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In July (of 2015) a reader sent me an email to ask if I’d done any other insects besides Ants. This got me thinking about how to do transparent wings. My first thought was to start with the almost clear plastic Dannon uses for 1-quart yogurt lids. After scratching some “veins” in with an awl and misting the wing with metallic paint it didn’t look bad, so I thought I’d try and make some dragonflies. I thought it would be a fairly simple project, and it would have been if I hadn’t gotten trapped in a black hole of variations on how to make the wings, legs, and eyes. I spent so much time on the variations that I ended up using them for the Christmas ornaments I give to family and friends.
I think real dragonflies are cool. On the one hand they’re very pretty with slender graceful bodies and iridescent colors. On the other hand, they’re the attack helicopters of the insect world, decimating mosquitos and other insect pests. Something for both your masculine and feminine sides.
Briefly, the article will show how to turn the thorax, head, and abdomen using a chuck and a bead drive. The body segments are joined together with 1/8” pewter wire which makes them somewhat posable. Then one way of making wings using craft wire and lamé fabric will be shown. Then it will show how to make legs from craft wire and turn eyes from contrasting wood or acrylic. My web site has several wing and eye variations in an addendum, and a gallery of dragonfly pictures.
Main.jpg: One of the dragonfly variations with copper wings and patinated copper eyes.
A bead drive gives you access to the entire part for final shaping, sanding and finishing. What I call a bead drive (because I first used it to make beads) is really just a small taper. A tapered tenon makes snug contact to a tapered mortise over a relatively large surface area compared to a straight tenon (that can be removed) in a straight mortise. My Necklace article, listed in References, shows several variations on how to make one. You only need to make a headstock mounted bead drive for dragonflies—no tailstock center bead drive is needed.
In this article I’m using a somewhat fancier version mounting a #2/0 1-1/2” long taper in a brass sleeve. I started with 5/8” brass rod 1-5/8” long. I mounted it in my 4-jawed chuck and removed a slight amount from both ends in turn, leaving a full diameter ring in the middle to register on the faces of the chuck jaws. Then working from the back I drilled in 1-1/8” with a #7 drill bit and then tapped for 1/4x20 threads. Then I drilled a through hole with a drill bit that was the size of the minimum diameter of the taper pin. Then, checking frequently so I would get the protrusion I wanted, I reamed with a #2/0 tapered reamer. The tapered pin is then held in place with a 1/4” set screw.
Patterns for two sizes of dragonflies are listed in References. There is a 5” long version for wood bodied dragonflies which I suggest you try first. There is also a slightly more than 4” long version suitable for 3/4" square acrylic pen blanks. Print out the pattern, after checking the printer dialog box options to make sure that it will print full size. You only need the diameter and length to turn the thorax and head. Cut out the red box around the abdomen and attach it to something thin like cereal box cardboard or veneer with spray adhesive.
If you think you’ll make several dragonflies, then attach the leg cutting/bending pattern to 3/4” or 1” thick wood and cut it out. Then drill holes to the indicated depth in the ends. Use a drill significantly bigger than the wire you’ll use for the legs, else it tends to bind up part way down and put the bends in the wrong places.
Attach the wing templates to 1/2" plywood and cut them out.
Turning the Thorax
Mark the center at one end of a 1” x 1” x 6-1/2” (or a 3/4” x 3/4" x 5” acrylic pen blank) turning blank. Mount it in a 4-jawed chuck with #1 jaws and bring up a cone tailstock center for additional support as in Figure #1. Use a spindle roughing gouge to bring the last inch and a half or so to round (although it doesn’t matter for wire based wings, you will need the rest of the blank to be square to safely cut a slot for other wing styles). Use a parting tool and calipers to cut to the thorax diameter, then a spindle roughing gouge to reduce to a cylinder. Clean up the end grain at the tailstock with a skew (or what tool you favor) and then mark the length of the thorax. Use a parting tool to define the thorax length as in Figure #2.
Figure #1: Mount the blank in a 4-jawed chuck with tailstock support.
Figure #2: Define the thorax length with a parting tool.
Remove your tailstock center. Mount a drill bit that’s the minimum diameter of your bead drive in a drill chuck. Hold the drill bit against the thorax so you can mark the depth to drill with tape on the drill as in the top image of Figure #3. Then mount the drill chuck in your tailstock and drill to the required depth as in the bottom image of Figure #3.
Figure #3: Mark the drill depth and drill through the thorax.
Remount the tailstock center and use a spindle gouge to round over the thorax as in the top image of Figure #4. Then part the thorax off using the spindle gouge or a skew. Mount your bead drive. Place the thorax loosely on the bead drive, then seat it by bringing up the tailstock center, as in the bottom image of Figure #4, which will help center the thorax more precisely.
Figure #4: Round the thorax and mount it on the bead drive.
Refine the shape of the thorax. You can back off the tailstock, and even flip the thorax around to clean up the end grain if required. Sand and polish the thorax as in Figure #5.
Figure #5: Sand and polish the thorax.
Turning the Head
Remount the turning blank in your 4-jawed chuck and bring up a cone tailstock center for support. Bring an inch or so to round with a spindle roughing gouge, then use a parting tool and calipers to set the diameter of the head as in the top image of Figure #6. Clean up the end grain, then measure and mark the length of the head. Make a deeper parting tool cut on the headstock side of the mark to indicate the length as in the bottom image of Figure #6. You may notice an extra pencil line on the head in this photo. This line marks the high point to turn the head face in a hemisphere for certain eye techniques. If you aren’t using overlaid eyes you can just round over the head.
Figure #6: Set the diameter and length of the head.
Round over the head with a spindle gouge as in the top image of Figure #7. Remove the headstock and remount the drill chuck in your tailstock. Use tape to mark on the drill bit a depth about 1/8” less than the length of the head. Then drill to this depth as in the bottom image of Figure #7.
Figure #7: Shape and drill the head.
Remount your bead drive. You can use a homemade countersunk center (see references) as in the top image of Figure #8 to mount the head centered on the bead drive. Alternately, you can leave the head somewhat oversized in the previous step and use light cuts with a spindle gouge to bring it to size. Then sand and polish the head as in the bottom image of Figure #8.
Figure #8: Mount the head on the bead drive and then sand and polish it.
Turning the Abdomen
Remount the turning square in your 4-jawed chuck. Turn a dimple in the end to help the drill start centered and then drill, using the same bit as before, about half an inch in as in the top image of Figure #9. Use a skew on its side or a spindle gouge to countersink the end of the blank somewhat as in the bottom image of Figure #9. Countersinking will allow the abdomen to pivot on the thorax moderately without exposing the joint as much.
Figure #9: Preparing the turning blank for turning the abdomen.
Using the tailstock center in the drilled hole to aid in centering, remount the turning square in the 4-jawed chuck so that the jaws only grip the last half inch or so. This will expose enough of the blank to turn the whole abdomen. Use a parting tool and calipers to cut to the diameter of the initial part of the abdomen as in Figure #10. Then use a roughing gouge to reduce about an inch and a half of the blank to that diameter. Use the abdomen pattern to indicate the end of the first segment as in Figure #11.
Figure #10: Sizing the initial part of the abdomen.
Figure #11: Mark the end of the first segment.
Use a parting tool and calipers to cut on the headstock side of the first segment mark to the diameter of the rest of the abdomen as in the top image of Figure #12. Then use a spindle gouge to shape the first abdomen segment and create a shallow V-cut at the end of the segment as in the bottom image of Figure #12.
Figure #12: Turning the first segment.
Use a spindle roughing gouge to turn about half of the remaining abdomen to diameter. In wood you can probably get away with turning the whole abdomen to diameter at this point, but it’s a bad habit to get into if you then try to turn an acrylic dragonfly. Use your pattern to mark as many segments as you can as in the top image of Figure #13. Then use a spindle gouge to shape those segments as in the bottom image of Figure #13. Make shallow V-cuts at each mark and then round toward the V-cut from the tailstock end. You can add shallow little coves if you wish.
Figure #13: Turning more of the segments.
Use a spindle roughing gouge to reduce the rest of the abdomen to diameter and mark the remaining segments with the pattern as in the top image of Figure #14. Then use a spindle gouge to shape the remaining segments. The V-cut before the last segment should be deeper, as should the cove at the end. Sand and polish the abdomen.
Figure #14: Mark and turn the remaining segments.
Part off the abdomen. Then use a sanding drum to shape the end of the last segment to a V as in the upper left image of Figure #15. Use a scroll saw or coping saw to shape the claspers by following the outer contours as in the upper right image of Figure #15. Unless you’re a Pinocchio denier, take extra care with the claspers to avoid an angry creation. Touch up the finish on the claspers. The bottom image of Figure #15 shows all the completed pieces of the dragonfly body.
Figure #15: Forming the claspers and the completed body pieces.
Making the Wings
The wings are fabric covered wire. Craft wire (such are Artisan or Parawire) is copper colored with epoxy, and is quite soft and easy to bend to shape. Flattening the wire after forming gives a bigger glue area and work hardens it so it will hold its shape better at the same time. I used 18 gauge silver colored wire for the wings.
Start by preparing short strips of tape to hold the wire in loops. If you fold over a quarter inch of tape on itself on each end it will be easier to remove. Wind the wire around the pattern form. Cut the wire so that about 3/8” to 1/2" extends past the form at the wing base. Apply a tape strip to keep the ends in position, then slide it off the form. Make two wings from each pattern form as in the top image of Figure #16. Find a metal surface suitable to use as an anvil. You may wish to practice hammering the wire flat on some wire scraps. Hold the wire by the taped ends at the edge of the anvil and flatten the wire with a hammer as in the bottom image of Figure #16. Don’t flatten the wire held by the tape.
Figure #16: Forming and flattening the wire wings.
Cut oversize pieces of the fabric you’ve selected. A sheer sparkly lamé would work well. Arrange the wire loops in symmetric pairs and bend the taped ends down so you can tell left from right. Place the wire loops on newspaper so that the bent ends point down, and spray the wire with 3M #77 spray adhesive. Following the directions on the adhesive can, wait for the spray to become tacky, then press the sprayed surface of the wire down on a piece of fabric. Then trim the fabric to the edge of the wire with scissors. Figure #17 shows this sequence.
Figure #17: Attach the fabric to the wing wires.
Attach the wings first, as they stick way out and make it easier to tell if you’re mounting the other body pieces and legs lined up correctly. A short slice of PVC pipe or the like will make it easier to hold the thorax. Find a drill bit that makes a hole the wire you’ve used fits into. It’s a good idea to test the fit with scrap wood and wire. On real dragonflies, the wings are attached towards the rear of the thorax, and the legs towards the front. This probably isn’t attainable in without overlap in wood and wire, but do start towards the back when positioning the wings. Remove the tape from the ends of the wing wires. Trim the wire ends to less than 3/8”.
Hold the wings against the thorax to get an idea where to drill the mounting holes. You can mark the holes with a pencil or ultra-fine marker. Drill mounting holes for all four wings. Put a piece of masking tape on your work surface to protect it and place a drop of CA glue on the tape. Dip the end wires of a wing in the glue and then insert it into the appropriate mounting holes. Repeat for the other wings. Figure #18 shows these steps.
Figure #18: Attach the wings.
Join Body Segments
One could, of course, turn the three body segments as one piece, but the body would then be straight and rigid and lifeless. 1/8” pewter wire (see references) is a nice thing to join the segments with as it’s soft and easy to bend. Start by selecting a bit and drilling into scrap wood to test the fit of the wire. Then enlarge the holes previously drilled in all three body pieces. The drill bit should follow the previous hole without problems, and you should feel the bit bottom out in the hole in the head so you can stop before drilling through it.
Lightly sand a few inches of the wire with medium abrasive to give the glue a better grip. Place a drop or two of CA glue on work surface protecting tape. Dip and roll the end of the wire in the glue and insert it in head. Trim the wire so less than a half inch protrudes. Dip and roll the trimmed end in the glue and insert it in the front of the thorax. Leave a gap of about 3/32” between the head and thorax to allow movement.
Dip and roll the end of the wire and insert into the abdomen. Trim the wire so that less than half an inch protrudes. Then dip and roll the trimmed end of the wire in the glue and insert it into the back of the thorax. Insure the claspers are oriented horizontally and again leave a gap to allow movement. Figure #19 shows the set up to join the body segments. Figure #20 shows the joined segments.
Figure #19: The setup for joining body segments.
Figure #20: The joined body segments.
There are lots of wire options for the legs such a bare electrical copper wire, colored copper craft wire, or aluminum wire in the 12 to 18 gauge range for the legs. Flush cutting pliers will leave a neater and more finger friendly end. Alternately you can file the ends or hammer them flat. Non-serrated pliers are less likely to mar the wire, particularly the colored craft wire.
If you only plan to make a few dragonflies, just use the lines on the pattern as a guide to cutting and bending the wire. Lay the wire so that the end of the wire is at the end of the pattern and your fingers grab it at the other end as shown in the top image of Figure #21. Then use your fingers as a stop to cut the wire. Repeat until you’ve cut two of the longer hindlegs, and 4 mid/forelegs. Now use pliers to bend the wire into a zig-zag pattern. This sets the lengths of the various segments of the legs—you can adjust the bends to suit after mounting them on the dragonfly. On the leg pattern each bending point is marked by a vertical line. Lay the wire on the pattern, grab with your fingers at the bend point, position the pliers against your fingers, and then bend the wire as in the bottom image of Figure #21. Repeat for each bend and each leg.
Figure #21: Manually measure and bend the legs.
If you plan to make several dragonflies, or you just like jigs, it would pay to make the measuring/bending jig as described in the Patterns section. To use the jig, first cut the leg wires. Lay the end of the wire against the stop and grab the wire at the end of the jig as shown in the top image of Figure #22. Then use your fingers as a stop to position the cutting pliers. Cut two hind legs and four mid/forelegs. If you use flush cutting pliers it will leave one beveled end and one end cut straight across. Insert the beveled end to the bottom of the hole marked “tenon” and bend the wire as shown in the bottom image of Figure #22. Then insert the other end of the wire to the bottom of the hole marked “tibia” and bend the wire. Last, insert the same wire end to the bottom of the hole marked “foot” and make the last bend. Again, the bends will make a zig-zag pattern. Repeat for the other legs, using the appropriate side of the jig for hind and mid/forelegs.
Figure #22: Using a jig to measure and bend the legs.
Lightly abrading the tenon end of the wire with medium abrasive will give a better glue bond. You can fold over a piece of abrasive cloth or paper, insert the tenon in the fold, and turn the leg like a crank with your fingers as in the inset at the upper left of Figure #23. You can use a pencil or marker and an awl to mark and start holes for the legs. In real dragonflies the legs are positioned close to the front of the thorax. Positioning them as close together as in real life is structurally suspect in wood, but do start at the front of the thorax. Find a drill bit that matches the diameter of your wire and test the fit in scrap wood. Then drill the mounting holes about 3/8” deep. Place a protective piece of tape on your work surface and put a few drops of CA glue on the tape. Dip the tenon segment of a leg wire in the glue and then insert it into a leg mounting hole. The hindlegs should angle back, the midlegs should come out at a right angle to the thorax, and the forelegs should angle forward. Repeat for the rest of the legs. The set-up for this is shown in Figure #23.
Figure #23: Mounting the legs.
Sit the dragonfly aside on its back until the Ca glue has had a good chance to set and cure. Then turn it over and adjust the legs so it sits as you like. Try not to twist the leg around the tenon. Figure #24 shows the dragonfly after mounting and positioning the legs.
Figure #24: The completed basic dragonfly.
I tried making eyes that were turned from dowel stock with little mounting tenons, but didn’t like them—they looked like fly eyes. Here is a way to turn eyes that are thinner and don’t project as much and display face grain. To use this kind of eye your dragonfly head has to have a hemispherical face. The pencil line that is half the head diameter back from the front of the face in Figure #6 will help you start the curve in the right place. You can make a simple template by sandwiching aluminum sheet between scrap wood pieces and drilling through the clamped sandwich with a drill bit that matches the diameter of your head. Then use the template to fine tune the profile of the face.
A suitable diameter for the eyes is 3/8”, so prepare stock as in Figure #25 that’s a little wider than 3/8” and has the grain running along a short dimension. 3/4" or 1” long will be sufficient for several eyes. Mount the eye stock in a 4-jawed chuck with #1 jaws so that about half of the stock is sticking out. Bring up a tailstock center for support, and turn the exposed portion of the stock to 3/8” diameter with a small bowl gouge. Turn the stock around in the chuck, bring up tailstock support, and turn the rest of the stock to 3/8” diameter.
Figure #25: Eye stock.
Remount the blank so that only 3/8” or so sticks out. Mount a ball end mill with a diameter that matches your head diameter (5/8” for the wood pattern, 1/2" for the acrylic pattern) in a tailstock mounted drill chuck and advance the ball end mill until the cut reaches the edges of the blank as in the left image of Figure #26. A core box router bit would also work. As, less conveniently, would turning by hand to match a templet. Use a thin parting tool to cut off an eye blank that’s about 3/16” long as in the middle image of Figure #26. Reverse the blank in the chuck and use a stub drill, as in the right image of Figure #26, or a skew laid on its side to create a dimple to aid in centering the blank when mounted on a mandrel for further turning.
Figure #26: Creating eye blanks.
Make a mandrel that will mount in your 4-jawed chuck that has a diameter that matches the diameter of your dragonfly head. Turn a hemispherical face on the mandrel. Cover the face of the mandrel with regular blue masking tape (not edgelock). The tape should extend back well past the hemispherical face which will aid in removing the eye when finished. Sand the tape on the face lightly to improve glue adhesion. Pre-sand a small piece of blue tape and attach it on the hollowed face of the eye blank. The set-up for this is shown in the top image of Figure #27. Place a small drop of CA glue on the blue tape in the eye blank hollow. Place the cone point of your tailstock center in the dimple on the flat face of the eye blank and advance the tailstock until the eye blank is against the mandrel as in the bottom image of Figure #27. This should result in a well centered blank. Give the glue a chance to cure.
Figure #27: Mounting the eye blank.
Leaving the tailstock engaged for as long as possible for support, turn the eye to shape as in Figure #28. As the entire back of the eye blank is taped and is supported by being against the mandrel, you should be able to turn quite thin. Back away the tailstock center and gently turn away the nub. Before starting to sand, turn the lathe speed down. Sanding at high speed generates a lot of heat, very thin wood isn’t much of a barrier to heat conduction, and heat will cause most adhesives to release. Sand and polish the eye as in the top image of Figure #29. To remove the eye from the mandrel start by pulling both ends of the tape on the mandrel away. Then peel the tape out of the eye hollow. The bottom image of Figure #29 shows two completed eyes, one upside down and one right side up.
Figure #28: Turn the eye blank with tailstock support.
Figure #29: Sanded and polished eye blanks.
Mount the eyes by placing a small drop of CA glue in the back hollow of the eye and holding against the head. Mount the eyes slightly above center a short distance apart. Figure #30 shows the mounted eyes.
Figure #30: Mounted Zebrawood eyes.
You can make eyes using acrylic stock following the same procedure except you need a stronger bond to hold the eye blank on the mandrel. You can use “rough surface” blue tape in the eye blank hollow with CA glue. Or you can use hot melt glue with duct tape. You will have to slow the lathe drastically for sanding and polishing acrylic.
I’ve posted an Addendum to this article on my web site (see references) that has patterns and instructions for several different wings and eyes.
You can find instructions on several ways to make a bead drive in my necklace article: http://davidreedsmith.com/Articles/Necklace/Necklace.htm
Several wing and eye variations are in the Addendum: http://davidreedsmith.com/articles/dragonfly/dragonflyaddendum.html
Around twenty different dragonflies can be seen in my Gallery: http://davidreedsmith.com/Gallery/Dragonflies/Dragonflies.html
Pattern for 5” long wood bodied dragonflies: http://davidreedsmith.com/articles/dragonfly/wooddragonflypatterns5in.pdf
Pattern for Acrylic bodied dragonflies: http://davidreedsmith.com/articles/dragonfly/acrylicdragonflypatterns.pdf
You can follow the instructions in http://davidreedsmith.com/Articles/DiamondOrnament/FoamConeCenter.htm to make a countersunk center (but leave off the craft foam).
You can find pewter wire and various jeweler’s pliers at: https://contenti.com/