How to Fix a Patio Umbrella Crank

Updated: 5/29/23

Your patio umbrella is an attractive, functional element of your garden. You might not know it to look at it, but it’s also a smart piece of engineering. It uses simple components — such as pulleys and cord — to make for easy extension and retraction.

As with all mechanisms, though, occasionally things will go wrong. One of the most common aspects that could fail in this instance is the crank. Unless there are other issues, such as a broken pole, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to throw out and replace the entire product. In fact, taking it apart and making it functional again is well within the capabilities of most people. You just need a few spare parts, a little patience, and about an hour of your time. However, if you do need replacement parts, you may be able to find your model pole/crank on Amazon as well. Here’s an example below from Treasure Garden.

1. Dismantle the Crank Housing

The fine details of housing can vary from brand to brand, so we’ve gone with the most common style available. There’ll be a box which surrounds the crank mechanism. Undo the screws — there’ll usually be four Phillips head type screws —and detach the box from the pole. It’s worth noting that if your patio umbrella has been kept outside for a significant period of time, there may be an element of rusting to the screws. Therefore it’s best to approach this gently in order to avoid breaking rusted screws. Spraying a little lubricant around the screw can ease this process a little. A good tip here is to set the housing down with the screws still in their holes. That way you minimize the risk of losing them, or wasting time hunting around for them afterwards.

2. Assess the Damage

At this point, the crank mechanism should be exposed. This gives you a clear impression of what the main issue is likely to be, and the overall state of the mechanism. If there is evidence of serious corrosion throughout the mechanism, it may be more sensible to replace the umbrella entirely. However, if there are just a few issues with the crank or the umbrella cord, you should be able to take care of this yourself.The most common problems with the crank mechanism will tend to be with either the spring, the spool, or the handle itself. These are subject to the most wear and tear, and can lead to the failure of the entire mechanism. Identify which is the problem area, and contact your local hardware store or the manufacturer to obtain replacements.

3. Clean Components and Remove Rust

There’s a chance that the main problem with the crank mechanism is a simple case of early stage rusting. This is where the parts in the housing are not completely corroded, but the build up of surface level rust and debris have caused the crank to turn slowly, or to grind. This means that rather than learning how to fix a patio umbrella crank, you’re cleaning it instead. Even if one of the parts needs to be replaced, it’s a good idea to undertake this as a preventative measure for the rest of the metal components anyway. Carefully disassemble the internal crank mechanism, taking note of the order the handle, spring, spool, and washers are housed. There are several ways in which you can remove rust from the components, including:

  • Submerge the metal parts in white vinegar overnight. Scrape the rust from the surface using wire wool.
  • Submerge the metal parts in citric acid overnight. Wipe the dust from the surface with a brush.
  • Rinse the components, and shake off excess water. Dust the surface with baking soda, ensuring all rusty areas are well coated. After an hour or two, gently scrub the rust with wire wool. Rinse off, and dab dry with a paper towel. 

4. Use a Temporary Handle

There are going to be times when you’re not able to immediately obtain the correct replacement handle. It might need to be on special order at the hardware store, or you need to wait for delivery from the manufacturer or eCommerce outlet. If you have a family event planned — these issues can occur at the worst times! — you might need to improvise a replacement just to get it functional again. The crank essentially operates by way of the handle turning the spool, which in turn winds the cord to pull open the ribs of the umbrella. You can use a pair of small hand clamps, or a set of lockable pliers and attach them to the spool. You can then use the clamp or pliers to wind the spool as needed. In most cases you’ll also need to make sure that your temporary solution stays in place in order to keep the umbrella from collapsing. In which case you should firmly tie some string front the handle of the clamp or pliers to the pole.

5. Replace the Parts

Swapping out the old parts for the new is a relatively simple process. As long as you’ve ordered compatible components, you shouldn’t have any problems. If you have to replace the crank handle, first untie the cord from the crank shaft. Detach it from the pole by pulling gently while turning the crank back and forth. With a little pressure it should easily come free. You should then be able to reinsert the new handle in its place. If you have to replace the spring, you shouldn’t need to remove the shaft handle all the way. Simply slide the new spring over the handle shaft in place of the old one. Similarly with the spool, attach the new spool onto the shaft, and tie the end of the cord to the eyelet.

It’s always best to test the success of your replacement before reassembling the housing. Give it a few cranks back and forth to ensure you’ve correctly installed your replacements.

6. Commit to Regular Aftercare

A lot of problems that lead you to learning how to fix a patio umbrella crank can be prevented. Largely these are the result of being a little complacent with the care of the product. Make sure you commit to annual inspection of your parts, removing any rust and applying lubrication. The earlier you spot potential issues, the better able you are to prevent them getting worse. This, along with a regular cleaning and maintenance routine will help ensure the long life of your umbrella.

Wrapping Up

It might seem as though a crank mechanism is a complicated piece of equipment with many parts, but it has its basis in simple engineering principles. As such, there are a couple of main components that do the heavy lifting — the crank, the spring, the spool — and these can occasionally go wrong. Fixing and replacing them is a simple process as long as you take a methodical and patient approach. With a couple of tools and new parts, you’re fully capable of keeping your patio umbrella a functional and attractive aspect of your garden set-up.

People Also Ask…

How Do I Replace a Broken Patio Umbrella Rib?

Whether due to an accident or strong winds, there’s potential for the ribs of a patio umbrella to become damaged. In some cases you might be able to do a spot repair with some glue, but it’s often more worth your while to contact the manufacturer to obtain a replacement rib,

The process of fitting it is usually as follows:

  1. ​Remove the canvas from the patio umbrella.
  2. Unscrew and remove the hub cover at the base of the patio umbrella ribs. This will expose the rib slots.
  3. Slide the broken rib out of the slot in the hub.
  4. Slide the new rib in its place.
  5. Screw and secure the hub cover back into place.
  6. Re-attach the umbrella canvas.

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