Introduction: Steampunk Tennis Rackets

About: Eldest of five, son of two doctors, 10 years in Graphic Design and marketing, then retrained as a Biomedical Materials Engineer, don't ask me why, I think it was because I had always wanted to design artificia…
Wimbledon is upon us here in the UK and this signals the beginning of summer and everyone going tennis loco. So here is a very nice quite simple little project for making some fun tennis bats in a steampunk style. I have used a scroll type pattern, but you could design them with any pattern you like. The key is to make them look like wrought metalwork. The design, using a flat sheet with lateral reinforcing vanes gives a very light composite material that is reasonably strong. This means that when you hit a soft squashy ball with one of these bats, the handle does not bend or snap off. So not only are you making something beautiful and well at least vaguely steampunky, but you are learning something interesting about structural composite materials.

The ball is made from a couple of carrier bags, so all in all this is a very nice little project that doesn't require much in the way of special materials or equipment. Like with just about all my projects, a glue gun is very handy to make the project go quickly, but you can use white woodwork glue (Elmers or PVA) if you want to and you have the time and the patience to sit holding each bit while it dries.

What you need:

  • Piece of thick corrugated packaging card (you can use foamboard if you have it)
  • Glue (preferably hot melt / glue gun glue)
  • A strip of material, felt or leather
  • Some clear plastic sheet like drawing artcel sheets or an overhead projector slide, or old bit of packaging window (I used the thick cellophane window from the top of an old Christmas cracker box)
  • Two plastic carrier (grocery) bags
  • Some spray paint (preferably gold or silver, but any colour will do)

Step 1: Design Your Pattern

The first step is to design your pattern. The bat is made much stronger by the addition of the vertical strips that are going to make up its thickness. As long as some strips go from the tip of the handle right into the body of the bat playing area, you can design them to be as decorative as you like. Copy this design by eye, or make one of your own up, or go to thedadcando project where you'll find a free download of the template pattern.

Of course you could design yours on a computer too using any simple drawing package. When you have a design that you are happy with, mark it out on a piece of corrugate cardboard and carefully cut it out. I agonized about the direction of the flutes (corrugated card), for the best performance. A bat will not really have much lateral force applied to it, but given that you putting longitudinal strengthening, it makes sense to have the flutes running across the face of the bat. That way you'll be making the strongest composite possible (from the given materials).

Step 2: Cut a Load of Thin Strips

Using a lightweight corrugated card, cut a load of thin strips (about 10-15mm or 0.5inch wide). The exact width isn't important, BUT the y must all be the same width as each other, or as good as you can get them to be.

Cut them so that their edges are parallel.

Step 3: Curl Up the Ends of the Strips

To make the scroll work pattern it is useful if the card is already curled up (it makes sticking them down so much easier). To curl them up, wrap them round your finger tip and press the card down. If it's corrugated card, then you will be crushing it slightly. If it's corrugated card its also best to make sure that the strips are cut across the flutes. Not only do they bend much easier this way, but from a composite material point of view, the end result is also much stronger, because when stuck in position the flutes will be acting like 100s of tiny columns, which are very strong in compression... exactly what you need on the face of a bat or racket, where surface stiffness is important to transmit the most force to the ball during the stroke.

Step 4: Glue the Strips to the Bat Board

Following your pattern with the curled (or folded depending on your design) pattern, carefully glue one edge of the strip and fix it to the bat so that it stands up right off the surface. It's quicker than it looks and if you get the whole glue gun thing just right, the strips stick in place almost immediately that they touch the surface, so it is worth curling the strips to make sure that they in the right shape as you put them down, because it is almost impossible to reposition, and even if you do, you leave unsightly marks all over the bat board, and you'll want that to be as neat and tidy as possible later.

Step 5: Continue Sticking Strips Down

Where you have small details and folded strips, pinch them between thumb and forefinger so that you can glue the edge up easily. Take care not to burn yourself, the strips are small and the glue gun is HOT. To insert folded bits, extend them out slightly as you offer them up to the space and then when they are nearly in position you can compress them a bit to make it look neat.

Step 6: Spray or Paint It

I used gold spray, a very shiny metallic looking one that I have sued for other instructables, but any gold paint will do. Of course you could use silver or other metallics or mixtures of gold and silver. if you want you could paint some distressing on in the corners and creases, but for this one I left it just as it was.

Step 7: Face the Bat With Clear Plastic

The vertical vanes are clearly not good as a batting surface. the Victorians took great pride in their engineering. Detail and finish were important to them, as it happens polish and finish also make the product last longer and help materials perform at their optimum. Polishing removes surface scratches which mean that the product is less prone to fatigue fracture. It also means that the working were often proudly put on display. Our steampunk bat is no different, those strengthening vanes are going to be displayed.

Cover the vanes using a thin sheet of plastic cell. I got mine from the top of an old Christmas cracker box that was left over from Christmas and waiting for next year I guess, but you could also use an overhead projector slide, some OHP inkjet media, or some clear drawing cell.

This is quite a tricky step and I recommend that you line the glue carefully along the top edges of the strips over about half or one third of the area, depending on how quick and steady you hand is, and then lay the cell over that and stick it down and let it set. The bend it up and line in a bit more of the top edges with glue and let it stick down and so on until you have stuck the film as neatly as possible on to the tops of the scroll work vanes.

Step 8: Mark Up and Cut Out

Draw on to the top film, round the edge of the bat with a permanent marker and then cut out using strong scissors.

Step 9: Gold Marker Over the Glued Strip Edges

This is quite a neat bit of the project, to hide up the rather nasty glued, cut edge of the corrugated card, drawn neatly over the top of the film using a broad tipped, bullet point gold or silver permanent marker. If you make the lines neat and the curves flowing, it really convinces the eye that this is the edge of the scroll work strengthening vanes.

Step 10: Dress the Edge of the Bat

I used felt for the edge because I had some handy, it looked very Victorian and was a whole lot easier than wood! You could spray up a strip of card with silver or gold paint, or download some wood texture / image from the web and make up a wood effect edge or even colour some cardboard cream and call it ivory. For me I think it should be something a bit more crazy. I would have liked to use leather, but I didn't have any, so felt it was. In any case it sort of went with the theme of drawing room tennis, which was my original idea.

Felt has a kind of "I say old chap, shall we play bridge" quality to it that for some reason comes to mind when I think of Victorians (well that and big railways, the Wild West, and the industrial revolution).

Step 11: Make Bat / Racket Number 2!

So far we have only described making one bat / racket, but as soon as you're done with this you have to make another one (that is the nature of the game). Still you'll be better and quicker at making it this time.

Use different colour for the edge stripping, (as regal as possible if you can), to personalise the bats for the players, during game play.

now you'll be needing a ball. Any soft foam or lightweight plastic ball will do. The bats are quite strong. but you can of course make your own ball...

Step 12: Make the Ball As a Pompom

making pompoms is fun and easy and this way, you don't even need wool, just a couple of carrier (grocery) bags will do.

1 Make two discs about 60mm (2.5inces) in diameter with holes about 30mm (1.25 inches) in diameter in the middle of them.

2 Cut a plastic carrier bag in half longways. Holding the two discs together by hand and poke the carrier bag through the hole in the centre of the discs and wrap it round the discs. Keep wrapping it until you can't poke any more through the hole. You may need more than one carrier bag, but you are unlikely to need more than two. keep the wrapping nice and tight.

3 Slit a bit of the edge with a sharp knife and then poke some strong scissors into the edge and down between the discs, cut all round the edge down to the depth of the discs.

4 BEFORE removing the cardboard discs, tightly tie off the pompom using either a stretched length of carrier bag or some string.

5 Cut the ends of the tie off and then trim the pompom to make it as spherical as possible.

I used a Sainsbury's (supermarket chain in the UK) carrier bag and their bag is orange so it makes for a very nice lively looking ball.

Step 13: Play Drawing Room (or Bar-b-que or Beach) Tennis

So that's it, you're ready to play. You have made an old fashioned looking device in a very modern composite way. your bat / racket should be good for whacking that ball fairly hard. I haven't made up any rules for the game. I thought of making a swing ball pole for the ball from a broom stick (but ran out of time), but then I was having such fun with the kids using the sofa back as a net and trying to volley the ball over it the most times that the swing ball thing didn't feel necessary.

I'm sure that there will be some fabulous variations on this basic design. So if you make them, please do post them here.