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I’m Vic Thiemann, Marketing Manager, updating you on latest trends, news and topics of interest. Feel free to comment on what you read, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When he’s on the job, there can be nothing more important to the scaffolder than his tools. If a spanner fails or a level drops off the scaffold, it will cost time and money to put that right. In some cases, it could be dangerous too. So how does a scaffolder go about choosing his tools?
Over the years, I’ve served hundreds of scaffolders here at Gilray Plant, some working for others and some running their own business. Either way, choosing the right tools is a vital part of their job. But it’s not an easy choice! Take the humble spanner for instance. We have around 30 different spanners on our books, each one capable of doing the same job. Cheap and cheerful for £10 or titanium for lightness and longevity at £60? Hex or bi-hex? Ratchet or not? 19/21 or 21/23? And don’t get me started on handles!
Round, flat, poka or shaped? It may be that cost will be the deciding factor, particularly for the younger scaffolder just starting out, but mostly it boils down to sheer personal preference. That’s not always the case though. Take the spirit level for example. A cheap one may cost as little as £6 whereas a Stabila with earth magnets would set you back £24. Here, though, there is a clear difference. Rare-earth magnets are strong permanent magnets made from alloys of rare earth elements. Developed in the 1970s and ’80s, rare-earth magnets are the strongest type of permanent magnets made, producing significantly stronger magnetic fields than other types such as the ferrite or alnico magnets you might find in cheaper levels. Obviously, a strong and reliable magnet is essential, so that they don’t fall to the ground while you’re trying to use them, and possibly causing human or material damage. So it may seem to be a huge difference in price, but my bet is that the Stabila would pay for itself in quite a short space of time. I’ve seen many a scaffolder come to the conclusion that cheap works out more expensive over time due to lost or broken tools.
You may think that a spanner is just a spanner, and a level is just a level, but there have been some innovations in the area of these tools recently. On the spanner front, the use of impact spanners has become much more popular. These battery-operated spanners have been around for a long time, of course, but their use by scaffolders is much more recent. The main advantage of using one is clearly speed. Another is increased efficiency of human effort and reduction of repetitive strain. Materials are also kept in sounder condition due to the torque-stop function, which prevents over-tightening. The main disadvantage is cost (£100 – £500), but again, like a good set of chef’s knives or hair stylists scissors, they pay for themselves over time. But then there is the size and weight of one of these compared with a standard spanner (2Kg versus 450g at least, adding significant weight and bulk to an already loaded toolbelt), so the scaffolder needs to be fit and agile. There have also been some technical issues concerning these spanners, causing the NASC to issue a statement in July 2015. The relevant British/European Standard, EN74, requires a tightening torque of 50 N/Mtr. Most wrenches have a stated torque in excess of that, but the NASC found (after extensive testing) that the actual torques achieved were very variable. As a result, they stated:
“It is therefore recommended that any employer considering authorising the use of impact wrenches carries out testing to establish that the impact wrench which they intend to authorise for use by their employees is capable of applying the correct torque to scaffold fittings on a consistent and recurring basis. Further to completion of an adequate risk assessment by the employer the impact wrench may then be deemed fit for purpose for erection/dismantling and alterations to scaffolding by their employees.”
What could be new about a spirit level? I hear you ask. Let me introduce you to the ProView Dragonfly Scaffolder’s Level, invented by a guy called Paul A Sparrow. He came up with the idea whilst fitting a Window; without thinking he leaned in to view the bubble on his level and impaled his lower eyelid onto a painted nail sticking out of the wall. Coming so close to what could easily have been a very serious life changing incident he immediately realised that having strategically placed mirrors installed into the level would prevent the user from having to get into such awkward and risky positions in the first place.
Priced at around £40, this level is not cheap, but is it worth it? If any scaffolders reading this have tried it out, why not let us know what you think of it? Indeed, if there are any other weird and wonderful tools being used out there, we’d like to hear about them.