Dragonfly Garden Art
Let your imagination take off...copper wire and beads give this fun project wings.
By Eric Smith, St. Paul, Minnesota
My kids love projects. And this one—which captures the delicacy and color of dragonflies in a simple garden ornament—immediately caught Iris' attention.
Iris is the family bead expert and brought her expertise to this project. Although she's a little nervous around real dragonflies, copper ones embellished with beads were her thing.
I spend lots of time in the workshop, knee-deep in materials and tools, and my children are always eager to help out. Iris couldn't wait to have a chance to work with my soldering tools. She has been using real tools since she was 5 years old, and with a little coaching, she was able to assemble several dragonflies all by herself.
The only difficulty we encountered was sliding some beads onto the wings' twisty wires. Test them first...not all beads we wanted to use fit.
The dragonflies really came to life when we put the eyes on. Once we finished, we poked them into our garden and stood back to admire them. The sun glistened off the beads.
Iris hasn't settled on permanent spots for them yet—she likes to move them around the yard to see how they look in different places and different light.
She's almost a teenager, and she's developing her own strong ideas now. I couldn't think of a better time to work together on this fun project.
Cut copper tubing to 4 in. with a tubing cutter or hacksaw. Make slight indentations in the copper at the hole locations. using an awl or sharp drywall screw so the drill bit doesn't slip off when you begin drilling.
Drill holes for the wings and eyes with the 1/16-in. bit. Drill a 1/8-in. hole in the bottom for the support rod. Drill the eye holes from both sides rather than straight through so the eyes will be aligned.
Cut a 3-ft. length of 1/16-in. brass rod in half and clean the rods and the body tube with steel wool. Push both rods through the middle holes, center them and solder. Touch the solder to the heated metal—a drop of solder is all that's needed.
Make a jig to form the wings on a scrap piece of 3/4-in. wood. Drill holes, then glue and insert dowels. Mark the center, placing the body of the dragonfly between the two dowels, then bend one rod around the dowels for wings. Trim the ends so that they meet back in the center of the dragonfly, insert them into the proper holes and solder in place.
Beads and Eyes
Wrap about 24 in. of 20-gauge copper wire around the 3/8-in. copper tubing, then stretch it out and cut it in half. Twist one end around the tip of a wing and solder it. Thread the glass beads on, then attach the other end and solder or superglue the wire where it crosses the body. Glue the beads in place.
Insert a 6-in. length of 20-gauge wire through the eye holes. Slide two eye beads on, cross the wires and wrap them once around the body. Bend excess wire into legs and solder the wire at the bottom.
Attach the spring into the back end of the dragonfly with superglue or quick-setting epoxy. If you can't find this size spring, make your own by coiling 20-gauge copper wire around a 1/4-in. machine bolt.
Solder the 1/8-in. brass rod in the hole on the bottom side of the body. Push the rod into the ground and watch your dragonfly hover all year long.
- 3/8" (outside diameter) flexible copper tubing
- 1/16" x 36" brass rod (1 lengthfor each dragonfly)
- 1/8" x 36" brass rod (support)
- 20-gauge copper wire (1 roll)
- 9/32"-diameter x approximately 1-1/2" spring
- Rosin-core leaded solder (for electrical and hobby work)
- Glass beads (from hobby or bead stores)
- 6" wood dowel
- Superglue gel or quick-setting epoxy
(If you have to purchase all the items above, you could spend around $20. After the first dragonfly, they're pretty cheap to make. Some hardware stores sell 3/8" copper tubing by the foot, further reducing the cost.)
- Wire cutters
- Needle-nose pliers
- Tube cutter or hacksaw
- Power drill and drill bits (1/16" and 1/8")
- 3/4" spade bit
- Mini torch or soldering iron
- Fine steel wool
This whimsical butterfly accent will give an extra sparkle to your yard, and keep your dragonfly company. You'll need the same materials used to make the dragonfly outlined before.
To make the butterfly...
- Drill holes in the body at the points shown. Insert 3/4-in. dowels in a wood base.
- Center and solder the 1/16-in. brass rod in the copper body. After it cools, bend it around the dowels to form the wings.
- Bend the ends of the brass rods until they're perpendicular with the body. Cut the ends so they'll meet in the center of the body.
- To make the antennae, center a 5-in. piece of 20-gauge copper wire in the front holes on the body and twist the ends with needle nose pliers. Solder the wings and antennae.
- Make the eyes. Center a 1-inch piece of the copper wire in the eyeholes, then slide on beads for eyes and superglue them to the body. Cut the excess wire back when the glue dries.
- Add color to the wings by experimenting with different patterns of wire and beads. To adorn ours, we made loops of 20-gauge wire (by wrapping the wire around 3/8-in. tubing and stretching the loops) and soldered them across the ends of the wing, then strung beads on lengths of 24-gauge wire that we stretched from the center out to the wingtips. Because the 24-gauge wire is too delicate to solder, we locked it in place by wrapping it tightly around the brass rod and dabbing on a bit of superglue. Then superglue the beads into position.
- Finally, drill a hole in the bottom of the body for a 1/8-in. brass rod to hold your butterfly. Or dangle it from a length of wire to catch the summer breeze.
- Add ladybugs or grasshoppers to your garden critters collection. Just sketch the outline on a piece of wood and then secure dowels at the outside points. Then follow the same steps as making dragonflies and butterflies.