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How Weathervanes Are Made

Making a hand-crafted copper weathervane is quite a process. The way we make our weathervanes is very similar to the way they would have been made during Hellenistic Greek times, over 2000 years ago. The only step where we “cheat” is that we use lead free solder and an electric soldering iron while a Bronze Age weathervane maker would have had to apply solder with the use of a bellows and forge.

We make each weathervane to individual order, whether it is a newly commissioned weathervane design or a personalized weathervane based on one of our limited edition series. As you will see, even when we create a weathervane within an existing series, no two weathervanes are ever exactly alike.

West Coast Weather Vanes does not use molds in our fabrication process. We start with a design, either existing or newly commissioned. We then hand cut, texture and shape all the individual pieces of metal that will become the weathervane. Soldering, assembly and polishing then follow. After that, we may apply optional gold and/or palladium leaf, photograph it and, finally, package the finished weathervane and send it off to its new home.

An individual weathervane maker crafts each vane from start to finish and signs their own work. The sections below provide more detail on our process. As you will see, each weathervane that emerges from our studio is essentially a one-of-a-kind work of art. Enjoy your tour!

Apprenticeship Program

All our weathervane makers have been through a rigorous West Coast Weather Vanes administered Apprenticeship Program. The active training phase typically lasts between one and two years. It involves slowly mastering basic skills, participating in life drawing classes and metalworking courses at our local community college, and gradually mastering increasingly sophisticated techniques one step at a time.

A qualified Apprentice Weathervane Maker then advances to Journeyman status. At this stage, the weathervane maker is refining their techniques and improving their speed. This portion of the Apprenticeship Program typically lasts four or five years.

The final stage is becoming a Master Craftsman. A Master Weathervane Maker can typically take on any weathervane making project, consult with co-workers on challenging designs, provide training and essentially works independently, making their own aesthetic decisions on each weathervane they make. Currently, all our weathervane makers are Master level craftsmen.

Creating the weathervane design

West Coast Weather Vanes specializes in commissioned weather vanes. Most of our existing designs originally resulted from commissions. We can produce exclusive designs or offer customers the number one in a limited edition series of fifty in our small, medium, large or extra-large sizes.

Our weathervanes are built to individual order according to the preferences of each customer. Though we will offer only fifty versions of a design in any size, even with our most popular designs, chances are we will rarely make all fifty in any series.

There are four main styles of weathervanes from which our customers can select:

Silhouette Weathervanes
Simple Swell-Bodied Weathervanes
Detailed Swell-Bodied Weathervanes
Fully 3-D Weathervanes.

The style chosen will influence the price of the new weathervane. Click this link to learn more about the Four Styles of Weathervanes.

Design Process:

Once the basic concept has been discussed and a preliminary quote for the new weathervane has been prepared for approval, a deposit of one-third of the quoted price for the weathervane is requested. Upon receipt of the deposit, we will reserve time in both our Design Schedule and our Production Schedule for the new vane.

An illustration will then be prepared for approval. Below are several examples showing you the preliminary drawing and the finished weathervane.

Running Stallion Weathervane Drawing
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Running Stallion Weathervane
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Star Maiden Weathervane Drawing
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Star Maiden Weathervane
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1953 MG TD Weathervane Drawing
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1953 MG TD Silhouette Weathervane
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Spinning Wheel Weathervane Drawing
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Spinning Wheel Weathervane
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For more information on commissioning a new weathervane design, please click here: Commissioning a new weathervane design.

Creating the template

After a design has been approved, we create enlarged paper templates for the appropriate sized weathervane. The template is used to make individual pattern pieces needed to cut out the weathervane.

Thomas creating paper template for an MG Weathervane
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Thomas and Victor discussing paper template for an MG Weathervane
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Cutting out the pieces

The next step is to cut out the copper, brass or nickel silver sheet. We first trace the paper pattern onto the sheet metal. After that we begin the cutting process. Because most of our weathervanes are swell-bodied, there are typically two complementary pattern pieces for each section of the weathervane (see Skeleton Weathervane image below). There is an actual art to hand cutting the metal to avoid kinking the metal, scratching it, snagging it or tearing it. One develops this skill only by practicing it.

Tracing paper pattern onto Copper Elven Ship Weathervane
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Jeff creating copper pieces for Skeleton Weathervane
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Texturing the weathervane

Texturing a weathervane takes time, a good eye and a steady hand. We typically use customized metal hammers to add texture to the metal. Because metal hammers scratch the copper, we often apply the texture to what will become the inside of the sculpture piece. This technique is called repousse.

Depending on the weathervane we are making, we use different hammers. For example, we have special hammers to create mermaid scales, grizzly bear fur, bird feathers or even a sandy beach.

Textured body pieces for Hunting Bald Eagle Weathervane
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Textured Armor Carousel Horse Vane
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Shaping the weathervane

The shaping process is where the true artistry in weathervane making takes place. This is the most difficult technical skill to master and can truly only be accomplished with years of practice.

Shaping a weathervane is almost like a game of chess; you have to anticipate your strategy several moves ahead.When you start shaping the first piece, you have to visualize how it is going to interact with a myriad of other shaped pieces somewhere down the line. Not only do you want to convey accurate conformation and nuance in each individual piece, but each piece has to flow naturally into its adjacent piece (see the musculature in the bull’s neck below and imagine it connecting to the bull’s body piece). Also, you will be soldering each piece together with its opposite half (see coyote pup below) and will need to keep the entire sculpture piece in alignment during this consolidation process.

The different metals we use (copper, brass and nickel silver) differ in their shaping characteristics. Copper is by far the most malleable, followed by brass and with nickel silver being the hardest to hand shape. For this reason, we typically only use nickel silver as an accent metal, although with enough time and effort it can be shaped as well (see bull’s head below as an example).

Ben shaping a
Winged Victory Weathervane

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Nickel silver bull’s head
Walking Bull Weathervane

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Both sides of a
Coyote Pup Weathervane

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Soldering the weathervane

Soldering a weathervane together can be fairly straightforward or it can be a challenge. It all depends on the weathervane under construction. Soldering two disparate metals together or metals of different thicknesses can be tricky because the amount of heat needed to apply the solder differs based on the metals used and their thickness.

Solder can also be used to reinforce structural integrity by giving the sculpture piece additional rigidness. Typically, the bigger the weathervane, the more individual pieces are needed. It is one thing to try to solder together a two-foot weathervane and something entirely different when you solder together a four-foot weathervane.

Rolando soldering
Leaping Hare Weathervane

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Victor soldering a
Fighting Yellow Jacket Weathervane

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Leafing the weathervane

Leafing a weathervane is typically an option but one that we are partial to here at West Coast Weather Vanes. We like the contrast of the gold and silver tones with the weathered copper. Especially when the copper is in the brown stage, the leafing adds vibrancy to the sculpture piece’s appearance.

We use both gold and palladium leaf that are optimized for outdoor use. After thoroughly cleaning the weathervane, we apply special primer and sizing (a kind of varnish adapted to work with gold leaf) before adding the leaf. The timing has to be carefully monitored. If the sizing is too wet it will dissolve the leaf and if it is too dry is does not adhere well to the copper.

Older copper weathervanes often still have much of their original gold leaf and are highly sought after by collectors, especially when the copper has patina’d that beautiful turquoise green color. Even one hundred year old weathervanes can have traces of gold and are still capable of catching the light when the sculpture piece turns in the wind. The effect is stunningly beautiful.

Russ gold leafing the fiddler’s hand on a
Fiddler on the Roof Weathervane

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Completed Fiddler on the Roof Weathervane
with optional Gold Leaf and Nickel Silver

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Russ applying palladium leaf on a
Custom Logo Weathervane

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Custom Logo Weathervane
with optional palladium leafing

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