When I first caught the gear-addiction bug about seven years ago, I remember consistently being surprised or excited about a brand-new piece of climbing or rigging kit that I had no idea was even in development. After years of compulsively lurking on the websites of gear manufacturers and retailers and sifting through endless gear threads on all the numerous tree forums, I now rarely experience that excited feeling, because I am rarely surprised about a new product finally making it to market.
These days, the team at Rooted Arbor Care is fortunate to work with many of the gear manufacturers throughout their research and development (R&D) process. These interactions carry with them an entirely different type of excitement. We recently had the opportunity to work with a “new-to-us” manufacturer on a project that helped rekindle some of that excitement I fondly remember!
After reading my article, “Rigging Is a Team Sport,” (TCI Magazine, July 2022) Tony Leone of Leonardi Manufacturing reached out to inquire if we were interested in testing their new rigging lowering device. Prior to this conversation, I had never heard of Leonardi Manufacturing – a 30-year TCIA corporate member company based in Weedsport, New York, that primarily manufactures high-quality stump-grinding wheels, teeth and chipper knives. I told Tony we would try it out, but warned him that the team at Rooted Arbor Care has pretty high standards.
The device we reviewed
The device we are reviewing is the third iteration of the Leonardi Friction Manager (LFM). The LFM system is made up of an LFM bollard, LFM tree mount, LFM pintle mount and LFM rigging block. We primarily used the LFM bollard in conjunction with the LFM tree mount, so we are going to focus our review on this setup.
The Leonardi Friction Manager system is a robust lowering device that bridges the gap between traditional portawrap- (Port-a-Wrap)-style devices and more advanced mechanical lowering devices, such as the Hobbs H2 and the Good Rigging Control System (GRCS).
Some of the key advantages of this system, we found, include its reliability, versatility and affordability.
The Leonardi Friction Manager system is built in the U.S. by a third-generation, family-owned business. We have used this system consistently since we received the first version and have yet to see any significant wear. The tree mount is solid-steel construction and weighs 24 pounds. The nickel-plated bollard is 6 inches in diameter and 18 inches long, and weighs 26 pounds. That puts the tree mount and bollard at a total of 50 pounds, which is lighter than many of the premium lifting-/lowering-device systems on the market. Like the Stein, Hobbs and GRCS devices, once the LFM is secured to the tree by its 4-inch, winch-style ratchet binder, the system becomes completely immobile. The bollard has a working load limit (WLL) of 7,200 pounds at a 5:1 safety factor, and the tree mount has a WLL of 3,800 pounds at a 5:1 safety factor.
One of the drawbacks of port-a-wraps is the play between the device and the sling. Bollards on fixed mechanical devices eliminate this play, so you can deploy these devices for both removal and pruning procedures without fear of damaging the tree from a bollard strike. The LFM bollard is built on 2-inch x 2-inch square tubing, like a trailer hitch, so it can be installed in the tree mount or any other trailer receiver hitch on the job site. This mounting versatility is great for municipal crews or bucket teams working with light-rigging scenarios.
The bollard also can be mounted vertically or horizontally. We almost exclusively mount ours horizontally. This horizontal mounting is one of my favorite features of the system, because it ensures your rope wraps never cross one another, which can pose a major hazard.
Large is better
The large-diameter bollard dramatically increases the bend ratio of the rigging line and makes finding that friction “sweet spot” much easier. One of the major downsides to traditional lowering devices is the difficulty in finding the appropriate number of friction wraps to apply for each piece. Often, one too many or one too few wraps or rings could spell trouble. The 6-inch-diameter bollard on the LFM greatly reduces this risk of applying too much or too little friction.
When using larger-surface-area bollards, you can handle larger loads with fewer wraps because of the larger bend ratio and surface area the rope experiences. The increased bend ratio and surface area make this bollard very forgiving for the roper, and if they become under or over wrapped, the application of more or less hand pressure can alleviate any poor guesswork. The forgiving nature of this device has made it an awesome tool for teaching teammates how to safely and efficiently manage loads.
Our initial thoughts were favorable, but we had a few tweaks we thought would really improve the system. Joe Leonardi, owner and lead designer at Leonardi Manufacturing, was very receptive to our feedback, and worked with us and a few other experienced climbers across the country to develop the current version of the LFM.
The main improvement was the addition of the lifting attachment point on the top of the tree mount. The lifting point was added to accommodate different lifting devices. We frequently use ours with the CMI Rope Jack. The addition of the lifting point enables this system to provide some of the added lifting benefits that other premium lifting/lowering devices tout.
The Leonardi Friction Manager system retails for about $1,150, but you can nab the LFM bollard and tree mount together for about $700. For comparison’s sake, a larger-style Port-a-Wrap and sling cost around $300, and many of the lifting/lowering devices can exceed the $3,000 mark. With these prices in mind, you could purchase the LFM bollard and tree mount and a device like the CMI Rope Jack, and you would gain a dependable, versatile and affordable lifting/lowering system for around $1,000. A full list of the package options can be found at www.leonarditreecare.com.
I really have enjoyed using the Leonardi Friction Manager, and I believe most tree crews could increase their safety and productivity by implementing a system like this into their kit. It’s important to remember that this system is not replacing dedicated lifting devices like the GRCS or aerial friction-management hardware. The LFM is another great tool that provides a ton of value for a reasonable price.
Andrew Jones, CTSP, is an ISA Certified Arborist, a production climber and co-founder of Rooted Arbor Care Climbing Solutions, based in St. Louis, Missouri.
To view a video of this product in use, go to tcimag.tcia.org and, under the Resources tab, click videos. Or, under the Current Issue tab, click View Digimag, then go to this page and click here.
This review/debut reflects the thoughts and opinions of the reviewer as a user and does not constitute or imply an endorsement of the product referenced, nor is it an endorsement of any specific company, product or service. Every entity or individual should review and test all products for applicability, safety and efficacy in their particular operation.