Nupla Rock Bars

Posted: 20th April 2013

Here is a post from guest columnist Aaron Matix of Singletrack Trails.  Check out more of his musing at LocalStash.netweb_20130308_028

  Trailbuilders are one of the few groups of people who get excited about tools that were old news before the Industrial Revolution. This spring we have a bevy of new tools to test from Tools for Trails, which have inspired long conversations about hand tool design.
    By far the tool that has generated the most curiosity & discussion has been the digging bars from Nupla featuring their signature yellow fiberglass handle, with a steel digging tip, and a crushing bulb available on the other end. Even though we have used & abused the Nupla McLeods and Pulaskis without a single handle related problem over nine years, it is still hard to convey the skepticism when someone hands you a fiberglass pole emblazoned “Lifetime Warranty” with a pointy metal spear head and says, “Here, check out this new rock bar.” To be sure, it is not technically a rock bar, but a digging bar, and a very effective one at that, provided you adapt to the dynamics of fiberglass v. steel.

    Almost everyone who tried it out made the comment, “This is a thinking man’s rock bar.” There is no reward at all for applying undue force with the Nupla rock bar. As the bright yellow fiberglass rod flexes into a more deeply tensioned arc, two thoughts will enter the prudent trailbuilder’s head: A.) What is going to happen if this tension is suddenly released? Am I going to get an angry gorilla punch to the face? B.) Why isn’t this rock moving yet?
    Using the Nupla bar requires one to bring into play all tactics of rock moving, from finding fulcrum points, using chock rocks, excavating and staging, and even (gasp) asking for help. As a rough guess, the Nupla bar allows you to use ⅔ as much force as a steel rock bar allows for. In the initial application of force, the Nupla bar feels similar to a steel bar; quite solid, and very handy for evaluating how likely the rock is to move. But while a steel bar has a much larger window of “I don’t know why this isn’t moving, I’ll just use more force,” the inherent flex of the fiberglass bar is a much earlier indicator that it is time to step back and put on the thinking cap.

    We have been demoing two styles of digging bar; one with a crusher bulb head on the opposite end of the chisel point, and the other having a simple plastic cap with a mystifying plastic ring epoxied in place about 18” down. Perhaps it was intended to provided some extra measure of grip & control, but the edges are too harsh, and turn it into an awkward area of avoidance. It would be handier to remove the ring altogether, and replace the plastic end cap with an iron one of roughly the same size, for a more effective tamping and crushing end.
    The lighter weight of the Nupla bar makes digging around an embedded rock a much more pleasant task than w/ a 16lb steel bar, and the smaller, pointed head is much more effective at chiseling, being more effective and safer than a hammer and chisel for rough shaping of rocks.
    While the softer, flexier fiberglass holds its grip on rocks better than steel, very noticeable scarring and flaking has occured on the lower ⅓  of the bar near the chisel point. This is our greatest concern for the longevity, and wonder if it might be worthwhile to coat this portion with flexible truckbed liner as an added layer of protection.

    The handle sheds many microscopic fiberglass splinters, so it is advisable to always wear gloves when using the Nupla fiberglass bar.
    It remains to be seen how the fiberglass bar holds up to the demanding use of trailbuilding, but in the space of a few days, after moving boulders half the size and twice the weight of Volkswagens, the lighter Nupla bar has become a crew favorite, and the steel digging bars are left in the tool trailer.

Rogue Tools

Posted: 4th March 2013

American made.  Reused materials.  These four words describe one of your favorite trail building tools.  Strong, relentless, tenacious, and aggressive could be four more words to describe your Rogue Hoe. 

Welcome to  Munden, KS.

Manufactured in Munden, Kansas by Pro Hoe, Rogue Hoe tools are a piece of Americana to be held in your hands.  The head of your tool is made from a used plowing disc from the farms of Kansas, Nebraska, and Iowa.  Digging trail will seem like a treat to a piece of metal that tilled the soil of the same land over and over, year after year. 

The folks at the factory begin the process by grinding the cutting edge onto the dull, oxidized disc.

The folks at the factory begin the process by grinding the cutting edge onto the dull, oxidized disc.

 The second step is to use a plasma cutter to cookie cutter the tool heads out of the disc.

The second step is to use a plasma cutter to cookie cutter the tool heads out of the disc.

Rust is polished of the metal.

After the heads are cut, they are placed in a polisher to remove any oxidation that may have occurred since the last field the disc plowed.

Some heads are pre-heated before being welded to a tube of metal.

After all the rust is gone, the heads are welded together, the edges cleaned up, and a 50 grit grind to finish the edge.

Fiberglass handles for hoes.

The heads are then taken up stairs to be paired up with a handle.

The work forecast.

Keeping track of production.

The Tools for Trails order heads out the door.

The Tools for Trails order heads out the door.

Here is a link to more photos of the Tools for Trails visit to the Rogue Hoe factory.

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.

Learn More about MAP 21

Posted: 20th September 2012

The Rails to Trails Conservancy has posted a webinar about the impacts of the latest transportation bill, MAP 21,  on local trail, bike, and pedestrian projects.  Here is the link to the Rails to Trails post with the information.  Head over to Vimeo to watch a recording of the webinar.

End of the day

Posted: 20th September 2012

The crew at Singletrack Trails cache tools at the end of the day.

End of the day at Glendo State Park

Tools for Trails

Posted: 20th July 2012

This is the new Tools for Trails website. It is a one stop resource for trail building tools and information regarding how to build great, durable trails in your community.  As we go forth constructing the site over the next few months, check back in to see the tools that we are carrying and information that we share with you.

Until then: Happy Trails!