Making cups/kuksas leak proof

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Making cups/kuksas leak proof

Postby SeanHellman » Fri Nov 19, 2010 10:22 pm

If you have made a wooden cup, and then put some liquid in it, the liquid soon seeps out especially through any end grain. With water in a bushcraft setting this is no problem, but with your 12 year old single malt it is.
I found a solution which I am happy with, but this only works with cold liquids. Immerse the whole cup in molten beeswax and leave to soak for a bit. If you have only a little bit of beeswax then use a hot air gun to melt the wax into the cup, or even use a microwave. The cup in all cases may get to hot to hold, but the idea is to get the wax deep into the wood. Rubbing wax on the surface is not any good as it will soon ware off.
I have tried linseed oil and will not again, it taints the liquid for months of daily use, or so I have found.

Talking to Alan Waters at the Bentley woodfair a couple of months ago, he said that he was given or bought a Kuksa when in a Scandinavian country, and it leaked. Asking the locals they said put boiling milk into it and then coffee drinking is not going to be a messy business. Alan is a great guy with a great sense of humour, so I thought it could be a wind up. Anyway I tried it, I made a small shot cup, as my wife was very dubious about the milk going rancid and giving me food poisoning, spilt milk can stink for months, if not properly cleaned up.

So one shot cup, it has had freshly made hot coffee sitting in it for 2 hours or more, whisky, water, and no liquid seeping through at all, more importantly no milky smells either.
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Yes that is the pith you can see just below the top of the cup, no leaking through this either.

I know that wooden bowls were often used in the dairy, but not with hot or boiling milk. By the way I used organic whole milk on sycamore.

What are other peoples experience with waterproofing cups? I am only interested in natural or traditional ways, and personally would never use any man made type varnish.
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Re: Making cups/kuksas leak proof

Postby Ian S » Sat Nov 20, 2010 9:48 am

Hi Sean

The idea of the milk is, I think, something to do with the milk proteins (casein?).

I think a similar technique was used with early (bronze/iron age) pottery - the pots would be fired at a (comparatively) low temperature, which would solidify them, but they would be porous. Once fired, add milk, boil, and the outcome would be one sealed pot.

Do we have any archeologists on site? Dave Budd maybe?

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Re: Making cups/kuksas leak proof

Postby Mark Allery » Sat Nov 20, 2010 9:54 am

Hi Sean,

great work! Lovely looking wood. My experience is limited in experimentation. I have a Finnish cup or two, lovely Birch burrs. The story that came with it is that it should be sealed with Vodka. Sounds like the Scandinavians have a range of possible stories that get trotted out depending upon what they think you want to hear? Alan rarely drinks and loves strong coffee - he gets the coffee story? I get the hard liquor story?

I can understand what you mean with the linseed. Similar effect upon bowls, the first few bowls of muesli do have a linseed taste and after a while I got used to it, but not with the Malt! I have a favourite goblet that I made a few years ago in birch. Oiled the outside and then hesitantly filled it halfway with Port. You can see where the port starts to saturate through the wood - it gets rosy cheeks, but after a while it seems fine. I've not used it for a while now and the wood has all dulled in colour. But it strikes me that having been sealed with port it might now be fine for a Malt? After all that's how they age the whisky anyway? I can feel another experiment coming on.

cheers

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Re: Making cups/kuksas leak proof

Postby paul atkin » Sat Nov 20, 2010 12:57 pm

Very interesting subject, i have battled for years with this, Tung oil very good but tastes strongly of nuts for ages, linseed not as waterproof and still has aftertaste. The milk thing i will try on my next one. At the moment i use a 50/50 mix of hot linseed and beeswax with pretty good results.
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Re: Making cups/kuksas leak proof

Postby SeanHellman » Sat Nov 20, 2010 1:10 pm

Ian, after you saying about pottery being sealed with milk, I am sure I too have heard this sometime, somewhere before.
Mark, linseed on bowls and plate no problem and yes you can get a taint for a while, but for me this is no problem, but with cups I get the taint for months and months even with water. Sealing with Vodka? sounds wrong to me, unless the alcohol does something to the wood. Oh to have a chemistry degree.

I think this Christmas I will have to make a dozen shot cups and experiment, so post any tale you have heard about how to seal wood and I will give it a go. If anyone suggests 100 year old scotch then please supply a bottle for experimentation purposes.
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Re: Making cups/kuksas leak proof

Postby Mark Allery » Sat Nov 20, 2010 2:21 pm

SeanHellman wrote: please supply a bottle for experimentation purposes.


Oooh errr, I'll supply the bottle, are you offering to fill it? :D :lol: :twisted:
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Re: Making cups/kuksas leak proof

Postby Mark Allery » Sat Nov 20, 2010 11:12 pm

Ian S wrote:Hi Sean

The idea of the milk is, I think, something to do with the milk proteins (casein?).

I think a similar technique was used with early (bronze/iron age) pottery - the pots would be fired at a (comparatively) low temperature, which would solidify them, but they would be porous. Once fired, add milk, boil, and the outcome would be one sealed pot.

Do we have any archeologists on site? Dave Budd maybe?

Cheers


As it happens. I've consulted my local archaeologist on this subject. I gather you need a Ceramic Archaeologist rather than a common-or-garden one for an expert opinion. Nevertheless, by an astounding coincidence my common-or-garden archaeologist was on a romano-british pottery course today, so here it what I've learned.

All pottery is porous - hence it needs to be glazed for protection and to waterproof it - it's also decorative. Glaze has been around for a long time - thousands of years (China, Middle East and Europe) - but not always used and a lot of basic pottery 'value range' was unglazed in this country until the late medieval period. There is also the possibility that a lot of Roman glaze was lead based - so not too healthy and maybe some preferred your unleaded pots to your leaded ones? Two Iron-Age and/or Romano-British techniques for sealing pottery were burnish and slip, as in burnish-ware and slip-ware. Burnishing is a polish to the dried article before firing in just the same way as we do on our wooden items and slip is a suspension of clay in water - both have the effect of smoothing the pot surface and filling/closing the pores. General purpose containers like wine amphora needed to be completely water proof for long jounreys and the value range would have been sealed internally with pitch or resin. One suspects that the posh grog might well have been in glazed amphora. Other foodstuffs also travelled in amphora and oil would have travelled in reused wine amphora and vica versa but would not have needed sealing. Analysis of recovered sherds shows wine (fermented stuff at least) residues absorbed into the porous pot.

So where does milk come in? Unlikely to have been used for sealing storage containers for wine, food, grain etc because of the danger of bacterial infections. Not necessary for burnish or slip ware. But lipid residues of diary products (that's milk butter fats to us non-archaeologists) have been found in pot sherds from English Neolithic sites (eg Maiden Castle etc) but they are not from a single sealing use - they appear to have been from continuous build up over a period of time. Basically these were cooking vessels and the use of dairy products in the cooking would certainly have had the effect of sealing the pots - but so would fats and starches from other animals and plants.

So it seems the evidence does not point to milk being used for the purpose of sealing iron age British pots, though the presence of these butter fats would have had the effect of sealing the pots (if you see what I mean). Hopefully regular cooking would also have prevented bacteria build up in the lipid products, though it seems likely that those using the pots would have been more resistant to such diseases than we are today (as a result of catching them more often or just dieing younger when you did!).

We've been using wooden items with milk for thousands of years. Even today butter stored in casks turns up in Irish Peat bogs, though it's past it's best by the odd millenia. It seems likely that wooden dairy bowls, butter pats, spoons churns etc would all have been sealed to some extent by the butter fats. But that was then and this in now. These days we've all got a lot more careful with dairy products and bacterial diseases and probably we're a lot more sensitive to them than we wer and its hard to imagine not scrubbing the wooden items carefully after using them? Another point is that our milk has and is changing a lot - I don't think skimmed milk would be the right one to choose for this experiment, but which one would be best for sealing and for health issues? I've tried to google on the use of milk for sealing pots but not found any good info, though I've seen comments on it being in use, perhaps in Asia or Africa? It seems it's not recommended for delicate stomachs and I suppose that this would be just the same with sealing wood as it is for pots? I 've just remembered that my worst night in Turkey was caused by accepting a glass of fermented milk with a Kebab - should have just stuck to the kebab. Only just made it home that time!

Anyway this all ended up a lot more involved (and interesting ) than my initial question. Caution - I am not an archaeologist and certainly not a ceramics expert so this is just my imperfect distillation of the information. So I'm still going for port or 100year old Malt!

cheers

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Re: Making cups/kuksas leak proof

Postby Ian S » Sun Nov 21, 2010 2:51 pm

Ian S wrote:The idea of the milk is, I think, something to do with the milk proteins (casein?).

I think a similar technique was used with early (bronze/iron age) pottery - the pots would be fired at a (comparatively) low temperature, which would solidify them, but they would be porous. Once fired, add milk, boil, and the outcome would be one sealed pot.


I had the basic idea, but just about every other detail wrong :roll: ....

Barvas Ware - rough pottery made in the Outer Hebrides was sealed with milk, and it's reckoned that the milk lipids (fats?) are the sealing agent, not the proteins. Here and here are a couple of links.

Getting back to Sean's original query of milk sealing wood, I'm afraid I have no idea....could the same thing be happening?

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Re: Making cups/kuksas leak proof

Postby Terence » Sun Nov 21, 2010 6:34 pm

I use a bowl and a cup regularly for hot drinks without any seepage. They both leaked the first few times but that stopped before long. I have used them for a lot of different drinks and soups and the bowl in particular is more or less black on the inside from use. I think its the coffee/tea with milk that sealed mine but I cant say for definite. The heat of the drink probably helps push the lipids in the milk into the wood. I highly doubt the kind of bacteria that survive in milk would multiply if embedded and immobilised deep in the wood. Any that arent that deep will regularly be washed away or killed by the hot drink anyway. One could go deep into the science behind it (there is probably a bacteriology research paper in it, I know Robin Wood cites one) but in my opinion its as simple as the more you use it the less it leaks.
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Re: Making cups/kuksas leak proof

Postby arth » Sun Nov 21, 2010 8:08 pm

I made a Kuksas for a friends birthday and was going to seal it with corn oil. Has anyone used corn oil?
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Re: Making cups/kuksas leak proof

Postby dave budd » Mon Nov 22, 2010 1:37 pm

I haven't come across the deliberate waterproofing of vessels (wooden or ceramic) with milk proteins, but certainly I've noticed it with my own cups and bowls. I might try boiling a cup in milk and see how it goes, for my own use I'm not worried about bacteria and the like, but i couldn't sell it that way just incase. I've noticed a couple of the tea spoons I like to use have taken on a beautiful glossy sheen from making tea and coffee, though they are now tea/coffee coloured

I've been using a wooden cup the last couple of years when at shows for drinking everything from tea and coffee to mead and single malt, before that I had a lovely little ceramic cup (then some drunken tart trod on it! :evil: ). The wooden one is birch and I didn't seal or oil it prior to use. It's first use was red wine, which stained it, then some cider, which cleaned it again! Once I'd had a few cups of milky coffee in it the thing stopped leaking at all. I did notice that spirits stripped the waterproofing a bit from the base of the cup, but I think it had been saturated enough by that time to keep it watertight (the next cup of tea did taste of whiskey though).

The ceramic cup that I had was a biscuit-fired (that's the low temp firing mentioned above) pinch pot made from a heavily flint tempered terracotta type clay. It was a replica of the first prehistoric ceramic that I found when I was a common-or-garden archaeologist. The first time I had a drink from it (beer I think) it leaked like a sieve! Then after a few milky brews it was absolutely fine and remained my favourite cup to drink from until it was broken. I also had a cooking pot made from the same biscuit-fired clay but with a finer sand temper, this one was a mid-iron age example and the walls were only 6mm thick. This one was burnished heavily inside and out and never leaked. It did show areas of slight dampness to start with but I mostly cooked meaty stews in it and that seemed to do a similar job.

Sealing metal cauldrons by cooking porridge is a common one, the mixture of dust from the oats and the boiling milk seals up quite sizeable gaps. I only buy whole milk anyway (non-homogenised too around here :) ), but I'm sure it works better than the thinner semi stuff. I know a man who could right a long essay on the subject of milks/ various lipids and where they are found archaeologically, it's his big academic passion (mostly research into horse milk oddly)

just a observations on my part. I'm no longer an archaeologist, nor am I a ceramicist but I did make and test a few of these things during and in the 7 years since gaining a Masters degree in Experimental Archaeology :mrgreen:
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Re: Making cups/kuksas leak proof

Postby Mark Allery » Mon Nov 22, 2010 2:57 pm

dave budd wrote:I haven't come across the deliberate waterproofing of vessels (wooden or ceramic) with milk proteins, but certainly I've noticed it with my own cups and bowls. I might try boiling a cup in milk and see how it goes, for my own use I'm not worried about bacteria and the like, but i couldn't sell it that way just incase. I've noticed a couple of the tea spoons I like to use have taken on a beautiful glossy sheen from making tea and coffee, though they are now tea/coffee coloured


That's put it a lot better than I could!

Ian - You are not wrong, nor am I right, I'm sorry if my message came over that way - I did not intend it. :( The link to Barvas pottery was excellent and very interesting. I've just come across a reference to an Ethiopian pot being sealed with milk in 1959 which is identical to the Hebridean description in your link. I will be trying it soon and I rather like the idea of the morning coffee with a hint of whisky from the night before! Best of both worlds,

Mark
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Re: Making cups/kuksas leak proof

Postby Ian S » Mon Nov 22, 2010 9:27 pm

Hi Mark

Nothing to possibly take offence at! I was only pointing out that I was wrong both in time frame (Bronze/Iron age v past few hundred years) and in possible chemistry (protein v fat).

I had to go digging around to find the original mention of the Barvas Ware - I knew that I had read something about pottery, and roughly where I had read it, but I couldn't remember the specifics.

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Re: Making cups/kuksas leak proof

Postby warrenee » Tue Nov 23, 2010 5:09 pm

fascinating... a question I have: do you need to boil it in milk (if so for how long?), or does merely filling it with boiling milk (which, presumably, will then cool pretty quickly) suffice?
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Re: Making cups/kuksas leak proof

Postby SeanHellman » Tue Nov 23, 2010 11:09 pm

warrenee wrote:fascinating... a question I have: do you need to boil it in milk (if so for how long?), or does merely filling it with boiling milk (which, presumably, will then cool pretty quickly) suffice?


Just fill and swill with boiling milk a couple or three times.
The one thing I have not tried is a Terence has done, and that is just use them until sealed. It seems that the coffee will seal the wood in time. I was so disappointed with my spirits disappearing so quickly that I had to seal my cup quick and have not experimented with sealing over time through use.
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