How to: Make a DIY Modern, Minimalist Nutcracker

How to: Make a DIY Modern, Minimalist Nutcracker

I feel sorta bad for the nutcracker as an object... I mean, people like to eat nuts during other, non-holiday times of the year, right? But then, some German Romantic fantasy writer decided it made a pretty good gift from a crazy, creepy uncle, and then good old Pyotr Ilyich thought that adventure made a mostly awesome subject for a ballet, and now, any glimpse of those wide-jawed wooden soldiers simply screams, "It's Christmas! It's Christmas!"

Or, perhaps, I feel bad for most actual nutcrackers...cause they're, well, kinda tacky. I mean, I know there are really quality, beautiful, carved wooden ones, especially the handcrafted ones from the German forrest tradition. But the ones sold nowadays in discount stores are low-quality, poorly sanded and hastily glued pieces of mass-produced junk.

Which means they're perfect, inexpensive opportunity for a modern, minimalist makeover. Like this:   

created at: 11/29/2011

Materials and Tools

  • Decorative wooded nutcracker, likely 50% off right now at the craft store, or perhaps even the dollar store
  • Fine grit sandpaper
  • Craft knife, utility blade, or butter knife
  • Wood filler (with the glue and adhesives at the hardware store)
  • Spray paint
created at: 11/29/2011
1. Grab a few discount, decorative nutcrackers. I got mine at Hobby Lobby; both were 50% off the original, under-$10.00 price. Look for "models" with minimal extras, a smooth finish, and a body shape you like. Don't worry about what they're holding in their hands (most have something), as you'll likely be able to pop off any extras in the store. (Oops...sorry Hobby Lobby employees). Most accessories are likely [poorly] hot-glued on, and easy to remove. 
created at: 11/29/2011
2. When you get home, start removing stuff. Use a craft knife, utility blade, small chisels, or even a butter knife to pop off any accessories - jewels, swords, drums, etc. If he's holding some kind of stick thing in his hand (many are...you'll see at the store), just use the blade or some cutting pliers to snip it off.
Also, you may consider gluing the actual cracking/mouth mechanism shut. It'll make painting it later easier, as you 'll avoid any hidden cavities.

created at: 11/29/2011

3. Most of the hair and beard will come off with an easy pry. The remaining whispies can be removed with a little bit of sandpaper. This will definitely show up when painted, so be sure to remove all the little hangers-on.

created at: 11/29/2011

4. Fill any resulting gaps, nail holes, or imperfections in the wood with a thin coat of wood filler. (The regular $2.00 stuff from Elmer's is fine). If you've cut something out of his hand, sand it flush, and fill the holes. Allow the filler to dry for thirty minutes or so, then sand everything smooth. Pay extra attention to the areas previously covered with fur, as their likely not as smooth as the rest. You can see my guys up there, ready to be painted.

created at: 11/29/2011

5. Take your soldiers outside or into a well-ventilated area, and start spray painting. Begin by holding him upside down (use a latex glove to keep your hands clean), and covering the base and underside of his body, arms, hat, and, er, mouth hole. Then, set him upright, and spray a smooth, even basecoat.

My guys took three total coats of spray paint, since the colorful paint that was already on there kinda melted under the chemicals of the spray paint, and showed through. Still, it only took me about 15-20 minutes total painting time, with an hour rest in between.

So, less than an hour of work, and only $5-10 a piece. I made out with two for a total of $12.00, plus the cost of spray paint. (I used way less than the whole can for both. I had the grey lying around.) A similar two nutcrackers would cost you more than $100 at West Elm, and they probably came from the same overseas factory. 

Quite the transformation, yeah? 


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Anonymous on Apr 16, 2013:

I can't find an undecorated nutcracker anywhere!

Anonymous on Nov 26, 2012:

Very cool but I miss the beard. I would maybe craft a basic wooden beard to glue on before painting.

Rhonda on Dec 07, 2011:


Jan on Dec 05, 2011:

Hi Chris!  Well, it took a couple days, but here's a pretty good image of the glitter on my nutcracker.  Let me know if you think there's an easy way to remove it, or just continual scraping until it's off.  Thanks!     

Jan on Dec 01, 2011:

It seems to be a little "craggier" than yours.  I'll snag a picture and send it in the a.m.

Chris Gardner on Dec 01, 2011:

@ Jan - Can you post a photo? Is your glitter all pebble-y and craggy, or is there a generally smooth texture? If the finish is flat, a few coats of spray paint will even it out mighty nicely.

Jan on Dec 01, 2011:

My really ugly nutcracker (believe it or not, the only one I could find around here that wasn't already way overpriced) is practically covered in chunky glitter.  I saw one of the ones you have in your photos has glitter on it.  What's the best way to remove this stuff?  Or is it really easier than my mind is making it out to be?  Thanks - and great job!

R2D2 on Nov 30, 2011:

Love it. Saw exactly the same thing at West Elm going from $30-$70...as if. 


DesigningMom on Nov 30, 2011:

LOL Great article and transformation Chris.

DIY Maven on Nov 30, 2011:

LOVE them.

Anonymous on Nov 30, 2011:

Very nicely played.


Flyingpuppy on Nov 29, 2011:

Downcycling? Funny!

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