filed under: tools & tool use
Let’s talk about grubbing and raking tools! You might have heard the term grubbing before, but if you’re new to trail building, it may be unfamiliar. Grubbing is when you are removing earth and topsoil. Basically digging into the first while removing vegetation in the process. Trail builders may also call this process hogging.
The Pulaski has a long history with the Forest Service and in wildland firefighting and trail building. It was originally created in 1911 as a tool for wildfire frontlines. This tool was meant for grubbing and chopping duff during forest fires but has become a popular tool in a trail builder’s stash. The Pulaski features a main ax blade (parallel to the handle) and a smaller adze blade (perpendicular to the handle). The tools are mounted on either fiberglass or wood handles, typically 36 inches in length.
The Pulaski is popular in woody areas due to its dual purpose. It loosens dirt well and cuts through tough-to-remove roots. It does not perform well in rockier terrain, but digs in dirt and works wood well. When grubbing, the adze side is good at clearing the dirt away while the ax works to cut away the roots. Popular Pulaski tools are the Nupla Fiberglass Handle Pulaksi and the Warwood Wood Handle Pulaski.
One of the most popular pulaski-type tools in trail building is the Rogue Hoe Hoe/Axe, also called the Beast. While the stereotypical pulaski focuses on the axe blade, the Beast focuses more on the adze blade of the tool. The adze side is more of a hoe, introducing our next category of tools: the hoe.Safety tip: Work with Pulaski in front of you while keeping your swings at or below shoulder level.Hoes (Grub Hoe/Adze Hoe/Hazel Hoe)If you want to clear dirt quickly, while either building a new trail or leveling the existing tread, hoes are the tool for you. They break up sod clumps easily and are good for digging out trenches when needed. You may hear a few different names for the hoe, like grub hoe, adze hoe, or hazel hoe. These are referring to the same tool and are typically mounted on a handle length of 34” to 42” depending on the manufacturer. Popular hoes in this category include the Warwood Forest Adze Hoe. The grub hoe is not usually sharpened, but hoes that you’ll find from Rogue are. The 70H highlander is a favorite for trail builders who prefer a sharper-edged hoe.
The mattock is another popular tool for trail builders. Mattocks come with an adze blade that’s commonly used for grubbing work. There are a couple popular variations of the mattocks.The pick mattock combines a pick axe and adze end and is sometimes referred to as the grub axe. It’s useful for rougher terrain like rock-laden soil and clay-hardened ground. The pick side is useful for prying rocks loose from the tread you are working on and breaking up stubborn soil clumps.The cutter mattock on the other hand has the adze end and a cutting edge blade, which is more useful when dealing with inground roots. The Prohoe Beast discussed above could fall into this category as well.
We’re entering the land of rakes! While some of these tools can be used for grubbing purposes, we prefer to use them for other jobs.
Like the Pulaski, the Mcleod also has a history with the Forest Service and wildland firefighting. It was originally invented in 1905. McLeod tools feature a large hoe-like blade on one side with a tined rake side on the other. The McLeod is best for removing dirt from the tread or taping the tread at the end. It is also a popular tool for creating and shaping the backslope, depending on the terrain. The tool has a flat head and can also double as a tamping tool.
A few popular McLeod-type tools exist out there. The Nupla Mcleod is what most folks think about when they hear the word McLeod. This tool features a massive 11-inch head with six tines. The Clyde from Backslope Tools is a lightweight version of the traditional Mcleod, with a 7-inch head and six tines. Prohoe also makes a McLeod-type tool. As with most Rogue Tools, this tool is sharper, making it a favorite of trail builders who deal with a lot of root systems.
One of the trail builder favorites, which has now been discontinued, was the Lamberton rake. Made with heavier gauge steel and a wider head, the Lamberton was similar to the McLeod. Since being discontinued, the Backslope Tools has created the Bert to replace the no longer available Lamerton rake. The Lamberton could be considered similar to some of the fire rakes out there, but with more tines for grabbing material.
Fire rakes come in a variety of shapes.
One of the variations comes with three, tempered steel blades. The triangular pronged fire rake comes from fire tool professionals like Nupla and Council tool. The tines make this tool look a little different from the other tools on this list and works to cut leaves, mulch, small bushes, and debris.
Other variations can include rakes like the Prohoe Fire Rake and the Prohoe No Break Rake. These tools have longer than average tines that are designed to help move burning materials away from a fireline, but also work to move debris from the trail corridors and buffing out the trail.
Other Rakes (Bow Rake and Leaf Rake)
The bow rake is used to spread soil and gravel when working the tread and doing the finishing touches of trail work and maintenance.The bow rake has more rigid tines than the leaf rake, making it more versatile for trail building.
The leaf rake is used for finishing touches of working the tread. The tine side is used for clearing the trail tread of leaves, needles, and other light ground litter. The backside is used to spread around soil, giving the trail a natural, been here for years look.
Published August 2022
An insightful story about Tony Cacela, former NAVY SEAL, founder of Camelot Tools LLC, and creator of the versatile SITEMASTER tool.
Tools for Trails: Measuring and Surveying Tools
Before trail builders start digging, they first have to lay the trail, flag the line, and more to ensure a grade that not only matches the terrain but also is well throughout to prevent erosion.
There are a few options for striking tools that you may see out on a project. Some like the sledge hammer will be seen more, while others may only be pulled out for special projects.