I used to keep a close watch on eBay for interesting kite reels. I've written brief reviews of what I found then. Since that time readers have sent me links to new and more interesting kite reels, mostly from overseas.
Click on the pictures for more details. If you know of other interesting reels or have comments on these, email me.
Steffen has built a very handsome reel with an interesting braking system. It's almost automatic in that if the kite pulls harder with the brake active, the braking force increases to match. Take a look at his "Braking Reel".
Donny Leon King from Louisiana USA was kind enough to send me an example of his "Easy DIY" reel made from a cheap extension cord reel. I took his example apart and recreated the individual steps in making one.
From Ottawa, Canada, Albert sends us a link to his capstan-based reel (or "KAPstan"!). Using ideas from sailboat winches he has produced a kite reel with easily swappable line spools. An additional benefit is the line is not so tightly wound on the spool. Here's a link to his blog, which includes not only a video but a lot of photos and detailed explanation.
This is a really original design!
Check out this link sent in by James Marshall in April 2012. There's even one with a bicycle disc brake as the braking mechanism. Shipping seems to run about $60. If anyone orders from these guys, please report back on how it went.
Many thanks to Karsten for this excellent addition to my kite reel survey!
Commercial reels I have surveyed:
I'll start with my favorite, the Strato-Spool, which exhibits qualities all kite reels should aspire to.
The Strato-Spool incorporates several novel features:
For more info, see the detailed drawings.
Deep Sky Reel
This commercial reel is taken directly from the pages 126-7 of David Pelham's book "Kites". This is a very nice reel to use. It has a bicycle ball bearing axle inside and is made of thick plywood. The right hand operates the crank, the left fits through the strap. The fingers of the left hand are pressed against rim for modest braking, but typically the gloved right hand is used. It works splendidly. The drawbacks are that you don't have much leverage to pull a kite in and you need to have at least one glove on.
Sun Oak "Crankmaster"
I have not used the Crankmaster, but it exhibits several useful features. Click on the photo for details, but it incorporates a reel stop mechanism, a brake, and a useful handhold.
I bought this one on eBay for about $30. The wood is unfinished.
I feel obligated to mention the Windbreaker because at first glance it would appear to have some useful features. It's large size gives you some leverage in cranking a kite in, and the handles can be repositioned to let the line spin out easily.
Unfortunately this does not work out in my experience. I call it the "knucklebreaker". If the handles are positioned for maximum leverage, letting line out is very tiring as you have to "uncrank" every inch. If the handles are positioned for fast line payout, how do you stop it? That's where the knuckles get smacked. And if you try to re-position the handles while a kite is in the air... (use your imagination). Maybe in super light wind this thing works.
But Gary Crenshaw writes:
I wanted to pass on a little trick I learned about using the Windbreaker Reel. I have had one for a few years and I fly fly 9 and 11 foot kites with it. I know what you mean about knuckle-bustin because thats all I knew to do. At first I just layed the reel against the ground to stop the rotation, this works but I can see where in time it would probably beat it to death. The last few times I used it, I found that a simple turn to the left or the right causes the line to grab the tip and simply stop letting out. It actually just sits there until you either turn back to the head on angle or take hold of the other handle for rewinding. Try it, I think you will be surprised at the ease it has in stopping the rotation.As of April 2010, the Windbreaker Kite Line Reel is available from Into The Wind for $29.50.
I have not used these, but in light wind they may be just the thing. As I understand it, you let line off by spilling it over the edge, not by letting the hoop rotate in your hand. One of the inner edges has ridges to help you grip it, and one side of the hoop is shaped to facilite spilling out the line. To rewind, you pull in a loop of line with your free hand a lay it back on the reel. They come in various sizes.
The 8-inch size is available from Into The Wind for about $8.
The classic hardwood spool is what my local kite store sells. Letting out line is easy and more or less controlled. Recovering the kite requires a special technique. First, tie off the line to something like a dog's leash stake; Second, loop something smooth and hard over the line and walk down the line until you've pulled the kite to earth; Third, return to the stake and wind the reel back up, turning one end of the spool in your hand and resting the other in the crook of your elbow. using your free hand to guide the line back and forth across the spool. This is tedious, or possibly exciting in high winds.
Available from Into The Wind for $12-16, but I don't recommend it.
Para Kite Auto Locking Reel
I should have included a ruler in the photo, this reel is only about 3½" in diameter. I don't know why it's called a "Para Kite" reel. I like the simple design and the thumb controlled reel stop is kind of interesting, but this reel is just too small for what I fly.
They sell for about $45 on eBay.
This interesting reel apparently comes from China. One hand grips the center handhold, while the other cranks the outer reel. There are ball bearings between the two. There's a wrist strap on the back. The eyelet remains stationary, attached to the center piece at the back (see the photo detail). One nice feature is that the little knob and crank fold back inside the reel. This not only lets you store the reel flat, but it clicks into a little cavity on the handhold and prevents the reel from spinning during transport. I have not used this reel, as the line is too light for me. But I like it's design.
Someone who has used this reel, Tong Wu, reports the following:
I just recently used same flat reel that you show. Even the color is the same. It is an excellent design, but the construction is poor. The reel came with loosely wound string and operated fine when I let the kite out, but after rewinding half way, it became very difficult to turn the outer ring relative to the handle. Evidently the tight winding of the string had collapsed the outer ring a little too much onto the ball bearings because the plastic ring is not strong enough. In fact, when I tried to disassemble the reel - the part that holds the eyelet also provides passage for the bearing balls - I couldn't get the balls out without first unwinding the string to another reel. I think I'm going to try to build something similar but out of a real steel bearing ring.April 2010 Update: A reel that looks exactly like this one currently available as the SLRS 10 Kite Line Winder from Into the Wind for $39.
Steve Thomas in Chicago writes:
As a kid in 1968 — 1972 I had a red plastic kite reel that I haven't seen since, either in shops or online. The line threaded onto a spool that had a handle attached, then a metal crank shaft through the middle allowed you to reel in the line. To payout line you simply held the crank handle and let the spool spin freely.In April 2012 Doug Vander Hoak replied:
...it reminded me of one I found at a yard sale not too long ago. It is called a "Professional Spinwinder", and it was made by Hi-Flier. I have attached a few pictures of it.
Looks like Steve's memory was pretty good!