11 Key Trail Tools for Grubbing and Raking

These are the most commonly used Grubbing and Raking Tools with tips on using them safely and effectively.

These are the most commonly used grubbing and raking tools with tips on using them safely and effectively.

by Jim Schmid

These are the most commonly used Grubbing and Raking Tools with tips on using them safely and effectively.


Developed to grub and chop duff during forest fires, the Pulaski combines an axe bit with an adz-shaped grub hoe on a 36 inch wood or fiberglass handle. It is preferred by many trail crews for loosening dirt, cutting through roots, or grubbing brush because it is widely available and easier to carry than single-purpose tools. Unlike grub hoes or mattocks the Pulaski is a sharp-edged took, and should not be used in rocky soil. With the bit and adz keenly honed, a Pulaski is an excellent woodworking tool for shaping the notches and joints of turnpikes, bridges, and other timber projects. A sharpened Pulaski should be marked to discourage anyone from mistakenly dulling a Pulaski meant for timber work by using it for digging.

Safety tip: Work with Pulaski in front of you. Never swing above shoulder level.

Hoes (Grub Hoe/Adze Hoe/Hazel Hoe)

Grub hoes of various weights are available and are good for building and repairing trail tread and for digging trenches to hold turnpike logs and waterbars. They usually come with a 34-inch handle and a 6-inch-wide blade set at an "adze angle" and are maintained and used like a mattock. Grub hoes are not usually sharpened.

Safety tip: The handle can be removed for ease in packing.

Pick (Pick-ax/Pick-axe)

Picks are rarely necessary in trail work, its job being adequately served by the pick mattock. The standard pick has a narrow chisel blade on one end and pointed tip on the other. The tool can be used to break or pry small rocks, loosen heavy soil and gravel, or to dig a trench or hole. As with any tool used for breaking hard soil or rock, safety glasses should be worn to protect your eyes from flying debris.

Safety tip: Picks should not be used as a lever to pry loose large rock.


A mattock is a heavy sturdy grubbing tool with an adz blade that can be used as a hoe for digging in hard ground. The other blade of a mattock may be a pick (pick mattock) for breaking or prying small rocks or a cutting edge (cutter mattock) for chopping roots. Mattocks may be purchased with head weights ranging from 3 to 6 pounds. For heavy work, use at least a 5-pound head. Handles are generally 36 inches long-a good length for almost trailwork. The head should tighten on the handle as the mattock is swung, but sometimes it loosens and slides down the handle. To keep the head in place, put a small sheet-metal screw into the handle just below the head.

Safety tip: The handle can be removed for ease in packing.


The McLeod with its large hoe like blade on one side and tined blade on the other is a forest fire tool common in America's western mountain ranges. It was originally intended for raking fire lines with the teeth and for cutting branches and sod with the sharpened hoe edge. The McLeod is useful for removing slough and berm from a trail and tamping or compacting tread. It can also be used to shape a trail's backslope. Because of its shape, the McLeod is an awkward tool to transport and store. Carry it with the tines pointing toward the ground, ideally with a sheath over the cutting edge.

Safety tip: Stand the McLeod on its head instead of flat on the ground when you need to put it aside while working.

Lamberton Rake

Similar to the McLeod, and made with heavier gauge metal, the Lamberton Rake is a strong dependable tool that can be used to push and pull material and even cut tree roots 3 to 5 inches in diameter. Can be found at www.lambertonrake.com

Safety tip: Be aware that each end (blade and tines ) is sharpened.

Fire Rake (Council Tool)

The fire rake with its three, tempered steel blades and 5-foot handle is traditionally preferred to the McLeod in the eastern states. The triangular tines can be honed with a file. The fire rake is lighter than the McLeod and is better for cutting leaves, mulch, small bushes, and debris from trail corridors than it is for shaping tread or backslopes.

Safety tip: Never carry a fire rake over your shoulder; keep it at your side.

Combination Tool (Combi Tool)

This is basically a military entrenching tool on a long handle, developed for firefighting. It serves as a light-duty shovel and scraper. There is a large locking bolt that secures the multi-angled shovel in its closed position.

Safety tip: Make sure locking bolt is tight before using.

Steel Rake (Iron Rake/Bow Rake)

Used to spread soil and gravel.

Safety tip: Make sure teeth are face down with laying on the ground.

Leaf Rake (Lawn Rake)

Used for clearing trail tread of leaves, needles, and other light ground litter.

Safety tip: Light work is the key; can break trying to rake heavy debris.

Fork (Cottonseed/Ensilage/Compost/Refuse/Pitch)

Used for shoveling twigs, pine straw, and trash, or mounds of stump chips.

Safety tip: Carry and use with care.

About the Author

During his career Jim Schmid served as South Carolina’s first State Trails Coordinator as well as working for the US Forest Service as a Trails Manager in AZ, ID, and FL and also had the pleasure of managing the Florida National Scenic Trail. Jim is a collector at heart. Check out his collection of trail quotes, terms, acronyms, sayings and more at jimstrailresources.wordpress.com. In addition to updating his website and writing book reviews for American Trails Jim enjoys traveling around the country riding rail-trails and mtn bike trails.

Contact: [email protected]

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