Intro: Matchbox Scale Microkite - Just a Square Inch
Kites are cool. They have a long, long history, employ ancient crafts, and feature in many cultures around the world, yet can be made with modern materials to match the most extreme of sports.
A branch of the hobby that is often neglected is the microkite - kites as small as your hand, or even smaller.
The size and fragility of microkites means they often cannot be flown outdoors, but they can be flown in unusual locations, such as train corridors, aeroplane aisles or anywhere else you have room to swing a cat.
I decided to go the whole hog, and made a kite that is only a square inch in size.
This is not the world's smallest kite, but it's close, and it is a tiny fraction of the size of the kites you may find being sold in the street or on Ebay under the title of "World's Smallest Kite". They are usually about 4 inches long by 3.5 inches wide, more than seven times the area of the one I'm making here.
Step 1: Materials and Tools
You also need:
- Thin sewing thread, embroidery "floss" or other twisted line.
- Scotch tape
- Sharp knife
- Metal ruler
- Cutting mat
- Ceramic or glass cutting surface. I used a spare wall tile.
A note on thread:
The thread you use needs to be as light as possible. If you can, untwist the the thread and separate it into two or more thinner strands. Cotton sewing threads tend to come apart when untwisted, but synthetic threads are often made with longer fibres. If you have some spare Dacron kite line, that untwists very well.
Step 2: Creases
Unlike the vast majority of "flat" kites, this one has no actual spars or longerons.
Instead, the aerodynamic shape is maintained by creasing the Mylar.
Start by creasing the Mylar. You need a really straight, sharp crease, so run your thumbnail along it a few times, pressing hard.
Measure a line 19mm long, at right angles to the crease. This line marks where the "cross spar" crease will be.
You then need to mark the spine of the kite along the crease. The whole kite is 35mm long, with 7mm in front of the line, and 28mm behind.
By my calculations, being 35mm long, and 38mm wide makes this kite exactly one square inch.
(The lines drawn in my photos are horrible and thick because I used a dry-wipe pen to show the outline. I don't normally draw the outline, usually going straight for the cutting.)
Step 3: Cutting
Time to cut the kite out.
Press down hard with the metal ruler, and cut the kite out. You need to be very, very careful to stop the Mylar slipping while you cut through the two layers, because tiny faults are magnified by the small size.
If you marked in the various lines in step 2, it doesn't matter if they get wiped off now, because you don't need them again.
Step 4: The Second Crease
To hold the proper shape, you need a second crease.
Left-to-right, point-to-point across the kite, you need to fold it the same way as the original spine crease. If you lay the kite down on the cutting mat, all the creases should form ridges, not troughs.
Remember that the crease needs to be sharp.
Step 5: Scotch Tape.
The tail and flying line are held on with tape.
The best choice is Scotch brand tape, because it is clear, colourless, and stickier than most similar tapes.
Tear off a piece of the tape and stick it to the tile.
With your sharp knife, cut across the tape in both directions to make rectangular pieces about 2mm x 5mm.
They can be lifted back off the tile with the tip of your knife.
Step 6: Tail.
Take a piece of your thread, about 15-20cm long, and use one of the pieces of tape to anchor it to the back of the kite, in the trough of the crease.
Be aware, this can be very fiddly.
It will probably be easiest to place the tape with the tip of your knife, laying it across the thread. If the thread is not in the right place, a bit of gentle pressure can make persuade it to slide through the tape.
Step 7: Flying Line
The flying line gets attached immediately behind the point where the creases cross.
Use another piece of tape, but attach the line to the front of the kite, on top of the crease, with the line going towards the front of the kite.
If you're not clear, have a look at the photo and the sketch I drew (not to scale).
Step 8: Flying the Kite
You also need to hold your hand away from your body, to cut down on turbulence.
The second still was taken with my kite flying machine.
You can try tying the fling line to a length of garden cane, or a fast-food-joint balloon stick, to cut down turbulence even more. I used a very long straw.
Don't bother using a desk fan as a make-shift wind-tunnel, because the turbulence from the spinning blades will just set your kite spinning out of control. Those posh Dyson fans are supposed to be less turbulent, but I've never played with one. If you do, maybe you can let me know what the results are like?
Taking a picture or video of the kite actually flying is incredibly, incredibly awkward and frustrating. All I really managed was to get was so dizzy that I fell over and landed on Conker-X.
Step 9: Storage
The title isn't a joke - this kite really does fit in a matchbox!
To stop the flying line tangling, wrap it around a small stick, such s a match or a short piece of bamboo.
You may want to lay some small scraps of tissue paper in with the kite, to stop things bouncing around and tangling lines, but otherwise you can just drop the kite in your pocket.
You can use this method to make a larger kite, but I've never been able to get one smaller to actually fly. Smaller kites made like this are just too small to lift flying lines made of sewing thread. You may be able to fly a smaller kite if you can source a lighter thread for the tail and flying line.