Basic Tool Maintenance

Trail tools

Tools and their maintenance are critical to all trail maintainers and trail crews.

 This article, written by Patrick Wilson for the Blue and White Crew , is an excellent guide to all of us who go out and work on public hiking trails.

Power Tools

Stihl Brushcutter
  • Have engines professionally serviced every season or at least every 50 hours of use
  • Use Stihl carb and choke cleaner and/or fuel stabilizer as needed
  • My preferences for fuel:
    • Use premium fuel
      • Buy one gallon at a time for freshness
    • Add 2-cycle oil halfway through filling of gas can, so oil gets thoroughly mixed with gas
    • Vigorously shake gas can each time before filling machine
  • Drain tank and run engine dry, at idle, after each use—high throttle might damage engine as it runs out of fuel, because oil in fuel lubricates engine

Each District tool cache with brush cutters has a mesh bag containing the most common replacement parts.

Hand Tools

Most important step is to clean tools with stainless steel wire brush after each use and spray with WD-40 (stainless brushes don’t rust)

  • Properly sheathe sharp tools, including hand weeders
  • Unless you have an industrial belt grinder, use a file rather than a grinder to sharpen tools
    • Files create flat (vs. concave) bevels
    • Files don’t overheat or draw the temper out of tools

Hand Tools for Trail Work gives the Forest Service specs for filing angles on all common tools.

PulaskiPulaski Pick MattockCutter Mattock Cutter MattockPick Mattock McLeodMcLeod


Pulaski tools are notoriously abused, always need sharpening, and are, in my opinion, simply the wrong tool for the job: you can do cleaner, easier work by using a small pair of hand clippers on small roots and a small folding saw on large ones. (These tools also cost and weigh less.)

Not all district managers share this opinion.

Pick Mattock

  • File the pick so that it gradually tapers to a 1/8-in. square point
  • File the mattock at a 35° bevel
    • Don’t create a sharp edge
  • Use a heavy hand hammer to pound the handle on securely
  • Plastic handles hold better than wooden ones

Cutter Mattock

Follow the same steps as above, except:

  • File the cutter symmetrically to a total included angle of 45°


  • File the bevel at 45° but don’t create a sharp edge
  • Install the head so the bevel faces the handle
  • Grease threads and tighten bolt with 15/16-inch socket to 100 lb.-ft. of torque


  • File 45° bevel on top edge—except for the portion of the edge (about a third) closest to the handle

Swedish safety axe (Sandvik)

  • File symmetrically at factory bevel
  • Polish with sharpening stone(s) and leather strop

Bush Hook

  • File symmetrically at factory bevel, creating a symmetrical, concave bevel (as on an axe)
  • Polish with sharpening stone(s) and leather strop

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