Kuksa day course

2017 has seen the launch of a range of day long craft and skills courses in our woodland venues.

For those of you who have fancied the idea of trying your hand at kuksa carving follow this link to see what our day of carving this traditional drinking cup entails.

So what is a kuksa?

Getting the general shape of the cup hewn out with an axe.

Kuksa, Kasa and Guksi are all related words of the native Sami inhanbitants of Scandinavia and Western Russia used to describe a traditional wooden drinking vessel.

Typically these cups were made from Birch wood and burls of a suitable size were regarded as some of the best construction material as the rounded shape of the bowl would be strengthened by the natural grain in the burl.

Student on our day course refining his Kuksa.

Kuksa can be made from any wood however (with care to avoid toxic species) however you don’t have to use a burl – in fact these can be a little hard to come by and some skill is required to remove a burl from a tree in a way that is sympathetic to the tree recovering.

Commonly on our kuksa carving workshops we simply select a straight trunk of suitable green wood; Birch where we can get it otherwise Sykamore and Willow. The longitudinal grain in these straight trunks does not provide the same integral strength to the finished item but non the less will produce a beautiful, functional and lasting utensil.

Another student works on truing up the symmetry of her kuksa cup.

There are many references both on line and around the camp fire about kuksa being boiled in salt water. It is understood that this was a traditional means of finishing a kuksa cup but less is fully understood about exactly how this was done and even less can be agreed on exactly why it was done!

Some opinions for your consideration are that the salt helps to retain water from leaving the wood to quickly, stabilising it, slowing down the drying and thus preventing checking and cracking. Makes sense to me and I have heard traditional boat builders use a similar technique on vessels that need to be dry docked for a period of time.

Getting to grips with the Mora crook knife.

Another reason could be to physically seal the tiny pores in the wood and prevent leaks. Depending on the grain arrangement which varies with the stock material you choose and how you then process it you can find some items to be more porous so again this theory has some good argument.

An idea I had not heard before and only after chatting informally with a colleague could be that the salty preservation of the cup actually helped introduce a daily quota of salt water into the diet of the traditional northern reindeer hunter. These people would have existed on a very protein heavy diet for much of the winter and I am reliably informed that contrary to a perceived modern, healthy, low-salt diet that your salt intake should actually increase if you eat meat almost exclusively!

What ever the reason the fact remains that the kuksa is a very satisfying handy craft to take part in and once made will likely last you for years of woodland service.

Adam Logan,

Senior Instructor Woodland Ways.