Tools of The Trade

(A Guide for Arena Riggers)


Ok, you’ve decided that you’re going to take this seriously and you need to tool up. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen riggers show up on the call empty handed. If you plan on working at height, you’ll need to purchase an OSHA approved full body harness. The days of riggers climbing scaff in sit harnesses, or strolling out onto the beam with no harness, are gone. There are lots of options,  you will find most guys using Petzl or Yates harnesses, these are great brands and trusted for a reason but, contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to spend $400 on a harness and another $180 on a double lanyard.If you look around at PK Safety you will find an assortment of OSHA compliant full body harnesses at reasonable prices. Personally, I prefer a harness with central and sternal D rings as well as the mandatory dorsal attachment, so that I can comfortably  perform a rescue.

Next on your list is a rope, A rigger without a rope is, well as my mentor Jimmy Mullen would say “what the hell good are you without a rope, you may as well go downstairs and push boxes”. As far as I’m concerned there are only a couple of options, 5/8″(16mm) solid braid multifilament polypropelene or a 5/8″ (16mm) dynamic line, I prefer the latter. As far as length, my standard answer is “20′(7 meters)longer than the roof is tall”, this works as a general rule but there are rooms where a longer rope is necessary if you are running lines to the catwalks.  Some guys will only need one rope but a good rigger is worth their weight in gold and you should plan on getting around. You can get a decent deal on a 600′ (183 meter) spool of rope and cut from that as you start working in different rooms. I like All Line Inc as a supplier.

I see guys pulling points with smaller diameter lines, usually because they prefer to pull points through a small wheel and it won’t accommodate the larger line. These people are making it harder on themselves. By the time your small diameter line passes over the small diameter pulley the added tension you’re creating negates the advantage of the wheel, and the thin diameter line is not easy to grip or friendly on your hands. For the most part, if you’re not dealing with extreme heights or weights, the easiest way to pull is hand over hand, from the beam. When you are in a situation that calls for pulling through a wheel you should use the appropriate tools. Pigeon Mountain Inc has a wide selection of steel pulleys, CMI  also has an assortment of steel pulleys intended for use with 5/8″ (16mm) rope, they also make a rope grab of the appropriate size. I’m also a big fan of the Gibbs ascender in a 5/8″ (16mm) as a rope grab. Put these together with a steel rescue carabiner, a small steel carabiner and a couple RSI omnislings and you have a solid set up for hauling points to the ceiling. I see the Petzl Protraxion in use a lot, I like it in ways but, for me, as stated above, I don’t like to use line within the recommended range for this device, so it doesn’t fit my needs. If you do use the Protraxion you should always use a carabiner in the bottom and top attachment points to prevent unwanted opening.

I also feel a drawstring bag can be very useful for carrying a radio, bottle of water, small tools or anything else you need and don’t want to drop. There are lots of companies that make chalk bags which is a common preference, I prefer the Yates small bolt and tool bagYou will also need some head protection, personally I prefer to use a climbing helmet in the air, and a hardhat on the ground. Whatever your choice make sure its ANSI Z89.1 compliant, most climbing helmets are not.

For me these basic tools cover most arena rigging needs in the air, as you progress in your work you will acquire whatever other odds and ends you find you’ll need to fill out your kit. I’m leaving gloves out of this as I feel it’s a personal choice, I generally don’t wear gloves and if I do I prefer fingerless gloves for handling shackle pins.

If you want to complete your kit you will need a couple of tools to work on the ground. A laser level is a key tool in leading a team though the roof, there are a lot of options and I think I’ve tried them all. Of the easily available choices, I like the Bosch GPL3, the PLS3 is a good deal brighter and I do own one and like it but I find that they don’t hold up to the rigors we put them through. A good ground person will also carry a tape measure on their belt. A distometer is handy to have but certainly not essential for most, in my opinion.

So what’s in your kit….

8 thoughts on “Tools of The Trade

  1. I very much appreciate all of the links here, very helpful to me as I slowly build up my gear.

    I don’t know if this is the proper thread, but on the subject of purchasing rope; I have been advised that getting a bunch of guys together and buys a full spool of rope at a time is the best way to go, as it is possible to to get a better price. Would anyone be interested/ know of anyone that would be interested in going in on an order?

    • Theres no right or wrong place but in the equipment forum might be a better option. I know Freddy push-ups was talking about ordering some rope.

  2. I’m in the UK, and I would say thinner lines (like 10mm) are pretty common, people also use Pro Traxions a lot. I prefer a chunky rope and Harken ratchet pulleys, as they only slow feeding rope out rather than stop it altogether, and they will take a 5/8″ line no problem. Also popular with some are chain grabs, IE the steel hooks off clutch chains. Just a bit easier for lifting chains than clove hitches.

    In my opinion it is seldom the top riggers who are under-equipped, it’s the ground riggers. In part, because we use new riggers as grounders, I think. IMO ground riggers should have a reasonably well stocked tool kit.

    A plumb-dot laser is obviously essential, as you say the Bosch ones are pretty good, PLS also good but very expensive and as you say fragile. Dunno about there but here you can get a ‘Stanley Fat Max’ laser for about £100 ($150?) which are really tough and as bright as PLS. Or Hilti lasers are pretty much the dogs but again $$$. I do find a Leica laser disto really useful, but should never be used as dots (as people try to) because they never sit straight!

    Spanner wise, as riggers you can normally get away with 19 & 24, but a 21 (scaffold size) is a good thing to have. My 19-21 podger is only a year old and it’s absolutely battered, it’s in use every day. If you are in the business of GP truss then a rattle gun is also a very good idea unless you see work as a paid gym session.

    I find a claw hammer useful with conical connector (IE prolyte / XO) truss. The rigging / lighting company will never send them out – only nylon hammers – as claw hammers do tend to mushroom the pins when used by over-zealous locals. But for a piece of truss that’s been heavily loaded for a day or two, there is little better for getting sticky pins out than a well aimed blow with a weighty claw hammer. Nylon hammers (or comedy hammers, as we call them) just don’t deliver the same kind of punishment and you’ll be there a while.

    Chunky chalk is a greatly overlooked necessity, for writing on the floor. Liquid chalk is good if it’s a smooth concrete floor but it’s naff all good on rough concrete, and pretty naff on painted wood decks (IE outdoor stages) too, so traditional chalk is something everyone should have!

    LX tape is not just for LX, it’s also quite good for writing on black things (IE motor bodies, flight case lids, etc), and is useful for doubling up roundslings. You can also tape a shackle captive into the end of a roundsling so you can throw it over a beam with a bit more momentum.

    Low voltage motor pickles are something you should own, especially if you’re loading out the last show of a tour, as the tours tend to lose them. (Ever wondered where the other riggers got theirs from?!).

    A pair of needle nose pliers is really good for getting jammed split pins out of safety shackles and wedge sockets, if you value your fingernails.

    A dogging tool for 6mm steel rope is an absolute necessity that nobody seems to own.

    Head torches are under-rated and it’ll never do any harm to have one.

    And finally, it’s a great idea to get on all the major truss manufacturers’ websites, and download all their loading tables (almost ALWAYS available as PDFs). Download them onto your smartphone and use an app like ‘cloudreaders’ to view them. It can never hurt to be able to recall that information. Equally, the app ‘LX Handbook’ can be useful, it has the specs of thousands of lighting fixtures stored in the app (offline), so you can quickly find the weights and give yourself an idea of what’s hanging on something, rather than taking some lampy’s word for it.

    I know people will be thinking ‘yeah and a van to carry it in’, but it’s really not that much and a decent tool belt will sort that out. Some of it can stay in your bag when you don’t need it, and as you do more gigs you’ll begin to be able to work out which bits you can leave at home. Rock n roll shows probably won’t need the pliers or the dogging tool, but exhibitions will.

  3. Thank you Dave for your detailed response. You made me realize how arena centric this post was. You make some great points that I would completely agree with when we are doing large steel builds. I’ll put up a pic of my outdoor ground bag/belt this week. And yeah, I forgot chalk, I like the railroad chalk from McMaster Carr.

  4. Awesome posts!!

    I’m hoping to transition into arena rigging and this has been very helpful. Since I started in the industry, my tool collection has slowly been growing as I’ve found things to be needed/useful. This is a great list of things to consider. Thank you! Ben and Dave.

  5. Ground rigger in the states:
    1.Laser, types noted above
    2.C wrench, mine is also a spud wrench
    3.Spud wrench
    4.Fat Max 30 or 35 feet long
    5.Minimum of 1 100ft long cloth reel tape
    6.Chalk I just use sidewalk chalk
    7.Claw hammer
    8.Gloves if prefered I don’t use them but many do
    9.Pocket pickle
    10.E tape(electrical tape)
    11.Black gaff
    12.Radio for talking to up riggers
    13.Hard Hat
    14.Multi tipped screwdriver( good for cable repair or popping a motor cap if allowed)
    15.Diagonal pliers( Same reason as 14)

  6. 1.Laser.
    2.Chalk, I also use sidewalk chalk.
    3.Copper hammer, good impact, less damage.
    5.Harnas with accessoires.(Petzl)
    6.Multiple Ropes (also for rope acces).
    8.Range of tools in case my Leatherman wont do the job properly.
    9.Camera for Portfolio and damaged stuff.
    10.Hard Hat (Petzl)
    12.Flashlight and Headlight
    13.Custum made Earplugs

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