Trail building tools

Having the right tool for the job makes a huge difference to the amount of effort required and the rate of work. In this section I’m going to describe some of our favourite tools. All of these are available from tool shops as well as big names like B&Q.

Tree branch loppersIt’s likely that once you’ve got a route marked out then you’ll need to clear back undergrowth and branches of trees. A decent set of loppers makes light work of this. I went for an expensive set made by Wilkinson Sword because they can cut up to 2″ (50mm) diameter. They’ve taken a lot of abuse over the last few years. They were about twice as expensive as the cheap ones.

Bow sawFor larger branches then a bow saw with a sharp blade is the right tool.

MattockWhen it comes to digging out or bench cutting then a decent mattock is the best tool. It’s like a combination of a pick axe, a spade and a rake. You can use a swinging action to get some real impact with it and you’ll cut into hard clay with a lot more ease then you’d ever manage with a spade.

Someone else who’s worked out how good they are.

B&Q SpadeA nice sharp spade is ideal for moving mud around and shaping things.

I’ve looked at a lot and prefer the shape and feel of the cheap spades from B&Q and Wickes over the expensive models. They will break if you use them to lever things though. Shovels tend to be too blunt for digging work and a spade is often better for moving gravel and chippings because of the large lumps. If you were moving sand then a shovel would be better.

Not a lot of people know this, but a spade is also a true multi-purpose tool. It can be used for hacking down undergrowth, hammering stakes in, splitting wood and something to lean on.

Rakes are ideal for clearing a path, scraping and shaping trail and berms and for spreading out chippings. They can also be used to hack dead branches off trees and for clearing undergrowth, though a spade is the proper tool for that job. We’ve found that the B&Q glass fibre handle rakes with stainless ends are great, but the weld will break if the rakes are abused. They’ve changed the design recently, so they’ll probably last longer.

B&Q yellow rake

You’ll need something to carry the cakes around in and a decent barrow will also be useful for shifting mud and gravel. There are a lot of designs around. The best will have the load as close to the front wheel as possible and long handles. Quite often the best looking barrows are actually the worst for this. Our best barrow is the most manky looking, but you can carry a lot of weight with less effort compared with the poorly designed barrows. A lot of people don’t seem to realise this – if all of the weight is over the front wheel then you won’t have to lift any weight at all. So when you fill a barrow put most of the material on the front end. You can get around 80KG of material into a barrow.

Wheel barrow

If you want to move a lot of material more than tens of metres then you need a power barrow. There’s a lot of similar looking products and they can be hired from a tool hire shop for around £90 per weekend. Most have 2 powered wheels with jockey wheels connecting up to the other two wheels up so it’s a sort of 4 wheel drive. Steering is usually achieved by skidding them. It’s not refined, but it works. When you first see one you’ll think it looks really dinky, however they carry about 3 times as much as wheelbarrow (250Kg vs 80kg) and mean that one person can do the work of several without tiring. This then frees up the other people to do other more creative jobs. If you want to get even more into them then compact the load as you fill it.

The image is large because we love it that much.

Muck Truck power barrow.

Plate compactorHand tamper (compactor)Another tool that will improve your trail building in an instant is a plate compactor (whacker plate). This will ram the mud and any surfacing material into the ground so it forms a solid base. Hopefully this means that it will last longer. You can do it by hand with a large lump of metal on the end of a pole, but a powered unit will be less effort and achieve a better result.

Sledge hammerThe sledge hammer is the ideal tool for smashing things up. So good that Peter Gabriel even wrote a song about it. Also used for hammering stakes into the ground. Get a large one for maximum effect.

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