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 simply 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 easily shows the direction of the current wind.

These devices’ 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 in order to perfectly describe their nature.

Historic Wind Vanes

Ancient and medieval designs often featured birds, dragons or the ancient divinities that were traditionally associated with the element of wind. The term ‘ornament’ when speaking about wind vane design refers to the figure that the weathervane 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 themselves and the myths that surround them.

Modern weathervanes tend to depict images facing into the wind although the recent large 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 and is designed to indicate when offshore breezes are blowing with the surfer then running towards the water (the best time to surf).

How do Weathervanes Work

Weathervanes need to follow two basic and distinct rules of design. Otherwise, they simply will not work. Many of the cheap weathervanes available from hardware shops and online resellers will not work and generally are made of cheaper metals so they will degrade rather quickly.

Rule No 1. The ornament (the image that responds to the wind) that they consist of always has an unequal area on either side of the centre.

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 exactly half of 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 then the more freely the vane will respond to light breezes.

Many years ago, weathervanes served solely decorative purposes. Being simple ornaments to many important objects such as buildings and churches, they featured various shapes and figures. Although their purpose today is often as garden art, they also present one of the greatest instruments that measure wind speed and direction. If they are coupled with additional technological instrumentation to record wind speed, weathervanes can be read from both 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 basically have four important 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

Locations 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 weathervane for your home or garden it’s wise to consider the wind vane’s proportions in respect 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 photo and work out the most aesthetically pleasing size.

Designs can basically 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 to have their business logo while others enjoy traditional designs. Sporting images are also very popular and lately, we have been designing and making custom works that are hand-painted portraits of much-loved family pets. Those vanes serve to be a beautiful memorial to the fur baby who has travelled over the Rainbow Bridge. Unfortunately, they are very time consuming to create so we are quite limited in the number we can produce.

Design materials can 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.

If you are looking for a decorative accent to blend into your home décor, review tabletop weathervanes that come with a base and stand. Much smaller than the traditional outdoor weathervanes they can be used to 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 your garden weathervane and to 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, you must have in mind that a garden weathervane will not be as accurate or effective as a wind direction tool that we talked about previously. Because the wind tends to eddy around building and trees, the wind vane will respond to the changes barriers to the wind produce. Nevertheless, they add a decorative and artistic flair and also a touch of class to your garden design.

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

Rooftop weathervanes, on the other side, have been the most popular styles over the years. Usually ranging in heights from 700mm to 1400mm, they are appropriately proportioned to the height on any roof. The nature of the weathervanes always presents 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 pick the right sizes for your area, to enjoy their beauty, movement and quality.