Here at MBK we make kites from bamboo skewers or hardwood dowel for the spars and plastic sheet or Tyvek for sail and tail material. A 50 pound line has ample strength for the 1.2m (4ft) span Dowel kites. The larger ones, including the Multi-Dowel Series of kites, fly on 200 pound braided Dacron. Plus we very occasionally buy a kite.
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 :-)
Our plastic reel
Much of the material on this page is drawn from our own kite-making and flying experiences. If you get into single-line kite flying, you will eventually bump into these 3 main types of line...
Our plastic reel
- Cotton: Often found sold with cheaper kites for kids. Also
available separately although some shops turn their noses up at it and
won't sell it at all! It's cheap and reasonably strong for its weight,
but tangles easily. Grrr. The smaller the kid, the quicker and more
catastrophic the tangling will be. Having said all that, we have had
plenty of fun with simple kites on cotton, during the early days of this
- Twisted Nylon: A common choice for flying a wide range of
single line kites, particularly in the smaller sizes. It's good stuff,
and cheap. We use it on our 1 and 2 skewer sized kites. That's 58 cm (
24 inch) wingspans or less. However, you get what you pay for. It tends
to unwind and will tangle unless you are careful. The unwinding is
unavoidable, it just happens over time. We haven't had too much trouble
with tangles. Once bitten, twice shy as they say.
- Twisted Polyester: A bit more expensive, but that's because
polyester is thinner than cotton or Nylon of the same breaking strength.
Putting it another way, it's stronger than the other cheaper types of
line of the same width. You still have to be careful with it, to avoid
tangles. By the way, Dacron is a registered name for polyester from just one company. However, it's so popular that you're more likely to see the word Dacron than polyester when reading about kiting.
It's also worth noting that for fairly small kites, say around 30cm (1 foot) span or not much bigger, polyester sewing thread is perfectly practical. Preferably on a simple square winder, which you rotate around to reel in and let out line. This method avoids putting tangle-inducing twists in the thread!
Nylon and polyester are also available in the braided style of
manufacture. Braided kite string is pricey because it's more expensive
to make, but it reduces the hassle factor considerably! Tangles are much less of a problem. Braided polyester is very popular for mid to large sized single line kites.
Also worth a mention is Kevlar, a material used often with sport and
power kites but only for special purpose single line kites. For example,
a large Delta designed to break altitude records!
Note that using Kevlar is somewhat anti-social when flying near other kites on Nylon or Dacron. Kevlar is abrasive and will easily cut through other types of lines!
An interesting class of single line kites are the fighters.
Special abrasive line can be bought for these that is used to
deliberately cut the flying line of other fighters during a contest.
Traditional fighter kites in the Middle East and Asia often use cotton line coated with ground glass. Yes, it can be dangerous!
Kite String Sensations
This is not about spectacular feats performed with kite string! Rather, it's just a few little observations on what it feels like, flying a kite.
In the early days of this site, I was often out with quite small
kites in windy weather.
Line lengths were less than 50 meters, and near
the top of their wind range the kites didn't fly at their best line
angles. Hence they were often in rough air messed up by houses and trees
upwind of the flying field.
Sometimes, with a finger curled under the
line, it was just like hooking a small fish! The pulses and throbs coming through the line took me back to fishing off a small jetty as a kid.
With some practice, and quite a few kites later, it became fun to
'work the line' to keep a kite up in marginal wind conditions. You
know, those sunny days when the wind is very light and variable.
Handling a kite in this way can be quite addictive as you get a feel for
making the most of the conditions! As a former glider pilot, I used to
get a similar feeling from climbing in thermals.
What exactly is working the line? To me, it sometimes
involves pulling in line to keep a kite airborne. At other times, it
involves letting line slip out just fast enough to maintain a certain
amount of tension. With practice, you can choose a tension which makes
the kite drift away at a constant height off the ground. When the kite
is far enough away, you just hang on and let it climb away. By choosing a
bit more tension, you can make the kite climb at a constant line
angle. For example, if you happen to have a Delta sitting in a thermal,
this can mean the kite moves directly away from you - almost straight
Now to ground launching. Some of the lady kite fliers out
there aren't keen on this. Their hearts bleed for the poor little kite
being dragged across the ground! Real men do it all the time, I reckon.
Actually, I've found that ground launching off grass rarely does
much harm to even bamboo and tape kites, if done with care. Most designs
tend to pull up onto their nose as it catches in the grass. With a bit
more tension, the kite flops down towards you, and the nose shifts
around into the wind. If there's too much wind you might have to
wait for a lull before the kite will flop down. Then it's easy to pop it
into the air with a firm tug, without much more contact with the
ground. With practice, it becomes easy and fun to do!
After a ground launch, tension in the line comes on suddenly as
the kite rotates and starts to climb. Almost instantly, there is the
delicious smooth constant pull of a rapidly climbing kite, accelerating almost straight up for hundreds of feet! Nice feeling. Like a winch launch in a glider actually - except then the pilot goes along for the ride!
Finally, a less pleasant sensation is that of your finger being sawn off
by the kite string! Even though only big kites need to be flown with a
glove, even a small one can whip line out pretty quick in windy
conditions. This will only happen if you deliberately let out line
quickly, so it's not generally a problem with smaller kites. I did get
caught the other day though, when testing a new line winder... My wife was
taking a video of the line flying off the winder. By the time I noticed
my skin getting warm it was too late and I had to let go in a hurry!
How's this for a photo featuring the kite string, rather than what's flying on the end... (Eerily 3D don't you think? Try closing one eye!)
Photo courtesy of Jeff Turner
Photo courtesy of Jeff Turner
The Strength Of Kite String
Now for a few notes relating to line strength.
It's surprising how much tension builds up on a winder or kite reel when the line is wound on under tension. Even just slight tension! Think about it. Every loop adds pressure, so hundreds of loops multiply that small amount by hundreds of times. The result can crush or crack even a sturdy looking piece of equipment. I once destroyed a small plastic reel of mono-filament which was being used to fly a small-to-average-sized shop-bought delta. By the way, I don't use fishing line any more. It can be dangerous if it snaps, due to the extreme amount of stretch.
It's well-known that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
This goes for kite string too! A knot will decrease a line's strength
considerably. However, it's most convenient to connect a line to a kite
with a knot of some kind. A double overhand loop connected to a bridle
via a Lark's Head knot will retain almost 90% of the line's strength.
Other knots in the bridle don't matter quite so much since the load is
shared between at least 2 lines in most bridles.
A kite string is under serious strain when it starts making noises
at you! I haven't really looked into it, but my gut feeling is that it
would have to be in the upper half of it's strength range when this
starts to happen. Perhaps even in the top quarter of its strength range!
Of our MBK kites, the Fresh Wind Box is most likely to get up a bit of a
buzz or whistle when the wind strength picks up. It's quite eerie the
first time you hear it! With our bigger
dowel kites (1m or 4 feet span), we use the 20 pound line for only the lightest of
wind speeds. For most of their wind range, the 50 pound
line is much safer.
Good line is strong compared to its weight. If spiders were as
large as big crabs, they would spin some awesome kite string! Spider web
is around 5 times stronger than steel and twice as strong as the best
synthetic fibers apparently. It makes you think whether it might
actually be worth a try for those miniature-kites fanatics. I'm talking
about those people who try really hard to make working kites that are
only a few millimeters in span! Not surprisingly, the Japanese do rather
well in this field with their tradition of 'small is beautiful'.
When Kite String Tangles...
Here's some practical advice, from bitter experience! The best bet is
to avoid getting a tangle in the first place. That's not hard to do,
it's just a matter of moving around when pulling in line. The idea is to
not let it pile up on the ground too much in the one spot.
When winding in a long length of loose kite string, you might
notice a clump starting to form. Don't let it tighten. Just go out and
loosen it up so there are no wraps.
If you can afford it, try braided line. It's much less likely to tangle. Even if it does, the resulting knots are much easier to undo than for cotton or twisted synthetic line.
Tangles are caused by long loops winding around each other. It's
usually possible to loosen a tangle up by picking at it with your
fingers and fingernails. Just be careful not to make the situation
worse! Then start to find loops and feed them back through, one at a
time. If the tangle isn't too bad, this might result in the mess finally
falling apart so you can wind it all onto the reel. Otherwise, you
might have to resort to feeding a free end of the line back through the
tangle. Keep going until it gradually frees itself, loop by loop.
In the worst case, it's out with the scissors and .. snip, snip, tie a knot!
Kite String Through History & Cultures
With a title like that, you might be bracing yourself for a 1647-page
epic. But I'll try and keep it down to just a few lines of text plus
one short list. :-)
I've already mentioned the 3 common modern materials for
single-line kite string. They are cotton, nylon and polyester. What if
we go back further in time?
When large Western kites were being used for practical purposes
in the 20th century, steel cable or hemp rope was used. For example, the
Cody military kites and the large box kites used for meteorological
Here's a quick round-up of traditional kite string from other cultures...
- Chinese: pure silk - that could get a bit expensive these days!
- Japanese: hand-made from cotton or hemp plants - still done by some, to this day
- Indian: woven 9-thread cotton, covered with glue and ground
glass - very popular with the kite fighting masses at particular times
of the year!
- Maori: split leaves from the flax plant, knotted together or
spun into stronger twine for the larger kites - only done now as a
deliberate re-creation of ancient culture
On that slightly educational note, I'll end this page. I won't ... ermm ... spin it out any longer ;-)
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 :-)