Kolrosing, an ancient art form

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Blog entry by stefang posted 06-05-2009 05:30 PM 9869 reads 4 times favorited 16 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Awhile back Elaine had a review on some scandinavian kolrosing knives she bought. There seemed to be some confusion about what it was and where it came from. I know a little of the history about kolrosing and have done a little of it myself.

For those of you not familiar with kolrosing, it isn’t really wood carving as such,but it definitely is a woodworking craft which can rise to the status of art when done by creative hands.

Doing kolrosing consists of making incisions, or etching into wood, but not taking out any waste. The incisions are then rubbed with finely ground or sanded bark mixed with oil. This makes the pattern stand out very well. This art form actually originated in Scandinavia among the Laplanders, a nomadic people in the north who moved with their reindeer herds pretty freely between Norway, Sweden and Finland. The descendants of these people are still living In these areas and still herding reindeer, but are less Nomadic than they were earlier.

Kolrosing actually started with the etching of patterns on horn and bone materials and then rubbing the patterns with a mixture of burned out wood coals from their open pit fires and animal fat. I’m not sure, but I think the Inuit people do something similar. The practice has been extended to include kolrosing in wood. They look three dimensional, but are actually flat. Below are some pictures of old kolrosing on bone and horn done by Laplanders and followed by a current example in wood by Norwegian artist Leif Ottar Flaten. Hope you find them interesting. Sorry the pics aren’t of the best quality.



-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

16 comments so far

View kiwi1969's profile


608 posts in 4008 days

#1 posted 06-05-2009 05:34 PM

A bit like scrimshaw then. Wonderful how these crafts have survived so long it,s great to see. Especially like the knives. Thanks for the post.

-- if the hand is not working it is not a pure hand

View jockmike2's profile


10635 posts in 4812 days

#2 posted 06-05-2009 06:26 PM

Very interesting history lesson.

-- (You just have to please the man in the Mirror) Mike from Michigan -

View Thos. Angle's profile

Thos. Angle

4444 posts in 4528 days

#3 posted 06-06-2009 02:31 AM

great information, a lot like scrim

-- Thos. Angle, Jordan Valley, Oregon

View scottb's profile


3648 posts in 4893 days

#4 posted 06-06-2009 02:37 AM

wow, yeah, the lower pic definately looks 3D.

-- I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it. - Van Gogh -- --

View Karson's profile


35209 posts in 4966 days

#5 posted 06-06-2009 03:55 AM

Great bit of history. I’ve never read anything about it.


-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Appomattox Virginia [email protected]

View degoose's profile


7264 posts in 3921 days

#6 posted 06-06-2009 07:07 AM

I learn something new everyday. thanks Mike. May Santa be nice to you.

-- Don't drink and use power tools @

View stefang's profile


16875 posts in 3900 days

#7 posted 06-06-2009 11:19 AM

Glad you liked it. There are many obscure forms of woodworking around the world. It’s a shame they’re not better known because if they were, someone would surely be inspired to take them up as a hobby.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View Elaine's profile


113 posts in 4189 days

#8 posted 06-07-2009 02:35 PM

These are beautiful! More inspiration, thanks!

View woodchic's profile


841 posts in 3923 days

#9 posted 06-09-2009 09:18 PM

I like your work….......very nice!

Robin Renee’


-- Robin Renee'

View Jeison's profile


968 posts in 3674 days

#10 posted 01-11-2010 02:53 AM


-- - Jei, Rockford IL - When in doubt, spray it with WD-40 and wrap it with duct tape. The details will attend to themselves.

View stefang's profile


16875 posts in 3900 days

#11 posted 01-11-2010 12:25 PM

Great idea PrairieFire. I would have thought that with so many members from so many parts of the world that you could get members to contribute info on traditional woodworking in their respective countries. There are always some interest products and techniques. I still have a few interesting things I will be making to show folks things made and used in the past here in Norway.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View justoneofme's profile


815 posts in 3046 days

#12 posted 10-16-2019 02:25 PM

Holy Bloggers! I finally found what I was looking for Mike, and am amazed at all your blogs posted throughout the years!! I doubt I’m the “Elaine” mentioned, but there again I very well could have been. Everything was a blur for me back then as caregiving for my Mom took over my life. She had passed away 3 days before this posting. Hard to believe 10 years have gone by so quickly!

So … I missed this entry entirely!! Kolrosing sounds very similar to Scrimshaw which I had done on some old ivory piano keys. I love how you’ve applied it to your most recent woodturning Mike … and certainly very challenging following a curve rather than flat surface. I hope you can show us more of your talented skills with this ancient art form!

-- Elaine in Duncan

View robscastle's profile


6574 posts in 2770 days

#13 posted 10-17-2019 01:33 AM

Its kinda a bit like tattooing wood Mike !

-- Regards Rob

View stefang's profile


16875 posts in 3900 days

#14 posted 10-17-2019 12:02 PM

Elaine So glad you like it. Someone with your artistic talents/skills you could take this art form a long way. I am sentenced to just copying others designs or maybe changing them a bit to personalize them whereas you could come up with something much more original, creative and interesting! It can be a bit hard on the hands if you have any arthritis though. I’ve had to use some rub-on ibuprofen cream on my thumb joints after some of my carving sessions.

Rob Yes, very much the same principal as tattooing. I can see someone coming up with a Dremel type tool that could be used for kolrosing like using a tattoo machine except it would have an appropriate cutting blade and it would have to be able to do tight small curves too.

-- Mike, an American living in Norway.

View justoneofme's profile


815 posts in 3046 days

#15 posted 10-17-2019 02:05 PM

I’ve done Scrimshaw on old ivory piano keys, which seems similar … but I definitely love what you’ve done in wood Mike! Either way, it IS hard on arthritic hands!! Damn this aging process, eh?!

-- Elaine in Duncan

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