What is a kuksa ?

In this article, we detail everything you need to know about kuksa. From their creation by the Sami people to the different steps to carve one yourself. You will know everything about this emblematic cup of the Scandinavian people. And by the way, why not read this article while drinking a hot drink in a kuksa?

Anne-Laure CompainAnne-Laure Compain

Anne-Laure Compain

Nature Lovers

1. Presentation of this emblematic cup of the Scandinavian people

A kuksa is a hand-carved cup made from birch burrs and respecting the ancestral traditions of the Sami people.

What is the name of the kuksa?

Throughout the Sami people and their 10 dialects, kuksa are called :

LanguageName given to a kuksa

Akkala Same

kūks

Kildin Same

куккьс

Lule Same

gukse

Pite Same

kuk’sie

Ter Same

kuk͕̄s̜ɛ

Inari Same

kukse

North Same

guksi

South Same

guksie

Ume Same

güksee

Skolt Same

ku’hss

authentic kuksa sami reindeer skin

Also called "Guksi" by the Anglo-Saxons or "Kåsa" in Swedish, this cup represents the unique know-how of the Sami.

But, the important thing to remember about kuksa and the values it conveys is that no matter what you call it, a real kuksa is a cup made by your own hands or a cup given to you. Because, according to the Sami, to offer a kuksa is to offer happiness.

1.1 Characteristics of a kuksa

  • Worked in birch burl
  • Handcrafted
  • Adored by hiking and camping enthusiasts
  • Worn on the belt of the Sami and some Scandinavians

2. What are the origins of kuksa?

Originally, kuksa were used by the Sami as a personal cup to help them eat or to gather berries. This multifunctional cup had to be durable and strong.

The kuksa are part of the Duodji, a Sami handicraft centered on everyday objects such as a cup, a knife or a bag to collect provisions.

The tradition also wants that one never washes his kuksa, at the risk of losing its lucky side! You should simply rinse it in a stream or a lake. So we will just not put it in the dishwasher and not wash it with dishwashing liquid!

sami people reindeer kuksa

3. What materials are used to make a kuksa?

Wood is the basic material of the kuksa!

It is important to know that trees grow at different rates depending on their species. Moreover, they have phases of growth which are then responsible for the variations of color of wood. Indeed, in spring, the tree will release sap which will give a softer and lighter colored wood. In summer, the wood hardens due to the high temperatures and darkens.

3.1 Three examples of wood for carving

kuksa material
ALDER

Soft and clear wood, pleasant to work

MASUR BIRCH

This type of birch grows in Scandinavia

BIRCH

The most traditional wood for carving

3.2 The traditional wood, the birch burr

The birch burr is a birch growth that will form because of a stress that the tree will undergo. This growth will generally grow on the trunk of the tree.

Note that the wood of a growth is extremely resistant to shocks, cracks but especially to temperature shocks. In the middle of Finnish nature, under -22°, it is possible to drink a hot drink in a kuksa.

wood birch burr

4. How to make a kuksa?

We will briefly explain the 9 steps to make your own kuksa as well as the list of tools you need. For those who want to start, follow our complete guide to make a kuksa ! On average, it takes between 5 and 7 days to carve a kuksa.

4.1 What tools to use in sculpture?

To carve a kuksa yourself, you need a few tools like a long knife, a spoon knife, a carving axe and a short blade knife.

carving tools

4.2 The making of a kuksa step by step

step to carve kuksa

5. What finishing touches can be put on a kuksa?

According to the desire of its creator, a kuksa can have or not a decoration. Here are some of the most common decorations.

5.1 Reindeer horn

The most classical 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.

reindeer horn finishing kuksa

5.2 Leather hook

It is also important to know that on every authentic cup there is a reindeer leather tie attached to the handle. This link allows the Sami to hang his kuksa on their belt. It also allows campers or adventurers to hang their kuksa on their backpack.

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6. How to preserve a kuksa?

Is the kuksa fragile? Can it break or crack? The kuksa being made of wood, it is less fragile than an ordinary porcelain cup for example. However it is not unbreakable! Indeed, if it falls from your height, it may crack or even break.

Moreover, if you use your kuksa badly or if you don't know how to take care of it, it can crack quickly. Here is what makes a kuksa crack:

  • Washing it with dishwashing liquid. Indeed, the detergent will dry the wood and make it crack
  • Drying it under a high temperature will make the wood crack
  • Forget to maintain it with coffee grounds and thus make it lose its waterproof film

Discover the maintenance of the kuksa with coffee grounds:

maintenance ok kuksa using coffee

7. How much does a kuksa cost?

The price of a kuksa will depend on several factors, the main ones being:

  • The type of wood used
  • The capacity of the cup
  • The type of decoration
  • The time it took to make it
  • Handmade
authentic kuksa sami tradition

8. Where to find kuksa?

8.1 In the Scandinavian countries

The best place to find kuksa and learn about their traditions is with the Sami themselves. The largest concentration of Sami is in Norway, but you can find them in Finland.

You can also find many kuksa in various Finnish handicraft stores.

8.2 Online

Kuksa Shop offers you many cups handmade by a Finnish artisan. They are made of birch burr following the ancestral traditions.

9. How to recognize an authentic kuksa?

There are some important points to recognize a real kuksa from a simple wooden cup.

salty taste

The salty taste

When you will use your kuksa for the first time, you will have a slight taste of salt in your mouth.

It is normal and it will not last!

masur birch

Masur birch from Scandinavia

You don't have to be a wood expert for this second clue.

Masur Birch wood has a very unusual appearance.

artisan sign kuksa

Reindeer horn

Some authentic kuksa are highlighted with reindeer horn, another iconic symbol of the Sami people.

They are reindeer herders for decades.

traditional kuksa sami tradition

10. The advantages of a kuksa

Here, somme few advantages of a kuksa :

  • Ideal because it keeps the heat and the coolness
  • Beautiful
  • Solid
  • Ecological
  • Environmentally friendly
  • Natural
  • Personal
  • Light for hiking
  • Good size for each drink
kuksa finland lake sunny day

11. The disadvantages of a kuksa

  • Do not put in the dishwasher
  • Not compatible with some beers that will foam a lot
  • Rare product so little availability

12. Is a Kupilka a kuksa?

Kupilka is not a kuksa. Rather, they are the ecological and industrial alternative to kuksa. Indeed, even if Kupilka are made in a factory, they respect the values of ecology, respect of the Finnish nature and durability of the product.

Kupilka was the first Finnish company to run its production line entirely on green electricity.
kupilka on snow in finland

Buy your traditional kuksa now

Discover our kuksa handmade in Finnish Lapland

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Kuukkeli kuksa 20 cl

Handcrafted by a Finnish artisan, this kuksa takes you into the heart of nature.

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Kaniini kuksa 20 cl

Enjoy your best drinks with this superb 20 cl reindeer horn kuksa with its multi-hued wood.

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