The View Up Here

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Kite Repairs

Posted by Tom Benedict on 17/12/2010

So my Dopero is fixed.  I had this irrational fear it would take weeks to months to get my big red kite back in the air, but it only took a couple of days.

Part of the worry was that I would have to get some exotic parts or fabric things made of pure unobtanium or something from a store that only sold to people who made kites.  Part was that I know I procrastinate to insane degrees at time, and ran a very real risk of letting my kite fall into that category.  (Some might call this “patience” as in  “I have the patience to let my CNC mill sit idle for several years while I get up the gumption to admit I need a new controller!”  I call it procrastination, pure and simple.)  But part of the reason, at least, is that this thing is roughly the size of a small airplane, and my house is roughly not even in the same category as a hangar.

So I set it up at work instead.

I really did.  For some reason my office is the largest one in our building.  That would make me feel like I’m the CEO or Director or something, but no, I’m about as low on the pecking order as you can get.  It all started when half of the technical library was moved into the main library, and space was opened up for two offices.  I was moved in there along with one other technician.  After a couple of years of this the rest of the technical library was moved into the new technical library, so my available office space doubled.

Something strange happened about this time.  Some people in the company got concerned that giving us too much space would lead to inflated head syndrome.  So in a bold move to keep them from putting more people in my office, I arranged all my furniture into an 8’x8′ square like a little fort.  I put my chair in the middle and pretended I was up in a tree.  My office!  It worked, but I think people thought I was weird.  A couple of years later the other tech left the company, and then I found myself sitting in my little fort all alone in the corner of this great big ROOM!

Of course it didn’t last.  Someone else figured this out and moved in enough furniture to house at least three more people.  If you arranged it a little better it would handle four.  Four empty little forts ringing this big room.  Ever since then, whenever we get interns (which we seem to do a lot) they wind up sharing the tree fort office with me.  I like it.  It’s fun.   Those are the good times.  But when the interns all go their separate ways and return to their regularly schedule life, the tree fort starts to feel a little empty, like it is now.

But it’s still pretty handy when you actually need it.  My Dopero is 6′ high by 9′ wide.  This doesn’t seem like it’s too big until you try to set it up in a house and turn it around to get to the other side while trying to fix busted things.  In my office I could basically pick it up, carry it to the middle of the room, spin in place, and put it back down.  It worked like a charm!  I finally got to see the extent of the damage the Kite Killing Kiawe Tree did to it and start to plan my repairs.

Brooks Leffler and Jim Powers gave me some good advice on how to go about fixing the kite, so I took their advice and planned it out.  I had a bent ferrule, which I fixed using the small lathe at work.  This sounds extreme, but it’s a really easy way to fix bent round things:  Chuck up the bent round thing in the lathe chuck, disengage the gears, and spin it around.  The free end will wobble around since the thing is bent, so rotate the spindle until the bent part points up.  Push it down.  Keep doing this until there’s no wobble left.

This is a powerful trick.  At one point we had a disaster at work that bent some precision guide shafts.  I watched our machinist do this to the shafts until the run-out was less than 0.001″ across the entire 12″ length.  This impressed me.  A lot.  I would love to say I held my kite spar to this same tolerance, but I never even came close.  I figure I got it to better than 0.050″ over a 36″ length, but I didn’t measure it.  I just eyeballed it.  As far as I can tell it’s straighter than the other one that didn’t get bent.  Go figure.

The other damage was that the bow lines ripped out of the upper and lower sails.  Brooks told me to sew some #200 braided Dacron onto the pocket and run the bow line through the loop.  Keep in mind I’m an absolute ditz at sewing, and that my sewing machine can’t actually be set to the right bobbin and thread tensions to sew ripstop.  (Believe me, I tried.  Over and over and over.  I know I growled a lot and my cats hated me for a while.  But I never could make a kite on that machine.)  So even though this seemed simple in theory, in execution it was going to be something of a feat.

Some time in the middle of this whole process, when I was taking trash and recycling to the transfer station, I saw that someone had dumped a Singer Millenium Series sewing machine.  “GREAT!” I thought, “Now I can sew ripstop!”  I threw it in my car, drove to work, and rubbed my hands with glee!  I knew it might need adjustment or something, but hey, I do machining.  How hard can it be to service a sewing machine?  (Yes, I’m aware this is an incredibly naive statement on par with, “It’s just a nuclear reactor.  How hard could this be?”  Actually, I think sewing machines are more complicated than reactors…)  I figured I’d fire it up, run some cotton denim through it to find out what the deal was, and fix whatever needed fixing.  It wasn’t until that evening that I realized the flaw in my plan:  It had no pedal, no power cord, no nothing.  Unless I could get it to absorb AC power through mind power or some sort of osmosis, it wasn’t going to be any more useful than a doorstop.  Ah well…  Project for another day.  (See?  I really do procrastinate.)

In the end I finally did take Brooks’s advice, and sewed some #200 braided dacron across the pockets.  I couldnt’ do it with the Singer or with my older sewing machine, so I did it by hand.  Hey, don’t knock hand sewing.  It’s how clothes were made for thousands of years.  The whole lock stitch machine only came about very recently by historical standards.  And even I can hand sew!  (Well, sort of.  It looks more like a really crude kid’s drawing of sewing rather than the real deal.  But it holds!)  It took me a while, and I had to wear my headset magnifier to see well enough to get the job done, but the job finally did get done.

I took my kites into work this morning, and when lunch time rolled around I pulled out my Dopero (nicknamed “Porco Rosso” after a character’s airplane in a Miyazaki movie by the same name), hooked it onto my line, and gave it a test flight.  It flew great.  As good as new.  You can’t beat that.  And if I can get a Singer pedal I might just have a new sewing machine sitting out in the garage.

– Tom

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