My One Favorite Tool: Aaron Mattix and his McLeod

Posted: 5th October 2012

The McLeod is arguably the single most versatile trail building tool. The basic combination of heavy tines, wide cutting blade and broad tamping surface make it my go-to choice for single tool missions. The McLeod can be used for cutting in tread in moderately loose soils, raking spoils out of the way, rough shaping of berms, slicing backslopes and packing riding surfaces. We use the yellow Nupla brand. It is relatively inexpensive, durable and the small rivets attaching the handle to the blade do not interfere with packing, unlike the large nut and bolt arrangement found on some.

While the basic Nupla McLeod is a good tool, there are a couple things you can do to make it even better. The lack of adhesive on the black cap at the end of the handle ensures that you will loose the it by the first week unless you glue it in place. One some of ours where the cap had gone missing, we have taken to doing some custom tool handle wraps, using Gorilla Tape to build up a knob at the end, which makes heavy rake-down tasks easier, and wrapping friction tape (old-school electrical tape) on the handle below and covering the Gorilla Tape knob for better grip than the smooth fiberglass handle. Friction tape starts out quite tacky, but eventually smooths off.  Replace it if you like to keep the pine tar tacky feel fresh, or enjoy the faux-leather feel that comes to well-worn friction tape.

Only one edge of the blade is sharpened, and not very well at that. A coarse (60-80 grit) sanding wheel on a grinder is a great for getting a shaving sharp edge, while taking the extra time to sharpen the two flat edges adjacent the cutting blade makes for much more effective hoeing and sagebrush piercing action.

Over time, the fiberglass handle has a tendency to rattle loose in metal head. This can be resolved by grinding off the rivet that holds the two together, applying epoxy, reinserting the handle and fastening it with a fresh rivet (readily available at most hardware stores).
The McLeod was invented in the early 1900’s by Ranger Malcom McLeod of the Sierra National Forest. This is about the same time that Ranger Ed Pulaski of the Bitterroot National Forest first forged his namesake tool, the axe/hoe combo that is is the corridor-clearing cousin of the McLeod.

Guest Columnist: Colorado-based, Aaron Mattix is a Trail Artist at Singletrack Trails.
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