The different woodcutting techniques to personalize your kuksa
In this article, we will review all the ways to do wood engraving. I'll also give you a little step-by-step on how to do your own woodcutting. And, at the end of the article, you will find out how and where to carve on a kuksa.
Published on 19 January 2023 (Updated on 26 August 2023)
1. What is woodcutting?
Woodcutting is considered to be one of the oldest techniques for printing designs on any type of material. Woodcutting involves incising designs or illustrations onto wood using tools such as a chisel or knife or products such as acid. Then the engraved areas can be filled with ink to create a print on paper. It is also possible to leave the engraving raw.
This engraving technique was very common to create illustrations in books or newspapers in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Nowadays, woodcutting is very trendy and is a very popular art.
2. What are the different techniques of woodcutting?
2.1 Hand engraving
Hand engraving is a craft technique that consists of engraving an illustration or a motif on a wooden plate using tools such as a knife or a burin.
The principle is simple, the engraver will draw the pattern to follow on his piece of wood. Then he will carve lines in the wood to create the pattern. If the wood is more or less hollowed out, it will give relief and nuance to the image.
The engraving can then remain as is or be covered with ink and placed on paper to create a print.
This printmaking technique is often considered unique, because as with any handmade work, it is difficult to have two identical copies.
✅ Advantages of handmade engraving
❌ Disadvantages of hand engraving
Handcrafted art that allows you to create unique and original illustrations or designs.
Requires skill with your hands and precision to create detailed designs.
Allows the creation of original works that have great cultural and artistic value.
Time-consuming and tedious work, especially for large engravings or with very detailed patterns.
Adaptable to all artistic styles and designs.
Expensive, as it requires specific tools and wood.
Allows you to work with wood, which is a noble and natural material that nature provides.
Requires concentration and safety to avoid injuries when using the tools.
In summary, hand woodcutting is an artisanal technique that allows you to create unique illustrations and designs on wooden objects, but it requires a certain amount of manual skill and precision to achieve detailed designs. It can also be costly and time consuming, and requires concentration to avoid injury.
2.2 Laser engraving
Laser woodcutting involves, as the name implies, using a laser to burn designs onto wood. This type of engraving can be done on many types of wood and allows to obtain high definition results! Indeed, the laser gives us more precise and sharper results than hand engraving and does it in much less time. This allows us to produce many engravings in a shorter period of time.
✅ Benefits of laser engraving
❌ Disadvantages of laser engraving
Accurate and efficient technique that creates high resolution and precision images.
Technique that can be costly as it requires the use of an appropriate machine.
Fast engraving that can be used to produce large quantities of engravings in a short period of time.
Difficult to control the exact results because the engraving depends on the parameters of the machine.
It can be used to engrave images on irregularly shaped objects and delicate materials.
It can damage tools and work surfaces if proper precautions are not taken.
In summary, laser woodcutting is a precise and efficient technique that can create high-quality images in multiple copies in a short period of time. However, it is a costly technique and depending on the parameters of the machine, it can produce unwanted results and damage the work surface.
2.3 Acid etching
This technique of wood engraving will use acid to erode the wood and thus create patterns or illustrations on the surface.
First, the engraver will use a tool such as a chisel to draw the pattern to be engraved. Then, he will cover the area to be engraved with an acid solution, usually acetic acid or nitric acid. The acid will then attack the wood fibers and create an engraving in the wood. Once the pattern is created, the acid is removed from the wood.
This is an old technique that is still used today even though it requires a lot of experience and care.
✅ Advantages of acid etching
❌ Disadvantages of acid etching
Ability to create fine, precise detail.
Wood can be damaged if the process is not done correctly.
Ability to create unique textures in engraved areas.
Chemicals used may be hazardous to health and the environment.
Possibility of working on pieces of wood of different sizes and shapes.
Precautions must be taken to protect non-etched areas from acid contamination.
Time consuming and tedious process.
2.4 Engraving with pyrography
Pyrography is a technique of burning the surface of wood to create patterns and images. This is done with a special tool called a pyrographer which is equipped with a tip heated to a high temperature. The engraver holds this tool like a pen and directs the hot tip onto the surface of the wood to burn the fibers and create lines or patterns. Engraving can be done using different tip temperatures to create different engraving shades and textural effects.
Pyrography is often used to create designs on wooden objects such as jewelry, knives, boxes, cutting boards and tableware. This technique is also used to personalize wooden objects or to create industrial markings on wooden materials.
✅ Advantages of pyrography
❌ Disadvantages of pyrography
Technique that creates unique and precise decorative patterns in wood.
Expensive technique as it requires the purchase of a good quality pyrographer.
Adaptable to many artistic styles and patterns.
The final result is not certain because the engraving depends on the human who does it.
Allows you to create patterns using different shades of burn to create different textural effects.
Technique that requires skill to control the different temperatures of the tip and create different etching shades and texture effects.
In summary, pyrography allows you to work with fine and detailed patterns. But, this technique requires a lot of precision, experience and patience to get the expected result. It is also a rather expensive technique because it is necessary to buy a good quality pyrographer allowing all freedom to imagine and create.
This woodcutting technique originated in Norway and Sweden where it was traditionally used to decorate the interiors of wooden houses, at the time of the Vikings.
Today, this technique is used by many people to decorate everyday wooden objects and especially wooden tableware.
The kolrosing is a technique of engraving totally different from other techniques because it will not remove material. It consists in making a fine incision in the wood to form fine and regular patterns that often repeat.
Then a dark powder is rubbed over the incisions, which will then darken.
At the time, coal dust or pine bark sawdust was used. Any type of powder can be used to stain the incisions, such as ground coffee or cinnamon!
Once each incision is filled with colored powder, a protective oil must be applied to prevent the color from fading and to nourish the wood.
This handmade technique is often compared to marquetry but differs in that the patterns are carved into the wood and not glued to the surface. The Kolrosing technique requires skill with your hands and precision to achieve detailed patterns.
✅ Benefits of kolrosing
❌ Disadvantages of kolrosing
A technique that creates unique and colorful decorative patterns in wood.
You have to be very careful not to make incisions in the wrong place.
This technique requires no power tools, only a knife.
Difficult to reproduce two identical patterns.
Adaptable to many wooden supports such as dishes, furniture or instruments.
Difficult to make rounded shapes, at least when you are a beginner!
Durable technique because it allows to preserve wooden objects while decorating them.
Very long and meticulous technique depending on the support and the symbols to be made.
In summary, this technique of engraving is the most traditional for Scandinavian products like kuksa. It is inexpensive because it does not require any particular tools except a knife. Also, it is more pleasant for the health because you can do it in the forest if you wish! You will not breathe any smoke from the pyrographer. Unfortunately, as with anything done by hand, it is a time consuming technique and does not allow for identical reproduction of designs.
Last but not least, kolrosing is a natural technique, you won't need electricity or acid! The powder that you put in the incisions of the wood are coffee, coal or cinnamon.
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3. What types of wood can be engraved on?
There are many types of wood that can be used for engraving, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. Before we go into detail about which wood is best to use, you need to know the difference between soft and hard woods.
Soft woods are easy to grow because they are fast growing. They are also easy to work with and less expensive than hardwoods. Because of their rapid growth, softwoods are full of moisture and resin like conifers and some hardwoods. It is this moisture that makes the wood fibers softer.
However, care must be taken with softwoods as they are less resistant and durable than hardwoods.
Examples of softwoods:
Now let's talk about hardwoods! Hardwood trees are older and stronger than softwood trees. Hardwoods grow quite slowly, resulting in a wood with a lot of density and often with few knots.
Example of hardwoods:
The most commonly used woods for engraving
This is a soft, white, uniform wood that is easy to work with. It is ideal for beginners as it is easy to engrave and gives good results.
This is a reddish wood that is easy to carve and gives good results. It is also weather resistant, making it a good choice for outdoor projects.
This is a hard, dense wood that is more difficult to work with than birch or cedar. However, it produces very detailed results.
This is a hard, dense and heavy wood that is more difficult to carve than birch or cedar. It is ideal for more advanced projects.
This is reclaimed wood that has been soaked in water and given a unique shape. It is often used for original and unique printmaking projects.
Reindeer antlers are hard and dense. They are easy to engrave and give good results, and have a unique texture.
Case Study :
Choosing your wood for pyrography
When doing wood engraving, it is important to remember to use a light colored wood or you may not be able to see the engraving.
Soft woods are perfect for pyrography because of their light color. But it is also necessary to know that they are more fragile than the hard woods and that they do not support the high temperatures. It is thus necessary to lower the power of the pyrographer before working on a soft wood like the pine, the cedar or the poplar.
Birch wood remains a first choice for pyrography because it has a light white color but also because it is a soft wood and its grain is uniform. The pyrographer will "glide" over the wood and make a uniform shape. But, as for any other engraving technique, it is necessary to prepare the wood beforehand by sanding it.
Be careful not to use treated or varnished wood, they may release chemical substances when the pyrographer passes over it.
What are the criteria to take into account when choosing a wood to engrave?
It is important to note that each wood has its own unique properties and characteristics, so it may be useful to test different types of wood before choosing the one that best suits your project.
Hardness and aging
Certains bois sont plus durs que d'autres et donc résistent mieux aux passages des outils de gravure. D'autres bois peuvent bouger ou se déformer avec le temps, il est donc important de choisir un bois stable pour éviter que la gravure ne soit déformée ou illisible.
The color of the wood can also be important to your project. Some woods have natural shades that will enhance the engraving, while others will be too dark. You need to think about the end result before you start to choose the right wood.
Some wood species are easier to find than others (for example pine wood versus exotic wood). As for the kuksa, the birch burr is harvested only during a short period of the year. Outside this period, it is a very difficult wood to find.
Resin comes from the sap of the trees and protects them from diseases and insects. For example, a high resin content will result in a more burnt and darker engraving. Low resin content wood includes apple, ash, walnut, locust and oak.
Some woods are more resistant than others to moisture, insects and mildew. It is therefore important to know how a wood ages before you start. If not, you will have to protect it with natural oils more often than expected.
The cost can also be a factor in the choice, some woods are more expensive than others (depending on their origin, species, rarity, etc.). As mentioned above, softwoods are faster growing and will be less expensive than hardwoods.
The ecological aspect is also to be taken into account. Some people will prefer to work with reclaimed wood from responsible forests. For example for kuksa we use burrs, a growth of the tree that does not require felling.
Some woods are harder than others and are more resistant to the wear and tear of engraving tools. Walnut wood, cherry wood, ash wood and oak wood are considered hardwoods and suitable for hand or laser engraving.
5. Wooden die for printing, steps to create one from scratch
Depending on what you want to do, not all steps are mandatory!
This example will show you how to create a wooden printing die.
But if you want to engrave a kuksa, steps 1,2,3 and 5 are the same! The only change is on how to engrave.
To make an engraving on a wooden object, you have to follow the lines of your design and dig in that place. Use a gouge or a knife and start digging gradually. Remove the wood layer by layer and work on the whole design, don't focus on one part or your carving will not be uniform.
Also, and only if your print is not going to be used for printing, apply oil. The oil will help protect the wood and harden it. It will also enhance your print! I recommend using linseed oil to oil your wood surface.
Step 1: Choose your technique and wood
For this first step, you must focus on the desired end result in order to choose the right technique and wood.
To begin, it is best to start with hand engraving tools. Namely engraving knives, chisels and gouges. These are tools that can be found in any hardware store and are affordable. In the beginning, you don't need to have the best tools, start with basic and simple tools and then, depending on your experience, you will buy better quality tools.
As far as wood is concerned, start with soft and easy to carve woods like birch, cedar, pine or fir.
Step 2: Prepare your work surface
Before you begin, make sure your object or piece of wood is secure. Use a vise to hold your wood, so your work surface will be stable and you won't risk a false move.
Also remember to sand your surface if necessary and especially to remove any dirt or dust.
Finally, install good lighting where you work, your work will be all the cleaner!
Step 3: Draw the design to be engraved
For the more adventurous, draw your design directly onto the wood with a pencil or a fine point.
If you don't feel ready to draw your design directly on the wood, you can draw it with charcoal on paper. Make your entire design and help yourself to the areas to be carved out with hatching for example. Once your design is done on the paper, you can transfer it to your wood. To do this, place your sheet, face down, against the wood. You will then see your pattern appear on the wood. If the pattern is not visible enough, you can go over it with a pencil.
Be careful, remember to center and align your design in relation to your work surface!
Step 4: Start engraving
For this type of example you must dig the clear parts of the drawing, that is to say the parts where you did not draw. Indeed, for the printing principle to work, the part you want to print must be in relief and not carved in the wood.
With your gouges, you will engrave all around the charcoal lines. Depending on the way you hold the gouges and the pressure you apply, the result will not be the same.
Tip: Hold the gouge in the palm of your hand and hold the wooden plate with your other hand. You must always work in the same direction, it is your wooden plate that turns and not your hand! You don't have to dig very deep for your impression to work, so go slowly. Last but not least, always keep a small angle between your gouge and your wood, this allows you to do a more accurate job.
Step 5: Take breaks
This may seem like an unnecessary step, but it is essential! Breaks allow you to rest your muscles and your eyes but above all to check your work! It is by looking up from your work that you realize any mistakes and that you can quickly correct them.
Step 6: Prepare the inking
Before applying the ink to the wood, scrub your wood with a brush to remove dust and any remaining pieces of wood.
Also, I recommend sanding your surface very lightly to ensure that the work is smooth and that the ink will not smudge.
Step 7: Apply the ink
Once the surface of the wood is clean and smooth, you must apply the ink to the wood.
On a glass or Plexiglas plate, place a small amount of ink, this is your ink supply. Then with an ink roller spread the ink in a thin layer on your glass or Plexiglas by lifting the roller at each pass.
The ink will be sticky and a slight hissing sound will be heard. If you don't hear it, you have too much ink!
With your roller you will then pass on your wood evenly and without forgetting the corners!
Step 8: Print the design on a surface
Take a sheet of paper and place it on your inked wooden surface. I suggest you use Japanese paper (thin paper). But if you want to use thick paper, it is also possible. You just have to remember to moisten it beforehand so that the fibers soften and the ink holds better.
To avoid smudging when you lay your paper, I suggest you start from one corner. Place your paper on the top left corner and press down with your thumb. Then lay the rest of the paper.
Use a small spoon to work each area of the paper, pressing hard and going over each area several times.
Once your print is done, it's time to take a good look at it and see if you need to make any changes to your wooden die. Once the final result is conclusive, you can print as many times as you want using your matrix.
Step 9: Drying
Drying time varies depending on the ink you use, so I'll let you read the instructions for your ink.
6. What tools do I need to do woodcutting by hand?
Today, there are many tools to engrave wood and at more or less affordable prices. It is therefore possible for everyone to do engraving. Since there are many tools, each one serves a specific purpose.
Description and use
Designed to cut grooves without the corners of the tool digging into the wood. They quickly remove excess wood from a flat wooden surface. They can also be used to cut precise grooves and trenches.
This is the most important tool for carving.
Similar to the gouge but complementary! It is used to carve fine, straight lines in wood. To start, choose a knife with a blade between 3 and 5 cm, you will have more control over your blade if it is small.
For narrow areas, use a detail knife (blade less than 2cm).
Perfect for finishing in hollows and bumps, the riffler is a rasp with small teeth. It is used for shaping, smoothing shapes or leveling surfaces, polishing and flattening wood.
The chisel is a steel bar with a triangular, square or rhombic (diamond-shaped) form. Depending on the chisel used, the groove in the wood will be fine or wide, which is why it is interesting to have several.
The square chisel is perfect for making wide, shallow carvings in wood.
The saw is used to prepare the work area or to cut large areas in the wood.
After cutting a shape, with the saw for example, the file will be used to smooth and polish the edges of the wood.
Perfect at the end of carving, the sander will remove splinters and smooth the wood.
Pencil and templates
A grease pencil or charcoal is the most commonly used to trace the pattern to be carved on the wood.
7. Engraving on a kuksa, what are the best places to engrave?
First of all, let's quickly review what a kuksa is! It is a traditional wooden cup emblematic of the Scandinavian peoples, a hand-carved cup made of birch burr. The kuksa was invented by the Sami people, an indigenous people living in northern Europe, and was used for drinking and eating.
Concerning the engraving on a kuksa, you can do it everywhere! Even if some places are more appropriate. Here are the best places to carve on a kuksa:
The top of the handle
The outside of the kuksa
The bottom of the kuksa
Concerning the technique, kolrosing is for me the most beautiful engraving technique for a kuksa because it remains a traditional Scandinavian art but hand engraving is also very good.
Before you start engraving a kuksa, study the traditional engravings and their meanings, some of them could inspire you!
8. Engraving reindeer antlers to decorate a kuksa
Here I will explain how to make an engraving on reindeer horn with the kolrosing technique! First of all, you need to make sure that your horn is clean. Then, to make it easier for you, you can boil the horn for a few minutes in hot water to soften it, but it is not mandatory.
If your horn is already fixed on a kuksa, do not boil it, you risk damaging the kuksa!
To begin, you will draw with a pencil the pattern you want to engrave on the horn. If you are a beginner, I advise you to start with straight lines, it will be easier for you later.
Once your design is done, get a sharp and thin gouge and start carving on your horn.
If you have straight lines to make, you must push on your gouge while for the curves, you will have to pull towards you.
Once your carving is done, you will add the pigments so that they permeate the grooves you formed while carving. So rub the colored pigments on your engraving and then wipe off the excess with a cloth. Pigments can be natural such as charcoal, cinnamon or coffee. You can also use color powders that you can buy in a hardware store.
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