Kuksa Carving (for Lazy Carvers)




About: I made a beer mug with only a knife and a hatchet. I think that says a lot about me.

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

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

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

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

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

Step 5: 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

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

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 ;-)

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    106 Discussions


    Answer 16 days ago

    You can make kuksas from any type of wood. I made them from olive, cherry & birch. Here's my latest from willow. All from burls, respectful harvest.


    2 years ago

    Is it ok to use sunflower oil?


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

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


    4 years ago on Introduction

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

    1 reply

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    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!


    5 years ago on Introduction

    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.

    1 reply

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    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!


    5 years ago on Step 7

    So beautiful! Thanks for sharing!


    5 years ago on Introduction

    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........


    5 years ago on Step 5

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

    1 reply

    5 years ago on Introduction

    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.

    1 reply

    5 years ago on Introduction

    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.


    5 years ago

    All I can say is wow! It's beautiful


    6 years ago on Introduction

    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....