The Touraine nutcracker

In bygone days, long before the family spent every evening glued to the tele, autumn was "walnut cracking time". The long evenings were spent sitting around a table hitting walnuts with a small mallet. This was a time when subtlety was not considered to be a great virtue in Touraine. The tourangeaux did not use complicated machines with screws or levers: to crack a nut, you hit it.

There was no need to watch violent films on television. In the flickering candlelight, the wrinkled walnut shells came to life. Now was the time for the womenfolk to take their revenge.

Ha! This one looks just like old Michou. Crrrack!

This one looks just like my mother-in-law. Crrrack!

For centuries, the only equipment commonly used was the kitchen table, with a small hollow to hold the walnut, a wooden mallet and a broom to sweep up all the fragments of shell scattered on the table, on the floor, behind the cushions and down the deep cut necklines of our lovely tourangelles. (Apparently, I've got it wrong. The traditional Touraine dress had a high collar - now we know why!)

The year 2000 marked to start of a new era. The first Touraine nutcracker, with build-in walnut grip and shell catcher, went into production in a small workshop.

To make a Touraine nutcracker, first take a block of wood. Classic elm, noble walnut and richly coloured cherry are the favourite woods.

From a block of wood to a useful and decorative nutcracker in a few minutes

The first step is to rough out a cylinder and form a approximate bowl shape. Within a few seconds, the block has become completely round and the turner is covered in a layer of wood chippings, despite the powerful dust extractor.

Roughing out the bowl requires strength.

Cutting it to shape requires finesse.

Now it is time to cut the outside of the bowl to give it its final form. This is when the best laid plans can go awry.

Wood is a natural material and is, therefore, far from perfect. The faults in the wood must either be eliminated or be incorporated into the form. You cannot tell the exact shape of the bowl until you have finished cutting.

Take care not to cut through the wall

Once the outside has been finalised, the inside of the bowl is roughed out, leaving the central column.

The inside of the wall is then cut to within a few millimetres of the outside of the wall: no more than 3mm at the top edge of the bowl and a bit more than 5mm near the base.

When the bowl has been completely formed, the tailstock is moved back so that the hollow can be cut in the end of the column.

Carefully with the glass paper

Polishing is the last step and it is very important. The wood turning tools used are not like a plane which cuts cleanly. They cut by scraping away the surface. The bowl must, therefore, be carefully smoothed down using finer and finer grades of glass paper.

The bowl, still turning on the lathe, is then waxed, either with liquid wax or using solid beeswax sticks, and polished.

Pressing hard with a sponge heats the wax up to the point where it starts to turn brown, creating bands of colour.

If the brown bands are a bit to abrupt, they can be pushed with a sponge or cloth to smooth them out.

The bowl must be polished inside and out using foam to get the final finish. The hot wax sinks into the wood.

Press hard to brown the wax


Final polish

Each bowl has its own character

Click the pictures to show them full size

Patrick Boutet - Basket weaver

James Gassiot - the Chateau de Rys

Design, text, photos - the Alien
Page layout - T-T-Web


Other crafts sites - Worldwide arts directory

The music is the Chopin Winter Wind Etude Op 25 No11 played by Robert Finley.