Dowel Barn Door Kite
First Flight

by MBK Flight Reporter: Craig Ensley
(Lebanon, OR, USA)

The MBK Barn Door Kite in flight next to the moon

The MBK Barn Door Kite in flight next to the moon

The MBK Barn Door Kite in flight next to the moon
Another in flight shot at the edge of the park
The kite up at 200 feet or so
The Barn Door just touching down next to Brennan

This evening was the first feature length flight of my MBK Dowel Barn Door Kite!

Construction was pretty much stock according to the MBK plans and technique. However, I chose to use 3/16" spars instead of 1/4". The 5mm spars that are called for in the plans actually work out to be a little shy of 1/4" On the other hand 3/16" spars are much smaller and weaker than 5mm.

(A note to readers... The e-book "Making Dowel Kites" will be handy if you decide to have this kind of experience for yourself one day - Tim P.)

I usually opt for 1/4" because light, consistent breezes are a rarity here in the Willamette Valley. Wind in Oregon seems to be either 10+ MPH or less than 5 MPH. As flimsy as the 3/16" spars are in 48" length, this kite was going to be a light build that I could fly in even the lightest breeze. I was willing to sacrifice some strength for weight.

All throughout the building process, I was determined to make this a very light kite with no excess weight...

I used the minimum amount of clear tape necessary to hold things firmly in place. I use clear cellophane tape (box tape) that I cut into strips by sticking strips on a piece of scrap wood or glass and cutting lengthwise with a knife or razor. I've found that it stretches less than scotch tape.

For the spar pockets, I use regular electricians tape. As I type this, I get the idea of using strapping tape; that's the clear stuff with strings embedded in it. It's just a thought. The only area that could be lighter is the bridle. I chose to use small split rings in place of the Prusik knot. These added a very small amount of weight, but I trust their simplicity more than my knot work.

All these ingredients added up to a 2.0 ounce kite that would fly in winds that were previously out of the question!

I almost always carry some type of kite in the trunk of my car in case I end up at the park or anywhere else with wind and grass.

Lately, I have been carrying my MBK Delta for light winds, and a rhombus Box for the stronger winds. As much as I like the delta, I usually can't get it out of ground effect in these 5 MPH breezes. I expect the Barn Door kite to excel at light wind flight.

Yesterday evening, I made the mistake of trying to fly the Barn Door Kite in 15 MPH winds. It made it high enough to do some adjusting on the bridle, but the kite ultimately ended up with a broken spar. On the other hand, my rhombus box kite got a "super-fantastic" flight. Every time I fly that box kite I am shocked at the stability of it. It is, as they say, "nailed to the sky" much like a large tetrahedron.

The night before, I had the kite out in our front yard trying to set the tow point. This went well, but the kite still had a pull to the left. I'm guessing it was due to an uneven bow in the spar. I had to do some sanding to get an even curve on my cross spar. It took two 1/2" adjustments to get to kite to fly true, but I got it after a while.

This evening I wanted to get a good flight on the Barn Door Kite so I loaded it up and headed over to the park again. It was very calm at the park, but there was enough wind at 100 feet or so to fly it.

I could see the cottonwood leaves "fluttering" from about 100 feet up. This was a sure sign of usable wind that I didn't want to waste. At this point, I was willing to jog or walk quickly in this case until I found enough wind to fly with.

This kite was light enough to fly in these light breezes so I just walked along and let the line out as it asked for more. It didn't pull much when it was at an 85 degree line angle.

I did have to take out all the adjustments from earlier and put them back to stock. Every time the kite got down in the eye of the wind, it would swerve to the right until it landed This happened twice, but it flew great once the bridle was adjusted.

Much to my delight, there was definitely enough wind to keep this kite up in it's element! I was also able to get a good video clip of the kite which I will share with anyone interested in building one of these kites. About half way through the flight, the wind died and the kite settled for a bit. Fortunately, the breeze returned for another 15 minutes and I got one more short flight in before the wind went to bed for the night.

Overall, this was an enjoyable evening flight. The kite is a fantastic light wind flyer that is capable of handling some small gusts, but not too much with the 3/16" spars. It is a very stable kite that I would not hesitate to fly at the beach with thicker spars.

I would recommend this kite for anyone in an inland environment that doesn't get good sea breezes all the time. The construction was very simple and straightforward with no tricky areas whatsoever. This would be perfect for a first time builder who wants something unique!

In the future I plan to do a six foot Barn Door, and an eight foot version if that goes well. I am going to use something that is not clear for these subsequent kites. In view of this, I am experimenting with "lumber tarps" that contractors and lumber stores use to cover stacks of dimensional lumber while it is being shipped and/or stored. I have been able to get quite a number of these tarps for free on through a contractor in Portland, OR. I can only assume that there are lumber stores all over even in places with fewer trees than Oregon since people will always need to build houses.

Download the e-book "Making Dowel Kites" here.

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First Flight

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Apr 24, 2013
Spar Facts
by: Anonymous

5mm = .19685 inches.
6mm = .23622 inches.
3/16" = 4.7625 mm.
1/4" = 6.35 mm.

The issue is in wood composition. I may try using white oak for spar material on a later kite, but white oak is known for it's weight and flexibility.

If I recall correctly, you use Tasmanian oak, a hard wood, whereas we use Chinese Poplar which is not as hard as oak for sure. The grain is also less pronounced with some runout & knots. I get strange looks at WILCO when I pick through 30+ dowels as if I were grading spars for an airplane.

Yes, 5mm is closer to 3/16" than 1/4", but I would rather use a bit more material and have a stronger frame.

I only use 1/4" spars because the 3/16" poplar is simply not strong enough for even the lightest breezes here in Oregon.

The dowel delta would probably work with 3/16", but the Barn Door and Rokkaku would break in anything strong enough to fly in. The smaller dowel certainly flies better!

3/16" Fir or spruce, on the other hand would work quite nicely as it is much stronger and widely available (in 2X4 form) the Pacific NW. I would have to mill it to size.

Also, any given dowel's strength and weight increase exponentially with an increase in diameter. Conversely, strength and weight decrease as size decreases.

*Tim, Just to be clear, I am in no way suggesting that your methods are flawed, nor should they be revised. I am simply giving a report on the way dowels perform in this part of the United States with the materials available at reasonable cost.

Apr 24, 2013
Spar Widths
by: Tim Parish

Interesting hearing about your ultra-light-wind exploits! However, your comments about spar widths had me feverishly re-checking my figures...

1 inch = 2.54cm, which means that 3/16" is only a tiny fraction slimmer than 5mm. On the other hand, 1/4" is a lot wider than 5mm, by comparison. So, I stand by my conclusion that 3/16" is the most reasonable equivalent to 5mm. If I'm wrong, there's a ton of plans and diagrams on web pages and in e-books that need to be changed - hopefully not :-)

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E-book special of the month...

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Wind Speeds

Light air
1-5 km/h
1-3 mph
1-3 knots
Beaufort 1

Light breeze
6–11 km/h
4–7 mph
4–6 knots
Beaufort 2    

Gentle breeze
12–19 km/h
8–12 mph
7–10 knots
Beaufort 3    

Moderate breeze
20–28 km/h
13–18 mph
11–16 knots
Beaufort 4    

Fresh breeze
29–38 km/h
19–24 mph
17–21 knots
Beaufort 5    

Strong breeze
39–49 km/h
25–31 mph
22–27 knots
Beaufort 6

High Wind
50-61 km/h
32-38 mph
28-33 knots
Beaufort 7