We just went through the yearly task of weighting our flag poles for the fall season. In the past, I didn’t know exactly how to do this and was quite haphazard in choosing weights. I dreaded the task and found it tedious and frustrating. This year I did some “asking around” and “experimenting” and came up with what I think are some pretty good solutions for my group in the outdoor season. Here is what I learned!
THE BIG QUESTION: “WHY WEIGHT?”
Basically, weighting the pole helps to counteract the “drag” created when the silk catches the wind. If done properly, it helps to balance the pole and improve ease of rotation for both spinning and tossing. Occasionally, the performance silk is lightweight enough that additional weight is not needed to balance out the pole. However, for larger or heavier silks or for times when you will be doing a great deal of spinning against the wind (as in outdoor seasons) weighting the pole can dramatically improve the ease of rotation of your flag.
WHERE CAN YOU BUY FLAG WEIGHTS?
There are many existing ways that creative instructors weight flag poles. I’ve heard of everything from PVC inserts to rolls of pennies taped inside the ends of the poles. But, undoubtedly, the most common way to weight a pole is with simple carriage bolts that you can purchase at your local home improvement store. Many color guard supply companies offer pole weights that slip into the end of the pole. These work fine but are limited because they only come in a few different weights (meaning if you have a flag that is heavier or lighter than the standard flag this weight might be too heavy or too light for your specific circumstance). These weights also tend to get stuck in the end of the pole making it difficult to remove them if you wish to change the weight in subsequent years. By using bolts from the hardware store, you have much more control ofer the exact combination of weight that you like for your particular silk and choreography needs.
The 1/2″ diameter carriage bolts are nice because they fit right inside the top of a standard 1″ diameter aluminum pole. The head of the bolt simply lays perfectly on the edge of the pole opening and a 1″ rubber end cap will slide easily overtop (plastic end caps probably won’t fit over this type of bolt). There are, however, smaller carriage bolts that you might choose if you use plastic end caps or need a much lighter weight than what you can get with the thick 1/2 inch bolt. Since the head of the bolt will be smaller than the opening of the pole with anything smaller than a 1/2″ carriage bolt, you’ll need to use a 1″ washer to slide the bolt through. The washer will sit on top of the pole opening and keep the bolt from falling inside.
DETERMINING THE SIZE OF YOUR BOLTS
The amount of weight you will need for your flag depends on several factors. These include:
- The size and weight of the silk
- The types of tosses and equipment work your groups needs to perform
- The potential wind conditions (in outdoor performance situations)
Theoretically, the weights you use could change season to season depending on the choreography and the particular flag design. Unfortunately, the only way to find the perfect weight for your situation is to experiment. Try picking up a variety of sizes of bolts (and washers if necessary). You need to wait until you have your performance silks in order to experiment. Try a few different combinations of weights in several different poles. Then, toss & spin through difficult sections of your choreography to determine which feels the best. A good starting point for experimenting with weights is to choose a bolt in the top of the flag (silk end) that is about 1/2″ longer than the bolt in the bottom end of the flag. For example, a 2″ long bolt in the top with a 1 1/2″ bolt in the bottom.
Wrap the long part of the bolt with tape (electrical or duct tape) to prevent it making a “clanking” noise inside the pole. Just bunch the tape in “messy fashion” all around the longer part of the bolt to cushion it inside the pole. While the clanking might sound really cool when tosses are all caught together it can also be really distracting to the music (and highlight inconsistencies when tosses are NOT caught perfectly together!)
1. ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS tape the end cap on tightly with electrical tape…even when experimenting! The weight of the bolt WILL cause the end cap to fly off (bolt and all!) and this projectile can be extremely dangerous! (Also, taping with electrical tape over ALL rubber parts of a rubber endcap will help you to avoid sails due to fabric getting caught on the sticky rubber! It seems to slide off the electrical tape more easily and lead to fewer flag sails!)
2. The heavier the pole, the less it will be affected by the wind (especially for tosses) BUT the more time it will take for beginning students to build up their muscles for initiating regular types of spins. You should be careful to choose only the amount of weight necessary and avoid requiring excessive repetition of spins. You don’t want to stress the wrist leading to tendonitis or carpel tunnel syndrome due to unnecessary repetitions on a pole that is too heavy!
About the Author (Author Profile)
Catina Anderson is the founder/editor of the Colorguard Educators blog. Color guard has been part of her life for almost 25 years. She began coaching in 1994 and worked with the Broad Run High School color guard in Northern VA from 1998 until 2010. She has also written for Halftime Magazine and served on the Executive Board of the Atlantic Indoor Association. A former teacher, she enjoys sharing what she has learned and hopes to encourage others to share as well. Together we can create even more positive experiences for performers and help to collectively strengthen marching arts activities worldwide.
Sites That Link to this Post
- Getting Started with Winter Guard : colorguardeducator.com | October 16, 2011
- From the Archives: Weighting Poles, Music Mapping, Rifle Taping : colorguardeducator.com | January 4, 2012