New Old Products, Inc.

  

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General Information

The following information is intended to help describe the components of an antique style lightning rod. You should find this information useful if you need to replace broken parts on your existing lightning rod and to help you understand what type of lightning protection system you have or want.

 

Point or Tip
Many different types were used by different manufacturers. The most common is the pointed tip, known as a “shell” point, as in artillery shell, shown in the sketch. The second most common tip is the bayonet tip, which looks just like three-sided a military style bayonet.

Rod
Here also there are many different types use by different manufacturers.  Two types are the most common:   The most common is  known as “tube” rod, as it is a 5/8” diameter copper tube. Sometimes it has a seam, and sometimes the tube is seamless. The second most common type is  “Twisted”, or “star rod”, also known as “section rod”, as it came in  10 foot “sections”. Rods come in different heights,  ranging from 10-12 inches (modern) up to about 60 inches (late 1800s). Again, please do not be surprised if you have a different type of rod, as there are many other types that were used over the years.

 

Ball
There are several dozen different glass lightning rod ball shapes, sizes and colors. Entire books have been written covering the various ball designs, colors, etc. This is intended to be just a brief overview.

The most common lightning rod ball is the 4 1/2” diameter smooth round ball.  The most common colors are opaque white, and opaque light blue. The opaque blue is roughly a “sky blue” or “baby blue”. Probably the next two most common colors are transparent cobalt blue and transparent red, sometimes known as “ruby” red.

The holes in the top and bottom of the ball are the same size, and the hole and the area around it are  known as “collars”. Balls come in three different hole (collar) sizes:  Small, Medium, and Large. The different hole sizes are to accommodate different sizes of rods. The  Small collar size is used on 5/8” tube rods. The Large collar sized balls are intended for use on “star” or “twisted”  or “section” rods. The “medium” size was used on both, and is not very common.

Caps
Most balls (but not all) originally had copper, aluminum, or in rare cases, brass “caps” on both ends. The purpose of the caps is to protect the ball and to cover up the rough glass edges created during the ball’s normal manufacturing process.   There are three different standard cap sizes to accommodate the three different ball hole (collar) sizes. New Old Products stocks all three sizes and also offer some “special” caps to fit glass balls with either the “large” or “medium” collar size, but with the SMALL hole. This is so that large or medium collar balls can be adapted for use on 5/8” tube lightning rods. These special caps are called “Adapta-Caps”.   A fourth type of cap is also out there. Some large collar balls (only) were designed to be used with threaded caps with a company name embossed into them.  “Miller” and “Cole Bros” are the two most common ones. New Old Products stocks aluminum threaded, embossed (“Cole Bros”) caps.

Cap Sizes: If the collar measures about 1 1/4” , it takes a “Small” cap,  1 3/8 = Medium, and 1 1/2” = Large

Ball Rings (refer to sketch above)
Ball rings are small rings with a set screw in them that mount on the lightning rod above and below the glass lightning rod ball. While most old style systems did not originally use ball rings, New Old Products highly recommends the practice, as a strong wind or hail storm can rapidly move the ball up and down, essentially “hammering” it. Obviously, this can (and does) result in ball breakage.  Further, lightning rod ball theft does occur sometimes. Use of Ball rings make theft much more difficult.

Stand or Brace (refer to sketch above)
Here again there have been many different types and styles built over the years. By far, the most common type is the “washer” brace or stand with three legs.These too come in different sizes, with the most common sizes ranging from about 12 to 36 inches in total height. Almost all stands or “braces” were made of plain iron. A few, rare ones are solid copper or copper “scroll braces” - see the Limited Edition Lightning Rod photo. Here again, please do not be surprised if you have one of the many other types.

Broken Rods (refer to sketch above)
You may have something that looks like the tip is missing.  If you do, it probably means that an arrow or weather vane was out of balance for many years, and actually cut the rod off! Typically, shooting the tail off of a weather vane will throw it out of balance. Even though the above rod has been “wounded” it is still probably functional, assuming that it is still hooked up. Yes, New Old Products carries a complete line of 5/8 tube replacement lightning rods.  We can supply them in whatever length that is needed to match the rest of your system.

Arrows & Weather Vanes
Sometimes on one or more of the lightning rods, above the glass ball, there is an arrow or weather vane.  Starting with arrows, they came in many sizes, but the 18” and 24”ones are the most common.

In addition to length, there are at least four primary different types of arrows: rectangular tail with etched glass or plain stained glass (known as a “glass tail” and shown with etched glass in the sketch), a diamond shape tail with stained glass (known as a “kite tail”), tails with solid metal (sometimes called “tin tails”), and tails with a pattern in the metal tail. The most common metal tail pattern is known as the “moon and star” arrow, even though the pattern looks more like a moon and a circle.

Kite Tail & Animal Vane
Unfortunately, the kite tailed arrows weren’t very durable. The sketch on the left above shows how many kite tailed arrows appear today.

Weather vanes came in many shapes and sizes. Probably one of the most common weather vane was either the Horse or Rooster vane. If you have something resembling the sketch on the right below, there was probably an animal or other figure on the weather vane.

 

Pendants
If you have something like this, your system once had something known as pendants. Pendants were smaller, acorn shaped hollow glass pieces with a metal hook on top. The hook on the pendant mated with the hook on the hangar sketched above. Each hangar hook held one of the four pendants.

 

Pendants turned out to have poor durability. Either the hook on the pendant fell off, or water got inside the pendant and froze and broke the pendant in cooler climates. Very few pendants survive.

 

Compass Points

Sometimes, in addition to a weather vane, there are the points of a compass. These also come in many styles and shapes, and are somewhat rare.

 

 

 

Lightning Protection

Cables, Connectors & Ground Rods (not shown)
These are the other “functional” parts of a lightning protection system. Once again, there are many styles and types, ranging from braided copper cable, braided aluminum cable, to “star” or “twisted” or “section rod”. While New Old Products does carry a complete line of the above (repair parts only for section rod), along with a complete line of  ‘modern’ lightning rods, they are not described here, as professional installation of the “functional” parts is strongly recommended, as described in the next paragraphs.

Hopefully, the above information will enable you to examine (CAREFULLY PLEASE!) your system and determine what parts are needed to fully restore your system to both full functionality and appearance.

Ground Rods
One important question (to owners of old buildings, anyway) is:  “My house/barn/shed has antique lightning rods on it/them. Do they still work?” The answer here is: They have the potential to work. This means that if they are still properly connected, have been maintained, and have not been damaged, then, yes, they can protect the structure.   However, it is a pretty safe bet that they have not had any maintenance or updates in the last 40 or 50 years.  “What maintenance?” you ask.  Although the answer is simple, it is also very important: Ground Rods.  Yes, Ground Rods. Typically, under normal circumstances, ground rods are good for maybe 30 years, much less in harsh conditions. Therefore, if you have antique lightning rods that are still hooked up, and not damaged, if you do nothing else, please, please have the ground rods replaced!

Professional Installation
Why does New Old Products strongly recommend the professional installation of the “functional” parts and components for lightning protection (rod) systems? Several reasons: One, to insure that your lightning protection system’s functionality is restored to its full original (or typically better) performance, and two, so that it can be brought up to modern lightning protection code. Professional installers have the tools,
knowledge, parts, and experience to do the job right.

Since we always recommend that lightning protection systems be professionally installed, we provide information on how to Find An Installer.

 

Contact the Lightning Protection Institute for additional information on lightning protection and installers in your area.  The Lightning Protection Institute is a nationwide not-for-profit organization whose members are dedicated to ensuring that people and structures are protected from the harmful effects of lightning.

Lightning Protection Institute


Lightning Protection Institute
P.O. Box 99
Phone: 800.488.6864
Fax: 660.582.0430

 

New Old Products, Inc.     Kokomo, IN

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