When I was a kid growing up the best place to fly a kite was always at the beach. The powerful wind from the ocean would toss my kite neatly into the sky, and then turn it in a ballet of loops and twirls. When I was walking along the coast of Alameda in San Francisco the other day, I saw a handful of thin and hollow driftwood pieces on the shore. This sparked the idea for creating a kite entirely sourced from the ocean. I was flying out to Boston the next day, so I bubble wrapped the driftwood I had collected, and after some confused and perhaps concerned looks from TSA I made it all the way to the Atlantic. I visited Revere Beach with a friend and collected two buckets full of green and brown seaweed. I proceeded to build the kite's skeleton out of driftwood and twine, I developed the sail by layering and gluing the seaweed, and then mounted the sail with green sewing thread. It came about a bit heavier than I wanted, and I definitely would do it differently a second time (see last step), it was only really able to 'fly' (or should I say flop around) for a bit due to heavy wind. I received some advice from User Kiteman on how the design might be improved. Obviously this project is not conventional, as it is very easy to make a less time consuming and more functional kite, but I wanted to make something a little different and learn in the process. I hope you enjoy it!
Although I made this project on my back porch at home, theoretically it shouldn't be too hard to build during a full day at the beach with the family. It could be a great project to teach younger kids about being resourceful and creative with natural materials.
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Step 1: Design the Kite
Sketch a simple layout for your kite so that you can have the dimensions in mind. An ideal layering for the seaweed would be diagonally across the frame, but as it turned out the seaweed I found was much smaller and I had to spread it out in a less accurate pattern.
Step 2: Collect Materials
- 2 thin, hollow, and straight driftwood pieces
- large bucket of seaweed (green & brown)
- green thread and needle
- roll of twine
- metal wire
- small handsaw
- plastic wrap
- olive oil/PAM/non-stick spray
- binding glue (mod podge)
In regards to the seaweed, I found that the green algae made for a better color, and was lighter than the brown algae. The brown algae on the other hand was much more durable, leathery, and stretchy. Read more on types of seaweed here. Also, sometimes driftwood can be difficult to find, but it can easily be substituted with other lightweight sticks.
Step 3: Build the Driftwood Skeleton
Begin by measuring and cutting the driftwood pieces to length using the handsaw. The edges of the wood are prone to cracking, so use masking tap to tip all of the edges. Then use the pen to mark the intersection of the two pieces, and make a cut in the vertical piece that allows the horizontal to fit snugly in place.
Take the twine and use it to tie the two pieces together. I began with a clove hitch, and then proceeded to wrap the twine, and finished with a clove hitch again. I found a great video that provides a demonstration on how to do this. Once you have your two sticks tied together, use the saw to cut grooves into each of the four edges of the sticks for the twine to fit into it. Tie a base for the twine at the bottom of the frame, and then proceed to wrap the twine tightly all around each of the edges until you return to the bottom and finish the knot. You now have a basic kite skeleton on which to attach your sail.
Step 4: Create the Seaweed Sail
Make sure to begin by plastic wrapping your workspace and applying a lubricant (cheap olive oil) to make sure the sail won't stick to the surface when it dries out. Take the seaweed out of the bucket of sea water, and strain it. Make sure to squeeze as much water out of the leaves as possible, but be careful not to tear them. Carefully layer each leaf onto the plastic wrap, and gradually create the shape of the kite. Try to follow the layering design shown in step 1 as best you can. Use your own judgment on how thick the layer should be; the thinner the layer the lighter the kite will be, but you sacrifice durability. Extend the sail two or three inches past the kite's skeleton to account for shrinkage when the leaves dry. After all the leaves are placed, leave it out to dry. In the sun, it shouldn't take more than two or three hours and if it is really hot be careful about letting them get too crispy. You want the leaves to stick together as they dry but you don't want them cracking. If the leaves aren't sticking well enough together on their own spread a thin layer of glue across the entire sail. Allow the glue to dry for twenty minutes or so before attaching the frame.
*If you over bake your sail when drying, fill a spray bottle with ocean water and see if you can save it. If the leaves are too brittle it becomes difficult to attach them to the frame.
Step 5: Attach the Sail, Skeleton, and Handle
When the sail is ready, place the frame in the middle and secure the outermost edges with metal wire. Next, secure the edges of the sail to the twine frame by carefully sewing with a green thread. Tape or glue will not work well here, the seaweed sail is fragile and leathery and needs a simple thread to keep it attached to the frame. Move slowly and keep small spaces between each pass to build strength. Continue sewing around the entire frame.
For the handle I chose another piece of driftwood that I had found, and attached a length of twine to the intersection of the kite's frame. Wrap more twine than you think you will need around the handle. The kite is now ready for testing!
Step 6: The Flying Sea Monster
We went out and tested the kite out at Castle Island in South Boston. We had some heavier winds, and the kite was able to flop around in the air, but it did not fly very well. User Kiteman recommended adding a tail to the kite, getting it lighter, and somehow getting the seaweed to spread symmetrically for even balance. Thanks! Once we got home from the beach, rather than keep a smelly kite around, I recycled it into a dog toy for my Golden Retriever Molly.
Improvements for next time around to make it fly like a functional kite
- Find larger sheets of seawood that spread across the entire frame to create symmetry (may require snorkeling in deeper water)
- Use brown seawood because it is more leathery and will sew together into a lighter sail (less colorful though)
- Lose the glue if you use the larger sheets, use thread instead
- Add a tail to the kite!
- Use thicker twine to attach the handle to the kite (broke off one time)
- It would also be cool to experiment with shredding seaweed in the blender and then layering the goop into a pre-arranged frame - that may work much better in creating a thinner and more symmetrical frame
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