Wildland tools

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Wildland tools

Postby Aaronw on Sun Jan 07, 2018 6:38 pm

Several years ago (6 apparently based on the date of the photo) I scratch built some firefighting tools as an experiment, to see how they would compare to the few available on the market. Tools being relatively small parts, often long and thin can look chunky when produced by casting, even the injection molded parts included with some kits can suffer from this.

I was pleased with the results although there is some room for improvement (McLeod teeth in particular).

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I have been meaning to put together a tutorial, but debated on how to show the steps. It is not easy to take a photo at each step and text without photos isn't all that helpful, so the idea has just sat...

Yesterday I decided to try and put it together as a drawing starting with one of the more popular wildland hand tools, the McLeod. I'll be following up with others. I'd appreciate input as to whether this is easy to follow or ways to improve.

These tutorials will assume basic modeling tools and supplies including a set of #61-80 wire gauge drills with a pin vise (small drill holder). Styrene and brass sheet, rod, tubing and other shapes are available from a number of hobby sources.

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Re: Wildland tools

Postby jimb on Sun Jan 07, 2018 7:51 pm

Very nice tutorial, Aaron. Looking forward to the next instalment.

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Re: Wildland tools

Postby Aaronw on Sun Jan 07, 2018 8:20 pm

Thanks, working on the fire rake next.

Some details for the McLeod.

Credit for the design and name of the McLeod tool goes to Sierra National Forest employee Malcolm Mcleod. It was invented around 1905 to replace several tools. It combines a cutting edge on the front edge, the side edges are generally dull, although some will sharpen these as well or even file a serrated edge along one or both sides. The back side forms a hard rake. The large flat head also makes it a popular tool for trail work and tree planting as it works well as a compacting tool to tamp down loose soil. For firefighting it works best in grass, timber litter and light brush.

Overall photo of the tool, if you look closely you can see the tool handle is thinner in the middle swelling at either end.

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This shows the head, flange (actually attached to the end of the tool handle, not the tool head) and the metal socket that holds the wooden handle.

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This photo shows the shape of the tool head, notice the two outer rake teeth are shaped slightly differently from the middle teeth. The nut in the center threads into the bottom of the tool handle allowing the head to be removed. The four studs around the nut are part of the square flange, and line up with 4 holes in the tool head preventing it from rotating.
Some brands of McLeod have the tool handle permanently welded to the head so will not have this nut, and are just flat on the bottom.

This particular tool is well used and out of service as a firefighting tool. It has lost probably 3/4" to 1" of material from the cutting edge due to repeated sharpening.

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Firefighters love to modify tools. A common modification of the McLeod is to remove the two outermost teeth along with a similar amount of material from the cutting edge. This makes for a narrower tool more easily able to get in between rocks and other obstacles.
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Re: Wildland tools

Postby explorer2770 on Sun Jan 07, 2018 11:40 pm

Aaron, I love this tutorial. I wonder how well these McLeod tool heads would turn out if cut with a Cricut? I might try that in the near future.
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Re: Wildland tools

Postby Aaronw on Mon Jan 08, 2018 2:15 am

That is an interesting idea, a Crikit or Sihouette cutter should handle the 0.01" styrene no problem, but I don't know if the cutters are able to cut fine enough to do the teeth. Let me know how it turns out.

I had been considering photo etch to make the heads from thin brass. I have one of those DIY photo etch kits but I haven't figured it out yet.
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Re: Wildland tools

Postby mdlbldrmatt135 on Mon Jan 08, 2018 7:30 am

Brandon,

Which cutter do you have? The wife is considering one for scrapbooking, and I'm trying to convince her to go with the newest Cricut, the Maker.
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Re: Wildland tools

Postby chariots of fire on Mon Jan 08, 2018 2:17 pm

Here's a thought. Draw up the head of the cutting tool and tape it to a piece of brass with double sided tape. Use a dremel with a thin cutting disc to trim away the stock to make the teeth. The drawing will give you guide lines to work against. With Aaron's drawing I might just try it and see how it comes out.
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Re: Wildland tools

Postby Aaronw on Tue Jan 09, 2018 4:55 pm

It took me some time to find this among my photos, but years ago I got a picture of just the flat steel head. I did this thinking it would be easier to trace with the head flat on the ground. I was thinking it would help for designing a PE mask, but the same should apply for drawing it up for the Cricut or for Charlie's Double sided tape idea.

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Charlie, if your idea works, it would also probably work on several layers of brass. That would allow multiple tool heads to be cut with about the same time and effort as just one.


Also just thought it worth pointing out, this particular McLeod is the design contracted by the Federal Government used by the Federal Fire Caches, sold through GSA and other sources. As so many local government agencies use these same sources, it is a very common example of the tool. However if you look at fire and forestry suppliers there are numerous variations out there being produced by tool companies. Some have a straighter edge on the sides to give a wider cutting edge, there is some variation in the tooth shape / number of teeth / distribution of the teeth on the rake, differences in handle length etc. Then you add in custom modifications.

Long way of saying lots of ways to salvage a goof. :D


Here is one with an 8 tooth rake

https://store.firemaster.com/products/mcleod-tool

This one more of a square shape to provide a longer cutting edge. The tooth pattern is a little different as well.

http://www.nationalfirefighter.com/stor ... od-48.aspx
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Re: Wildland tools

Postby Aaronw on Tue Jan 09, 2018 10:47 pm

Next up the Fire rake aka Council tool or Rich tool.

This is a tool found most commonly in the South and South East USA. It has sharp teeth which are able to cut through the small brush, vines, roots and thick leaf litter found in that region. It is a fairly simple tool being made from angle iron and the teeth from a sickle bar mower. The head is then then fastened to a long handle through the means of a socket mount made of heavy sheet metal.

Horse drawn sickle bar mowers were available by 1900, and the earliest fire rakes were probably developed soon after.

In 1923 a patent for a fire rake was granted to Charles Howard Rich of Pennsylvania. This was for a tool that resembles the current fire rake, but was provided with an articulating head which allowed the angle of the rake to be changed. Rich was granted another patent in 1931 for a variation of his earlier tool. This tool added a flat scraping blade on the back side of the rake. These tools would both become known as Rich tools, and that name would also become associated with the simpler tool it resembles.

In the 1930s the US Forest Service entered into a contract with the Council Tool Company of North Carolina to manufacture a large number of fire tools. The fire rake that came out of this contract is essentially the same as that manufactured by the company today. Because of the association to the Council Tool Company the fire rake has also become known as a Council Tool or Council Rake.

As sickle bar mowers (now motorized) remain a common method of harvesting hay, and the basic design of the tool is quite simple, it is not uncommon to continue to find home made fire rakes in agricultural areas where hay is grown.


The typical fire rake consists of a piece of angle iron with a socket welded to the back, and 3-6 teeth (4 being most common) bolted or riveted to the angle iron. A straight 52" handle is most common, but 60" handles are also available from many suppliers. In most cases the round tapered handle is simply slid through the socket with enough force to seat it securely, a screw or nail is then inserted into the handle to keep it from working loose.

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Example of an inexpensive modern (2011) shop built fire rake made by welding the teeth to a metal bar. The handle was made by welding a piece of pipe to the head.

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Now onto making one of these in scale

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Re: Wildland tools

Postby jimb on Wed Jan 10, 2018 2:26 pm

We have several of these Council Tools in out department here in Upstate New York. We generally don't have a lot of call for them, but we have them. Some of them have 4 teeth & some have 11 teeth.
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Re: Wildland tools

Postby Aaronw on Wed Jan 10, 2018 5:08 pm

jimb wrote:We have several of these Council Tools in out department here in Upstate New York. We generally don't have a lot of call for them, but we have them. Some of them have 4 teeth & some have 11 teeth.


If the teeth are the same size that 11 tooth rake must be like using a floor squeegee. :shock:

From my brief experience working in the south, I think the primary advantage of these tools is they are lightweight and relatively cheap. That southern rough is nearly impossible to cut fire line through by hand, almost all of that work is done with a far more effective tool, the Tractor Plow. :D

They do work very well in tall grass. That really shouldn't be a surprise though considering they were developed from a hay harvesting device.

Very rare to see these out west, as we have comparatively rocky soil that doesn't play nice with the thin teeth.
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Re: Wildland tools

Postby Aaronw on Thu Jan 11, 2018 12:00 pm

Jim sent me a photo last night to show the 11 tooth rake which much smaller teeth and a little different construction, although the idea is very similar.

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Re: Wildland tools

Postby Aaronw on Thu Jan 11, 2018 12:45 pm

Next up the Swatter or Flapper tool.

One of the earliest tools used for fighting grass fires was simply a wet burlap sack and a bucket of water to keep the sack moist. The wet sack was used to beat the edge of the fire. A similar method used a handy branch from certain species of tree. The Spruce is the tree of choice in Alaska, while Juniper is used in the South West. Despite other tools being available sacks and tree branches continue to be used to some degree because of their simplicity and ready availability.

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Triumphant firefighters in Oklahoma pose with their sacks, and buckets (and a watering can) after suppressing a grass fire. US Forest Service archives, photo dated 1918.


The Swatter uses this same concept, but uses a rubberized cloth flap similar to a trucks mud flap, mounted on a long handle. While simple and crude, in the right fuels they are quite effective.

I hosed this one down prior to taking a photo to remove the collected dust and cobwebs (we have a few in the cache but don't use them in the timber). They don't usually have this glossy appearance, a dull black or dark grey as you find on mud flaps or tires is more typical.

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Their construction is quite simple, just a couple of metal strips bolted or riveted together with a flap sandwiched between them. A short metal shank is welded to one of these strips, and that shank forms part of the socket that attaches to the tool handle. These typically have a long 60" handle.

Because of their length they are often just slid in between the tool boxes and water tank of a brush engine or on top of the vehicle rather than being stored inside of a compartment.


The tutorial

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The flap is stiff but flexible, after making one look at how it will sit on the model and curve the flap appropriately to reflect the effects of gravity.

Because the flap is flexible I have suggested using styrene or even heavy card stock for the flap. 30 gauge brass sheet could also be used but I left it out this time since it is stiffer and could potentially be a little more difficult to add the appropriate sag.

The step by step portion shows a simpler construction method with the handle directly attached to the flap. I have included some optional steps for those who want to add more detail.


I have noted that 0.05" styrene rod is not always available. Plastruct is the only brand I've found that carries this size.

3/64" is a common size for styrene and brass rod, 3/64 = 0.047" which will provide a slightly slimmer tool handle. The other choice would be to use 0.06" which is a more popular size of styrene rod, and will provide a little thicker handle. For brass rod, 1/16 (0.0625") is the most common next size up.

For reference the actual tools have a 1-1/4" diameter handle which is 0.05" in 1/25 scale.
3/64 (0.047") is just a pinch smaller than 1-3/16" in 1/25.
0.06" is 1-1/2" in 1/25.
1/16" (0.0625") is 1-9/16" in 1/25 scale.

Scale 1/16 inches may seem trivial, but can in some cases be noticed in others not.
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Re: Wildland tools

Postby chariots of fire on Thu Jan 11, 2018 7:27 pm

One thing that could be used for that last tool would be black electrical tape pasted back to back and cut to size. It would remain flexible. Thanks for the neat drawings, by the way. That is good stuff! We don't get to use many tools like those. Brushbreakers seem to do the trick in our area.
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Re: Wildland tools

Postby jimb on Thu Jan 11, 2018 11:29 pm

I've only seen them once when I was stationed at Ft. Polk, LA; and we started a brush fire with a smoke grenade. :roll:
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Re: Wildland tools

Postby Aaronw on Fri Jan 12, 2018 5:20 pm

I've only used them when I worked in Arizona. They do require the right conditions, but when those are met, they work well. With a small crew, 3 or 4 guys with swatters and a drip torch or fusees they could put in a lot of line. Don't need wheels or water.

They are common in the Southwestern states into west Texas. I imagine they are found in the prairie states of the midwest with their large grassland areas, but I haven't spent any time there to confirm. I don't think they would be of great use to you guys in the North East. They are of little value where I am either.


Electrical tape, or shrink tubing could both work. Probably about the right thickness and actually flexible, vs just posing it in position.
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Re: Wildland tools

Postby maxwell48098 on Sat Jan 13, 2018 7:51 pm

Back in the 1960's when I was a volunteer firefighter, we used to have swatters on our pumper and tanker as we had a lot of open grassy areas that would "magically" catch fire at least once a year. The ones we carried were probably from the '40's or '50's and made by someone in our department. Instead of the rubberized material, ours were actually constructed with roughly 18" long by 6"wide strips of canvas from old fire hoses placed side by side and clapped between 2 metal top strips. Each swatter had 4 strips, and actually worked very good.

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Re: Wildland tools

Postby Aaronw on Tue Jan 16, 2018 5:55 pm

maxwell48098 wrote:Back in the 1960's when I was a volunteer firefighter, we used to have swatters on our pumper and tanker as we had a lot of open grassy areas that would "magically" catch fire at least once a year. The ones we carried were probably from the '40's or '50's and made by someone in our department. Instead of the rubberized material, ours were actually constructed with roughly 18" long by 6"wide strips of canvas from old fire hoses placed side by side and clapped between 2 metal top strips. Each swatter had 4 strips, and actually worked very good.

A.J.


They do work well under the right conditions, but are rather particular.

I haven't seen one made from old hose, but that seems a very practical solution for making tools and disposing of old hose at the same time. It would be an easy tool to fabricate in a shop using any available, relatively flexible, durable and fire resistant material that might be laying around, canvas, old mudflaps, strips of tire etc. Pushbrooms or pipe could supply the handles.
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Re: Wildland tools

Postby Aaronw on Tue Jan 16, 2018 6:39 pm

Next up, the Brush hook / Brush axe

Another tool that started off as an agricultural implement, the brush hook has been used as a fire tool since at least the 1920s. Related agricultural tools date back to the 19th century.

Prior to the availability of lightweight reliable chainsaws, the brush hook was the undisputed champion for hacking through heavy brush such as the Chaparral of Southern California. The heavy curved hook was well designed to catch and chop through saplings and thick brush.

Like a chainsaw they look right at home in the hands of a masked slasher from an 80s horror movie, and were quite dangerous in the hands of an inexperienced user. By the late 1970s the chainsaw had become the dominant choice for cutting fire line through brush relegating the brush hook to the storage room and retirement plaques.

Although they have lost their top spot, they are still used by some and remain available commercially from fire tool venders. A related tool, is the Swedish brush axe or Sandvik.

As a good chopping tool it was at one time found in use for structural firefighting as well, its heavy blade being useful for opening walls and floors during the salvage and mop up stage.

A feature on later and all currently manufactured brush hooks is a large socket for the tool head. Many older brush hooks simply used two thin strips of metal (like the lower strip in the photo below) bolted to the head. These strips could be damaged in use allowing the head to come loose and fly off. These older tools are no longer supposed to be used, although they are still occasionally seen (hopefully gracing a retirement plaque).

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This is a more complex tool to make, the curved handle being particularly tricky. I have included a template off to the side which may be used to trace an outline. Hopefully the printing process doesn't skew the scale.

The tools in all of those tutorials are drawn to a scale of 1mm = 1" except for those places where it is blown up to better show a detail.

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The tool handle swells to 2" x 1" at the top, while most of the tool handle measures 1 1/2" x 1".

On the actual tools the head is pounded onto the tool handle and then secured with a wedge driven into the handle like an axe. The result is the top of the tool handle may be essentially flush with the top of the socket or extend as much as 1-2" beyond the top depending on the fit of the handle.


For anyone who chooses to use brass for the tool head, I'm thinking a 2mm strip could be left attached to the tool head to form the handle socket instead of using a separate piece (step 6).
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