It's raining and you press the button on umbrella... whooosh! The canopy opens in a spilt second and gives you the cover you need from the elements. An umbrella is frequently a lifesaver, or at least a getting-wet-saver! After all, it’s the only thing standing in the way of you getting soaked if transportation isn’t around. Under those circumstances, you wouldn’t trade it in for the world.
So how does an umbrella work? We've got some helpful information that we hope gives you an insight into what we think is an amazing piece of engineering.
The Main Parts
In order to understand how an umbrella works, you need to know the basic parts of an umbrella. We’ll only go over the essential bits in this article and in this section, we’ll focus on the classic, non-collapsible umbrella as it is the original design and what people associate most closely with this term. If you wish to know more details about the parts of an umbrella, see our article Your Complete Guide To All The Parts of an Umbrella.
The shaft is, in a sense, the core of the umbrella. It includes the handle and straight rod that runs up the centre of the brolly. On the shaft, you will find a part that’s called the runner. That’s the part you slide up when you want to open your umbrella, it’s also the part you use when it’s time to close it as you slide it down towards the handle.
Next up, the most recognizable part of the umbrella – the canopy. This is the fabric which actually keeps the rain at bay. The canopy can be a solid colour, clear or have a pattern across it. The strips of metal, fiberglass or plastic that run along the underside of the canopy and give it the recognizable shape are known as the ribs. The last part we’ll mention are the stretchers. Those are the metal, fiberglass or plastic struts that connect the ribs to the runner.
How an Umbrella Opens
The way an umbrella opens is really quite clever! When the runner is at the bottom position, the stretchers are gathered around the shaft and the umbrella is closed. To open it, you simply push the runner up.
This will start to extend the stretchers and they will, in turn, push up against the ribs. This forces the ribs to assume a spherical shape and stretches the canopy. Once you push the runner all the way, it will lock into place thanks to a spring located inside the shaft. The stretchers are now fully extended and the canopy is tight. The runner cannot slide down the shaft because of the spring and a locking mechanism, and your umbrella is ready to help you brave the weather outside.
Once the rain has stopped, closing your umbrella makes the mechanism work in reverse. You just need to press the spring in the locking mechanism, and this frees up the runner to return downward. As it moves down, the stretchers will fold. Once the runner is at the bottom, another spring will once again lock it, this time ensuring your umbrella stays closed. The stretchers and ribs are then once again gathered around the shaft allowing the umbrella to be easily stored.
Other Types of Umbrellas
In addition to the classic umbrella, it is also worth mentioning compact umbrellas, sometimes known as collapsible umbrellas. Collapsible umbrellas follow the same underlying principle but have a somewhat more complicated mechanism.
The main difference is that a collapsible umbrella has a two or three piece telescoping shaft; this means the shaft can retract and dramatically reduce in size of the umbrella. The result is an umbrella which can fit into your bag and be easy to carry around.
These smaller umbrellas are usually automatic so at the press of a button the umbrella opens automatically. This type of umbrella is known as an automatic umbrella. The basic principle remains the same as the classic umbrella version in that once the button is pressed, the canopy will open and be held firm, however for this umbrella the shaft is spring-loaded. This means once the opening button is pressed, the spring mechanism forces the runner up the shaft and the ribs elongate to hold the canopy firm. You can even find models where you can automatically close the canopy by using the same button; the canopy snaps shut, then the shaft can be manually collapsed.
We really hope you've learned something about how an umbrella works. We're really passionate about all aspects of umbrellas and hope you found that there's a bit more to umbrellas than initially meets the eye. We hope we've managed to shed some light on the topic and explain what makes these everyday items so clever. Enjoy opening your umbrella in the next rain storm, hopefully you'll gaze up at the canopy and smile that you know just a little more about how it works.
If you're looking to buy a new umbrella, do take a look at our reviews of golf umbrellas and compact travel umbrellas. Some great Top Picks are below.