Chris Schwarz's Blog

What Comes Around: The Amazing Power of Boomerangs

If only we had 1,000 more teachers like Trevor Smith, I think the future of woodworking would be safe and sound.

Smith, a physics teacher at Troy High School in Michigan and an avid woodworker, manages to weave the craft into his curriculum in surprising ways. And after spending a day with Smith and his students, I think that what the world needs is more boomerangs.

All of the students in Smith’s Physics II classes make functional boomerangs to learn the principles of airfoils and flight. They make them using high-density plywood, a band saw, a spindle sander and a few files and rasps.

Most of these high school kids have never had any woodshop experience. Smith surveys his students about their woodshop experience, and when he asks if they know what files are for, the most common answer is: fingernails.

But after a few weeks in the shop, the students are like pros. We spent a morning session with a class in the school’s woodshop where Smith’s students refined their boomerangs with files and sanding. They ran the band saw and spindle sanders like shop rats. I was even amused to see how several of them had mastered clamping with handscrews (something that even old pros struggle with).

Then the students took their boomerangs out onto the field after lunch and threw them for about an hour. Most of them worked remarkably well.

But the best part of the whole project was how enthusiastic the students were about the project. Many of them decorated their boomerangs, and Smith says they carry them around in their backpacks and even trade and sell the things.

Near the end of the school day, one student brought three boomerangs into the classroom; two of them were completed and one still needed work.

That was the one her father was making. Her dad had gotten so excited about the project that he wanted to make one.

“That happens all the time,” Smith says. “The kids are so enthusiastic about their boomerangs that the parents or the grandparents start making them, too.”

I must have seen about 50 boomerangs on Thursday, but I definitely had a favorite. It was made by Will Schwarz, who plays on the football team at Troy High School. He said his nickname on the field is “The Schwarz,” and so he gave his boomerang the same name.

We’ll be publishing a complete story on Smith, plus plans for boomerangs, in the October 2009 issue of Popular Woodworking, which goes on sale Sept. 1.

– Christopher Schwarz

9 thoughts on “What Comes Around: The Amazing Power of Boomerangs

  1. Milford Brown

    Christopher,

    During my much earlier years, I read somewhere about making miniature boomerangs – about 4" max dimension, various configurations – from lightweight cardboard, such as file folders. They were "launched" by placing them on a book held flat, with one end extending slightly beyond the book, and flicking a pencil along the book edge. Being small and light, they could be played with indoors without endangering any delicate furnishings or decor. I can’t recall any particulars about airfoil-shaping, although that could certainly be done by suitable bending with the finger-tips. An alternative would be to make them out of thin balsa, or for outdoor flight, some 1/16 or 1/8" plywood, but I don’t remember ever doing either. Also, I’d have to make a few now to see the flight patterns, since I don’t remember those details either. They were only a brief diversion from my major woodworking addiction for more than a decade – model airplane building and flying.

    Milford

  2. Christopher Schwarz

    Tony,

    We will offer plans. BTW, you can find them in many places on the internet.

    Chris

  3. hunter

    Back in the late 80s I got a plastic boomerang as a gift. Which led me to get interested in boomerangs, got a couple of books and read up. My dad had some baltic birch ply around that I cut out on the bandsaw and used a belt sander to contour the airfoils. Then spray painted to give a smooth surface. It’s really amazing how well they work. Its also a lot of fun to try different designs to see the differences in how they fly. Its been years since I threw them, After reading this article I am inspired to dust them off… Thanks for the inspiration!!

  4. Chris C

    An interesting educational note: One of the worst things public
    schools do(and they do a lot of bad things) is compartmentalize all of the subjects. This makes
    it seem that none of them relate to one another, which is
    of course absurd. And a bad way to learn.

    I find it no surprise that connections can be made between
    physics and woodworking. Or any other subject as well. At least
    one teacher gets it.

    chris

  5. Christopher Schwarz

    The three and four-blade boomerangs work. They spin and return faster. We’ll cover all the parameters in the article.

    Chris

  6. Tom Dugan

    So that makes you "The Schwarz II"? I suppose "Little Schwarz" was out of the question.

    How well does that V-shape perform? And more generally, how well do 3- and 4- blade models perform vs the standard "straight stick" that I always failed so miserably with?

  7. Wilbur Pan

    Looks like you’ll have to give up your Wood Whisperer-appointed nickname, Chris. :@)

  8. Al Navas

    Chris,

    Pretty cool, and amazing timing!

    I was going to be making some boomerangs with the four older granddaughters. And this post managed to move the project to the top of the list.

    Thanks!

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