The Kite Reel

Bits Of Stick And Multi-Drum Winches

So, a page all about The Kite Reel. A bit mundane? But hey, I managed to dig up a few things that prompted a chuckle or 2! For instance, take the extremes...

A white kite reel with winding handle and braking.

At one end, you have people who are willing to use a pencil or a stick as a reel! I can only assume these people have flown nothing bigger than a 30 cm (1 foot) kite, and on a line no longer than 20 meters (70 feet) or so. Wouldn't that drive you nuts, winding in a kite on something with such a small diameter. Funny thing was, one guy saw it as a plus! For him, getting a kite in slowly added to the fun.

Each to his own, as they say...

At the other end, there are people out there who are serious about their reels. Take the kite-fishing crowd. Some of these people seem to have far too much disposable income, being willing to part with hundreds of dollars for an electric reel!

I won't dwell on this curious corner of the kite flying world, but had to at least mention it since the electric reel is genuinely designed for operating a kite. Here's a specific example: The Kristal 635 Variable Speed Kite Reel, being offered for the low promotional price of $400 USD. I'm sure it works great, but don't expect to see one down at the beach with a colorful Delta on the end of the line.

Somewhere in between the extremes, there are some quality reels that do an excellent job of holding and letting out your line...

For example, the Black Kite Line Reel with Lock which is available on Amazon. High impact plastic for durability and runs on bearings!

A little note about terminology: I used to think 'reels' were round and 'winders' were flat, but it seems the terms are fairly inter-changeable these days. Perhaps the word 'reels' is used more exclusively for circular or cylindrical devices, but the term 'winder' seems to be applied to just about anything used for storing line.

Extremes aside, it seems the world of kite reels can be roughly divided up into 3 parts...

The Cheap And Handy Kite Reel

Here we have the masses of sticks, toilet rolls, old discarded fishing reels and so on that do the job for small very cheap kites and short lines. These people are just after something very quick and handy. Not to mention absolutely free. Interestingly, the popularity of fishing reels never seems to wane. Indeed, that is exactly what I used as a child when flying my own crude diamond kites!

A cheap and handy reel made from packing case wood

The photo shows one of our winders from the early days of this website. A perfect example of cheap and handy! It's just a small piece of wood I found lying around, which was then shaped by using a wood file.

Whew, removing wood with a file is a bit of a job. Using a saw of some kind is a much better idea, followed by some filing and sanding to finish off. Much easier!

The line on this winder is 3 kg mono-filament fishing line. Great for our little 1-Skewer kites, but not without its problems when used like this. Fishing line works best where it was designed to reside - on fishing reels! We have since moved on to Dacron line of various weights for all our kites.

Now, I have an idea for the ultimate cheap and handy kite reel. Here's the feature list...

  • suits up to 15 meters of 10 pound line
  • lockable with special curling action
  • light-weight and compact
  • natural finish, self-regenerating
  • comes with 9 replacements in assorted sizes
  • will never get lost due to permanent attachment feature
  • full life-time guarantee
  • 100% FREE

Isn't that amazing - it's your finger! ;-)

The Typical Shop-Bought Kite Reel

Moving just a little up-market, there are numerous inexpensive devices on the market that cater for those $50 single-line kites, give or take a few tens of dollars. You know, the kind that are hung all over the walls of your local kite shop. For example, medium sized and attractively decorated deltas, diamonds and even the smaller cellulars. Flying one of these on more than 50 meters of line just isn't practical on something with a small diameter like a pencil. The ability to let out line reasonably quickly is more important with these kites.

My Halo reel with 20 pound Dacron line.

The Halo reel is a tough plastic device with deep sides to keep the line in place. There's ours in the photo, with some 20 pound line on it. Comfortable to grip while flying, and easy to wind on line with reasonable speed.

However, to let out line very quickly, you need a modified design such as the also popular Yo Yo. This reel can be laid on the ground, with its slanted surface letting the line fly off rapidly if required. Great for kite fighting, where contestants often need to reel in and let out a lot of line in a short space of time!

For even more convenience, there is another whole class of reels which come mounted on a solid frame. The frame is braced against your body and a handle on the side of the reel makes winding-on a cinch. Since the reel rotates on a pivot, letting out line is easily controlled by using your hand on the rim as a brake. On some designs you don't even need to use your hand since the friction of rotation can be adjusted while you fly. No danger of line burns here, since you don't need to actually touch the line at any time from launch to landing! There's a picture of one of these right at the top of this page. Used with permission, thanks to the people at

A good reel will also come equipped with a lock of some sort, so when the kite is high enough you can prevent any more line going out. Some setups use interchangeable reels, giving you the option of storing different lines for flying different kites. Or perhaps for flying the same kite in different wind conditions!

All these reels come in a variety of sizes and colors, no doubt in response to demand from the kite-buying public.

Specialist Reels And Winches

This is a very diverse group of kite reels. These people are either kite fishing, putting up fairly large shop-bought or home-built single-liners, breaking altitude records or using very large kites for some other purpose than recreation.

A pricey electric kite fishing reel.

Kite fishing has been touched on already, with its commercially available electric winders.

There's one in the photo, which weighs less than 2 kg (4 pounds), and is designed to be taken out on a boat. Photo used with permission from the people at

However, the other devices in this group tend to be custom-made, engineered for just one purpose or even just one kite. Complete winches in some cases!

I can remember looking at photos of one guy's gear for breaking altitude records. His Delta looked like an aircraft! The kite winch had to meet requirements such as the following...

  • Withstand the huge tension forces of a very large kite
  • Wind on to a line-storage drum with much-reduced tension, while reeling in the kite. This required 2 drums. One for high-tension anchoring of the kite and the other which was fed line for storage.
  • Drive motor and mechanicals for winding in.
  • Effective braking capability to control letting-out.

Hope you've been helpfully informed or at least not too bored with this little essay on kite reels!

The Black Kite Line Reel with Lock on Amazon seems like a good buy, judging by the reviews.

You might have noticed that this site has a monthly newsletter...

For single-line kite fliers and builders, it's always been a good read. But if you are interested in KAP and/or large home-made kites you won't want to miss it!

So sign up today, and download the free 95-page e-book "What Kite Is That?" straight away. Info-packed and fully photo-illustrated.

And there are even more free resources, such as a kite-making e-course, waiting for you in the next issue of this newsletter.

What's New!

  1. Flight Report:
    KAP Mystery Solved

    Aug 25, 14 03:57 AM

    Last week I came home from a KAP (Kite Aerial Photography) session down at Brighton beach, here in Adelaide, South Australia. The photos were a disaster, being totally washed out. Over-exposed, to be a little more technical. At the time I thought the problem was purely the position of the sun, relative to the direction of the camera...

    Well guess what. Down at the same beach today, the photos had the same problem - and this time it definitely wasn't the sun. Camera damage seemed a small possibility since the rig had hit the sand at some speed last time, during a white-knuckle experience with the kite in rough air! Which turned out OK, but that's another story.

    Anyway, once back home today, I did a little investigating with the camera, taking some test pictures from the back yard. It was a great relief to find the explanation for the bad images...

    It seems that setting a fixed ISO is not a good idea for this camera in very bright lighting conditions. It can cause the camera to run out of adjustment room for other parameters, like shutter speed or aperture. When the camera was allowed to set ISO automatically, the exposure problem disappeared. Whew!

    The Tyvek-sailed Carbon Diamond performed wonderfully today. It was, for the first time, hoisting the KAP rig into the air. Never has the rig been so steady for so long. Sway was almost non-existent. But whenever I handled the line the camera twisted back and forth due to the rather steep line angle from the rig to the kite. Without enough horizontal separation, the suspension lines do not provide the maximum resistance to twisting. It might be an idea to separate the attachment points even further, on the flying line.

    The 2 meter (7 ft) Diamond was struggling to lift the camera in the fairly light winds coming off the ocean. At times, people on the beach had to duck under the line from me to the camera! The camera was behaving as a sort of aerial tether point, with the kite flying at a steep line angle from there.

    Measured at shoulder height, the on-shore breeze was about 4.5kph gusting to just under 7kph. More of a day for the Multi-Dowel Sled really, which hardly feels a 280g weight on the line!

    "Simplest Dowel Kites": A free but very useful kite-making e-book. Make a super-simple Sled, Diamond and Delta - step-by-step with photos. Sign up for the e-book and get an emailed series of messages called "MBK Tips'n'Ideas". If you don't need the e-book, consider signing up anyway... You won't believe what's on offer in that message series!

    Read More

New! Comments

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