Sunday, May 20, 2018

Making a Whirligig Repair

Whirligigs are something that have always interested me. They have that great folk art vibe and are almost always "whimsical" in nature. I have a couple of books of plans but haven't managed to build one on my own yet.

Well, that's not entirely true. I haven't managed to successfully build one yet. I worked on a penguin a couple of years ago and carved a couple of surprisingly elegant flipper/wings for the little guy that simply refused to work. After a year on the shelf, he was sentenced to the burn box out of frustration.

A few months ago a friend asked me if I would be willing to try and fix "Dee Daw" for her mother in law. Dee Daw is the name for their wooden goose whirligig. Apparently Dee Daw had a long, much beloved history with this family but he (she?) was on his last legs (wings?) I said I couldn't guarantee success since I had failed at my last attempt at a whirligig but I was willing to give it a shot. Dee Daw came home with me a few nights later and waited patiently in my shop for his turn.

So fast forward to a couple of weeks ago and I found myself lacking in pressing home and family projects and completely absent any excuses for making sawdust. So it was time to unpack Dee Daw and see what the deal was.

In short... both wings were broken and at least one piece was missing. He was also missing an eye and his finish was very rough and flat. Dee Daw had clearly seen better days.

It looked like either his wings had been repaired before or that had been made from glued up boards and were not solid pieces. In either case, I decided that they couldn't be fixed and needed to be replaced.

Each wing is made of three pieces. Two flat blades and a central wood block. I took the wing that was detached from the wooden block and used it to trace a template. I allowed for the piece that had broken off inside the block.

I used 1/4" thick solid boards from the bottom of a wine crate for his new wings. I couldn't see 1/4" plywood holding up to the weather but... what do I know? Anyway I cut the wings out in pairs on the band saw to save time and to help ensure balance on the wings by using pieces from the same board for each pair of wings. (Each wing shown here actually has two layers for a total of four blades.)

The original central block on Dee Daw was 1" square and 3 1/4" long. There is a diagonal cut 1/4" wide and 1" deep on each end that are angled opposite each other. There is a hole through the middle and there is a #10 2 1/2" wood screw with #10 stainless steel washers on either end. It is really a bit of genius design here in that the screw has a smooth shank that allows the wing to freely pivot around the screw with a minimum of resistance. Although this is in direct contrast to that fundamental principle of web design - "Why make it simple, when we can make it complex?"

At this point I noticed that the diagonal cuts on these wooden blocks weren't...GASP..perfect! ASTONISHMENT!
You mean to tell me that folk art whirligigs don't need to be engineered to within 1/1000th of an inch and perfectly balanced?
Well, apparently not. Clearly the more precise you are the better but close enough appears to be... well.. close enough.

So with my new found frame of reference and my recently created outdoor workshop, I realized I can experiment. Every moment spent on a project doesn't have to show in the final product. If it works, great. If it doesn't, well I learned something and there is always the fire pit to destroy the evidence. (That's why everyone has fire pits now. Way more cost effective to destroy your own evidence.) I took a piece 3/4" thick wood and cut and ripped it to be 3/4" square and 3 1/4" long. Not the exact dimensions of the original but now I realized it didn't have to be.

I had a jig made out of the 45 degree angle blocks from what else... clementine boxes! I marked off the areas to cut and the correct depth.
I just held the block in the right angle formed by the "v" of the two clementine box corners glued to a plywood base. (You could also use a dovetail or fret saw and a vice to achieve the same thing.)

The width of the cut was 1/4" to match the wings. I made several passes with the saw to nibble away at the pieces and then used a file to clean up cut and get a flat bottom. I then drilled the holes through the centers to fit the shinny new #10 wood screws.

I should also note that I made cryptic little scribbles on the blocks to keep then aligned to match what was originally on Dee Daw. This block has "RI" written on it to mean "Right Interior." The angles on the wings and their relative position to the other wing are what leads to the contra-rotating motion of the wings. Later when I painted the assembled wings, I pressed in a L and a R on the interior sides of these pieces with a small screwdriver. That way the marks showed after paint covered my pencil marks.

I sanded the wing blades to make them smooth but also to get the thickness correct. I mainly used my stationary belt sander for the thickness part but earlier on I used a palm sander. A few years ago I picked up a 60' long blue roll of "non-slip shelf liner" from a dollar store (just saying.. it actually only cost $1) Works great for me. It is soft and the dust falls into the mesh and is easy to clean. Wood doesn't shift around while I'm sanding. I should buy more...and just cover every surface in my house with the stuff. I see no downside.

I was careful to "sneak up" on a good fit and then used an exterior wood glue to secure the wings.
After letting the glue dry overnight, I put the wings back on and took him out for a test spin.
The wings started spinning almost right away in a moderate breeze. I was super happy. Now it was time to repaint and finish him.

The wings were straight forward. I used craft store acrylics and got great coverage.

Hey... do I not own the greatest coffee mug in this or any universe? Handmade by the amazingly talented and super nice folks at Claymonster Pottery. I smile a lot in general, but especially when I drink from that mug.

Now... back to our post.

When I first took a look at him, I couldn't tell if he had a finish that had worn off or if was just a flat finish that was showing some age. The other possibility is that he was intentionally finished this way to give him a more folksy look. Whatever the case, the owner asked me to give Dee Daw a fresh shinny new paint job.

I used some filler on the more obvious cracks and sanded everything before I painted him. Most of my paints are flats (I find it hides hides brush strokes well) and then I add a shinny finishing coat. This time the grey (or was it gray?) paint was only available in "Multi Surface" and it goes on a little thick and tends to be a little shiny on its own. No worries though. Once dry I covered him with brush on Rust-oleum Ultra Cover Clear Gloss. I usually use a rattle can of acrylic but I felt like he needed a more substantial coat to stand up to the elements (This is my first outdoor toy. Never thought about toys standing up to the elements.) Note - It works great, but it does run if your aren't careful... and maybe even if you are.

Last thing was to glue on nice new shinny eyes and take him out for a test flight.

He works great. My friend and Dee Daw's owner were both super happy with how he turned out.
I learned a lot, it was fun to work on and I can't wait to give making one from scratch a try.

For the visual learners - Here is a short video of some of the repair steps and Dee Daw's test spins.

I managed to go the whole post without a history of whirligigs or mention of the word's derivation.
However, I can't legally complete this post without noting the technical assistance Dr Teddy provided. While not a fan of birds... ESPECIALLY BIRDS ON HIS LAWN... he is a professional and takes his job very seriously.

When the patient was being worked on...Teddy provided the Cat-Scan.

Later while he napped he had the intern he is mentoring keep watch.

She also helped me test gravity in our dining room by pushing various parts off the table.
He is mentoring her well.

  1 comment:

  1. I see my man Teddy has passed management training with flying colors! Lesson One: If you train somebody else to do the work, you can coast. Reminds me of Office Space: "Management."


Just Saying...

While we don’t necessarily need more objects, we just might benefit from more making.
- John Dunnigan


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Regular guy who likes to make stuff who lives with a very patient wife, three daughters and three cats.