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I am in the midst of preparing to resume performing live music, co-host a weekly radio show, build more guitars, and record a new acoustic album. With all of this going on, I decided that it was the perfect time to drop everything to make an umbrella. Having decided to drop everything to make an umbrella, I decided to drop making an umbrella to write an article about making an umbrella.

I may have an issue with priorities and time allocation.

My History With Decorative Umbrellas

I was obsessed with umbrellas with bird handles when I was a small child.

Strange, I know.

I am not sure when or why I came to love umbrellas with bird handles, but you would always find me in a rain storm with a decorative umbrella in my younger days. I had multiple umbrellas with wooden duck handles and one with a plastic eagle head. The eagle head umbrella stayed with me until well into my 20s, until we were parted on one unfortunate day when I fell asleep on the New York City Subway’s R-train.

(If anyone finds that umbrella, please drop me a line.)

Ever since I lost my eagle umbrella, I have been searching for a replica. My lost eagle head was nothing fancy, and I doubt that it was expensive. My search would lead me to unexpected places.

A Good Umbrella With a Decorative Handle is Hard to Find

Umbrellas with decorative handles are surprisingly hard to find. The wooden duck handle umbrellas are in great supply, but other decorative handles are in short supply within a reasonable budget.

Did you know that you can spend anywhere from $300 to $1,000-plus on a decorative umbrella?

While I understand wanting a sturdy umbrella to protect oneself from the rain (unlike overpriced New York City newsstand and convenience store umbrellas with their 18-second lifespans), investing hundreds of dollars (or more than $1,000) on an umbrella seems excessive in my humble opinion. At the high end, you could be out $1,000 dollars on account of a gust of wind or a ride on public transportation.

Or am I wrongly assuming that people use the most expensive umbrellas as umbrellas?

What to Do? Build My Own Decorative Handle Umbrella.

After spending a great deal of time searching in vain for a suitably nice umbrella that fit within my budget, I decided to take matters into my own hands.

I mean that literally.

I ordered a replica antique bird’s head cane handle on eBay. Then I ordered a wooden handle umbrella at a discounted price from a Memorial Day sale. My plan was simple: graft the bird head onto the wooden umbrella handle. Execution of said plan was not.

The Bird’s Head Cane Handle

The information page for the cane handle stated that it would ship from New York. It shipped from India.

The handle is hooked – similar to a traditional hooked handle umbrella. I chose a hooked handle for ease of carrying. It has a set screw and a lip (essentially just a brass ring) to sit on.

The handle is made of brass. I opted for brass in lieu of a cheaper material because I often chipped my cheaper decorative umbrellas when I dropped them.

The Discounted Wooden Umbrella.

The umbrella I purchased has a classic wooden stick handle, an auto-open button, and a canopy that is 48-inches in diameter.

I am not sure what kind of wood was used for the original handle or how it was finished. In any event, the original handle was light, not hard, and the finish scratched easily.

How Did Building My Bird’s Head Handle Umbrella Go?

Despite having never attempted to make or modify my own umbrella before, my bird’s-head-handle-grafting efforts were ultimately successful. My umbrella-building journey, however, was not entirely smooth sailing.

Using Hand Tools

I have a variety of tools available to me that I use for my guitar-building work. For this project, I decided to stick exclusively to hand tools. This is because I was concerned that there may be a metal bar running through my discount umbrella’s handle, which could potentially harm me and my larger tools. Having never cut an umbrella before, I had no idea what to expect.

Removing the Handle From My Discount Umbrella

I was able to remove the wooden handle from my discount umbrella without difficulty. I found that there was no metal drilled into the wood where I cut.

Because I used a handsaw to remove the handle, it was not as straight as it could have been. With that being said, because I never put an umbrella under a chop saw, I cannot speak authoritatively about how straight it could have been. I sanded the wound down until it was as flush as I could make it.

The First Attempt at Grafting

Having successfully mangled my discount wooden umbrella, it was time to graft the brass cane handle onto it.

Much to my chagrin, problems arose due to my noble attempt to keep everything within my “hey let’s make an umbrella” budget.

The bottom of the cane handle (where it would sit on the wood of the cane) was not exactly flat. The set screw (which was designed to be drilled into the wood of the cane) looked like an animal had gnawed on it, which made screwing the cane head onto it a bit difficult. Furthermore, I could not identify the size of the screw and thus could not replace it.

I lost the screw once or twice. That added to the-build time.

I attempted to clean up the grooves on the cane handle with a hand file. That helped a little bit.

The small lip on the end cane handle did not fit on the end of the umbrella handle. The diameter was smaller. The cane head without the lip was a closer fit. I tossed the lip, allowing the head to sit (sort of flush) on the umbrella handle. The lip was designed to mask the fact that the bottom of the handle wasn’t straight. Just my luck.

I located a drill bit a size down from the screw (not realizing my father had a tapping set specifically designed for what I was doing) and clamped the umbrella as best I could to the table. Then,I I made a hole half the length of the screw. Finally, I screwed the set screw it into the center of the handle as straight as I could, and attempted to set the handle on top. Of course, because of the bad screw grooves and the less than perfect hole I drilled, the cane head caught on the screw and spun in place – making the connection between the screw and the wood just tenuous enough to be a problem.

I decided to use an adhesive to solve that problem – I found some heavy-duty glue, set everything in place, and waited the 24 hours for it to cure.

After the Glue Dried

I woke up to find that the previous day’s endeavors had been wholly unsuccessful. The cane head was a bit loose on the umbrella. After applying a chemical to make the screw lock into the cane head, I discovered that it was in fact the screw itself that was loose.

I was able to wiggle the bird’s head handle slightly. That made me concerned that were I to take my umbrella out into the wild, a gust of wind would leave me with nothing but the handle.

A Second Attempt

I decided to undo my work from the day before and clean everything as best I could. After that was complete, I decided that play-time was over. It was time to bring out the big guns.

Armed with a tube of industrial-strength epoxy and rubber gloves, I returned to work. I again sanded down the bottom of the bird’s head cane handle, which proved to be easy since the brass was soft. While I did not get it entirely flush, it was better than it had been before.

I made liberal use of the glue, re-set the screw, and fastened the cane handle to the umbrella as tightly as I could. In my estimation, the handle still did not feel firmly connected. Despite my doubts, I cleaned up and waited for the glue to dry.

My Efforts Were Successful

My skepticism the previous day was unfounded. The industrial-strength epoxy proved to be a (literally) solid choice. I found that the handle was firmly fastened to the base. It did, and does, not wiggle or rick at all. After using a file to clean the excess glue and painting over minor cosmetic imperfections, my umbrella looks ready to go.

A photo of a brass bird's head cane handle grafted onto a wooden umbrella. Photo and grafting by Victor V. Gurbo.
The finished umbrella handle. Photo by Victor V. Gurbo.

Much to my surprise, the project appears to have been a success.

I still need to test my new umbrella in the rain and wind. But by all appearances, it should be safe and ready to go.

My only concern is that my modifications add a bit of weight to the umbrella. This may or may not be an issue, but if I make another umbrella, I will take the weight of materials into consideration. I will also reassess other aspects of the project for a more convenient assembly process.

Thoughts and Feedback

I am curious to know what New Leaf Journal readers think of the project. Is this the type of thing that you would be interested in? Should I refine my umbrella customization technique and put them up for sale? Perhaps an Etsy shop is in my future? Do let me know by using the New Leaf Journal Guestbook!