There are many fabulous kites you can make at home.  Below are the instructions to build a tetrahedral kite.  Once you have built your kite and are outside flying it you can ponder and discuss some of the investigation questions that follow the instructions.


First assemble your materials:

string (we like to use #18 twisted nylon string for all applications here)

24) 8" drinking straws

tissue paper

glue stick


scotch tape

yard stick or meter stick

strip of thin gauge plastic

6" piece of 1/2" pvc pipe with string tied and wrapped around


First you will cut four (4) lengths of string 50" long and four (4) lengths of string 16" long.  Then cut eight (8) pieces of tissue paper into equilateral triangles 12" on each side.  If you are using straws that are a different length than the stated 8" you will need to adjust the length of your strings as well as the size of your tissue paper triangles.

Your material supply should now look like the picture below. Twisted nylon has a tendency to untwist once cut but braided string is much more expensive.  If you melt the tips of the string by placing in a flame for a moment it will not untwist and the added little weight at the end of each string will make it easier to drop down through the straws as you build your kite.  You or your instructor can light a candle or small alcohol burner and place the string end in the flame for just a couple seconds to melt.  Be careful not to touch the ends until they are completely cool (about 30 seconds).  They are hot and sticky in the meantime, a terrible combination.

To begin the first of your tetrahedra string three straws onto one of the 50" lengths of string. It is easiest to drop the string down through the straws.

Now tie the ends of the string together to form a triangle, being sure to leave approximately 3" - 3 1/2" of string at one end.  As you build your tetrahedrons you want to leave about 3" of string at each point so that they can be tied together later in the process.

Tie so that it is taut but not so the straws are bending or squishing under the pressure.

A great knot to use throughout this process is the square knot.  A fun rhyme to help remember the square knot is, "Right over left and left over right makes a knot that's neat and tight".  It is a good all-purpose knot that holds under strain but is easily untied if need be.

Now feed two more straws onto the remaining long end of string.

Tie the end of the string to one of the corners of the original triangle, trying to keep everything slack-free.

Tie one end of a 16" string to the top point of your shape (being sure to leave 3" on the end).

String one more straw onto this piece of string.

Tie securely to the remaining unconnected point of the tetrahedron.

Repeat this process to make one...


three more tetrahedra.

Now you need to make a final adjustment to the tissue paper triangles.  You can measure in about 2" from each tip or you can set a tetrahedron on a triangle and measure a straight line across the point of the triangle at the tip of the tetrahedron.  Draw a line across at each point of the triangle.

Trim away the points of your triangles at the line.  You can measure this on one triangle, stack them, and make all the cuts at once.  This will allow you to fold the paper over the straws and secure without any unnecessary bunching-up of the tissue paper.

Set a tetrahedron in the center of your tissue triangle.  Use your glue stick to run a nice strip of glue along the outer edge of one side of the tissue triangle.  Hold the tetrahedron in place and fold the glued section of paper securely over the straw to secure.

Repeat this process on the remaining two side.

Set your tetrahedron on another piece of tissue paper on an adjacent side to the one you just papered (all remaining sides are indeed adjacent so take your pick).

Use the same process as before to glue and secure the two first two straw edges which readily accessible.

Now run another strip of glue along the remaining edge and secure it to the adjacent tissue-papered plane.

Repeat this process to create one...


three more tetrahedra with two planes securely covered in tissue paper.

The most important thing to remember in these next steps is that all of the tissue-papered planes need to be on the same side, facing the identical direction.  It is easiest to set two tetrahedra on their tissued base with the other tissued side to the back side by side to each other.  Now set a third in the same aspect in front of these two tetrahedra.  Use the strings at each point to tie the tetrahedra together in this arrangement.

Set the remaining tetrahedra on top of this arrangement and secure it in place by tying at the three base points.

Tie a slip knot in the string at the top point of your new tetrahedron kite.

tetra kite steps23 copy.jpg

Feed the string from your PVC kite string supply through the loop you just made and tie a slip knot in the end of that string as well.

Tighten both of these slip knots to secure the two strings together.

You're almost there!  Now you just need to add the tail.

Use a piece of scotch tape to secure the tail to the inside edge of the point directly down from the point where you attached your kite string.

Your finished kite should look something like the photo below.  Congratulations!

Now go outside, hope for some wind, and fly your kite!

Investigation Questions



What are the three forces that affect the flight of the kite?

How do they relate with one another from an experimental point of view?

How do dihedral and anhedral planar relationships affect the maneuverability of the kite?

How many variations (such as multiple tails, various bridle points, etc._ can you come up with? 

Realize five variations and then fly the kites again after each one--what are the effects?

Are there any forces working in inverse relation to each other?

What other shapes might we repeat to make a kite that will fly?



What artists have used air to express their ideas?

How does the craftsmanship affect the flight?

What are the materials used for art that involves air?

How can you be expressive with a kite? when flying a kite?

What can you do with this kite that no-one else has done?

What are five really unusual materials that you can use to make a kite and still maintain its ability to fly like a kite?

Experiment with the materials present to make a new shape / design for a kite and see if you can get it to fly.

What other materials might you like to have to attempt a new design?



How can you express the forces that affect the kite's flight and as a math equation?

How can you use math to describe the relationships between the forces of the kite's flight?

How can you record data of your kite's flight?

How can you calculate how high your kite is off of the ground?

What steps could you take to make your height calculations more accurate?

Can you map the relationships between the forces that affect a kite on a piece of paper (2D)? Can you do it in space somehow (3D)? Can you make a video that demonstrates these relationships (4D)?

Regardless of actual flight, what geometry can you use to describe the form of the kite?


History of Innovation

Who has used kites to develop flight innovation?

How did the Wright Brothers go from being bicycle makers to innovators of flight?

How did the Wright Brothers test and improve their designs?

If the Wrights hadn't invented the Wright Flyer when they did what might the history of aviation look like?

If the Wrights hadn't invented the Wright Flyer when they did how might World War I have been different?

Name 5 heavier than air flight devices that did not use engines or motors.

Describe wing-warping. Why is this important?