This page was last updated on 8/18/07. See also the Recent Works page for some new vanes.
How many weather vanes have you actually seen turning in a gentle summer breeze atop somebody's roof? Very few, I bet. Most seem to point rigidly in one direction, forever asserting that tomorrow's nor'easter will come from the same direction as Hurricane Katrina.
Many people consider only the design when purchasing weather vanes they intend to use functionally outdoors. There are hundreds of beautiful designs available in specialty shops, home supply stores and catalogs. But watch out! They may not work well over time.
The grasshopper vane made by Shem Drowne for Boston's Faneuil Hall in 1749 still works as well as the year it was installed. But most vanes available for sale today are cheaply mass-produced with little consideration of the features needed to make them look and work as well a hundred years from now as they do right out of the box. Here are the key features to look for if you are thinking of purchasing or commissioning a weather vane of quality:
1. Material. Avoid zinc or vanes cast from pot metal. They corrode quickly. This is why sacrificial zinc anodes are placed on boats and outboard motors. Zinc is cheap and easy to form, so many worthless vanes are made from that metal. It's better to choose one of the metals high on the scale of nobility such as stainless steel, brass or copper.
2. Friction. For a vane to rotate easily and to minimize wear, there must be minimum friction. The best vanes rotate on a single ball bearing atop a stainless steel spindle. Bearing sleeves or races are sometimes used for heavy vanes weighing several dozen pounds or more, but they are usually not necessary in vanes sized for barns or houses. Blowing dust and leaves can clog vanes with multiple bearings, and that's why a single, enclosed ball bearing is usually best.
3. Balance. Any good vane should balance if positioned horizontally on its side while resting in its spindle. By their nature, vanes must have the most exposed surface area on the downwind side. This usually means that it must be counterbalanced by adding weight to the upwind side. Lead is most often used. It is relatively inert and reacts minimally with other metals.
4. Installation. The key is to have the spindle absolutely plumb, or vertical. A properly installed vane will never have a tendency to settle in one direction. It will not come to rest pointing in the same direction each time the wind dies. The bracket or other device you choose in which to mount the spindle should have a capability for you to make slight adjustments to plumb. But if the vane has good balance to begin with, it will work OK even with the spindle slightly off plumb.
Many, but not all or the vanes I've made below are adaptations of the designs of original early American weather vanes. The original vanes were often made by craftsmen and blacksmiths who were unschooled in the arts. Their primitive charm endures today, and at Birch Pond Sculpture I attempt to retain that charm in each vane I make.
Currently, vanes are being made by commission only. I typically use copper and 16-gauge or 12-gauge sheet steel, preferably type 304 stainless. One-of-a-kind designs are a specialty. Each vane designed for outdoor use is balanced to within an ounce and pivots on a stainless spindle and ball bearing. They turn in breezes of only 2 to 3 mph. and come with a lifetime guarantee. Most are between $500-$1000; larger ones will be more. Please call or e-mail for detailed pricing and specifications. See my Recent Works page to view some interesting new vanes.