Making a rune set: wood

Oak runes before sealing

As already discussed in making a stone rune set, traditionally runes are made from wood – specifically fruit bearing wood. 

Choosing and gathering your wood

Exactly what ‘fruit-bearing’ means is debatable – most trees will bear fruit or the species wouldn’t last long.  I have worked with oak, holly, birch and blackthorn and they all bring their own unique qualities to readings.  Some people make sets from dowel or wood from a hardware store, perhaps it’s just the romantic in me (as all wood essentially comes from a tree), but for me personally it is important to know the origin of my rune set and to have collected or cut the wood myself – I also really like leaving the bark on the wood of my runes to remind me of the tree.

Choose a branch which is fairly uniform in thickness so you know you will be able to cut enough runes from it; you should also bear in mind how wide you would like your runes to be.  Some runesters (e.g. Oswald the Runemaker)   only work with windfall wood while others cut a branch from a tree.  If you want to cut a branch then you should spend some time with the tree first, ask whether you may take the branch and leave an offering for the tree in recompense for the gift.  When you cut the wood you may also which to visualise the tree’s energy slowly separating from the branch before you make the cut, and send some healing energy to the tree when you are finished.  I have worked with windfall and cut wood and have found both effective.

Cutting your wood

 You will need to saw your wood into 24 pieces or more (I would recommend having at least 2 spare pieces, even if you don’t make any mistakes it is good to have some spare rounds in case you lose a rune later).  Try to make the cuts as smooth as possible to save yourself hours of sanding later.  Assuming you get through the sawing and sanding you are now ready to cut and colour your runes.

Preparation

Some people like to create their runes within a ritual setting, and, at the very least, I would recommend aligning yourself with the rune energies before you begin.  Sitting and chanting the names of the runes in order is a simple way of doing this. Freya Aswynn outlines an excellent method for creating sacred space and invoking the runes in Power and Principles of the Runeswhich essentially involves casting a three tier circle (with eight runes in each circle) around you.  Edred Thorsson’s Hammer Rite (see Futhark: Handbook of Rune Magic) also involves casting a circle of runes but then uses the ‘Hammer of Thor’ sigil to create a safe space for your work. Once you have created your space you can start making your runes or do some more work first to align yourself with their energies (e.g. drawing the runes with a joss stick, meditating upon them, internalising them by eating food with the runes inscribed upon it). 

Intone, cut, colour

The act of making a rune is reminiscent of the process through which Odin, Hoenir and Lothur created the first man and woman (by giving an ash and elm tree breath, shape and hue).  The key elements are therefore the chanting of the rune name (breath), the impression you make upon the object you are cutting into (shape), and the colouring of the rune (hue).  The number of times you chant the rune is up to you, I find it helpful to chant once before I start cutting and then continue until I have finished, but if in doubt, three or nine times is always a good bet.  As you carve/inscribe/paint, feel that you are drawing the energy of the rune from all around you and it is then being transmitted through your hands, voice and intent into the wood.

One of my teachers, Jack Gale, ably demonstrated to me that using a red biro to draw on soft wood effectively cuts into the surface and stains it at the same time – if you chant as you write you are fulfilling all the key elements.  It is useful to remember that all the fancy techniques you might decide to use are simply that – fancy techniques.  The pictures in my example show an oak set which I have inscribed using pyrography where the heated tool inscribes and ‘colours’ at the same time.  Pyrography has the advantage of not needing you to carve your runes and then colour them, but it requires a fair amount of practice before you can chant with sufficient intent and focus while wielding a red hot tool that isn’t massively forgiving of mistakes.

The rune set I use most frequently was created by carving the runes with sharp tools (a combination of a stanle knife and a tool used for creating extra holes in leather belts), and then colouring with red acrylic paint – whether or not you add your blood to the paint is a personal decision.

Oak runes after sealing

Sealing

I like to use a high quality natural wax polish to seal my rune sets and protect them from damage (the polish also brings out the natural colour of the wood).  Polishing your runes can also be a useful technique for connecting with a rune set you have bought – you can intone the rune’s name while you polish and feel that you are adding your own energy to it.
The following are articles by other practitioners on making your own wooden rune set: 

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