Making a Kuksa sweat

posted 14 Jun 2010, 06:24 by Ian Tompsett   [ updated 14 Jun 2010, 13:26 ]
When I make each new kuksa, it has to be tested before I put it up for sale. The test is simple, but the most tortuous one for wood - ignoring the hearth in your living room - especially where water-tightness is concerned. If I did not conduct this test I would not be satisfied, and could not sell the kuksa. It is the point when I find out if I have made mistakes not just in the carving, but in the drying process.

The pitfall
Making a kuksa is a multi-stage process because they are carved from green wood, either burl or straight-grained wood. The straight-grained wood is harder to manage, one of the reasons for the higher value of the burl wood for kuksa-making, as any quick drying will produce grand canyons in the  now not-so-beautiful kuksa. Burl wood is not without problems, as for one it sometimes will contain some straight grain formations, but with all curly burl the 'eyes' in the wood can sometimes travel all the way through the walls, especially if they are thin. If they dry too fast, the eyes open, and then in use your kuksa cries!

Salt and Shavings
In avoiding this problem we use salt to help slow the drying of the work piece; my method is to do most of the carving of a green burl in a day, then boil it in salt water in the evening for about 2 hours. I then place the work piece in a cardboard box filled with its own shavings, put the lid back on but leaving a gap, and leave it to dry for about a week. This allows the shape of the unfinished kuksa to normalise, thus allowing me to finish its fashioning in the knowledge that it will remain that shape. The shavings are of such vital importance during the making of a kuksa that I include them as packaging on its final journey to the customer. You can either keep them or use them as a handy fire-lighter.

Torture Test
When the kuksa has finished drying, first for a week, at which time it is carved to near-completion, then for another few days, after which it is tool-finished, it will stop moving around and will contain the least moisture. This is when I can at last perform the test:-

boiling water is poured into the kuksa:

now, it literally sweats:
...not water, but the wax finish, which nicely conditions your hands as well as the kuksa.

Thankfully, this time the kuksa is sound, and ready for the shop.

Thanks for reading.