Small-scale Scaffolding – is it Worth the Trouble?

Scaffolding is something that is often associated primarily with larger construction projects such as apartment complexes and skyscrapers, but can be useful on a smaller scale as well. First of all, what is scaffolding? Perhaps we’ve seen ongoing construction in passing, and wondered what the maze of checkered piping systems built around the perimeter of buildings were for.

Well, that’s scaffolding! It’s basically a system of catwalks surrounding a given building under construction or remodeling, for the purpose of providing physical access to workmen. Without scaffolding, it would be very difficult for work to be done on any building or structure over a couple meters high. Although many developing nations still use bamboo, modern scaffolding is composed mainly of galvanized steel or aluminum.

Simply put, steel tubes or pipes are extended in a horizontal and vertical fashion, intersecting each other at given intervals, creating a sort of “criss-cross” pattern around a perimeter under construction. There are tubes of various lengths, connectors, clamps, joints, couplers, jacks, and a host of other accessories used to create often complex scaffolding in and around tight residential areas where space is limited.

The piping will either be doubled to provide support for a walkway, or side brackets will be used. In either case, there will be horizontal catwalks spaced every 2 meters or so, vertically, for workmen to walk and comfortably go about their work. Most countries have scaffolding codes in place to ensure safety. Guard rails and exterior netting or sheets to prevent tools and supplies from falling on pedestrians are some required safety precautions.

So how would you benefit from scaffolding as someone who does fix-it jobs around the house? Well, for the most part, you probably won’t. But there may come a time when you decide to take on something a little bigger – such as building a 2-story deck, etc – and may need something like this. Just remember, scaffolding doesn’t have to be those “steel tubes” you see being used by professionals.

For example, bamboo makes a perfectly fine scaffolding! Many countries still use it, so how bad could it be? The important thing is that it should be easy and quick to put up and take down – as well as strong enough for you to safely work on it! One thing’s for sure, and that is that it’s cheaper to buy some scrappy wood to make yourself some scaffolding (for smaller projects), than to hire a company to do it for you!

Scaffolders charge not only for putting it up, but for the time it’s up for as well. So unless you’re thinking of finishing your deck in a week or less, it might be better to find some way to get it yourself. The basic concept of wooden, “diy” type scaffolding would be to – similar to the steel types – erect your initial vertical poles with base plates under them to prevent them from sinking, and attach them horizontally with identical timber to form

Bamboo scaffolding in Wang Chai, Hong Kong

a system of square frames.

You would then secure diagonal bracing to counter the shear load. And before you get too far along, you should connect the entire structure to your building – well, half-built building. This goes without saying that you wouldn’t start putting your scaffolding up until your building at least has its foundation and self-supporting exterior bone frame. Whether you decide to rig up 45 degree angle boards to lay your walking supports on is up to you.

The alternatives are either to go without – which means you would virtually be tight-roping on one wooden beam – or double up your entire scaffolding system. Personally, I would go for the 45 degree “bracket style” rig as a happy medium between asking to land in the mud and doubling your scaffolding budget. Remember, always put safety first! And a few last tips:

– Use screws so you can dismantle it for reuse after you’re done with it.
– Mark key measurements on your timber for easy future reference.
– Don’t cut timber unless you have to.
– If you can’t connect directly to your building for any reason, you must support it some other way! Rig up diagonal bracing to ensure it can stand alone under various loads – including wind.

(Watch this video for basic scaffolding terminology and visual aids.)


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