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Building Dreams With Vision
A Builder's Journal

A Builder's Journal
(or What Would Da Vinci Do?)
hard at work

Editor’s note:
Early in his career, Imagination Factory’s 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 tips too!

Where I’m coming from:
big fingersMy 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. I’ve 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, isn’t so very hard to do. (See On Literary Bents.)

On Literary Bents versus Spatial Bents…
diagramsIgnore the text at your own peril. While I’m 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 there’s a little something more you need to bring to the table to enjoy the sense of accomplishment on completion.

On Adaptability and Growth:
Adapt 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 can’t 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 don’t 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 Do?
improviseLet’s be honest, folks. He’d 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, he’d have applied some creative thinking and made the best use of objects at hand to solve the problem. If alive today, maybe he’d just have come to the website and reordered parts. (Plug plug).

But the true Da Vincian spirit is that of bricoleur. In other words, make it up as you go along. You’ve seen that mesh fabric in your sweetheart’s 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…
eurekaJust as with any challenge in life, those things which come too easily don’t 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.’ It’s a methodical but creative achievement that bends and blends the better parts of our gray matter.

And if everything is just right, you’ll 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 lawyer says.)

In the end, the many-thumbed hand can prevail.

Cliff notes from Ken’s excellent adventure:


  1. 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 Glue.

  1. Where do I find a 1mm drill bit & what is the non metric equivalent?
  2. 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. (see photo)

  3. Do I really need everything on the materials list ?
  4. 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 didn’t use where clothes pins, pin vice, waxed paper, coping saw, and some of the stains that I used didn’t conform completely to specifications.

  5. 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)

  6. 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 Vinci’s designs the idea was to weave feathers into the mesh for a birdlike effect.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

  3. What’s 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.
  4. 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 photo)

  5. Is it necessary to shape the ribs into hexagons?
  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. Is it possible to mark black thread with a black marker?

    Ans. One builder called this a zen koan. The answer is yet to be determined, but I couldn’t 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
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: Don’t 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 photo)

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 useful.

• Measure twice, cut once. —Tim Tool Time Taylor

• 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.


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