I specialise in Kuksa (the Finnish word, also 'guksi' in Sami or 'kåsa' in Swedish), which are traditional wooden cups usually carved from Birch burl.

A little information about Kuksa

A cultural artefact from the Sami people of Lapland, they have come to symbolise unity between a people and their wilderness.

For this reason they have become important worldwide to woodcarvers and employers of bushcraft alike, both for the unique challenge they offer and the connection with a people who are at one with nature.

Unlike many of the souvenirs sold to tourists visiting Scandinavia or found on-line, these cups I fully hand carve one at a time from genuine burl of Birch, a very tough wood! 

I now also make Kuksa from straight grain wood, both because burls are rare and to offer a lower price option.

What I offer you are completely hand carved Kuksa which have been made to last and are the result of careful thought and design over many hours of carving.

Burl (BrE: Burr) Wood

There are two types of burl that I have come across: closed grain and curly grain. These are my own terms as I am yet to come across a specific definition of each. There is however a clearly discernible difference between the two when carved, and this is what I care about most.

Continue reading about Burls…

What makes these Kuksa especially valuable is the burl itself. They are rare, and I would not give an un-carved burl away, nor sell it. 

They are also difficult to collect; I often have to go up the tree by rope to collect the burl. Inevitably this adds to the cost of the Kuksa and also explains why some souvenirs sold as being made from Birch burl may in fact not be, unless they are priced accordingly. 

Those which are from Birch burl, although more expensive than the souvenirs, are still mostly mass produced because the type of burl used is much more common in Arctic and sub-Arctic mountainous regions. This is due to the effect of the harsh climate on the growth of the tree. This type of burl is what I refer to as 'closed grain'. 

There is some beautiful handmade work from this wood but you have to look a little harder for it if you want to avoid the massed produced items.

Why use a wooden cup when I could use modern materials?

It is a personal choice. The aesthetic merits of using natural materials are somewhat self-evident, they are just nice, and burl wood is something special in itself. There is also an environmental edge to using biodegradable products. It only takes a walk through a littered patch of forest to convince you of this.

But what about any practical benefits? 

One particularly good reason is that they are tough and can be thrown around a bit, especially if made from burl wood: you don't need to worry about breaking your favourite china cup if your favourite cup is actually made from wood. Practically speaking a metal or plastic cup will be just as tough, and better in other ways, the only question is whether or not it is your favourite.

Handling is also an issue, you start out holding a cup that isn't scalding hot, as 5mm of wood is a good insulator, and you can drink the last of your beverage while it's still hot enough. Another way to look at this is that because you can hold it with bare hands, your hands can start to warm up against the cup sooner! A hot drink is supposed to warm from the outside as well as from inside.

For the same reason when you take a kuksa out from your frozen pack it isn't going to numb your hands with cold. In sub-zero temperatures touching metals should be avoided.

Another boon is that with many woodcarvers, myself included, you have a choice of the shape and size of your kuksa. This is helpful for temperature control, important when brewing some teas, as you often want a smaller cup to drink successive brews from. Drink espresso style coffee? The same applies; a big cup with espresso in is just embarrassing, not to mention that it ruins the desired experience.  

As for the shape of the cup, this is a consideration if you expect to be able to place your cup on the forest floor and not worry too much about it tipping over, top-heavy. The kuksa I make all have a relatively low centre of gravity and exhibit a pot-bellied shape so as to settle into the forest floor rather than float on top of it. but don't worry, the very bottom I carve absolutely flat so when you sit it in firmer ground again it will behave as expected.

With most of the kuksa I make I attach a loop which you can attach to your belt, making it especially convenient when refreshing yourself from the spring.

What else should I know?

Practical benefits aside, a kuksa becomes a life-friend that you come to depend on. My favourite kuksa is not my best, it is the first one I made.

As the tradition goes, a Kuksa should only be made by yourself or received as a gift. I encourage you try out carving one for yourself as it is a wonderful project which forms a lasting connection with the wood. 

Visit my learning to carve section and keep a look out for articles on Kuksa carving in the news section, or visit one of the links. For a friend, one of my Kuksa would make a great camping or bushcraft cup and will last a lifetime. Don't forget to give them a bottle of brandy to go with it, as traditionally Kuksa are christened with coffee and cognac!

 Visit my workshop to discover some of the possibilities.

All written material: Copyright Ian Tompsett 2010-2011
Subpages (2): Burl Wood Kuksa Care