PHOTO: Daniel Johnson
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December 24, 2019

Let’s be honest, does anyone really enjoy climbing ladders?

I’m sure everyone has experience using ordinary household ladders—the kind that unfold and stand on their own, providing a handful of steps to help you reach light fixtures, high shelves, etc. for regular maintenance tasks.

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Household ladders work great around the house and in the barn, but if you take them outside, their shortcomings quickly become apparent. It can be tricky to get all four feet to sit firmly on uneven ground, a requirement to prevent the ladder from wobbling dangerously. Plus, household ladders aren’t very tall, so you can only ascend four or five feet before you’re out of room. That makes it tough to paint the front side of a 30-foot barn, doesn’t it? And you’re stuck in one spot unless you repeatedly climb down to move the ladder.

There are other types of ladders, too—household ladders are really just small A-frame ladders (a reference to the shape they form when unfolded), and some A-frame ladders are substantially larger than your typical household ladder, pushing 15 or 20 feet tall. There are also extension ladders that will elevate you to even greater heights, but these are unable to stand alone like A-frame ladders.

That’s why, for many projects, I recommend leaving your ladders behind in favor of versatile, temporary scaffolding.

The type of scaffolding I’m referring to is modular in design. Metal frames connected with diagonal bracing rods allow you to build sturdy scaffolding to exactly the height and width you need. Thick wooden planks are laid across the top of the scaffolding to provide a firm, flat footing for workers, while the frames are designed with ladder-like horizontal bars for climbing up and down the structure.

I put scaffolding to use when constructing a formidable wooden deer fence this summer, and it made the project so much easier. Rather than try to install top boards while standing on a ladder, I built up scaffolding to provide a safer means of working at elevation. This allowed me to stand normally, walk across the scaffolding (mine was 8 feet in length), and keep tools or supplies up within reach. The whole structure was also light enough for a couple of people to pick up and slide down the fence line when one section was complete.

With enough frames and braces, you can theoretically build scaffolding to any height you need, so long as you keep the base broad and strong. However, such ambition is probably unnecessary for most hobby farmers, since even a simple bit of scaffolding 8 feet tall will be plenty for the majority of projects you’ll encounter.

As with any project along these lines, you must proceed carefully when working with scaffolding. Wooden planks and frames can be heavy, so move slowly and methodically when building the scaffolding. Once you’re up and working, stay alert to your surroundings and be careful when walking—you don’t want to fall. Keep track of your tools and don’t knock anything off, especially if there are other workers down on the ground.

Working with scaffolding requires caution, but for complicated projects at lofty heights, I find it safer than using a ladder. For tasks like painting a barn or building a deer fence, scaffolding will make the task easier while providing you with firmer footing.

Good luck with your next project!

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