A Beginner's Guide to Kolrosing, by a Beginner.





Introduction: A Beginner's Guide to Kolrosing, by a Beginner.

About: I'm working towards a Bachelors Degree in Mechanical Engineering. This year I'll be transferring to a university to finish the last two years of my degree. I've been accepted to the engineering program at Ca...

*This is my entry to the "Woodworking" contest. If you like what I've done here please vote! Thanks!*

So you're just about finished with your woodworking project, maybe you've made some spoons, a nice box, a beautiful cutting board, or some otherreally coolthing. But before you're done it needs a little something, something to really make it unique. You could add some nice paint detail, or burn a pattern into it, or you could try your hand at my favorite - Kolrosing! Kolrosing is a very old Scandinavian decorative craft whereby wood is basically tattooed. Unlike carving or engraving no material is removed from the piece, rather, a fine cut is made straight into the wood and some darker material is rubbed into the cut, leaving the cuts nicely darkened. Originally coal dust or pine bark sawdust were used. It's a simple method, requiring tools you may already have lying around, and depending on the design you use it could be very easy or quite a challenge. Another reason I like this method is the level of fine detail one is able to produce. I'm by no means an expert, but I know enough to get you started, so here we go!

You will need:

Wood - yep!

sandpaper - 400 grit or more

knife - I recommend an Xacto if you're starting, but you could use a pocket knife or a specialty Kolrosing knife. Kolrosing knives have grips like a fine pen, and short, stout blades optimized for making shallow incisions. I'll be upgrading to one of these as soon as I can afford it.

very very fine coffee grounds - or similar dark powder, I've used ground cinnamon with good results.

wood finish of your preference - Danish oil, linseed or mineral or walnut oil, varnish, etc.

White glue - for 'fixing' mistakes

Step 1: Wood Selection

Before we try this we need to be sure we're using the right piece of wood. You need something smooth with a tight grain, and nothing too porous. I've tried this on oak and it was a disaster, but most other hardwoods will do fine. Maple, fruit trees (such as apple and cherry), birch, ash, beech, aspen, etc will work nicely. Further, lighter colored woods tend to provide the best contrast, though I suppose there would be nothing wrong with using a very light colored filler in a dark piece (now that I think of it I may have to try this!)

For this instructable I'll be demonstrating on a spoon I've made from maple (it's one of my favorite woods, and I have an abundance) and recycling some photos from older projects, also in maple. Maybe later I'll try with maple burl!

Step 2: Wood Preperation

Before we begin we must be sure that our piece is completely done and ready to finish (oil, varnish, lacquer, etc.). Sand the piece up to about 400 grit, going further will do no harm but won't really help either. At this point I've found it's helpful to add a very light coat of finish to what you've got - use oil, danish oil, or urethane varnish thinned with mineral spirits, etc and apply just enough to seal the wood. At this point you don't want a surface 'film' once it's dried as you will still need to cut into the wood, this is just to keep the coffee grounds from coloring the wood when it's rubbed on. Once your sealing coat is dry sand again with something like 400 grit or steel wool.

Really, this isn't totally required, but it does keep you from having to sand too much later on.

Step 3: Laying Out Your Pattern

Now we're just about ready to cut, but first we'll need some lines to follow. If you're a badass and never screw up: congratulations! You can go to the next step. For the rest of us humans and craftsmen we'll have to lay out or design in pencil (I used ink here, it was terrible!) on our piece. Sketch it out on paper until you decide on a pattern you really like, then transfer it to the wood. Go slowly, be neat, and use a sharp pencil for the best detail. For people just starting out I recommend sticking with straight lines and gentle curves since cutting sharp turns can be tough (I learned this when trying to cut the Elvish writing into this spoon)! You can erase just by rubbing with your finger if you mess up (another reason for using pencil). Once you get everything just the way you like, we're ready for cutting!

Step 4: Cut

Now is the fun part! This is simple, but not easy. Put on some good music as always, take your knife and, very slowly and carefully, follow along with your pencil lines. Apply moderate and consistent pressure, you're only trying to score a line into the wood, not cut straight through. How much pressure you need will depend on what kind of wood you're using and your knife. I find Xacto blades have very very fine, sharp points and will cut just fine with little effort. Go ahead and practice a bit on a piece of scrap. Go slowly, and take frequent breaks. This takes a lot of concentration so you'll want to be on your game!

There are two ways of holding and using your knife- pushing and pulling. I almost always hold the knife like a pencil and draw toward myself. Occasionally (this is easier for tight turns) I'll face the blade away from myself, hold and position the knife while applying light downward pressure with my right hand, and push with the tip of my left thumb. With this method my left thumb is planted on the piece and i sort of roll it forward to push the blade along. With practice you'll find which methods work best for you under different circumstances, but I recommend you start with the pencil grip pulling toward yourself.

Step 5: Oops!

If you're like me it won't be long before you make some sort of mistake or 'happy accident.' Maybe the knife slipped a bit and you drew outside the lines, or only too late you found an embarrassing mistake in your Elvish translations. Whatever the case may be, make like Ford Prefect and dont panic!! It ain't no thing, we can fix this well enough with white glue. With a toothpick or similar multi-use-pickey-pokey-tool apply a tiny bit of white glue to whatever cut(s) you don't want anymore. Smear it around a little so it fills in the cut and let it dry. That's it! This will keep the coffee grounds out of the offending cut, and any excess glue will be sanded off later. 

I've included a picture of one that I really messed up on a lot to make you feel better, and to show that, in the end, you won't even be able to tell!

Step 6: Apply Filler Medium (coffee Grounds)

For this step we need very, very fine coffee grounds. To get these I put a small scoop of coffee grounds in the grinder, grind it for a while, then use the dust that sticks to the inside walls of the grinder. Then I follow it up with the regular fine grounds. Just sprinkle some of the dust over your work piece and lightly rub it into the wood with your finger. Don't try to mash it or you could discolor the wood, you should be able to see whether it's working or not. This part always feels like magic to me - the pencil marks disappear and the cut pattern pops right out!

Step 7: Sand and Finish

Well that's it for the kolrosing, unless you missed any spots and have to go back to fill something in.  If you have any dried glue on your piece you can lightly scrape it off with your Xacto knife before you sand. From here we just sand lightly with 400+ grit sandpaper to remove any leftover pencil marks, and to take down the little ridges left from the cuts.You're done sanding when it all feels nice and smooth. 

Now you can finish the piece for good! Applying a little oil or varnish won't wash away the coffee, and will in fact seal it in the wood and make the kolrosing 'pop' a bit more! Use whatever finish you like, and be sure to post pics in the comments!!

Thanks for reading, please let me know in the comment section if you have any suggestions for improvement!

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    20 Discussions

    Brilliant! Definitely gonna try. Thankyou.

    Just a quick tip in hopes of paying back the debt I owe you and other artists: You can buy really cheap spoon sets at dollar stores to practice on for... you guessed it... a buck! Works for me and hope it helps others. Or buy cheap wooden handled knives at a Goodwill-type store. Think sandpaper to remove any unwanted finish. Good luck! ;)


    3 years ago

    your instructable is extremely well done! it is "book quality." your work is also first rate. think about publishing "how-to" books.


    I have some tulip poplar branches, very light wood, that this work great on!

    Thank you!

    1 reply

    Wow this is beautiful. I've never worked with wood before but this looks really cool to try!

    this method im using on my next piece. thank you.

    Thank you so much for this! Another skill to work on with woodworking is always welcome. And, as an 'Anderson', this will bring some very rich tradition into my builds.

    Thanks for a great intro to Kolrosing, I never knew the word for it. Living in the Whaling City, my son was taught this kind of technique at school to mimic scrimshaw on wood. I've always gone the route of paint, carving or burning, but I'm totally trying this out on my wood guitar stand.

    1 reply

    I'm glad you enjoyed it, and yes, it's very similar to scrimshaw. Let me know how the guitar stand goes!

    Thanks for Kolrosing. I never knew that word existed until now. LOL It came just in time, as I was wracking my brain as to how to sign a wooden puzzle work piece or two I've just finished. Tomorrow, Ill be having a crack at this.

    1 reply

    I'm so glad to hear it! Please share pics of your project, I'd love to see how it turns out!