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A kite recipe that would make Benjamin Franklin proud

If you really want your kite to rule, it helps to take instruction from the master in physics himself. Benjamin Franklin, a founding father of the United States and the inventor of the lightning rod and bifocals, also meant business when it came to kite-making.

A handmade kite was an integral part of his 1752 experiment that proved lightning was a form of electricity. Franklin and his son made a kite from strips of cedar, twine and a large thin silk handkerchief. Silk was “fitter to bear the wet and wind of a thunder gust without tearing.” On a dark and stormy night, the father and son thrust their kite into a thunder storm from a window in their barn. They tied an iron key to the end of the kite string, and tied a thin metal wire from the key and inserted the wire into a Leyden jar. As the kite flew, negative charges passed down the string and into the jar.

When Franklin published his discoveries, he didn’t boast about his own creative genius. Rather, he described the experiment with such detail that any reader could recreate his steps, right down to his instructions for building a kite. Franklin’s kid-friendly kite is super easy, and you can use materials you have around the house. These diagrams might come in handy.

You’ll need:

  • Two wooden dowels or lightweight wooden sticks (like bamboo), one 24 inches long, the other 20 inches long.
  • One heavy duty garbage bag
  • Tape
  • Twine
  • Craft knife
  • Ruler
  • Marker
  • Scissors
  • Multicoloured ribbons

Here’s how:

1. With the craft knife, carve slits into both ends of each wooden stick. Make sure each slit goes in same direction on each end.

2. On the longer stick, mark off a spot 6 inches from the end. Now take the shorter stick and mark of a spot 10 inches from the end. Place the shorter stick crosswise over the longer stick, matching up the marks you just made. The slits should all be parallel to the ground. Wrap the string tightly around the center of your sticks to bind them together.

3. Now, thread the string through all the slits on your sticks, creating a diamond shape. Wrap it around twice, making sure the strings are taut. This is the frame of your kite. Pull the end of the string backward toward the center of your kite. Wrap it tightly around both sticks, mimicking the X shape you made earlier with the string. Tie it off with a knot.

4. Cut your plastic bag so its a bit bigger than the kite frame. Fold it over the string frame and glue it down. Secure the folds with tape or glue. Wrap some tape around the top and bottom tips of your kite. Using a pen or needle, punch a hole through the taped part.

5. Cut a 2 foot piece of string and knot one end of the string though the top hole and the other end through the bottom hole. This is the bridle. Take the remainder of your string and attach it to one end of the bridle, this will be your flying string.

6. Tape or tie a long string to the bottom tip of your kite. Then, take your ribbons and tie bows around the string to make a tail. The tail of your kite will add stability when it’s in flight, but it will also make it look awesome.

Photo by Will Graham via Flickr

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