Miniature Kite How To
This page isn't intended to tell you how to make a miniature kite, but instead to share some of
the things I do to make them.  There may be some useful tips in here, somewhere.

Tools:  The tools I use most, are pretty basic.  They include small scissors (thread snips), self-closing
tweezers, round-nosed hemostats with smooth jaws, Xacto knife, nail clippers, needle and thread, white
glue, rubber cement, double-sided tape, and a sheet of plate glass for a work surface, so I don't cut up
tabletops.

Sail Material:   For miniatures, I use two different materials, so far. Paper and plastic.

Paper:    I use an imported tissue from Japan (10grams per square meter). It's the strongest paper for
it's weight that I have found. I started with standard off-the-shelf tissue, but had trouble with ink
bleeding when I went to decorate it. After a couple years of looking for paper, I ran across this stuff in
an art store in Seattle, and have been using it for 20 years, now.

Alternative papers can be anything that is light and strong. Floral paper is strong, but not very light.
White wrapping tissue is a good start, as long as you don't use stamps or felt pens to decorate it.
Colored pencils and ball-point pens will work fine on wrapping tissue, especially if you put a piece of
paper under it while you do your decorations. An alternative to drawing your own decorations is to
apply a "papercut" to the paper before you cut out the kite. This adds weight, so use as little glue as
you can. (A spray adhesive works great for this.)

For many years, lots of people have used napkins with printed designs on them, peeling the napkin
apart, until they have just the layer with the printing on it. This works great, but the paper can be
damaged easily.

Plastic:  I don't really use "plastic". What I use is metallic mylar, or cellophane-type material. You can
find this in craft stores, or anywhere that sells lots of wrapping paper. It's far more durable than any
paper, but brings with it a weight consideration. To decorate this material, a permanent-ink felt-tip
marker is about all that will work (I found a printing process for decorating the kites I make in volume).
Some of the metallic-looking stuff is treated with a layer that even prevents marker ink from sticking to
it, so be prepared to do some experimenting with different brands.

The thin plastic bags you get at the grocery store would make a good alternative, depending on the
kite you want to build. This material doesn't hold itself flat, so has to be held open with spars in every
direction, or by the wind when it flies.

Plastic, cellophane, or mylar will probably require using a rubber cement of some sort to attach the
spars. I prefer rubber cement in a tube, so I can just take what I need at any one time. White glue
should be avoided, because it just won't stick. Again, depending on the size of the kite, different colors
of material can be joined together using a double-stick tape, before cutting out the kite. Just remember
to keep it light!

Spars:     I use split bamboo or mono-filament, depending on the sail material.
I've seen very small kites made with carbon fiber spars, and heard of others made with boron wire. I
have not tried either of these, because I get great results with bamboo spars on paper kites, and
mono-filament spars on cellophane miniatures.

Bamboo Spars:  If this was easy, I'd be retired in Tonga, by now. There are many sources for
bamboo, but the most convenient is those barbeque skewers you can get in the grocery store.  One
package is all you'll need to make several hundred miniature kites. The only drawback is splitting the
stuff.

I start with a comfortable place to sit, something to listen to, a strong light, a single-edge razor blade,
something to catch the pieces I don't use, and a cold drink. Basically, splitting bamboo is just that.
I push the razor blade into the blunt end of the bamboo to get it started, and twist the blade a little, to
separate the bamboo along the grain. When I get about halfway along the length of the skewer, I grab
the split ends and pull the razor through the other end. Then, it's the same thing with one of those
pieces, splitting it lengthwise. When it's too small to split from one end, I use nail clippers to take off the
other end and start splitting the other way. Usually this results in a piece that's fat in the middle, and
lots of shorter pieces. The fat piece can be trimmed by carefully pulling it along the razor until it's
uniform in size and flexibility along the length of the piece.

It took me a couple years to get any good at this. Be careful about not cutting yourself with the
razor, OR the bamboo. Sharp edges on the bamboo can cut skin as easy as the razor blade does, but
bamboo-cuts hurt like the dickens (more like a paper-cut).

Depending on the size and number of kites you want to make, one-quarter of a skewer can make
plenty of bamboo spars. The short pieces that come off can be trimmed down in diameter and used,
also.

For the horizontal (cross spar) piece on a diamond kite, I curve the bamboo by steaming it until it's
soaked, then let it cool. While it's still wet, it can be taped at the ends to hold it curved around a
small glass, jar, or cardboard tube. Once it dries it will hold much of the curve, so you won't need a
line across the back of the kite to hold the dihedral. It doesn't take a lot of dihedral to make a good
cross spar, so if it needs to be straightened a little, do that before gluing it to your kite.

Mono-filament Spars: Okay, this is just fishing line. I looked for other things to use, but wound up with
good ol' fishing line about thirty lbs test. The thing with fishing line is that it's got a coil in it from being
on the spool, so it has to be straightened and then formed again, if you need a dihedral. I've heard of
people using brush bristles, but I'm not going to buy several pounds of brush bristles (Okay, I broke
down and BOUGHT brush bristles. I almost had to beg a manufacturer to sell them to me, and
ordered by the pound. Wasn't cheap, but got enough to last my lifetime). I saw a kite made with a
couple tiger whiskers..., but DANG, I don't have a tiger handy.

So, fishing line it is. To straighten the line, I wind it around a wooden board (oak is best because pine
sap stinks when it gets hot) and heat it in the oven at about 125 degrees (F). Fifteen minutes is about
all it takes to soften the material, then it can be taken out to cool. I cut the ends off where it is kinked,
and end up with more straightened mono-filament than I can use in a year. The straight pieces can be
cut to length, using nail clippers. Letting these pieces sit for a couple months will help stabilize them so
they don't curl after you've built your kite with them, but they may be used right away if you're in a
hurry to try it out.  To put a dihedral in a straight piece, I use a low wattage soldering iron. The tip of
a hot glue gun will work for this. Even a nail heated over a flame is ok, but not very controllable.  

As with plastic sail material, mono-filament spars won't stick to white glue very well, so should be
applied with some sort of rubber cement. I leave the spars longer than I need, trimming the ends with
nail clippers after they are attached to the kite.

Bridle:    This is where I use the needle and thread.

Once the kite is decorated, cut out and assembled, it's time to make it fly. For my miniatures, I use a
thread bridle attached to a very fine mono-filament flying line on a winder. Mono-filament flying line
has less drag than thread. The thread bridle adds lots of flexibility for the kite to take whatever attitude
it might need according to wind conditions.  It's also easier to tie knots in than mono-filament.

Finding the place to attach the bridle has the most impact on how it will fly. When I'm working on a
new design, I will attach a piece of thread to the end of some flying line, then use a very small piece of
tape or sticky label to attach the thread to a point on the kite, moving it up or down the face of the kite
to see if it will work with a single line bridle. If there is a suitable attachment point, I use a threaded
needle to loop the bridle around the center spar (spine) of the kite, pushing the needle through the front
of the kite, then back through to the front, again. I leave a longer thread than I need, so it's easier to tie
the knots, trimming the extra after the knots are done.

To tie the thread to the kite, I use the kind of knot that's used for tying a surgical stitch (described
below). On the other end of the thread bridle, I just tie an overhand loop. This loop is where I attach
the mono-filament flying line(also described below).

Knots:   There are only three knots I use on miniatures.  

Overhand Loop: This knot makes a loop in the end of the bridle line, so the flying line can be attached.
I just double my thread bridle and tie a knot close to the doubled end. The excess can be trimmed off,
so I leave myself plenty of thread to work with. Using tweezers or hemostats helps keep the loop small.

Suture Knot: Used for attaching a single point bridle to a kite. This is a sort of "cinch" knot, I think.
With the thread through the kite, around the spar and both ends on the front side of the kite, I do two
wraps around the end of my hemostats (tweezers can be used) and then grab the other end of the thread
with the tip of the hemostats and pull it snug. I let go with the hemostats and do two wraps the other way
around the end of the hemostats, grab the other end with the hemostats again, and pull snug. The excess
can be trimmed pretty close to the knot, but not so close it will untie when tugged.

Fishing Knot: Fishing knot is the only name I know for this. Dad showed it to me when I was a kid.
We used it for putting a hook on the end of fishing line. I use it for attaching the flying line to the loop in
the bridle. I thread the mono-filament flying line through the loop in the end of the bridle thread, then
hold the loop while wrapping the loose end of the mono-filament around the flying line (five or six
wraps is plenty). I put the end of the mono-filament back through the loop of mono-filament at the
beginning of the wraps and holding the end, pull it tight. The extra can be trimmed close to the knot.


I hope you found something useful in here that helps you with your own miniature kite-making.
Drop me a line if you have questions, comments, or just to say "Hi".  
tom@littlekites.com
This page created and maintained by Tom Tinney 2014