Tools and techniques

Trail work can be as simple as clearing fallen brush or overgrown green briar from the trail path. It can also be as involved as moving massive heavy stones to be used as steps. The tools are as varied as the work and the techniques. At every one of our workdays there are always jobs to be done for all ability levels. The basic requirement is that you can hike to the actual worksite at Seneca. On this page, we’ll lay out some of our typical tools used for trail work at FOS.

– Personal gear: we recommend that all volunteers wear long pants (even in summer), breathable shirts (not cotton), sturdy boots, and work gloves. Depending on the area around Seneca where you will be working, a helmet is also recommended. Always bring enough water for yourself and a good lunch.

Light and medium duty trail work tools
These items are typically used for clearing trails of debris, blowdowns, overgrowth, and other maintenance items.

– Pruners (hand, pole)
– Saws (bowsaw, folding, larger crosscut (including two-person crosscut), chainsaw)
– Axes
– Cant hook (used to roll logs)
– Rakes

FOS workers using a two-person crosscut saw to clear a blowdown on the Stairmaster Trail. Note the rigging gear attached to the tree for safety and to assist in the work.
FOS volunteers doing basic, but critical trail grading. When done correctly, the trail will drain properly and resist erosion for many years.

Medium to Heavy Duty Trail Work Gear
These items are used for more involved trail construction and rehabilitation, including the moving of heavy stone.

– Shovels
– Gravel/dirt buckets
– Mattocks (pick and axe)
– Sledgehammers (various sizes)
– Rock bars
– Rope puller (ratcheting mechanical advantage device)
– Grip hoist and all required accessory gear (larger mechanical advantage device capable of moving loads up to 2000 lbs, see next section)

FOS volunteers using rock bars to move a large stone into position for use as a step. Sometimes its best to try doing this before hauling in the heavy rigging gear for just one or two stones.

The grip hoist is the workhorse of a lot of heavy duty trail work. The Tractel TU-17 is a typical model used for trail work because of its size/weight/capabilities balance. It can be used in several ways to move large objects. The basic process is to anchor the grip hoist to a solid point (typically a tree or large boulder), securely wrap the object to be moved with special chains, thread the wire rope into the grip hoist, and attach the other end of the wire rope to the chains, typically via a Masterlink (oval steel ring with clevis hooks) and a hook on the end of the wire rope.

This same typical setup with the grip hoist can often also be used with a rope puller. The difference is primarily that the working load limit of a rope puller is far less than a grip hoist but the rope puller weighs far less.

Finally, a grip hoist can be used to rig a high line which is used to ferry large quantities of materials between two areas. The line is a wire rope or other specialized Dyneema rope that is rigged between two points (aka spar poles) with a block anchored high off the ground on each spar pole. The working area is between the spar poles. Beyond the poles, one side of the line is anchored to the ground while the other side is attached to the wire rope that is fed into the grip hoist. This enables the user to raise and lower tension in order to lift materials and move them.

A Grip hoist in use. Note that the wire passes directly through the device in a straight line.
FOS volunteers using a direct pull on a large stone with a grip hoist setup. The orange piece is the Masterlink. The silver horseshoe-shaped piece is a shackle. Note the rock bars used to assist moving the stone into place.
FOS workers using a direct pull with a rope puller to move a large stone. The rigging setup is basically the same as when using the grip hoist but the WLL is much less. The advantage is that the rope puller is much lighter overall than a grip hoist and its wire rope making long-distance transport much easier.
FOS volunteers moving a heavy stone up a short hill to its new home as a step. Note the silver block (aka pulley) on the right. This gives a significant mechanical advantage over a direct pull. It is connected to the Masterlink (orange) via a shackle. Clevis grabhooks connect the Masterlink to the chain that wraps the stone. A second shackle is used to reduce the severity of the angles of the main chain, increasing the safety and security of the system.
FOS volunteers using a high line to move a large stone into position. The stone only needs to be just lifted off the ground in order to be moved. A Dyneema high line such as the one used here (5/16) has a strength rating of over 12000 lbs but weighs ~1/7th of a comparable size wire rope. The chain and shackles used here are smaller than what is used for dragged loads; the two types should not be interchanged. The snatchblock is the piece that slides along the line; it is connected to the chain around the block via two shackles.