Miniature Kite

KITEMAKING THE ART AND THE SCIENCE


The Cocktail Napkin Kite by Charlie Sotich

Kiting, The Journal of the American Kitefliers Association, May 1990

Introduction

Small kites, especially ones that fly well and are attractive have a special charm. If you ever taught a kite class for children and flew a small kite: they'd like to have and fly your little kite too. Adults also like them and they make unique presents. Kites with dimensions of only a few inches are not owned by many kite fliers so they really are appreciated. Kites in the size range of about 1 - 1/2 to 4 inches can be made from cocktail napkins. They are reasonably light and stable fliers when a suitable tail is attached.

The cocktail napkin kite originated after some SkyLiners took LeRoy Hoover and me to a birthday party at a Show Biz Pizza Place in 1989. They had some napkins with a funny gorilla on it; the graphics on the napkin looked like it would be good on a kite. Pat Daly got me several of these napkins and a few days later I made one into a kite. It was easy; cut the sail from the napkin and glue skinny bamboo spars to the back, attach the flying line and a tail and it was ready to fly. Some adjustment of the bridle point was necessary, but it was made to fly reasonably well. Since that first kite, many more have been made in a variety of sizes, shapes and materials. Some adjusting of the bridle point, the tail and some tweaking of the dihedral and sail angles is sometimes necessary to get good flying, but this is true of much larger kites too.

The Sail

Paper napkins, and the cocktail napkins in particular are available in a variety of colorful designs and patterns. There are special patterns for Holidays, special occasions such as birthdays, weddings, graduations and retirement.

The type of kite that you make is up to you and what you see in the napkin pattern you choose. The Eddy, Diamond, Edo, Hata and Shield (modified Eddy) are the shapes which have been used, but you are only limited by your imagination.

Construction Procedure

Cut the sail to the shape of the kite by the method you prefer. I like to use a transparent or translucent plastic template of the kite shape on the napkin so I can be sure how it's positioned so it will have the graphics of the napkin centered on the kite sail. I use a single-edge razor to cut the napkin around the edges of the template. Then, I remove the extra layers of the napkin tissue. Some people prefer to draw the outline of the kite with an appropriate colored marker around the template and cut the napkin with scissors, outside the drawn border. I draw my borders after the kite sail is cut out with the razor blade. Lightly crease the kite sails on their vertical center lines where the spars are to be glued. This makes a good guide for laying down the vertical spar. It also puts some dihedral into the sail, which helps the flight stability.

Spars

While bamboo is one of the best materials for kite spars, it is difficult for most people to split it down to small enough sized to use. A bamboo spar about 1/32 in. sq. is about as big as you'd want it to be and in the case of a very small kite (less than 2 in.) this would be far too big. For some kites that require the vertical spar to be about 4 in. or more in length, bamboo is the best material. There is however, a readily available material which works well: monofilament fish line. Several years ago, Valerie Govig suggested using nylon paintbrush bristle material for the spars. It was available in a wide range of diameters but it had one draw back, the supplier's minimum ordering quantity was large. Nylon fish line on the other had can be bought by the spool in a wide variety of sizes for just a few dollars. A spool will probably be good for thousands of kite spars. The nylon fish line has one disadvantage: the line, as it comes off the spool, retains the curl.

There are now two problems for the newcomer to cocktail kites: (1) what size fish line do you use for the spars, and (2) how do you take the curl out of the line. The size line you use depends on the size of the kite and the strength of the wind you expect to fly the kite in. Most small napkin kites won't fly in a wind over 8 to 10 mph. The table below gives some approximate spar sizes to try for your first experiments. If you find the first size you try is too weak, you can glue another spar on the sail to provide added stiffness.

Kite height Vertical spar Horizontal spar
1 1/2 - 2 .006 .004
2 - 3 .010 .008
4 - 6 Bamboo 0.15

(measurements are inches)

To straighten nylon fish line, all you need to do is wrap it around a board under tension and heat it in an oven (not a microwave) at 300 degrees F for at least an hour and then let it cool. The board should be 1/2 in. thick or more so it won't deform. It should have a way of securing the ends of the line. A loop in each end of the fish line around the head of a wood screw is an easy method. A board 8 to 12 in. long will be big enough to allow at least two spars to be made from each piece of line. A width of 3 to 6 in. allows several winds, for a good stock pile of material. After the nylon has been heated and cooled, you can cut the nylon off the board with an X-acto knife or razor blade (put cardboard between the line and the wood block before cutting). Wrapping tape around the center of the board will keep the nylon line from getting tangled after cutting. The pieces that go around the ends of the board will fall free after cutting on both sides of the board. Sharp wire cutting pliers can also be used to cut off the end pieces.

Just as heat can be used to straighten the fish line spars, it can also be used to put a permanent set for the dihedral angle. The tip of a mini-hot glue gun is just about right to heat the line. It softens the nylon slightly so it can bend, but not so much as to melt it into pieces or have it stretch if it is under tension, as happened when I used my 30-watt soldering iron. A voltage control to limit the power of the soldering iron would solve this problem.

Construction

The various brands of "tacky" glue sold in craft and some hobby shops makes a good adhesive. It seems to have a rubber base, sticks to nearly everything and remains flexible when dry. The glue is a bit thick and works better if it is diluted with 10 to 20% water. The thinned glue is easier to apply and remove excess glue. The monofilament or bamboo spars can be pulled through a small puddle or drop of glue to wet the surface. Then pull the spar across your fingertip and it will wipe off the excess; spread the remaining glue more evenly along the spears length. Only a think film of glue is needed along the spar. The spar must be carefully placed on the napkin so that the glue goes where you want it. Using tweezers might help in placing the spar. If the spar is set in the wrong place, pick it up and move it. If more glue needs to be added to the spar, use the tip of a straight pin to pick up glue from the puddle.

Flying Line

The flying line required by these kites doesn't have to be very strong. A thin sewing thread will work just fine. A breaking strength measured in ounces rather than pounds would be more than adequate. Another characteristic of some importance for small kite flying line is the line visibility. If more than a few feet of line are out, the line is hard for spectators to see and they could accidentally damage or destroy the kite. To fly the kite with a fairly long line, say 10 ft. or more, the weight of the line and its drag can be significant.

If ready availability is more important than peak performance, some stores with sections for sewing materials sell small spools with 30 ft. of thread packaged on a "card". The cards could contain 24 - 50 spools in assorted colors. If the small spools are used, it's helpful to mark the notch which holds the end of the thread with a metallic marking pen so the notch can be found.

How do you attach the flying line to the kite? I've used two methods. With the help of a small needle have the flying line go around the vertical spar and tie it in place in the front of the kite. This method is alright if the correct bridle point is known. If trying a different design or new materials, some adjustments may need to be made. In this case I tie a knot in the end of the thread line and tape the line to the face of the kite. A piece of clear tape 1/4 to 1/2 in. long and 1/8 in. wide goes on the line just above the knot. The tape is put on the sail with a pair of tweezers. Don't push the tape down tight until after it is test flown.

Kite Tails

The kites have too high a sail loading for the size to be stable without some help. Dihedral and tail take care of this problem. The kites with fish line cross spars can have dihedral added just by bending the spar sharply. There are a number of materials available which work well for tails. A metallic curling ribbon 3/16 in. wide is effective for the kites that are at least 3 in. sq. Depending on the specific kite, 12-18 in long tails will do the job. For the smaller kites, strips of gold or silver tinsel from Christmas decorations, about 1/16 in. wide and 18 in. long provide stability and adds sparkle to the kite. A single strand folded in two might do the job for the 1 1/2 in. kites, but as the size goes up, more strands are needed. A 4 in. kite might need 6 or 7 pieces. The tinsel is attached to the kite by first sticking them to a piece of clear tape 1/4 x 1/2 in. and then sticking this to the bottom of the kite. Tweezers help to put the pieces of tinsel just where you want. Wait until a test fly before pushing the tape firmly in place.

Flying Cocktail Kites

Warning: Don't try to fly these kites outside in damp weather -- they get soggy. It doesn't take much wind to fly a small kite, 3 to 8 mph is about all that it can handle. If it's too windy outside you can fly it inside. No, don't run around pulling the little kite behind you. It's much easier to fly the kite from the end of a 3 ft. long, 1/4 in. dowel. A slot in one end of a dowel can hold the thread. The length of the thread should be shorter than the dowel for good control. Now, by moving the dowel so the tip does a large figure eight, the kite will follow. It does take some practice to get the kite flying smoothly. the stick's tip must more faster at the ends of the eight and a bit slower at the center. For a fancier stick, use a telescope radio antenna. Mount an alligator clip on the end (to hold the thread). You'll be able to carry it in your pocket or purse and ready to fly at a moment's notice. These kites should be stored in a suitable size box until ready for flight. A zip lock plastic bag can be inflated after the kite is put inside, and then sealed shut to store the kite. This will help protect the small kites from being accidentally damaged. Several small kites can go in one box. It's a good idea to label each box identifying the kites stored: once you start making them it's hard to stop.


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