Simple Micro Toothpick Gliders!




H'okay, so, this is my first instructable, it's for making cute little gliders that are fun to make and fly. Making gliders out of toothpicks has always seemed so perfectly scaled and fun to me, and I personally just free-hand the entire thing and have no plans or designs, only ideas. Since this may be hard for some, I'll give you instructions on making one of my simplest gliders. It requires a toothpick(or about the same sized piece of wood, balsa etc. Heck, use whatever scale you want), some thickish paper(construction paper generally works, but the thicker it is the stronger, but also heavier. If you have someplace where the plane is unlikely to be damaged, you could use thinner paper, but I, in my crowded dangerous house, use 28 lb white printing paper which is probably heavier then required to survive a bad landing), and super glue(gel or not, I prefer gel just because it doesn't soak in as much), and something to attach to the nose for balance(I use polymer clay, but pieces of toothpick glued on work just as fine). Tools you need are scissors and maaaybe needle nosed pliers for a more advanced models. Also, there are a few I have made, the orange one is closest to the one we'll be making(see last step for more of my creations). Oh yes, and excuse the dirty fingers, they're the result of working with super glue often. Now, lets get started!

If you just want to look at some cool airplanes, see the last step(But building them is easy so I'd suggest that)

*** Thanks too: and for lots of inspiration in basic design and structure, but NONE of my models are directly copied from either source ***

Step 1: Begining Construction

So, to start, select a relatively straight/strong toothpick, shape of the toothpick doesn't really matter, This will be your frame. Now, take your paper, and cut a simple rectangle out of it, then fold the rectangle in half the long way and trim until it's perfect. Unfold until it's a little less than 90 degrees, then glue the crease to the toothpick like the picture shows, about 1/3rd down from the front of your toothpick(front for me is the thicker end, but if you don't have thicker ends any end you pick will work). This angle is the frame that will hold your wings on, so keep it relatively folded.

Step 2: Wings!

Now it's time to make/attach the wings. To start, cut a rectangle out of your paper that's about as long as the toothpick and maybe 1/3rd inch wide, shape doesn't have to be perfect at this point. Now fold it in half the long way, and trim the edges for a symetrical shape. Also cut the top corner off the folded rectangle, like in the picture. Unfold, and you've got your wings! You want to keep them slightly folded, to give it stability, but not to much. At this point you have the option of cambering the wings, or adding an airfoil, go to step 5 if you want to do this(Not at all necessary, but may result in slightly better flights). To attach, simply put a bead of glue on the top two edges of the frame(from the last step), and carefully place the wings on them, be sure to get them on facing straight forward, and nicely centered. Now all you have to do is wait for them to dry! I'd say allow at least a minute or so before going on.

Step 3: Tail Fins

Now that you have wings, you need a tail. My favorite tail design is fairly simple, and I'd say works better then normal ones, also looks better. To start, cut out a rudder,(or vertical fin), shaped like the first picture. Make sure the top flat area is aimed downward slightly, this will keep your plane from diving straight down. Once you have that, glue it to the back end of the frame, and pay attention to if it's straight forward and vertical, you can check this by looking strait down the plane and comparing with the wings. Now, once that's dry, cut out your elevator just like you did the wings, only about half size. This goes on top of the rudder piece, like in the pictures once again. Do the rear-sight check again. Now it looks like a plane!

Step 4: Balancing and Tuning

Now, to make any airplane, a few simple tricks can be used to give it stability and level flight:
Firstly, to gain more side-to-side stability, bend the wings up slightly, either in the middle(Known as "Dihedral") or at the tips, this makes it so not all the lift is aimed straight down, and makes it so the plane is less likely to flip to one side(not necessary, but helps a great deal if you're having problems with this).
Secondly, you want your plane to be generally aimed up, so it doesn't dive to the ground. This can be achieved by aiming the front of the elevator down, or the wings up, I'd say about 7 degrees off from each other is good(Note the off-set of angles in the pic below).
Third thing is balance, the weight of your plane must be close to directly under the wing(as low as possible also helps for stable flight), because the wing is holding most the weight while flying. Add weight to the nose until you can balance the wings(Near the back for slower flight, like pic) on your fingers like the picture(Don't stop as soon as it's "good enough", you can always remove weight).

If you follow these steps, just about ANY airplane will work, so experiment around and have fun.
Now you have a completed airplane! Aren't you proud? Why not add some detail and originality? See next step for ideas, or skip to step 6 for flight patterns and my own models.

Step 5: Advanced Model Tricks

There's a few things you can use to make your models work better and look better, however NONE of these are necessary for the basic glider shown in the intro, so if you want a basic model skip all this.

Still here? Greeaaat! These... Things, are good for accurate replicas, or for just nice looking planes, so if you have a specific plane you want to make, these will probably help. These things include landing gear, cambered(airfoiled) wings, bi-plane struts, plane holders, etc.

Landing gear is fairly simple and not to crucial unless you want a picture-perfect landing. They can be achieved by a simple inverted V glued to the bottom, I would suggest near the front to aid with balance, or a more square shape with a V inside it(like far left, first pic). You could also just add 2 skids to the bottom of your wings, like picture 3.

Cambered wings are said to make a glider go slower and longer, to me they also seem to help with stability and a bit of wing stiffness. To make them, simply take your wings before attaching and press about 1-2mm of the front edge under a ruler or straight edge, and bend the rest of the wing up, like picture 2(In the picture, the wing is upside-down(And crooked..)), this should make the front edge of your wing bent down, I would suggest no more then maybe 35 degrees. When attaching these wings, it may be necessary to aim them slightly higher. If they don't seem to do any good, try adjusting the camber more/less and/or aiming the wing slightly higher.

Bi(or Tri, Quad, Penta, Hexa, Septa, Octa, etc. etc....) plane struts are how you attach wings on top of each other. The most basic are 2 struts on the outside edge, but I suggest a slightly harder(and much stronger) idea I came up with. Take a strip of paper maybe 1-2mm wide, and cut into a little less than an inch length. Fold it down the middle, so they make Vs, then take both ends of the Vs and bend them out so they are level to each other. Make 2 of these. Now, mount them on your bottom wing by flipping one upside-down and gluing the bent ends to the wing, mount the other right in front/behind so the tip of the V is glued down(This may take some holding while it dries). If you're confused at this point, see picture 3. This should result in a nice 3-point platform to mount your top wings on, and it's structurally fairly strong. Most wings I've done at this point with these struts is 3, and more may be difficult due to weight issues.

Plane Holders, are really easy to make, just get a piece of squishy foam(Not stiff, the more fluffy bendy stuff), cut into something about .5"x.5"x1", then put a slice going halfway down the middle, the long way(See pic 4). You can then just put your airplanes in this crack, after gluing the whole thing to a piece of cardboard or the inside of a box(I have 23 mounted in a box for safe travel :-P).

I'd love to hear more original ideas, and if I think they're largely useful I'll post them here with credit to the submitter, but I reserve all the right to choose which I post and no offense if I don't post yours.

Step 6: Flying a Plane and Unusual Designs

There's a few flight patterns that can be used, most basic is just aim it slightly down and toss lightly(Blue). If your plane seems to always turn, your wings may be warped, which can be fixed by carefully warping them the opposite way(you can use the head-on check to see if they're straight). Another pattern I like alot is HEAVE it with ALL you got, if done right the plane will do a loop, then continue in level flight(Red). You can launch it tipped sideways, which will result in a circle pattern, or hold it nose up and belly towards yourself, throw it straight up and if you're good enough, it will loop around and come back to you(Green). There's tons of fun ways to fly, and with these they don't need much room(it is more fun though). You can also get some friends and see who's airplane can stay up longest or go farthest, or even do more advanced tricks. Airplanes can be made specifically for kinds of flight, more stream-line wings can give more speed, or long thin wings can give a smoother glide. There's no end to the possibilities, and I'd highly suggest trying to make your own designs or ideas work!
Just to show that different designs work, here's some unusual ones I've made:
Quad plane, based on this:, flies very well.
Dual-frame Bi-plane, this was actually going to fly the other way, but I turned it around last minute :-P
Basic Mono-plane, This one was mostly a test for advanced framing and landing gear, tends to turn but flies fairly well.
Helicopter, This one is fairly old, simple rubber-powered, tends to spin out of control instantly but CAN gain some height before dying!
Basic Bi-plane, This one, with it's relatively short wings and large tail, is quite fast and smooth in the air.
Auto Gyro, Doesn't work so well :-P It was worth a try, and it coasts to the ground with almost realistic speed... But not a beginner design to be sure.
Langely Aerodrome Historic Replica, This one is heavily based of the Langely Aerodrome, originally a competitor to the Wright brothers. It flies surprisingly well, sometimes rocking from side to side but generally great.
Fokker Dr.1 Triplane, Another "historic" replica, I had to try to make one :-P It flies fairly well, main problem is it's high weight from all those wings and struts.
Twin-Tail experimental, Pretty basic, flights are ok but not the best.
Flying Wing, a surprisingly simple design, works out well due to low air friction and no added weight. However, these wings are hard to balance and very hard to tune, and you can't just chuck 'em however like the others.
Elevated-Wing Tandem, since my Langley Aerodrome model worked so well, I decided to make another tandem wing design, this time cutting the tail. It works quite smoothly, and I believe the dihedral of the wings is crucial for stable flight.
"Butterfly" Almost Flying Wing, a very simple design simply made up by my silly brother... It works pretty well, but is difficult to launch due to lack of grip points and the wings sometimes "cut", causing a fast dive.
Rear-Wing, these have always seemed the easiest to build, but I could never quite get one to work very stable. This one seems to work well due to a low center of gravity from the rudder, and from the heavy up-thrust caused by the front elevator. It has some slight stability problems, and flies fairly fast but all-in-all the lack of balance weight I think gives it an advantage in theoretical distance potential.
Basic Bi-Plane, This is a very basic plane, doesn't use the cross-struts. It flies fairly slowly and somewhat stable, probably one of my best fliers.
Random Weird Thing, I was trying for an original design :-P Ended up with the rudder in the back and elevator in the front.. It's a kinda wobley flier, but still fairly smooth.
Avro Triplane Replica, This was my replica of the Avro Triplane, built 1909-10. It's not very to-scale, but notice the British flags :-P It flies smoothly, though somewhat heavily.
Bi-Plane Canard, This was made at my grandma's house just out of boredom.. I didn't have much to counter-weight with so I made it a canard. It has a sharp turn problem, but I believe it could be fixed with slight adjustment.

More to come!

This concludes my tutorial on toothpick gliders and basic aerodynamics, I hope you find it useful and fun! Anything you're wondering just leave me a comment, and I'll try my best to answer!




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    71 Discussions


    2 years ago

    This is really nice. Thanks a lot :)


    9 years ago on Step 6

    Check out this site for cool plans ! :
    don't be afraid, it's in chinese...;)

    4 replies

    Reply 9 years ago on Step 6

     I've actually seen this before! Very cool website, planes even smaller than mine.. Mine are probably a bit easier to calibrate though :P Thanks for sharing


    Reply 4 years ago on Step 6

    I think i will work on a bigger model, maybe make it have stronger wings, and probably add a battery pack, 2 battery-operated fans, and a remote control.

    I probably won't be able to do it, but i want to try.


    yea this replys a bit late, but any idea how one might add a prop like in the ones from that site? no idea how they are mounting it to the plane


    Reply 9 years ago on Step 4

    You could make it bigger. Use cardboard, or styrofoam. Use a chopstick as the body or something.


    Reply 4 years ago on Step 4

    That's what i tried at first, before i realized it was too big for making it like yours.


    5 years ago on Introduction

    wow! your the god of toothpick airplanes! Could you please make tutorials for the other planes?


    5 years ago

    This is wat i do whole my life and it is just great and big fun have great times with it!!!

    I luv Duct Tape

    7 years ago on Step 6

    great instructable! i made the one on the 10th pic with blue tooth picks and blue post-it note paper. i used a slice of hot glue stick for the weight. thanks for all the great ideas! im gonna make a biplane next


    9 years ago on Step 5

    cambered wings help an airplane or glider fly better because its shape makes more lift than a normal flat wing. in theory, you could have a plane with no camber and a plane with camber with the same weight and design, the plane with cambered wings can have shorter/smaller wings and still fly the same distance because of the extra lift the camber makes. you should try it sometime. also, if you bend down the back(trailing)edge of the wing near the body, you might be able to get even more lift

    2 replies
    Mike McGillsuperhornt

    Reply 7 years ago on Step 5

    It's unlikely that camber will make any difference at these sizes. Camber only starts to come into its own for wings of 3 inches or greater chord, and then not with flat plate wings. You need to have built up wings with some thickness, but of course that would be impractical for these little models, which incidentally I think are great.


    7 years ago on Step 6