The Jail Brake Lowering Device

The Jail Brake lowering device brings arborists an innovative design to basal friction for lowering. TCIA staff photos.

If you missed TCI EXPO this year, then you missed out on the industry debut of the Jail Brake, which may signal the next generation of lowering devices for arborists. This device brings an innovative design to basal friction for lowering. Cast from aluminum and machined to a polished finish, the Jail Brake is designed to be lightweight but super strong. It has a 3,500-pound working load limit (WLL) with a five-to-one safety rating – so designed to be perfect for most rigging situations.

The way this device works is this: you tie the device to the tree in line with your rigging line, and then make half-loops over the cylinders instead of full wraps to leverage load weight. The estimated weight will determine about how many loops you’ll need to place on the Jail Brake. On barrel-type lowering devices, it is possible that placing one wrap of rope is too little but two wraps are too many. The Jail Brake makes it possible to dial in the friction from half-wraps to quarter-wraps, giving the rope handler complete confidence and control of the piece being lowered.

What was the inspiration?

We asked Seth Ramsdell, arborist and Jail Brake inventor, how he came up with the idea for this device.

“I’ve been climbing since 1998. I got really sick of being up in a tree, frozen and exhausted, watching my rope handlers undo rope twists caused by barrel-type lowering devices all day long. As the lowering line passes over the barrel, it puts twists, or hockles, in the line that make it difficult to use. Rope twists, or hockles, suck, slow down the team and cost me money as a company owner. And I thought there had to be a better way.

“So I came up with this device and called it the Jail Brake. The rigging line is run through a series of rungs where it bends to apply friction. Since the rope bends around the cylinders instead of wrapping, it doesn’t produce hockles at all. No rope twists.”


The key advantages are control and flexibility, says Ramsdell. “It is lightweight and somewhat more intuitive than
barrel-type devices, possibly because the rope handler can see all of the rope as it passes through the cylinders.”

Need to know

There will be a bit of a learning curve when first using the Jail Brake. You have to get used to the differing levels of friction, which feel different if you are coming from a barrel-type device, according to Ramsdell. But with a little patient practice, you’ll get the hang of it real quickly.

“One thing you need to remember is to bring the rope around the bottom rung each and every time you use it. You cannot bring the rope straight out from the cylinders, because that would be putting force directly on the pigtail. The two pigtails are just rope guides. They do not see force exerted on them, so are not rated to take weight. And once you are in the pigtails, the rope does not come off on its own. The pigtails are pressed in and then spring pinned, and they are not replaceable.

The rigging line is run through a series of rungs where it bends to apply friction. Since the rope bends around the cylinders instead of wrapping, it doesn’t produce hockles.

“Another thing to remember is to not make a complete turn around the cylinder, which would produce rope twists or hockles. The whole point of the product is to eliminate those by bending the rope and not wrapping it. It doesn’t matter which cylinder you start with, once out of the top pigtail. You can create many of your own combinations of friction to suit your situation, which makes the Jail Brake really versatile.”

Care and maintenance

Try not to drop it on concrete or drive off with it on the tailgate of your truck. “The pigtails are heat treated, and they’ll probably bend before they fail,” says Ramsdell. “The aluminum construction is almost indestructible. We have been trying for almost two years now to smash one at the tree, and so far, the Jail Brake has not broken.”

Seth Ramsdell is an arborist and tree company owner based in Toledo, Ohio, and the inventor of the Jail Brake

To view a video of this product in use, go to 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, and is not 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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Click to listen highlighted text!