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How to Work with Scaffolding Safely

Working from scaffolding is much easier and safer than working from a ladder. It's stable, forms a wide work platform and provides a wide reach. You'll do a better job in half the time by not having to constantly move a ladder. We show you how to set it up so it's safe and secure.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

  • COST
  • CostCost $20 - $100
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    Renting a section with casters and planks costs about $100 per week, plus delivery. Purchase price is about $650.

How to Work with Scaffolding Safely

Working from scaffolding is much easier and safer than working from a ladder. It's stable, forms a wide work platform and provides a wide reach. You'll do a better job in half the time by not having to constantly move a ladder. We show you how to set it up so it's safe and secure.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

Step 1: Rent scaffolding for those high jobs

The next time you have to work up high, consider renting scaffolding rather than struggling with ladders. Scaffolding provides a large, stable work platform where you can stack materials and set up your tools. With scaffolding, you can easily reach all areas of the repair to do a better job in half the time. And you'll save tons of time and energy by not constantly climbing up and down to reposition your ladder.

Guardrails attached to the top of the scaffold frames allow you to concentrate on the task at hand without worrying about falling. We'll show you how to set up your rented scaffolding so it's safe and secure and then show you a few of the home-repair jobs where scaffolding really shines.

The frame scaffolds we're using (sometimes referred to as “pipe scaffold”) are perfect for exterior work and are available at most full-service rental centers. Also check the Yellow Pages under “Scaffolds, Rental” for businesses that specialize in scaffolding rental and sales. You'll usually get lower rates and expert advice from these specialists.

The setup we show is ideal for most projects around the home. It consists of 5-ft. standard end frames and cross braces to make a 7-ft. long scaffold. In addition to base plates and a guardrail system, the main components of a scaffolding system are the frames and cross braces that you stack and combine end to end to make larger scaffolds. The most common frame size is 5 ft. wide and 5 ft. tall, but other sizes are available depending on your needs.

The distance between frames is determined by the length of the cross braces, 7- and 10-ft being the most common and economical. Rent adjusting screws and base plates for easy leveling on uneven ground (Photo 1). Rent casters if you plan to move the scaffolding. Top the frames with three 7-ft. planks and a guardrail system.

Measure to determine the ideal platform height for your job. Keep in mind that your working height is about 4 to 6 ft. above the scaffold planks. The rental salesperson will help you choose the correct size and style of scaffold for your task.

I'd recommend limiting the height to two sections. After that, stability becomes an issue and you have to take special precautions. Once the height exceeds three times the minimum width of the tower, you must tie the scaffolding to the building at specific intervals. A five ft. wide scaffolding needs to be tied in when it exceeds 15 ft. high. We won't cover scaffold tie-ins in this article. Ask your scaffold-rental specialist for specifics on tie-ins, if necessary.

Most rental centers will deliver and pick up rented scaffold for an additional fee. Otherwise you'll need a pickup truck or trailer.

Step 2: Assemble the frame and base

Even though the basic setup procedure is the same, scaffold hardware varies slightly from one manufacturer to the next. Ask for manufacturer's instructions if your scaffold looks different from that shown here. Photos 1-5 show you how to set up the frame and install the planks.

The key to safe scaffolding is a solid foundation. If the base plates or casters rest on dirt, grass, asphalt or other soft material, put them on top of lengths of 2x10 lumber to prevent them from sinking in (Photo 4). We shimmed the wood pads to level them (Photo 4) because we didn't want to damage the lawn by digging level spots. But a better method is to level a spot with a shovel before placing the 2x10 blocks. Never set the scaffolding on loose fill, snow or next to holes or ditches.

Adjusting screws make leveling the scaffolding easy and safe. Never stack bricks, concrete blocks or scraps of wood under the frame to level it. If your ground slopes more than about a foot over an 8-ft. distance, rent leg extensions. Extreme slopes may require the addition of a short scaffold section under one end of the scaffolding.

Step 3: Add planks and guardrails

Don't be tempted to save money by using your own ordinary wood planks for the work surface—they aren't strong enough. Rent special scaffold planks to cover the frames from side to side. Then install the guardrail posts and rails. Rails aren't required on the side of the scaffolding that faces the building as long as the scaffolding is within 14 in. of the building.

Our scaffolding didn't require them, but if you're working where people might walk below the scaffold structure, wire on 2x4 toe boards to prevent tools and materials from falling and injuring someone. Rest the 2x4 boards upright around the perimeter of the scaffold planks, screw or nail the corners together and attach them to the base of the guardrail posts with No. 10 wire.

Once the scaffolding is assembled and in place, double-check that it's level and resting securely on all four base plates or casters. If it rocks, readjust one of the screws to stabilize the scaffolding. Use the built-in ladders to climb the scaffolding. Don't climb on the cross braces. Recruit a helper to hand materials and tools up to the platform. If you can't reach, use a rope and bucket to pull tools to the top.

Step 4: Scaffolding accessories and tips

Casters allow you to move the scaffolding easily without taking it apart, but take a few extra precautions:
  • Install a special horizontal brace diagonally between the two out side frames to keep them square. Ask your supplier about this.
  • Never roll the scaffolding with tools, materials or passengers on the planks.
  • Lock the casters before climbing the scaffolding.
  • Avoid overhead wires when moving the scaffolding. You could be electrocuted if you bump power lines.
  • Don't roll the scaffolding on steep slopes or near ditches or holes.

Photos 6-8 show a few of the jobs where scaffold rental really pays off. If you have an old house that needs tons of repairs, it might be cheaper in the long run to purchase a basic scaffold setup. Make sure the scaffolding you buy is compatible with scaffold from the local rental shop in case you have to rent additional parts.

Caution!

Don't work around electrical power lines. Watch overhead when moving rolling scaffolding to avoid running into a power line.

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Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

    • Level

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.

    • Scaffolding
    • 2 x 10 pads
    • Shims

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