Friday, September 16, 2011

Handy Mommy - Restringing a Patio Umbrella

I suppose by now, if you've been a regular reader, you probably know I'm a bit on the cheap side.  My husband will tell you I've relented a bit since the days when we were pinching pennies to pay off our (small) wedding and related expenses - I no longer call him to question that $3.65 debit charge five minutes after it shows up on the online banking page...  However, I don't like spending money when I don't have to (that frees up the cash for fun impulse purchases, right?).

2 weeks ago, our patio umbrella gave up the ghost.  The timing was impeccable, I went to crank it open just hours before a neighbourhood BBQ/party at our house.  And it didn't go.  The crank spun but the umbrella canopy went nowhere.  I actually missed getting bonked in the head with the arms.  But mostly my mind was racing along thinking "WTF, umbrella, of ALL the days to die, why today when I have SO much other stuff to prepare before the invasion of friends & family???"

So I did what any self respecting handy mommy would do - I took the damn thing apart.  I patched it together with some nylon string, and put it back together.  Except I might have messed it up a bit... it was open, but it wouldn't close.  Oops.  But good enough for party day.  (Ironically, the party ended up on my back patio area and didn't venture onto the deck AT ALL.  The umbrella was totally unused.)

A few days later after seeing the poor thing open most of the way and beaten up by the wind, I took pity and decided to try again.  I did manage to fix it completely, and thought I'd share here how that went*, because when *I* ran to Google to help me solve this problem, yeah, there wasn't a whole lot out there.

Number one is that you'll want to take a look at the string you can see up near the top of the umbrella.  Now you'll want to go out and buy that exact string, or the closest thing you can find to it.  Diameter is the most important thing (so it fits into the pulleys and doesn't jam up the crank wind up mechanism).  Also important is that the rope be NOT STRETCHY.  Mine is kind of stretchy.  So I end up with free-wheeling crank mechanism for a moment after it's cranked open all the way.  That shit hurts when it hits your hand!

Step two is to take things apart.  I suspect that every umbrella is a bit different so for purposes of this blog post, you should know that ours is one that stands in the middle of the table, and has a single adjustable hinge about 3/4 of the way up.  It has a manual crank that you wind clockwise to open, counter-clockwise to close (although after having taken it apart, I realize that the direction you turn it is irrelevant - one way will open it, the other will close it).  A few tips on dissembly:
The plastic rings on top & bottom come off, then the two
halves come apart neatly.
  • The crank area is a good spot to start.  It will either be held together with a couple of screws or it will have a plastic cover on it.  Mine had a 2 piece plastic cover that was held on with plastic rings on either end.  Use a small flat screwdriver to pry the plastic rings up and off the cover, then pull apart the two cover halves.
  • Take apart the crank itself.  In my case this meant to take off the nut, 2 washers, spring, and contoured spacer (and not in that order, either).  Lay the pieces somewhere safe (ie, where your four year old won't grab them and ask "what's this for?") so that you don't forget the order they belong in.  This part is important later for when you put things back together...
  • When you pull out the crank it might not be super easy, because there's some string there that will get in your way.  This is the string you're replacing, so don't fret if it rips on the way out.  It's only going in the trash anyhow.
  • Take apart the hinge - mine used a 6 sided allen key (if you have any little handyman tool set it should contain a variety of these - find the right size by trial and error) to remove the screw that holds the hinge together.  Be careful, as the umbrella stem will come apart after you do this step.
Now for the re-stringing.  You'll want a nice long piece of rope.  Don't cut it til the very last step.  Otherwise you may very well end up with my original issue of an umbrella that won't close.  Untie the old rope at the top of the umbrella.  Tie the new rope to the old rope and pull the old rope through the stem to thread it.  You may need some special finagling to thread the stem from hinge to crank (I used a thin piece of nylon string to pull the larger rope through, and a pair of needlenose pliers to extract the end of it).  Pull it back and forth a couple times to make sure it runs smoothly over the pulley at the top.

Put the hinge back together.  At this point you may notice you threaded the rope down the wrong side of the bottom half of the stem.  Whoops.  If that's the case (50/50 chance, right?) re-thread that part.  Otherwise your rope will get tangled in the hinge and best case, it won't work right.  Worst case?  The rope may fray & rip at the hinge, smacking you or someone else in the head with an umbrella arm next time you're all enjoying mojitos and BBQ.

Knot that I don't remember the name of...
Now for the knots.  Big shoutout to my dad for the sailing lessons he paid for and encouraged me to take when I was a teen.  If you didn't have the chance to do this, go online and search for how to tie knots.  Find one that won't slip.  If I'd paid more attention in class I could tell you the name of it but instead I'll show you a picture of my finished product.  Then *close the umbrella* and cut the rope so there are 4-6 inches sticking out of the hole where the crank goes.  That closing part is important because without it, your umbrella will open, but not close when it's done.  Open it again and thread and tie the freshly cut end of the rope to the crank shaft.  You may want to slightly melt the cut end with a match (but for goodness sake, don't set things on fire.  Easy does it.)  Make the knot small but sturdy (two half hitches is what I went with, hope that holds up).  Small is key because you'll have to fiddle with the rope, knot(s) and crank to get them all to go through the tiny hole in the umbrella stem.

I have no advice for pushing all that stuff back into the umbrella stem, just take a few deep breaths, and don't give up.  Also maybe make sure the kids aren't within earshot because you WILL be cursing before you succeed.  Once you finally succeed, pat yourself on the back and reassemble the crank with the spacer, washers, spring (in the order you took them off!).  Put the cover together and then test it out.

If you've done everything right, you now have a fully functional patio umbrella again (for the low low cost of a bit of rope), plus you can totally brag to your friends about having done this all. by. yourself.  Or, I suppose, you can send this post to your husband and have HIM do the work, but where's the fun glory in that?  Also, if everything fails and your umbrella still doesn't work by the time you're done, you can probably repurpose the rope for something else, and get yourself a new patio umbrella.  It's not like that wasn't an option right from the start.

* I am in NO way taking responsibility for any mishaps you encounter while attempting to follow my instructions.  I am not an expert on umbrella repair, and if you don't feel comfortable taking on this task, then don't!

1 comment:

  1. Nice! Definitely keeping this in mind when restringing a patio umbrella .


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