The Night Kite - a Glowing Box Kite




About: See some of my work here and as always accepting orders for custom design and fabrication as featured on Discovery Channel, Wired Magazine, Gizmodo, Engadget, Geekologie, PCWorld, CNet and many more - Pinter...

A simple small box kite, outfitted with ultra lite fairy lights that allow you to fly at night in style. Of course in the off season, #now, #FebruaryBites, #PolarVortex, flying a kite such as this, though not impossible, is not really a desirable activity. Instead put it to good use, and hang it on the wall as an art piece, or to lighten up a room. Mine is above one of my little buddies play areas. Underneath are snugly pillows that he can lay on and look up, seeing the gently glow emanating from his kite, as he's imagining it soaring in the early night sky, glowing magically as it rises and falls with the evenings gently winds. Until then, it brings the warm glow of twinkle lights to an otherwise cold and wet February night. But enough of that, lets go build a kite, and perhaps if you are reading this in nicer weather, lets go fly a kite! This build took about 3 hours over two days, with a lot of humming and hawing over dimensions. It needed to be flyable but I also wanted to use it inside as a cool night light on the wall so it couldn't be massive. I went quite small being 27 inches long with 12 inch cross pieces. Typical box kites are 36 inches long with cross pieces around 16 inches. Even at this smaller size, they still fly quite stable, though with less lift. When the kite is to be flown, the lights feed off a small 3.5v coin battery. When on the wall, a larger rechargeable battery pack plugs in, keeps things simple.

So, why a Box kite? For one, they are heavy lifters. For such a relatively small size, caring the fairy lights is no problem for a box kite, even with a small battery pack. Second, they just look plain cool. Like something from long ago. I left mine in just its raw form, with just spruce spars and rice paper, they look like something the Wright Brothers would have flown, or a sketch from Leonardo da Vinci. They are, the bumble bee of the kite world, they don't really look like they could fly, but they do. A box kite, gets its incredible lift from its two sections.

Here is a blurb from Nasa

Aerodynamics: Lift and Drag
The box kite's design utilizes two simple principles of aerodynamics to soar through the sky-- lift and drag. These principles also govern the way other kites, and even airplanes, are able to maintain altitude in the air. However, the box kite's method is slightly different from the lift provided by wings or gliders. Lift is one aerodynamic force that acts on the box kite's surface. When a breeze hits the box kite, lift is created as the air rushes through the fabric-covered skeleton, and the kite takes off. However, without the other force that acts upon the kite--drag--the kite would simply sail off out of sight! Drag is dependent on the velocity--or direction and speed--of the wind hitting the box kite. You can feel this force directly through the string anchoring the kite to your hand. NASA says that the concepts behind the box kite and other kites were applied by the Wright Brothers in designing the first successful airplane. So, the next time you fly a box kite, remember that you're literally guiding the foundation of modern aviation in your hand.

Lastly, they look awesome hanging up inside!

Safety/Legal disclaimer - As someone pointed out, it may be illegal to fly kites with lights on them at night. Be sure to check your local regulations prior to your first night flight! That and perhaps avoid any heavy UFO visited areas... or, heavy air traffic areas.

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Step 1: Supplies

Supplies will vary depending on size. Originally mine was going to be larger at 36 inches long so i used beefier dowel with the main spars using 3/8" and the cross pieces being 5/16". Even though I made it smaller, I still used the slightly larger dowels. If I were to make it again I'd use all 5/16 dowels, but each to his own.

  • Bamboo skewers - as wood dowel glue plugs
  • 4 - 3/8" x 36" dowels
  • 4 - 5/16" x 36" dowels
  • Rice paper - at least 10 feet, this allows for some whoops factor. Normally sold in a 40 foot roll
  • Wood glue
  • Glue stick
  • Cotton twine, I used butchers twine

Step 2: Measure Twice, Cut Once

Seems simple right, measure twice cut once, yet... I think there should be another "measurement" of sorts. A requirement to double check, namely with your spouse/partner. I started making this full size, with 36 inch spars and 17 inch cross sections, it would look awesome! If, you live in a loft with 18 foot ceilings! I live in what my wife lovingly refers to as our "Hobbit" house. So after cutting these full size, my wife wisely advise me to "think about it" for a minute. Dang it, right as usual. So If you too, live in a "modest" sized home, or god forbid, a micro-home choose your size, wisely.

  1. First start off by cutting your four main spars. I went with 27 inches, this measurement just felt right. You can cut right through them with a small fine toothed hand saw or power tool of choice. With dowels I find it best to cut a circle all the way around first, before cutting all the way through. This reduces splintering. Often i will just cut the outer channel and then gently rock the joint back and forth until it snaps.
  2. Next cut your eight cross channels. Mine were cut to 12 inches, for the larger ratio anywhere from 14 to 19 inches is fairly standard.

A note on the cross channels, most people only tend to do one "X" per panel section, so one at the top, of the kite and one at the bottom. I made a cross channel for the top and bottom of each section giving me four "X" channels rather then 2. Why? I just see the main spars warping after a set period of time, with 4 you have less of a chance for this to occur.

Step 3: Notch and Glue

The crosses are made by taking two twelve inch dowels and lashing them together in a "X" shape with twine saturated in wood glue. When the glue sets it acts like resin wetting out fiberglass. To get a better fit though you should notch out each dowel in the middle, 5/16" wide and slightly less then half way through the dowel at the center point of each dowel. Perhaps looking at the pictures will make it more clear.

  1. Once your notches have been made put a drop of wood glue in between two of the dowels and bring them together.
  2. Next start wrapping a piece of cotton twine around the joint criss-crossing it as you go. I used about a seven inch piece of twine. As you wrap the twine tightly, spread a couple of drops of glue into the twine, saturating it. Generally once you have gone around several times you don't even need to tie it, the glue holds it strongly enough in place. Let these pieces dry for at least an hour, but more like over night to achieve a full cure.
  3. Next its time to notch your main spars where the cross pieces will connect. This will be drilled after, so technically perhaps they don't need to be notched, but drilling a flat surface and fitting the pieces makes it so much easier. I notched mine one inch from each end and ten inches in from the end.

Step 4: Drill and Peg

To hold this all together I drilled a hole through the side of the main spar, right through where we notched it at each section. I then drilled a hole about 1/2 inch deep up each cross spar, "honestly" not the easiest to do. I drill bit you use will be dependent on the outside diameter of you bamboo skewers. Rather then insert the drill bit in a power drill I used it in a Dremel, this allowed me greater control. Be careful though, the drill bit still almost got away from me almost touched the tip of my finger, cuts from drill bits hurt! Go easy and you will be okay. Last step is to cut some bamboo skewers into wood pegs, about an inch long. You'll need 16. I just cut them with a cable shear.

Step 5: Assemble

I thought this part was going to give me so much grief but it went together so easy!

  1. Take one long spar and put a drop of glue on to each notch, it will slowly begin to drip into the hole.
  2. Insert a 1 inch bamboo dowel into each hole, twirling it in the glue as you go.
  3. Dab a little glue on the ends of the drilled out cross sections and slide this onto the bamboo dowel effectively pinning it in place.
  4. Do this to the next three cross sections
  5. Continue gluing and inserting bamboo dowels into the other 3 spars and connect them to the other cross sections. If you matched up your drill bit to the bamboo dowels so they are snug, its like building with some sort of hybrid Lego
  6. Next use some twine and wrap it around the structure, clamping it together. I went overboard and played "I'm an Iron Worker" and wrapped the crap out of it in a cool architectural looking way, just for fun.
  7. Let this set up for at least several hours before removing the strings. I waited till the next day.
  8. Once the strings are off, cut off the excess protruding bamboo dowels nice and flush.

Step 6: Rice Paper Skin

More Measuring!

  1. Roll out some rice paper. I needed two lengths of paper, 50 inches long by about 12 inches wide.
  2. Next fold over the long edge of each side 1/2 an inch, glue this in place with your glue stick. This will give you a 50 inch by 11 inch panel. Technically it should only need to be 48 inches to wrap around, but this give me wiggle room.
  3. Repeat for the other panel.
  4. Next spread wood glue across all 4 spars where it will touch the paper.
  5. Start at one end and embed the paper into the glue on one of the spars.
  6. Slowly wrap the paper around the kite, lining up the paper with the edge of the kite.
  7. When you reach the end spread a layer of glue on your starting dowel and press the paper into this. You will have some over hang. Allow the glue to soften the paper a little where the over hang is and gently tear it away. Rice paper when softened will tatter at the end where it is torn and when mixed with glue and pressed down gives almost a seamless edge. If this makes you nervous, just cut it with a razor blade.
  8. Repeat with the other side.

Step 7: Light It Up!

Lighting this up is so easy with fairy lights, also referred to as copper wire lights. They are very small LED's embedded in a small resin drip on enameled wire. The enameled wire requires no further insulation so along with the barely there LED's the whole string is impossibly light. The 3 double AA power pack is light as well, not enough for flight though. I use this battery pack for use in the home. For flying, I remove the double AA battery pack and replace it with a 3.5V, 1216, Lithium button cell battery. Ironically the switch and battery pack for this came in the packaging as the demo switch. Not all demonstration switches are the same. Mine was press on/press off versus most which are momentary. I simply threaded the wires through the frame securing it with clear tape. I wanted it easy to remove in the event of a crash! My ten foot roll allowed me run the wires adjacent each long spar. The large battery pack is just "twist-tied" in place. For flight simply remove and insert the smaller pack. Understanding run time is only for about an hour, but 6 batteries for a buck at the local dollar store isn't going to break the bank.

Step 8: Go Fly, or ... Hang It on the Wall Until Better Whether Appears.... Sigh

Have I flown it yet? No, its raining steady where I am, but hopefully soon. For now it looks very cheery up on the wall. I like the simple look of the rice paper, but this is begging to be painted with some nice inks. This is rice paper meant for painting after all. Happy flying.

P.S. My daughter always managed to sneak in a selfie...

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    14 Discussions


    2 years ago

    Where did you find the rice paper roll? And also, is there another name for it so I can ask for it at Michaels, Joannes, or some other hobby store?

    1 reply

    I bought the roll of rice paper years ago at a art supply store in British Columbia, "Canada" called, Opus Art supplies. Here is the link. I would think other suppliers should be able to get it in. Also if you are in a more urban area, check out the local China town, they will often have it for Chinese calligraphy.


    2 years ago

    It may be considered wise to warn people that in some countries it is illegal to fly kites with lights.

    Not that it has bothered me in the past.... I went for the sledge hammer approach and mounted a car headlight reflector with a very bright halogen bulb.

    I used a large two line stunt kite and used twelve volt flex instead of line to fly it on, and a 12 volt car battery which I placed on the ground between my legs.

    I waited for dark and flew it on a field close to a main road into town, I'd fly up and spin then turn the light off and also fly parallel to the road. Just making crazy shapes.

    It didn't take long before a couple of cars stopped and people were running towards me shouting look at the UFO!

    When they saw it was just me and a kite they were miffed.

    After about half an hour I had been rumbled a few times when finally the police arrived. He said they'd had many phone calls about a UFO and people saying a mysterious light was flying above the road - which was untrue, I explained it couldn't be true as I was tethered with the battery.

    Luckily the policeman didn't realise that what I was doing was illegal in UK - but I thought it best to make my getaway.

    2 replies

    Reply 2 years ago

    So it looks like in Canada and the USA you can fly kites with lights at night, though it has caused problems with people thinking they were UFO's. Apparently you can get LED light kits on Amazon and Ebay readily enough. Additionally some U.S. states even have night kite clubs, huh, who knew...


    Reply 2 years ago

    Wowsers! I had no idea, honestly not sure as to the legality of its use in Canada? I will have to look into to it, I will for sure make note of it in the instructable though.

    Uncle Kudzu

    2 years ago

    OK, that's the coolest thing I've seen in a while! Brilliant!

    1 reply

    2 years ago

    I love it. Never made a kite before but your technique looks like I could do it. I've desired to light my kite, years ago, before I heard of LEDs. This could rekindle that interest and spring is almost here.

    1 reply

    I know where your coming from, how can something that emits light be so hard to see......witchcraft....