MBK Dowel Barn Door
MBK Dowel Barn Door
According to some authors, this kind of kite is the 'traditional kite
of America.' Maybe this means it originated in the South of the United
States where most of the crop farming has been done.
To speculate a bit more, perhaps the first of these kites was
just a Diamond kite with an extra vertical stick. Whatever the case may
be, there is much in common between the 2 types of flat kites.
From a distance, some Barn Doors could even be mistaken for
Diamond kites, with the 3-sided top looking somewhat like an old
The photo further down is a decent sized hexagonal Barn Door kite by Rod Beamguard. Rod had the photo taken at the Washington State International Kite Festival in 2004, and has kindly given permission for it to be displayed here.
When the weather's good and you have the time, it's great to get out with a kite or 3. But what about on bad weather days? Then it's time to pull out...
"Kites Up!" - my downloadable kite-flying board game! Apart from towing indoor kites, doing a spot of imaginary flying is the next best thing :-)
The process for making one of these kites is very similar to making a Diamond kite. There is just one more spar involved...
The extra spar and more complex bridling in these kites make them more rigid than 2-stickers, which might help to explain why they have such a good wind range. With enough tail and a bit of bow in the cross spar as well, a Barn Door will put up with a lot of wind. It will still be up there when other simpler kites have been spun into the ground.
The most obvious variation in Barn Door kites is the outline, which can be 5 or 6 sided. More detail on this and other variations below...
- Overall size varies of course, although most Barn Doors are less than a meter (3 feet) tall.
- There are six basic variations of how the 3 spars are arranged.
- Construction can be with or without a line threaded around the tips
of the sticks, forming the straight-sided outline of the kite.
- Most flat kites need a tail, and most flat Barn Doors suit having a single tail looped between the lower tips of both diagonal spars.
- Decoration of home-made kites takes many forms and shop-bought kites are also available in colorful designs.
- With the cross spar bowed enough, and a correctly adjusted bridle, this kite can be stable enough to fly without a tail.
- The bridle is traditionally attached to the kite in 2 places on each
diagonal spar, although a 3-point arrangement is also very logical for
this type of kite.
- Traditionally, the sail was paper but these days plastic or nylon is common.
I don't know if any 2-line Barn Door designs are
commercially available, but I've come across at least 1 kite enthusiast
who has made this unusual kind of stunt kite. However, this page is
strictly about single-line Barn Doors!
Here's a few comments on each of the above points.
Size. My 1-Skewer Barn Door kites are probably some of the
smallest ones around, at less than 29 cm (11 inches) tall. A more
common size is between 1 and 2 meters (4 - 7 feet) tall.
Shape. The 2 diagonal spars can be arranged to meet at the
top or bottom of the kite, or left parallel, or somewhere in between.
This gives 5 basic pentagonal or hexagonal outlines. If all the spars
cross in the same spot, it starts to look like a Chinese hexagonal kite.
Hence there are 6 variations in all. My original pentagonal Barn Door
had its skewers meeting at the bottom, with a single tail attached.
Construction. Like the Diamond kite, using line around the
spars to form the outline of the kite is optional, and probably not
often used on smaller kites. I certainly didn't bother, with the MBK
Tails. The range of different shapes of Barn Door kites
means there are plenty of options for tails. Those with a point at the
bottom obviously suit a single tail. All the other variations suit twin
tails, with one attached to the bottom end of each vertical spar. Also,
in this case, attaching a wide tail across the entire bottom edge
is an option. I've seen some examples of this approach. In fact, the
kite sail and tail can be the one piece of fabric, like a flat Dragon or
Pennon kite. As with the Diamond, decorative tassels or tails can be
attached to the ends of the cross spar as well.
Decoration. Strips of different colored material can be joined together before the outline is cut. The appliqué
technique involves sticking light but colorful cut-out patterns onto
the sail material. Printed sail material can be used. Hand painting or
airbrushing can be applied after the kite is constructed. There's a
bunch of different ways to decorate a kite! The bigger the kite, the
less difference the extra weight of decoration makes to its light wind
performance. Some of the bigger Barn Doors around today are dressed up
very impressively! Shop bought designs are available, but not in the
same variety as the more common Diamond kite.
Bowed. Some Barn Door kites are not terribly stable even
with some tail, so the old trick of putting some bow in the cross spar
is used. Like the tail-less Eddy Diamond kite, it is possible for some Barn Door designs to fly with no tail at all.
Bridle. If you think for a moment about having 3 sticks
crossed over each other, there are a whole lot of different ways to
bridle one of these kites! 3 bridle lines is the minimum, and some
larger kites use up to 5 lines to keep the kite steady in the air.
Sail. Maybe some of the earliest kites used paper, but
rip-stop nylon would be the most common choice these days. To save
money, plastic sheet from various kinds of bags can be used on small to
medium sized kites as well.
Like to see a video clip? Just scroll down to near the end...
Barn Door Kites In Action
Since Barn Door kites can flat or bowed, and made with a range of
quite different proportions, there is considerable variation in their
stability in the air.
Here's a thought of mine... Just compare a classic
Diamond to a rigid Delta with no keel. The Diamond has most of
its area towards the nose, while the Delta has most area toward the tail
end. As many kite fliers would know, it's much easier to get the
Diamond to fly properly!
Similarly, the various kinds of Barn Door kites
would have more or less of their sail area up front. Hence, they would
tend to be more or less stable.
Just like Diamond kites, Barn Door kites can be bowed to add more
stability. That is, the cross spar, or spreader as some call it, can be
bent back a little and held there with a string stretched from tip to
tip. Even the most troublesome flat kite should fly well with enough bow
and enough tail!
Out In The Field
Barn Door kite stories of my real-life flying experiences are worth checking out!
Illustrated with photos and videos, of course.
Some Barn Doors, particularly large ones, are very efficient
fliers. They can reach quite high line angles, like a modern Delta kite.
Other people have fun stringing together large numbers of Barn
Door kites in trains.
This reminds me of the Taiwanese guys at the 2007
Adelaide kite festival. They had a couple of very long trains of
3-sticker kites up that day. One of the trains had the kites decorated
to look like autumn leaves.
The individual kites were constructed
somewhat like Barn Doors, but probably originated from traditional
Chinese hexagonal kites. The kites did not have tails. Surprisingly they
didn't seem to be bowed either. Perhaps their construction was light
enough to allow air pressure to supply the needed bow.
I also read somewhere about a guy who owned a train of 111 Barn
Door kites with prismatic appliqué decoration on them all. Shop-bought
or home-made I'm not sure, but they would make quite a sight in the
Barn Doors are sometimes used for KAP. That's Kite Aerial
Photography in case you didn't know. I suppose a nice big bowed kite
with plenty of tail could well do a good job in smooth air.
There's at least one well-known kite maker who includes small
Barn Door kites as one of her favorites for teaching kids to make and
fly kites. She must have settled on just the right proportions for sail
and tail to get a tolerant flat kite for kids to fly.
Here's an interesting little snippet. Way back in the middle of last century, there was a Hi-Flier series of kites in the U.S. Some people have taken it upon themselves to re-create some of these kites, including a certain Jolly Boy Barn Door kite. Apparently it flies really well, despite requiring plenty of tail.
Some Barn Door Kite History
I mentioned the murky origins of this design at the start of this page. They were probably around as early as the mid 1800s since by 1885 they were being used for scientific purposes...
called Alexander McAidie used flat Barn Door kites for lifting
meteorological instruments. He had a few headaches with them apparently!
By the mid 1890s this kind of work was being done by tailless Eddy
kites. The diamond shaped Eddy kite had a bowed cross spar for extra
By the mid 1900s, making and flying Barn Door kites had become an
American pastime. Popular materials were thin strips of hard wood for
the spars and paper for the sail. A cotton framing line was fitted into
slots in the spar tips, and the paper sail material folded over and
In many families, the making of '2-sticker' Diamonds would
eventually give way to experimenting with '3-stickers' for extra
challenge and fun. It was a hobby for young and old alike.
There in the video - see our 1.2 meter (4 feet) high Dowel Barn Door in flight. A great reliable flier!
As mentioned earlier, there's another alternative to towing indoor kites if it's just not possible to fly outdoors...
"Kites Up!" is my downloadable board game. It's a PDF file which has all the documentation for the game plus images for all the components. Tokens, cards, the board itself and so on. Anyway, just click that link to see more info :-)