What are weathervanes, and what do they do?

Often referred to as wind vanes, weathercocks, weather vanes or just vanes, a weathervane is a device designed to indicate various wind directions.

Mostly attached to a rooftop or other architectural high point, the weathervane responds to the wind direction while the compass points remain fixed. It clearly and quickly shows the direction of the current wind.

This device’s original name was wind vane, as it simply refers to the main reason it provides information about – the wind. Historically, they are also connected with mythical creatures and were designed to describe their nature perfectly.

Historic Wind Vanes

Ancient and medieval designs often featured birds, dragons or the ancient divinities that were traditionally associated with the element of wind. When speaking about wind vane design, the term’ ornament’ refers to the figure that the weather vane features and not to the whole device.

Antique vanes often depict these mythological beings with their backs to the wind instead of their heads if you are wondering why, it’s due to the nature of the creatures and the myths surrounding them.

Modern weathervanes tend to depict images facing into the wind. However, the recent sizeable custom-made surfer weathervane we made for Western Australia has the surfer’s back to the wind. This vane is mounted on a rustic building on the surf coast of WA. It is designed to indicate when offshore breezes are blowing with the surfer and then running towards the water (the best time to surf).

How Weathervanes Work

Weathervanes need to follow two basic and distinct rules of design. Otherwise, they will not work. Many cheap weathervanes are available from hardware shops and online resellers and often need to be fixed in order to function as they should. They are generally made of cheaper metals, so they degrade quickly.

Rule No 1. The ornament (the image that responds to the wind) has an unequal area on either side of the centre. The side furthest from the wind has the larger surface area.

Rule No 2. It must have equal mass on both sides opposite to the centre. The pointer must be capable of moving freely and fluidly on its axis.

To sum it up, a weathervane must be balanced so that almost half its weight stands on both sides of the axis. However, at the same time, the surface area must be greater behind the pivot point.

This way, the wind can create the necessary momentum to turn the arrowhead towards the direction of the wind. The less resistance in the pivot point, the more freely the vane responds to light breezes.

Many years ago, weathervanes served solely decorative purposes. Being simple ornaments on civic buildings and churches, they featured various shapes and figures. Although their function today is often as garden art, they also present one of the oldest known instruments to indicate wind direction. They can be coupled with additional electronic instrumentation to record wind speed. In that case, weathervanes can be read inside and outside a building, home or office.

Now that we introduced you to their nature and history, it is time to start considering your perfect match of weathervane. Going simpler, how to choose the correct weathervane?

You have four critical considerations to make when selecting ‘the right’ weathervane for you:

Choosing its location

Matching the size to your location

Finding a design that you like

Deciding what material used in the construction is the best for you

Potential sites for your vane can be on the ridge of a building, the eaves of a house or shed (long offset bracket required) on fence posts, free-standing in the garden or on a table or other flat surface near your BBQ or outdoor entertaining area.

When you choose the right weather vane for your home or garden, it’s wise to consider the wind vane’s proportions to the area to be placed in. The size you need can be a bit hard to judge, so we often suggest to our clients that they send us a photo with some dimensions so that we can superimpose the design on their image and work out the most aesthetically pleasing size.

Designs can be anything you like. Being an Australian company, we have a range of Australian weather vanes featuring our native birds and animals. Some people want their business logo, while others enjoy traditional designs. Sporting images are also trendy, and lately, we have been designing and making custom works that are hand-painted portraits of much-loved family pets. Those vanes are a beautiful memorial to the fur baby travelling over the Rainbow Bridge. Unfortunately, they are very time-consuming to create, so we are limited in the number we can produce.

Design materials include plastic, wood, copper, brass, tin, mild steel and stainless steel. Durability can vary considerably, with the most enduring being stainless steel, copper and brass, which may last hundreds of years.

When you consider the available options and are guided by them, you will always be making a sound decision to choose the right weathervane for you.

Review tabletop weathervanes with a base and stand if you want a decorative accent to blend into your home décor. Much smaller than the traditional outdoor weathervanes, they can add an interesting focal point to your art decor.

The cottage or garden weathervanes are usually mounted on a pole and generally measure from 1600mm to 2400mm tall to the top of the image. This height allows them to be easily visible from the house so that you can enjoy looking at your vane. It can also be seen and admired by your neighbours and visitors.

The designs in garden weathervanes have always varied a lot, and the available ornaments have experienced rapid growth over the past few years. Still, it would be best to remember that a garden weathervane will not be as accurate or effective as the wind direction tool we discussed previously. Because the wind tends to eddy around buildings and trees, the wind vane will respond to the changes that barriers to the wind produce. Nevertheless, they add a decorative and artistic flair and a classy touch to your garden design.

Because of the wind’s lack of presence near the ground at some times, the garden weathervanes should have sufficient height to react and move.

Rooftop weathervanes, on the other hand, have been the most popular styles over the years. Usually ranging in height from 700mm to 1400mm, they are appropriately proportioned to the roof size. The nature of the weathervanes adds an attractive addition to your outdoor décor.

Finally, a tip from us that you must consider is not to choose large weathervanes just to be noticed but rather to pick the right size for your area, to enjoy the beauty, movement and quality.