Monday, 28 January 2013

Bushcrafting: The Mighty Kuksa

I have been accused of being materialistic, even by people who are supposed to have been close friends.  To a certain extent this is correct however, for me it has always been about the quest to obtain whatever object I am seeking.  The harder an object is to attain, the more I have valued it.  This is why I cherish anything that I have made through my DIY (do it yourself) projects.  This is also part of why I really enjoy the "crafting" side of bushcrafting and this leads me to my next project, making a kuksa.

A kuksa (guksi or kasa) is a traditional handicrafted cup carved out of the burl of a birch tree by the Sami or Laplander people of northern Scandinavia.  The Sami believe that  traditionally, you should either carve your own or receive one as a gift.  A kuksa should last you a lifetime.  The kuksa has been adopted by bushcrafters not only for its aesthetics, function, and its origin in the forest but because it is a natural progression in carving skills to craft one after completing the carving of a spoon.  The tools and skills needed to carve a kuksa are exactly the same as for the spoon.  All you need is a saw, hatchet, carving knife and a crooked knife.
A cook spoon I carved from the fallen branch of a cedar tree.

Since a kuksa is made from natural materials of the forest, I was determined to find what I needed to make one there.  There is an abundance of birch trees growing in the boggy woods which surround where I live so I headed out on a hike to find the materials I needed.

After a long search for a burl, I found one (which I at first mistook for chaga).

Birch burl
  Unfortunately, the burl was too small so I settled for using a piece of silver birch from my pile of firewood.  It took me approximately two weeks to carve and along the way I had to fight the wood from cracking because it was still slightly green.

 I wanted to keep this kuksa as authentic as I could so I added deer antler to the handle.  The antler was supplied by a fellow bushcrafter and I can't believe how hard the material was to shape!  I also etched a crude Sami symbol for reindeer into it, my first attempt at scrimshaw!  After my initial scare with cracking, I was afraid to try curing the kuksa in the tradional way by boiling it for several hours in salt water so instead I went with rubbing it with mineral oil.  The mineral oil makes it safe to drink out of, protects it from rot, and brings out the grain.  Here are a few pictures of my completed kuksa.

For someone interested in a kuksa but not motivated to carve their own, there is a new product gaining popularity with backpackers and bushcrafters alike.  Kupilka, a Finnish company, makes a a lightweight kuksa. called the "Kupilka 21", out of  a natural fiber composite consisting 50% of pine and 50% plastic.  At only 3.5oz, it is dishwasher safe and biodegradable.

Kupilka 21.
The kuksa project has been very satisfying to me and I can't wait to use it around my next campfire.