Murray, KY – Students bend over slender planks of wood in the Murray State woodshop as sawdust falls to the concrete floor. Some are filing, some are sanding and some are painting intricate designs along the sides of their carved plywood. All of them hope their work will fly.
Cosmo Barbaro decided to create a class covering boomerang carving after he researched the art. He says it was perfect for his summer curriculum.
"It's the same techniques that we cover in intro to wood, but a lot less labor intensive. We're just applying them to a different product, and all the kids are non-art majors. And, all of them are doing really well."
The process, he says, begins with simple planks of plywood. Students must trace and cut out boomerang profiles with band saws and lay out wooden cross-sections over them. Then, the wood must be filed or sanded into perfect, aerodynamic shapes that cut through the wind like airplane wings. Yet, Barbaro says, even if students execute impeccable designs, the boomerangs aren't guaranteed to fly well.
"That is totally dependent on your technique and how you throw it and the shape of the boomerang because each boomerang flies a little bit differently. If you do a little research on the Internet, they even state it takes years to learn how to throw this really, really accurate, and so that's not a criteria for the grading for my course. But, it's really cool if it does come back."
For some students, the equipment seemed challenging. Sophomore Rachel Bentley says she has never worked with wood before and found the band saw intimidating at first.
"I was actually really nervous when we went to cut it and everything. I was afraid I was going to cut myself, but I haven't yet. So, all fingers intact."
Yet, after practice and time spent at a workbench, Bentley has taken to boomerang crafting. She says the only troublesome part is working by hand. For their first pieces, Barbaro requires that students file their wood manually before graduating to sanders. Despite this minor aggravation, Bentley loves the class and wishes she could continue carving.
"If I had, like, my own shop or even, you know, if I could use this one occasionally, I would totally do it. I would even show friends how to do it. I'm surprised at how easy he made it."
Barbaro also encourages students to try their own designs. He says boomerangs aren't limited to two wings. They can have up to eight blades and resemble pinwheels. Senior Arsenio Cash designed a six-sided boomerang which he painted black and tipped in silver. It looks somewhat like a ninja's throwing star.
"Well, I printed the design off the Internet, but I had to figure out the angles and lengths of the blades and stuff. I'm thinking it will fly, but I don't think it's going to come back to me."
Once students have sanded and painted their boomerangs and once the shop is clean, Barbaro takes them to a soccer field to test their projects. The sky is clear and a breeze slightly waves the soccer nets on each side of the field. It's a perfect day for throwing.
Cash takes out his six-sided boomerang and prepares to throw. He holds it high and slings it into the wind.
"Look at it! Look at it! Aaaww."
His boomerang soars into the air, curves gently and cuts sharply toward the ground. Its blades stick firmly in the soil. While Cash tries to get his throwing star to work properly and fly back to his hand, junior Shawn Greenwell hopes hers won't work at all.
"I really don't want it to come back to me because it's going to hurt."
Fortunately for her, flawless throws aren't required for the course - nor are flawless boomerangs. Barbaro simply wants students to experiment and try something new.
"I, again, was most concerned that they go through the process, and you hope to stress the individuality of the students in terms of what they're painting on there and the actual shapes of the boomerangs that they've come up with."
Boomerang carving might be an unusual method for finding individuality, but it seems to have worked for the students. Their boomerangs range greatly in size, design and decoration - even though not all of them can soar through the sky. But, no matter the success of a student's project, Barbaro is content that they simply tried.