A Ben Franklin Kite To Make

DON'T Try The Famous Experiment!

Once in a while, someone in the U.S. wants to make a replica of the famous Ben Franklin kite. This page is dedicated to helping you do just that! And further down, I've included some extra info and notes on the original scenario those centuries ago.

The instructions here are mainly for getting the 'look' right. That is, putting together something that looks very much like the original Franklin design would have - if it was ever built! There's no proof that it actually was.

(By the way, the sticks are behind the sail material. The bridle lines are therefore poked through holes in the sail before being tied to the vertical stick.)

An expert would say 'tut tut, the handkerchief isn't real silk, and the string should be hemp twine.' And so on. But hey, this Ben Franklin kite is close enough to use as a prop in a play, for example.

A few tips are provided for getting the design as shown to actually fly. Plenty of people have tried and failed. But this is a specialist kite site ;-)




If you simply follow the diagram (further down) as closely as possible, you will certainly end up with a very authentic-looking historical kite. At least from some distance away!

Really, there is a lot of variation in the looks of Diamond kites that are capable of flying. For example, compare the Franklin design with my own light-wind Dowel Diamond...

Making The MBK Dowel Diamond is a printable e-book. It's a PDF file download.



Flying This Ben Franklin Kite

Now supposing you really need this replica to actually fly successfully. The guys on Myth Busters (a post-millenium U.S. TV show) failed to do it and ended up using a traditional Diamond with round wooden doweling. At least they used real silk for the sail - I think!

Ben Franklin Kite - diagram of the original design
Ben Franklin Kite - diagram of the original design

This short list of points should ensure that your replica flies well. It will give you the best chance possible of success...

  • The handkerchief should be as large as possible. Big kites always fly better than small kites of the same type.
  • Ben Franklin specified a silk handkerchief. Whatever sail material you use, the weave should be as fine as possible. Too much porosity to air will result in failure. So, make sure you can't blow air through it!
  • The sticks should be just thick enough to resist excessive bending in a light or moderate breeze. The thicker the sticks, the more wind required. If they are way too thick and heavy, the kite will just not fly.
  • The tail as specified in the Ben Franklin kite diagram should be fine, but the cloth ties should not be too heavy. Here, it's 'drag' that counts, not weight. Extra length in the tail line, plus a few extra ties, should fix any tendency for the kite to loop around continuously.
  • That wire on the top should be pretty thin. Otherwise, it will weigh down the kite. Not only that, but it will shift the balance point of the kite towards the nose, which is a no-no for kite stability.
  • Connect the bridle loop and flying line as shown in the diagram. But use a shift-able knot such as the Prusik to connect the flying line to the bridle loop. Some experimentation in the field will be required before the ideal position is found. Shift the knot along the bridle loop just millimeters (1/8" or 2) at a time, until the kite flies high with little effort. Assuming the breeze is somewhere in the 'light' to 'moderate' range.


Notes On The Original Kite

Most school kids have come across references to the Benjamin Franklin kite used in that electricity experiment. But is anything known about the kite itself?

Fortunately for historians, and I use the term very loosely in my case ;-) Mr. Franklin once wrote a letter to a friend, on this topic. Quotes from this letter may be found in many different places, although the text is edited just a little for ease of reading.

A modern white silk handkercheif - similar to Benjamin Franklin's suggested hanky.White silk handkerchief

Here is a typical quote from the letter, which was written by Ben Franklin to Peter Collinson on October 19, 1752...

"Make a small cross of two light strips of cedar, the arms so long as to reach to the four corners of a large thin silk handkerchief when extended; tie the corners of the handkerchief to the extremities of the cross, so you have the body of a kite; which being properly accommodated with a tail, loop, and string, will rise in the air, like those made of paper; but this being of silk is fitter to bear the wet and wind of a thunder gust without tearing. To the top of the upright stick of the cross is to be fixed a very sharp pointed wire, rising a foot or more above the wood."

Neatly folded up in the photo is a modern large silk handkerchief, plain white as was popular in Franklin's day.



A woodcut from Franklin's time, illustrating the storm flying scenario.Illustration from Franklin's time
A woodcut from Franklin's time, illustrating the storm flying scenario.Illustration from Franklin's time


Now, one day I will get my hands on an actual silk handkerchief, not unlike the one near the quote up there.

Together with some cedar wood, I intend to re-create a Ben Franklin kite and post a photo or 2 of it here, plus some video of the kite flying.

At first reading, I thought the 'loop' Franklin mentions must be a string around the perimeter of the kite, to which the edges of the handkerchief are to be attached. But since he has already specified to "tie the corners" to the cedar wood tips, it seems more likely that Franklin was referring to a bridle loop tied to the vertical spar.

Almost the last step before being able to go out and fly the kite.

Flying in those conditions simply isn't safe, and it's not even clear whether Franklin himself actually performed the experiment he proposed. That is, hand-flying a kite with a wet string in a thunder storm, complete with key suspended from the hemp line to observe sparks or feed them to a charge storage device.




Take a good look at that old art work up there. Franklin recommended flying the kite from under shelter, such as a verandah or door-way. The artist seems to have noted this. Also, handkerchiefs are generally square in shape, unlike a traditional Diamond kite sail. The artist seems to have got this detail correct too, depicting the Ben Franklin kite as a Diamond with a square sail.

However, the artist has erred in depicting a bridle loop going to each end of the horizontal spar... On a perfectly square design like the Benjamin Franklin kite, it just won't fly like that! Instead, the loop should be attached to the vertical spar, with the flying line attached a lot closer to the nose than the tail of the kite.

Images, or rather images of images or sculptures of Franklin abound. Here's quite a special one, admired by many photographers...


Have I made a Ben Franklin kite myself? Not yet - have you seen the prices on big high-quality silk handkerchiefs?!

I do intend to one day post photos and video of a flying replica.

Mind you, I might get out a few more times with my own Diamond, before then...

Making The MBK Dowel Diamond is a printable e-book. It's a PDF file download.



You might like these...


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

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

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

Strong ...
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

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