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Arborist Rope Care: Protection, Inspection, and Retirement

Regular inspection of arborist's rope is the only way to know when your arborist climbing or rigging line is ready to retire. There is no set life span for an arborist rope, as usage, shock-loading, dirt and grit, and even how the rope is stored will all affect the life span of the rope. The information gathered on this page will help you get the most out of your ropes and know when it is time to replace them.

How to Make Your Ropes Last

Arborists ropes must endure heavy loads, the potential of shock-loading, dirt, grit and weather, and abrasive working conditions. There are a lot of things which can lead to early retirement of an arborist rope, but there are some simple things you can do to make sure your investment lasts as long as possible.

  1. Select the Right Rope
  2. Mind the Working Load Limit (WLL)
  3. Keep it Clean
  4. Bag It
  5. Inspect It

1. Selecting the Right Rope

Making sure you've got the right rope for your arborist application is the first step in making sure that your investment will last. While there are many choices such as color, feel, and handling which may affect your choice of ropes, when all other things are equal a stronger line will outlast a weaker one of the same construction, and a large rope will outlast a smaller one of the same construction. With climbing lines as with many professional tools, it is better to buy a quality line once than buy several cheaper, poorer lines and have to replace them frequently.

Some things to consider when looking at ropes are:

  1. Strength
  2. Construction
  3. Elongation
  4. Firmness

2. Mind the Working Load Limit (WLL)

No matter how well-made a rope is, a rope is likely to fail if used to handle loads beyond those outlined in the manufacturer's Working Load Limit. This is generally 10% of the rope's breaking strength for climbing lines and 20% of the rope's breaking strength for rigging lines. Any use at loads higher than these may weaken the rope in ways which may or may not be apparent to the naked eye, meaning that a rope that was previously shock-loaded or used to handle loads larger than it was intended to handle could fail suddenly and without warning.

3. Keep It Clean

Modern arborists ropes often have 12, 16, or even 24 strands of fiber bundles making up their constructions. Dirt and grit can work their way in between the strands where they act like tiny knives. As the rope flexes, the grit and abrasives can act like tiny knives, cutting away at the strands of the rope from inside.

This is why it is important to keep your ropes as clean as possible, especially if you are working in an area with lots of sand or grit. A brush tarp or rope tarp laid out at the base of the tree to pile the rope on is a great way to keep it clean. Better still is deploying the rope directly from an arborist rope bag. This ensures that the rope stays as clean as possible, and also helps prevent tangles and snags.

Ropes can also be washed, either by hand in a rope washer or by placing it in a mesh rope-washing sack and washing it in a front-loading washing machine with a gentle detergent or Rope Soap. Chemical solvents or abrasive cleaners should NEVER be used on an arborist rope. Always let your ropes dry before storing them to prevent mildew and mold.

4. Bag It

A rope bag is a cheap and easy way to keep your rope ready to use and does wonders to prolong the life of your rope. Not only does it keep the rope clean at the job site, but it protects it from being snagged, cut, or abraded during storage and transit. A small nick or cut caused by snagging the rope on something sharp as it is pulled out of the truck or shop can ruin a whole length of line, and is easily prevented with a rope bag.

5. Inspect It

Regular inspection can alert you to problems and wear on the rope. See below for More Information on inspecting arborist lines, or check out this most excellent article on rope care and inspection from Samson Ropes, the makers of Stable Braid, ArborMaster®, Velocity, and many more of the most-used ropes in arboriculture.

Samson Technical Bulletin: Rope Inspection & Retirement of Arborist Ropes

Samson Technical Bulletin: Rope Inspection & Retirement of Arborist Lines

(Requires Adobe Acrobat which can be downloaded free here)


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