It'll Come Back to You, It Really Will
Mby barnaby ruhe aking a boomerang is closer to carving or sculpting than it is to ordinary woodworking. A boomerang is all gentle curves and flowing lines, as if its arcing flight path is foreshadowed by its shape. As an artist, I became fascinated with boomerangs when I realized they're a pure free-form work of art. I've never seen a better example of the idea that "form follows function." When I'm filing the wing contour on a boomerang, I can't help thinking that I'm cutting the "shape of the wind" right into the wood.
The returning boomerang I'll discuss in this article is a sports boomerang, a distant cousin of the non-returning hunting boomerang made by Australian Aborigines. Eventually, they evolved a returning boomerang. which was probably used to hunt migrating birds. But today, the principle function of the return-
EDITOR'S NOTE: If you've never seen a boomerang fly or thrown one yourself, chances are you might not understand the attraction. Boomerangs, it turns out. are one of those things you have to "experience." That's whv we're out here in a big, open lawn on a bright, crisp December morning with Barnaby Ruhe, captain of the U.S. Boomerang Team. He's got a canvas bag and two old suitcases full of boomerangs—there must be a 100 of them in all shapes, sizes and colors, from all over the world. Barnaby's out here now, twirling his arms, stretching and getting in a few practice tosses to warm up. There's a feeling in the air...
Experiencing boomerangs with Barnaby Ruhe is like playing catch with Jose Canseco or hoops with Michael Jordan. His enthusiasm is infectious. From the first throw with its high arcing flight, doubling back overhead, hovering, then softly spiraling down into his waiting hands, our eyes are bugging out with a chorus of "wows" all around.
Barnaby's a dynamo of excitement as he winds up to throw the boomerang with the focused intensity of a Kung Fu master. As the day wears on. he catches the 'rang behind his back, under the leg, and with his feet, sometimes throwing two at once. Soon we're all throwing, and swooping boomerangs fill the sky. We're hooked.
We wanted to let you know what a great time we had, because we want you to try it yourself. The cost is small, and the woodworking is easy—this article will show you how to do it. And one thing's for sure—you'll never have so much fun with such a little stick of wood. Catch the fever.
ing boomerang is for sheer joy. There's something magical about testing the wind, tossing and watching that piece of wood you carved circle right back to your hand—defying logic. If you make and toss one yourself, you'll encounter sufficient delight, bordering on delirium, to prove mv point. Guaranteed.
A boomerang flies because its arms or "wings" have a cross-sectional shape like an airplane wing or airfoil. (See Fig. 1.) The leading edges of the arms are rounded, while the trailing edges are thin and tapered. The arms' top faces are curved and bottom faces are flat. The boomerang's throwing arm —the one you grip in your hand —is the arm with the leading edge facing out. The other arm has the trailing edge facing out and is called the "dingle arm." When you throw a boomerang, a snap of the wrist as it leaves your hand gives it a spin so the wing shape creates lift.
Boomerangs are made in an endless variety of shapes and sizes, including circles, triangles and all the letters of the alphabet. A V-shape (an angle of about 105° is ideal) is most common. But as long as you make it with two (or more) wings with an airfoil cross section there's a good chance you'll get it to fly. What's more, you'll discover that different shapes and wing contours create different flight paths and effects.
To make a boomerang, you can use natural elbows of trees, solid hardwood or other materials like plastic or fiberglass. But most boomerangs are made from marine-grade plywood, usually XU in., 5-ply Finnish or Baltic birch (available from Anderson International Trading Co., 1011 W. Barkley Ave., Orange. CA 92668, 714-771-6270). A 5 mm (about in.), 10-ply Finnish birch plywood (also sold by Anderson) is popular for making very light, strong boomerangs. Your local lumberyard or hobby shop may carry it too.
Making a boomerang can be as simple or as elaborate as you want. That's part of the fun! It's best to start out with a basic plywood boomerang like the one described here. Later, vou can make fancv boomer-angs with laminated hardwood and inlays, if you like.
To make your first boomerang you'll need a jigsaw or bandsaw for cutting out the shape from a sheet of thin plywood, and a power sander of some kind with coarse sandpaper. You'll also need that handy woodworker's tool, a four-in-hand rasp (a common half-round rasp with four different cutting surfaces, also called a shoe rasp).
Draw the pattern shown in Fig. 1 onto your sheet of birch plywood, and cut out the blank. If there is any warp in the plywood, the upcurved, concave side of the plywood sheet should be the topside of the boo-
The author's bag is filled with boomerangs of every shape and size.
merang's wings. The grain needn't favor either wing, so I set the grain of the surface plies at 45° to each wing.
Now shape the leading and trailing edges of the boomerang blank, as shown in Fig. 1. Don't worn* too much about getting this shape exactly right because there is no one correct way—different shapes create different flight effects. Just make sure the curves are on the top, and the bottom remains flat. You can also make a little indentation in the trailing edge of the throwing arm to serve as a finger grip. Note that Fig. 1 shows a "right-handed" boomerang—if you're a lefty, just reverse the positions of the leading and trailing edges.
Remove the excess wood with your four-in-hand rasp, or opt for speedier shaping with a power sander. I use a simple disc-sanding attachment on mv drill. A rough grit for the disc works fastest. As you sand, the glue lines between plies create contour lines to guide the shaping process. Notice how the lines exposed on the trailing edge of each wing are farther apart than the lines on the leading edge. Make the shape so the trailing lines go all the way around each wing tip. At the "elbow" where the two wings join, the leading and trailing edges switch places from one wing to the other. A smooth transition across this area ensures the most brilliant flight.
I like to shape the two wings rapidly with the sander. then take the rough boomerang and my rasp out to an open field for testing, tossing and filing, tossing and filing, fine tuning the evolution of the flight form as I go. The four-in-hand rasp allows intimate contact
With the boomerang held vertically, toss it with an overhand motion (Ike throwing a has.
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