Free Flight Update – 2018 NATS Flying Aces Club

Okay, it’s been a while since I posted on my blog, Instagram has seems to be my go to forum these days. Rest assured, when I return to making some worthwhile woodworking or carving projects you’ll be sure to find them here (as well). As many of you know I’ve been spending my spare time submerging myself in the world of rubber motor, balsa and tissue free flight airplanes.

2018 NATS (Flying Aces Club)

For the past two years every second of my free time has been spent building balsa wood, tissue paper, and rubber band powered model airplanes. The Flying Aces Club is one of the few remaining clubs for this fascinating hobby. Each July the Flying Aces Club hosts a contest in Geneseo, NY. The contest is called the NATS on even numbered years, and NON-NATS on odd numbered years, don’t ask me why. If you’re new to the hobby, or to the Flying Aces you’ll find lots of language and terms sure to bewilder you. This year the NATS were Wednesday July 18 through Saturday July 21.

Since I’m relatively new to the hobby and the Flying Aces Club I thought I’d share my personal experience at the NATS. Heading into the contest my only goal was to register my planes, get one official time on the books and learn as much about the event as I possibly could to prepare for 2019 NON-NATS. I brought five models with me:

  1.  Flying Ace Moth (short nose from Bill Warner’s book)
  2. Peerless Junior Endurance
  3. Prairie Bird
  4. Peanut Scale Farman Mosquito
  5. Peanut Scale Lacey M-10

map of Geneseo NATS contest

NATS Day 1 – Wednesday July 18, 2018

I arrived at the Geneseo, NY Airport on Wednesday around 2 PM. Registration was in the hangar, marked with a red X on the map above. Clueless as to what to expect I left my models in the car and headed to registration. The hangar was bustling with excited modelers carrying their planes and chatting with one another. After walking around a bit I found the line for registration. I registered online prior to the event so it was easy to get my name tag and scoring sheet. I asked the nice gentleman who registered me what I was supposed to do next. He instructed me to speak to another nice guy who, unknown to me, was Dave Mitchell a big name in the hobby.

Let me digress a second. I’ve been a member of the Flying Aces Club for a year. I’ve perused the newsletter, but mostly looked at the plans and browsed some of the articles. There are several names that you quickly familiarize yourself with through reading the newsletter. But I’m not big on putting these names to faces – besides I’m in the club to learn about planes and tips on building and flying these works of art.

So Dave, as he was introduced, told me I needed to place my peanut scale models (and scale documentation) on the Peanuts table. I also needed to place a tag on the propeller with my contestant number on the propeller. I easily and dutifully completed the task. Dave also instructed me to take my remaining three non-scale planes to another table to be checked for compliance. One by one I took my Moth, Junior Endurance and Prairie Bird to the table to be examined.

I knew I needed documentation and 3-view drawings for my peanut scale models, and I brought that information. What I didn’t know was I needed to bring the plans I used for my non-scale endurance models. A judge asked me, “Are you Blue Max?” to which I replied, “I don’t know what that is, ” “Then you’re probably not.” was the reply. Because I was a new guy and my models were common the judges accommodated my lack of documents, most of which I provided as images on my phone. Next year I will most certainly bring all necessary documentation.

It’s important to remember the Flying Aces Club is not for vicious competitiveness, instead, it is to enjoy the hobby, have fun and to interact with other people excited about the hobby.  I found it quite encouraging that the club was understanding of my naiveté.

From the hangar I noticed a row of shade shelters along the edge of a field (tent icons on map). It wasn’t until day 2 that I learned this is where everyone sets up and practices flying on the first day. I didn’t want to go poking around somewhere I shouldn’t be so I didn’t explore that area until the second day. I was all registered, I asked a few people if I needed to do anything else to which the response was “no”.  So I headed off to the hotel.

NATS Day 2 – Thursday July 19, 2018

My sister texted me the morning of the second day and expressed interest in visiting me at the contest. I told her she was more than welcome to visit because it seemed pretty low-key and I didn’t have any planes that qualified for contest times on Thursday. Lucky for me I remembered to bring my EZ Up shelter, just in case I was allowed to put it up to escape the sun. By the time I arrived at the contest, at 8 AM, it was clear everyone had set up their spots the day prior. I drove to end of the line of tent canopies, backed my car into the end of the line and set up my shelter.

For an hour or two I sat in the shade of my canopy and watched people flying their planes. Every once and a while I’d glance over to the hanger, which was wide open on Wednesday, to see when the doors would open so I could reclaim my peanut models. By 11 AM the hangar was still closed up. I walked over to the museum Welcome Center and asked if I could get into the hangar to retrieve my models. Confused, they explained how to get into the hangar and encouraged me to remove any personal belongings still inside.

When I entered the hangar it was void of any Flying Aces Club tables and bric-a-brac that adorned the hangar the day prior. Hmm. I returned to the field and found the Flying Aces Club HQ tent. I was welcomed to HQ by Sky, the President of the club, who has always been helpful to me when I’ve emailed him questions in the past. I inquired about my peanut models. As my question was leaving my lips I saw my Lacey and Farman on a table toward the back of HQ.

Sky then informed me that I was to stay at the hangar on the first day in order to retrieve my models after they were judged. Lesson learned.

I had spent most of the day trimming my planes with some test flights and socializing with the other pilots on the field. I must say, everyone is very helpful and friendly. Each and every person I met was happy, attentive and interested. Fun and love of freeflight is definitely at the forefront of each pilot’s attitude.

My sister arrived around 3 PM. She was fascinated about the wonderful hobby she didn’t know existed, reclined on a blanket watching the planes glide quietly through the air for what seemed forever. At the conclusion of the day’s event we attended the BBQ at the event and enjoyed the delicious pork sandwiches and beans.

NATS Day 3 – Friday July 20, 2018

The day started with brisk winds that continued throughout the day. The only plane I had which qualified for an official contest flight was my Farman. I unpacked it from my car and gave it a few anxious test flights. The wind did not cooperate with my Farman, and it’s one of my favorite models, so I was not interested in attempting an official flight.

During registration I asked someone how to perform an official flight. I was unsure if certain categories had different times schedules, etc. I was told find someone with a stop watch and ask them to time your flight. My over-analytic brain changed that statement into something much more involved that it actually is. I imagined referee dressed guys mandating specific launch times. Nope. All a pilot needs to do is find another pilot and politely ask if they would time your flight.

My sister enjoyed the morning and the early afternoon watching everyone fly their works of art. I enjoyed the sights as well. When my sister headed for home I unpacked a few planes for test flights. My greatest chance at a good time was my FA Moth. Well, I didn’t use a winding tube to protect my plane in case the rubber broke while winding. Guess what? The rubber broke during winding and gashed a whole in the right side of the fuselage, and the “Hungorilla” of tightly wound rubber dangerously taunted me like a bomb wrapped around the rear hook inside the rear of the fuselage. I managed to get the rubber removed without much further damage.

Luckily I was able to purchase more tissue from Easy Built. They had a very robust selection of plane making (and repairing) materials available. When I returned to the hotel I repaired the FA Moth good as new. Whew!

NATS Day 4 – Saturday July 21, 2018

The morning started calm. I should have arrived much earlier and trimmed my planes for contest flying. By the time I was ready to get some contest times the wind really picked up. Lucky for me, a longtime flyer took my under his wing, taught me the ropes and timed my flights officially. I accomplished my goal and clocked in a few official flights. The wind picked up early in the day which made it hard to fly – and the wind didn’t take it easy on my models either. I’m pretty sure each one of my planes was damaged one way or another. But that’s all par for the course.

All in all the NATS proved to be an enjoyable, fun and educational experience. I made a lot of new friends and learned so much. I’ll admit attending a contest such as this alone was a little intimidating. To my relief I found everyone at the event to be helpful, friendly and excited about the hobby. I’m not sure I’ll ever set the world on fire and take first place in any category, but for me that’s not what this hobby is all about. The challenge of building a plane that actually flies is all the reward I require. Watching a group of people so focused at a task and seeing these works of art quietly move through the sky is truly a marvel in itself.

Magic Designer : Gear Driven Mechanical Art Machine


jchismar Magic Designer Mechanical Art Toy

Saturday, May 6 2017 and the Greater Newark Mini Maker Faire will be here in the blink of an eye. My exhibit Art Through Motion, is coming along slow but sure. The Magic Designer is the first apparatus I’ve nearly completed for the exhibit. It is based on the Magic Designer toy which came on the scene in the 1950’s. It is a relative simple, yet complicated mechanism which creates Spirograph-like designs.

When I decided to make this machine I turned to Ebay to purchase one of these toys. There are several different varieties, likely made by different manufacturers. I opted to buy the cheapest one available. Probably not the best idea. The majority of these toys were made of metal. I was surprised when mine arrived and was made of mostly plastic.

jchismar Magic Designer

The image above is of the Magic Designer I purchased. The design on the paper arrived with the item. I give props to the person that drew it. I couldn’t get the darn thing to work much at all. However I was able to extract the required information to build my own. The mechanism is simple. The gear the artwork is attached to with little metal clips revolves six times for every one rotation of the three other gears. That’s basically all I needed to understand to get started.

I only made one major change to the original design. I changed the gear ratio on the drive gear with the handle so it revolves three times for every one turn of the canvas gear. The ratio of the upper and lower disc crank remain the same, rotating six times for every one rotation of the canvas gear.

jchismar Magic Designer Gear CuttingI created a template for the gears using Three gear templates were needed using 1:1, 2:1, 6:1 ratios. I laser printed the templates on label sticker paper with the stickers removed. The smooth surface of the paper makes it relatively easy to transfer the ink to plywood using a clothes iron. That is, once you have the knack for the process. Practice, patience and pressure are required.

With the templates transferred to 1/2″ plywood I went to work on the scroll saw and cut out the gears. My workshop helper did her thing in the behind the scenes. The crank pins are 1/8″ brass rods cut to length. My original crank pinks were perpendicular and straight up from the gear. Later, I decided to change the crank pins with a bent offset to exaggerate the sweep of the drawing arms.

jchismar Magic Designer Gear Mechanism The base of the unit is created from 3/4″ plywood. I used a router to remove the material under the canvas gear to allow the upper crank disk to travel without interfering with the canvas gear. The drawing arms are made from maple wood. The pivot, which doubles as the Sharpie holder, is 1/2″ brass tubing. The tubing is almost a perfect fit for holding a Sharpie. To reduce the wobbling of the Sharpie in the tube I glued a little piece of foam rubber with crazy glue inside.

Wobbling. Ugh, it’s my enemy. Every little bit of wobble is exaggerated as the Sharpie draws each pattern. There is a little wobble in the fit of the gears, wobble at the contact of the drawing arms on the crank pins and the Sharpie wobbles in the holder.  Some of this can be tightened up, but I’d rather have a smooth operating machine that’s easy to use because it’s for the Maker Faire and kids of all ages are encouraged to try all the machines I’ll bring.

And speaking of ease of use. I abandoned the idea of using metal clips to hold the paper on the canvas gear. Instead of using metal clips I embedded three rare earth magnets into the canvas gear. This allows metal washers (image at top) to hold the paper in place. No wobble there! I’ll hopefully add more colorful design flare to the device and most certainly tweak the mechanism until I run out of time.

jchismar Magic Designer Art Machine

Please come to the Greater Newark, NJ Mini Maker Faire on Saturday, May 6 to play with my art machines. There’s more on the way! And of course there will be many other talented makers at the event to inspire and keep you busy for a day of fun.

Wooden Pendulum Drawing Machine

jchismar Wooden Drawing Machine

I’ve received confirmation on my application for the 2017 Greater Newark, NJ Maker Faire Saturday May 6, 2017. This year my exhibit is titled Art Through Motion and I’ll be building various mechanisms to create Spirograph like drawings. The Wooden Pendulum Drawing Machine is the first prototype I’ve created.

This simple mechanism suspends a canvas from wires over a stationary Sharpie marker. The artist urges the canvas into a swinging motion then drops the marker into position. When the swinging of the canvas ceases the artist removes the marker and decides if more drawing is required. If so, the artist starts the process over again and may choose a different color marker.

The drawing above was created on this mechanism. I’ve titled it “Galaxies” and it’s available for $2000.00, only kidding, it’s not for sale. It’s priceless. I couldn’t make another one just like it if I tried.

But seriously, stay tuned for more news about my projects for the Greater Newark Maker Faire. I have many more cool drawing machines in the works.

How to Draw a Spiral and Make a Home-made Top

The Newark Maker-Faire is less than two weeks away and I’ve been hard at work finishing up my exhibit Home-made Toys for Girls and Boys. This past weekend I continued assembling toys for display at the show. One such toy is a spiral top described by A. Neely Hall in his book about home-made toys. I created this short video describing how to draw a spiral and build the top.  Get your craft supplies ready and I’ll see you at the Newark Museum Saturday April 30.

An Electric Toy Shocking Machine


jchismar electric shocker toyThe Toy Shocking Machine, in all honesty, is a primary reason I chose to construct projects from the 1915 book Home-Made Toys for Girls and Boys for the upcoming 2016 Newark Maker Faire. The innocent nostalgia transports to simpler times when children were encouraged to challenge themselves and explore their world without restraint. Maintaining youthful spirit I imagined owning a device to shock myself, friends, family and strangers for entertainment. I’m old enough to remember similar devices making a splash at amusement parks and science class.

With giddy anticipation I started constructing the heart of the device, the induction-coil. The coil consists of two windings of different gauge wire around an iron bolt. A rapidly interrupted flow of electricity is applied to the central primary coil to create an oscillating magnetic field which, in turn, creates high voltage across the outer secondary coil. The high voltage discharges between the two ends of the secondary coil in the hands of a volunteer.

jchismar shocking toy interupter
Electricity Interrupter #1

In hindsight it’s easy for me to parrot the above information and sound as though I know what I’m talking about. I enjoy tinkering with hobby electronics however my understanding is often limited. When I attached the coil to a battery I was baffled as to why it wasn’t shocking me. Confused, I texted electronics genius friend Charlie England. He responded “…you have to apply voltage and remove it very quickly…” I hastily constructed an interrupter as described in the book. Turning the crank created an entertainingly loud racket and a few sparks, but nothing shocking from the secondary coil.

Charlie suggested testing the electromagnetic properties of the coil. I grabbed a small washer, verified it was steel with a real magnet and applied power to the coil. Nothing, the washer fell to the table without hesitation. The only thing that made sense was to apply more power (amps). Working in increasing intervals I finished with two 6-volt lantern batteries in series attached to the coil. No electromagnet but plenty of heat – which is undesirable. Defeated, I informed Charlie I was going to make another coil. He responded with four words, “Send me the coil.” Yessir, the coil was packed and on its way the following morning.

jchismar shocking toy
Electricity Interrupter #2

After receiving the delivery Charlie went to work testing my induction coil. The coil only created a 90 volt spike using a 10 volt power source. Charlie determined the secondary coil needed triple the amount of wire layers to generate a palpable shock. Charlie also designed and created an interrupter circuit employing a proximity switch. It was left to my imagination on how to integrate this interrupter circuit into the device. Because the proximity switch detects ferritic material I created a wheel with thumbtacks placed at fixed intervals around the perimeter. When a thumbtack passes under the proximity switch the switch turns on, when the thumbtack passes the switch turns off.

I added several more layers of wire to the coil, attached it to the new hi-tech interrupter and with a little fussing around, success! A tangible shock was felt when the interrupter was engaged. Knowing the coil was working correctly I built the third and final interrupter for the circuit integrating wooden gears to increase the switching frequency. Everything works like a charm. I will continue tinkering with this device leading up to the Maker Faire to ensure an entertaining and dependable experience.

Buzz-saw Whirligig / Saw-Mill Buzzer

jchismar buzz saw whirligig

Also known as a button-on-a-string, the buzz-saw whirligig is a noise-making device which utilizes an object centered on a loop of cord. The buzzer described in Home-made Toys for Girls and Boys spins a cardboard saw blade to generate its hypnotizing whirring sound. Using both hands the enjoyer must hold each end of the loop and rotate the saw blade to wind the loop. The blade is whirred by adding and releasing tension on the loop which unwinds and, because of the angular momentum of the blade, winds the loop again in the opposite direction.

Making a buzzer is a fun, fast and instantly rewarding project. Cut cardboard, glue a “spool-end” on the center of each side, drill two holes for the cord in the spool-ends, thread the cord through the holes and tie the ends together to create a loop. To my amazement my first buzzer worked splendidly; however Fleur our poodle isn’t as amused by the osculating pitch emanating from the new mysterious gizmo.

I decided build a bunch of buzzers as swag for the Newark Maker Faire. Friends saved cardboard from recycling and donated it to the cause. The cord for the buzzers was retrieved from a pile of bakery string saved from years of bakery boxes. Small bits of recycled broom handle are substituted for spool-ends because I don’t have many spools in inventory.  The title artwork of my exhibit  was printed on the cardboard using a carved linoleum block. To print each buzzer ink was applied to the carved linoleum block using a brayer, the buzzer cardboard was placed over the inked block and pressure was applied to transfer the ink from the block to the cardboard. When the ink dried I cut each buzzer out with a pair of scissors.

Please stop by my exhibit at the Newark Maker Faire, Saturday April 30 to pick up your free buzzer while supplies last!

A Home-made Toy Motor-boat toy motor boatThe Toy Motor-boat is the first project I completed for my exhibit at the Newark Maker Faire. I wanted to test the boat before I posted and I was slow finding an appropriate time and location to do so. The delay was, in part, because I wasn’t sure it would float let alone propel itself on water. I needed to find a private location with easy accessibility to the water.
jchismar toy motor boat

To build the motor-boat I cut a pine 2 x 4 into the shape of a boat (steps 1 and 2). Using the table saw I trimmed long thin strips from the  2 x 4 and glued them to the sides and back of the boat (step 3). After I painted the inside of the boat (step 4) I realized the stern of the boat was supposed to be angled forward, not straight up and down. I cut off the stern at the appropriate angle and replaced the wood. Step 5 shows the top of the bow being planed from a piece of the 2 x 4. The top of the bow was glued and clamped to the body of the boat in Step 6.  When the glue was dry I sanded everything and completed the exterior painting.

This boat is propelled by rubber bands stretched underneath the boat which are attached to a “tin” propeller. I was certain when the propeller was wound and placed in water the propeller would release all the rubber band energy in one quick burst, much like it does holding it in the air, creating a splash behind a stationary boat. That is if the 2 x 4 boat didn’t capsize before then.

Testing day arrived. Alone, I drove to Branch Brook Park and parked near the Prudential Concert Grove. I grabbed the camera and my motor-boat and sat at the water between Karl Ritter’s lions and anxiously wound the propeller. In my right hand I held the fueled up boat, the camera in my left. Chimes sounded from the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart as I prepared to be soaked while releasing the boat. At first I thought something was wrong, there was no revving sound or splashing. Then the boat slowly moved away, the propeller turning at a moderate rate.

The propeller rotated almost a minute pushing the boat about fifteen feet against the wind and current. It may have gone further if I paid more attention to releasing slack on the return line. What a surprising outcome! To be sure it really happened I tried a few more times, just as successful as the first. It was time to get ready for work so the testing wrapped up quickly. Otherwise the better part of the day would have been spent sitting by the water playing with the home-made toy.

Clog-dancer Jig Doll Limberjack

“In these days when everybody is talking about doing his thing, here’s the story of a boy that not only talks about it, but does it.”
~My Side of the Mountain movie trailer

jchismar clog dancer jig doll limberjack

I’m learning, as I continue to build A. Neely Hall toys for the Newark Maker Faire, I grossly underestimate the time required to produce each project. Some blame can be placed on keeping true to the 1915 materials and instructions. For instance, the instructions describe the arms and legs as whittled sticks, so the extremities are whittled wood instead of pre-made wooden dowels. The body was cut from a discarded broom-handle found in a storm drain while walking Fleur. The head, hat and shoulders are made from wooden spools; the hands and feet are carved from basswood.

Tacks are inserted at each joint to attach the limbs with heavy linen thread. Tying tiny knots closely together onto mini metal tacks proved more challenging than anticipated. Smaller and more plentiful hands would accomplish the task more quickly. Even the not-so-professional paint job required a surprising amount of patience and time. Does the finished project reflect the work behind its folksy finish?

Tapping the “stage” reproduces a perfect Michael Flatley so, heck yeah the payoff is worth the effort. I can entertain myself for a long spell while simultaneously irritating everyone within earshot of the tapping and clacking. Win. Win.

Constructing a Vintage Cricket-Rattle : 2016 Greater Newark Maker Faire

A Neely Hall Cricket Rattle

I submitted my application to the 2016 Greater Newark, NJ Maker Faire a few days go for my exhibit titled Home-Made Toys for Girls and Boys. This year I am constructing many of the projects described in A. Neely Hall’s 1915 book Home-Made Toys for Girls and Boys. Anticipating the acceptance of my application I began building several of the toys. In the book Mr. Hall explains, “A Cricket-rattle is about the liveliest form of rattle ever devised. After constructing one for your sister or brother, you probably will decide to make one for yourself.”

john p chismar cricket rattleBecause of his bold statement I decided to make three cricket-rattles to sell or share. The first time I tried the rattle I expected a chirping sound, instead loud cracks shot straight into my ears leaving them ringing. More awesome than I anticipated! Before painting the rattles red or blue, as the instructions asserted, I decided to add tramp art carved embellishment around the fringe which I painted yellow.

I have a few other projects already completed for the faire and many more on the drawing board. With any luck my application will be accepted permitting me to proceed full speed into the past opening doorways to forgotten pastimes. I hope to see you there.

North Jersey Woodcarvers’ 31st Annual Wood Carving & Art Show & Sale 2015

north jersey woodcarvers' 31st annual wood carving & art show & sale 2015

This past weekend I presented a table at the North Jersey Woodcarvers’ 31st Annual Wood Carving and Art Show and Sale. As usual there are many things made by talented craftspeople to spark imagination and inspire.

My carvings were on display through the NJ Woodcarvers in previous years, but this is the first year with my own table. My time-lapse carving videos displayed on a monitor including some never before seen projects. Also, a selection of my carvings and woodworking were on display and whirligig parts were available for sale.

It was fun sharing a weekend with old friends as well as making new friends. I purchased art from artist Anthony Santella  who also gifted a few old clockworks (I’ll do something with these someday). I carved a bunch of stars as well as practicing carving wooden pliers. One of my pliers attempts concluded abruptly with a nice cut on my thumb. Luckily Amy reminded me to pack Band-aids.