Monday, 15 October 2007

Can You Tell What It is Yet?

Of Course it’s a root burl. Or to be more precise a burl that has separated from its parent tree and then rooted. Before it could put up any shoots along came your pal the bushwacker and snaffled it.

Burls are a great example of the adage ‘it’s the exception that proves the rule’ if you took any woodwork classes at school you may remember being told that wood ‘always’ grows in strait fibers that form the woods grain, then along came a burl to disprove that generalisation. Burls do have grain but it’s not straight, in fact its usually in interconnecting spirals. If you get the first stages of curing right they form an incredibly hard and stable piece of timber. They are dense, hard to carve, but very beautiful. Because of the random super tight grain they are far less likely to split, even if they get wet. I’ve been an avid Burl collector for a few years but most of my collection are pretty small. They become handles for fire steels and brushes. Occasionally I find some larger specimens and this one came along just as I was thinking about Mungo’s request for a Kuksa.

Most european bushcrafters have a fascination for the Sammi or Laplanders of Finland.They live in some of the most beautiful and challenging terrain europe has to offer, and are masters of cold weather living. They have developed some equipment that has been ‘field tested’ over generations. The Puukko knife and the Kuksa (or wooden cup) are icons of european bushcraft. Both use burls from the birch tree in their construction.The clever thing about a wooden cup is that however cold the weather it wont stick to your lips, and is a fair insulator, keeping hot drinks and soups warmer for longer.

For a really good kuksa tutorial see Jon’s Bushcraft.

American Finn’s blog
has some very good pictures of Puukkos and kuksas
Kellam Knives have kuksas and Puukkos
Bearclaws are the only people I’ve seen selling proper hand carved Burl Kuksas, not cheap but look totally authentic.
Thanks for reading


Decado said...

Nice piece of wood! I am sure it will be great when you get it done!

Did not know about the burls though. How do you find them?

Funny about the timing of your post, as I just started making a Kuksa this weekend.


The Suburban Bushwacker said...

I believe that burls often form on trees as a response to pollutants in the ground water, so in areas like Poland where there is arsenic in the ground water you'll find more of them.
Birch is the classic material for Kuksas although I’ve done well with both kinds of Chestnut and Oaks. Holly often produces some pure white bead sized burls that some wiccans go nuts for.
As you can see the camera on my phone is rubbish to say the least, as I get access to some better equipment I’ll be posting pix of some of the more interesting ones I’ve found.
Thanks for reading

viridari said...

There could also be a tobacco pipe hiding in there as well.

Todd: said...

Great post. I want to make a kuksa now! What are the secrets of curing the burl? I look forward to seeing the finished cup.

The Suburban Bushwacker said...

In Scandinavia (home of the Kuksa) they apparently cure their burls by soaking them in salt water for a while pre, during, and post carving. As to salinity my guess is that seawater would be the standard, although I’ve not been able to find any hard facts or birch burls large enough to be worth experimenting with. Currently I use sawdust to slow the drying process and it seems to be working very well. I’m planning a post about Burls and collecting them as soon as the Mrs’ mania for DIY passes!

Todd: said...

Thanks! I've heard about water curing similar to that. Look forward to your future burl post.

Anonymous said...

when i lived in the puget sound area in the 90s the japanese were buying shiploads of old growth lumber and taking it to japan and sinking it in the salt water harbors for future use. salt preserves wood as well as meat.

in that area, all one has to do to obtain huge pieces of quality wood (softwood)is to go to the beach and select a salt preserved log, split out a section and take it home. hardwoods were nearly non-existent except for the madrone which was the locally named "ironwood" of the pacific nw.