The American Boy’s Handy Book: What to Do and How to Do It by Daniel Carter Beard first hit bookstores in 1882, almost 30 years before Beard helped co-found the Boys Scouts of America. Something of a precursor to both Scouting For Boys and The Boy Scout Handbook, the 408-page tome is loaded with hands-on activities and projects ⏤ not to mention illustrations and schematics ⏤ designed to keep young boys from getting bored while teaching valuable outdoor skills. It is not, however, designed to keep them out of the hospital. The thing is full of inspiring ideas (perfect projects for summer Sundays) that all seem like shortcuts to tetanus. Suffice it to say that most modern parents wouldn’t let their kids do this stuff.
Still, it’s worth taking a look at these old activities because some of them are just plausible enough to pursue if you’re feeling particularly rugged and masculine or happen to be staring into the eager eyes of a kid looking for an excuse to play in the woods. Is tying broken glass to a kite and then flying it around the neighborhood dangerous? A little, sure… I mean… yes. Incredibly. Yes, it’s incredibly dangerous. It is also pretty damn fun and memorable.
Here are Daniel Carter Beard’s instructions (and our parenthetical notes) on how to turn a kite into a deadly weapon.
How to Arm a Kite…
Armed Kites are of a more relentless and bloodthirsty order than the strategic unarmed warrior. The peculiar mission of these rampant champions of the air is to cut the enemy off from his base of supplies; then with a satisfied wriggle, and a fiendish wag of the tail, this ferocious flyer sails serenely on, while his ruined victim falls helplessly to the earth, or ignominiously hangs himself on some uncongenial tree, where his skeleton will struggle and swing until beaten to pieces by the very element that sustained him in his elevation before his thread of life was cut. (FATHERLY NOTE: Never has a more eloquent or poetic description of the humble kite found its way into print.) In this sport, new to most Northern boys (FATHERLY NOTE: Although for the record, Union kite fliers during the Civil War were especially adept at dropping leaflets on Confederate troops to encourage their surrender.), they will find an exciting and healthy pastime, one that will teach them to think and act quickly, a quality that when acquired may be of infinite service to them in after years.
Armed Kite Fighting.
These aero-nautical cutters might be appropriately named the Scorpion, “Stingerree,” Wasp, or Hornet, because they fight with their tails, the sting of the insect being represented on the kite-tail by the razor-like cutters. (FATHERLY NOTE: the Giant Girdle-Tail lizard of South America also fights with its tail, in case you’re looking for other options.) The tactics used in these battles of the clouds are just the opposite from those employed in fighting with unarmed kites. To win the battle you so maneuver your warrior that its tail sweeps across and cuts the string of your antagonist.
Armed kites are usually made after the pattern of the American six-sided or hexagonal kite. They are two and one-half feet high, covered with paper cambric, or, when economy is no object, with silk. As a successful warrior looks well after his arms, so should the tail of a war kite receive the most careful attention.
One very popular style of tail is made of strips of bright-colored cloth about one inch wide tied securely in the middle to a strong twine, the tail ending in a fancy tassel. (FATHERLY NOTE: Both deadly and stylish.) Another style is made of long narrow strips of white cloth securely sewed together. This tail is not so apt to become knotted or tangled as the first.
How to Make the Knives.
The “cutters” to be attached to the tail are made of sharp pieces of broken glass called knives. From a thick glass bottle, broken off below the neck, chip off pieces. (FATHERLY NOTE: Almost like you were in a bar fight.) This can be done with the back of a heavy knife blade or a light hammer. The workman cannot be too careful or cautious in breaking or handling the glass, as the least carelessness is sure to result in bad cuts and bloody fingers. From the slivers or chips of glass select pieces thick on the outside curve, but with a keen sharp inside edge. It may take time, experience, and several bottles to get knives to exactly suit you. (FATHERLY NOTE: Wear gardening gloves. Seriously.)
How to Make Cutters.
Fasten three knives together with wax (Fig. 30) so that each shall point in a different direction, bind on this three slips of thin wood lengthwise to hold the wax and glass firmly, and cover it neatly with cloth or kid. (FATHERLY NOTE: Just not your own. They mean a piece of goat leather.) A piece of twine looped at each end should pass through the apparatus lengthwise. This, of course, to be put in before the slips are bound together. Excellent cutters can be made of blades from an old penknife. A much simpler weapon is made with a piece of stout twine one foot long, dipped in glue and rolled in pounded glass until thickly coated with a glistening armor of sharp points. (FATHERLY NOTE: Don’t forget to vacuum the garage floor when you’re done.) Two of these incorporated in the lower half of the kite’s tail will be found to be effective cutters.
Boys participating in this war of kites should always bear in mind the fact that it requires but little skill to cut an unarmed kite, and that there is no honor or glory to be gained in vanquishing a foe who is unable to defend himself. There are many other attachments, improvements, and amusing appliances that suggest themselves to an enthusiastic kite-flyer.