A Builder's Journal
(or What Would Da Vinci Do?)
Early in his
career, Imagination Factorys lead shop hand Ken Grahame was
asked to construct one of the Da Vinci Flying machines. The reluctant
model-kit builder ultimately found the experience rewarding, and
now shares his wry, and hopefully helpful observations. Here's what
a few of our customers have said!
We welcome you to share your stories and
Where Im coming
brother was the model builder in the family. So imagine my chagrin
when my employers handed me the Da Vinci Flying machine and asked
me to chronicle my attempts to construct it. The mission? To show
that the average Joe or Jane, with average shop skills, can construct
what at first blush looks about as simple as quantum physics or
an Escher drawing.
(The secret mission, of course, was to test my
loyalty to the project and my general flapability.)
The first problem I encountered was biologically
determined. I suffered an inherent disease called digitus-enlargus.
Ive determined that most model-kit builders are made of delicate
stuff and possess the patience of Job. I, on the other hand, felt
my fingers were just too large. I would soon learn, however, that
there is a zen-like place within us each where said kit construction
is far simpler than it appears.
My approach when I was contracted to do this was
to make a conscious effort to avoid the temptation to run (crying)
to the kit designer, artist Robert Coyle. My second conscious effort
was to suffer the berating with grace when he made fun of the fact
that I mixed up parts 7 and 11 (which, coincidentally, isnt
so very hard to do. (See On Literary Bents.)
On Literary Bents versus
the text at your own peril. While Im sympathetic to those
among you who prefer to follow a diagram than read miles of Da Vinci-inspired
discourse, I have learned first hand that successful construction
of this kit relies on each. (For example, you might mix up parts
7 and 11
) You will find that the 117 illustrations and textual
information, once combined, provide all you REALLY need to construct
this kit. But theres a little something more you need to bring
to the table to enjoy the sense of accomplishment on completion.
On Adaptability and Growth:
or die, they say. As faithful as I remained to the instructional
text, I found it quite important to be able to adapt to a given
situation as it arose. Things happen in life that cant be
foreseen. As important as it is to consult those who have gone before,
we must have an ability to assess the situation as it is. By
the book and reality sometimes dont mesh. By way of
example, when you step on the completed tail piece and break it,
when you cut the mesh too closely, when you notch the fuselage platform
on the top instead of the bottom, ask yourself "What Would
Da Vinci Do?"
What Da Vinci Would
be honest, folks. Hed have given his plans to a model kit
builder with elegant fingers and the patience of Job. No, truly,
after throwing things around the shop and swearing a blue streak,
hed have applied some creative thinking and made the best
use of objects at hand to solve the problem. If alive today, maybe
hed just have come to the website and reordered parts. (Plug
But the true Da Vincian spirit is that of bricoleur.
In other words, make it up as you go along. Youve seen that
mesh fabric in your sweethearts ball gown. Just take the scissors
and run. (This is a true story. One kit builder did just that.)
Or slice a little end off that old cedar box and
glue her in. Use a shoelace to clamp the ribs to the forms. Have
a little fun with it.
On Challenge and Triumph
as with any challenge in life, those things which come too easily
dont produce the same amount of growth.
This kit is not without challenge for the beginning
model builder. But to the victor go the spoils. Those spoils are
more than the beautiful model at the end of the line. They include
a sense of confidence and a deep understanding of process doing
as Da Vinci did. Its a methodical but creative achievement
that bends and blends the better parts of our gray matter.
And if everything is just right, youll find
those wings will flap. (Those inspired to try this with scale models
are counseled that we will be held harmless, no matter what your
In the end, the many-thumbed hand can prevail.
Cliff notes from Kens
- Where else can I find this Cyanoacrylate glue?
Ans. This glue is essentially Crazy Glue (c/w
Skin Guard) with a delayed reaction time . Some solutions have
a thicker consistency, which is better than the regular type Crazy
- Where do I find a 1mm drill bit & what is
the non metric equivalent?
Ans. It is a challenge to find the 1mm bit but
they are available at hobby stores or for Dremel tools. The non
metric equivalent would be approximately 1/32". I found that
in the text it was recommended that a pin vice be used to drill
your holes at 1mm but I was able to make do by simply twisting
the 1mm bit between my fingers while applying minimal pressure.
- Do I really need everything on the materials
Ans. That depends on the individual. You may
be the type that adheres strictly to instructions or you may be
the type who can make do with what you have at hand. Some of the
things I didnt use where clothes pins, pin vice, waxed paper,
coping saw, and some of the stains that I used didnt conform
completely to specifications.
- Which way do the cable guides face?
Ans. I would strongly suggest that you do not
glue the cable guides in place until you have attached all cables
in place. (see photo)
- Why would you use mesh to stretch over wings
instead of a more flyable (wind displacing) material
such as canvas or paper?
Ans. According to Da Vincis designs the
idea was to weave feathers into the mesh for a birdlike effect.
- Step #62: Part#12 is thicker in real life than
in the scale drawing in the instructional text indicates. Part
#13 is even thicker than the drawing indicates and the hole in
the side of part #12 is smaller than the drawing. How much do
I need to alter this part? I cannot make it conform to the drawing
thickness without sanding or filing away the part completely.
Ans. This part can be worked a lot. It is important
to sand the sides down to a point where the holes in the sides
are comparable to the drawing. Once this is accomplished, you
have reached the required thickness. The purpose of part #12 is
to house part #13 and allow for a range of movement determined
by the hole size on sides. This allows the wings to move forward,
backward, up and down.
- Whats the best way to get the mesh to
stick to the ribs? It seems the cyanoacroylate glue
is not that good for sticking the mesh to the ribs.
Ans. I was able to get some good adherence with
a liberal bead of white (weldbond) glue, which I allowed to become
tacky, then pressed the mesh into place. (see
- Is it necessary to shape the ribs into hexagons?
Ans. No. Tapering is beneficial for form and
I would highly recommend so doing, but making each rib into a
hexagon is entirely up to individual preference.
- Will the flying machine wings flap?
Ans. Yes, indeed, if everything is lined up
and all your pulleys are functioning, the wings will flap. Neither
you nor Da Vinci, however, will get that bird to fly.
- Is it possible to mark black thread with a black
Ans. One builder called this a zen koan. The answer is yet to
be determined, but I couldnt do it. On further investigation,
it became clear that at one point part 11 was not black nylon.
I suggest using a white or red grease marker instead.
Affixing the Cabling
Gluing the Mesh
Other construction tips:
Step #3: I found it easiest to use permanent marker
to colour pieces.
Step #5: Take your time when doing this. Plan carefully
as the wire is quite rigid and cannot be bent back on itself without
breaking. (Trust me : )
Step #4: Dont glue "eye" cable
guides in place until all cables are, in fact, in place.
Step #15: It is difficult to get three nails in
place. Depending on your preference, it is not even necessary to
put these nails in place.
Step #29: Part #32 may need some filing and sanding
to make it fit onto the fuselage platform.
Step #35: It helps to notch 16 mm piece
of part #15 to better accept part #35.
Step #39: To ease clamping, a piece of string can
be used to wrap around length of form a and part #1 (see
Step #42: I found it useful to do step #43 before
step #42 as it was easier to line up the holes.
Step #50: Omit sentences two (2) through five (5).
Step #59: Be sure to have a good fit when attaching
ribs. When attaching rib "C" it is good to hollow out
the end for the head of a nail to fit into it.
Zen and the art
of model-kit maintenance:
One-handed clamps (quick grips) are quite
Measure twice, cut once. Tim Tool
Wood has unique characteristics. Examine
wood before each process and work with it. It can be quite forgiving.
When in doubt, check both the text and illustrations.
The info you need is there.
Every model is as unique as the builder
themselves. It is critical to follow the instructional text thoroughly,
but remember that each situation is unique. Just as in life, volumes
can be written in manuals on how to live, there must be allowed
grace to adapt to a given situation while remaining
faithful to the task at hand.
Ask yourself, Who am I building this
for? Why am I building this thing? This will determine the
amount of attention given to details.