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  Trail Care Crew Tip

Essential Tools For Trailwork

Jan and Mike Riter
Subaru/IMBA Trail Care Crew No. 1

Illustrations courtesy Missoula Technology & Development Center; USDA Forest Service.
Photos by Jan and Mike Riter.

Hello fellow tread heads, At our last couple trail building clinics we got to talking about trail building tools and have come to realize that we have somewhat put the cart before the horse with our trail tips articles. So let's back up a bit and cover this important facet of trailwork.

In our three years as the Trail Care Crew we have seen all manner of tools and techniques used for construction and maintenance. We have seen folks try to build trails with household garden tools and to maintain trails with bulldozers. In most of these instances they end up taking a relatively simple task and making it much more difficult than it needs to be, just because they weren't using the right tools. One of the first tools needed in a trail project may be an inclinometer, also known as the clinometer. This handy little device is what professional trail builders use to measure percent of grade. Our photo illustration here gives a rough idea of how this important device is used.

During construction, two main tools will take care of most your needs. The first is the pulaski. A fire fighting tool that has made the transition to trail building, pulaskis have an axe blade on one side and a grub hoe on the other. A guy by the name of Pulaski invented the tool when he was tired of carrying both a fire axe and a grub hoe into the woods to battle blazes. He heated a double blade axe in a forge and turned one blade at a 90-degree angle to the other.


Three types of shovels: square, round point, and taper

Adze hoe

The two primary trailbuilding tools: Pulaski and McLeod

Head of a Pick mattock
Use the hoe-side of the pulaski to initially rough-cut the trail contour. After you have dug the basic shape, change your style from downward cutting to a more horizontal motion, like a pendulum, to shave off smaller layers. Try to use the tool's weight to dig, rather than your back. Also, don't always stand on the downhill edge of the tread and dig towards you. Step up on the tread and dig along the trail. This will produce a smoother cut and will help you to establish out-slope that is not excessively steep.

When a root pops up, just flip the pulaski over and use the axe side. Voila, no more root.

Some other good tread cutting tools are the pick mattock, the adze hoe and the fire rake.

The ultimate tool for finishing the tread is the McLeod. It has a flat, square shaped blade with a cutting edge on one side and a rake with widely spaced tines on the other. We use this tool with pride and care to put the final touches on that super sweet piece of singletrack. The McLeod also came from the fire industry and was derived from two tools that were joined together to create a better mousetrap.

The cutting edge of a McLeod is good for taking off small layers of dirt to produce the tread out-slope. The rake can be used either before the bench cut is started to clear leaves and other organic material, or after initial rough-cut to remove the loose dirt that needs to be dispersed. The McLeod is also great for packing down soils because of its flat bottom. If there is not a lot of rock in the soils, you can use it to cut the tread back-slope.

Some other tools for finishing are round and flat blade shovels and sturdy garden rakes.

Another specialty tool that will save straining your muscles in a rocky area is the rock bar. This four- to six-foot tall, 30-pound steel rod is used to leverage large rocks.


Rock bar

We like the Max tool from Forest Tool Company. Seven tools in one, it incorporates a pulaski, McLeod, pick, rock chisel, shovel and axe. It comes with a leather sheath for the axe head and a cordura carrying case for the attachments.

When working with tools of any type, always be safe! Be aware of what is going on around you, and never swing or carry a tool over your shoulders. Also, we like to be ambidextrous with tools, that way, at the end of the day; you will be sore all over and not just on one side.

Two tool suppliers

These companies offer discounts on trail tools to IMBA affiliated clubs.

Zak Tools, Attn: Larry Bain , 460 E. Easy Street #104, Simi Valley, CA 93065; (805) 527-5207; Fax: (805) 527-5411. (ZAK manufactures the RockShox McLeods that IMBA and RockShox give to clubs.)

Forest Tool Company, P.O. Box 768 Mendocino, CA 95460; (707) 937-2141; fax: (707) 937-1817 (MAX tool only).

For more info on trail tools, you can obtain free, single copies of "Handtools for Trail Work," published by the US Forest Service Technology Center. Contact: USFS-MTDC, Building 1, Ft. Missoula, Missoula, MT 59804; (406) 329-3978

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