In this article, we will look at all the parts of a patio umbrella, and cover the major aspects of each part. For those who already have a patio umbrella that may have a damaged piece, or need a replacement, this guide will hopefully help identify what needs to be replaced, and give you some idea where to look next. For those shopping for a patio umbrella, this guide will cover all the basics of the anatomy of a patio umbrella, and what to look for in a quality umbrella.
All the Parts of a Patio Umbrella Identified
The Finial is the cap of the umbrella, and it is designed to hold the canopy and vent to the pole in the proper manner. On umbrellas with solar lights attached, often the finial of the umbrella doubles as a solar panel.
Most patio umbrellas have a single wind vent. This vent is a hole for air to travel through the top of the umbrella, preventing the umbrella from lofting in high winds, and allowing for breezes to move through the umbrella. Covering the vent is typically a second layer of fabric to prevent rain from getting through the hole.
Some umbrellas have double wind vents, or other wind vent designs, for additional stability.
The canopy is the canvas of the umbrella. It stretches across the ribs in order to provide shade and protection to those underneath the umbrella. Canopies are one of the more common parts of the umbrella to be replaced, as they tend to fade over time, tear, or otherwise get degraded by weather. See our guide to replacing an umbrella canopy if you would like to swap yours out. Keep in mind that the vent is attached to the canopy, as are the pockets.
The quality of the fabric on the canopy is one of the biggest cost variables for market and patio umbrellas, and will play a significant role in UV protection, fading, and strength. For more information on patio umbrella fabrics, see here.
Sunbrella umbrellas typically cost the most of any patio umbrella fabric, but offer extremely high quality materials. The Sunbrella brand name is as good as it gets, and the canvas material is quite color fast and UV protected.
The Ribs are what hold the canopy in place. Most standard patio umbrellas have 8 ribs, though other numbers are not uncommon. Ribs are the primary structure of a patio umbrella, and are often a point of failure when the wind gusts too strongly.
Patio umbrella ribs come in a variety of materials, and the type of material does impact the quality of the umbrella. A few common materials are:
- Fiberglass – fiberglass rib patio umbrellas are generally considered the highest quality. Fiberglass is extremely flexible, and can bend without snapping, while also providing solid support to the canopy.
- Wood – Wood Ribs are classic, and super elegant. Wooden ribs are fairly robust as a material choice, though not as flexible as fiberglass. However, typically those who choose wooden patio umbrellas do so for aesthetic reasons as much as for strength, and no other material can match wood in style.
- Steel – Steel is a good choice for a rib material, and find a good balance between strength, flexibility, and price. Steel is typically not the most expensive, and a good choice for those who don’t want to spend a ton.
- Aluminum – Aluminum is a middle ground between steel and fiberglass, with a good deal of flexibility and strength, and a cost that is around the same price as steel. Generally steel and aluminum are reasonably interchangeable.
- Plastic – Typically plastic is the poorest choice for patio umbrella ribs, and users should typically stay away from plastic patio umbrellas. Plastic may be suitable for beach umbrellas that are close to disposable, but we would suggest another option if at all possible.
The pockets are the parts of the canvas where the ends of the umbrella ribs are secured to the canvas. These sleeves allow for the rib tips to be held fast to the canopy, and are a point of failure. If the ribs on your umbrella have sharp edges, constant wind can cause the ribs to wear away at the seams of the pockets, and cause the umbrella canopy to rip.
It is possible to re-sew a ripped canopy pocket, though often it is easier to just get a new umbrella canopy. Be sure to get a canopy with the right size profile, and the correct number of rib pockets.
The Hub and Runner
The Hub is the point where the ribs converge and connect to the pole. The hub moves up and down along the pole as the patio umbrella is opened. As the umbrella is opened, the hub expands the ribs and pulls the canvas outward. As it is closed, the hub contracts the ribs and brings the canvas inward. The runner is the mechanism that controls the movement of the hub.
Most aluminum or steel pole umbrellas use a crank mechanism, with twine or wire located inside the pole, to control the runner.
When one is looking at a traditional wooden patio umbrella, there is no channel for twine or wire to be run inside the pole. Consequently, the twine that controls the runner is typically located outside the pole, and usually consists of a loop of twine attached to the runner. By pulling up and down on the twine, the umbrella will open or close.
The Tilt Mechanism
Not all umbrellas have a tilt mechanism, and the controls for the tilt mechanism may be located in different places, and function in different ways, depending on the umbrella. That said, most tilt umbrellas have their tilt mechanism just below the bottom of the hub and runner, and it is usually operated by pushing a button, which will release the top of the umbrella, and allow it to be tilted.
Tilting the umbrella will enable users to get shade in much more flexible ways, whether it’s late day sun, early morning sun, or breezes coming from a specific direction. Being able to tilt and rotate an umbrella can be a significant asset.
Note: when an umbrella is in a tilt position, it should not be opened or closed. Doing so can damage the umbrella. Be sure to straighten the umbrella before adjusting the crank.
The umbrella pole is the heart of the umbrella structure. In metal umbrellas, it is typically a hollow tube, somewhere around 1.5″ in diameter, made of aluminum of steel. Inside the tube are wires or twine, attaching the crank to the runner, which allows the umbrella canopy to open and close. The thicker the metal on the pole, the higher quality the umbrella structure will be.
Wooden umbrellas use a solid piece of wood for strength, and keep their control mechanism on the outside, as mentioned above.
For standard patio umbrellas, the pole is in the center of the umbrella. For cantilever or offset umbrellas, the pole is located off to the side, and the canopy is cantilevered from the pole.
The crank is the mechanism that controls the opening and closing of the umbrella. Usually it is a simple hand crank, clockwise to open and counterclockwise to close. However, some manufacturers include other functionality in the crank, such as tilt control, rotation locking, etc.
The lock is the location on the pole where the base attaches to the pole. It is usually a hole in the pole where the umbrella base fastens to the pole, and spring-loaded metal point pops through to secure the pole to the base. Alternately, it can be a screw in key that secures the pole to the base.
After the canopy, the base is the second most important part of the umbrella. The base holds the umbrella steady and upright, and prevents it from lofting in the breeze, damaging the umbrella, and perhaps your guests! Properly sizing your umbrella base is critical, and getting the right base for your umbrella will make a big difference in longevity and the user experience.
Most umbrellas do not include a base, and some who are inserting their umbrella into a table may feel they don’t need to use a base at all. Even when inserted into a table, it is typically suggested that users have a base as well (see our guide to patio umbrella bases, linked here, for more information).
The number of parts of a patio umbrella is not overwhelming, and should you need a replacement part, you can often find replacements or repair kits on Amazon.