Mechanically, a weathervane is simple. The challenge lies in constructing the vane to endure adverse climates throughout decades of use. Although occasionally made of wood, copper, and brass are most commonly used due to their excellent ability to be shaped and to withstand some of the worst weather conditions. Tin, stainless steel, cast bronze, and aluminum are also used—and, recently, titanium. Steel should only be used when thoroughly prepared, to avoid rust.
A weathervane’s ornament should be slightly tail-heavy, with the greatest wind resistance behind the spindle (axis point) so that it turns into the oncoming wind, which predicts approaching weather. It should rotate on a solid single-bearing surface; complex bearing mechanisms cause potential problems and are difficult to repair. The average weathervane sold today consists of a post, compass points, hollow balls, and a figure. An arrow may or may not be part of this figure. There may be a ring to support the lower ball on the post. Mounting hardware is often sold separately. The popular cast-aluminum vanes, however, come standard with a choice of mounting brackets. The compass points with the N, S, E, and W directional markers should be present, otherwise, it is a wind vane. Derived from the union of weathervanes with lightning rods, a pair of copper balls may be included. These serve only aesthetic purposes. Old lightning rods utilized glass balls for ornamentation, a practice that was unique to them. When Weathervanes copied the idea, they did so in copper only. Ferro Weathervanes is the first ornamental weathervane company to introduce the glass ball to the weathervane.
Contrary to popular belief, weathervane theft is rare, It is the valuable antique vane that thieves are after. Simple theft-deterrent devices are available. (If the piece is highly valuable, it can be itemized in the homeowner’s insurance policy.) Every artist and company has its locking device (anti-theft device) design; there is no industry standard. Locking devices protect the figure only, based on the assumption that no one will risk the time involved to remove the entire assembly. A clip or strategic bolt retaining the figure on the spindle is the most common tactic. However, these devices are only mild deterrents and are usually used with figures that might take flight, such as birds with outstretched wings, and airplanes. Electronic alarms have been custom fabricated in some special cases. Overall, due to their highly visible location, theft is risky, and reports have shown that mounted antique weathervanes are often targeted due to their immense value and collectability.
Use the following rule of thumb to size a weathervane: the length or width of the vane, whichever is greater, should equal one inch per foot of roof-line, and slightly larger if an arrow is part of the design. Click Here for more information on sizing weathervanes and finials.
Paint and clear finishes can be used on almost any material but are temporary, although baked enamel on aluminum has been known to last 15 years. No clear coating will preserve a copper finish without regular maintenance. Machine-pressed weathervanes are offered with a verdigris or polished copper finish. The polished finish will last only until rained on. As with all copper, it will then turn a leathery brown and eventually a green/gray verdigris patina. Salt air or pollution can expedite this process. Bronze patina is a treatment that turns copper golden brown and effectively highlights detailed figures; it is also temporary. The best available finish for aesthetic quality and weather resistance is a 23-karat gold leaf; it contains few impurities and will not rust or tarnish. (It is also the most expensive.) Gold leaf also retains its shine and integrity on a copper vane for at least 30 years; highlights lines and contours dramatically, and produces an eye-catching gleam on a sunny day.
If properly constructed, a weathervane should require no maintenance.
© 1997 David Ferro