Make a Sun Shade From an Old Sail

I made this sun shade from an old used sail that I picked up free at a local sail shop last year. I designed it so it could easily be put up or taken down as needed. 

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Step 1: Pick a Location

The Morning Deck, as we call it, is great in the morning. It is a perfect spot to sit and drink a hot cup of coffee on a cool morning and watch the kids play on the driveway and the swingset.  After noon however, this beautiful spot is beaten within inches of life by the sun, making it unbearable to sit and enjoy for very long. I had seen sunsails for sale in various catalogs and found some online, but none of them really looked fantastic and the best looking were more expensive than I was willing entertain.  My wife had seen a blog where someone made a tote bag out of an old sail that she had picked up for cheap (or free, i can't remember) at her local sailing shop. If they could get an old sail for cheap then why couldn't I? The seed was planted.

Step 2: Get a Sail

A coworker of mine knew of a good sail shop in town so I gave them a call. I asked if they had any old sails they would be willing to part with and how much they would cost. They asked me what size I was looking for and threw out a couple terms I did not recognize. I told them I was looking for a sail whose long side was 12 feet or so. I'm not sure exactly how big the sail I got was, but it was free and the perfect size for my space. I included a diagram I got from wikipedia so you can have some terms on hand for a better communication experience than I had. They were super nice once we were talking about the same thing. I was hoping for a sail with some color or numbers printed on it but no luck, maybe next year.

Step 3: Rig It Up

I was lucky enough to have logical points to attach the sail to but had considered the possibility that I was going to have to plant a 6"x6" post somewhere in the yard to support it and I still might do so because of seasonal change in sun position.  I temporarily hung up the sail on window cranks, trees & doorknobs with light duty rope so I would have a better estimate of how much heavy duty rope I was going to need. Knowing a little about home construction led me to focus on points surrounding windows and doors to attach to because I knew that there was sure to be framing around them to support the screw eyes I was going to use.  I purchased 3 larger screw eyes and attached pullies to them and then screwed them into the spots I had figured out earlier. The head of the sail is attached to my garage above the side door, the clew is attached to a 2nd story window and the tack is attached to our play structure but I do move it to an adjacent tree occasionally to get a better angle. I cut the heavier duty rope to approximate length (making sure to leave enough slack rope so I can hook it up without the rope falling out of the pulley) and then attached carabiners to the ends of the rope with a noose-like knot and fed the ends through the pulleys down to a simple cleat hitch. 

Step 4: Hang It

I let all 3 lines out and then attach to the 3 points of the sail. I pull up the center first and then adjust the other two sides so that the angle is where I want it. You can tweak the lines throughout the day as the sun moves so you are covered for most of the day. It goes up in 3 minutes and can come down in 1 if needed. I only take it down in inclement weather, or if we will be gone overnight. The lines all come down for winter so they aren't exposed to the harsh cold. I put up a small line in the center pulley for the winter that pulled the big line back through this spring so I wouldn't have to get the big ladder out. The sail I got had oily spots on it when it was first hung, but they came out after the first rain it was exposed to.

Step 5: Enjoy!

I have been told that boat sails are not made to withstand UV radiation so it will eventually deteriorate and have to be replaced. However since my sail was free and my rigging system can easily accommodate various sizes of sail.. I'm not terribly concerned.



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    5 Discussions


    5 years ago on Introduction

    I just did the same thing, using an old sail I bought off eBay as a shade. This instructable gave me a little more confidence that it wasn't a crazy idea, so thanks!

    I would add a few comments on the process; first, make sure you're working with a triangular sail - ones that are curved along the leech make it much more difficult to attach.

    Second, if you want to make an irregular shape (in my case an irregular quadrangle) cut along the reinforcement seams of the sail, and make sure when you buy the saill has lots of reinforcement seams, since this gives more options for cuts.

    If you're working with an irregular shape, it's handy to have a grommet tool, so you can make your own attachment points. The typical $10 grommet kit from a craft store seems to work fine, though I do wish I could find some beefier ones.

    Finally, to secure against it luffing in the wind, anchor securely at all corners and use a ratcheting tie down. I used a 1" web strap ratchet typically used to tie down cargo/motorcycles in trucks. They came in a set of 4 for about $20. These give a nice, taut attachment that looks really good too.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    It can withstand quite a bit of wind but I take it down if there is any serious weather coming our way. I think the lines would break before any damage could come to the house.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Nice. I would have stuck a big timber into the side house to make a yardarm or whatever they call that mast part sticking out of the front of a pirate ship. But then you would have to shape the rest of the house like a big ark.