife and increase the overall volume. I guess that’s the beauty of a wooden kuksa, there’s always scope for refinement!
I thoroughly recommend you give this a go. I wouldn’t say it’s the best thing to try if you’re new to wood carving. But if you’ve dabbled in a bit of spoon carving and feel confident with your tools then this project will make for an interesting challenge.
Thanks as always for taking the time to read this blog, hopefully it’s helped shed light on the process of creating a Kuksa, at least from a beginners perspective
You can keep up to date with Gavin/Barney on Instagram: @Gavin_Riggall
Let us know what you think of Gavin’s first attempt at carving a kuksa!
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