'Viking' beer mug (no power tools - the bushcraft way)

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Picture of 'Viking' beer mug (no power tools - the bushcraft way)
This is it, my 40th Instructable, YIEHAAA!!!

For this anniversary-I'ble I wanted to make something special.
I like beer, I like wood, I like the outdoors, so I decided to give myself a favour: I decided to make a good old 'viking style' beer mug.
The bushcraft way.

Aim was to use not one single power tool (to spice the job a bit). It took a lot longer than with the 'right' tools but it turned out to be one of the funniest projects I ever did. This was pure fun!

Set all your toolboxes stuffed with classic hand tools aside cause you won't use them this time.
All you need is a hatchet & a knife.

A good hatchet, and a good knife.

Back to basic.

A few members asked where I got that fabulous hatchet.
Well, this beauty is a traditionnal axe from the Basque Country - a region saddled on the western French-Spanish mountainous border. I discovered those axes some 20 years ago during raptor migration monitoring. They're quite hard to find, even locally, and it's just this summer I found a spot again where they were sold. They are made by the 'JAUREGI' factory/family in northern Spain and I never saw them anywhere else

These axes are hand-forged, and extremely reliable. Light (the small one weights only one pound), balanced, extremely powerful & useful to do as well bushcraft or bigger tree cutting. I never had better, I'll never have better. If I had to choose one object to take on a survival trip, there would be not one second of hesitation.

They are made in 5 or 6 sizes. On the picture you'll see the two smallest models. The darkest is my first I bought some 20 years ago and that's still alive 'n kicking.
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Step 1: Cut that log

Picture of Cut that log
First you'll have to gather some wood.
Choose straith-grained species - I got a piece of elderberry (not because elderberry is THE mug species, just because I got a piece left). Any straith- or spiral grained species will do the job, no worries.

You'll need a log with a diameter about the size of your hand so don't sight too small.

Use a hatchet to cut it down (or cheat like me, use a saw - first penalty point).

Step 2: Split it

Aim is to hollow it out.

Draw the cutting-lines on the top of the log (to get equal parts) & split it in 8 with a hatchet - see why you need that straith-grained wood?

Once you've got those 8 parts you'll cut off their tips, leaving just 15 to 20mm (half inch) from the side.

While hatching the log your cut respects the grain of the wood & you'll obtain a perfect contact between every piece.

Let it all dry in a well ventilated area.

Step 3: Get a handle

Picture of Get a handle
Your mug needs a handle.
Not just any handle, a strong handle - you want to raise all that beer, no?

Look for some natural wooden elbows or fork-style branches.
Peel it & let it dry.

Step 4: Finer cutting

Picture of Finer cutting
Once those parts are dry, reassemble the log.

Aim is to have a border that's 'relatively' uniform & therefor you'll cut away the excess.

Hatchet & knife, you don't need more.

Step 5: Preparing the bottom

Picture of Preparing the bottom

Cut another piece of a big log, or cheat again.

Split it & try to obtain the biggest plank you can get out of it.

Cut it about a half inch thick & let it dry.

Step 6: Grooving the outside

Picture of Grooving the outside
Your mug needs grooves: two on the outside, one on the inside. The outsiders will serve as tighting zone when you'll reassemble the log while the insider will hold the bottom in place.

Reassemble the log & mark the future grooves.

Start grooving.

Step 7: Shaping the handle

What's the best way to make solid no-glue-no-spike wood connections?
Let's swallowtail!

Step 8: Grooving the inside

Picture of Grooving the inside
The inside groove's got to be a lot deeper than the outsiders.

I started the insiders the way I did the outsiders, but after half an hour labouring I began to feel a desperate need for a simple saw. 'Only for two little minutes!' that bad bad little voice said to me. Since I promised myself not to use that tool for anything else but cutting the log I decided to 'cheat without cheating'.
So I turned my knife - temporarly - into a saw by smashing it to another knife to obtain a rougher cutting edge.
No need to say that it worked perfectly. No rules in bushcraft.

Step 9: Shaping the bottom

Reassemble the protomug.
Put it on a piece of paper & copy the bottom - and make that pencil longer!
Look careful inside the mug to check the differences between the bottom and the shape of the 'grooved area' you need.
Correct your design on the paper, copy it on the plank & start shaping.

The good old axe will do the rough job, that good ol' knife the rest.

What follows is a series of tries & adjustments to get that bottom in good shape.

Once everything's in place: time to dismantle & give it a final drying session.

Step 10: Assembling

Picture of Assembling
Once completely dry you can reassemble it for the last time.
You'll discover soon that in this step your mug will come to live.
No matter how hard I tried, it just kept falling apart.
So that bad bad little voice came again saying 'FORGET ABOUT THAT MUG, LET'S BUUUUUUUURN IT!!!'
Again, I didn't listen, managed finally to get it all in place and to secure it with polyester rope. Sliding knots.

Once the mug tightened as hell you can round the upper edge to get a smoother zone 'where the lips will meet the liquid'. Again, be careful with that knife.

(Sorry, I really couldn't resist to that tiny piece of sanding paper to smooth the overall surface a tiny little bit. Another penalty point.)

Step 11: Sealing & oiling

Picture of Sealing & oiling
You surely want that mug being watertight, right? You won't spill any beer, no?
No matter how well you did that carving, leaks there will be.
So our mug needs to be sealed.
Resin is good, but, reminding this is bushcraft! So?
Lets bio-resin! Mother nature gifted this world with a magic sticky stuff, PROPOLIS! Produced by bees, this all natural product is the perfect sealant. Its hard at room temperature, meltable, veeeeeeery sticky, eatable, antibacterial & desinfectant.

Get some - those insects use it to get the wind out of the beehive - or buy it (I got a handful of a neighbour beekeeper). Heat it in a cooking pot and poor/stick it in the junctions of the mug. It will harden rapidly. A little sanding (yet another penalty) and done is that job. You can use bee wax also: less sticky & somewhat weaker than propolis.

You've got walnut oil? Use it! Multiple layers.

Note 1: heating propolis in the kitchen is somehow kinda risky business. It smells extremely hard (I liked it, indeed) and depending on the tolerance of your partner you'll spend the night in the car, with your propolis. Or not. My wife wasn't home during the crime, but she discovered it anyway (after a few days the smell was still there - that's why I made her those hair pins - KIDDING!).

Note 2: a few members mentioned that soaking the mug a few minutes in water before use will make the mug water tight without the use of propolis. The wood will swell and seal every junction. All you need are clean cuts & contact zones and a rockhard rope-fixation (that's maybe the reason the vikings used metal loops at the time).
Avoiding propolis will allow you to drink hot beverages in it - an activity I can't because the propolis will melt.

Note 3: instead of using rope you can use rawhide. Let it soak a while in water until it's nicely flexible, wrap it around the mug & let it dry. While drying the rawhide will shrink and tighten the whole. Best source of rawhide are dog chews. Some of our members are really inventive, I must say.

Step 12: SKOLL!!!

Picture of SKOLL!!!
After many hours of hard basic labour my first bushcraft mug was finally ready (it's still sticky a bit).

What do you think?

If you ask me, it's time for a beer!

Hope you like it! Skoll!!!

Step 13: Mug 2.0

Picture of Mug 2.0

Summer 2014. I started experimenting with a few ways to 'industrialise' the fabrication of this mug - I know a few dozen people who are interested in one and it would be hearthless not to satisfy their material need.

Less bushcraft, more workshop. Less knife, more saw, rasp & sanding paper. Less propolis, more elmers glue aka 'wood glue' aka that white sticky stuff & bees wax. Less polyester, more hemp cord.

Same amount of love.

Instead of elderberry I took a piece of willow, cut in four instead of eight and assembled the same way as the first version. Like I said, the only structural difference was the use of glue - I know, I shouldn't, but it's an experiment, also.

Instead of several days I spent only a few hours to make it - which is in a kapitalistic point of view a quite interesting fact.

Next version will be the good one.

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Eddym8 made it!5 hours ago
Thanks for the inspiration. I made this out of Marri which is a gumtree variant here in Western Australia. I used a saw and a knife and ALOT of sanding. Just put the Envirotex Lite Epoxy coating on it to ensure a good seal and the ability for hot and cold drinks to be enjoyed. :) Im pretty happy as this is one of my first wood projects. Cant wait for a beer next week when its all cured. :)
El diego22 days ago
Would madrone work
blindenmier2 months ago

Fantastic tutorial! I'm in the process of making wooden "shot" glasses. Can't wait to try your method!

THAT_GUY73 months ago
What would be a good alternative to the bees wax stuff that I can find at like a hardware store ?
bricobart (author)  THAT_GUY72 months ago

If those cuts & tights are properly done you even don't have to use propolis. Let it soak in water - or beer - for a few minutes and the whole will seal itself.

EricVonAwesome made it!4 months ago
This was fun! Thanks for the idea, I'll be making more for sure!!
mbaldwin12 made it!6 months ago
had to use powertools, but thanks for the inspiration! just tried them out last weekend

Hi there,

Do you have the instructions to make your mugs?

Thank you!

BrianB88 months ago

Looks awesome. I bought a wooden mug a few months ago at an arts festival. That has made me want to make a wooden mug for my self.

What is your technique on tying and securing the mug with the rope? I'm all about using power tools and glue (my go to when i'm working with wood) but i want to make a natural mug that is more hand made without power tools.

Hello! great job! I´m gonna try it.

One question, wich type of string did you use for it?

bricobart (author)  hector.monti.38 months ago

In this project I used polyester rope - used in sail repair & leatherworking - but in my future builds I'll use fine hemp cord (see last step).

Thank you!! once again excellent job!

NEC.METAL9 months ago

Hi! I'm from Argentina and I want to do it for my boyfriend (He look like a Viking in the pic haha). The question is, Wich percent of propolis did you use? I just can get 5%(concentration) and I don't know if its right... Almond oil make the same results? Sorry about the bad bad english. Wait the answer :)

bricobart (author)  NEC.METAL8 months ago

You need the real stuff. Two ways to get it: look out for some bee nests in the forest & good luck, or try to get some of a beekeeper. Most of the time they're not too happy to give you some, but I discoverd that a loaded crossbow can do miracles. Really.

dab6515sr10 months ago
Do you have any suggestions as to what I can coat it with if I don't know what type of wood I used? I've made 2, one for me and one for my grand daughter.
bricobart (author)  dab6515sr10 months ago

I'm quite happy with the use of walnut oil. Heat it in the microwave and pour it around and in to get high penetration. Wipe the excess & repeat. You also can use bees wax. No industrial coatings (varnish, epoxy, stainstuff etc.).

Looking forward to see your build, use the 'made it' button'!

So what % of mousture do you let the wood dry to? Or how long would you leave it to dry after splitting?

bricobart (author)  HerrBergmann1 year ago

No idea about that %, but it was harvested end october and set apart for only a month. My opinion: the fastest you split it the better. If you let it dry first, cracks will probably occur - unless you let it dry for a long time, unbarked and with the cutting zones sealed. Succes!

If you want real bushcraftery, use pine resin (or other tree sap) that you harvest yourself, no purchasing fancy bottles of anything.

bricobart (author)  AJMansfield1 year ago

Or harvest natural propolis with only a knife and a hatchet. Or a well trained grizzly. Or your younger brother, as a sacrifice to beer.

You know, saws have been around for like, 3000 years. Every good bushcrafter has a saw, there's no shame in using it.

bricobart (author)  AJMansfield1 year ago

Thanx, it was just a great challenge to do the whole job with only those two tools!

Groovy. (I mean, you are making grooves after all...)

bricobart (author)  AJMansfield1 year ago


For some reason, I see an Aussie version of this mug with barbed wire instead of the string around it. I don't know why, it just came to me.

Just get some of those plastic barbed wire they sell for halloween. I got some in bracelet form in a bag for a buck after last halloween. Now they will live out their lives on my new mug. Great idea.

Go for it, man!

bricobart (author)  industriald1 year ago
I'd like to see that!
Aussie beer is dangerous enough as it is :)
bricobart (author)  industriald1 year ago
Any recommendations? I never tasted beer from down-under!
XXXX Gold is always a good fallback. No matter what, don't ever let anyone talk you into drinking VB!
bricobart (author)  industriald1 year ago
I'll remember that! How much degree does that XXXX have?
I'm sorry, I don't understand what you mean by degree in that sentence. If you mean the alcohol percentage, it's 3.5%
bricobart (author)  industriald1 year ago
Yap that's it, we call it still 'degrees' like in midieval times - man I'm gettin' old!
Only 3.5%?! So why should it be dangerous? In Belgian everything below 10% is called fruit juice!
Tell me you just put that komma at the wrong place and that I'm so totally wrong!!!
Ha ha, I guess it is a pretty low alcohol content! But enough of it and it is like a memory eraser from Men in Black...
FFalaschi1 year ago

I'm planning to open a "Viking" bar and i'll use this as the oficial beer Mug.

bricobart (author)  FFalaschi1 year ago

Whaaoow!!! Tell me where! Are you going to make them by yourself?

Yes i'll do it with a friend we live in Argentina. the only thing that we will add is an aluminium interior to the mug because of bromatology reasons.
bricobart (author)  FFalaschi1 year ago

So cool!!! You know what you have to do: posting some pictures, I'd like to see that! ;)


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