How to Carve a Shingle into a Wooden Rocket

A wooden rocket? Sure! You can make one yourself out of a wooden shingle.

| March/April 1980

  • 062 shingle rocket - carving
    The process of carving a wooden rocket.
  • 062 shingle rocket - launching
    Steps for launching a wooden shingle rocket.

  • 062 shingle rocket - carving
  • 062 shingle rocket - launching

Back in the days when the Iowa plains were covered with prairie grass rather than corn, pioneer children used to fling wooden rockets into the sky and then run screaming around the countryside ... waitin' for the missiles to come a-whizzin' back down and stick in the footprints they'd just vacated. 

My granddaddy (who was one of those rascals) taught me all the secrets of the pioneer projectiles. So—even if you've never touched a knife to wood in your life—get hold of a wooden shake and a half-hour of easy whittlin' time, and I'll tell you how to make yourself an "intercontinental ballistic shingle" ... and have a skill to pass on to your grandkin.

Carve It Out  

Any kind of wooden shingle will do . . . as long as it's thicker at one end than the other. The clerk at my local lumberyard gives me "seconds" (new shingles with flaws in them), and—when I see an old barn or shed being torn down—I ask the building's owner to let me salvage whatever rocket material I can gather for myself. Also, when you split your own cedar roofing shakes, watch for those that diminish in thickness from one end to the other. (Since they're heavier than the storebought variety, homemade shingles make the best flyers of all!)

Once you have your "raw material" in hand, use a sharp knife to carve it into an arrow shape, making sure the point is at the thick end of the shake, and the fin is at the thin end. The wooden "fletching" should take up one-third of the total length of the toy and be about 3 1/2" wide while the shaft—which ought to be about an inch in width—will use up the remaining two-thirds.

Since shingle wood splits easily, I've found it's best to cut from the back toward the point of the missile. (That way, there's less danger of accidentally slicing off the fin.)

After your rocket has taken shape, find its "center of gravity" by balancing the high flyer horizontally on your finger. Then whittle a 3/8"-deep notch at that "central" point, angling the cut about 45° toward the nose of the craft. Again, be careful not to split the wood.

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