Utah man preserves rare art of handmade nutcrackers

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DRAPER, Utah (AP) — A Utah retiree who learned woodworking from his father is putting his skills to work in the nearly lost art of handmade nutcrackers.

John Bruce says he's one of the few still producing the traditional Christmas staples by hand, KSL-TV reported (http://bit.ly/1Pl8FI7 ).

He works out of an enormous shop behind his home in the Salt Lake City suburb of Draper, cutting and carving to create the unfinished nutcracker kits that he sells to people who paint them and add their own finishing touches.

Bruce says his father was a hobby woodworker who taught him how to sharpen a knife when he was a young Cub Scout.

"The first thing I did was I whittled off a little piece of my finger," he said, chuckling.

He's now adopted his dad's trademark mutton chop facial hair along with his favorite hobby. He works with the sound of classical music like Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker Suite" playing as he practices his craft.

He says that nutcrackers are a German tradition.

"The Erzgebirge mountain range," he said. "They did mining there, and then when the mining kind of dried up, they needed something to do."

The decorative tools likely came to be associated with Christmas because nuts were a common holiday treat, he said.

Bruce has also made other wood art, like birdhouses that represent stories he tells about his life, including his time in the Coast Guard, at a lighthouse in Alaska, and in Yugoslavia.

People often find his shop online and purchase his wares to make family heirlooms passed down over generations, he said. His attention to detail and careful labor set him apart from more mass-produced nutcrackers, he said.

"I am the only one that does this kind of work," he said.

He's not sure what will become of the craft in the future, though.

"It'd be nice to see it preserved, but I'm not sure what you can look forward to down the road," he said. "I can't say I'm wildly optimistic, if you want to put it that way."

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