Now that the box is assembled, it is time to arm it.

  • Begin by folding up the four inside panels of the inner box. Use the supporter tabs to prevent it from collapsing in on itself.
  • Raise the sides of the inner box and wrap it from the outside with single appropriately-sized rubber band
  • Do the same to the outer box with a second rubber band.
  • Once both boxes are secured, it is time to add the butterflies.
  • If you want your butterflies to «fly», you will need to curve the forewings slightly (see photo) and you must then wind those wings in the direction of the curve you have created, whichever direction that is. A pencil or similar may work well for curling the wings. Make sure you create these curls in the same direction (clockwise or counterclockwise, your choice) on both wings, and that you then twist them that same direction.
  • Once you have 20-30 windings on the wings, insert each butterfly into the spaces between the inner and outer boxes. Do not wind them 40 times, as this will cause them to come unwound inside the box.
  • Remove the rubber band from the inner box by lifting it out gently, being careful not to disturb the butterflies
  • Attach the box lid.
  • Gently slip the remaining outer rubber band DOWN off the outer box.
  • Your butterfly box is now armed and ready for action!

The box was the hard part to make, but the magic lies in the butterflies themselves. To this end, you will want butterflies that fly as high and far as possible when the box is opened. The following notes and tips are here to assist with this. The box will probably «explode» just fine even if you do none of these things, but for the perfectionist, the following should be quite useful for getting the greatest possible bang out of your butterfly explosion box buck!

Notes on the butterflies: the rubber bands these come with are usually pretty crappy, but are also, it turns out, ideal: they will tend to oxidize fairly quickly (within two or three months) and will become sticky and lose their tension, but they have the ideal built-in strength while fresh and will allow the butterflies to fly far and wide. If you replace them with common «fresh» rubber bands from your own rubber band drawer, you will find that the butterfly will fly not nearly as far nor will it remain airborne nearly as long, though it may have a fast takeoff. Such is the nature of rubber bands. This is because most «American» rubber bands (though they may still come from China) are designed for greater strength and less stretch. When used in a butterfly, this will cause them to unwind too quickly. You need to stick with the ones that originally come with the butterflies if you want them to really fly. The Chinese thought of this already. While waiting to use the butterflies, keep them inside their original plastic bags or else in fresh zip-loc bags with the air removed. The enemies of rubber are light and oxygen. The bags do not need to be completely air tight, they just need to keep air from circulating around the rubber.

Another tip: as already mentioned, the upper wings need to be curled in order to maximize flight time. But every moment the butterflies sit in their box, all armed and ready to go, there is tension that is trying to flatten out these wings. I have found that sometimes this causes the wings to lose their curl, and for their flights to then be disappointing when leaving the box. One solution (which is desperate, but works) is to place a very short strand of curved metal band taken from inside a manual watch winding mechanism and using superglue to attach the strip to the wing. Doing this ensures the wing will retain its curve in transit. This is a perfectionist modification to the wings, and is certainly not necessary to have them work fine, but it will maximize the «wow!» factor of the box. Most people do not keep a tray of watch winding mechanisms on hand to do this with, however.

Another tip: replacing the wings with ones you make yourself is risky: the paper needs to be at least as stiff as the one the butterflies come with (thickness about 0.07mm) which is thicker than regular printer paper. Also, the paper needs to be decorated on both sides, so if you attempt to generate new wings using your printer, you will have to try to line up the front and back sides of the printout, which is a total hassle and only worth the effort in exceptional circumstances. Also, consider that the person receiving the box will likely not even notice the colors on the wings as the box is opened. The fluttering flight of the butterflies will completely absorb them for the one second this lasts. They really could be any color, so long as they fly. The curvature of the wings is much more important than whatever color they are, as this is the thing which will determine flight direction and distance.

Reiterated tip: when winding up the butterfly, you must wind them in the direction of the curve of the forewings. Think of the outermost point of these wings as being your direction-of-twist, and twist the wings in this direction. If you twist the wings the wrong way, the butterfly will «launch» backwards, and will go nowhere at all. Try this a few times before you make and finalize your box. The direction of twist will depend entirely on which way the forewings are curved. It could be either direction, so be sure to check this before you finalize your box. If the wings are simply flat, the butterfly will still fly, just not upwards. Since there are four of them to distract the recipient, this may not matter so much.

Also important: the butterflies will be under tension. If the gap between the outer box and the inner box is too great, or if you wind the butterflies too tightly, they will start unwinding inside the box. Not good. Make sure that A.) the gap between the outer and inner boxes is no more than 1/2″ AT MOST, and 2.) do not wind the butterflies beyond about 30 turns. If a butterfly starts to become unwound in transit, there is nothing you will be able to do to do stop it. It will just become a «dead» butterfly. That’s okay, so long as the remaining 3 butterflies are still live.

Further tip:

The other thing that the butterflies need to maintain a semi-direct flight path is they need to have stable flat rear wings. The whole time the butterflies are inside the box waiting to be set off, these rear wings are slowly being curved opposite the forewings. After enough time, this curvature will be enough to compromise the flight. The solution is analogous to the one for getting the forewings to curve: small pieces of watch spring. this kind of metal is easily straightened out with the fingernails, and then a small strip of it can be cut off and glued perpendicular to and attached to the body on each of the rear wings. Doing this will greatly improve their ability to withstand the pressure from the forewings while in the box, and will allow the butterflies to travel further and in more rectilinear flight path. Again, you need to have watch springs around to do this. They are extremely light, extremely strong (without being too brittle) and are easy to attach. They are also quite discrete. You could try reinforcing these parts of the wings with paper instead, but the paper is probably going to add significantly to the overall weight, and slow the butterfly down— the metal watch spring piece, despite being metal, will not do this.

Another butterfly tip: make sure the wings are securely attached to the plastic parts. Often the glue used to hold them in place is insufficient, and if a paper wing comes loose, it will not allow the butterfly to fly when the box is opened. Check each wing and use dabs of superglue to hold any loose wings in place. You may also want to use superglue to make sure the folds used to attach the wings lie flat.

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