Long before fiberglass or extruded aluminum, craftsmen working in spar yards used lathes to turn wooden flagpoles—masts with landlubber destinies. Honoring this tradition, flagpole terminology still twists nautical: Flags are raised by sheaves (pulleys) and halyards (ropes) that are secured on cleats. Some poles even have double or step masts, yardarms (crossbars) and gaffs (extra spars perpendicular to the yardarms).
Although wood is the most historically authentic material for a flagpole, it is also the most expensive. Here are some less costly options:
Fiberglass: The best fiberglass poles have a UV-resistant finish and are constructed with the majority of fibers running vertically; fibers that run horizontally make the pole weaker and can cause failure. Fiberglass poles are available in various colors and are light, easy to install and maintenance-free. The rigging can be run inside the pole to eliminate the sound of slapping halyards. Most models do not make lowering easy, however.
Standard Aluminum: Although light, easy to install and available with internal rigging—no halyards to clang against metal—some painted aluminum poles chip, leaving uncoated spots that may stain. The most durable finish is clear-coated brushed metal, which often looks incongruous against a white clapboard house.
Telescoping Aluminum: The sight of retracting buttons and joints may not enhance the elegance of a pole's silhouette, but telescoping models are easily portable. Putting them up or taking them down requires only a few minutes.