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Build Days 101: Tools of the Trade

At the beginning of each build day, volunteers assemble in the staging area for a tailgate meeting and planning session. During this time, you will see a multitude of hand tools and may even have one assigned directly to you.

The goal of this article is to familiarize you with some of the key hand tools used in trail-building. This is a list of items that you are most likely to come across during a typical build day; so study up! And remember, if you're unfamiliar with the intended use or don't feel comfortable using these tools, don't be afraid to tell your crew leader.


A polished pulaski ready for action

The pulaski is a quintessential trail-building tool and a symbol of Northern BC culture. Having origins in wildland firefighting, the pulaski is part axe and part mattock. When used properly, this is an indispensable tool for digging "hand guard" on a wildfire. The mattock side allows you to quickly displace dirt and rocks while the axe head can chop through roots and brush. These attributes also make it an effective tool for establishing an initial trail bed which is why you'll find at least one rattling around every trail-builder's vehicle!

Pick Axe

Heavy metal

Like it's younger sibling the pulaski; the pick axe is an aggressive tool for initial trail work.

With it's long handle and heavy rock pick head, this tool is perfect for smashing apart rock formations or densely compacted dirt.

McLeod Rake

The ultimate trail-building tool

Another one from the wildland firefighting world, the McLeod rake has become an essential tool for trail establishment and maintenance. This odd looking rake has one flat "hoe-like" side, and another with aggressive tines. You will typically see this tool used to move bulk debris, shape berms and jumps, and do some light packing. Where the McLeod really excels is when it's used to move the top organic layers of the forest floor to expose more stable mineral soils.

A flat shovel (left) and pointed shovel (right).


Thought all shovels were the same? Think again! Shovels are an essential tool for all kinds of trail-building jobs, but you've got to pick the right one! Pointed shovels, work well for piercing soil and moving it from place to place. Similarly, flat shovels can move lots of material, but are best suited for shaping and finishing berms. Last on the list are drain shovels which are long and narrow and primarily used to dig post holes and ditches.

Garden Rakes

A steel rake (left) and a garden rake (right)

Like shovels, there are an infinite amount of rakes that all have unique applications for trail-building. Steel rakes are a rigid and aggressive tools that work well to even out loose soil and gravel. The second most-popular version is the garden or leaf rake which are primarily used on your front lawn, but alos work perfectly to smooth out trails by clearing small debris and levelling off high-spots.

Pruners and Loopers

Handheld pruners are a great solution for snipping pesky roots, shrubs, or twigs that enter the trail corridor. Their bigger sibling loppers achieve the same thing, but are capable of cutting roots and branches up to 3-inches in diameter.

Rock Bar

The notorious rock bar

The rock bar is the simplest of all trail-building tools but is not for the faint of heart. Sometimes we encounter boulders when establishing trail or digging post holes that cannot be moved by hand. The rock bar can be used to pry and pulverize these stubborn features; sometimes.

For more information on how to prepare for build days, feel free to contact us.

Build Days 101 is a weekly crash course on trail-building with ACT. Come back often for fresh content throughout the year!


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