Trail Tools: Power Tools

Though the bulk of trail work involves the use of hand tools, there are occasions where power tools are more efficient.

by Jim Schmid

Though the bulk of trail work involves the use of hand tools, there are occasions where power tools are more efficient. The small chain saw, motorized brush cutter, and other power tools are sometimes used for trail construction and maintenance. Manufacturers and agencies have good information and training on the safe use and care of these tools. All power tools should used only with the specific approval, and under the direct supervision, of trained personnel.


Chainsaws with 16 inch blades are generally adequate for most trail work. Models should be obtained with chain brakes, vibration damped handles, and high quality mufflers. Chainsaws can be used to cut medium to large size blowdowns, clearing heavy sapling growth during trail construction, cutting trees into logs for wood construction projects such as bridges or shelters. Required personal protective gear includes leather gloves, ear muffs, eye protection, hardhat, and Kevlar (or similar) saw chaps.

Safety tip: Chainsaws should be used only by experienced workers who have undergone training and are certified for chainsaw use.

Power Weed Cutter (Brushsaw)

Generally, a power weed cutter with an engine of 35cc to 80cc and bicycle-type handlebars is recommended. Trail work requires a more powerful unit than one (weed whacker) that is used for lawn trimming. Trail work requires a saw type or a universal grass-brush blade—not a string cutter. The brushsaw is supported by a shoulder harness, but can still become very tiring. Be sure to work in a team and switch positions regularly. When not cutting, the other person can remove brush from the trail.

Safety tip: The open blade is on the end of a wand, and can snag and swing violently to the side, making it more prone to injure other workers rather than the operator. Other workers should stay clear.

DR Field and Brush Mower

This sturdy mower is an excellent choice for cutting heavy grass, weeds, briars, and even saplings from 1 to 2 ½ inch diameter. A DR Field and Brush Mower is simply a walk-behind brush-hog that is useful during trail construction and trail maintenance. It comes in 9, 11, 13, or 17 horsepower models. The 17 HP is the best for trail work with its heavy, 30 inch wide blade capable of powering through saplings up to 2 ½ inches thick. It is more useful than a sickle-bar mower because the material is chewed up and does not need to be removed from the trail as much as with a sickle-bar mower.

Safety tip: The mower can throw objects and injure others. Other workers should be kept at a safe distance away from the mower.

Stump Grinder

A gasoline-powered portable stump grinder is handy when you have lots of stumps to remove. They are powered by a chain saw motor and have carbide teeth that can be resharpened or replaced. They can grind through a stump in much less time than it would be needed to dig it out.

Safety tip: Proper safety gear is important especially goggles.

Motorized Carriers (Power Wagon)

Ideal for hauling stone, gravel, and dirt motorized carriers are useful for extra-heavy or frequent hauling needs. These come in various configurations and typically feature a small engine with a dump body.

Safety tip: Be sure to follow the suggested load limits.

Rock Drills/Breakers

Single use or combination rock drill/breakers or rotary hammer drills are available to drill holes in rock or concrete. They have many applications for blasting or splitting rock. They can be used break concrete or rock as well as cut asphalt. They can also be used to drive pipe, signposts, or ground anchors as well as chipping and shaping rock. Electric rotary hammer drills are lower in cost, size, and weight than gas powered models and the availability of lightweight gas generators has made it possible to use electric tools at project sites distant from roads. Some models available include: gas (Pionjar 120, Pico14) or electric (Kango).

Safety tip: Let the tool do the work, pushing hard can cause the bit to bind.

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 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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