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Whether aware of it or not, every crew member, from the highest climber to the lowliest branch manager, spends a majority of the work day dealing with and attempting to manage friction. Although many tree folk may think of the personal friction they have with fellow workers, managers, customers, or even their respective families and spouses, the reality is that the physical quality of friction in their knots and hitches, climbing/rigging lines, and those lovely arboreal structures is far more prevalent in their daily routine.

Friction: How to manage it in climbing operations

By Michael “House” Tain


Whether aware of it or not, every crew member, from the highest climber to the lowliest branch manager, spends a majority of the work day dealing with and attempting to manage friction.

Although many tree folk may think of the personal friction they have with fellow workers, managers, customers, or even their respective families and spouses, the reality is that the physical quality of friction in their knots and hitches, climbing/rigging lines, and those lovely arboreal structures is far more prevalent in their daily routine.

Even the simplest of knots relies on the friction of the rope fibers against itself to function; and anyone who has fought against the friction provided by a shag bark hickory or has had the line zip through their hands over the smooth surface of a eucalyptus has experienced the properties of friction firsthand. Simple actions such as body thrusting up the trunk of a tree are inordinately influenced both positively and negatively by the presence of friction at the tie-in point (TIP); and almost the entire art and science of rigging involve either the application of friction or its reduction.

Although friction is ever-present in tree care, a few simple tools and techniques can help make its management much easier; and help tree crews understand how to use it to their advantage whenever possible whether in climbing or rigging applications. In short, energy expended overcoming friction is energy wasted when climbing; and energy spent providing friction in rigging is also energy wasted, better to use available tools and techniques to save all that energy for the work at hand.

This article will primarily discuss climbing operations, as to discuss rigging also would exceed the space available, but the basic principles remain the same. The one caveat, of course, is that devices or tools used to manage friction in rigging are never used afterward to manage friction in climbing operations; this mixing of gear that has been exposed to unknown rigging forces can lead to catastrophic failures when someone’s life is, quite literally, on the line. In addition, the majority of devices discussed here are intended for climbing system forces; and may fail rather spectacularly if used in rigging operations.



A Cambium Saver in place for installation on a climbing line being pulled aloft by a throwline with a slip knot to keep the device in place beneath it.


The Cambium Saver in place in the desired TIP, prior to the final step of pulling the slip knot loose from the ground.


The Cambium Saver ready to be climbed on after the slip knot has been pulled loose.
Photo by Michael “House” Tain




Cambium Saver and Caterpillar Friction Saver

These devices are probably the simplest in design for managing friction; and are extremely easy to install and remove from the ground. The Cambium Saver consists of a leather tube that the line passes through, thereby reducing friction and wear on the tree’s cambium, while the Caterpillar is constructed from flexible conduit that accomplishes the same tasks. Once the climber has isolated the desired TIP with the throwline, the climbing line is pulled up and over the TIP with the Cambium Saver or Caterpillar already on the rope. A simple slip knot keeps the leather/conduit tube from slipping down the line. Once it has reached its desired location over the top of the branch, the climber pulls the slip knot free from the ground, setting the device in place. Due to these devices’ simple and rugged constructions, they can simply be pulled out with a stopper knot at the end of the climb; however, this does allow for the possibility of them tying themselves around a branch on the way down to the ground. Attaching a throwline to the end of the line with the stopper knot eliminates this possibility.
















In the first step of installing a Friction Saver, with throwline already installed in desired TIP, pass throwline through both rings, and reattach bag on other side of small ring.


In the second step of Friction Saver installation, pull on the throwline passed through the large ring raising the Friction Saver to just beneath the desired TIP. Pulling at a slight angle will help prevent twisting and tangling.


With a quick snap, pull the small ring and throwbag over the desired TIP and release the throwline immediately to reduce the chance of entanglement.


In the final step of Friction Saver installation, the throwline is used to pull the climbing line through the two rings.
Photo by Michael “House” TainFriction Saver

There are a variety of devices bearing this title, with the original consisting of a heavy-duty webbing strap with either steel or aluminum rings sewn in at both ends, while others may be adjustable to “choke” up on the trunk or branch, and constructed of cordage with different attachment points than rings. Many of the Friction Saver genre may be both installed and retrieved from the ground, though it certainly is not required for its use. In fact, in brushy, densely canopied trees, it may be faster and more efficient to carry the Friction Saver aloft, and install it in the desired TIP upon arrival, then take advantage of the reduced friction to work the tree. Though more complex to install, this device reduces friction a great deal more than the Cambium Saver. The original Friction Saver has both a large ring and a small ring, and the small ring will not pass through the large. This unique design feature is what allows it to be installed and removed fairly easily from the ground with a modest amount of practice. There are various ways to install a Friction Saver, but a fairly common method, once the climber has isolated the desired TIP, is to pass one end of the throwline through the large ring, and the other through the small. A throw bag is attached to the throwline that passes through the small ring, and the excess throwline is pulled through the large ring until the throw bag begins to lift the small ring of the Friction Saver. Care must be taken to use a throw bag with a large enough ring that will not pass through the small ring, and also to ensure that there are no bends or twists in the Friction Saver itself. A large loop has now been formed with the throwline going over the branch and down through both rings of the Friction Saver. The small ring is pulled up to just beneath the TIP, and then snapped quickly over it, with the climber immediately releasing tension on the throwline. This immediate release of tension will help reduce the likelihood of violent swings or twists entangling the Friction Saver, and will encourage the throw bag to descend rapidly. With both ends of the throwline now on the ground, the climber simply unties the throw bag, attaches the climbing line, and pulls it up and through both rings. Removal of this device should only be done with a throwline in a controlled manner to prevent any damage to the Friction Saver, and to allow room for operator error.


Buck Blocks or MagBloc

This device, designed and developed by Scott Prophett and Scott Winningham, and introduced to the tree care industry previously by Buckingham, is intended primarily for rigging applications but can certainly be used for climbing operations as long as the users keep the respective MagBlocs exclusive to their climbing or rigging applications (remember, never the twain shall meet). The Buck Blocks provide users with the capability to climb out of an actual block at the TIP, improving the rope’s bend radius and reducing friction immensely, while still being easily installed and removed from the ground through the use of throwline, much like the two-ring Friction Saver. The rope, once installed, runs through a rope channel across the two rotating sheaves, while the separate halves of the device are held securely together by rare earth magnets. The amount of friction reduction, due to the two rotating sheaves, is greater than either the Cambium or Friction Saver, while still protecting both the tree and rope from contact and associated wear.



This device, manufactured by Teufelberger, can also be installed from the ground and includes two stainless-steel thimbles that the climbing line runs through. In addition, the fimblSaver has an element of adjustability provided by the Prusik that secures one of the thimbles to the body of the device. A tapering seam in the body of the device is intended to make it easier to pull the fimblSaver off the branch or TIP.


Rope Guide

This device, manufactured by ART, must be carried aloft to install, but can be removed from the ground safely and securely in a number of ways. The Rope Guide is a camming device with a pulley that provides the TIP for the climbing line. Its camming action allows it to be adjusted to a wide variety of lengths, and even cinched up against a bare trunk where no branch attachment point exists. The Rope Guide is adjusted to the desired length, the pulley passed through a large ring, and the climbing line then passed through the pulley. The chosen removal method will dictate additional steps that may need to be taken with this device. In addition, the Rope Guide’s pulley provides extremely smooth rope movement with the largest reduction of friction of many of the devices discussed here. An integrated impact-activated rip stop lanyard also reduces the shock load experienced by the climber and the anchor point in the event of an excessive “drop” into the climbing line.


Crew/climber creativity

Although the devices discussed here are a sample of the manufactured friction management tools available, there is certainly no reason that crews and climbers cannot use their own creativity to create their own unique friction management devices; and many do just that. Tree folk wishing to explore this option must only remember that each component of the created device meet the strength standards required for personal support; and realize that the hard, gritty nature of tree work requires a measure of durability not always found in many types of cordage and hardware. Many of the devices mentioned previously began their journey to the marketplace in just this fashion. Who knows, the next one may be hanging off someone’s harness right now.


Friction management is a part of everyday life in tree care; and once considered and measures or devices are implemented to help manage it, crews will find their work lives much easier — though they still may have friction with the boss or at home. Although some might say that the time required to put friction management devices in place is time wasted, the reality is that the energy and cambium saved through their use leads to greater efficiency and healthier trees.



Michael “House” Tain is a contract climber, splicer, educator and writer associated with North American Training Solutions www.northamericantrainingsolutions.com and Arbor Canada Training and Education www.arborcanada.com. He is currently located in Lancaster, Ky., and can be reached via e-mail at house@houseoftain.com.



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