Building a life-size Nutcracker may not be the least expensive holiday decoration you make for next Christmas, but it could well be the most fun and unique. The project is not particularly difficult and makes for a great parent-child or family undertaking. Be warned, however, that this is no “quickie” to be tackled at the last minute. For best results, start early and spread the project over a number days or weeks. Purposely take your time enjoying the construction and decoration of your toy soldier.
If you don’t have room for a seven foot Nutcracker, don’t despair. You can use almost all the ideas from this Instructable and scale them down to build smaller, less costly, Nutcrackers. The pvc pipe and flower pots used for this project come in a wide varied of shapes and sizes. So you can build your nutcracker almost any dimensions you want. Also note, this Nutcracker is easily dis-assembled for off-season storage by removing just a few screws.
Most importantly, spend some time browsing through your local stores looking for all the “baubles” that will make your own toy soldier unique. It is the decoration and detail of the uniform that will make your soldier stand out. Buttons, fringe, accessories, medals, insignias, adornments, plumes, hair, makeup, and special costumes are all just a matter of using your imagination. There are no rules when it comes to creating Nutcrackers and Toy Soldiers. So let your ideas run wild.
Basic materials and costs for one Nutcracker.
(Items noted as “split” were used to build the second nutcracker and the price indicated is one half the total.)
2 - 11"H x 12" diameter planter pots, Target, Misco Enterprises $5.48 (Torso)(total for 2)
1 - 10 1/2"H x 12" diameter planter, Lowes, Dynamic Design $5.95 (Head)
1 - 13 3/4"H x 15" diameter planter, Target, Misco Enterprises $3.98 (Hat)
1 - 5' length of 6" diameter vent pipe, Home Depot $8.20
1 - 10' length 4" diameter trip wall drain pipe, Home Depot $4.49 (split)
2 - 4" diameter PVC end caps, Home Depot $3.44 (total for 2)
1- 4" diameter 90 degree elbow, Home Depot $3.02
1 - Pair “Grease Monkey” long cuff neoprene gloves, Home Depot $3.97
1 - Roll Con-tact Grip Premium shelf liner, Target $9.99
Support wood pieces:
1 - 2 x 6 x 10', Home Depot $3.53 (split)
1 - 1 x 8 x 4', Lowes $2.10 (split)
1 - 1 x 6 x 6', Lowes $2.39 (split)
1 - 1/4 x 1 ½ x 4' Lowes $2.23
1 - 1 x 2 x 2' Lowes $1.88
Uniform Material (felt) 2 yards, JoAnn Fabric $5.98 (total)
Shoulder fringe - 2 feet, Hobby Lobby $2.33
Hammered brass upholstery nails, Home Depot $0.65 (split)
Brass thumb tacks, Home Depot $1.75 (split)
Paints, Walmart and Hobby Lobby $22.16 (split)
Plume feather, Hobby Lobby $3.99
Boot tassels, Hobby Lobby $3.98
Wood emblem (for hat), Hobby Lobby $1.99
Buttons, 6 - 1 1/4" fender washers, Home Depot $1.18
Wig, Disney Rapunzel Celestial, Target $11.24
Felt 8 ½ x 11 sheets, 2 black, Walmart $2.00
Paracord (yellow), Home Depot $1.48 (split)
Gold and silver ribbon, Walmart $1.00 (split)
Total Cost for One Nutcracker (approx $200 for both) $120.00
Note: The beautiful young Nutcracker Princess shown in the photo is Roxy.
Step 1: Legs and Feet
Begin making the legs by cutting the crimped end off of the 5' length of 6" diameter vent pipe. Mark with a Sharpie and cut with an angle grinder, skill saw (with metal blade), jig saw or hack saw. (Photo 1) Mark the remaining length of pipe at the midway point. This should be about 29" from the end. Make a series of marks around the pipe and then use masking tape to create a nice even line connecting the marks. Note that I have marked which side of the tape is the correct side to cut. (Photo 2) Then cut the vent pipe into two equal lengths. (Photo 3)
To create the feet, cut 4 section 6" x 10" from a piece of 2x8 lumber. Cut each piece to resemble a boot “toe”. Make the toe about 2" wide and then angled back toward the heel at a 15 degree angle. (Photo 4) These photos are of the boots on my second soldier. On my first soldier I made the boots squared off at the toe (no taper back toward he heel)...which made for a far clunkier (read ugly) looking boot. Stack the four sections to make two boots and glue/screw them together. (Photo 5). Mark and cut a 6" diameter half circle at the heel end of each boot. If you are using a jig saw or hand (coping) saw to cut these half circles, you will want to make the cuts before screwing the two pieces together, If you are using a band saw or larger scroll saw, it is best to screw the pieces together before cutting. Round off the toe of each boot with coarse grit sandpaper. Screw each boot to the base board (I made my base 16" x 20") making sure the feet point directly forward and are separated by a 3/4" piece of lumber. (Photo 6)
Place the two metal legs into the curves of the boots and clamp the top of the legs together with a 3/4" spacer board between them. (Photo 7) Mark the metal legs for three screw holes. The holes should be 2 1/4" above the bottom of the leg and should be spaced so that each hole will contact solid (thick) wood on the boot. You should also take note of where the “seam” of the vent pipe is before drilling these holes. You want the metal seam to be either on the in-seam of the leg (like trousers) our on the opposite outer side - which can later be covered with a stripe on the pant leg. Just make certain your seam is not pointing directly forward or backward. You want to hide it as much as possible. Drill three 1/4" holes around the front of each vent pipe leg. (Photo 8) Place the legs back in the boots and then use a Sharpie to reach down into each leg and mark the holes on the inner circle of each wooden boot. When you remove the metal legs you should be able to see the marks shown by the arrows in the photo. (Photo 9). Use these marks to drill small pilot holes for wood screws.
Once again place the metal legs into the boot circles. Using a stubby phillips head screw driver, reach down into each leg and install three screws securing the metal leg to the boot. Once the legs are secure, drill a hole through the top of the legs and bolt the 3/4" spacer piece in place. (Photo 10)
Cut two lengths of 2x6 equal to the length of your legs (my legs were 29" tall). (Photo 11) Insert the 2x6 supports into the legs so they face directly forward. (Photo 12) Screw the 2x6 supports in place through the bottom of the base board.
Step 2: Torso
Cut a length of 2x6 to span across the tops of the two supports. This top piece should be as wide as the legs (6"+6"+3/4") and should be tapered inward at each end. (Photo 1) The taper should allow the top of the cross piece to fit within the lower torso planting pot. (Photo 2) Screw the cross piece to the tops of the 2x6 leg supports. (Photo 3)
To provide support for the torso front to back, a second length of 2x6 is mounted on top of the cross piece. (Photo 4) The lower torso planting pot is then slipped over the supports, leveled in every direction, and screwed into place. (Photo 5) Make sure to position all screws so they are accessible later when you want to take apart your Nutcracker for storage.
Position the upper torso planting pot on top of the lower pot and then drill and screw in place. (Photo 6). Using a carpenter’s level, mark a line up the center of the torso using the middle of the legs as your center reference. (Photo 7) Make a similar line up the back side of the torso. Cut a length of 1x8 10" long. Mark the center (5 inches) on the front and back. Position the 1x8 in the opening at the top of the torso and using clamps, draw the plastic planter pot tight to the 1x8 using the centering marks on the torso and board to keep the board evenly spaced within the opening. (Photo 8). Screw the pot to the board to hold it in place. (Photo 9). Note that some planting pots may not be flexible enough to bend in this way. As an alternative, cut the 1x8 wider so it fits the full opening and screw it in place from each end.
Step 3: Head
Measure the distance from tip to tip at the “shoulders” of the torso pot. Add 9" to this measurement and cut a piece of 1x6 stock to that length. On my nutcracker this length was 23 ½". Using the PVC end caps for your arms, draw curves on each end of this shoulder board. (Photo 1). Cut and sand the ends of the shoulder board smooth. (Photo 2). Position the shoulder board on the top of the torso and screw it in place. Screw the drip dish from a 10 ½" x 12" diameter flower pot (the head) to the center of shoulder board. (Photo 3). The head can then be temporarily snapped into the drip dish. (Photo 4)
Step 4: Arms
The arms are cut from 4" “trip wall” drain pipe available at Home
Depot. Four inch PVC pipe can also be used but it is more expensive. The photo shows the 10 foot length of drain pipe, PVC elbow, end caps, the neoprene gloves used for hands and the metal vent pipe used for legs. (Photo 1) I made one arm straight and the other bent, to hold a sword. The straight arm is cut 19" long. The upper section of the bent arm is 9" and the lower section is 8" connected with a 90 degree elbow. (Photo 2 and 3)
PVC end caps are used at the top of each arm. Drill four 1/4" holes spaced evenly around the end cap. (Photo 4) Using the cap as a guide, drill small pilot holes in the pipe. (Photo 5) Screw the end cap in place on the pipe and mark (see arrow) so that the arm can be dismantled and re-attached in the same position. (Photo 6) Detach the end caps from the arms and bolt them to the shoulder piece. (Photo 7) If you are using bent arms, make sure you position the end cap/arm correctly before drilling these bolt holes. The arms can then be attached to the torso. (Photo 8) Note that the end caps, elbows and tubing can be assembled using PVC glue but I would advise using screws instead. This allows you to adjust for errors later on or to take the nutcracker apart for storage.
Step 5: Hands
The hands are made by stuffing long cuff neoprene gloves with paper toweling. The paper towels are folded in half and then wrapped tightly around lengths of heavy wire or coat hanger sections. (Photo 1) The towel wraps are then stuffed into the fingers of each glove and the wires are then bent into the shape you need. (Photo 2) In some cases, such as the sword I want one of my nutcrackers to hold, additional support may be needed to keep the hand in position. I used a small metal rod taped to the underside of the glove and hidden from view to provide the necessary support. (Photo 3) Note also in this photo that the top (open end) of the glove is stuffed with old kitchen towels to make them much thicker and to provide a solid friction fit inside the drain pipe. The hands can be slipped out of the arms for off-season storage.
Step 6: Hat
The hat is made from another planting pot, this one 14" tall with a 15" diameter opening at the top. To create the bill for the hat, remove the drip saucer from the bottom of the pot. (Photo 1) Use the larger end of the drip saucer as a guide to draw a semi circle onto 3/4" plywood. (Photo 2) Shape the outer edge of the bill as you see fit. I made my bill to extend 4" out from the hat and then used a paint can to draw the curved outer corners of the bill. (Photo 3)
Fit the bill to the hat and mark the location of four evenly spaced screws. (Photo 4) Drill holes through the hat. (Photo 5) Screw the bill to the hat. (Photo 6) The hat can be test fit onto the head. (Photo 7)
You might notice that the top of the hat is still wide open. To close it off you can use foam insulation board. Use the hat pot to draw a circle onto the foam board. Draw a second circle by hand approximately 1/4" inside the first (this compensates for the thickness of the pot). (Photo 8) Cut out the circle using the inner line and then sand down the edge at an angle until the foam fits snugly inside the top of the hat. (Photo 9) Do not glue the foam in place. You may need access inside the hat for further decoration. The foam should fit well enough to stay in place. (Photo 10)
Step 7: Face
The nose is cut from a piece of 2x4. It is 3" tall and 1 1/8" wide at the widest point at the base. The curve of the bridge of the nose was cut on a band saw but a scroll saw could also be used. The piece was then sanded to an appropriate shape. The nose can be made as simple or as detailed as you want it. (Photo 1) Mark the center line of the face on the planter pot then attach the nose using two screws. Spray paint the nose and face pot. I used Krylon gloss almond. (Photo 2)
The eyes were hand painted using paper templates so that the two sides matched. The “rosy” cheeks common to most nutcrackers were a challenge. I ended up using this “cheek maker”. It is made of card stock (heavy paper) taped to two supports and a 1" whole cut at the height I wanted the cheeks. (Photo 3 and 4) The face pot is place behind the hole and the spray is shot from the other side. By moving the face pot further and further from the hole, you can create a larger, more dispersed pattern of spray. (Photo 5) It would work even better using candy apple spray paint (available in small cans where plastic models are sold) but I didn’t happen to have any on hand. The cheek maker created decent but not perfect results. (Photo 6)
The mustache and eyebrows are cut from black felt and glued in place. (Photo 7) The hair is a kids Rapunzel wig from Target. (Photo 8)
Step 8: Uniform - Pants and Coat
The uniform trousers are painted on using Krylon gloss white spray paint. Gold duck tape is used to create the stripe down the outside of each pant leg. (Photo 1) The uniform coat covering the torso of the body is made of felt. It is made in two parts, one covering the upper planting pot and the other covering the lower planting pot. A pattern is made for the upper section by taping normal white typing paper together to fit the contour of the body. (Photo 2) Cut the pattern vertically at the center of the back and remove it from the form. Place the flattened pattern on you material and trace around it. Extend on end of the pattern an extra inch so that the material will overlap when it is placed back on the form. (Photo 3) Repeat the process for the bottom section of the torso.
Cut a piece of fabric 11"x17 to cover the shoulders of the torso. Cut out the center section where the head is screwed to the shoulders. (Do not try to drill or screw through fabric, the drill or screw will very likely catch the fabric and very quickly knot it up into an ugly ball...trust me on this. I speak from experience). (Photo 4) I attached the shoulder material to the torso using contact cement (Ace Hardware). (Photo 5) You can also use 3M Super 77 adhesive spray but it is a little messier and not quite as durable. Another alternative is Aleene’s Tacky Glue (Walmart). Tacky Glue has almost no odors but has to be spread on by hand (brush) and takes much longer to set up.
The top piece of the uniform is glued with adhesive applied around the very top of the fabric and additional adhesive down the front and the overlap at the center of the back. Pull the material as tight as you can to eliminate wrinkles or bulges in the material. (Photo 6) The bottom section is applied with adhesive around the waist and then on the overlapping portions on the back side of the material. Do not glue the lower portion of the jacket at the bottom. You want to be able to lift it up to access the screws holding the torso pots to the legs if you need to take the nutcracker apart for storage. (Photo 7)
Use inexpensive Christmas ribbon to trim the uniform. Measure and cut the pieces to length and then spray 3M Super 77 adhesive to the back side of the ribbon and attach. (Photo 8)
Step 9: Uniform - Belt and Buckle
For the belt I used a section from a broken vertical window blind I had laying around. (Photo 1) If purchased new, the cost for using a vertical blind would be about $12 which would be enough material to make two belts. Measure around the waist of the torso and cut the blind to length using a heavy scissors. Paint the blind gloss black. (Photo 2) Wrap the belt around the waist and hold it in place with two screws at the back. (Photo 3) The belt should cover the joint between the upper and lower uniform material all the way around the waist. (Photo 4)
The belt buckle (left in the photo) is cut from a piece of left over 1/8" paneling. Heavy cardboard would also work. The buckle is covered with Nashua brand adhesive backed foil tape. This tape is used to connect metal duct work and is found in the HVAC section at most building centers such as Home Depot. (Photo 5) Cut the foil tape, remove the protective strip on the back side, and apply the tape to the buckle form wrapping all the edges tightly. (Photo 6) The buckle is screwed to the front of the belt. (Photo 7)
Step 10: Uniform - Coat Sleeves and Cuffs
The jacket sleeves are cut from the felt fabric, sewn, and then turned inside out. (Photo 1) If you don’t have access to a sewing machine, you could glue or staple the seams in a pinch. The sleeves can then be slipped over the arms. (Photo 2) Note that the sleeve length of a bent are is longer than a straight arm. Measure around the outside of the elbow, not the inside to get the correct length. (Photo 3).
To improve the transition from the hand to the sleeve, glove cuffs can be made using black felt. Cut an 8 ½ x 11 sheet of felt in two lengthwise. Sew or glue the two pieces together to yield a strip approximately 4 1/4 x 22. (Photo 4) Wrap the strip around the end of the sleeve near the wrist and pin it. (Photo 5) Slip the cuff off the sleeve, turn it inside out (so the “tails” are on the inside” and sew the seam. (Photo 6) Turn the cuff right-side-out and trim off the “tails” as shown at the arrows. (Photo 7) Slip the cuff back over the hand and sleeve and tuck the upper inch of material down into the area between the gloved hand and the pvc pipe as shown at the arrow. (Photo 8) The tail of the cuff should remain showing.
Step 11: Boots
The wooden “feet” are covered with a rubber-like shelf liner called Grip Premium from Target. (Photo 1) Make paper patterns for the sides, the bridge and the upper sections of each boot. (Photo 2) Transfer the patters to the shelf liner and cut them out. This is the upper or top section of the boot. (Photo 3). Decorative tassels are attached by cutting a small slit in the material and inserting the tassel string through the slit and taping it on the back side. The completed boots. (Photo 4)
Step 12: Sword
The sword is made from a 4' length of 1/4" x 1 ½" poplar from Lowes. The handle is wrapped in a scrap piece of faux leather held in place with brass head nails. The upper blade portion of the sword are sanded to form a dull knife edge. The blade portion of the sword is then covered with Nashua adhesive backed foil tape to give it a metal-like surface. The hand guard above the handle is cut from 1"x2" wood stock cut 6" long and then given curved edges using a band saw and sandpaper.
Step 13: Wait for Christmas
I had so much fun building my first Nutcracker I immediately built a second one using a lot of the extra materials I had left over from #1. Here they are guarding the interior entryway to our house over the holidays.