In observance of SCA’s 65th anniversary, we’ll be sharing all sorts of nuggets of knowledge — each one curated into a tidy group of six.
The information below is excerpted from “Lightly on the Land: The SCA Trail-Building and Maintenance Manual.” That’s right: we literally wrote the book on trail construction. Purchase “Lightly on the Land” and direct of portion of the purchase price to SCA at AmazonSmile.
Shovels appear on more trail sites than any other tool. Yet for all their familiarity, utilization often varies. The shovel is best used for moving loosened earth and to sustain a good pace over a long period of time, experts will tell you to shovel with minimum effort and motion. One trick is to swing the shovel and then drop the soil out from under the load rather than scattering it over a wide area. Another is to use your thigh as a fulcrum under the shovel handle to help lift the load. Your back will thank you later.
“No tool is as strongly identified with backcountry life and work as the axe.” So states “Lightly on the Land.” A double bit axe offers a finely tapered bit for making deep cuts as well as a stouter edge for limbing branches. The single bit axe is often more popular with trail crews, however, as “an axe with one bit somehow seems twice as safe as an axe with two.” Debates over the merits of straight handles vs. curved can last longer than the trail project itself.
Just over a century ago, wildland firefighters carried both axes for cutting branches and shovels for digging fire lines. But switching from tool to tool was a cumbersome process, especially when lives were at stake. That’s why Coeur d’Alene National Forest District Ranger Edward Pulaski used his blacksmithing skills to put a 90-degree twist one of the blades of his double-bit axe to form an adz. Fire and trail crews quickly took to the resulting implement and the Pulaski took its inventor’s name.
Another tool to come out of Western wildland firefighting, the McLeod was originally used to rake fire lines with its teeth side and to cut branches and sod with its blade. Trail workers found the tool to be equally useful for moving dry soil, duff, and talus, and for shaping a trail’s backslope. The tines also lend themselves to scoring soil in preparation for seeding.
5. Log Carrier
Crews use this tool, also known as a Swede hook or tong, in pairs to lift and haul large logs. The handle is long enough to accommodate one or two persons on each side. The weight of the log helps set the points of the hooks, thus locking the log in place as it is transported.
6. Rock Bar
Made of solid steel, the most popular rock bar among SCA crews is about four feet in length and weighs around 15 pounds. It can be used for moving large or small rocks, and the bevel can serve as a fulcrum. These stiff bars allow only minimal give, providing the user with a welcome mechanical advantage.