Cabling and Bracing: Back to Basics

The goal here was to close a split between the two halves of this tree. The three trunks or leaders were not in alignment, so the double-crotch leader is supported with its own bolt and an amon-eye nut. An amon eye and a bolt were used for the single crotch. The two amon eyes were connected by 3/8-inch hammerlock connectors, and then the hammerlocks were connected to three links of 3/8-inch chain. Photo courtesy of Mike Morrell, CTSP.

It has been a few months since I spoke at TCI EXPO 2019 in Pittsburgh on the subject of cabling trees, and I have found myself talking to more and more people about it since then. Everyone wants to know, “What’s the secret sauce when it comes to installation?” Or, “How do I know when to use a static system versus a dynamic? What types and sizes of hardware should I be using?” These are all great conversation starters that have led me to realize that I am most certainly no expert in this matter and that there is no one-size-fits-all answer.

When it comes to the topic of supplemental support systems, I have realized a few key concepts.

First is that, while there is a ton of research and scientific data showing when and where certain types of support work best, each and every situation is completely different. This adds an artistic element to the installation of these systems. Arborists must not only know the science behind what they are doing, but also must have the adaptability to custom tailor a system on the job site. This is where I have seen the value in knowing the standard for cabling, ANSI A300 (Part 3) – 2013 Supplemental Support Systems (includes Cabling, Bracing, Guying and Propping).* If we understand the guidelines we must adhere to, we will also be better at adapting them appropriately to fit the situation.

Second is a need for consistency, not only with individual companies but also as an industry. When I talk with different people, everyone has their own way of describing methods, a different selection of tools and unique terminology. While I am all for individuality and I truly believe that arborists develop their own “style,” as an industry we need to be better at using common terminology and techniques to sell to our clients and train our new staff.

The ANSI A300 (Part 3) – 2013 Supplemental Support Systems (includes Cabling, Bracing, Guyingand Propping) standard.

At my work, we have recently gone through our cabling tools and standardized the equipment each truck is allocated. Now, no matter what crew you are on or what truck you are working out of, the setup is exactly the same. We also have attempted to get all of our sales staff using a common language so there is a consistency throughout the company, not only as we communicate with our clients but also with our field staff.

Single brace system. Sketches taken from ANSI A300 (Part 3).

The last common theme I have discovered in talking with arborists from across the country is that no one feels a real sense of confidence when it comes to the subject, myself included. Everyone I talk with feels confident they can go and install a cable, but always seems worried that there may be a better way, a magical system they haven’t yet heard of, or that another arborist might cast judgment on their work. I always ask if people are familiar with the standard, and most people answer that they’ve read it but wouldn’t consider themselves familiar with it. This wishy-washy answer often leads people to take the step they need to build their confidence, revisiting the standard and really taking the time to understand it.

Alternating brace system

I understand that the theme of this article may be boring, and I can see the disappointment when people hear my answers to many of the common questions. The truth of the matter is that there is no special sauce, no magical system to solve all our problems and no one-size-fits-all approach that will work for everyone. The whole genre of supplemental support systems is an ever-evolving topic with new research and techniques coming out all the time. So, how do we feel comfortable that what we are doing is right?

Crossing brace system

I can only offer my personal advice based on my experience. The first thing I have done is gone back (multiple times now) and really read the standards. These are the rules of engagement and the guidelines by which we must combine the knowledge of Bill Nye with the abilities of MacGyver. The standard is written so it provides us with enough direction to feel as though we are doing what is right without pigeonholing us into having to do things the exact same way. Find what best fits your crew and satisfies the standards, and you will find a comfortable starting point. Situationally, you may need to revisit the standard, but at least you have the confidence of knowing you are following the industry best practices.

From there, take it as far as you want. Maybe you have a different system for every different scenario, or maybe you standardize the fleet, only changing the length of the hardware you are using to match the stem it’s being installed in. There is no one right way to provide supplemental support, and the answer isn’t always as clear as we would like it to be. But if we all develop a common ground from which we start, we can do so with the confidence that we are employing proven procedures.

Parallel brace system

*The ANSI A300 Committee in early March 2020 approved a revision of ANSI A300 (Part 3) – 2013 Supplemental Support Systems (includes Cabling, Bracing, Guying and Propping). It should be available later this year.

Kyle Donaldson is team lead of safety and training with Harrison McPhee, Inc., an accredited, five-year TCIA member company based in Millis, Massachusetts. He is also an instructor with North American Training Solutions, a 12-year TCIA Corporate Member company based in Douglas, Mass.

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