Trail Tools: Grubbing Tools

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.

by Tools for Trails


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.

photo credit: Tools for Trails
McLeod tools feature a large hoe-like blade on one side with a tined rake side on the other.

McLeod tools feature a large hoe-like blade on one side with a tined rake side on the other.


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.

Raking Tools

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.

Lamberton Rake

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

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.

photo credit: Tools for Trails

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.

Webinars on YouTube that you might like

Trail Assessment for Accessibility and Sustainability

Feb 29, 2024

This webinar will explore the process of assessing natural surface pedestrian trails for accessibility and sustainability and will focus on developing new trails as well as conversion of existing trails.

Systemic Condition Analysis and Management for Multi-Use Trails

Feb 8, 2024

This webinar addresses the critical need for cyclical assessment and repair of a multi-use trail system to keep up with the usage and level of service demands from the public with a limited budget.

More resources in this category

Hand Tools for Trails

posted Sep 11, 2023

The tools shown here are those used most often by Forest Service trail crews. They are categorized into tools for sawing, chopping, grubbing, digging and tamping, pounding, and hammering, lifting and hauling, peeling and shaping, and sharpening and rehandling. Each tool is described along with helpful techniques for use and maintenance.

Tools for Trails: Measuring and Surveying Tools

posted Nov 8, 2022

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posted Jun 8, 2022

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.

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posted Jan 14, 2022

Tools for Trails discusses the importance of the right tools for every job.

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