Balanced Dragonfly Sculpture

A marvelous, “gravity-defying” figurine

I remember making a “sky hook” with my fellow Webelos years ago in my dad’s basement shop. It was a simple sawn-out shape that hung a belt off the side of a table, seemingly in defiance of gravity. Ever since then, I have been fascinated by clever objects that take advantage of the laws of physics to create an illusion. This simple dragonfly sculpture does just that; the low, forward sweeping wings put the center of gravity right below the tip of the dragonfly’s nose, allowing it to balance “magically” on nearly anything. The design grew out of a similar one that I saw once in a craft gallery. I modified it and used it as an “introduction to the scroll saw” project for some of the technology education classes I was teaching. It was a great project on several levels: the kids liked the finished product, it was forgiving of mistakes, it didn’t use a lot of material, and it offered students a chance to think about why it worked. Now I offer it to you as a fun way to spend a couple of hours in the shop. Maybe you have some scouts or a grandchild or two to share it with. Enjoy.

Order of work

  • Scrollsaw parts
  • Bevel and glue wings
  • Make base
  • Add pin, and tweak balance

Three thin parts combine to balance on a dowel

All three parts are cut from 3/16" (or slightly thinner) solid stock. I used pine or poplar with my classes as they were cheap. I don’t recommend using plywood as it would make cutting the bevels on the ends of the wings and trimming the tail difficult. For the wood-tone dragonfly shown here, I used cherry. The painted one is basswood. Copy the patterns for the wings and body on p. 24 and adhere them to your stock. Scrollsaw the pieces to shape. Then bevel and carve the wings before gluing them to the underside of the body. I worked on top of a bench hook to prevent scarring my bench.

Trim the bevel. Mark the bevel line on each wing, being sure to make a left and a right. Pare from the bevel line to a point at the tip of the wing.

Add detail. Mark the dividing lines down the center of the wings and carve along them with a veiner chisel. Alternatively, you can simply draw the lines with a colored pencil. 

Attach the wings. Apply glue to the beveled surfaces and clamp the wings to the underside of the body with binder clips. If you need to hurry things along, use CA glue with a shot of accelerant. 

Balance and Finish

While the glue is drying, bandsaw a 2" disk from 3/8" thick scrap for the base. Drill a 1/4" hole in the center and insert a length of 1/4" dowel. (I used 3 and 4-1/2" long dowels in mine.) Clip the head from a 1" × 17 gauge brad and use it to drill a pilot hole in the dragonfly’s nose. Bend a second brad and insert it into the hole. Check the balance on the base. If the dragonfly sits nose up, shave a little off the tail. If the nose is down, make the wings a little thinner. Sand and finish as desired. I used oil on the wood-toned one and iridescent, metallic acrylic paint on the other. 

Add the balance point. If you use the same size brad to drill the pilot hole, the bent brad should fit snuggly enough that it won’t require glue to stay in place. Cut a small flat on the nose to make the hole easier to start.

Taper to adjust. Shave off small amounts with a block plane, tapering the tail towards its tip to fine-tune the balance. If necessary, you can also shorten the tail 1⁄8" at a time.

Download the full size of this pattern from onlineEXTRAS

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