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Tools for Trail Work -- download a printable version in Word: text and cover

By Jim Schmid

An illustrated compendium of many of the tools commonly used in trail building and maintenance.

spacer photo: A selection of trail tools
The tools of the trade (photo by Colorado Outdoor Training Initiative)

A wide variety of tools are available to lay out, construct, and maintain trails. Local and individual preferences often dictate the kinds of tools which are chosen for various tasks. Some of the most commonly used tools and tips on using the tool safely and effectively are listed. Every trail worker needs to learn how to choose the correct tool for the job, use it effectively and safely, care for it, and store it properly.

Working Safely

The following should be covered with crew members before the start of any trail work:

Proper use begins with a good grip. Wet or muddy gloves may cause a tool to slip from your hands, striking you or someone near you.

Watch out for people around you. When chopping or brushing, be aware of any people in the surrounding area. The combined length of your arm and tool could reach a person working near you. Also, be aware of trail users. Often a user may try to pass right into your back swing. If you see someone coming, stop work, notify your coworkers and wait for them to pass.

Make sure you have a clear area in which to swing. Watch out for overhead or side hazards. A hazard is anything that could interfere with the complete swing of your tool, and knock it from your hands or down onto any part of your body. Keep your tool in front of you at all times. You should never need to swing your tool over your head.

Be alert for hazardous footing. Make sure you have a firm, balanced and comfortable stance before starting your work. Clear limbs, sticks, loose rocks, or other debris from your footing area. Particularly with striking tools, make sure your feet are spaced well away from your target area.

Choose the right tool for the job. The wrong tool can make you work in an awkward stance which will wear you out.

Make sure your tool is sharp. A dull tool that bounces off or glances off of what it was attempting to cut can be very dangerous. A sharp tool will cut faster and be less tiring.

Carry the tool properly. Always carry tools in your hands and down at your side on the down hill side of the trail. Use blade guards whenever possible. Never carry tools over your shoulder.

Travel safely. Stay at least 10 feet apart on the hike in and out from the work site space yourself along the trail.

Have the right personal protective devices. Along with wearing long pants, long-sleeve shirts, and work boots, crew members should have available hard hats, gloves, and safety glasses.

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