By Andrew Lewis
A little while ago, I opened up a trunk that had been buried in the back of an attic for the best part of 100 years. Inside the trunk, I found a box of personal letters and family souvenirs from the early 1900s. At the bottom of the box was a plain white envelope that at first glance seemed to contain a few pieces of bamboo, tissue paper, and decayed rubber. It took me a few minutes to realize that I was looking at a very old homemade toy.
The toy was made of a thin bamboo frame, with tissue paper butterfly wings and cotton-wrapped joints. The wings of the butterfly were painted with brightly colored inks, and a rudimentary bamboo propeller was fitted to the top. The remains of a rubber band were fixed to the little propeller, which was obviously a simple motor for the toy.
I love old toys, and this find presented itself as such a lovely little piece of history that I couldn’t imagine just packing it back into the box without trying to make a copy that I could play with. However, given the time of year, it seemed fitting to make a few modifications to the original design and build myself a little batcopter!
Bamboo skewer Needle or awl Razor blade or scalpel Needle-nose pliers 2″ thin wire Small glass or plastic bead Rubber band Length of black cotton thread or fishing line Thin black paper construction paper will work but the thinner the paper the better to reduce the weight of the bat. Paper glue, I used Pritt Stick
Step 1: Split the bamboo skewer in half. As with all airborne devices, weight is a big factor. The less excess weight, the better your batcopter will fly.
Step 2: Cut a 6 1/4″ length of bamboo from one of the pieces and use a needle or awl to make a hole in the middle. The hole should be large enough to allow a piece of wire to pass through without sticking.
Step 3: Mark the length of bamboo 2 3/4″ from each end and then bend the bamboo into a triangle. Cutting part of the way through the bamboo will make it easier to bend accurately. This bamboo triangle will eventually form the body of the batcopter.
Step 4: Cut another 6 1/4″ length of bamboo and mark it 3/4″ from each end. Bend the bamboo into a shallow ‘U’ shape at the marks, cutting part of the way through the bamboo so that it bends easily.
Step 5: Bend a 2″ piece of wire so that it wraps around the middle of the U-shaped bamboo and sticks out perpendicular to the ends. This is the beginning of the propeller. The bamboo will make the blades of the propeller, and the wire will hook onto the rubber band.
Step 6: Thread the bead onto the wire. The bead will act as a spacer to stop the two pieces of bamboo from touching each other when the batcopter is assembled.
Step 7: Poke the wire through the hole in the bamboo body so that the propeller sits on the outside held clear of the body by the bead.
Step 8: Bend a hook into the end of the wire and attach the rubber band to the hook.
Step 9: Fix the rubber band and the bamboo body together by wrapping them tightly with cotton. You can add a little glue if you like, but I find that the cotton will hold itself in place if you wrap it tightly enough and then knot the end around the rubber band.
Step 10: Cut some wing shapes out of black paper. I made the wings so that they were symmetrical and folded over the bamboo sides of the body. I wrapped them around the bamboo and glued them into place. The inside of the wing shapes are 2″ high, and they are 4″ long when folded and glued into place.
Step 11: Cut two pieces of black paper for the propeller blades of the batcopter. I used a piece shaped like a cropped triangle, because that was what the original vintage toy used. The pieces are 1″ high on the left side, 1/2″ on the right side, and 1 3/4″ along the flat side.
Step 12: Glue one of the pieces to the top of the bamboo propeller blade and one to the bottom. Incredibly, putting the paper on opposite sides of the bamboo gives the propeller enough lift to control the descent of the batcopter.
Step 13: Hold the batcopter by the body and twist the propeller around with your finger until the rubber band is tightly wound.
Step 14: Hold the propeller and body of the batcopter between your thumb and forefinger and then release it. If the batcopter falls too quickly, try winding the propeller the opposite way next time, or try a stronger rubber band.
About the Author:
Andrew Lewis is a journalist, a maker, victophile, and founder of the the blog Upcraft.it.