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Wetland Trail Design and Construction

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Construction Tools - (continued)

Tools For Drilling Holes in Wood


Bits are used to drill holes in wood for bolts and for pilot holes for nails and screws. Some of the types of bits available are twist bits, chisel bits, augers, and ship augers.

Twist bits are intended for use on steel, but the smaller bits can be used for drilling pilot holes in wood for nails and screws (see Appendix D for appropriate pilot hole sizes). Chisel bits resemble a chisel with a point in the center. Chisel bits tend to tear up the wood around the hole on the top and bottom surfaces of the wood, but they are readily available in diameters of one-sixteenth of an inch increments. Augers resemble a widely threaded screw with a sharp end and sharp edges. Augers do not tear up the wood like chisel bits do. A normal auger bit is 6 inches long and readily available in ¼- to 1½-inch diameters, in one-eighth of an inch increments, less readily in one-sixteenth of an inch increments. With a 6-inch-long auger, it is difficult to get the holes to line up when two 3-inch ledgers are on each side of a 6 by 6 pile. Ship augers help in this situation because they are longer. Ship augers are 15, 17, 18, 23, and 29 inches long and are indispensable when working with timbers and logs.

Old auger bits were made with a four-sided shaft to fit into a manually powered brace or drill. A six-sided shaft is designed for use in a power drill and will spin uselessly when used in a manually powered brace or drill. Today, most bits are made for power drills. When selecting a bit from a maintenance shop, check to see that the shaft of the bit matches the brace or drill to be used at the work site (figure 83).

Photo of ship augers.
Figure 83-Ship augers are longer than normal 6-inch augers.


Braces and bits are the traditional tools for drilling holes in wood. The brace, a handtool suitable for wilderness use, is extremely slow. Old braces require an auger bit with a four-sided shaft (figure 84).

Photo of brace and bit.
Figure 84-A traditional brace and bit.

Some braces are made with a ratchet, which is helpful when working in close situations where the brace cannot be turned a full circle. People have a tendency to lean on the brace to speed up drilling. This practice bends inexpensive braces. Buy a good brace or don't lean on it. Keep the bits sharp.

Battery-Powered Drills

Small battery-powered drills are useful for drilling holes one-sixteenth of an inch to three-eighths of an inch in diameter. Some heavy-duty drills can drill holes up to 1 inch in diameter. Battery-powered drills may be practical for backcountry use where only a few holes are to be drilled, where the crew returns to the shop after work, or where a generator or photovoltaic power source is available.

Gasoline-Powered Drills

Many trail crews use gasoline-powered drills. These tools can drill holes up to 1 inch in diameter and weigh from 10 to 12 pounds, plus fuel (figure 85).

Photo of a gas-powered drill.
Figure 85-Gasoline-powered drills are great
for backcountry work if regulations allow their use.

Only the more expensive heavy-duty drills, whether battery or gasoline powered, have a reverse gear. A bit can become stuck if it does not go all the way through the wood. To avoid getting a bit stuck, lift the drill up a few times while drilling each hole. If the bit does get stuck, disconnect the bit from the brace or drill and use a wrench to twist the bit backward.

If you have a generator at the work site, another alternative is to use a ½- inch-diameter electric drill. Most of these drills have a reverse. An annoying drawback is stepping over a long extension cord and getting it tangled in brush and timbers. If the operator is standing in water, electric shock is a possibility. Generators are heavy and require fuel. Although some generators have wheels, most are awkward to transport to wetland sites.


A pair of large jaw clamps can speed the installation of two ledger bents. The clamps should have at least a 12-inch opening. These clamps are used for making furniture and may be all steel or part steel and part plastic. Both ledgers are placed roughly in position and clamped loosely to each pile. The height of each ledger is adjusted, the clamps are tightened, and the bolt holes are drilled (figure 86).

Photo of jaw clamps.
Figure 86-Large jaw clamps.


At least one wrench is needed to securely fasten carriage bolts and lag screws. Two wrenches are needed to fasten machine bolts and all-thread rod. Specialty wrenches or screwdrivers are needed to install vandal-proof screws. Closed-end and open-end wrenches, and a set of socket wrenches, may all be needed. Tying one end of a cord to the wrench and the other end to your belt may help keep the wrench from getting lost in the water or mud.


Wood chisels are needed for wetland trail structures. The blade may be ¼ to 2½ inches wide. Wood chisels are typically made with short handles, which often contribute to scraped knuckles. It is worthwhile to repair or replace the handles of old, long-handled chisels.

For a small amount of close work, the wood chisel can be hit or pushed with the palm of the hand. If this technique is impractical, use a wooden mallet. Hitting a wood chisel with a steel hammer will damage the chisel's handle. A good wood chisel should not be used close to nails, screws, or bolts. The cutting edge should be kept sharp.

The socket slick, an oversized chisel, is a difficult tool to find. However, if considerable notching or other accurate work is required, obtaining a slick will be worth the extra effort and expense. The blade is 3 and three-eighths inches wide with an 18-inch wooden handle. The slick weighs 3 pounds. A 2-inch-wide chisel weighs just 10 ounces. The advantages of the slick are its wide blade and long handle. The slick can remove wood twice as quickly as a wide chisel. The long handle keeps the hands farther from the wood being cut (figure 87).

Photo of socket slicks.
Figure 87-Socket slicks can be hard to find.


Mallets are made with plastic, wooden, leather, or rubber heads. Mallets with plastic or wooden heads should be used for hitting wood chisels.


Claw Hammers

A carpenter's claw hammer is helpful for nailing log culverts, bog bridges, boardwalks, and geotextile fabric. A 28-ounce framing hammer is better than the lighter models, although the heavy hammer may be awkward for workers who are unaccustomed to it.

Sledge Hammers

A variety of different weight sledge hammers should be available at the work site. A 4-pound sledge is good for starting drift pins and spikes. A 6- or 8-pound hammer is better for driving them. The 8-pound hammer is better suited for moving heavy timbers and logs fractions of an inch when they are almost in place. Surveyors sledge hammers have shorter handles. They are better for driving long pieces of steel because they provide better control.


A crowbar is indispensable for building trails in rocky terrain. For most wetland trail work, the crowbar is used to move fallen trees and logs out of the way and to align piles, logs, and timbers. A crowbar, also called a rock bar or pry bar, is much stronger than a hollow-pipe tamping bar. The two are often confused.

Tools for Digging Holes

Shovels and Posthole Diggers

The sharp-pointed shovel can be used for digging a narrow deep hole, but a posthole digger or manual auger is more efficient. The posthole digger with its clamshell-like blades is most common, but it is slow and awkward to use. The auger is more expensive, but more efficient.


The auger blade consists of two pieces of immovable curved steel set at opposing angles to each other. The wooden handle is turned in a horizontal plane while the blades drill a hole in the ground. In most soils an auger is more efficient than a posthole digger (figure 88).

Photo of a hand auger
Figure 88-A hand auger.

Gasoline-Powered Augers

Gasoline-powered augers are available. These can usually be rented from local equipment rental companies. A one-person auger weighs 18 to 140 pounds. A two-person auger weighs 35 to 75 pounds. These augers are easily moved to a site. The heavier one-person augers have an engine mounted on wheels that is separate from the auger. Power augers usually make fast work of drilling holes in almost any soil. Problems occur when the auger runs into a boulder, a large root, or soil containing 4- to 6-inch pieces of gravel. The bit will stop, and the torque of the engine may cause back injury.


Wheelbarrows are an underrated and often forgotten piece of equipment for trail work. A wheelbarrow is a necessity for moving fill for most turnpike construction and can be helpful for moving tools, materials, and supplies. For big jobs, two wheelbarrows are handy. One can be loaded while the other is being dumped.

Steel and fiberglass are the most common materials for the body. Steel is heavier and stronger, but fiberglass is cheaper and more easily repaired.

Wheelbarrows commonly available at most local building supply stores do not withstand the rigors of trail work. Contractors wheelbarrows are made with stronger steel, and the handles are made of heavier, better quality wood. Although more expensive, a contractors wheelbarrow will far outlast the flimsy backyard variety. Contractors wheelbarrows can also be rented.

The solid-body wheelbarrow is the type that comes to mind when we think of wheelbarrows, but the gardeners wheelbarrow also has a place in trail construction. This wheelbarrow, without sides, is easier to use when loading large stones, short timbers and logs, and bags and boxes of materials. Gardeners wheelbarrows are more expensive than contractors wheelbarrows and are difficult to find. Most have steel wheels. Pneumatic rubber tires are better for trail work. The frame of a standard wheelbarrow can easily be converted to a gardeners wheelbarrow. Temporary flat-tire repair sealants, sold in aerosol cans, help prevent pneumatic tires from going flat. Motorized carriers could greatly ease the burden of moving materials, where their use is allowed.


Compactors should be used when placing fill for turnpike and for backfill around end-bearing piles. Several companies make a vibratory tamper type of compactor that is suitable for compacting small areas of fill. These companies also make vibratory plates, which are better suited for larger areas, such as turnpike and accessible surfaces. Vibratory tampers have an area 8 inches square that contacts the ground. Vibratory plates have an area 15 inches square that contacts the ground (figure 89 and figure 90).

Photo of a vibratory tamper
Figure 89-A vibratory tamper.

Photo of a vibratory plate compactor
Figure 90-Vibratory plate compactor.

A third type of compactor is an attachment to the Pionjar rock drill. It can be used for compacting backfill in narrow spaces around end-bearing piles, fenceposts, and signposts.

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Updated: 4/14/2014
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