N is for Nutcracker

A common nutcracker and two nut pickers.

A common nutcracker and two nut pickers. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

N is for Nutcracker

A nutcracker is a device for cracking the shell of large, hard nuts such as walnuts and pecans. It is usually operated by a lever to multiply the force of your grip. The alternative to a nutcracker is usually a hammer.

The word nutcracker usually brings to mind the famous ballet and the even more famous wooden soldier nutcrackers. Originally, these toy soldier nutcrackers were made of metal such as brass; wooden ones didn’t become popular until the 19th century. While these decorative nutcrackers were originally functional, they were surely still mostly decorative and only used for special occasions. Certainly, it is unlikely that nutcrackers produced in rural Germany made it into many non-aristocratic households before the dawn of the modern era.

Types of nutcracker

Nutcrackers typically fall into two categories: decorative and functional. While decorative nutcrackers can still be functional, their primary purpose is to look good. A search for nutcrackers on Amazonshows ones shaped like squirrels and parrots, and even one meant as a political parody of Hillary Clinton. Plus, of course, the ubiquitous wooden soldiers.

For daily usage, simple metal nutcrackers have probably been in usage in Europe for hundreds of years. The most common style, shown above, is simply two metal sticks connected by a hinge. You place the nut near the hinge and grip near the other end and squeeze. The result is a a classic Archimedes lever and fulcrum which multiplies effort on the load.

In 1913, Henry Quackenbush invented the spring loaded nutcracker which used a single spring-loaded hinge instead of a double hinge used in most other models. Another type of model exists that uses the pressure of a screw to slowly crack open the shell. Finally, a new type uses a fixed base and a single lever, vs the double lever found in most. These models tend to be more expensive, which is reasonable considering they are several times the size and weight.

Nutcracker recommendations

Expect to pay $5-$10 for a basic metal nutcracker, or a bit more for a more deluxe type. Decorative nutcrackers can easily go for hundreds of dollars. For a basic model that won’t break on you, theĀ Good Cook Classic Nutcracker with Picks is a good choice. For something a little more substantial, try the Duke Company Pecan Nut Cracker.

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