How to carve a kuksa?

In this guide, we detail all the steps to carve a kuksa in the traditional way. To do this, we list the tools you need to have.

If you don't know which wood to choose, I advise you to read our wood guide to make a kuksa. It tells you which wood to choose and how to store it.

Anne-Laure CompainAnne-Laure Compain

Anne-Laure Compain

Nature Lovers
Published on 3 March 2022 (Updated on 5 September 2022)

Let's start this guide with some wisdom. If you are working with wood to make a cup, or any other object, it is primarily for fun and to let your hands and imagination run free. The kuksa you create does not have to be perfect, it should simply reflect your creativity and the joy you took in carving it.

kuksa carving tools

What tools are needed to carve a kuksa?

First of all, you should know that the knife and the axe are the main tools for carving. The axe is used to roughen the work and the knife to make the finishing touches and more delicate cuts.

The long knife

As its name indicates, the long knife has a long blade that will allow you to quickly roughen the work. This long blade is also used when you need to flatten a part of the wood, like the top of a kuksa.

wood long knife

The short knife

This short blade knife is perfect for finalizing the carving. The short blade allows for better control of the hand's movement, thus avoiding any slippage. The tip of this knife is often used for decorating wood. Since it is short, it allows a good hold of the knife and a more meticulous work.

wood short knife

The spoon knife

As its name suggests, the spoon knife is used to shape the cavity of a spoon, or the bottom of a cup! It has a curved blade in order to cut into the hollow.

There are several types of curves depending on what you want to do. If you want to make a shallow hollow for a spoon for example or on the contrary important, like for a cup.

The classic spoon knife exists in a right or left version. But be careful, this specificity has nothing to do with the fact that you are right or left handed. In fact, it is only a question of the direction with which you will work the hollow. This knife also exists with a double edge blade, but it is not recommended to use it because the double edge prevents you from pushing the blade with your thumb which brings more precision in the movement.

wood spoon knife

The carver knife

This knife is specific for creating patterns in wood, even if the short blade knife does the job very well. It is recommended to use a straight edge knife with a short blade, about 2cm. In addition, it should be sharp to the point in order to make nice cuts and use the full potential of the blade.

wood carver knife

The ordinary knife

As its name indicates, this is a classic knife, used to remove bark or twigs from a piece of wood. Moreover, this type of knife is a knife used by the Sami. It is mainly used to cut wood and remove bark to make a fire.

wood ordinary knife

The hatchet

The classic axe is not suitable for carving, it is not very precise because it is too big and too heavy. However, the carving axe is! It is lighter and has a shorter handle. It allows you to quickly roughen the work and remove the excess wood.

wood hatchet

What are the steps to create a kuksa?

You can find details of the different woods to carve a kuksa in our wood guide. Just be aware that the steps are the same whether you are working with birch burl, birch, oak or pine!

If you are working with burl, the shape and size of the burl will determine the size and depth of the kuksa as it must be in one piece. So study your piece of wood well before you start, be strategic.

Remove the bark

Remove the bark from the growth, or piece of wood, with an axe and split the trunk into the pith

kuksa carving remove the bark

Roughly cut the wood

Using a carving axe, roughly cut the outer shape of your kuksa

kuksa carving roughly cut the wood

Creation of the round shape

With the regular knife, continue carving the outer shape of the kuksa. This is the time to carve a round shape with a flat, smooth surface on top.

kuksa carving creation of the round shape

Sculpture of the hollow of the kuksa

Draw a line down the center of the shape and draw the shape of the handle. Then, using the spoon knife, begin to hollow out the cup. Start digging in the middle and work your way to the edges.

At this stage, it is important to work successively the outside and the bottom of the hollow in order to keep the edges of the cup of the same thickness. This allows to have always the hollow of the cup in the center of the round shape.

kuksa carving sculpture of the hollow of the kuksa

Carving of the outside of the cup

Once step 4 is completed and the inside of the cup is finished, tackle the material on the outside and the handle. Make a well rounded and flat shape on the bottom so you can put the cup on.

kuksa carving outside of the cup

Let it dry naturally

Once all the carving work is done and you are satisfied with the shape, let the cup dry naturally and slowly, preferably surrounded by sawdust. This allows the wood to dry more evenly.

kuksa carving dry naturally

Finishing touches

It's time to move on to the finishing touches. Having a smooth surface on a burl is very complicated, because the wood fibers go in all directions and therefore the cuts are complicated. The trick is to have an extremely sharp knife and to sharpen it often, the cuts will be easier to make.

kuksa carving finishing touches

Sanding of wood

For sanding, use fine sandpaper and start by sanding the inside of the cup. The more the surface is sanded, the more the shine and grain of the wood will come out.

kuksa carving sanding of wood

Boiling salt water bath

For the hardening of the kuksa, there are different ways. We will introduce you to two of them:

Boiling and salting water treatment, more traditional

Simply put the waist in a pot filled with water and coarse salt. Then let it boil for 45-60 minutes. For the quantity of salt, fill your kuksa with coarse salt, it will be enough. It is important to know that the salt, by impregnating the wood, will retain the humidity and will therefore prevent the wood from splintering.

Treatment with linseed oil

Linseed oil is the most popular treatment for kitchen utensils such as cups, spoons and knives. It allows to :

  • Harden the wood
  • Solidify the surface in contact with oxygen

Linseed oil should not be diluted. It will penetrate the pores of the wood and solidify it.

kuksa carving boiling salt water
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What kind of decoration can be added to a kuksa?

Almost all handmade kuksa have a decoration that is added after the sanding phase. But be careful, if there is a decoration, it must respect the traditions and their meanings.

Reindeer horn decoration

The most classic decoration is a piece of reindeer horn polished and inlaid in the handle of the cup. Indeed, reindeer being part of the Sami life, reindeer bone came naturally to decorate the wooden cups they created.

The reindeer leather strap

On every authentic mug, there is a reindeer leather tie attached to the handle.

But do you know what this tie is for? Originally, this tie was used by the Sami to hang their kuksa on their belt. This tie allows, among others, campers or adventurers to hang their kuksa on their backpack.

Painting

Another possible decoration is to paint a pattern on the cup or on the handle. Traditional paint is not durable enough and is often replaced by epoxy

painting kuksa

Engraving

It is also possible to find cups engraved with the name of a person or a landscape.

kuksa engraving

Fire

Finally, some creators of kuksa offer more creativity and will burn the cup with a flashlight to give it a natural black color.

burn kuksa

How long does it take on average to make a kuksa.

The time to make a kuksa will depend on the experience of the person who carves it, the wood used, the shape and especially the size of the cup.

On average, it takes 5 to 7 days to make a cup.

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