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Boomerang

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Description

Designed by Paul Steiner

While this may look like an ordinary handmade boomerang, it is anything but.
It’s made from a special flying plywood that has amazing aeronautical qual-
ities. First developed by Howard Hughes as a top-secret project . . . All right,
we’re pulling your leg. There’s no such thing as flying plywood. It’s just a play
on words. The real Flywood is a boomerang that you can make with almost any
plywood, from premium stuff like Baltic birch or aircraft plywood (which really
does exist) to lowly scrap material salvaged from packing crates. The design is
so forgiving that often a slight twist or bow in the material makes the
boomerang fly better. Designed for a high school technology class, Flywood is
great for a weekend project with teenage kids. And of course you’ll make one
for yourself.
See Toolboxes for another work by Paul Steiner.

Materials
•Photocopier paper (for making paper template)
•One 11″ × 18″ (or larger) piece ¹⁄4″ to ³⁄8″ plywood (with 4 plies min.; see
Boomerang Wood)
•Glue stick or rubber cement
•Finish materials (as desired)

TOOLS
•Tape
•Scissors
•Jigsaw with fine wood blade or band saw
•Sandpaper (from 80 to 220 grit) and sanding block
•Files and other shaping tools (see step 2)
•T bevel or other angle guide
•Mineral spirits or lacquer thinner

Instructions
1. Prepare the blank.
The blank is the boomerang body cut and sanded to its shape with
square edges. Once the blank is prepared, you will sand and file
bevels into the edges to make the piece flyable.

Start by making a full-size copy of each half of the pattern template
on a photocopier. Line up the edges of the pattern halves, and tape
the two pieces of paper together to create a full pattern. Cut out the
pattern with scissors, then adhere the pattern to your plywood
stock using glue stick or rubber cement. The pattern will remain in
place until the finish-sanding process (step 3).

Cut out the blank in two stages: First rough-cut the shape with a
jigsaw or band saw, staying about ¹⁄2 to 1″ outside the pattern out-
line. With the rough cut complete, make a series of relief cuts–
perpendicular to the outline’s edge–along the tighter curves, saw-
ing from the outside edge of the blank to ¹⁄16″ from the pattern out-
line. Then carefully cut out the entire profile, staying ¹⁄32″ to ¹⁄16″
outside the pattern outline.

Finally, use sandpaper and a small sanding block and/or a file to
sand the blank’s edge down to the pattern outline. The edge should
remain square (90 degrees). Finish with fine sandpaper (150 grit
and up) to smooth the edge after shaping.

2. Form the bevels.

Starting with files, a Surform tool (rasp), or a block plane, begin
beveling the top edges of the blank, following the degree markings
on the pattern. The pattern shows where to make the bevel 30 de-
grees and where to make it 45 degrees. The top of the completed
bevels should stop at the inner lines, where the degree markings
are; you will file or sand away the outline edge of the pattern to get
there. As you create the bevels, check your work frequently with a T
bevel (angle finder) to make sure you are maintaining the correct
angle. Do your best to sand at 30 and 45 degrees, but don’t worry if
you deviate slightly from these angles.

Once the bevels are roughed in, begin sanding the edges smooth
(see tip below). Also sand the transitions between the different
bevel angles by blending the angles together: Start sanding at a 45-
degree bevel, increasing the pressure and angle over the transition
area until you reach the 30-degree bevel. Follow any machine sand-
ing with hand-sanding, working up to 220-grit sandpaper. Also
sand away any sharp or splintered areas.

Tip: Shaping the bevels requires a good deal of sanding, and almost
any sanding tool can be helpful. A little creativity and trial and error
will help you find ways to sand the contours with the tools you have
available. Palm and orbital sanders work well, too, but sanding with
them can take some time.

3. Finish the piece.

Peel off the remaining pattern paper, and remove any glue residue
with mineral spirits or lacquer thinner. Using fine sandpaper, sand
the beveled edges and the top and bottom faces of the boomerang.
On the faces, be sure to sand parallel to the grain direction of the
face veneers.

Apply the finish of your choice. You can apply paint, stain, and/or a
clear protective surface finish rated for outdoor exposure.
Polyurethane and varnish offer the best protection for outdoor use,
while lacquer provides a nicer finish for displaying the piece. To aid
in the finishing process, tie a string between two points, like a
clothesline. Hold the boomerang on the edges with your hand to
finish the majority of the boomerang. Then hang the boomerang on
the string and coat the areas where your fingers were holding.

Flying your Flywood

Find a suitable (large) area to throw your boomerang, such as a football, base-
ball, or soccer field. If there’s wind, position yourself so you will be throwing
into the wind from one corner of the field. Grip the boomerang with the curved
side directed backward, placing the flat face in the palm of your hand and
clasping over the bevels with your fingers and thumb. Draw the boomerang
back behind your shoulder, then throw it overhand, snapping your wrist and
releasing the boomerang level with, or slightly above, your shoulder.
Successful throwing takes some practice, and you’ll have to experiment to
find the techniques that work best for you–raise or lower your release point,
raise or lower your arm, increase or decrease the wrist snap, throw 45 degrees
into the wind instead of 90 degrees, and so on. Of course, you’ll also learn
what does and does not make your boomerang come back to you. In the words
of Flywood’s designer, “Many happy returns!”

Shop Tip
Boomerang Wood

Baltic birch and marine plywood work very well for this project because they
have the necessary layers (plies) and a good weight for flying. Another op-
tion is to laminate two sheets of ¹⁄8″ plywood to gain the minimum four lay-
ers. Quarter-inch plywood produces a better-flying boomerang because it al-
lows the piece to flex, helping it to return. Three-eighths-inch plywood
doesn’t flex, but it does produce a better-looking piece for display. Cabinet
shops, manufacturing facilities, and even wood packing crates are good
sources for scrap plywood to build a boomerang.

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