Introduction: Building a Life-Size Nutcracker (that Can Crack Coconuts!)

About: I have an unhealthy relationship with pallet wood. I make fast paced and entertaining build videos on my YouTube channel that are made for everyone, but with the ultimate goal to get the younger generations ex…

I just had to kick off the new year with a bang… or with a crack really. The latest #jackmansized creation is this nutcracker that is actually taller than me. He’s built almost entirely out of wood and almost entirely out of reclaimed materials. The body, arms, and legs are all different segmented turnings built up from some reclaimed oak and fir beams/studs along with some maple butcher block off cuts. This totals up to being almost 100 segmented rings and 2,000 pieces of wood in total to construct this creation. Add some threaded rods to hold him together, a little bit of accent paint, some Carolina Boots on his feet, and some hair on his head/chin and we have a nutcracker that is capable of cracking coconuts! I’m honestly not sure what Carolina is going to do with this thing. It’s incredibly robust though, so I suggested that they use him for testing out the safety toe in their boots, but apparently there are “nutcracker labor laws” I was unaware of.

Step 1: Materials & Tools

Notable Materials & Tools used on this build:


- Reclaimed oak beams & fir studs:

- Maple butcher block off-cuts

- Wood glue:

- Ledger lock screws:

- 5 minute epoxy:

- TotalGold paint:

- Carolina Logger boots

- Tung oil finish:

- Furry blanket

- Nuts:


- Hearing protection:

- Thickness planer:

- Fence clamps:

- Miter gauge angle gauge:

- Hose clamps:

- Drill & driver:

- Silicone glue mat:

- Drum sander:

- Metal rulers:

- Glue roller applicator:

- Pipe clamps:

- Wood lathe:

- Lathe chuck:

- Carbide lathe tools:

- Oscillating tool:

- Angle grinder:

- TurboPlane grinding disk:

Step 2: Cleaning Up Materials, Cutting Segments, and Gluing Rings

All of the boards are cut down to a more manageable length, sent through the thickness planer to smooth out both sides, and then they are ripped into even 1.5" wide strips on the table saw. The right side is red oak, the center is the fir studs, and the left is some pieces cut down from maple butcher block off-cuts that I'm going to repurpose for my new nutcracker friend.

Now that I've cut the boards down into smaller strips, I continue by cutting them into smaller wedges as well... heck, a woodworking project wouldn't be a woodworking project without needing a gallon of glue, would it? I set the miter gauge on my table saw over to 9 degrees since each of the rings on this build is going to be made up of 20 segments total. Then I just go to town cutting almost 2,000 different segments. I have a rough sketch that I use to figure out the length of each segment, plus the species of wood I want to use for each ring.

As I cut out the rings, I clamp them temporarily in hose clamps just to keep them all organized. Then each of these rings moves over to the glue-up station where I apply glue to each segment and install the hose clamps for real this time to pull all of the joints tight while the glue dries.

Step 3: Cleaning Up the Rings

After leaving them overnight, the hose clamps can be removed from the rings... my apologies to any plumbers who were hoping to actually hold some pipes together, I'm sure they'll be back in stock with hose clamps soon.

After leaving them overnight, the hose clamps can be removed from the rings... my apologies to any plumbers who were hoping to actually hold some pipes together, I'm sure they'll be back in stock with hose clamps soon.

To remove the excess glue from the faces and also to bring down the pieces all flush with one another, each of the rings is sent through my humble little drum sander until the faces are perfectly smooth.

Step 4: Gluing Rings Together

Now I need to start stacking these rings together to build up the columns that will form the body, but before that I mark out the center of a few segments on each of the rings. This allows for easy alignment during the glue-up since each layer is offset from the one below by rotating it by half the length of a segment... picture a brick wall, but a little more curvy.

The smaller rings are glued up in sections of about 6 at a time and then all of those can be glued together into one large cylinder by clamping it with some pipe clamps to the bench.

The larger rings are glued up in sections, but since they max out my lathe with the tool rest in place, these will need to be turned down to size in sections and glued together later.

Step 5: Capping Rings

I need for some of the rings to be solid, so I do this by cutting them on the CNC while also cutting a mating circle to fit into the ring. These solid rings are needed at the top of the legs to both give me a place to mount it to the lathe and also give me a way to attach the legs to the body. And the reason for doing this rather than just using solid disks to begin with is so that from the edge it looks like a segmented ring like the rest of them.

And to show the same process, just with a different method, I do the same thing on the lathe to make solid disks for certain body parts. These are needed at the top of the hat, the bottom of the head, and the bottom of the body to give places to attach other parts, but also to make the bottom of the head (top of the mouth) solid. The piece shown here is the head, which is mount on the chuck and then turn the opposite end until it fits the width and thickness of the disk that I cut out.

Step 6: Turning the Head

Not only does this give me the solid disk that I need for the body, but it also gives me something to pinch the tailstock into to hold the piece securely while I turn it round. So that being said, I move in the tailstock and go to town until all of the sharp edges are rounded over.

Once round, I can then establish the dimensions. I pull it off the lathe and mark out the dimensions from my drawings on either side of the piece (in this case it's the head). These center justified rulers were way more help during this build then they should have been with all of these round shapes.

The marks on either end act as guides to bring either side down to size and then I just connect the dots from there with the round shape of the head. I do the same for the hat except that it's a straight line instead of a curve. The bottom section of the body is a bit more complicated where the belt is, but for that I just turned it down to a perfect cylinder and used a straight edge along the front to measure in to the depth that gave me the diameter where the belt is.

Step 7: Turning Other Body Parts

The top section of the body was the only one that was a little different. This one did not have a solid disk on either side of it, so mounting it to the lathe was a bit tricky. The top ring was thicker though to account for the slanted shape of the body, but this gave me a ridge on the inside of this body section where I glued and screwed a block of wood. This block was then used to mount the tailstock to support the piece while I turned it down to size.

Now the arms and legs were slightly easier, because I could just turn them as one solid piece given that the tool rest can fit underneath the smaller diameter pieces. Plus for these I can use my calipers to measure out the diameter along many locations of the cylinder. It's mounted to the lathe with just a screw chuck into one side and then pinch up with the tailstock. So to turn this down to size I use my drawing to measure the diameter, transfer that to the piece by setting my calipers and turning down that section of the arm/leg until is matches that diameter and then work my way from one side to the other side of the arm/leg. Rinse and repeat x4.

Step 8: Cutting Out the Mouth Cavity

Now begins what ended up being the trickiest part of this build, justifying to myself that this was a worthy endeavor afterall... Also the trickiest part was fitting the mouth cavity into the top section of the body. So I took my time laying this out, which was easier said then done due to the shape of the pieces. I determine along the top where the mouth should go and then transfer those lines down the side of the body so I can cut out the center section.

And then I just slow and steady cut down that line with a trusty old handsaw. There really wasn't a better tool for the job, this allowed me to cut a straight line down but also to span the gap from one side to the other to make sure I was cutting in a straight line that way. I do the same for both sides of the cut down to my bottom line and then cut the bottom horizontal line with an oscillating saw so I can get a nice square cut.

Step 9: Fitting Bottom Infill

The center piece is removed, which also removes the temporary block of wood that I glued in order to mount it to the lathe, it's almost like I know what I'm doing! Next I need to infill the bottom and sides of this cavity, so I start that by cutting a piece of 1/4" plywood down to width and then trace the bottom of it to use as a template.

The plywood template is cut down to size on the bandsaw and sanded down to the line on the disk sander and then traced out on the piece of oak that will form the bottom of the mouth cavity. The oak is ~1.5" wider though so I continue the lines out to the edge. This piece is exactly the thickness from the top of the bottom ring to the top of the horizontal cut that I made on the body section.

After cutting this down to size on the bandsaw, it can then be fit in place, giving me a perfectly flat surface at the bottom of the mouth. Following the dry fit, I can then pop it out, apply glue, and then clamp it in place while the glue dries.

Step 10: Fitting Side Infill

That bottom section was tricky to get a dead-nuts fit, but the side sections where even trickier. For these I ended up using some scrap 3/8" plywood that I had kicking around which I traced to establish a straight line on the side of the mouth cavity.

I then used the oscillating saw again to fit into the tight space and cut the line that I just drew down to a 3/8" depth so that once in place, the side panel will be flush with vertical surface formed by all of the rings now.

I do the same dry fit and refine the cut until both sides fit in perfectly, then I can apply glue and install them in place. To clamp them while the glue dries, I used some scrap pieces of wood cut down to length to match the exact width of the cavity. These then pinched out to hold both of the pieces of plywood in place.

Step 11: Gluing Up the Body and Templating the Handle

Now the body sections can start to be attached together! My little monster is starting to take shape now. The top and bottom sections of the torso are glued and clamped together and I also do the same with the hat and head.

While that dries, I start work on the handle/jaw mechanism that will be installed into that mouth cavity that I just created. I start by making a cardboard template so that I can work out the exact shape before I make it out of wood. What I mean to say, is that this allows for me to screw it up a couple of times before I start cutting into the real piece. The original dimensions are established based on my drawings and then I scribe the back of the handle so that it nests against the body. (typically, nutcrackers will have a large notch in their back to serve a similar function, but I am far from typical so I decided to take this road instead)

Step 12: Creating the Jaw/handle

Once I'm happy with the shape of the cardboard template, I then trace out that shape onto my wood pieces and cut them down to shape on the bandsaw. There are 2 pieces, one is the handle and one is the jaw, and each is made from laminations of the same maple butcher block off-cuts.

Now I need to ensure that the connection between the handle and the jaw is super robust, because there is going to be a lot of torque applied to this joint with the things that I want to crush... I predrill some holes and then apply glue and screw the two pieces together using 8" long ledger screws that are usually used to hold decks on houses... I think it should be good enough!

These screws are countersunk into the surface and then the holes are plugged by gluing in a dowel and cutting it flush with the surface. This way, the fasteners are hidden in the final piece.

Step 13: Installing the Pin and Bushing

Then the most nerve wracking part of the build, I drill a hole straight through the entire body to establish the location that the jaw will rotate around. In this hole there will be a threaded rod that will hold the jaw in place and let it rotate, but will also hold the arms on, more on that later.

To ensure that this nutcracker can keep cracking nuts longer than I'll be alive (likely due to pallet wood poisoning), I install a piece of conduit with an inner diameter slightly larger than the 1/2" threaded rod that will pass through it. This is simply held in place with some 2-part epoxy.

Step 14: Cap Pieces Off and Tapping Holes

While that cures, I work through some of the finer details. The ends of the arms had a hole in them that was used to mount it to the lathe, so I drill these holes out to fit the same down and then glue that in, cut it flush and sand it down to finish off that surface of the arm. I also apply some gold paint into any of the detailed lines like you can see here near the top of the arm.

Now to attach all of the body parts together, I want to use threaded rod, so that all of the pieces are screwed together, that way this guy is slightly disassemblable. For the arms, I drill out and tap a hole where the threaded rod that passes through the body will be threaded in. I do something similar to attach the legs where I tap a hole in the bottom of the body for each leg. Then at the top of the leg, I use epoxy to hold a small length of threaded rod in place permanently.

Now that I'm confident that the jaw mechanism is going to work, I go ahead and attach the head to the rest of the body with glue and clamp it in place while it dries.

Step 15: Power Carving the Legs

Meanwhile... I want to get some boots onto the bottom of these legs! I cut a scrap piece of wood until it just barely squeezes into the heel of the my nutcracker boots. This then legs me trace a line on the bottom of each of the legs which establishes the size of the foot.

I start by using my TurboPlane to carve down that rough shape, tapering from the top of the calf down to the line that I just traced on the bottom of the "foot". Then to further establish the shape of the bottom of the leg, I simply pull out the model wood leg that any half decent woodshop has, and use that to draw a more refined shape onto the leg.

These lines shown here give me guidelines while I power carve the more curvy shape into the bottom of the leg and keep refining it until the boots finally fit onto the feet.

Step 16: Building the Base

Then the last bit, this nutcracker needs something to keep him standing! I use some more of the butcher block offcuts and glue 3 layers of them together. At this point, I think my obsession with wood glue is fully public... I say embrace who you are, don't fight it!!

Anyway, the big slab is glued together and clamped until it is dry, then I cut a massive chamfer into the upper perimeter of the base by cutting at a 45 degree angle on my table saw.

Step 17: Creating the Connection Between the Base and Legs

With the base complete, I lay my nutcracker down for a quick nap center his boots on the base.

To hold his legs, and his whole body really, to the base, I drill a hole straight through the base and through his boots, into the bottom of his leg. Drilling through the base and the rubber of the boot was easy (although a bit painful) but drilling through the steel shank that is in the sole of the boot is another story... I did that off camera though so you didn't have to see the smoke coming out of my ears, or the smoke coming out of the boots.

With this hole established, I drill a slightly smaller hole the rest of the way into the bottom of the leg. This hole can then be tapped. This is what will be used to keep the nutcracker standing up straight with a giant bolt threaded through the base and the boot, directly into each of his legs.

Step 18: Adding the Nose

Now there's just one last step to make my friend really look like a nutcracker, he needs a face. So I cut out his schnoz from another piece of the fir that became the face, which I temporarily clamp in place to trace out where I'll need to recess it to attach it to his face.

This recess is cut out using my oscillating saw, and then the material is removed with a chisel. This gives enough of a recess to give a flat joint between the nose and the face, so the nose is glued and clamped into place.

Step 19: Refining the Face

Then to add that last bit of nutcracker flair, I use a woodburner to "draw" on his eyes, mustache, and eyebrows. This actually had the side benefit of adding a bit of a texture so it actually looks a bit like hair. It's almost like I know what I'm going.

I wanted him to have a very minimalist look with his colors, so I just paint his teeth and eyes white. Besides the black belt and the gold trim, that's the only coloring I'm going to do on the nutcracker and just leave the rest up to the beauty of the grain of the wood itself.

Step 20: Finishing

To protect my new (and only) friend, I apply 4 coats of tung oil to all of the parts of his body, sanding only before the last coat to ensure that he's smooth as a dolphin (like me).

Step 21: Assembly

It's almost nutcracking time, now he can be assembled! The legs are threaded into the bottom of his body and the Carolina boots are installed and laced up.

The base is held in place with some long 8" bolts through the base, the boots, and straight into his legs where they are screwed in tight.

The threaded rod is screwed into one of the arms and then it is installed into the hole in the body while I align the jaw at the same time... easier said than done. The remaining arm is then just threaded on by spinning it round and round until it pulls tight against the body.

Step 22: Pom-pom and Hair

And last, but not least, I of coarse didn't forget his pom-pom. This is a ball that I turned and installed a threaded rod into the bottom of so I can screw it into the top of his head.

For one last finishing detail, I decided to give the guy some hair. This was cut out of a fury blanket and hot glued in place on his head. I also glued some of this to the bottom of his jaw to give him a bit of a beard.

Full body shot size comparison between the model nutcracker and my nutcracker.

Step 23: Coconuts!!

And yes... he even crushes coconuts!

Step 24: Glamour Shots

Thanks so much for checking out this build. This build was an amazing way to wrap up 2018. Be sure to click over to the full build video (below) to get the full experience of this build. It's worth it, trust me (even though you probably shouldn't).


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