Now that Daylight Saving Time has ended and our workday during daylight hours is shortening, there’s no avoiding it – fall is here and it’s time to start preparing for winter. In addition to finishing up jobs that have been started, it’s also time to start thinking about seasonal and annual maintenance so that you’re in a good position to start again when spring rolls around.
We talked with Rebecca Seibel, NATS’ Training Manager who’s based in Wisconsin, and she shared some of the maintenance that she does at this time of the year, before the cold weather really sets in.
“Going into winter is a good time — before it’s unpleasantly cold — to do a once over on all vehicles,” says Rebecca. “If they need their annual dielectric test, do that now.”
She adds that while you’re focusing in on vehicles, it’s a good time and do a good clean-out — get rid of any lingering wood chips or twigs that can freeze and make a mess when the spring thaw arrives. When you’re cleaning out the truck, that’s a good time to slow down and really look at the tolls you’re keeping stored.
“A lot of things are inspected on a daily basis as you use them,” says Rebecca. “This time of year is a good time to clean out the truck and inspect everything before putting it back.”
As far as seasonal tools like hedge trimmers and orchard ladders “that you probably won’t be using until spring,” Rebecca says now is a good time to do maintenance by sharpening and oiling blades and making sure ladders are in proper working order. You can also clean and put away your shovels.
Like chainsaws, hedge trimmers and clearing saws take a bit more maintenance, and though they’re checked every time they’re used, it’s worth investing the time now so that they’re ready to go when you need them.
“Check the fuel lines to make sure they’re in good shape, and the fuel bulbs to make sure they don’t have any cracks,” Rebecca advises. “As an aside, on that note, it’s better to use a synthetic, pre-mix fuel — bad fuel degrades plastic pieces.”
Continuing with chainsaws, hedge trimmers and clearing saws, she says, “Once a year it’s nice to change out the fuel filter. Knowing you’re going to run them dry, it’s a good time to change fuel filter and change spark plug. You’ll probably want a new air filter, too, although that’s something that should be replaced more often.
“Make sure the spark arrester is intact on the chainsaw, and all safety features are functional,” she adds.
When it comes to pole pruner heads, Rebecca suggests filing and spritzing them with a high-grade machine oil before storing them away for the season.
Now is also a good time to show your climbing and rigging lines some TLC.
“Now’s a good time to do a wash of those if needed,” says Rebecca. Her technique is to put them into a bucket or a garbage pail that’s meant just for that purpose, add warm water and maybe a little soap and swish them around. Afterwards, hang them loosely to air dry.
Then, “Run your hands to feel picks in the line, flat or dead spots, spots that are glazed or burnt from too much friction, and mystery cuts where it may have been snagged by a pole,” advises Rebecca. She says that “over achievers” will have dates of service on their lines.
“A rigging line might look good, but if it’s used too often, it could be cycle to failure, which is a culmination of stresses,” she says. And while you’re at it, if your harness bridge hasn’t been replaced — it’s usually replaced quarterly or twice a year — do it. “It’s a $20 investment in your life.”
Speaking of rigging, Rebecca says that blocks and pulleys should be inspected with a look and feel test so that the sheave is running smoothly and that the springs are intact. If you come across any nicks or burrs that could catch on the rope, a little sand paper can smooth those out.
Now could be a good time, too, to make your own field maintenance kit to take out into the field with you. In hers, Rebecca includes files, extra chains for the chainsaw, a file guide for a flat file, a bar dressing tool, and a scrench (screwdriver + wrench) in each kit.
Maintenance pertains to all types of gear, including clothing, especially if your work continues through the cold winter months.
“Having worked through many winters, there’s nothing worse than reaching out to make a cut and have an icy cold blast of freezing air hit you,” she says.
To avoid that cold blast happening to you, Rebecca suggests checking under-layers to be sure that there aren’t any air gaps at the wrists and ankles, and where your base layer shirt tucks into your pants. She also suggests wearing long socks to prevent air gaps, a neck gaiter for added warmth and protection, and checking your helmet liner (or balaclava) to make sure it doesn’t interfere with ear protection. Having a couple of pairs of gloves with you is a good idea, too, in case you need to switch out for a dry pair mid-way through a job.
All of this, she says, “makes [cold] days more pleasant.”
Maintaining your equipment so that it’s in top working order is paramount in ensuring your safety in the field.
“It’s like spring cleaning, but in the fall,” says Rebecca. “Inevitably there will be a cold, rainy November day, or a sub-zero day that no one wants to go out. That’s a great day to do all of this maintenance.”
“Make hot chocolate and do stuff, make it a team building activity,” she suggests.
And then you will be ready for the year ahead!
Do you have any fall and winter maintenance tips you’d like to share? Let us know!