Teaching a group of students about concepts such as harnessing the natural sources of energy around us can be difficult without a tangible exercise to demonstrate. One project which allows the students to learn about wind power, is to have them design and build wind-powered sail cars out of stacked balsa wood sheets. In addition, you can teach the children about aerodynamics with this unit, and have them attempt to create the most aerodynamic car, as determined by a race at the end of the unit.
- Graph paper
- Balsa wood sheets
- Crafting knife
- Wood glue
- Wood clamp
- Sand paper
- Balsa wood sticks, one quarter inch sides
- Fabric shears
- Plastic wheels
- Small nails
Constructing the Body
Sketch your design on the graph paper. Use the graph boxes to maintain your scale, and sketch both a top view and a side view, as it will make outlining the slices of your car's body easier to create. Make your designs no bigger than 3 inches wide, 2 inches high and 6 inches long.
Draw outlines of your body slices on the sheets of balsa wood. Draw each slice slightly larger than your desired final product. This ensures that if any of the pieces shift in the gluing process, your desired form is not lost.
Draw a 1/4 inch by 1/4 inch square in the center of the outlines on your balsa wood sheets. This will be the hole for your mast.
Cut out each body slice from the balsa wood sheets, and stack them to create the shape of your body.
Glue the sheets together to form the general shape of your car, being sure that all of the holes for the mast align.
Clamp the sheets with the wood clamp and leave to dry.
Sand the body of the car down as needed for a smooth finish, and file down any areas which do not match your design. As the slices were drawn slightly larger than designed, it is normal to have to sand around the entire perimeter to get your desired shape.
Adding a Sail and Wheels
Cut three pieces of balsa wood sticks to be 6 inches in length.
Cut a 1/4 inch wide notch into the center of two of the balsa wood sticks with the crafting knife. The notches should be an 1/8 of an inch deep, meaning they will cut halfway through the sticks.
Cut a pair of 1/4 inch wide notches in the remaining stick that are also an 1/8 of an inch thick. The first notch should be at one end of the stick, and the other should be 2 inches from the other end of the stick.
Glue the two sticks from Step 2 to the stick from Step 3 by applying a dab of glue in each notch, then pressing the notch of one of the sticks from Step 2 to each of the notches from Step 3. As each stick has a notch half its thickness deep, the two crossing sticks should sit flush with the stick from Step 3 after gluing.
Cut a 6 inch by 6 inch piece of fabric.
Glue the fabric to the frame created in Step 4, with one end of the fabric glued flush along the top cross beam, and the opposite end of fabric glued flush along the bottom cross beam. This will cause your fabric to have some slack, allowing the sail to catch wind.
Nail your wheels into the body of the car. Do not drive the wheels so far that they are touching the body. A small amount of space is required to allow the wheels to spin freely.
Position the car before a fan and turn on the fan to watch it ride.
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