Introduction: Kuksa Carving (for Lazy Carvers)

Picture of Kuksa Carving (for Lazy Carvers)

Wazza kuksa?!

A kuksa is the traditional wooden cup made & used by the Sami people in Lappland - northern Scandinavia. Traditionally they are made of birch burls - kind of halfround three growths you'll find on a number of species but particularly on birch.
Those burls ('broussin' in French) grow as a reaction on a stress - can be an injury, a virus or a fungus - compare it to a tumor as you want. The wood in those burls has no traditional growth rings and is very dense.
Kuksa's are beautiful pieces of art. Not one kuksa is the same bacause the shape of a kuksa depends on the shape of the burl.

For years I planned making one my own, but until a few weeks ago I didn't got the chance to find the right burl.
Until a few weeks ago, so.
I found a lovely burl on a dead olive three, making me the luckiest person on earth - at that moment.

So I started carving.

Kuksa carving is basic craftwork. All you need is a saw to cut the burl, a hatchet to rawshape, a knife (traditionally a 'puukko' or a special 'crooked knife') to dig it out and some sandpaper to fineshape. Basic craftwork, everyone can do it.
But, I forgot one other thing you need: PATIENCE.

I've got a wife to love, a crazy dog, some even more crazier cats, unconventional parents, some great friends, a good health, a mind filled with crazy plans and two hands to realize them. I've got it all.
But I've got no patience.

So instead of making a kuksa with a knife I made some shortcuts - as always.

Sorry to all those who claim that a kuksa shouldn't be made with power tools. This I'ble is no propaganda for the use of electric power, it's just the way bricobart did it. Free to decide.

Step 1: Harvesting the Burl

Picture of Harvesting the Burl
The hardest thing in kuksa carving is finding the burl. Or better: finding the RIGHT burl.
In northern countries this might be quite an easy job. Burls are very common on birch, for example.
If you're spending a lot of time in southern spots the task becomes a bit more complicated, and almost impossible if you're looking for THAT species in particular like me.

I wanted to make my first kuksa in olive. Hundreds of trees I inspected before - after three years (!) - finding my luck on a dead olive tree in the outback of south France.

The first pictures are from the dead tree and so the one who served to make this kuksa, the second series are from a truly alive 'n very kicking tree where I could harvest two beautiful burls. In full city center, no kidding!!!

When you're cutting off a burl from a tree that's still alive, make sure to harvest it properly. Use a handsaw, make a proper cut and put a lot of woundcare (pine tar is perfect) on the wound. The wound will heal, and the tree will live as before.

  • DON'T FORGET TO CUT THE BASE OF THE BURL, this part will serve as handle!!!
  • TRY TO HARVEST IN SUMMER OR AUTUMN! During wintertime the sapstream slows down and the wound will heal a lot slower - opening the door to infections. In summer & autumn the tree is at full power and with the help of the pine tar the wound will heal quickly.
Fresh wood is softer and thus easier to carve than dried wood. If you don't have the time to carve the burl immediatly, cover it with bees wax or polyurethane glue to slow the drying process. Fast drying will surely split the wood, and destroy the burl. Let it dry in a well ventilated place for a few months up to a year - until the day you'll decide that it's ready to go.

NOTE: If you're working with a 'fresh' burl, don't forget to store it in a plastic bag every time you take a break, just to avoid splitting, again.

Step 2: Raw Outer Shaping

Picture of Raw Outer Shaping

I used an angle shaper with big grain (40 to 60) to rawshape the burl. Be careful, the disc makes no difference between wood & meat.
Give it the shape you want, carefully looking to the opportunites the burl is giving you.

Traditionnal kuksa carving is in fresh wood. The fresher the wood the easier it's shapeble.

Step 3: Digging It Out

Picture of Digging It Out

Having no patience to dig it out with a chisel or a knife, I decided to give it a try with a router.
Routering was fine, but didn't give the smooth rounded inner cupshape I wanted.

So I made my own tool: THE LAZY CARVER (see my next I'ble).

Lazy Carver did a great job. Fixed to a column drill and turning at high speed it took only 10 minutes to carve an almost perfect bowl.


Step 4: Finer Shaping

Picture of Finer Shaping

Use grain 80 to 120 to give it 80% of it's shape.

Step 5: Boiling

Picture of Boiling

When the rawsanding is done the protokuksa is boiled in very very salted water for an hour or so. This will evacuate the tanines (bad taste) and will densify the wood.

Rinse with clear water & let dry.

Step 6: Finest Shaping

Picture of Finest Shaping

Only 20% to go!

Starting with grain 80 & gowing from 120, 180, 240, 320, 400 to 600 & 800.

Even if it's called 'lazy carving' you'll spend hours & hours in this step...

Step 7: Oiling

Picture of Oiling

The easiest part: fill your kuksa with vegetal oil (lineseed or olive - guess what I used) and 'massage' it strongly.
Wipe the excess, let it penetrate and start it all over again a few times.

After the oiling your kuksa will be ready, finally!!!

Ready to be used! It will be a great companion on all your adventures and serve you as long as you live.

Treat it with respect, it's so much more than just a cup...

Hope you loved this I'ble - I spent a great time carving ;-)


alai5 (author)2017-01-26

Is it ok to use sunflower oil?

nancyjohns (author)2013-07-23

AWESOME!!! Where do you go to legally do that?

bricobart (author)nancyjohns2013-07-24

I try to stay away from private territory - I said I tried - and I just keep my eyes open all the time...

nancyjohns (author)bricobart2015-04-25

*Dialing 911* Ummmm........ Okay...........

Corinbw (author)2015-02-15

Wow that turned out amazing. I made one a while ago and it does not look as great as that. i am inspired. :)

bricobart (author)Corinbw2015-02-19

Not so great? Are you kidding? Yours is just awesome mate, you did have the eye to see a cup in that chunk of wood!

michaelgc (author)2014-06-08

Wow that kukusa looks amazing, Now will you use this or just have it as decoration? Maybe I should keep my eye out for dead trees, but I don't many here is the suburbs of Los Angeles.

bricobart (author)michaelgc2015-02-19

A kuksa gets character by using it again and again, so we're using it! Thanx for the comment and I hope you found something!

Ray from RI (author)2014-07-14

So what is your lazy carver tool...????

Mattrox (author)2014-03-27

So beautiful! Thanks for sharing!

nancyjohns (author)2014-03-21

That kukusa looks GREAT. I'm really into woodworking and my dad dose tree work and he just cut one down with a burl. He cut the burl off so I'll try to talk him into me keeping it........

jesse4015 (author)2013-08-21

how salty of water? I'm trying to find the perfect burl here in northwest PA and northeast OH and i'm taking notes!

bricobart (author)jesse40152013-09-08

The salty as possible, this ain't no rocket science you know...

Victor805 (author)2013-08-14

I'm lucky I live in Spain, here there is plenty of olive trees fields, some day I'll grab my bike and my pruning saw and I'll go to find a nice burl, this instructable has inspired my a lot.

bricobart (author)Victor8052013-09-08

Thanx mate, and good luck!!!

AMDHamm (author)2013-08-26

Nice job indeed. Kuksa are great utilitarian items and very enjoyable to make and use. I love carrying mine while camping, hiking or even using at home in the winter.

Get permission to cut the burls if it is not on your property. It is illegal otherwise to remove them. Be certain to seal an above ground wounds with end grain sealer or, if below ground, cover the wound with dirt. Since burls are the result of a wound to a tree, most likely another burl will grow where one has been removed. Keep the tree alive and it may continue to reward us for generations.

Tazmjm69 (author)2013-08-25

All I can say is wow! It's beautiful

Jobar007 (author)2013-07-10

It looks great. Thanks for the ideas that this 'ible has generated. I would suggest to use a drying oil though instead of olive oil. Olive oil doesn't dry (read it will be sticky until enough grime has built up to no longer be slick. Also, it can go rancid. If it did, you would get sick whenever you used this. I learned this one the hard way....

bricobart (author)Jobar0072013-07-11

Good to learn new stuff, thanx! Wich oil do you propose? Lineseed, for example?

Jobar007 (author)bricobart2013-08-02

Linseed is a good oil and is common but tends to have heavy metal chemical dryers which I don't care for. Raw linseed oil that doesn't have them takes forever to cure. One that I personally prefer is walnut (can be found in grocery stores) but it carries a potential food allergy. Pure Tung Oil is another good alternative but sourcing pure Tung Oil without dryers is problematic or cost prohibitive.

bricobart (author)2013-07-24

Thanx to everyone who voted for me in the craft contest, so glad I made it to the first rows! Your support was heartwarming, before all...

BrittLiv (author)2013-07-22

Wow, this is beyond beautiful! Very good job on the write-up, too.

bricobart (author)BrittLiv2013-07-24

Thanx Brittliv, it's the tree who did the job - all I did was cutting away everything that didn't look like a kuksa (like one member said) ;)

spark master (author)2013-07-13

I carve walking sticks and spoons on occasion, this is vera vera pretty. I think I would hold off on linseed oil if I am going to drink from it. Better to melt a bit of bees wax into mineral oil and rub that in, or buy a wax made for that purpose. It is truly special anyone can see.

I would like to see the lazy carver as well!

you could burn out some of the wood, but that is arduous and smelly, not wholey unpleasant though.

thanks for this instructable it was very nice.

bricobart (author)spark master2013-07-19

Thanx spark master, many people mentioned that mineral oil. I'm really gonna use this!

bricobart (author)spark master2013-07-14

Thanx for the positive feedback, what do you mean with mineral oil? Car oil? Really?! ;)

static (author)bricobart2013-07-19

While mineral oil is a petroleum product it isn't motor oil, and long been used to protect wood surfaces that come into contact food, because it doesn't become rancid. The body doesn't absorb mineral oil, and it passes out the digestive tract. sometimes used as a constipation remedy

bricobart (author)static2013-07-19

Thanx static, I'll look out for this product this weekend. Really curious!
And when I mentioned 'car oil' I was kidding, believe me ;)

greatpanda (author)bricobart2013-07-14

He's actually talking about boiled linseed oil, since it can contain metallic drying agents (linseed can take weeks to harden). In a specialty grocery store you can find raw linseed oil as flaxseed oil. Mineral oil is baby oil without fragrance, often used for cutting boards and the like. Flax (linseed) and walnut oil are the only two naturally drying oils that I'm aware of, but they do dry eventually and don't leave a sticky residue that olive, vegetable or mineral oil can. That said, I've often used whatever is on the counter to finish my spoons and they turn out fine :) Fine luck you had finding that burl!

spark master (author)greatpanda2013-07-15

spark master says: Jul 15, 2013. 8:58 AMReply

If the masters of sculpture could have used hammer drills , they would have. I can't see Michelangelo turning down air driven hammers/chisels grinders etc. Maybe hand tools while gingerly carving the "delicate parts" of "David" or the "Pieta".

And thanks grand panda for explaining the mineral oil thing. I have a friend who always used olive oil and since my wooden spoons go onto boiling tomato sauce infused with olive oil and animal fats, and no one has died of botch yet, but if the inlaws cheese me off just once more......sweetie break out the mason jars I'm looking to fix a problem....

bricobart (author)spark master2013-07-15

I agree spark master. Our ancestors invented and finetuned those tools, it's up to us to continue the same way while keeping the craftwork alive. I looove hammer drills ;)

bricobart (author)greatpanda2013-07-15

ALL-RIGHT!!! Thanx great panda, always nice to learn new stuff. I'll have to find that oil!

aebe (author)bricobart2013-07-14

Hello . Mineral oil , not motor oil , can be had from your pharmacy . It does not dry , and is mostly tasteless .

spark master (author)2013-07-15

oh I fergit, olive wood makes very very nice pot stirrers, Forget the el cheapo spoons from China, nice ones made from olive wood are the best. they are not cheap, they last for years.

again very pretty piece.

bdempsey1 (author)2013-07-14

Dude thats not lazy..You put a heck of a lotta hard work into that piece.

bricobart (author)bdempsey12013-07-15

In fact, yes! Let's say that the job can be done in one day - nothing compared to the several days (or weeks) it takes with simple hand tools...

artworker (author)2013-07-09

It is famous in India (rock and wood carving artisans) that nature creates the artifact and is hidden there somewhere in the wood or the rock! It is the task of the artist to recognize it and bring it out, removing the exact parts that are not required! You did a great job in doing that.

mslaynie (author)artworker2013-07-11

I wish I could click a "like" button on this comment. :D

spark master (author)mslaynie2013-07-15

how about no more "like buttons" and just say I like it. of course it is harder to amass a profile of users so they can monetize yoy, but heck why not BE the fly in the ointment, or a Habanero in the aloe salve!

PACW (author)artworker2013-07-11

I agree with mslaynie that a 'like' or 'agree' button would be great for comments!

Your explanation is more poetic than what I have always heard - That it is easy to carve a statue of an elephant; you get a huge block of marble and simply remove everything that doesn't look like an elephant.

And, as in most matters, Stephen King has addressed the topic brilliantly! His wood carving scenes in the Dark Tower series have always made me want to sharpen a knife and go branch hunting!

bricobart (author)artworker2013-07-10

Heartwarming, I know exactly what you mean!

RingoWild (author)2013-07-12

That is absolutely beautiful! It's funny how some people say that using power tools is cheating. Personally, I think it makes sense to use a power tool when you can because you still have loads of hand work to do! It's obvious that you spent tons of time on this — and it is stunning! Thanks for sharing.

spark master (author)RingoWild2013-07-15

If the masters of sculpture could have used hammer drills , they would have. I can't see Michelangelo turning down air driven hammers/chisels grinders etc. Maybe hand tools while gingerly carving the "delicate parts" of "David" or the "Pieta".

And thanks grand panda for explaining the mineral oil thing. I have a friend who always used olive oil and since my wooden spoons go onto boiling tomato sauce infused with olive oil and animal fats, and no one has died of botch yet,

bricobart (author)RingoWild2013-07-12

Well thank you Ringo! No worries, either, no one said I was cheating ;)
There was only one member who said 'some people will say you were cheating', but until now everybody was just excited about this project.

jtmcdole (author)2013-07-13

This looks amazing, great job!

bricobart (author)jtmcdole2013-07-14

Thanx, I appreciate!

ArticAkita (author)2013-07-13

the oil brings out the grain big time! good job!

bricobart (author)ArticAkita2013-07-14

I agree, thanx!

Packmule (author)2013-07-13

Man Brother its a great peace of wood and great work. I have wanted to do one of these BUT I cant bring myself to work on one for hours...LOL I think I can do this one my lathe so it shouldn't take as long. Again, Great job!

bricobart (author)Packmule2013-07-14

Thanx mate! I assure you that those hours of work are worth the job!
Let me know if you managed to make one on the lathe!

About This Instructable




Bio: I made a beer mug with only a knife & a hatchet. I think that says a lot about me.
More by bricobart:Briar Smoking Pipe / BowlBow Stories - My Experiences With Cross Country Ski Bows'Shave Mouse' Aka Revisited Shave Horse
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