A good many folks (including a number of MOTHER EARTH NEWS’ staffers) found that the article “Making and Throwing a Boomerang” really sparked an enthusiasm for the traditional Australian sporting implements. (As you may know, return boomerangs are not–except in the most unusual instances–used as weapons. The heavier nonreturning hunting stick–or
kylie–serves that purpose.)
Well, as a result of your (and our) curiosity, we set out to find a good, reliable, do-it-yourself plans to make a boomerang. And, after turning out a number of fliers based on the “Gem” design (without a failure yet), we think that–when good quality, 1/4″ five-ply plywood is used–it is about as foolproof as a boomerang pattern can be. (In the interest of economy, our readers may want to reproduce the returner in 1/4″ masonite before making one from the more expensive material. The less costly boomerang should fly almost as well, but will be a good bit less sturdy.)
The Homing Instinct
To begin, draw a pattern–full size–on a sheet of stiff cardboard. (This design described here will produce a right-handed boomerang. Southpaws can simply make a mirror image of the plan, shifting the leading and trailing edges accordingly.) Once you’re satisfied that the template is reasonably symmetrical and pleasing, check your wood for warps and–if any exist–lay out the pattern in such a way that the finished boomerang’s top (rounded) surface will be formed by the concave warp of the wood (that is, the wings of the finished flier should either be absolutely level or turn up slightly at the tips).
With your boomerang-to-be traced on the board, you can cut out the pattern, using a jigsaw or scroll saw (a “finish” blade will leave much smoother edges). Then use coarse sandpaper to remove a small wedge-shaped portion from the bottom of the leading edge of each wing (this is the only shaping that will be done to the underside
of the boomerang).
Once that’s done, take your wooden blank and–with a pencil–mark the to-be-shaved-away areas, on the top of the boomerang, as follows: The leading edges should extend 1/4″ into the upper surface of the wood. The trailing edges should be smoothed back 1/2″. Both should be worked to a thinness of no less than 1/8″ (which is, of course, halfway down the edge of the 1/4″ plywood). Now, use a fine-toothed wood rasp (or a Surform tool) to gradually remove the extra material–as indicated by your penciled guidelines–letting the wood’s plies, as each is revealed in turn, help you produce a uniform bevel.
At this point your boomerang will be in its final shape, and you can smooth it first with medium, then fine, sandpaper. Be sure to round off all sharp edges! The finished projectile may be decorated in any way you wish, but do waterproof the wood with a couple of coats of clear lacquer (our favorite) or polyurethane.
A Snappy Comeback
In order to take your wooden bird on its maiden flight, wait for a still or just slightly breezy day (a light boomerang–such as this one–can be all but impossible to control in winds much over five miles per hour). Then find an area where there’s at least 40 yards of open space in each direction so you won’t be likely to damage anyone’s property–or conk an innocent spectator–with a wild throw. Now, stand facing into the wind, then turn about 45° to your right (with the breeze on your left shoulder), and–holding the boomerang vertically, so that its curved surface is toward your body and the “hook” is pointing forward–throw the homemade flier at an imaginary target about 40 yards away and approximately 15 feet off the ground. Snap your wrist upon release (it’s similar to the motion often used when pitching a hardball) to spin the curved stick end over end. If all goes well, it should first fly straight out, then bank upward and to the left (again, a left-handed boomerang will be thrown, and fly, in the opposite direction to that of a right-hander, so all of the instructions here should be reversed by lefties) before leveling out a bit and returning to hover and touch down near you.
If the device lands to your right, turn a little bit more to your left for the next throw. Should it land to your left, on the other hand, try facing slightly more to the right … or lean the boomerang–just a tad–toward the right horizon before throwing it again. With some practice–remember, each and every returning throw stick has its own personality that must be learned before it’ll fly its best–you should be able to get consistent returns and even catch the boomerang (for safety’s sake, try this trick only when the
stick is in its gentle final hover) by making a sandwich of it between your two palms!
Once you’ve mastered the pattern given in this article, you may want to step out on your own a bit by duplicating it in 3/16″ plywood to produce a slightly more delicate thrower that will be easier to hurl, and therefore better suited to the younger boomerangers. Or, if you’re feeling really adventurous, try some designs of your own. You’ll undoubtedly make a few (or more) failures along the way, but you might–if you stick to the basic design parameters indicated by the airfoils on this little boomerang–come up with one or two really exquisite performers!
EDITOR’S NOTE: The boomerang design shown here is adapted with permission from a pattern called “The Gem,” developed by Herb A. Smith of Sussex, England; Smith just happens to be a former world’s record long-distance thrower. (Of course, this design is not for a long-distance boomerang. It takes a lot of practice–and a good bit of strength–to manipulate one of the far-flyers.) Herb’s book–which contains other fine boomerang designs–can be ordered from The Boomerang Man. The same source can occasionally supply Smith-designed boomerangs.