Carved Walnut Kuksa

Carved Walnut Kuksa


Tools and Materials: 



 

Process: 


I first utilized a bandsaw to cut out the general shape of the kuksa from a piece of walnut wood. I then used a sloyd knife (a general handicrafts knife) to begin general carving and shaping of the cup. I used a hook knife to begin hollowing out the bowl of the cup; see image below. The process of hollowing out the bowl was very slow and labor intensive, involving multiple carving sessions. In order to hollow out the full bowl depth, I also used a wood gouge. This allowed me to expand the depth of the bowl, and access the wood at different angles than my hook knife.


 For more detailed carving, including the handle of the kuksa, I used a smaller carving knife. Finally, to finish the piece I hand sanded the piece, going gradually from 220 to 1500 grit. I sealed the wood with walnut oil, a period material, and let dry. 


While carving this piece, I used a kuksa I picked up in Oulu, Finland as a basic template, attempting to mimic the base and wall thicknesses. My piece from Finland is, of itself, anachronistic as it is made of an exotic olive wood that would not have been readily available in the Scandanavian region. However, the overall shape and design is very typical of kuksa examples. 


 Hand carving dried walnut wood was slow and an exercise in patience. In future, I'd like to process the wood entirely using hand tools, removing the bandsaw and instead using a hand axe and saw on a larger piece of greenwood  to create the general carving blank.



Carved, shaped, and sanded to 2000 grit. Ready to be finished with walnut oil. 

The Kuksa in Period: 


A Kuksa cup (also known as a Guksi, Kasa, or Kulska cup) is a traditional hand carved cup, typically constructed of birch burl, carried and used by the Sami people of Scandanavia. The kuksa, typically a small handheld cup or scoop, would be worn on the belt and utilized daily. Uses could include drinking, eating broth or pottages, or a container for gathering berries. The traditional material choice of birch burl was on purpose; the burl would be circular in shape, helping to form the basis of the cup, and the burled wood is slightly stronger than plain birch, providing more structure to the piece. Additionally, burled birch features a variety of interesting hues and colorations, which can be naturally showcased in the carved kuksa. 


The kuksa cup is one small material example of the larger Duodji (or handcrafts) tradition of the arctic Sami people. Their relative isolation for much of their history has led to the development of a distinct and unique handcrafts tradition, with a focus on making useful, utilitarian items that have artistic elements, designed for long lasting use. The arctic environment can be unforgiving and resources scarce; therefore their handicrafts focus on useful items that serve a purpose rather than being primarily decorative or artistic. Function, rather than form, is the primary focus of Duodji objects, with artistic elements such as kolrosing wooden surfaces, scrimshawing bone, and tooling leather to add to the beauty of the object. Much emphasis is placed on use of natural materials and naturalistic motifs in their embellishment of items. 


Illustration from Johannes Schefferus’ Lapponia, a history of Northern Scandinavia and the Sami people, first published 1673. Note the kuksa hanging from the male’s belt, an everyday use item. 



The kuksa comes in a wide variety of designs and ornamentation. A simple search of the Norsk Folkemuseum for terms such as “kuksa”, “guksi”, or even “kasa” results in an assortment of forms, see below. The kuksa typically consists of a bowled body with some kind of handle; generally the handle is either a wooden tab, often ornamented with some kind of kolrosing design or chip carving. Another common form of handle features finger holes, almost like a coffee cup. This is the handle type I used in my piece. This basic design is very similar to those unearthed by archaeologists in the Oseberg ship, nearly 1100 years old. The handcraft continues to this day, with more modern examples held in the museum’s collections dating from the 1800s to 1970. A kuksa cup can commonly be found for sale in handcrafts stores and market stalls in Norway, Finland, and Sweden. Today’s kuksas are made of a much wider variety of woods, including exotic woods such as olive, mahogany, and even purpleheart, which are not native to Scandanavia. They may also be painted using milk paints to add color, a technique that could have been used in period.


Above: Results of a search of the Norsk Folkemuseum’s collections for the term “guksi.”

Left: a section of the key items report from the Oseberg ship site, hosted by the Museum of the Viking Age. Note the similarity in basic design. https://www.vikingtidsmuseet.no/de-nye-utstillingene/key-objects-16.12..2021.pdf

Bibliography: 


Adamson, Paul. n.d. Kuksa - A Guide To Hand Carved Wooden Cups. 2nd ed. https://paul-adamson-craft.myshopify.com/products/new-2nd-edition-on-the-way-very-soon-kuksa-a-guide-to-hand-carved-wooded-cups. ISBN 978-1-3999-4893-7 


Koslin, Desiree. 2010. “The Way of Sami Duodji: From Nomadic Necessity to Trademarked Lifestyle.” Textile Society of America Symposium Proceedings, October, https://digitalcommons.unl.edu/tsaconf/30/.


Pierce, John.“Carving a Traditional Burl Kuksa - the Folk School Fairbanks.” 2023. The Folk School Fairbanks. November 28, 2023. https://folk.school/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/BurlKuksaTutorialText.pdf. 


Schefferus, Johannes. 1673. Lapponia. https://www.rct.uk/collection/1072047/lapponia.

Vlasatý, Tomáš. 2019. “Drinking Vessels of Viking Norway – Projekt Forlǫg.” August 17, 2019. https://sagy.vikingove.cz/en/drinking-vessels-of-viking-norway/. 


Vlasatý, Tomáš. 2017. “The Man from Voll : An Example of a Well-Preserved

Norwegian Male Grave.” https://www.academia.edu/32458579/The_man_from_Voll_An_example_of_a_well_preserved_Norwegian_male_grave.


Jenni, and Jenni. 2023. “Finnish Kuksa – A Wooden Cup Full of Tradition.” Out in the Nature. September 17, 2023. https://www.outinthenature.com/finnish-kuksa-a-wooden-cup-full-of-tradition/.


“Key Objects Report of From the Living to the Dead Exhibit.” 2021. Museum of the Viking Age. University of Oslo. Accessed February 3, 2024. https://www.vikingtidsmuseet.no/de-nye-utstillingene/key-objects-16.12..2021.pdf