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Hand Tools for Trail Work (2005) [pdf] (fed.us)
73 points by bekind 17 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 33 comments

I've used my tech salary to buy some formerly clear-cut acreage near National Forests with a plan to rehabilitate and protect the forest there. One of the first things I want to do is set up some trails for hiking to the ridge and creek on the property. Thanks for sharing this, super interesting to read!

Forest trails aren’t just useful for people.

We bought 5ha of scrubby forest in Portugal two years ago, absolutely cluttered with dead trees, brambles, and stunted, overcrowded saplings. 30 years ago it was agricultural land, but with abandonment has rewilded, but badly.

We cut a number of trails through the forest, cleared some of the undergrowth, and we now have boar and deer maintaining said trails and cropping the undergrowth down in the areas around them.

What was just dense thickets of dead thorns is now grassy and flowering, and we’ve started seeing all sorts of wildlife appear that just couldn’t get in previously.

I recommend volunteering with a local trail organization. You'll likely find some interesting old timers who can teach you a ton about building trails.

My father in law has a few decades doing trail building, and we're already trading notes. :D

Would you be willing to chat (either here/privately) a bit about how you went about buying this land, where and how much it cost you, etc.? Completely understand if you want to keep this information private. I tried to look at your profile for a social handle/email, but couldn't find it.

Do you plan to remove invasive weeds and plant native wildflowers/trees?

I did this to cleared land outside of Spokane and it was immensely rewarding. What I learned in the process is that selecting the correct seed/seedlings is very important. Attempt to find a resource that has locally native seeds. The same species of plant from two states over will not have the same genetic makeup ( think disease resistants, etc ) as the local varieties and can potentially impair the locals when they cross pollinate.

There are groups and individuals that specialize in gathering wild native seeds for this type of activity. They are extremely passionate and helpful.

Yeah, working with a local forest services company to contract some of that out, but yes, the intent is to build up a native habitat.

I find this stuff fascinating not to mention helpful.

Here is similar book regarding axe care.

An Axe to Grind https://www.fs.fed.us/t-d//pubs/pdfpubs/pdf99232823/pdf99232...

They made a video for that one, too:

An Axe to Grind (1999) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IHmTLDG5aSg (Part 1) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uYNHWH6ipic (Part 2)

I shared this in another thread yesterday, but appropriate here — this is my favorite all-around tool:


It’s a trail tool, but serves many purposes — from grubbing out weeds, to contouring paths, to leveraging boulders. I love it.

I also have a Japanese saw referred to as a human powered chainsaw (I think it’s called “The Silky Big Boy”) and it’s a close second. I use it to limb up trees to reduce fire hazards, prune larger branches, etc.

Wow, that thing looks amazing! Never seen this before and I thought I've seen them all. Definitely getting one.

What about the sharpening of that tool? seems to be inverse than on a Pulaski, it works good anyway?

Great question! I haven’t sharpened it yet, but it’s made from reclaimed agricultural discs which are known to take a beating.

Readers who find this document interesting may also like:

Hand Tools for Trail Work https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ekyJ8pMbTcE (Part 1) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p-wXYgwjcqw (Part 2)

Use and Care of Hand Tools and Measuring Tools https://www.robins.af.mil/Portals/59/documents/technicalorde...

Is there a good way of discovering other books/pamphlets like this that the government makes available (e.g. a curated list)? They're usually super interesting and have lots of good info, but I'm not sure how to find them other than picking a federal/state/county department and poking around their site to see what PDFs they have available. I've found trail guides, local plant guides, walking maps, etc. via that approach, but it's time-intensive and I wouldn't have stumbled across this guide unless I had already heard about it.

https://fas.org/ has a huge selection of national defense related manuals and guides https://fas.org/irp/doddir/ covering a lot of topics

My favorite one is the Army Survival guide. Probably the best and most detailed guide one out there


The NPS preservation briefs (ex. historic masonry [1]) are fantastic, and like the grandparent, document knowledge that is largely lost in practice.

[1] https://www.nps.gov/tps/how-to-preserve/briefs/2-repoint-mor...

You may be able to find more information on the National Forest Service Library - https://www.fs.fed.us/library/.

You're right though, I've found searching for these lists to be very time consuming and the databases do not tend to be very user friendly.

a very narrow search in to google might do the trick. try something like "site:https://www.fs.fed.us/t-d//pubs/pdfpubs/ file:pdf"

Around here (Northern California) it seems like most of the trail maintenance is done with chainsaws. At least that's the sort of trail maintenance I can most easily recall, people cutting away fallen trees that are obstructing a trail. It might be that everyday maintenance is done with other tools and it's just the bigger jobs that I end up noticing.

I didn’t know you have to sharpen your shovel. Cool!

Wow this is a really comprehensive resource, thanks for sharing. Are there small-scale machinery that can make trail work less labor-intensive? I am particularly thinking about how difficult it is to do thinks like manage invasive species. Even just an acre of land could be unmanageable for one person working with hand tools alongside their other life priorities.

The problem with machinery and trail maintenance is that machinery is heavy, and unless it can wheel itself to your worksite under its own power, it's unlikely going to save you any labor.

It's also straight-up illegal to operate any sort of vehicle in US wilderness areas (horses are OK). I think they also ban gas motors and maybe even things like electric chainsaws.

From what I've read, there are some areas where the Forest Service/Park Service are allowed to use power tools for maintenance activities. This seems like the exception rather than rule, however.

I have a friend who does trail maintenance in the Dolly Sodds and surrounding areas, and he has gotten quite adept at using a crosscut saw with his partner. I've seen it in action, and the efficiency of that tool, in the hands of skilled users, is quite impressive.

Most US public lands are not (in the legal sense) wilderness areas.

True, but there are plenty of wilderness areas, and the Forest Service needs effective tools for maintaining them. This means crosscut saws and pack mules, sometimes.

USFS manages National Forests that aren't wilderness areas. They do timber sales and such where the logging will be done with machinery and trucked out.

National Park Service manages lands that are legally classified as wilderness areas.

The PDF mentions chainsaws, and concludes that they are less effective than manual saws. It does seem like you want your tools to be as light as possible so that getting to the work site doesn't become a behemoth task!

If you've ever hiked up and down mountains doing trail fixing work, carrying 10-15 pounds of saw, plus tools and files and a couple gallons of fuel and a jug of bar and chain oil, gets really old really fast. And if you've got a chainsaw, you really ought to be wearing kevlar chaps and boots, and a helmet with hearing and eye protection, and now you're lugging an entire pack-frame of stuff.

Not really worth it unless you're doing some real felling.

I can attest to this. The pants themselves will wear you out let alone the extra gear. Hand tools when sharpened and operated correctly can be extremely efficient.

Crosscut: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NgAnAn_nd68

General: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z8_AafEAOdk

Chainsaws. Also a Bobcat with a hydraulic heavy duty bush hog, some of those shred wood up to a few inches thick... High maintenance, the forest fights back.

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