Skip to main content


Care and Maintenance of Climbers

Climbers are the most distinguishable tool of the line trade. They are offered in a variety of materials, including titanium, aluminum and steel. Styles include permanent and removable gaff, adjustable and nonadjustable climbers. This month’s Tailgate addresses the maintenance and care of climbers.

Inspection of Climbers
Visually inspect climbers prior to use and at any time damage is suspected. Inspect for these conditions:
• Loose, dull, short or improperly sharpened gaffs.
• Cracked or chipped gaff points.
• Breaks, cracks or fractures on leg irons.
• Thin foot plates on leg irons.
• Loose adjustable sleeves on leg irons. Adjustable sleeves must fit snugly and be secured, usually by two rivets.
• Cracks, cuts or nicks on the straps.
• Broken or matted threads in the stitching of the straps.
• Enlarged eyeholes in the straps.
• Defective buckles on the straps.

If the climbers or straps are considered unsafe, replace them immediately.

Sharpening, Gauging and Replacing Gaffs
Gaffs require additional inspection and care because each user of climbers is responsible for the proper sharpening of the gaffs. In order to work properly, gaffs must be smooth and sharp. Regardless of how careful a lineworker is with climbers and gaffs, however, gaffs get dull with use and their edges get nicked. Periodically, gaffs need to be sharpened. Most manufacturers, including Buckingham Manufacturing, Bashlin Industries and Klein Tools, have specific procedures that must be followed for sharpening, gauging and testing gaffs. Here are some general care guidelines:
• Gaffs are sharpened by filing the underside with smooth, even strokes. The top ridge of the gaff should never be filed. Manufacturers design and assemble gaffs at a predetermined angle and in a proper shape to cut into wooden poles. Anything that changes the shape or angle of the gaff may cause an accident.
• After a gaff has been sharpened, it should be gauged to ensure that its shape, thickness and length are correct. All manufacturers make gauges that should be used for their specific gaffs.
• As a general rule, gaff gauges have slots and measurement lines that provide a means to check the length, width and shape of a gaff at various points. For safety reasons, a gaff should be replaced if it does not pass the minimum requirements of the gauge.
• In many cases, gaffs are permanently attached to climbers. This means that when the gaff wears out, the entire climber must be replaced. Other climbers are designed with replaceable gaffs. Individual companies have different policies on the use and replacement of replaceable gaffs. In general, replaceable gaffs fit into slots on the climbers and are held in place with setscrews.

Climber Use
Throughout the industry, a handful of simple rules exist regarding the use of climbers:
• Climbers shall be worn only when engaged in work requiring their use.
• Climbers shall not be used after the gaffs are worn or filed to less than the manufacturer’s standard.
• Wear climbers only when working on wooden poles. Do not wear them at any other time.
• Climbers are never to be worn when riding in a truck or working out of a bucket. The gaffs can inflict painful cuts and tear up the interior of trucks and bucket liners.
• Place gaff guards over gaffs when climbers are not being used for climbing. Gaff guards protect gaffs from damage and personnel from injury. It is important to remember that the gaffs support the weight of a lineworker during the climbing. Anything that reduces the ability of the gaff to cut into the pole may cause an accident.
• Climbers should not be used to climb trees since gaffs are not designed for tree use.

By following these basic rules and guidelines, a well-maintained pair of climbers will keep you safe for years to come.

About the Author: John Boyle is vice president of safety and quality for INTREN, an electric, gas and telecommunication construction company based in Union, Ill. Boyle has more than 28 years of experience, and has worked in nuclear and wind power generation and electric and gas distribution.

Tailgate Topics