All pictures on this page are
of Judy Ritger's work, or her hands at work.
BASICS OF KOLROSING (pronounced
by Judy Ritger and Del Stubbs
Kolrosing is a very old method of giving fine line surface decoration
to wood. It started centuries ago with simply using the
tip of ones' belt knife to make fine decorative cuts - and then
rubbing coal dust into it to bring out the pattern. The
inner bark of various trees is also traditionally used (barkrosing).
Kolrosing is an old Scandinavian tradition, dating back
to Viking times and was most often used to decorate utilitarian
objects, such as spoons, small bowls or boxes, cups, etc. This
is why very few of the old pieces have survived - they were meant
to be used.
In Viking times, the designs were more
geometric or "Celtic" in origin. These types of
designs are very effective and popular today. In the Telemark
area of Norway, we find designs which show the influence of rosemaling
which use the flower, leaf, and vine forms. Contemporary
kolrosing is not limited to traditional patterns - any design
which can be drawn with a pencil can be done with a kolrosing
knife, from simple borders to animal forms. Use your imagination!
Try your local library for books on Celtic and rosemaling
patterns and any kind of line drawing.
1.) Wood choice:
- Look for a smooth surface, without
strong or "course" grain, with few imperfections. Basswood
and birch are the two most common woods for kolrosing - aspen
also works well.
- Light-colored wood gives good contrast.
- Small, flat plates are nice, as are
boxes and breadboards.
Judy Ritgers' favorite is spoons, but
she feels that unless you learn to make your own spoons, you
won't find many commercially available spoons that are suitable
2.) Preparing the wood:
- Sand the piece very smoothly before
- Seal any soft woods, and pieces that
will have concave or convex surfaces - such as spoons and bowls.
Most any sanding sealer, shellac, etc. may be used as the protector
coat before kolrosing. Judy Ritger uses JoSonja's Sealer,
mixed half and half with flow medium or water. (If you
don't seal the piece, the darkening compound may stain the whole
surface and tend to obliterate your design).
- Sand again after sealing, using 400
- Draw your design on the piece with
a sharp pencil (or transfer a design using graphite paper).
- Note: A simple geometric design is
the easiest to start with and can be elaborated upon as you become
more proficient. The most difficult line to do with your
knife is a tight turn or curve.
3.) Incising Techniques:
- Unlike woodcarving this technique
does not remove wood; rather, a tiny groove is made by
making a single shallow cut just deep enough to score
the wood. This is where the fine coffee powder will fill in.
- There are 2 methods of "cutting"
or incising the wood - pushing or pulling.
For simpler, geometric designs: it works to draw or pull
the blade toward you, holding the knife like a pencil.
For patterns that have tight turns: such as rosemaling,
the kolrosing knife is held like a pencil, but with the sharp
edge pointing away. Your right hand serves to hold the knife
in the wood, while the left thumb is used to push the blade along
(opposite for left handers). The left thumb is placed against
the back of the round knife blade, with the pushing pressure
coming at the left corner of your thumbnail. This gives
you much better control than trying to draw the blade toward
you. It is impossible to make a turn or nice curving line
if you draw the blade. In order to incise a rosemaling
design, you must use the technique of pushing the knife
away from you, with your left thumb as the pushing guide. Sometimes,
the piece itself is being turned as the pattern is
being cut. Go very slowly, so as not to slip and create
design elements you don't want. You can try putting a tiny
bit of Elmer's glue into a mistaken cut - that will help to keep
the coffee out and make the slip less noticeable.
4.) Coloring and Finishing:
- After you have incised the design,
you will rub in a darkening compound. Traditionally one uses
sawdust from walnut or pine bark. However, fine dry coffee
grounds work beautifully - the dry coffee will probably need
to be re-ground extra fine.
- Rub the coffee powder in well and
wipe off any excess. Next, you must sand the piece once
again to smooth any raised cuts. Use 400 or 600 grit sandpaper,
and don't worry about sanding out your design - it's deep enough
to withstand the sanding.
- The final step is to apply some type
of oil or beeswax finish to set the coffee and give a nice feel
to the piece. Just rub it in with your fingers. Judy Ritgers'
preference is a creamy natural beeswax made by Yield House. It
has no petroleum solvents in it and is very safe to use. Judy
applies one or two more coats after letting the first one
dry a couple of hours. Walnut, flax seed, or vegetable
oil also works well.
- note about the Yield House beeswax
Here is a quote from Judy
- "Thought I'd better let
you know that the Yield House Beeswax is no longer available
and I'm now recommending walnut oil as my kolrosing finish.
I've decided I like it better anyway - it gives a harder finish,
I think - as long as you don't put an excess amount of oil on.
I tell people to generously coat the surface, let it set just
a bit and then wipe off the excess, and let dry for a few days
before a final buffing. It can be purchased at most artists'
supply stores, or through Vesterheim."It also can be found
it at health food stores
- 5.) Sharpening:
- The knives are made of hard high-speed
steel and will hold their sharp edge very well. They will rarely
need stropping on a leather or wood strop, using a buffing compound
to maintain the sharp edge.
- For buffing compound don't use soft
jewelers rouge, use steel polishing compound like Zam, Fabuluster,
Dico Stainless etc. Do not use power equipment.
- Take care not to drop the knife or
break the tip in any way.
Judy Ritger Kolrosing a Pattern
note how every finger
is used strongly
Closeup Showing Finger Positions
the edge is facing away , the tool is levered against side of
Pushing the knife forward with the
end of the thumb
levering back against the side
of the thumb for the finest control in turns
Here Judy is freehand drawing
Del is rubbing super fine coffee powder
into his first kolrosing, after this it is brushed off with a
clean rag, then sanded and finished.