Fall is prime kite season in much (if not all) of the US: It’s frequently windy and those winds tend to be steady both in force and orientation (in contrast to the gusty spring breezes that shift all over the compass, knocking your kite down just as it begins to stabilize). Last spring a pal hit me up for some kite advice via Facebook, and agreed to let me clean up our conversation and post it here. (FYI: I sent her a copy of the Snip, Burn, Solder, Shred ebook after she asked about kites; it isn’t like I sent her trotting to B&N. I’m not that bad a guy.)
Anne Marie Ellison Miller: Hey, Dave–any thoughts on the merit and/or difficulty of home-making a kite? And remember, we Millers are kind of craftarded, so use small words and don’t assume ownership of a bone folder. (OK, I just wanted to say “bone folder”. Bone folder.) Ahem. Seriously, I’d value your ideas.
David Erik Nelson: You can make a kick-ass diamond kite using bamboo garden stakes (or any strong, thin dowel; bamboo stakes are cheap as hell and plenty strong), packing tape, FedEx mailers (there’s probably a mountain of them in your office mail room’s recycling), kite string, and some POLICE LINE tape (or cut up garbage bags, or whatever).
Flick to the “FedEx Kites” chapter (pg. 273), and the first design is the diamond kite in question. Pro Tips: Focus on being symmetrical and getting the sail taught (as long as it’s anchored around the edges, as described, it’ll be taught enough). Use a long tail for stability (a long kite tail will make up for a multitude of sins, in terms of asymmetry or sloppy sails). This is a design that drug-addled kids had no problem making work; it’s within your grasp.
FYI: Spring is crummy kite weather in most of the US, since winds are gusty and fitful (certainly in MI). Go to the beach for better, steadier wind. That said, I’ve had plenty of good times flying FedEx Diamonds in the spring in crappy breezes; it’s a very, very forgiving design.
Oh, and the barrel of a sharpie marker makes a fine bone folder for all occasions.
AMEM: I should’ve known that you’ve been all over this for ages! Thanks SO much!
DEN: I like to keep it real, time permitting.
AMEM: OK, professor, here’s a question for you: using wrapping paper as material instead of FedEx mailers: Yea or nay?
DEN: 1) That’s “Dr. Professor” 2) or preferably “The Fabulous Night Panther,” as per my earlier tweet, 3) like gift wrapping paper? The plain papery kind, or plasticy Mylar stuff? SHORT ANSWER: Go nuts; use whatever you’ve got, even newspaper or butcher paper. LONG ANSWER: Paper ends up being kind of a pain because a) it tears easily–the wind can give a kite some pretty good snaps, and there are a lot of rough landings on your first kite–and b) it gets weak when it’s wet, even from just light mist or dewy grass or hands damp from a cold beer bottle. The Chinese used silk, because it’s light, rip-stop, and can take some water. For these same reasons I favor the Tyvek mailing envelope. But, really, anything tight-woven and light that won’t tear easily is ok. So I’d take Mylar wrapping paper over paper wrapping paper. Beware of thicker papers (grocery sacks or butcher paper), which get heavy quickly. I’ve heard of folks having good experiences with garbage bags, but never tried it myself. I believe this is a context in which a dry cleaning bag might be considered a toy.
AMEM: Thank you, sir.
DEN: That’s “Dr. Sir,” please.
DEN: Or “Dr. Fabulous Night Panther.” That’s probably the best, in terms of covering your honorific bases.
DEN: . . . you still out there, Anne Marie?
DEN: Anne Marie?