Introduction: Harry Potter Flying Broomstick
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Last year my son asked for a Hogwarts-themed birthday party, complete with Quidditch practice. So we made this Nimbus 2000 broomstick for the kids to fly around in our back yard. Turns out it was a blast for parents and grandparents too! We kinda figured it out as we went, so these instructions are the story of how we built it.
If you have ideas for enhancements or simplifications, please share in the comments!
Jump to the last step if you just want to see us having fun flying around the back yard. :-)
Step 1: Materials & Tools
Broom Handle & Base:
- 1x axe handle, for the broom handle
- 2x 10" lengths of 2x4, for the side panels
- 1x 20" length of 2x4, for the horizontal stabilizer
- 10x 8x3” deck screws, to assemble the base
- 1x 18” square piece of 3/8” plywood, for the seat
- 4x 1" wood screws (or dry-wall screws), to attach the seat to the base
- Cotton batting, for seat cushion stuffing
- 24" square piece of thick velvety fabric, for the seat cover
- 1x 24" length of 3/4" dowel, for the tail shaft
- Twigs or small diameter sticks (e.g. from a stick wreath), for the broom head
- 24” of 18 gauge galvanized wire, to secure the broom head to the tail shaft
- 1x 1/2" wood screw, to anchor the wire to the tail shaft
- 100’ of 1/2” rope, to hang the broom
- 30” of 1/4" chain, to separate the rope lines
- 1x 3/8” load-bearing carabiner (optional), to adjust the angle of the broom handle
- 1x small carabiner (non-load bearing), to connect the seat back
- 1x 60” length of 1” wide (flat) nylon straps
- 2x 1” wide strap adjusters
- 2x 2x8” strips of thick plastic sheeting (e.g. from bottom of a reusable grocery bag)
- 2x 3/4" wood screws and finishing washers to connect stirrups to base
Tools & Supplies:
- Skill saw or table saw, to cut the axe handle, 2x4s for the base, tail shaft, etc.
- Jigsaw or band saw, to cut the plywood seat, notches in the base, etc.
- Staple gun with 3/8” staples, to secure the seat cover fabric and stirrups
- 5/8" spade drill bit, to drill holes for the ropes
- 1/4" round file, to soften the edges around the rope holes
- Black spray paint, to paint the handle, base and tail
- Silver model paint & small paint brush, to paint the model name (e.g. "Nimbus 2000" on the handle)
- Masking tape, to make sure you don't paint anything you don't intend to paint
- Matte knife, to shape small slots in the plastic sheeting for the stirrup straps
- Bar clamps, to hold the base while screwing it together
- Scissors, to cut the fabric and cotton batting for the seat cushion
- Ruler/straight edge, tape measure, pen/pencil, etc.
Step 2: Trim Axe Handle
One of the most challenging parts of this project could be figuring out how to make a broom handle with just the right shape, like the brooms Harry Potter and friends ride in the movies. Luckily it turns out than an off-the-shelf axe handle is almost perfect. "Almost" because a few minor modifications are needed to securely connect the handle with the base that will tie together the handle, seat, and tail shaft.
- Cut off a triangle-shaped section at the base of the handle, as shown in the first picture. This will create a flat edge that is flush with the bottom of the base when then handle is at a 20-30 degree angle, making it easier and more stable for the rider to hold comfortably while flying.
- Cut off about 1" from the end of the handle as shown in the second picture. Removing this little bit will allow more space for the tail shaft to slide further into the base, and it's too skinny to securely attach to the base anyway.
- Raise the front "nose" of the handle up about 20-30 degrees so it rests on the flat edge created by your first "triangle" cut, as shown in the third picture.
- Slide the handle between the 2x4s side panels and place the plywood seat board on top.
- Slide the handle forward/backward until there is a small gap (about 1/4") between top of axe handle and bottom-front of seat board, as shown in the fourth picture. The gap will come in handy later, when you need to slide the cotton batting and fabric for the seat cushion between the handle and the seat board
- When you have all four pieces arranged and centered just right, use a pencil to mark guide lines on the bottom of the seat board along the sides and front edges of the 2x4 side panels and mark the handle where it touches the front ends of the side panels. This will allow you to align and reassemble these four pieces just like they are now when you are ready to assemble the base later.
Step 3: Prepare Tail Shaft
The 3/4" diameter of your tail shaft dowel is probably a little wider than your axe handle, but you need them to be the same width so you can sandwich them both securely between the 2x4 side panels of the base.
To modify the tail shaft, use a jigsaw, band saw, or other straight-cutting implement to make two opposite sides of the dowel flat, leaving the width of the dowel between the flat sides the same width as your axe handle.
Note: cutting round things can be tricky, so use clamps or an assistant to hold the dowel securely while cutting.
Step 4: Shape the Seat
The seat is shaped like a bicycle seat, with a rounded tip at the front and a nice wide area at the back.
Start by drawing a center line down the middle of the seat board.
To figure out the rest of the dimensions, I had my son sit on the seat board and traced an outline of his bottom (it was about 9" at the widest). You can draw the seat shape by hand like I did, or create a paper template and fold it across the center line to ensure both sides of the seat are perfectly symmetrical.
Use a jigsaw, band saw, or other curve-cutting implement to cut out the seat.
Note: the front tip of the seat must be the front edge of the board, so the alignment marks you made in Step #2 will still be valid after cutting out the seat.
Step 5: Prepare the Base
Now it's time to prepare the side panels and horizontal stabilizer that will comprise the base.
- Mark and cut a 20" length of 2x4 to be the horizontal stabilizer.
- Mark and cut two 10" lengths of 2x4 to be the side panels of the base, and cut out a notch at the back-bottom corner of each side panel for the horizontal stabilizer as shown in the first picture. Note that these notches will be about 1 1/2" x 3 1/2" since a 2x4 is not actually 2" x 4".
- Slide the horizontal stabilizer into the notches and then slide the modified end of the tail shaft in between the side panels so it rests on top of the horizontal stabilizer. Adjust the tail shaft to angle down slightly, about 10-15 degrees, and clamp the base together as shown in the second picture.
- The base looks a little blocky for a racing broom, so let's tweak it a little. Using the tail shaft as a guide to mark the inside surfaces of the side panels where the edge of the tail shaft touches. Then align the seat on the base using the guide lines you marked earlier. When the seat is aligned, the seat should be centered and there will be a 1/4" gap between the top of the handle and the bottom edge of the font of the seat. Now draw a short line on the inside surfaces of the side panels straight down from the back edge of the seat until it intersects with with the tail shaft guide lines you just drew.
- Cut along the guide lines to remove the area of excess material from each side panel. The base the should now have a much sleeker profile, leaving only the rounded top of the tail shaft visible above the side panels as shown in the third picture.
Step 6: Assemble the Base
After assembling the base, the basic structure of the broom will be complete.
- To assemble the base, start by sandwiching the tail shaft and the handle between the side panels.
- Use clamps to hold the side panels together tightly and then adjust the tail shaft and handle to the desired positions.Make sure the tail shaft is not blocking the space that will be occupied by the horizontal stabilizer.
- Lay the entire base on its side and drill three pilot holes on one side and use 8x3” deck screws as shown in the first picture.
- Flip the base over and repeat on the other side, drilling pilot holes in an offset pattern, as noted in the first picture.
- Turn the base upside down and drill four pilot holes before attaching the horizontal stabilizer with 8x3” deck screws, as shown in the second picture. I ran out of deck screws, so the picture shows the 2 1/2" pan head screws that I used instead.
Note: if you want the base to rest flat on the ground when it's not flying, use a countersink bit (or just a larger drill bit) to countersink the four screws on the bottom of the horizontal stabilizer.
Step 7: Prepare for Takeoff
Painting the handle, base and tail shaft *before* attaching the ropes would have simplified the build a bit, but we just couldn’t wait to hang it as soon as possible for a test flight. If you are are the patient type, go ahead and jump to Step8: Painting (skip the masking instructions) and then come back to this step.
Before drilling any holes or cutting any rope, decide where you will hang the broom. If you have multiple locations,
rig the broom for the tallest/widest location first since you can always shorten the rope lines later for a shorter/narrower location if necessary.
We have a nice, tall "pergola" shade structure on our patio that was perfect for hanging the broom and Quidditch practice. We usually hang a hammock between two sturdy posts that have a strong cross member running between them, so I was confident it would support the Nimbus 2000. If you have a tree with some sturdy branches, the hanging apparatus described below will also work well with some location-specific modifications.
For Halloween we hung the broom from a hanging chair stand on our front porch. This wasn't a great setup for Quidditch practice, but it was awesome for taking pictures of kids in costumes.
Study the first and second pictures and observe that:
- A single length of rope passes through one end of the chain above the broom, down through and under the horizontal stabilizer, back up through the horizontal stabilizer, and then finally through the other end of the chain.
- A second, (much shorter) length of rope loops through the hole in the nose of the handle, and both ends are connected to a carabiner in the middle of the chain suspended above the broom.
- The chain ensures that there is some distance between the three points from which the broom is suspended, which prevents the broom from spinning like a tire swing (aka "yawing").
- Looping the rope through the ends of the chain as shown in the second picture ensures there is enough friction that the rope won't slip.
Note: the length of the nose line determines the angle of the seat. You'll want the seat to be level with the ground or leaning back slightly so the rider does not feel like they are forced to lean forward. If the angle of the seat forces the rider to lean forward, the rider will have to support some of their weight by leaning on the handle, instead of simply using it for balance when needed.
Now you're ready to drill the holes, thread the ropes, and hang the broom:
- Use a 5/8" spade bit to drill holes in the nose of the handle and horizontal stabilizer, as shown in the first picture.
- Smooth the edges of the holes with a file so there are no sharp corners to rub against the ropes.
- Set the broom on a box (or have someone hold it) at the height you want it to hang.
- Cut off a "short" length of rope that is about twice as long you will need between the chain and the nose hole, plus about 4' so you have enough to tie some loop knots and fine tune the height of the broom.
- Feed one end of the short rope through the nose hole, and tie a loop knot on the end of the rope.
- Attach the loop you just tied to the load-bearing carabiner.
- Connect the carabiner to the link in the center of the chain.
- Tie a loose loop knot close to the other end of the rope and attach it to the carabiner. Leave this second loop knot loose so you can adjust the height/angle of the broom handle later
- Thread about half of the remaining "long" rope up through the left side of the horizontal stabilizer and then through one end of the chain as shown in the second picture, making sure the rope is long enough to reach the left post/branch/etc. from which you will be hanging the broom.
- Repeat the previous step for the right side of the horizontal stabilizer, with the other end of the chain, and the right post/branch/etc. from which you will be handing the broom.
- Attach the right and left lines to the post/branch/etc. securely so the back of the broom hangs at the desired height.
- Tie a small loop knot in the rope on the right side and connect it to the rope on the left side using a cheap carabiner, as shown in the first picture. This creates a simple backrest that will prevent the rider from falling off the back of the broom.
- Adjust the loop in the nose line so the broom handle hangs at the desired height/angle.
- Pull all the lines tight, make sure the seat is level with the ground or leaning back slightly.
Step 8: Test Flight
All the structural elements are in place, so take it out for a test flight!
For a more comfortable ride, put the seat board (or a small pillow) on the base.
The rope will probably stretch out enough during the first couple minutes that you will need to adjust the lines to get the broom back to the desired height/angle. I only had to do this once, after the initial test flight.
Step 9: Painting
Assuming you were just as impatient as we were and already took the broom out for a test flight, use masking tape to completely cover the ropes everywhere they might get spray painted as shown in the first picture.
- Using black spray paint, give the top and sides an even coat of paint.
- When that dries completely, flip the broom over and paint the bottom as well.
- When all of the black paint is dry, use some silver model paint and a small paint brush to add a stylish "Nimbus 2000" (or other catchy moniker) on the nose of the handle, as shown in the second picture.
- If you want to add flames, racing stripes, or other decorations, this is a good time to finish all the painting.
- When all the painting is finished and dry, remove the masking tape.
Step 10: Finish the Seat
Finishing the seat involves some careful alignment and attaching the back of the seat cover/cushion before attaching the seat to the base.
Start by aligning the seat on the base using the guide lines on the bottom of the seat board from Step #2 and confirm that:
- There is a 1/4" gap between the top of the axe handle and the bottom-front edge of the seat board.
- The center line of the seat board is lined up with the center of both the handle and the tail shaft.
- The back edge of the seat board is lined up with the tail shaft cut-outs in the side panels.
If anything doesn't line up, adjust the position of the seat to satisfy the three criteria above and ignore the guide lines.
Then mark locations for the four 1" wood screws (or dry-wall screws) that will secure the seat board to the base. Each screw should be located along the center line of 2x4 side side panel under it, as shown in the first picture.
Drill pilot holes through the plywood and into the 2x4 side panels underneath. Countersink the holes so that even the most sensitive bottom won't feel any bumps from the screw heads. Do not screw the seat board to the base yet!
Now you're ready to make the seat cover/cushion and then secure the seat board to the base:
- Cut the cotton batting to the shape of the seat board (top side up) with at least 1” extra border on all sides, as shown in the second picture. Use at least three layers of cotton batting for a nice soft seat cushion. Four or even five layers would be fine if you have it.
- Cut the seat cover fabric to about the same shape, but with an additional ¾” border on all sides (bigger than the cotton batting), as shown in the third picture.
- Confirm that the bottom of the seat board is facing up, so the countersunk pilot holes are touching the cotton batting, as shown in the third picture.
- Starting at the back of the seat, roll the batting and seat cover fabric over edge of the seat board and use a staple gun to securely fasten the materials to the bottom of the seat board, as shown in the third picture. For now, fasten only the back since it will not be accessible after the seat is secured to the base. Do not fasten the rest of the materials yet, or you will have to screw through your beautiful, soft seat cushion to attach the seat board to the base!
- Now screw the seat board to the base, sandwiching the cotton batting and cover fabric in the back between the seat board and the base, as shown in the fourth picture. Appreciate the pre-drilled holes that make it easy to get the screws all the way in. :-)
- Flip the entire broom upside down so the seat is resting on a flat surface, as shown in the fifth picture.
- Starting at the front this time, roll the batting and fabric over the seat nose (appreciate the gap!) and down one side. Then repeat on the other side to finish upholstering the seat, as shown in the sixth picture.
Step 11: Stirrups (optional)
The purpose of the stirrups, besides looking cool, is to give the rider a place to rest their feet. I expected this would also make the rider feel safer (more stable) but now that we’ve used our broomstick for a couple birthday and Halloween parties, it turns out that only the really little kids need them and the bigger kids/adults just use the stirrups to keep their feet from dragging on the ground. So if I build another flying broomstick, I will probably skip the stirrups.
But since they do look pretty cool, and have at least a little utility, here's an easy way to build them:
- Cut two 1 1/2" wide, 8" long strips from some thick plastic sheeting (or leather).
- Cut out four slots from each strip that are as wide as the thickness of the nylon strapping, as shown in the first picture. Make sure the longer cuts don’t extend past the end of the slot, since that would would weaken the outside of the strip.
- Feed one end of the nylon strap through one plastic strip and strap adjuster, as shown in the lacing example in the second picture.
- Feed the other end of the nylon strap through the other plastic strip and strap adjuster in the opposite sequence, so both ends of the strap will be on the same side (which will be the outside when hung over the handle).
- Hang the strap over the broom handle and slide it down into the gap under the tip of the seat.
- Adjust the strap so both stirrups are even and hanging at the desired height, as shown in the third picture. You may need to do a few more test flights to determine the desired height.
- Cut off any excess strap and melt the cut end with a match to prevent it from unravelling.
- Secure the strap on both sides of the handle using 3/4" screws and finishing washers, as shown in the third picture.
When you are finished mounting the stirrups, the broom should look like the fourth picture above.
Now you're ready to ride like the wind! (as shown in the fifth picture)
Step 12: Attaching the Tail
Finding just the right kind of twigs for the broom tail or "head" was a bit of a challenge.
We started by collecting dead willow ends from our neighbor's tree. These are similar to what you would use to make wreaths or basket crafts, and would have worked great if someone (to remain unnamed) had not broken them up into little 3" pieces.
We ended up finding a stick wreath at the local thrift shop that fit the bill perfectly. If you aren't lucky enough to have a thrift shop that carries stick wreaths, or a willow tree with some dead ends nearby, other small diameter sticks or broom corn would work well.
- If you have a stick wreath, disassemble the wreath and keep the twigs in clumps, as shown in the first picture.
- Organize the twigs so they're ready to wrap around the tail shaft, as shown in the second picture.
- Anchor a 24" length (or longer for style) of 18 gauge galvanized wire to the tail shaft about 4" from the end, using a 1/2" wood screw, as shown in the third picture.
- Arrange the twigs around the tail shaft evenly and secure them by wrapping the wire tightly around the twigs, as shown in the fourth picture.
The result should be a nice-looking tail and a flying broomstick that is ready to ride!
Step 13: Quidditch Practice
Now that you have your very own Harry Potter-style flying broomstick, it's time to mount up and practice.
- Hang a hoop up in the air about 15' from the broom (closer and lower for smaller kids).
- Challenge each rider to throw as many balls through the hoop as possible.
- Best of three, most in 1 minute, tournament ladder, etc.
- Hint: give each rider one ball at a time so they can keep their free hand on the broom handle.
Stunt Flying (for advanced flyers only)
For the official Quidditch rules, history, and other flying broom games, see http://harrypotter.wikia.com/wiki/Quidditch