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Trail Construction and Maintenance Notebook

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Tools Cont.

Tools for Digging and Tamping

Digging and Tamping Bars--A digging and tamping bar is about the same length as a rockbar, but much lighter. It is designed with a chisel tip for loosening dirt or rocks and a flattened end for tamping. These bars are not prying tools.

Drawing of a digging bar.

Shovels--Shovels are available in various blade shapes and handle lengths. The common, or round-point, shovel weighs between 2.3 and 2.7 kilograms (5 and 6 pounds). Its head measures about 200 by 300 millimeters (8 by 12 inches). If a shovel feels too heavy or large, choose a smaller version--remember, you have to lift everything the head holds. The square shovel is a flat-bottomed model intended for shoveling loose materials, not digging.

Drawings of a square shovel and a round point shovel.

When scooping materials, bend your knees and lift with your legs, not your back. Push the shovel against your thigh, which serves as a fulcrum. This makes the handle an efficient lever and saves your energy and your back. Don't use the shovel to pry objects out of the trail--that's a job for a pick and a pry bar.

Tools for Brushing

Bank Blades and Brush Hooks--Bank blades and brush hooks are designed specifically for cutting through thickets of heavy brush or saplings. Use them for clearing work that is too heavy for a scythe and not suited for an ax.

Drawings of a bank blade and a brush hook.

Lopping Shears and Pruning Shears--Lopping and pruning shears are similar in design and use. Lopping shears have long handles and may have gears to increase leverage for thicker stems. Pruning shears are small enough to fit in one hand and are designed to cut small stems and branches. Cutting edges vary, but generally one blade binds and cuts a stem against an anvil or beveled hook. We recommend the hook and blade shear for overhead cuts because the curved blades transfer the weight of the shears to the limb. Lopping and pruning shears do a better job of making a nice clean cut than hand saws or axes.

Drawing of lopping shears.

Power Weed Cutters--Several manufacturers make "weed whackers," motorized weed cutters that use plastic line to cut weeds. Some have metal blades that substitute for the line. These can be a good option for mowing grass and weeds on trails. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for safe use and operation. Eye protection is especially important.

Swedish Brush (Sandvik) Axes--These clearing tools work well in brushy thickets or in rocky or confined areas.

Drawing of a Swedish brush ax.

Weed Cutters (Grass Whips)--Weed cutters are used for cutting light growth like grasses and annual plants that grow along trails. They are lightweight and durable and usually are swung like a golf club.

Drawing of a grass whip.

Tools for Pounding and Hammering

Hand-Drilling Hammers--Hand-drilling hammers are used to drill steel into rock or to drive wedges and feathers into cracks or drilled holes. There are two types of hand-drilling hammers--single jacks and double jacks. For more information on hand drilling, read "Hand Drilling and Breaking Rock For Wilderness Trail Maintenance" (Mrkich and Oltman 1984).

Drawing of a single jack hammer.

Drawing of a double jack hammer.

Sledge Hammers--Sledge hammers have heads forged from heat-treated high carbon steel; they weigh from 3.6 to 9 kilograms (8 to 20 pounds).

Drawings of a Nevada or long-pattern sledge, Double-face sledge, and a Stone sledge.

Tools for Lifting and Hauling

Block and Tackle--A block and tackle is a set of pulley blocks and ropes used for hoisting or hauling. They come in different styles, sizes, and capacities.

Canvas Bags--Heavy-duty canvas bags sold to carry coal are great for dirt, small rocks, and mulch. They are more durable than similar-looking shopping bags.

Photo of a canvas bag.
Canvas coal bag

Motorized Carriers--If your budget and regulations allow, consider a motorized carrier. They come in various configurations and typically feature a dump body. A trailer pulled behind an all-terrain vehicle may be an alternative to a motorized carrier.

Photo of a worker using a motorized carrier.
Motorized carrier

Photo of an ATV trailer.
ATV trailer

Packstock Bags and Panniers--Fabric bags or hard-sided panniers with drop bottoms work well when packstock are used to carry trail construction materials. A design available for fabric bags is included in "Gravel Bags for Packstock" (Vachowski 1995).

Photo of a man putting a packstock bag on a mule.
Packstock bag

Rockbars--Use a rockbar (also called pry bar) for lifting or skidding large, heavy objects. These bars are heavy duty. They have a chisel tip on one end. The other end can be rounded or pointed.

Drawing of a rockbar and how to use a rockbar. Includes text that reads, Bar and fulcrum.

Place the tip of the chisel under the object to be moved. Wedge a log or rock between the bar and the ground to act as a fulcrum. Press the handle down with your weight over your palms. Never straddle the bar when prying. When the object raises as much as the bite allows, block it and use a larger fulcrum or shorter bite on the same fulcrum to raise the object farther.

The rounded end of a rockbar is great for compacting material into rock cracks when armoring trail. You can use the pointed end to break large rocks by jabbing the point into a crack and twisting.

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Updated: 4/14/2014
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