'Viking' Beer Mug (no Power Tools - the Bushcraft Way)

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Introduction: 'Viking' Beer Mug (no Power Tools - the Bushcraft Way)

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

This is it, my 40th Instructable. Hurah.

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
(http://www.hachasartesanas.com).

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.

Step 1: 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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!!!

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

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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Third Prize in the
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4 People Made This Project!

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261 Discussions

Hi, bricobart here is a video i think will help you improve your mug.. this man is a master bucket maker and makes buckets for carrying consumables in.. he mentions a paste he makes to seal the bottom to make it water proof and it is safe for consumption ..

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GE7QA1chUzw#t=12.225645

Awesome Instructable! , And a saw and sand paper are not power tools, so you did not incur penalty points... If anything I award you extra points on your man-card for this awesomeness! Lol! Now all that's missing is some honey Mead to fill it!

The idea is great and I finally figured out how to make mugs, thanks a lot for the instruction and idea. Now problem for me is... where do I find a log to make this.

What kind of blue did u use? Only the bee oil? Does the button hold? uuh :O

1 reply

I would love to make this for my brother, but I have NO IDEA where or what to look for reguarding the log piece to make it with. Could you shed some light on that? Any help is much appreciated.

2 replies

Do you mean the wood species? A good species to make that kind of mug is beech, for example. It's soft & easy to work with & has a straith grain. You'll find it everywhere since it's a pioneer. Best way to get an already dry piece is looking for someone who uses wood to warm his house.

Very nice job, and thank you for
sharing!! You mention that you will use a hemp cord, I assume it will
be used as a rope-fixation to keep it all together? May I ask how you go about it, i.e how do
you splice together the cord-ends in order to make a strong loop?

Thank you.

"Propolis is a resin-like material from the buds of poplar and cone-bearing trees. Propolis is rarely available in its pure form. It is usually obtained from beehives and contains bee products.

Propolis has a long history of medicinal use, dating back to 350 B.C., the time of Aristotle. Greeks have used propolis for abscesses; Assyrians have used it for healing wounds and tumors; and Egyptians have used it for mummification. It still has many medicinal uses today, although its effectiveness has only been shown for a couple of them.

Propolis is POSSIBLY SAFE when taken by mouth or applied to the skin appropriately. It can cause allergic reactions, particularly in people who are allergic to bees or bee products. Lozenges containing propolis can cause irritation and mouth ulcers. A certain chemical in propolis might slow blood clotting. Taking propolis might increase the risk of bleeding in people with bleeding disorders. A certain chemical in propolis might slow blood clotting. Taking propolis might increase the risk of bleeding during and after surgery. Stop taking propolis 2 weeks before surgery."

web-md

1 reply

Useful update, thanx for that one.

I've never heard of propolis. All I've known from bees are wax and honey. Where does this propolis come from in the bee kingdom?

1 reply

They scrape it off sticky leaf buds like poplar. It's a great product - for it's mechanical aspects but also for its immune system boosting capacities.

Looks like you had some help when you cut the bottom.

A thought from my boat building days; if you can get a good flat fit between the staves, you can use an old cooper's trick for waterproofing. Once the staves are dry. take a metal rod with a diameter about half the width of the stave and clamp it to one mating edge of the stave. Now beat on it with the back of your hatchet until you've formed an even groove all the way down the stave. Repeat for all staves. Then, plane the grooved edge back to flat. Now assemble as you described (the rawhide is a great idea) but omit the stickum between the staves.

What will happen is the liquid will cause the compressed edge to swell back and make a compression seal between staves that won't leak as long as there is fairly frequent filling and draining of the mug. That's not a problem is it ?!

Bottom would be hard but you could go with a hidden tongue and groove there using a pull saw and, by putting a band just above the joint, get by without goop there as well IF your joints are good.

1 reply

That's really a great trick - at least for well planed staves. Most mugs I made had quite irregular surfaces, creating a natural male/female joint. Awesome tip, btw.

I have an older wooden mug and after holding water in it, it split in multiple areas leaking how can i get it to hold water again?

3 replies

If it sat dry for a while before it cracked, they might be stress cracks in the wood from drying out. You could try liberally applying a food safe oil to the wood to swell it back up; any oil for wood cutting block care might work. Keep in mind that this will probably preclude trying an adhesive afterwards. Alternatively, you could try very warm beeswax and heat the mug with a hairdryer to get the wax to soak in.

You could try using an epoxy resin or other wood glue. Make sure that it is food safe first though!

Apply some to the inside where the cracks are, then use a shop vac (not your best vacuum cleaner) to suck the glue/resin through the crack. Once it starts coming out the other side you're done.

Note: I haven't personally done this ... just a possible method that popped into my head.