Introduction: Kuksa- Wooden Cup

About: Avid Kayaker, Canoeist, Wildcamper, SUP-er and Photographer,
A Kuksa is a wooden cup of finish origin, they are usually carved from a burl of a birch tree. This is where the tree has grown in response to damage or stress and is rounded in shape.

Unfortunately i don't live in an area where birch are all that common and couldn't find any burls on other pieces of wood. This resulted in a slightly square looking cup as i had to use a straight grained piece of beech. 

The end result looked nice but i had a few issues with splits along the way, and a few cracks in the finished product. 
As with most things i tried to used the very simplest of tools, things that you could use in the bush to create what you need, though with this project i did cheat a little bit and used an electric sander to do some of the rough sanding. 

Materials and tools:

Wood- preferably a birch burl (burls can also be found on most species of tree, olive and walnut give great results.)
Saw- to trim up the log.
Axe- for rough shaping, much quicker and easier than using a saw in my opinion.
Hook knife- for carving out the bowl of the cup.
Knife- to clean up some of the rougher shaping.
Sandpaper (electric sander)- i used grades 60, 80, 100 and 150 for sanding.
Sanding sponges- grades 180 and 240 for fine sanding.
Pan, salt and water- to boil kuksa to remove tannins from the wood.
Oil, cloth- i used olive oil as it doesn't contaminate whatever you have in the cup, unlike linseed.

Step 1: Basic Shaping

For the basic shaping of my cup i took my piece of beech and spent about 15 minuets working at it with an axe. I'd decided how long i wanted the cup to be and where the handle was going to be.

Holding the cup end and cutting away from my self (remember your axe should be as sharp as your razor so always be careful) i cut away the area between the bowl and handle giving the cup shape. I then used a saw to cut through above the handle freeing the roughly shaped cup from the rest of the log. 

Using a smaller axe, for better control, i gave a vague shape to the outside of the bowl and the area where the handle would be.
Finally i used a knife to clean up the top and give a smooth surface to make the next step easier. 

Step 2: Shaping the Bowl

This is where the hook Knife comes into play. These things are vicious! If you've never used one before i'd suggest practicing on a much softer wood first. I've used mine many times and was still getting cramp in my hand after 5 mins. Once you've got your technique down with a hook knife they're great, a really useful tool for hollowing things out. However this didn't stop me sinking the tip of it into my thumb, be careful with this step.

The idea with a hook knife is to brace your thumb or finger on the back of the blade (blunt side) and cut across the grain of the wood. This will remove bits of wood until a bowl starts to appear, now just try to deepen the bowl and work at the sides.

This may take a while, particularly with a wood as hard as beech. 
Once your happy with the depth and width of your bowl its time to start sanding.

Step 3: Finer Shaping/ Rough Sanding

Usually i'm against using electrical tools on projects like this, i like the idea of creating things using only basic hand tools that have been around for centuries. Though with this i just had to cheat.

Because of how hard the wood was and the awkwardness of the shape of some of the parts (meaning i could't get the spoke shave in to smooth the off) i ended up using an electric sander with a P60 pad on to do most of the rough sanding.
After a good 2 or 3 hours (and many sanding pads) i was finally happy with the overall shape and smoothness. 

During this time a split opened up in the handle taking a good 1/2 inch of wood off the side, a quick tap with the axe and some more sanding soon evened up the handle. Although it was now much thinner than i'd intended. 

Step 4: More Sanding

Its time for some good old fashioned hand sanding, the unavoidable and tedious part of any carving. I took about 2 weeks to to this part, sitting down after dinner whilst watching tv with my roughly sanded cup and some sand paper (80, 100 and 150 grits).

After about 10 mins i'd been relegated to sitting on the floor by the fireplace so i didn't get dust everywhere (make sure you've got the hoover handy and you live with understanding people.) 

Sanding always takes a long time, but persevere the more you do the better result you'll have. 

For sanding inside the bowl i found folding the paper into a wedge works well and allows you to get into all the awkward spaces. 

Step 5: Boiling

The idea behind boiling the wood is to remove all the tannins. If not removed these may leech out and affect the flavor of whatever you've got in your kuksa.

To boil i filled a pan with hot water and lots of salt, not so much as to reach saturation level but a considerable amount. I then boiled the cup for a little over an hour, you should be able to see the brown tannins staining the water.

You now need to let the wood dry out, i left my on the windowsill all week until it was totally dry. 

Step 6: Even More Sanding

After the wood is totally dry any splits that had opened up when the wood was wet , which there where one or two in my piece, should have closed again to just being cracks. Unless one of these will cause your cup to leak they shouldn't be too much trouble.

You could always use a mix of pva glue and sawdust to fill any gaps.

For this round of sanding i used a P150 paper, the a P180 sanding sponge and finally a P240 sponge. I found these sponges really useful for getting into the bowl of the cup, and the high grading gave an excellent finish to the wood. 

This stage of sanding only took me around 2 hours, the wood felt like it had been softened up by the boiling process.

Step 7: Oiling

Some oils, like linseed oil, would contaminate whatever you put in the cup and cause a bitter taste. So with things your planning to eat from its best to use oils that wont contaminate whatever you're eating or drinking. 

For this i used olive oil, but sunflower or vegetable are also good choices. 

Pour some oil into a bowl and using a clean rag wipe it around the surface of the cup, covering everything.
Leave to dry for a few hours, and repeat a good few times.

I applied the oil 6 or 7 times over a few days. Don't be afraid to use lots of oil, if you use too much you can always just wipe it off the surface.

Once the cup is oiled for the final time you'll have your finished product.

Step 8: Finishing Touches

Your finished kuksa is only moments away. Just one finishing touch left.

Using a clean rag wipe away any oily residue, leaving your beautiful kuksa ready to use.

(I also thought about adding a leather loop round the handle but couldn't find any suitable bits of leather)

Now crack open a whiskey and toast to your wood working skills.