Your definitive guide to good conkers

Be king of the string with John Plant’s guide to preparing battle-ready conkers

How to get good conkers

Image: John Plant

Every October, in schools across London, legends are made at lunchtimes. With conker and string in hand, brave gladiators fight it out in the hope of becoming champion with the promise of earning the right to be the class’s alpha for the rest of winter.

Much to my distress, I was never the conkers king. I was never even close. Now every year when October rolls around I begin to wonder how my life would have turned out had I reached the upper echelons of conker combat – would I be happier, more sure of myself? Every year after much thought I arrive at the same conclusion – yes, yes I would.

This year, however, I decided that enough was enough and instead of just sitting around feeling sorry for myself about my conker-smacking shortcomings, I would at least establish where I went wrong; what did my playground pals know that I didn’t? Here is what I discovered…

Step 1: Choosing the right conker

The prevailing opinion from hard-core conker fans is that you need to get your hands on a nicely rounded conker that is large, but not too large, and has fallen naturally from the tree – premature conkers have been proven to be less durable in battle.

Step 2: Careful making your hole

It is paramount that you make the hole as small as possible; remove too much of the conker’s core, then the less compact it will be, which affects its ability to withstand blows. The most effective way to produce a small hole is to use a large needle with your piece of string already threaded through the eye.

Step 3: Hardening it

This is an extremely divisive issue among conker fanciers. The most popular approach is to leave your conker in a dry, dark place for around a year. So next year’s sorted, but what about now? Unable to wait myself, I conducted a few experiments to get conker-battle ready in 30 minutes.


Get battle ready: Harden your conker in half an hour.

Taking three conkers of equal size and shape I tried the most popular techniques and then hurled them against a concrete wall to test their durability. Here’s how they faired…

Bake for 30 minutes at 150°C

The fabled oven-baking technique, which I thought was going to produce the best fighter, made the conker extremely brittle; mine smashed to bits on the first throw. Save oven baking for cakes!

Coat in nail varnish

This conker was strong and had to be thrown at the wall three times before it broke. Not enough to get me through a match with a pro

Boil in vinegar for 30 minutes

This conker took four throws before it smashed, making it the clear winner. It is worth noting, however, that boiling your conker in vinegar will leave a very pungent, long lasting odour in your kitchen and on the conker itself – proceed with caution, but think of the glory

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