How to Crack and Shell Walnuts

Updated on April 8, 2018
Beth Eaglescliffe profile image

Science graduate and business advisor, health educator and author, Beth writes articles on a wide variety of subjects.

Walnuts are traditionally eaten at Christmas.
Walnuts are traditionally eaten at Christmas. | Source

Shelling and Cracking Walnuts

Most edible nut kernels are relatively easy to separate from their shells. However a walnut kernel and its crinkly outer shell often seem welded together. I take my hat off to anyone who can crack walnuts and take out a whole undamaged kernel 100% of the time. My success rate is around 50% (although I am improving if I take my time and concentrate!)

So, in order to help others who may have a similar difficulty with these nuts, here are some different ways you can use to crack open and shell walnuts. Some of them are serious and some of them are (just a little) tongue in cheek. You should make up your own mind which is the most effective method to use. In my opinion, fresh in season walnuts are delicious and they are well worth the effort of shelling properly.

7 Ways to Open Walnuts

1. The hammer blow
2. Crushing machine
3. Hinged nutcracker
4. Screw press nutcracker
5. Sharp knife blade
6. Freezing (ice crystals expand)
7. Door hinge desperado

1. Cracking Walnuts With a Hammer Blow

Have you ever heard the expression "taking a sledge-hammer to crack a nut"? It literally means using disproportionate force to achieve a simple aim.

Take a hammer.


Strike the walnut.

Unfortunately, the result is that the nut is smashed along with the shell. Unless you have the patience of Job and pick out the fragments of edible kernel from amongst the broken shell pieces, this is not a good method.

Striking a hammer blow leaves a walnut in tiny pieces.
Striking a hammer blow leaves a walnut in tiny pieces. | Source

2. Separating Walnuts from their Shells in Quantity

The farmer in the video below smashes his walnuts in quantity. He has devised his own walnut crushing machine by using an old out of date hay crimping machine. Having reduced the nuts to a complex mess of shell and kernel, he then proceeds to sieve the two components apart again. His sells the walnut kernels and uses the broken shells as fuel in his wood burning stove to provide winter heat. This method of shelling walnuts is unusual and not for everyone!

3. Use a Hinged Nutcracker

A nutcracker is an implement that in its simplest form is just two pieces of metal or wood joined by a hinge. You put the nut near the hinge and grip hard. Your success at cracking a nut depends upon your personal grip strength. So for some people a simple nutcracker is enough. The classic design of nutcracker is often sold with picks to help you prise every last piece of the kernel away from the shell.

Walnuts on a plate with hinged nutcracker.
Walnuts on a plate with hinged nutcracker. | Source

4. Screw Motion or Screw Press Nutcracker

Many people need a little help with applying the pressure needed to crack walnut shells easily. This is where the screw motion or screw press nutcracker comes to the rescue. This ingenious device dates back hundreds if not thousands of years. By using a screw motion, pressure is applied onto the shell of the nut without the user having a strong hand grip themselves. The amount of pressure used can be carefully regulated. This means that as soon as the walnut’s shell cracks, pressure can be stopped. The walnut kernel can then be removed in one piece rather than in fragments.

Screw type nutcrackers are usually made of either wood (known as treen), or of metal (often stainless steel). There are also many examples of these type of nutcrackers made in the shape of a person as tourist souvenirs.

Treen or wooden screw type nutcracker.
Treen or wooden screw type nutcracker. | Source

5. Use a Sharp Knife to Open Walnuts

If you have a steady hand (and there are no small children nearby) you could use a sharp knife to open the walnut and get the kernel out in one piece. The video below demonstrates this method.

The tip of the knife is placed into the seam or hinge of the walnut. Once inserted, the knife is twisted to force open the seam. If done correctly, the shell of the walnut will split open. Please take care if you use this method, as it'is easy for a knife to slip and cause injury.

How to Shell a Walnut

6. Freezing Method Works for Quantity

Using a freezer to crack open walnuts relies on the chemistry of water changing from a liquid into a solid. Put the walnuts into a freezer bag and seal. Place the sealed bag into the freezer for several hours. The water present in the nuts and their shells freezes. Water expands as it freezes and so the shells will split open.

This method works well for walnuts intend using for baking or cooking. This is because the expansion and contraction of the water within the nuts causes the kernels to become slightly soft and flabby tasting. If you use this method and intend eating the walnuts as a snack, you will need to roast or cook them before eating.

Walnuts are decorative and taste great.
Walnuts are decorative and taste great. | Source

7. Rough and Ready Method Using a Door Hinge

If all else fails you can use a door hinge. With this rough and ready method the walnut kernel is undamaged (although I cannot guarantee that the doorjamb will remain unmarked!)

1. Find a suitable door with a hinge in good condition.

2. With the door open, place the walnut in the hinge between the door jamb and the door.

3. Carefully close the door so that the hinge closes tight onto the nut. You will hear a cracking sound as the shell splinters.

4. Carefully pick out the kernel from among the debris (and eat).

Fresh walnuts have a rock hard shell with a creamy inner kernel.
Fresh walnuts have a rock hard shell with a creamy inner kernel. | Source

What's the best trick to break open walnuts?

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US Walnut Facts and Figures

The United States produces 500,000 tons of walnuts per annum.

The value of walnut production in the States is over US $1.5 billion.

The US is the world’s largest exporter of walnuts.

The main export markets for the US crop are South Korea, Germany, Japan, Canada, China and Turkey.

Californian grown walnuts account for 99% of the commercial US supply as well as two-thirds of the US world export market.

Data is from the National Agricultural Statistical Service (NASS), USDA and the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), USDA.

This variety is called English Walnuts but it is grown in the US.
This variety is called English Walnuts but it is grown in the US. | Source


Submit a Comment

  • profile image

    Gitanj 13 months ago

    I crack them using the Hinge of my hands

    I interlock my fingers and place walnut at the outer end of my palm and crush it using my body force :D

  • profile image

    trev 16 months ago

    Use a thin pointed knife into the bottom of the nut and twist gently if u want the nut out in one piece