How To Make A Roller Kite
Step-by-Step - The MBK Dowel Roller
This set of instructions on how to make a Roller kite assumes you know absolutely nothing about kite making.
You might already have some
of the simple tools and materials required. Anything you don't have is
easily bought. If not exactly what I used, then at least something
MBK Dowel Roller is a large tail-less kite based on the old Pearson
Roller design. Like the original, this kite is a great light to moderate
These instructions on how to make a Roller kite might look quite
detailed. However, your reward is a large, very cheap kite that is quick
to set up and break down.
This Roller is designed to roll up into a
slim cylindrical package like a Sled, thanks to the removable vertical
spar and the toggle-linked bow lines.
Setting up on the flying field
takes less than 5 minutes once you get the hang of it. Of course, if you have room, you can always leave this kite ready-to-fly.
If it's not convenient to use these instructions straight off the screen, have a look at the e-book up there on the right. That's the way to get nicely formatted print-outs.
I have chosen to make '1 Dowel Length' equal to 120cm for every kite in
the Dowel series. If you are in North America, 48" of 3/16" dowel is
close enough to 120cm of 5mm dowel. This will result in a kite with
similar flying characteristics to my original.
How To Make A Roller Kite - Sail
Now's the time to read up on the kite making tools and materials required for making a Dowel Roller, if you haven't already. For this kite, you will also need some cheap thin shoe-laces.
The template shown above represents one side of the kite sail. You will now transfer these measurements to the sail plastic as follows...
- Firstly, take a large bag that you want to use for the sail, and lay it flat on the floor.
dots on the plastic which correspond to the corners of the Template.
There is no need to use a T-square, or an extra-long ruler since any
small errors in position will be duplicated on the other side of the
- Using the marking pen, rule lines between the dots, as in
the photo. For lines longer than the ruler, just add a few extra dots
using one of the dowel spars as a ruler! Then it's easy to connect the
dots with a ruler. It's probably best not to rule the whole line with the dowel, since it bends easily.
- Flip the plastic bag over, and trace over all the black lines using your marker pen and ruler.
out a rectangular section of the bag containing the kite sail, open it
out and lay it flat on the floor - you can now see the complete sail outline, as in the photos.
When doing the following, most of the width of the tape should be inside
the kite's outline. Use a single length of tape for each line. Hold it
out straight, touch it down to the plastic at one end, then at the other
end, dab it down in the middle, then press down all along its length.
- Lay down clear sticking tape where indicated by the yellow lines in the first 2 photos. Just over half the kite is shown, so do the other side exactly the same.
- With scissors, cut along all the black lines. This will leave most of the width of the sticking tape inside the sail outline.
- Add a corner strap to the topcorner of the sail. This strap, with a length of 0.26DL (32cm, 13"), is much longer than in those examples. See the third photo.
bottom corner of the sail requires a pocket. First you cut out a
triangular pocket from some spare sail plastic, just a little higher
than the width of your tape. Lay the triangle down on the sail corner.
a square piece of insulation tape and fold it right over the point of
the corner. This will prevent the spar from poking through there.
another piece of tape flush with the top edge of the pocket, and fold
under the sail where necessary, to the left and right. The corner should
now look like the fourth photo.
How To Make A Roller Kite - Spars
For this Roller, you need long lengths of 5mm (3/16") wooden dowel.
Enough for the 3 spars of 1.0DL (120cm, 48") each. They are easily cut
to the lengths required with a small cheap hack-saw.
- Select the straightest piece of dowel you can find.
Measure off a 1.0DL (120cm, 48") length, mark it and saw it off at the
mark. Round off the tips with a wood file. This is the vertical spar.
- Cut off 2 very short 0.01DL (1.2cm, 1/2") lengths of dowel. Round off the tips with a wood file. These will be used as the bow-line toggles. You can use thinner dowel for these if you have some lying around. I use 4mm dowel for toggles, just to save a bit of weight.
- Lay down some more dowel across the width
of the sail, mark it at the exact width, and cut off at the mark. Also
make an easily-seen mark around the dowel where it touches the center
crease of the sail.
- Round off the tips with a wood file, then add a bow-line
so the depth of the bow is 0.06DL (7.2cm, 2 3/4"). With the kite flat
on the ground, that's how far the tips should be from the grass. This is
the upper horizontal spar.
- While the glue is drying on the knots, do those previous 2 steps again to create a 3rd spar. The depth of this bow should be 0.12DL (14.4cm, 5 3/4"). Now you have made the lower
horizontal spar. The photo shows all 3 spars, with the bow-lines
attached on the 2 horizontal spars. (The amount of bow was changed after the kite was test flown, if you were wondering!)
How To Make A Roller Kite - Joining The Sails
The upper and lower sails now need to be joined in the center, and
protected against stretch for when the corner strap is tightened.
- Insert the vertical spar into the lower sail pocket, and line
up the upper tip with the nose corner of the upper sail. This shows you exactly how far apart the 2 sails should be!
- Carefully remove the spar, without shifting the sails.
4 strips of clear sticky tape onto the sails, as illustrated by the
yellow rectangles in the photo. The order is not important. Yes, the
tapes might stick a bit to the floor, between the sails...
the sails over, and stick down another 2 strips of tape so they stick
to the other tapes in the area between the sails. These 2 tapes are
represented by the 2 thick red lines. The exact length is not important, just copy the photo.
How To Make A Roller Kite - Attachment Ties
The vertical spar will have 2 shoe-lace ties attached to it, which will
be used to lash it to the horizontal spars before flying.
- Firstly lay down the vertical spar, then the 2 horizontal spars
over the sail. Carefully line up the tips of the horizontal spars with
the sail corners.
- Make marks on the vertical spar, showing where the horizontal spars cross. Then remove all the horizontal spars.
- Measure and cut off two 0.16DL (20cm, 8") lengths of shoe-lace. To prevent the cut ends from fraying, just tie a Simple Knot near the end.
and cut off a length of insulation tape that is long enough to go all
the way around the dowel, plus a little more. Cut it in half, in the length-wise direction, so its width is halved. Now you have 2 pieces, one for each tie.
the ties at the spar-crossing points which you marked on the vertical
spar. Each red tape wraps around the dowel, attaching the middle of the
shoe-lace to the dowel, as in the photo.
- Prepare 4 lengths of electrical insulation tape, each
one about 4 times longer than it is wide. Stick them by a corner onto
something handy like a table edge. You can remove them one at a time as
- Spread out the sail, with the edge tape facing upwards.
down the upper horizontal spar over the sail, so it would bow away from
the sail if you attached the toggle. With the toggle un-attached, line
up the tips of the spar with the upper corners of the sail.
one tip of the spar with tape, by sticking tape down over the dowel and
plastic then folding it around and under the plastic to stick on the
other side - a bit tricky, take your time! See the completed cap in the first photo.
- Now do the other tip of the spar similarly, using another piece of tape.
- Attach both tips of the lower horizontal spar to the sail in a similar same way, using the last 2 pieces of tape.
long tabs of the lower sail need to have a slit, to let the bow-line
through when the tab is folded over. Make a short vertical snip with
scissors, in each tab, right down to the bow-line knot.
- Fold down the plastic tabs over the spar and tape in place using clear sticky tape. See the second photo, which shows the center of the kite.
How To Make A Roller Kite - Sail Ties
- Add a short length of clear sticky tape to an upper sail
corner, then add another one of the same length to the other side of the
plastic. Where they stick out from the sail edge, press the 2 tapes
together so they stick to each other. About the length of a fore-finger
should be sufficient, half on the sail, half off.
- Put a Loop Knot
into a length of flying line, and thread the tapes through the loop,
before folding the tapes over and securing them to the sail with another
short length of tape.
- As in the photo, snip off the line so you have enough length to fasten it to the lower horizontal spar with some Half Hitchs. There should be a little slack in the line.
- Do the other sail corner exactly the same way.
How To Make A Roller Kite - Keel
- Mark out the keel shape on some spare plastic, as per the dimensions on the template.
out the keel and tape down 2 lengths of flying line onto one side. One
goes from the bridle attachment point to the upper attachment point, and
the other goes from the bridle attachment point to the lower attachment
point. Use sticky tape, not electrical tape. The pieces of line hanging
free should be at least as long as your finger.
- Now flip the plastic over and tape down another 2 lengths of flying line, directly over the first 2.
- Where 2 pieces of line come together, tie a Multi-Strand Simple Knot close to the plastic. These 2 knots will sit against the vertical spar. See the top, left photo.
the 4 pieces of line come together, tie them into another Multi-Strand
Simple Knot close to the plastic, then tie another one further out, as
in the top, right photo. The bottom photo shows the complete keel.
- Reinforce the keel with short lengths of sticky tape, where indicated by the yellow rectangles.
- Insert the vertical spar between the sail and the horizontal
spars. Make sure the lower end of the vertical spar is into the bottom
pocket as far as it will go, and then mark the spar at the top edge of
- Remove the vertical spar and tightly tie the lower keel lines around the mark on the dowel, using a Granny Knot.
the keel itself to find the exact spot, tightly tie the upper lines
around the dowel also. This will be quite close to the lower horizontal
spar when the vertical spar is inserted.
- Fold the 4 dowel-width tab over the dowel and tape it down all along its length with a piece of clear sticky tape.
the knots with the shoe-lace ties. Smear wood glue all over the 2 knots
and all around the dowel where the keel lines touch the wood. When dry,
it should look like the top photo.
- Cut a slit in the
plastic sail, between the 2 long vertical pieces of tape. The slit
should go all the way from where the lower knot will sit, up to where
the upper knot will sit, after the vertical spar is inserted. The bottom photo shows how the keel is poked through the slit after the vertical spar is inserted.
The patch of green tape near the tail end of the keel is covering a 5c
piece! This makes the kite more tail-heavy and improves stability.
How To Make A Roller Kite - Bridle
- Cut off some 50 pound flying line to a length of 1.0DL (120cm, 48"), and tie a very small Loop Knot into each end.
holes in the plastic, on either side of the upper horizontal spar. Four
holes altogether, 0.24DL (28.8cm, 11 1/2") from the vertical spar, as
indicated by the 4 yellow dots in the photo.
- Tie each end of the line to the spar, through the holes. Use a Double Wrap Slip Knot, and pull tight against the knot of the small loop. This is the bridle loop.
off some flying line to a length of 3.0DL (360cm, 144"), and attach one
end to the bridle loop. Use a shiftable knot such as the Prusik Knot, and adjust it to center. Let's just call this the bridle line.
- Tie a Double Loop Knot into the other end of the bridle line.
Finally, take a length of flying line about 0.2DL (240mm, 9 1/2") long, and tie one end to the bridle line with a Prusik Knot. Tie a small Double Loop Knot into the other end, just to get a large knot. There's a photo of this further down, in the section titled Before First Pre-Flight.
this point, you've pretty much finished making the Dowel Roller!
However, there is a short Setup procedure to go through before it will
How To Make A Roller Kite - Setting Up
- Spread out the plastic sail on the ground, with the horizontal spars on top.
- Slip the top tip of the vertical spar under the lower horizontal spar, then under the upper spar then over the nose of the sail.
- Locate the bottom tip of the vertical spar in the sail pocket at the tail end of the kite. Tuck the keel through the slit.
- Fasten the vertical spar to the horizontal spars with the shoe-lace ties, as if you were doing up your own shoe.
the top tip of the vertical spar in the top corner strap, pull just a
little tension into the sail, feed the strap around the middle of the
upper horizontal spar a couple of times then tie off with a half-hitch
or small bow. See the photo.
- Attach the bow lines of the horizontal spars.
- Finally, attach the keel to the bridle line using a Lark's Head Knot.
That looks a lot, but once you have done it a few times, it's not hard to remember. In fact, after the first flight, you can just leave that top tie done up. The top tip of the vertical spar can just be carefully slipped in, the next time you fly. Also, the Lark's Head on the keel can be left attached!
How To Make A Roller Kite - Breaking Down
I don't mean breaking down in grief because your flying session has come
to an end - I mean getting the kite packed up ready for transport or
- Lay the kite on the ground with the spars on top, and flying line removed.
- Un-attach the bow lines of the horizontal spars.
and loosen the top corner strap. Or you can experiment with leaving it
in place and just slipping the dowel out sideways. That's quicker!
- Undo both shoe-lace ties, then carefully feed the keel back through the slit, still attached to the bridle line.
- Remove the vertical spar, slipping it towards the tail end of the kite.
- Place the vertical spar between the horizontal spars, parallel to them, and roll up the kite from bottom to top.
wrap the remaining bridle line around the kite a few times to prevent
it unrolling. There it is in the photo, taking up no more space than a
Sled kite. The Roller doesn't look so big now does it!
How To Make A Roller Kite - First Pre-Flight
Make up a flying line and attach it to the bridle with a Lark's Head Knot. See the photo over there, where the Lark's Head has been left loose.
bridle is a bit long to check on the ground, so fly the kite on a very
short line to see where the towing point is. Shift the Prusik Knot along
the bridle line until the towing point appears to be level with the
upper horizontal spar or a little below it. To lock the Prusik in place,
take the 2 bridle lines in one hand, the flying line in the other, and
pull tight. To unlock it, you just pull the bridle line straight, with
the knot in the middle.
Check the bridle slip knots on the upper
horizontal spar. Re-tighten if necessary, and put a small drop of wood
glue on each so they can never come loose. You won't have to wait the
full drying time for this glue to dry, since the amounts are small.
How To Make A Roller Kite - Flying!
Firstly, if it's very windy outside, stay home! This is a
light-wind kite and won't like being launched in a gale. If the wind is
too strong, it might get damaged.
The Prusik knot on the bridle line can loosen off a little over time.
If necessary, pull on all the lines to tighten the knot up before a
Assuming there is some breeze outside,
just dangle the kite at arm's length until the wind catches it.
as you feel the kite pulling, let out line slowly by taking loop after
loop off the winder.
Be cautious about letting line slip through your
fingers. If a big gust hits the kite, the line could burn you! For any
kite this big or bigger, it's a good idea to wear a glove of some sort.
Another approach is to get a helper to hold the kite up and let
it go, on the end of maybe 10 or 20 meters of line. This way, the kite
soon gets high enough to make it easy to let more line out.
Have fun flying, and I hope you've enjoyed learning how to make a Roller kite!
The "Making Dowel Kites" e-book
has this design and many others in hardwood dowel and plastic. A handy
approach is to just print out the pages for the kite you want to make
next. The e-book is also handy for working off-line on a laptop or other
That's great value already, but "The Big MBK Book Bundle" is even better! This includes the "Making Skewer Kites" compilation e-book, plus several other handy kiting e-books.
Some improvements to try:
-upper horizontal spar further forward, to allow more forward towing point while keeping tension on the lower bridle line.
-lower horizontal spar further back to shift center of gravity further back, reducing need for tail-weight
-same amount of bow in both horizontal spars
-sail ties to tips rather than LE (reduce main sail billow)
-slightly smaller keel.
Now, just in case you have actually made and flown this kite at least once already...
Ever Made This Kite?
You've probably read a kite-flying story or 2 of mine, after they appear under the "what's new?" link on this site. I sometimes wonder if anyone else has made and flown this particular design...
If you feel your efforts really paid off when the the kite finally got airborne - please type a few paragraphs in here telling us all about it!
P.S. I can only accept stories of at least 300 words. Just mention a few details like the weather, onlookers, the kite's behavior and so on - 300 words is easy!
Flight Reports From Other Visitors
Click below to read about various kite-flying adventures, contributed by other visitors to this page...
Return to How To Make A Kite from How To Make A Roller Kite
All the way back to Home Page