While purchasing a kite-making kit, or a pre-made kite online, you may notice the lack of choice you have for the kite line – often these are cheap twisted nylon, and more often than not, suitable only for casual fliers.
The line you use should be suited to both your kite and the wind conditions. A bigger kite will require a stronger kite line; coupled with strong winds, if you are not careful or use a lightweight kite line, the line could snap and your kite would most likely float away on the wind. We recommend that your kite line be made from polyester aka Dacron for both ease of use and ease of mind.
Breaking Load of a Line
Have you ever had your kite line snap or break while your kite is in the air? I have, and it can be a horrible feeling to watch your kite float away, never to be found again. The breaking load of a line is how much weight the line can hold before it breaks – a high breaking load allows you to fly larger kites in stronger winds with a lesser chance of the kite line breaking.
In the picture above, you can see “100# x 500′” – this means that there is a 500′ of line in the package, and the line has a breaking load of 100lb (pounds). When looking for kite lines, always check the breaking load of the line to suit your needs.
We also recommend that you have a selection of kite lines when you go kite flying! This will help you adapt to any changes in wind conditions; if you choose to fly a bigger kite than the one you originally planned on flying, you can also switch out the line for something that has a higher breaking load point.
Length of Kite String/Line
Different lengths of kite lines will change the performance of your kite. For example, longer lines generate more drag than shorter lines, leading to your kite feeling more sluggish or less responsive. Turns made with longer kite lines also take longer and more space to complete. When turning, kite speeds will also appear to be slower on longer lines. This is because your kite travels a longer arc on a longer line than when it’s on a shorter line.
To see this in action, take a foot of string and tie it around a cork. When you spin this above your head, you will notice that the cork spins at a high speed. However, if you extend the length of string to 5 feet, the cork will travel much slower, but cover more distance. This is due to the difference in the arc created by both short and long strings.
Longer kite lines are used by those chasing altitude records, or for those who want to fly bigger kites. In mild winds, using a longer kite line allows your kite to float in the wind longer as it has a higher chance of catching a good breeze to keep it in the air. In stronger winds, a shorter line allows for better control of a large kite.
As mentioned, shorter lines can improve the responsiveness and performance of your kite. This is often the reason why stunt kite fliers prefer to use shorter lines. With the cork and string example, shorter lines allow for turns to be completed much quicker and in a smaller area.
A lot of what determines which line length and amount of breaking load to get are the kite you’re flying and the wind conditions you will be flying in. This video by Jim Nicholls is a great summary:
How To Connect Your String Or Line To Your Kite
As mentioned previous, pre-made kite sets come with a kite line either on reels or in a packet; your kite will also have a line extending from it to allow you to attach a kite line to it – this is called the bridle. Either way, these lines will usually have loops tied at the ends of the line. These loops make it easy to connect and disconnect your lines from your kite or your reel, so there’s no need to constantly tie and untie knots to attach and detach the kite.
These loops are designed to be used with a Lark’s Head knot. Lark’s Head knots are ideal to use with your lines because they are very easy to tie and remove. To loosen the knot, simply tug on it. Some knots are more complex and can be challenging for beginner kite enthusiasts to use.
Below is a video from Jim Nicholls on how to create a Lark’s Head knot to attach your kite line to your kite’s bridle:
Sleeves and Knots
You may ask: “Can I use knots to connect 2 kite lines?” or “Can I use knots to attach items to my kite line for line art?” The short answer is no, as just a single knot in your kite line can reduce the overall strength of your line by up to 50%. Remember: your kite line is only as strong as its weakest link; in this case, the weakest link is the knot.
If you need to tie a knot in the kite line, the most important thing is to make sure there are no twists in the lines and that both ends of the line sit beside each other at all times without crossing over each other throughout the knot.
The image above shows how to make a knot after sleeving a kite line. Sleeving is usually made from hollow braided Dacron to protect your kite line – this is especially important when using Spectra lines. Lines are usually sleeved at each end where the line connects via the Lark’s Head knot to the bridle of the kite. Knots create friction, which in turn creates heat. Spectra lines do not take kindly to heat due to their low melting point, and can break if too much heat is generated by friction. The sleeving material acts as a diffuser for the heat generated by the knot. Watch the video below on how to sleeve a line.
Spools and Winding Handles
It can be difficult – and dangerous – to hold on to thin kite lines, especially in strong winds. Advanced kite fliers who prefer to handle a kite line by hand usually will wear fingerless gloves to protect against ‘rope burn’. However, if you are a beginner kite flyer, we recommend using either a spool or a winding handle.
Spools or reels remind me of the old-fashioned sewing machines with large spools keeping all that string neat. It’s the same concept when used in kite flying. Spools will allow you to slowly let out your kite line, while keeping the rest of it neatly wound around the middle. Kite flying spools tend to come with handles on either end for easy handling.
When using a spool, ensure that you wind the line evenly across the middle to prevent a build-up of kite line at the sides of spool, which can unravel towards the middle under tension. It can then tangle into a bird’s nest.
As you can see, winding handles look very different from spools or reels, but they do the same job, albeit in a more compact fashion. Winding handles are very popular as they are easier to reel the line in. They are also constructed so that the line is wound from side to side and is kept neat. Winding handles are also easy for children to hold on to, as shown in the picture above.
Good winding handles usually come with a lock to prevent the kite line from being let out once your kite has reached the intended height. Some winding handles come mounted on a solid frame that can look like the handle of a shovel. The frame is braced against your body, and there is a handle that allows you to wind in or let out your kite line from the side.
On one extreme, if you are flying a lightweight kite, you could even use pencils or sticks as a reel – just keep in mind that you could still lose your kite if the wind decides to tug it out of your hands! On the other extreme, there are electric reels specifically made for massive kites, or those who enjoy kite-fishing.
Keep in mind that you should never wind a kite line around your finger when the kite that it is attached to is in flight. With the ‘right’ factors (i.e. wind conditions, kite size, kite line diameter and material), you could lose that finger. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Care for Your Kite Line
Kite lines can break suddenly and unexpectedly – sometimes this is due to wind conditions or turbulence, other times there could be a small cut or a weak spot in the line like a knot or a tiny bit of wear and tear. Even if the line is brand new, it is always good to be prepared. Prevention is often better than cure!
Our recommendation is to check your kite line(s) for wear and tear, knots, and line stretch before and after every session of kite flying. If you are flying for an extended period of time, it may be ideal to retrieve your kite after 2 or 3 hours of flight and check that everything is still good to go.
To check your kite lines for line stretch, or wear and tear:
- Stake your lines to one end using a kite anchor or a long object.
- Once you have made sure that both lines are equal on the staked end, move to the other end of your lines and pull firmly on both lines.
- If they stretch unevenly (i.e. one is longer or shorter than the other), check the longer one for line stretch or wear and tear, and the shorter one for knots.
- If you have a line that is shorter than the other, you can undo the knot on the longer line, loop and re-tie the knot further up the line before cutting off the leftover line. Remember to leave enough line to make up the knot.
Wear and tear on your kite lines is inevitable through normal use. Always keep an eye on your kite line as it is let out or when you reel it in. What you need to look out for are:
- Frayed spots
- Surface abrasion
- Pronounced kinks – when a part of the kite line isn’t lying straight but bent at an angle and can’t seem to straighten.
- Small nicks or cuts
- Wear and tear of the bridle, along with the end of the kite line that is attached to the bridle
- Any other abnormalities that could indicate damage to your line
Cut these damaged areas out and use a Blood knot to join the line. This is one of the reasons that you should have a small pair of sharp scissors as part of your kite-flying gear. A cheap lighter will also help to melt and keep short the raw end of knots. Keep in mind to replace worn out lines before they break.
Dangerous Types of Kite Line Material
Yes, we have mentioned that nylon fishing line is a common kite line material; it is also dangerous as it can recoil when it breaks. This can cause injury not only to yourself but also to those around you.
Steel line and piano wire should also be avoided. Apart from the fact that they, being metal, can conduct electricity, they can also act as razors when in tension. Not only can these types of lines cut down other kite lines easily, they can also cut through flesh very easily and should never be used to fly a kite. You can also read more about how kite lines can be dangerous here.
You should also never use abrasive kite lines such as Kevlar or Manja (kite line coated in glue and crushed glass) unless you have been trained to handle them and then only in kite fighting competitions. There have been documented fatalities due to abrasive kite lines, and these are often due to improper disposal of kite lines after kite fighting competitions.
Keep your kite lines in good condition by keeping them dry and clean, and inspecting them before and after a kite-flying session. If you see any wear and tear, replace the line as quickly as possible. Make safety a priority when flying a kite, so that you and everyone around you can have an enjoyable time.