Nutcracker – Variations on a Theme


Nutcracker – Variations on a Theme:
Ian Woodford shares some ideas for designing and making a nutcracker.

Ian Woodford shares some ideas for designing and making a nutcracker

Since the early days, when Stone Age man cracked nuts by using lumps of rock, we have devised many methods to get at the edible nut inside the shell. This project is by no means new but is an enjoyable item to make in time for the winter season, when shops stock up on nuts for Christmas. It needs only a small amount of precision as you can vary the design to suit your own style. Apart from a few basic turning tools, the only additional equipment you will need is a wood threading tool and a couple of Forstner bits. The wood you use should have a dense close grain that holds the screw thread without any breaking out. The red-capped cracker (above) is made from maple (Acer campestre) and the cracker with bark left on is made from desert ironwood (Olneya tesota).
The bottom nutcracker is made from acacia (Umbellularia californica). However, for this project I’m using maple for the main structure because I can texture and colour it to my heart’s content. Boxwood (Buxus sempervirens) is used for the male thread. This project is meant as a guide, so take the idea and adapt it to your own design. However, the hole where the nut is placed needs to be a minimum of 38mm in diameter, otherwise bigger nuts will not fit. I like the screw thread to be 25mm diameter for reasons of strength. So, without further ado let’s get into the workshop.

Information and plans
Equipment used
• Spindle roughing gouge
• 10mm fingernail spindle gouge
• Thin parting tool
• Beading/parting tool
• Bandsaw
• Jacobs chuck
• Forstner bits, 38mm  and 22mm
• 25mm wood thread cutting kit
• Four jaw chuck
• Drive centre
• Callipers
• Ruler
• Centre punch
• Abrasive – 180–400 grit
• Glue – two part epoxy
• Semi-matte lacquer
• Maple – 165 x 75 x 75mm
• Box – 125 x 32mm
• Waste wood for jam chuck
• Any additional equipment like stains, carving tools or pyrography pens for additional embellishment as desired

Drawings and how to resize them
To enlarge or reduce the size of drawings right click on the image to download it and then go HERE to watch a video on how to use paper with a grid to do exactly that.

1. Here is the 165 x 75 x 75mm blank of maple ready for work. The ends have been accurately centred and a line drawn along the length, also accurately centred. As shown, mark the two ends where spigots will be formed and then another line that represents the base of the cracker. 35mm up from this line, use a punch to mark where a 38mm hole needs to be drilled. As a guide I have drawn the main body shape and the cap. Mount on your lathe and turn the two spigots only, leaving the blank square. Remove from the lathe and separate the body from the cap using your bandsaw

2. The first operation on the body is to drill the main hole. Use a pillar drill or your lathe to do this. With the hole drilled and the blank mounted in your chuck, rough turn the blank to round

3. Now it’s time to drill the hole for the female thread. I use a 25mm threading kit and this hole needs to be done with a 22mm Forstner bit mounted in the tailstock. Drill at a slow speed and keep clearing the shavings and drill until you break through into the ‘nut hole’

4. Wood threading kits have two taps for the female thread. One is tapered and this is the first one to use as it starts the threading process. Position it as shown in this photo and use tailstock support so that the tap is perfectly central. Lock the headstock. Twist and advance slowly and keep repositioning the tailstock support to make sure the thread is cutting centrally. When you have cut into the ‘nut hole’ repeat the process with the parallel tap

5. With the hole threading complete and with tailstock support, it is time to mark out your final dimensions. Draw a line central to the main hole so that turning the curves can be started both sides of this, thereby leaving the hole central to the widest part of the body. Draw another line around the end tapped hole to leave a wall thickness of 10mm at the top of the neck. Both lines can be seen in this photo

6. Use a spindle gouge to turn the finished shape of the body. Sand to 400 grit. Also sand round the rim of the main hole to soften the edge. I haven’t used any sealer because I will apply colour when the turning is complete

7. The shape is now complete, but don’t part off yet. If you want to apply any carving and colouring, it can be returned to the lathe when all parts of the project are complete

8. Mount the cap blank, turn to round and face off the front. Drill a 22mm hole, 25mm into the face. The screw threaded dowel will be glued into this later. Turn a recess of about 5mm deep around this drilled hole to accommodate the neck of the body. This makes a neater finish when the cap is screwed right in

9. With a spindle gouge, start to rough turn the top shape of the cap…

10. … and then reverse onto a waste wood jam chuck or pin jaws, if you have them. With your fingernail spindle gouge finish turning the top of the cap and sand to 400 grit

11. Mount a 125 x 32mm square length of boxwood between centres and turn to a finished diameter of 25mm. Do this very carefully as accuracy is required, so check frequently with Vernier callipers. At the tailstock end turn a slight taper about 12mm long ready for the threading jig to bite. Sand with 180 grit to make sure the blank is smooth and ready for threading. Now mount in your chuck and lock the headstock. Using the screw box, start the threading and make it slightly longer than needed

12. Once this is complete, unlock the headstock, turn on the lathe and carefully clean up and dish the end slightly so that the nut is held more securely when it is cracked. Measure along from the end 76mm and from this point reduce the diameter to 22mm for a further 22mm. Use a beading and parting tool for this. This area will be glued into the cap

13. Using a thin parting tool and supporting with your other hand, part off as shown. All turning is now complete

14. Here you can see the finished sections before assembly. It’s now decision time as to whether you intend to add any sort of embellishment like colouring, etc. Whatever you decide and when it’s completed to your satisfaction, glue the dowel into the cap using a strong glue such as two-part epoxy

15. I grooved, ebonised and coloured the cracker. The process is exactly the same as shown in Woodturning issue 281 where I described how to make my coloured mills. For pieces that are going to be handled a lot, I always spray with at least six coats of semi-matte lacquer when finished. I hope you have fun with this project

Handy hints
1. When drilling with Forstner bits use a low speed to avoid burning the wood.
2. When thread cutting, ensure the cutting tap and box is central at all times.


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