Uncommon Tools in the Toolbox

Sketch by Jerry King

Everyone has their special setup in his or her truck toolbox, often full of sometimes perplexing items. For example, I find that many landscapers have a treasured, handmade weeding or clearing tool they’ve held onto in their family for generations (these are, without exception, always scary looking). In that same theme, here is my list of maybe not-so-common tools that have helped me over the years.

Metal detector

If you’ve ever watched any of celebrity chef Alton Brown’s programs, then you may know that multitasking tools are what he always looks for. A cheap metal detector fills this role nicely. I’ve had plenty of loose guide-bar nuts shoot off into the brush, and have only been able to find them with a metal detector. Same is true for screnches (screwdriver/wrench tools), other metal hand tools, keys and just about everything else that’s possible to lose on a job site. It also is great for finding fence posts that have been grown over by a tree trunk, so you can stop dulling chain after chain making a back cut.

Dust mask

Now, this one isn’t COVID related. Let me tell you one of my least favorite trees: the London plane. I have no problem with how they look, their hardiness or their popularity. My problem is with one of their leaf features.

When London planes first flush out, their young leaves are covered in what are called trichomes. These are basically little hairs that many people think may protect the leaf from herbivore browsing. The problem, as anyone who has ever had to prune or remove one when it is in leaf will tell you, is that the trichomes detach from the tree’s leaves in huge quantities and make their way into your eyes or lungs as a fine dust. For some people, this causes mild hay-fever symptoms. For people like me, you cough for the rest of the day until you start retching, which is not great to have to deal with during a phone call. If you have asthma, it could potentially be even worse.

This has even led to issues in some cities in Australia that were heavily planted in London plane, with them having to rigidly control maintenance schedules to prevent public-health issues. While the answer just may be to “prune them when they are dormant,” having a dust mask handy can really be a lifesaver with these trees. The same goes for working around arrowwood viburnums (Viburnum dentatum).

Throwline chain saw

No truck access, no lift access and no climbers around that day? A throwline chain saw, or rope pocket saw, is great for getting widow-makers out of a tree when there’s no time to wait around. Now personally, I find them very difficult to undercut with, so be aware you may get some peeling on the bark. And don’t forget your hard hat!

Rubber mallet

This one is pretty obvious to estimators and consultants, but I still wanted to include it. It’s really the cheapest form of sonic tomography you can buy. Get permission from the homeowner to whack the tree, then whack the tree and they can hear the pitch changes, potentially indicating interior decay. This is a great tiebreaker when you are dealing with people arguing among themselves whether to keep or remove a tree. Just get permission before you start sending chunks of bark flying.

Do you have an uncommon tool in your toolbox or on your truck? Let us know what it is and why you like it, and we’ll compile the responses for another issue of TCI. Email editor@tcia.org.

Richard Jones, an ISA Board Certified Master Arborist, is the campus arborist for the University of Maryland, College Park, and one of the founders of Maryland Sustainable Ecologies, a company that provides tree care training to municipalities and nonprofits.

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