Introduction: Turning Wooden Nutcrackers From Blanks

I wanted to make some cool nutcrackers for Christmas, but couldn't find anything resembling free instructions! Most plans are in books or plans you buy online. 
So, I did alot of guesswork and research, and came up with a pretty easy way to assemble em ( labor intensive though)

I've got pictures of two of the nutcrackers I did, Jake the Dog from Adventure Time, and Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter. Sometimes I've got pics of the process on one, and then next step is with the other, so bear with me!

Step 1: Planning Out the Shapes

After a few practice tries, I found it REALLY benefits to have a little bit of planning. Draw out the shapes of your nutcrackers first to see what they look like. There should be a head part, a chest part, and a waist part on traditional nutcrackers. The Chest part is going to be split in two to accommodate the nutcracker mechanism, but as far as shapes, the sky's the limit! 

Also, if you want to laser out the silhouette, it helps to hold up to your piece on the lathe to make sure the shape is accurate.

Both of these nutcrackers eventually got split in 3 pieces, head, waist and chest, but that doesn't mean they have to be distinct parts. Jake is all one round piece, and Abraham's coat runs down to his knees, so I didn't add a waist. On a traditional nutcracker though, there is a indentation that marks the where the chest is cut from the waist.

Step 2: Marking and Turning the Nutcracker

Won't go into a in-depth how-to on spindle turning, as I'm pretty new to it as well, and you should take a class on it at TechShop or elsewhere.

Suffice it to say, set up your block on the lathe (I used walnut), and mark lines where your indentations or features are going to occur. Then start shaping! (This was the fun part)

The last pic is one where I tried to do the parts separate from eachother. It didn't work out so well, because in the end the pieces looked funky put together.

Step 3: Cutting . . .

Now comes the scary part. Cutting your beautifully turned piece into chunks!!!! 

First, CUT OFF THE HEAD! Ooof. I know, scary. Helps to have a defined "head" piece, that will give you a clear cut line where to cut. What you cut it with is up to you. If you use the band saw - HOLD ON TIGHT and BE CAREFUL. Has a tendency to spin round cylinder shapes and shoot them right out of your hand. 

Now that your head is off - You need a hole for the arms and mouth/nutcracker axis to go into.
I used the drill press. You don't have to be exact, I found having the hole slightly back from center, and fairly close to the top (neck) is helpful. The hole will pass through the entire body. Also, I used a 1/4" dowel for my axle, so I drilled a 1/4" hole! (In retrospect, this was an incredibly tight fit. Use a bit slightly larger than your axle)

Now for another cut.... The waist. This one is an aesthetic decision. Your mouthpiece will be as long as you make this cut. if you want a small short mouthpiece, give the nutcracker a short chest and high waist. Mark it out and cut another length of your cylinder off. I tried skipping this part once, and just chiseling out the mouthpiece space, but the piece you cut out is the perfect size to use as a mouth mechanism! Why should you fashion one out of scratch?
Once the chest has been cut, it needs to be sliced vertically into 3 pieces, perpendicular to the arm hole you just drilled. Save the center piece, and glue the two side pieces back on! 

Step 4: Mouth and Arms

That center piece you cut out - will now become your nutcracker mechanism/mouthpiece. The mouthpiece... seems fairly simple, but takes a bit of sanding and testing and sanding and testing. To turn properly, the bottom has to be sanded round, and the top has to be angled enough to tilt up and not crash into the head. The shape below works pretty well, although it ended up being whittled down much skinnier than that on the angled end. Depending where you drilled your hole, it can be altered here and there. Just use a pedestal sander, and it goes quick. 

Stick the axle (wooden dowel) through the arm holes and mouthpiece hole (already drilled just where you need it! See?) and it should fit perfectly. Leave about a 1/4" dowel sticking out both sides for your arms.

After your confident your nutcracker turns and cracks beautifully, glue your head back on! Don't fret, you can still pull the mouthpiece out at this point and fiddle with it some more if you like. Just pull the axle out. 

I used some 5/8" wooden dowels for arms (i lathed em into pretty shapes, but you dont have to. I see lots of nutcrackers that are just round straight arms, dowels are easy!). You'll need to start a little hole in each arm on the drill press, and press your arms onto the ends of your mouthpiece axle! 

Step 5: Handles, Legs, Pedestal, Decorate!

The last thing your nutcracker needs is legs and a handle. I stressed over the handle, not quite knowing how to incorporate it easily into the nutcracker, without days of cutting and sanding and measuring and such, and found a somewhat easy way to cheat....

Enter the laser cutter! Using thin sheets of plywood, i cut a handle that followed the contours of the nutcrackers body, and kept the angle of the backside of the mouthpiece.
When 6-10 of these were stacked up, i could stagger them so they followed the roundness of the nutcrackers girth, and glue them all in a stack that fit perfectly! For Jake, I just made a little tail using the same method that could be used as a handle. 
Sand the rough edges a bit, and wallah! Handle that glues perfectly to the backside of your nutcrackers mouthpiece. 

Your Nutcracker should now kindof look like a nutcracker! All I did after this was glue some legs on the bottoms (same wooden dowels as the arms) and cut out a pedestal base on TechShop's laser (engrave it to if ya like, I did).

For these nutcrackers, I drew out and laser cut wooden eyes and face pieces, but you can paint them on, or whittle, or whatever your fancy is! Once the basic nutcracker shape and mechanism is there, do whatever you feel looks cool. Its fun!

And I made it at TechShop.

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