Easy Kitemaking: How to Build a Pyramid Kite
The Tetrahedral Kite: Easy to Make, Easy to Fly!
There are many kite designs, but the pyramid kite is easy to make and a fun project for kids. I made my first one in second grade (Thank you, Mrs. Mckee, wherever you are). My homemade kite lasted for almost ten years of blustery springs spent bashing into a cornfield.
It's a bird! It's a plane! It's a...
I've called it a "pyramid kite" since I was a kid, but it's really a tetrahedral kite. The shape is a tetrahedron, which is just one kind of pyramid. But if you need to build a pyramid a school project, hang on! I've also created a How to Make an Egyptian Pyramid tutorial for you-- check it out!
But hopefully you're here to make a kite. So, let's get started!
Video: Flying My Pyramid Kite
Don't worry, this kite isn't really that close to the tree.
Sorry about the silly music. The wind blasted my mike with static, so I had to swap the audio. (It's Wagner's Flight of the Valkyries.)
Materials You'll Need to Build This Kite
- 24 plastic drinking straws
- spool of kitestring or kitchen string
- large sewing needle (** or chopstick + twistie -- see below)
- strong, light tissue paper or mylar (Colored plastic wrap found in party stores works nicely, but tug on it to make sure it doesn't tear easily. Regular printer paper or wrapping paper is too heavy.)
- craft glue (I use rubber cement, but there's safer craft glues for kids)
Instructions for Making Kite
- String three plastic drinking straws together to form a triangle. The easiest way is to give your thread extra slack, use a heavy needle, and drop it down through one straw, letting gravity do the work for you. Tie the triangle's ends together securely, leaving as little slack as possible.
- Thread and tie on two more straws to form a second triangle, using one of the first three straws for one side of the triangle. Then tie one more straw between the outer corner of the two triangles to form the back of the pyramid. Again, don't tie the thread so tightly that the straws bend, but don't leave so much give that your pyramid flops. It should stand up on its own once you've got all six straws in place.
- Place your pyramid on your paper or wrap of choice. Trace or cut out a triangle about half an inch larger than the pyramid's base, nipping off the corners as shown. The shape is like the orange safety triangles on slow-moving vehicles. If this is an activity for children, you may want to prepare a cardboard pattern ahead of time which they can trace and copy. Repeat to get a second triangle.
- For each of two sides of the pyramid: Curl the edges of the paper triangle over and around the straws, then secure with rubber cement.
Photo Guide: Making a Pyramid KiteClick thumbnail to view full-size
5. Repeat steps 1-4, to create three more pyramids, each with two sides covered with paper.Stack the four individual pyramids into one large pyramid: three on the bottom, one on top.
6. Orient all of them in the same direction, so that, for instance, the papered sides on all of them are on the left and right. (They're like the wings of birds flying in formation. If they're facing different directions, the wind won't be able to pass through freely.)
7. When you've got all the pyramids arranged properly, tie together all the corners that touch, double and triple knotting, just to make sure.
8. Attach your kitestring to one of the corners where two sides of paper meet, as shown in the diagram, and you're done!
If you want to be ambitious, you can make three more kites like this one, then tie them together to build a giant kite! Ever heard of fractals? You can just keep repeating the same pattern, larger and larger, to make the Great Pyramid!
TIP 2010: This kite can be feisty in strong winds (see video above). I find it fun, but you might want to make a detachable tail for stability. Add a string loop on the "downwind" corner of the kite. Then cut a separate string as a tail. Tie cloth ribbons to it, or some other sort of weight like beads or paper clips. Tie a paper clip to one end of the tail to use as a fastener. That way you can add or remove the tail as needed.
Making Your Kite: Extra Help - Improvising Alternate Materials
The twistie needle is probably more "kid safe" than the turkey-lacing needle I used to use. I trimmed a paper-and-wire twistie so that it would fit easily through the straw, then folded the end over to make the eye.
It's also really quick -- drop it in one end of the straw, push it through with a chopstick, grab the end sticking out and repeat.
When trimming bendy straws, use the bottom of the joint as a reference so you cut them all to about the same size.
Photo Gallery: Pyramid Kite in Action - Let's Go Fly a Kite!Click thumbnail to view full-size
Flying Your Tetrahedral Kite
Show off your homemade kite in a public park, away from trees
I just pick the kite up off the ground by its string and let it go. The wind will flow in the same direction as the string, balancing the two "wings" of each pyramid like the sides of a sailboat sitting on water. It's a very forgiving shape, and the straws tend to bounce rather than break on sharp landings. If one does get bent in a crash, drop a bamboo skewer or a stick through it to splint it.
This kite will fly if the wind is strong enough to blow your hair or ring windchimes fairly steadily.
Did You Know?
The inventor of the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell, also invented this tetrahedral kite design. In fact, he kept stacking more and more pyramids together, trying to make a glider big enough to work as an ultralight plane!
Sierpinski Triangle Video
Sierpinski's Triangle - Fractal Math
When building tetrahedral kites, you can make them larger and larger by adding more and more tetrahedrons (those pyramid shapes). That's what Bell did to make his kite-airplane.
Mathematicians LOVE processes like this. They call it iteration, meaning "repeating the same steps over and over." Sierpinski's Gasket is what happens when, instead of stacking triangles on top of each other, you make triangles inside each and every triangle. Watch this -- turn down the sound first, if you're in a library!
(Teachers and students, check out this cool Sierpinski's Triangle activity.)
A Pocket Kite -- Always Ready! - A unique, compact kite that's almost indestructable
Okay, I confess -- I don't always fly pyramid kites. I actually collect a lot of different kites. Some are gorgeous, shaped like dragons or phoenixes or ships! But they take a lot of wind, a lot of space, and I don't take them out very often.
This one I do. I keep it in the trunk of my car. It rolls up and fits in the bottom of a backpack. It's stable, tough, forgiving, and can do simple stunts (figure 8s, S-curves) once you get the feel for it. Best of all -- no struts, so it can't break! If it crashes, it just collapses like a sack; shake the sand off and it's ready to go again. Mine has lasted for fifteen years.
© 2007 Ellen Brundige