Nutcrackers have been a staple kitchen tool for centuries. Some nutcrackers are plain, utilitarian and unadorned, while others are carved into fanciful figures or decorated with elaborate patterns. You can give your imagination free reign, designing a nutcracker that showcases your ingenuity and craftsmanship even as it cracks the nut shells.
Before you begin your design, consider your skills. If you're an expert woodcarver, this is an excellent opportunity to showcase your craftsmanship. If you have a wood-turning lathe and are experienced with turning fancy patterns, incorporate those techniques into your design. If you're all thumbs with carving and advanced woodworking projects, perhaps a very simple lever nutcracker with painted decorations would be the best design for you.
As long as the working mechanism is strong enough to withstand the force and resistance involved in cracking the heavy shell of a nut, you can use almost any medium to craft a decorative shell or casing. Consider buying a simple, sturdy metal nutcracker and building a clay or cast resin, wire sculpture or other decorative structure over it.
Decide if you want a workhorse nutcracker that can split even the toughest black walnut, a less sturdy model that can handle only softer shells or a purely decorative nutcracker with moving parts that nonetheless should not be used to crack a real nut.
The two most common mechanisms incorporated into nutcrackers are the pliers and the screw-down vise. Both are effective ways to apply the necessary pressure to crack a nut. The general shape of each will suggest it for different types of designs.
The pliers type, with an open-and-close mechanism, suggests jaws, legs or arms. The handle sections must be long enough to allow the user to apply sufficient force but thick and strong enough so that they don't snap off during operation. It's important to include in your design a hollowed out and somewhat textured cradle to hold the nut in place so that it doesn't simply spit out of the nutcracker at the first application of pressure.
The screw-down vise design is usually a squat square or round device that lends itself to small creatures, faces or fantasy designs. Ensure that the screw and screw housing are of a sturdy, hard material that will preserve the integrity of the screw threads under pressure. Again, include a saucerlike depression to hold the nut in place as you turn the screw. You might even want to incorporate a small, sharp spike in the center of the depression to further secure the nut.
If you want a nutcracker that really cracks nuts, choose strong, resilient materials. For wooden nutcrackers, linden wood is the traditional choice, but maple and walnut are also good, sturdy choices. Use pine or fir only if your nutcracker is decorative because those woods aren't strong enough to hold up to actual nut-cracking duties.
Most cast metals, including aluminum, are strong enough. Precious metals, such as gold and silver, are too soft. They can be used in decorative accents, however, or as plating for nutcracker projects.
Fired porcelain and other clays are too brittle to withstand the force needed to crack a nut. So use metal components embedded in the clay to do the actual work, and use the clay to embellish and decorate instead. Cast resin, plaster, plastic and acrylic should be used only around a metal skeleton as well.
Whether using the pliers or the screw-down design, sketch the basic working parts of the nutcracker first. Then add your design elements, taking care to avoid weakening or interfering with the functionality of the nutcracker. Even if you choose to make a decorative nutcracker, all the working parts should move as they would with a functional nutcracker.
Build up areas of the nutcracker to create needed dimension for your design rather than carving into or narrowing working parts of the basic nutcracker. Let the limitations of the nutcracker direct your design, rather than inhibit it. Often, workaround solutions inspire some of the most creative designs.
If possible, examine other nutcrackers and other nutcracker patterns for ideas about how much open-and-close range you'll need for a pliers nutcracker mechanism, and how long the pliers legs must be to ensure proper force is applied to the nut. Also, take care in choosing the bolt or wooden peg you use at the fulcrum of the pliers mechanism: It should be somewhat less strong than the surrounding mechanism so that it breaks if too much pressure is applied. It's much easier to replace a broken bolt or peg than to repair the surrounding structure.
- nutcracker image by Dariusz Urbanczyk from Fotolia.com