The Magic of Wooden Cups

I think it was Alexander Yerks‘s wooden cups I first spied when I was just learning about green wood work. Something about it was sort-of mesmerizing—imagining drinking a hot cup of tea or coffee or scooping ice cold spring water on a hot day up in a wooden cup. I was pretty enamored, to say the least. The style of wooden cup most folks carve, and the one’s I first saw from Alex and other green wood workers the world over, is in the traditional Sami style of the kuksa (or guksi or kåsa). From what I understand, these are most traditionally carved from burls—those fascinating deformations that grow on trees, almost resembling a wart. This is so because a burl is a piece of incredibly twisted, and subsequently beautiful, grain formation. This tightly grown, twisted grain formation is extremely hard and durable, holding up to liquids and heat in a way superior to the comparably linear growth fibers of heartwood or sapwood.

But a wooden cup, or kuksa,  doesn’t have to be made from a burl. Although I am certain that the burl does offer something to the cup unachievable with alternatives—I’ve just yet to find the right burl. It is also much more challenging to carve burl wood. It is dense and the cup must be carved quickly, as dried burl wood is even more challenging than green. But I digress…

So after 6 or 7 months into my journey of green wood work, I carved my first kuksa from a straight branch of apple. Even though it was a small dipper sized cup it took a fair bit more axe work and a whole lot more knife work than a spoon. However, it was so exciting to carve such an object. I carved it during maple sugaring season while sitting around the boiling cauldron of sap. When it was finished, I headed over to our vats of sap where I knelt down and dipped my very first kuksa into the ice cold sap. Drinking this fresh sap in and of itself is completely enchanting—drinking it from this small handmade vessel was even more so. Let’s just say I was hooked…

Here’s some shots of that first cup. I chip carved the handle with decorations. Being my first cup, I made some beginner mistakes, namely, leaving to many rings of heartwood which shrank faster than the rest of the wood as it dried, resulting in a few minor cracks on the rim. Overall I was pleased. Ready to carve another one!

My first kuksa, carved from spalted Apple wood



I carved more and more of these cups. Trying new woods, grain orientation, and designs. I also acquired an adze for hollowing out the bowl of the cup. This makes the work much more enjoyable for me and really saves on time cranking away the bowl with a hook knife. Here’s some more cups I’ve carved since my first one from apple wood…

Red Maple kuksa gifted to a friend
My personal cup carved in Cotton Wood—pictured here holding a cup of soup
My girlfriend’s birthday kuksa carved in Box Elder—doing what it’s designed to do: drink coffee from



And my most recent cup, a gift for my brother, carved from black cherry.



I’m going to keep carving wooden cups. Probably increasingly so. From time to time, I’ll post them in the store for sale.


4 thoughts on “The Magic of Wooden Cups”

  1. Hello Mark
    I recently also got hooked on these little wooden cups.
    Mine still have a way to go befor they look as nice as yours.
    Do you have a tip on how to get them watertight? When pouring hot tea into mine, they start leaking.

  2. I've found that the best cups come from tangentially split logs with the rim of the cup oriented toward the heartwood with the bottom oriented toward the sap wood. I have also carved from raidally split chunks, but they have leaked. To fix a leak is eay—simply boil your kuksa in milk. The casein will seal any pores and keep your drink inside the cup.


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