What is it?
The Kuksa is a wooden hand carved cup and one of many products in the traditional craftwork (Duodji) of the Sámi, the indigenous people of Lapland. For outdoor lovers in the north, it is the ideal vessel which can endure extreme temperatures. It holds cold or warm drinks and is a help for collecting berries or scooping liquids.
According to tradition you have to carve your own Kuksa or get it as a gift. Parents often pass it to their children.
The handle is on the same level as the crown line of the bowl. That feature gives the cup its recognisable shape. A Kuksa has a very steady hold, which comes in different designs: double hole, single hole or flat. Either way, it has a comfortable grip and prevents the mug from slipping out of your hand. That's useful when your icy fingers are stiff and feeble. The spherical segment can be round or complanate so that it stands on a table.
The wood can withstand big temperature differences. Therefore it's no problem to pour boiling water while the air temperature is minus 15°C. Furthermore, the material does not crack when dropped on the ground.
If it is handmade, you feel irregularities from the carving when holding the cup in two hands. Wood always feels warm and comfortable, even in cold conditions.
How to make one
If there is anything about the Kuksa you can find on the internet, then it is how to carve one for yourself.
To get a durable result, you should use wood from a polar birch or a burr (AE burl) from any tree. This rounded outgrowth on a trunk shows a pattern of dense swirls in the grain instead of growth rings. The form of a burr defines the shape of the cup. Don’t cut it off from a live tree if you are not experienced.
The burr is roughly shaped with an axe and refined with a sharp knife. This process should happen in one day to prevent the wood from drying out. There are different curing techniques. Some boil the cup in salt-water for an hour or more, rinse it and let it dry. Others put it in an open paper bag for up to two weeks. Both procedures are preventing the moisture to evaporate too fast; this could evoke cracks in the material. After the treatment, the wood can be sanded and oiled for the last finish. A few infusions would compensate for the oiling.
Very important is the inauguration of the Kuksa. Fill it with a strong water to the rim and let it take effect for a few minutes. Meditate on the beauty of the Nordic forest and the magic of the aurora borealis. Then skol the drink.
Coffee in my new Kuksa smelled of wood for quite a while. Later, the cup adapted the liquids taste. I recommend to use it only for coffee or tea, but not both. Never leave your cup standing around if it's not empty. And don't put milk in it. After use, rinse the Kuksa only with water.
Why I like it
For me, one of the most beautiful design aspects of the Kuksa is the patina it will get. Coffee and tee leave their mark. I love objects which bear traces of its use and are therefore unique. The natural object has a very pleasant grip and is surprisingly light weighted. It can be a piece of art when handmade. If you want to support the Sámi with purchasing a Kuksa, please check if it is handcrafted. (They cost around 100 Euro.) The cheap mass products did have had a harmful impact on the craftsmen's market.
The first time my friend Sarah and I used a Kuksa, we were wondering why it has two holes. So we started to create stories about it. I.e., In Lapland, a lot of outdoorsmen froze off their thumb. They couldn't grab a regular cup that's why they invented the two-hole-mug. What story can you think of?
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