Why build a custom kite? Certainly not for the lack of available boutique kites in the world. Probably not to save money; materials for top of the line kites are expensive. Perhaps it’s more the processes, or to have a personalized end product thats fun to fly. In the case of this article, the subject is a Sixth Sense; designed by Davide Equizzi. Plans provided to the world through his website.
He has made several configurations available to build. A standard weight and an ultra light version; both versions available in multiple frame configurations ranging from “high quality entry level price and performance” to “spine tingling, tap your retirement fund performance”.
There are some basic requirements for anyone that wants to build a kite. The bare minimum is to have a space to build in, a sewing machine and simple tools like straight edges, glue sticks, and some simple cutting tools like a fine tooth hacksaw blade. I fully recommend the use of a hot cutter (in my case I use a 40 watt soldering iron). As mentioned, this is the bare minimum. My studio consists of all of these things, but I’ve also built several jigs for bridle tying, a custom spar saw and a multitude of different cutting implements including craft/hobby knives, variety of scissors and a handful of other random supplies.
Some references a new builder should be aware of: Probably the most widely recommended sport kite building instruction is Tom’s Kite Building Site. A few other references/resources are the build forums at kitebuilder and gwtw. Through these welcoming and knowledgeable communities almost any answer can be found. A thread with some great step by step instruction as well as some innovative ideas for sewing the nose, tail strap and tying the bridle starts here. Not the last resource, but a decent one is a build documentation I did for another kite, the 2011 B’zar. The thread can be read here.
Choosing a kite to build is the first step. There are a multitude of choices, but Davide’s modern designs are widely considered to be among the best. After picking a kite, I make a choice as to what frame and color layout I will prefer. It is always wise to make up a color template of the final sail layout. This way you have a reference while cutting fabric.
As mentioned, the materials used to build custom sport kites are not cheap. An assumption I have is that anyone reading this article will be familiar with the materials mentioned within the text. There are less expensive designs available, but I will be sticking with premium quality supply for this build. The Sixth Sense sail utilizes a mix of PC31 fabric, Dacron, Mylar and spinnaker. To hold all the fabric together, I use V30 bonded polyester sail thread. It’s important to use 100% polyester, as other materials such as nylon can break down or even mold when they get wet. For the frame I use Loctite brand professional superglue (Cyanoacrilate). The frame is comprised of Skyshark and pultruded carbon spars and removable frame connections include leading edge connectors, a centre t-connector and various standoff connectors.
For this Sixth Sense build, the materials list is as follows.
- PC31 (Icarex): 1 yard of each color; white, orange and silver (light grey)
- NorLam Mylar: approx 1/2 yard of 0.75 oz
- Dacron: various lengths of both 1 and 2 inch widths in black
- Spinnaker Nylon: various lengths of 1inch width black and strips cut to approx 5mm
- Nose material: Heat Sealable Packcloth (8.2oz/yd) (may substitute seatbelt webbing)
- Diamond Ripstop: 72 x 12 inches
- v30 coated polyester sail thread
- Skyshark Nitro: x2
- Skyshark Nitro Strong: x2
- Skyshark Nitro Clear Coat: x2
- Skyshark 5ptL: x1
- Skyshark P100: x1 (for ferrules)
- 6mm pultruded carbon: x1
- .240” pultruded carbon: x approx 12 inches
- 3mm solid carbon: x4 (standoffs)
- APA Leading Edge connector: x4
- Exel Standoff connectors (spreader side): x4
- Jaco Standoff connectors (sail side): 3mm short post x4
- HQ nock: 6mm x2
- Vinyl endcaps: approx 5mm x9
- R-Sky center T: 6x7mm x1
- R-Sky yo-yo stoppers: x2
- Spectra core bridle line: 100lbs approx 3.5 yards
- 150lb spectra line: approx 3 yards
- Heavy stretch cord: approx 10 inches
- Something for ballast weight (techniques vary)
Sixth Sense Kite Build from Sugarbaker on Vimeo.
Now, you’ve chosen a kite. You have a space and some equipment. You ordered material. Now print the plan. Save yourself an hour of agony… print it at 100% on full size paper at your local copier/office printing service. Why is it better? Alignment is at risk if you tape together 40 letter size pages to equal the plan. With full size, you know your panel template and sail layout will be the same size. It’s easier!
What is the number one thing that can make or break a kite build? Preparation. You should always prepare. Prep your sewing machine with a new needle (using a fresh needle for each project can save you from skipped threads or other hassles). Prep your sail layout before you glue panels together. Prep your ability to sew by setting up your sewing machine on scrap material (use the scrap material from cutting your sail). Prep areas of the kite that are hard to sew by gluing, taping or pinning the pieces in place. Mentally prepare to make a mistake.
So, you have a plan. One way or another you’ve made templates and cut your sail fabric out (see those referenced sites mentioned in the beginning). With a pile of fabric cut to size, you’re ready to start piecing this kite together. Remember that “preparation” part? Layout your sail. Work in halves, but layout the entire half before you glue or sew. Why? Your templates are not perfect (unless you ordered CAD precision CNC cut metal templates… but you should still layout your fabric). Laying out the sail with the way you want fabric to overlap can help you discover areas that could be problems later. Compensate now before you sew. Move a panel 1 mm to make up for that narrow overlap. Catch mistakes with which color resides on top or bottom of the other color. The most important thing is that you have the outside borders aligned with the plan. You can fudge the inside a little, in order to have appropriate overlaps to sew, but the outside is critical to the end performance of the kite. Symmetry is critical, so make sure left and right halves are equal. Use a cheap glue stick to hold your panels together… this method is great because it can easily be pulled apart if you notice a problem. Only sew after you’re happy with the layout of the sail.
Now sew. Check to make sure your bobbin is full. Practice a couple of runs on scrap material. Set your length and width of whatever stitch you choose. Write stuff down so you don’t have to test again later should you be interrupted. Think about what order you should sew in. Keep in mind areas that will be covered up later.
Consider now that you’ve sewn up the sail panels, attached your re-enforcing mylar, sewn on the trailing edge. All of this is pretty simple. Where can problems occur? Leading edges can be tough due to the thicker material and the fact that it will be fit around a curve. The Sixth Sense is a good kite for leading edge, as most of the leading edge is straight, with very little curve. That being said, learn to prep your leading edges on a kite like this so when a curved edge comes up in the future, you’ll be successful.
Pre-fold everything (don’t forget to fold back the wing tip end of the leading edge… cut the length to allow for this area of re-enforcement). Tape is the way I prefer to go here. Front and back. Keep in mind that a spar will thread through this tube/pocket you’re creating. Methods may vary, but pictured is a way that can work well. The half with two strips will be the back of the kite. the half with one strip of tape will be the front, and allow enough room for the spars to slide through.
Attach the leading edge to the sail by first connecting the ripstop in a fashion that it lines up with the center fold of the leading edge… this will ensure your alignment and symmetry to both halves of the kite. After attaching the back side of the leading edge, peel the strip of the front side. When sticking the front side down, be sure it lines up with the edge of the back side of the kite. With careful and slow progress, you can have excellent alignment now that will be easy to sew without bunching up and will minimize wrinkles in the leading edge of the completed kite.
Another problem area of the kite is the nose. Once again, there are many methods. Taping, securing, slow and precise sewing are the way to get good results. Get the nose as flat as possible before you sew. Sewing over wrinkles and folds is hard. Prep. your sewing machine… practice on scrap. Consider a bigger needle as you’re pulling thread through thicker material. You may need to adjust tension on the sewing machine. Weigh the option of leaving the nose prepped for sewing for an entire day… in order to let the fold of the nose material set in. This will keep the nose flat while sewing. Also, consider using a pencil and drawing your lines on the material so you know where to sew. The nose is close to the last piece of of the kite.
Frame and bridle can be prepped and made during those moments when you’re sick of sewing or need a change in scenery. Follow the advice of provided build references. If it’s your first build, ask questions as you go. If there is someone local that also builds kites, have them look at your work and progress. Look for kite building seminars. Few exist, but when they happen it can be a great community of people with the same questions you will face. Remember that this is for fun.