So you want to make a kite

So you want to make a kite but you don't know where to start !
© Charlie Charlton 1998

I get a considerable amount of mail from people who want to make a kite or kites, but they have no idea where to start, many people see the amazing kites on the web and remember those childhood days when they had kites made for them by a more knowledgeable adult, uncle, father or whoever and now they want to recreate those memories either for themselves or their children.

So here is the answer, a step by step guide to getting your first kite together with the minimum of skill and the maximum of fun and creativity.
( and for very little money )

Making kites that will not disappoint is a combination of patience and knowing the right materials and designs to use, most people remember kites that were, well, kind of kite shaped, in the kite world this kind of kite is generally an Eddy kite, now exactly how big you make it is up to you eddy kites have been made smaller than postage stamps and as big as houses, lets start somewhere in between, I suggest that as a beginning size around 1metre or for those less metric about 3 foot and 4 inches. That size is the same for height as it is for width.

Now the great thing about Eddy kites is they look like kites, are easy to fly and they can fly with or without a tail, here is a simple picture of what I am talking about.

So what is it made of

You can make this kind of kite out of any one of several different materials, depending on how serious you are or how much you want to spend.

Here are a few possibilities for materials, in no particular order.
Brown paper, Mylar, Wrapping paper, polyethylene, Ripstop nylon, Polyester cotton, Tyvek, Washi paper, etc.

Mylar is the silver hologram paper which is quite popular as a gift wrap paper. Advantages very light, cheap and pretty, disadvantages easily torn.

Tyvek is an unusual material often used for disposable overalls, it is made of polyethylene but feels and looks like paper, it is waterproof but can be painted, the problems with tyvek are it is hard to obtain, and it looks patchy when the light comes through it.

Ripstop nylon is available in many different grades and types the only type which is suitable for kites is spinnaker nylon, which is coated, it feels and sounds quite crunchy or crisp in the hand, it is available from kite shops and yachting shops, The advantages are that its is available in a large range of colours, is very beautiful with the light coming through it, it is pretty waterproof, very strong and durable, it is very fray resistant and it is light in weight. The disadvantages are that it requires sewing and some skill with a sewing machine is essential to make a neat job, and it is quite expensive although sometimes seconds or end of roll pieces are cheaper. It is also difficult to paint, although not impossible.

These materials are great for cheap and cheerful kites( although washi paper is not so cheap) the obvious disadvantage of paper is that if it gets even slightly wet from the dew on the grass even it starts to deteriorate quickly

This is the fabric that many modern items of clothing and house hold bedding are made from, it comes in many different weights the best for kites is about the weight of lightweight household bedsheets, of mens shirt material, The advantage of polycotton is it takes paints wonderfully, so if you are thinking about painting consider it. Polycotton however must be sewn on a machine, is rather heavy and is perhaps more for the advanced kitemaker.

This material is very cheap, widely available requires no sewing, but can look a little dull, and is easily torn. if you can get nice bright colours it is an excellent place to start.

Ok so this is all getting a bit complicated, lets start simple and we will get something done, to begin with I recommend using something that does not require sewing, this means Paper, polyethylene, or mylar. whichever you chose doesn't really matter just get whichever you can in a nice big sheet ( you can even join two or three pieces together if you must but be careful about weight and symmetry.


You will need in addition to your sail material, a few other things, materials and tools. here is a quick list to get together.

1. Sticky tape ( preferably clear, best is magic invisible tape )
2. Spars, these need to be ramin dowel, 6mm = 1/4 inch, diameter. (you can use bamboo, carbon fibre, or glass fibre also if you have it and it is even and regular) obviously you will need two pieces each at least 1 metre long.
3. An accurate measuring device, a ruler preferably a long one, or tape measure if you can't get a long rule.
4. Cutting tools, good strong sharp scissors, and or a craft knife/scalpel
5. A ballpoint pen or pencil for marking out cutting lines
6. String or line for the bridles of the kite and to fly the kite on, household linen string is not really suitable for this, try to get either some proper kite line or very strong fishing line (NOT MONOFILAMENT NYLON) braided is best, or twisted pair if absolutely stuck. as a guide try to get around 50lb test (try asking at the fishing shop for dacron line)
7.A dihedral piece, This is not essential but will make life a lot easier if you can get one, they are only cheap and are available from kite stores, (If you live in the UK I even have quite a few and will send you one for a nominal charge- Email me if you want one-) so what is a dihedral piece ? well it's a very clever little piece of plastic which is placed in the middle of the cross spars it makes the wings of the kite point BACK not forwards this lets the wind spill and creates great stability in the kite. Here are a couple of scans of dihedral pieces.

The spine of the kite goes through this hole, and the cross spars insert into the end holes

If you can't get a dihedral piece don't panic all is not lost, we can make the cross spar bowed instead and it will have a very similar effect on the kite.

Lets Make A Kite

Ok so you have all your materials, lets turn them into a kite, lay out you sail material on a nice clean flat surface and measure as accurately as you can the dimensions as shown on the plan above, cut off the 4 outside triangles leaving the kite shape, cut really carefully, no jagged edges, if you use polyethylene or mylar before you cut put a line of sticky tape right over the line, this will strengthen the edge and reduce the risk of a tear. You should now have before you a limp kite shape. Put a couple of layers of sticky tape on the back side of the points marked as the bridle points, this will add strength for when the bridles are attached. make a small hole through each bridle point, it is best to punch or cut the hole rather than poking something through, this will reduce the risk of tearing.

If you have a dihedral piece then great you are almost done, cut the spine piece to exactly the height of the sail, and push the spine through the dihedral piece by 15cm, lay the spine flat on the back of the sail with the two holes of the dihedral piece pointing up, that is back from the sail, using plenty of tape stick the spine to the sail, two long strips of wide sticky tape are best. One piece above the dihedral and one below covering the whole length of the spine. Now cut the other spar in half and push firmly into the dihedral piece, trim the other ends of the spars to match the size of the kite, then stick these cross spars down with more sticky tape.

If you could not get a dihedral piece don't worry you can still proceed, first stick down the spine with one long piece of tape then cut the single cross spar to the width of the kite, don't stick it down yet, at the ends of this cross spar make two notches, this will enable you to attach a bowstring, attach a length of string to one end then pass the line through the notch, pull the string tight and make the spar bend slightly, run the string to the other notch and make a nice knot in the line so it can jam in the knot, this bow should be 4 inches or 10cm at it's maximum point ( in the center) like in the diagram

unhitch the knot and stick the cross spar to the kite securely, when you replace the string now the whole kite will bow.

The bridles are the lines which connect the kite to the flying line, pass a length of line approximately 1.2m or 4 foot through the holes you made earlier so that you have a single piece of line on the front of the kite tie this off at both ends to the spine at the back of the kite.
With the kite facing up lying on the floor pick the kite up with the string find the point on the bridles that makes the front end lift first and reach a height of around 10cm from the floor before the rear (bottom, tail end) of the kite starts to lift off the floor, this point on the line will be your towing point at which you will need to make a small loop and attach the flying line.

TAILS ( optional )
If you have made the kite evenly and accurately you should not need tails, some people like tails however, so to make them cut long thin strips of at least 1.5 metres of sail material, about 3 pieces looks nice, stick these with tape or tie them with line onto the bottom end of the kite

This kite should not need much wind to fly, do not go out on a very windy day, a light breeze is all you need, STRONG WINDS BREAK KITES, Do not run madly with the kite it should fly out of your hand, be careful not to fly near any overhead power lines, or any other dangers such as roads, railway lines, airports or cliffs !, and be considerate of others when flying your kite and obey local laws regarding height, as a guide keep your kite below 200 feet / 60 metres.


Copyright reserved 1998____Charlie Charlton ©