Carpentry and Bone Carving

Wood was an essential material for producing implements indispensable for the livelihood of nomads, including the wooden framework of the yurt, furniture (beds, trunks, chests, tables, and cradles), containers, utensils, saddles, whips, tobacco pipes, musical instruments, toys and many others. Types of wood used by Kalmyk carpenters included pine, plywood, maple, alder, oak, birch, hazel, and elm. The main techniques employed were carving, chiseling, drilling, and turning on a lathe when producing cups or containers.

Many wooden items, especially those deemed valuable or socially significant, were often decorated with ornaments made of silver, gold, or copper plate, including saddles, cups, plates, tobacco pipes, and domestic furniture. For example, until recently tobacco pipes, which were made of maple and oak, were not only indispensable for every person, men and women alike, but also carried an element of prestige, if they were refined and decorated.

To render wooden items durable, Kalmyks employed several methods. For example, newly carved cups, buckets, and plates were first boiled in water, then cleaned with a felt cloth. Animal oil was applied, and then the item was kept wrapped in a felt cloth for about 10 days until the oil was absorbed. Afterwards, animal oil was applied once more and the items were dried in the sun. Another way was to boil medium-sized dishes in melted butter. Items processed in this way were known not only for their durability but were often passed from one generation to the next.

Apart from wood, Kalmyks also used bones and horns for carving. The end products were combs, spoons, toys, amulets and other small objects.

Aleksandr Koshevoi, Tobacco Pipe

Aleksandr says that the Kalmyks learnt to smoke from the Chinese. The Kalmyk pipe is made from the wood of fruit bearing trees such as the apricot, pear and cherry trees. Its metal parts are made from silver. Traditionally, every clan in Kalmykia had its own style of pipe engraved with the clan's symbol.

Aleksandr, however, uses decorations of his choosing on his pipes. He also uses iron and bones for some parts of the pipe. He makes pipe bags out of leather or cloth. Aleksandr has produced about 20 tobacco pipes so far, some of which are displayed at the National Museum of Kalmykia.