Make a 'natural Elbow' Boomerang




About: I made a beer mug with only a knife and a hatchet. I think that says a lot about me.

For many years I’ve been designing, making and throwing boomerangs. At the beginning my booms were made of plywood, a cheap and easy to handle material – all you need is some plywood, a jigsaw and some sanding paper. Boys grow up, and men always want more. So I wanted to make my projects a bit more exciting and discovered a whole new world: natural boomerangs, or better ‘natural elbow’ boomerangs!

Natural elbow boomerangs are made of elbows you can find on almost every tree (you can also use natural ‘Y’s’). Actually living in the outback of Southern France, I’m working with the local species: Holm oak (Quercus ilex) and Olive (Olea europaea). In this Instructable I’ll show you how to make a boomerang made of Olive. You’ll see, the making of this kind of boomerangs is really great fun and once you started with it, you’ll never more touch plywood again.

All you need:
- pocket saw
- grafting wax
- polyurethane glue
- manual saw
- vice
- plane (electric is highly recommended)
- jigsaw
- sander
- sanding paper (from 80 to 600)
- safety gloves, goggles & ear plugs
- natural oil

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Step 1: Find a Natural Elbow

First approach: ‘I’ll go out for a ride and I’ll see what I’ll find’. Not bad at all, go sniffing in the bushes and I’m sure you’ll find something.

Second approach: choose your wood species, find the right trees and check them for elbows. If you’re looking for Sequoia-stuff you’ll need a telescope and some climbing equipment. The advantage of Olive is that it’s a small species with lots of potential booms easy reachable from the ground.
If you’ve got the chance to find a dead tree you can skip the next step.
Look for branches with a diameter of 10 cm (3 inches) more or less. The more it’s curved, the better. Cut the branch with your pocket saw, cut the elbow from the branch and hide the waste-wood – or take it all with you. Don’t forget to put some grafting wax on the wound you’ve left.

I found this one a year ago in an old and forgotten orchard in Southern France.

Step 2: Let It Dry

Fresh wood is not suitable to handle directly. You’ve got to dry it, of course. To fasten this process I usually peel off the bark with a knife and seal both ends of the elbow with polyurethane-glue. You can also use candle wax. This prevents the wood from drying too fast and cracking. Give it some time – one year is perfect – and store it in a well ventilated place. Do not put it in direct sunlight or on a radiator. The slower it dries, the better.

Note: two different elbows are shown in the pictures. One peeled, one not.

Step 3: Preparing the Elbow

Our elbow is finally dry and we’re ready to go. It doesn’t look very well yet, but inside this piece of wood three boomerangs are hidden. Before going to slice the elbow into pieces we have to prepare it, this means that we’re going to plane it to have a flat surface on both sides with a thickness that’s almost the same everywhere. Use an electric plane and don’t forget safety gloves, goggles & ear-plugs.

Step 4: Slicing

The bigger the diameter of the elbow, the more slices you can make of it. I usually try to saw boards of 1 cm thick (1/3 inch). Secure the elbow in a vice and slice it with a manual saw. I don’t recommend electric saws. Circular saws are too difficult to handle, too dangerous as well and I don’t have great souvenirs from jigsaws. A good old well-cutting saw will do the job very fine. In this phase you’ll be submerged in the wood smell. Every species has its own flavor, but I’m sure there’s nothing better than the smell of fresh cut Olive-wood: a mixture of grapes and cherries!

Step 5: Designing

Now you’ve got at least one slice from your elbow, time for the real work. You don’t have to think a lot, the tree has done this job for you. Look accurately at the wood structure and benefit from the possibilities it gives you. Let your imagination go, draw some basic lines and get back to work. Never forget: the tree shaped your boomerang, all you do is fine-tuning its job.

Step 6: Shaping

In this phase you’re using sander, jigsaw and plane. To remove small sections you can use the sander (I fixed mine in a vice). For the rest you can use the jigsaw. During this step you can always adjust the shape of your boom (first I wanted to make an asymmetrical boomerang but I changed my mind and went for a pure traditional shape).
Optional: When this shaping is done you can pay attention to the thickness (I always make my boomerangs thicker in the middle). Use a plane for this.

Step 7: Profiling - Basic Boomerang Aerodynamics

Back to the table. A boomerang is a set of wings put together in a certain way. Wings are profiled, and flattened towards their ends. To understand why and how boomerangs behave, you’ve got to know some basic principles.
Boomerangs do not just go away and come back. The main reason they do so is that they turn very fast around their axe after being thrown. While throwing a boomerang the right way, you’re giving it the necessary rotation. This movement is counterclockwise (for a right-handed boomerang), the leading edges (steep wing-sides) cutting the air, just like airplanes, birds etc. The rotation gives them uplift, and the setting of the wings causes a spin. This spin forces the missile to flow not just right away. Translated: your rocket is coming back home. Get these basics in mind while setting the profile or download the picture. This drawing-thing isn’t exact science, sanding and feeling will do the rest.
Shaping the profiles is sanding, sanding and especially sanding: heavy (electric) sanding with coarse grain at the beginning and manual sanding with finer grains to finish. This phase is pure instinctive, so try to make the best wing-profiles you can get. And take your time.

Note: I never throw away the sawdust and woodchips because it’s perfect stuff to smoke fish.

Step 8: Oiling

Your boomerang is almost finished now. All you have to do yet is giving it some protection. Some prefer varnish, others epoxy… I prefer natural oil. Nothing is more exciting than putting the oil on your hands, warming it up and giving the fresh made boomerang its first massage. Rub away the oil excess with a piece of cloth and give it a second treatment the day after.

Step 9: Throwing!

Your boomerang is finished, ready to give it its first flight? Wait for the following Instructable and thanks for watching!

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    55 Discussions


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Thanx micraman, nice to see that there are other beings to appreciate this kind of work ;-)


    7 years ago on Introduction


    I Always wanted to do something so, and always let the opportunity pass. I have also done many boomerangs, the former were galvanized, quite thick and extremely dangerous. I keep at the attic a "trimerang" done in plywood, 3 mm.

    1 reply

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Thanx rimar! Making natural booms has become part of my life and a pocket saw is always in my backpack. Nothing worse then spotting an elbow and saying 'Oh god I forgot it at home!' ;-)


    3 years ago

    Visually very appealing, and I agree about oil vs other finishes.

    Add in that its a thrown weapon (of sorts) that comes back...boomerangs are AWESOME...

    Looks like its time t o dust off the bandsaw and go cut some tree limbs into artwork...

    Great `Ible!

    2 replies

    Reply 3 years ago

    Awesome to see that my first I'ble is still alive 'n kicking! Thanx for the compliment, go for that bandsaw and good luck with your search for elbows mate!


    2 years ago

    Cant wait to try this with the 100y.o+ river gum (eucalyptus) in my back yard. Has some beatiful elbows in it. Thanx!


    4 years ago

    Hi Bricobart, very nice tutoral! I have to say you are wrong on 2 things. Drying an elbow for 1 year is not perfect. If you dry naturally, then it more or less takes 1 year per cm each side. If you were to slice the elbow in a 6cm piece it will take approx. 3 years to dry. It also depends in which period you cut the wood, winter is normally the best time. Also less than 100° angle will result in less spin is not correct. A lot competition boomerangs have an angle much less than 100°. It has more to do the kind of airfoil you give. I see you are from Belgium (I'm from the Netherlands). Would like to meet you one day and talk about boomerangs and woodcrafting :-)

    1 reply

    Reply 4 years ago on Step 7

    Try to get something between 100° - 120°. Take less & it won't spin, take more & it will spin too slow to stay in the air. The only way to compensate the last problem is to make the wings longer, but then you'll have to throw harder.

    Start & practice wilh a small one - not bigger than 30cm diameter - and go bigger when you feel the moment right.

    Good luck!


    4 years ago on Introduction

    HI My compliments to you, I've made MANY boomarangs, but have never started at the tree, I can just imagine how much work this was, it looks awesome - what did the turning radius end up being? a Job very well done!! :-)


    7 years ago on Step 9

    Looks super and I plan to make one. Got a VIDEO to show how well yours works?