Introduction: Crafted Dragonfly

This glow-in-the-dark-eyed, handmade dragonfly is my most recent creation. It was not an overly difficult project but it made for an unusual and interesting gift. I thought it might be a fun project to share as it was quite satisfying to work on.

If you are looking for a project in a similar style, but with a smaller time and parts commitment, check out my firefly Instructable.

Other than that, have fun building, gifting, enjoying or whatever else you do with a arts and crafts dragonfly.

Note - this Instructable was compiled post-completion and gifting of this dragonfly, so the pictures are largely what I had record of and rebuilt on a quick example run.

Step 1: Before You Begin

Time Commitment: 
For me, this project took approximately 10 hours of work - the lion's share on the wing detailing. With instructions and deft fingers - or  a simpler product - it could very well take a few less.

-3/4" Dowel
-3/8" Dowel - Not necessary, but a great timesaver, especially if you are hand sanding.
-Copper Scraps (or sheet) - Can be a different metal or can be omitted along with the chisel.
-10 1/2" (or Less) Brass Nails - I found a 50 pack at an ACE Hardware.
-2 4-8mm Glass Beads - I used a string of 10 8mm glow-in-the-dark Czech Fire Beads similar to these found on Ebay for around 4 dollars with shipping.
-Thick Copper Wire (~14-16 AWG)
-Thin Copper Wire (~26-30 AWG)
-Duco cement or other wood to metal & glass glue
-4 1/2" long x 1/4" diameter springs (can be cut from a longer spring) - found mine at Home Depot

-Sandpaper or Table Sander - If you have access to it, a table sander will speed the process up greatly.
-Box Cutter or X-Acto Knife
-Chisel (1/4" ideally) - I like to use this in conjunction with a mallet, some people do not. Choose as you will. This can be omitted if you are not adding a decorative metal back.
-Drill - A standard drill index will have bits small enough for this scale. I used a 1/16" bit for most of the drilling.
-Saw - A Dremmel tool is pretty good for this scale, a handsaw will work as well. A chopsaw can work, but only if you're not overly fond of the amount of fingers you currently possess.

Step 2: Cutting and Shaping the Wood

Because each segment is more or less the same, all the progress pictures are of the mid section (the most complex).

Rather than a 3/4" dowel, I started out with a block approximately 3/4" square.

Regardless, the first step was to cut out three sections from it:
-Two 1" sections (mid-section and rear of body)
-One 5/8" section (head) - this measurement is an approximation: don't kill yourself trying to make it perfect

For the tail, use your smaller dowel, cut into 3 3/4" sections.

For me, the next step was to sand it to a 3/4" cylinder.  If you started with dowels, good job: take this time to pat yourself on the back for being sensible. If you are not using a dowel for the tail, you should sand it down to ~3/8. Find a small piece of wood to start with if you can (EG. the handle of a wooden spoon).

For the mid-section, define a top by sanding it to a circular section with a greater radius (flatter). If you prefer, you can sand it entirely flat, but aesthetically I prefer a very gradual curve more.

For the head and rear of the main body, you need to sand one end to a taper. The head tapers down to nothing and the rear should taper down to the size of the dowel you are using for the tail (3/8") See the finished pictures for a reference on the shape. The rear, like the mid-section, should also have a top selected and sanded to flat or to a gradual curve. If you begin working with pieces that are too small to comfortably hold near a table sander, use pliers to grip them while you sand.

Lastly, round any sharp corners.

Oh - one more thing: now is your chance to stain the wood if this is your intent. Do so now or hold your piece until the next time you build one.

Step 3: Cutting the Copper

For aesthetics, I added copper along the top of the mid-section and rear for the body. Of course, if you do not have access to copper, this will not be possible, but you can also substitute other metals or simply leave it bear.

At any rate, to start out with the metalwork, pick a shape - any shape! Well, within limits.

First of all, the shape has to fit within the confines of the top that you have flattened out of the mid section and tail. For the original I opted to simply follow the contours of each section. For this demo I opted for an irregular hexagon. As long as the top of each section has space for you to inset the shape you pick, you will be fine.

Next, you simply cut out the shape with tin snips.

Step 4: Carving the Inset

To place the copper, we will need to chisel out an inset in which the copper may sit.

First, put your shape in the center of the section you are carving (mid-section or rear) and outline it closely in a pencil.

Next, take an x-acto knife or a box cutter and cut along the line you just defined so that you have a narrow cut in the shape you will be chiseling out.

When your line is cut in, rest the chisel in the groove with the inclined side facing out (flat side in) and give it a tap or two with the mallet. You are trying to deepen the border and give yourself something to delineate the area you are getting rid of from what will stay.
When this is done, you will have a nice deep and easily visible groove around the edge of where you will chisel.

Resting your chisel in the grove and sloped inwards towards the area you are removing, begin to chisel out the wood. After you have removed one layer of wood, compare your piece of copper to the inset to see if it is both large enough and deep enough. If you must go deeper, be sure to grove the edge of your chisel area once more before you resume removing wood. Otherwise you will chisel the edge off the piece.

Once you are satisfied that the copper will sit flush in the inset, its time to move in. 

Step 5: Drilling Holes

Now that your copper fits nicely in your inset, its time to attach it. I have found that the easiest way to do this is to take the copper, put it on the vise such that the area you want to drill is over a gap, and then drill it in this orientation. This allows you to apply force without the copper sliding away and supports it while you push down.

After the copper is drilled, put it in the wood inset and drill down through the holes in the copper so that the drill holes will be aligned when you put in a nail.

Next you need to drill a series of holes for the legs and wings in the mid-section (and only in the mid-section). These will be drilled along the side of the mid-section. The three leg holes go in a horizontal line and the wing hole lies above and in-between the two forward-most leg holes (refer to the picture below). The best way to make clean holes all the way across is to drill the holes on one side in halfway, then start the holes on the other side and have them connect inside the wood. If you do not do this, there is a danger that the holes will come out on the far side of the wood far away from where you intend them too. This is what happened to me when I first made this design. 

After you have drilled the side holes, you need to drill holes along the bottom so that the legs will not rotate in place (or else your dragonfly will perpetually be flat on his belly). These three holes go along the centerline of the bottom and are drilled straight up such that they collide perpendicular to the holes you drilled for the legs. You will be able to feel when you drill into the leg holes. If you do not, and you have gone to far, adjust the angle of your drill until your bottom holes collide with the leg holes.

Lastly (and I forgot this step in the sample shown in the pictures) you need to drill holes in the middle of the flat ends that go all the way through the piece of wood. This should be done for all the body pieces. These allow you to run the wire through that connects the body. This is done a little differently for each piece so pay attention:

-For the head - the trickiest: start two holes evenly spaced with the holes coming out of the midsection. Then turn the drill at an angle heading slightly inwards (towards the nose) but mostly towards the other hole. Alternate holes until they collide. This process is so that you can loop a wire through them.
-For the mid-section - two holes spaced about 1/4"-1/2" apart, based on preference.
-For the rear - two holes spaced evenly with those from the mid-section, but narrowing down to accommodate the taper. They could end as close as 1/8" apart depending on how sharp your taper is.
-For each tail section - ONE hole through the middle.

Step 6: Inserting Nails

This step is pretty straightforward. Take your nails, put them in the holes that go through both the copper and wood, and observe how much is sticking out. Then, remove them, cut off the excess with your tin snips or with pliers and then reinsert them. Add some good wood-metal glue if they're a bit loose (I used some duco cement and it seems to be working pretty well).

You may also put in the three nails on the bottom, but do not glue these yet - we need to put in legs beforehand.

Step 7: Eyes

To get the eyes in, we first need to drill out a place for them to rest. Depending on the size of your particular glow beads, the bit you will use to do this will vary. I started around 5/16 and worked my way up until the beads seemed to rest comfortably in the sockets, and were just a little shy of halfway into the wood.

After you are satisfied with the depth of the eye sockets, put the beads in with some duco cement or other glass to wood glue.

Step 8: Connecting the Pieces

Sorry - no pictures on this one! Refer to the pictures at the beginning and end if you need some help visualizing this.

Now that the eyes are in and the pieces are completed individually, its time to put them together.

First of all, to give you perspective on what you are trying to do here, the wire goes through the three main body pieces then wraps through the head and passes back through the three main body pieces again. One end of the wire gets tied off behind the rear-of-body, but the other end continues on through the three tail pieces.

Start at the head. Put the end of your thicker copper wire through the holes you have drilled at the back of the head until it pokes out. Then pull it through until you have a long enough wire that it can comfortably pass through the mid-section and rear-of-body with a little extra room. On the other end of the wire (long end, still connected to spool) give yourself enough room to pass through the whole body, and the three tail sections with a little room. Once you are comfortable with the length, cut it off from the spool.

Take one end and put it through one of the aligned sets of holes in the body pieces. Put the other end through the other set of aligned holes pull the body pieces together until there is between 1/8-1/4 space between them. Once this spacing is correct, take the shorter copper end, and wrap it around the longer 2-3 times, then cut it and crimp down the end with pliers.

Thread the remaining end through the three tail sections and space them in the same manner. To finish the end, I inserted a nail at the end tail section and wrapped the loose copper wire around it once before cutting it off. It is effective but it is not as clean a finish as I would like. If you have a better way to do this, let me know in the comments.

Step 9: Legs

Our next step is to get the little guy to stand up. For this step, you need to cut-out 3 4" lengths of thicker copper wire. The process is the same for each of these.

First, poke the wire through one of the thee leg holes until you have half the wire on each side. Bend it down on each side so it forms an inverted v-shape. Next, insert your nail into the corresponding hole on the bottom of the mid-section to get a feel for the correct length, remove it, cut it to size, and reinsert it. The aim of this is to keep the wire from shifting either side to side, or rotating front to back. I fount the best way to ensure the legs stayed put was to pick at the copper wire at the bottom of the hole I was putting the nail in until I had made the wire bend around the space the nail would occupy. If you are going to glue in the nail, wait till the end of this step because you may need to remove it if the wiring goes badly.

When we shape the wire we will be aiming for a shape that spirals around once or twice on itself at the knee like a spring, then continues to a foot made of a circle of wire parallel to the ground. Additionally, each set of two legs together will be slanted either forward, out, or back depending on where it sits relative to the mid-section (as opposed to uniformly down). Examine the pictures if you need further explanation.

To make this knee, take up yon pliers - needle-nose if you have them. Grip the wire on one side of the body about an inch from the end. Twist it round with your pliers over the length of wire coming out from the body so that it goes over and parallel to it (forming a circle of wire). Continue this twist around until the end of the wire is coming out at about 130 degrees from the side coming from the body.

Now, to make the foot, grasp the end of the wire with just about 1/16 showing past your pliers, and twist it round in a tight circle until the end touches the wire coming down from the knee. Now grasp the circle such that your pliers go flat across it and bend it up (away from the ground) until it comes off the leg parallel to the ground.

Repeat the process for the knee and foot on the other side of the wire so that you have a set of two legs. Then bend them so that if the two legs are in the front-most leg-hole they angle forwards, if they are in the back-most, they angle back, and if they are in the middle, so that they angle outwards at the knee (to compensate for the shortened distance to the ground in the front and back.

Finally, if you want to glue in the nail, now is your chance.

Repeat this process for the other two legs and your dragonfly should be standing. If he is standing unevenly, you may need to tweak the angles a little bit until he stands stably. If the legs are rotating around in their sockets, then your nail is not correctly pushing on the wire and you may need to take it out and have a look.

Step 10: Wings!

Buckle down gents and ladies - this is the long part (depending on how complex you choose to make the wings). To start, you will need to have a place for the wings to connect to. We will be using springs as the connection point for the wings. Springs make good holders because the wings will fit into them snugly, but be removable for repair, modification, and transport.

To attach the springs, run two 3" lengths of the thicker copper wire through the wing hole (it will intentionally be a tight fit). Take your springs and wrap each of the 4 wire ends around the ends as tightly as possible so that the springs are pulled against the side of the body. For good measure, wrap the base of the springs together with a short length of thick wire. The idea is to have these springs rigidly fixed as they will hold a fair amount of weight for their size and you do not want them to rotate.

As for wing design, I used this link. I used the thick copper wire to make the outline of the wing and the largest vein therein, and the thin wire for the other veins. The level of detail you choose to imitate is up to you. Keep in mind while working on your first wing that you have 3 more to go, and all should be the same level of detail. I spent a good 5+ hours on these and still only accomplished a moderate amount of detail. A handy tip on crafting precise wings - use the the zoom in function of your web browser (ctrl + mouse wheel) to scale the drawing to the size of the wings you are making, then put the wire up to the screen for comparison  Once I had figured this out, the wings became quicker to make and a good deal more attractive.

The only parameter you have to follow while making your wing is this: at the ends - where the wing connects to the body - leave enough thick wire that you can craft an arrow shaped or loop shaped barb that you can push into the springs. This barb will hold the wing in place, but allow you to remove it if you like.

Step 11: Finito

You're done! Congratulations. 

Phew. Its been a long Instructable. Let me know if I missed anything along the way in the comments. Also let me know if there are any improvements or techniques you would suggest - I can always add things in the edits.

I hope you had fun with it and that someone (perhaps yourself) will have a cheerful little dragonfly in their life from now on. If you are just browsing through this instructable, and would like a similarly styled but shorter and easier project, I recommend you check out my firefly instructable. 

One final note: I would advise against using your new dragonfly for flight testing. It ends badly.

Make It Glow

Participated in the
Make It Glow

Instructables Design Competition

Participated in the
Instructables Design Competition