Posted: 20th April 2013
Here is a post from guest columnist Aaron Matix of Singletrack Trails. Check out more of his musing at LocalStash.net
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.