Saturday, April 19, 2014
By Kathryn Roy
The Springfield Republican
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — He hasn’t quit his day job yet, but a Springfield engineer is hoping to grow his grass roots boomerang business. Jeffrey LeBeau, an engineer who started Big Daddy Boomerangs about a year ago, has involved his whole family in his business, with his three sons testing out his new designs and his wife, Kari LeBeau, painting designs on them.
Jeff and Kari LeBeau produce wooden and plastic boomerangs in Springfield, Mass. Their three sons help with design ideas for the family business, Big Daddy Boomerangs.
Mark M. Murray/Springfield Republican
Jeffrey LeBeau said he first discovered boomerangs, the curved lightweight devices that return to the thrower if thrown just right, when he was a teenager. He was in a science museum in Canada when he discovered a book on making boomerangs in the gift shop.
“I started dabbling in it, making some cross-stick-type boomerangs,” he said. “I got them to work, and shared them with my friends at that time.”
He then didn’t pick up a boomerang for years, until he began sharing his love for boomerangs with his children.
“My kids (ages 11, 12 and 14) called me ‘Big Daddy’ growing up, so that’s how I got the name for the business,” LeBeau said. “They are my product testers. They’ll help me design different shapes and colors. It’s a family business.”
Big Daddy will create custom paint designs by request for customers.
Kari, whose passion is throwing pottery, said she doesn’t love boomerangs quite as much as her husband does, but she enjoys contributing to the artistic aspect of the boomerangs he produces.
“I love painting and being a part of that process,” she said. “And he is a great role model for our boys. With every fair, with every order, with every minute he spends in his ‘boom shop,’ he shows our children it’s never too late to chase your passions.”
LeBeau’s sport wooden boomerang is made out of Baltic birch plywood. He said it’s a good material for beginner boomerangs, rather than competition level ones, which he hasn’t attempted yet.
“I really want to introduce people to the sport,” he said. “Teaching them that they really work – that’s part of the excitement.”
LeBeau said a boomerang can be made out of almost any shape.
“The key is to have proper ratios of width to length for the wing, he said. “(There’s also) the thickness of the wing and the air foil shape. There is a lot of science to it. ”
He said there’s also a lot of trial and error.
“I’ve had a bunch that don’t work,” he said. “I either abandon it or I retool it. But for the models that do work, which give me results I’m happy with, I make a template of. I use power tools, but they’re all hand-shaped, unique and different.”
In addition to Big Daddy’s wooden boomerangs, LeBeau created a plastic boomerang that folds up and fits in a pocket.
“I wanted some to carry with me while I’m out hiking, at the beach or at the park,” he said.
He envisions the three-wing Pocket Boom as a popular, new, backyard game.
“Instead of playing Frisbee or lawn darts, let’s play Pocket Boom,” he said. “You have an instant game ready to go, and you don’t have to worry about this thing breaking.”
LeBeau has a patent pending on the Pocket Boom. He buys the plastic from Delaware and a local company laser cuts it for him. LeBeau and his wife do the post-processing of the wings.
LeBeau said he can teach anyone to throw a boomerang. He said kids as young as 5 or 6 can successfully throw the Pocket Boom, and kids 10 or 11 can handle the wooden boomerangs.
“You do need a little athletic ability,” he said. “If you can throw a baseball or softball, you can do it. Boomerang is more of a finesse sport than a muscle sport. It takes practice.”
The direction and speed of the wind also are factors in a boomerang’s performance.
LeBeau is marketing through his website, bdbooms.com, and on social media.