If you're tired of fighting with your rusty old pump jacks or trying to squeeze one more job out of those twisted, chewed-up double 2x4 poles, consider upgrading to one of the state-of-the-art aluminum scaffolds made by Alum-A-Pole or Qual-Craft Industries. Your crews will be faster, safer, and happier working from one of these systems, which we put to work with Rosewood Construction, one of Boulder Colorado's leading custom builders.
Set-Up: Both Alum-A-Pole and Qual-Craft provide rugged, square aluminum poles, pump jacks, workbench brackets, braces, and padded bases. Qual-Craft also makes a spike-bottomed base that anchors the pole into the ground and would be great on sloping sites. Place a second-tier staging platform on either system's workbench brackets and you have a waist-high cutting station that also serves as a safety top-rail.
Only Alum-A-Pole provides its own aluminum staging platforms, workbenches, safety net, and safety end-rails that come OSHA-approved as a system. If you go with Qual-Craft, you'll have to get your own platforms and set up your own safety provisions to meet OSHA regulations.
Setting up each system is pretty similar. The aluminum poles come in a variety of lengths you can extend with additional pole segments. You feed the workstation brackets and pump jacks onto the poles the same way for both systems, then clamp the top braces onto the poles in a similar way. Both systems have safety/security chains that hold the platforms on the jacks. And both companies' pump jacks ride up and down the poles smoothly, without any chattering.
Poles: Both companies' various pole lengths can be joined to reach different work heights. However you can stack more sets of Alum-A-Pole's poles together than you can with Qual-Craft's if you need to get higher than 48 feet (that's Qual-Craft's limit).
We used each company's 24-foot-long poles for this review. Their slip-resistant rubber surfaces display the most obvious difference. Alum-A-Pole installs a flat, continuous rubber surface on the outside of its poles. Qual-Craft uses a rubber extrusion held in place with two continuous aluminum caps, that leave three strips of non-slip rubber exposed.
We didn't try this, but Qual-Craft says you can easily replace the rubber in the field in one hour by unscrewing these caps. If you ever need to replace them, Qual-Craft will send new rubber strips overnight. Alum-A-Pole dealers will replace their rubber or swap poles with you if needed.
Braces: Both companies' top braces clamp onto the poles; that's easier done on the ground before tilting the poles up. Alum-A-Pole's clamping system is easier to use and seems sturdier than the wing-nut clamp on Qual-Craft's brace, but both braces proved equally frustrating to properly adjust and fasten to a sloped roof.
Platforms: Alum-A-Pole makes its aluminum platforms and workbenches mate together for longer runs. They make a flush joint so there's no 1-1/2-inch "heart-attack" step from overlapped 2x12 planks. The aluminum platforms' aggressive perforations provide incredible traction, even in winter. Qual-Craft doesn't make or sell platforms and workbenches, but its pump jacks accept platforms made by a variety of other companies.
Jacks: Riding both of these pump jack systems on their aluminum poles is a dream; both systems install easily and operate smoothly and safely. You can adjust the width on both companies' jacks and workstation brackets for different-width platforms. Alum-A-Pole's adjusts by loosening two wing-nuts and sliding the bracket along slotted openings. That's a little easier than Qual-Craft's system, which requires you to completely remove two bolts and reinsert them into fixed positions. Alum-A-Pole's rubber foot loop swivels on the foot-pump; Qual-Craft's doesn't.
Operation: Both systems operate like that of other pump jacks. Alum-A-Pole and Qual-Craft give smooth rides in both directions. Their jacks allow you to ride down with your foot still in the foot-pump stirrup, and you can adjust the rate of decent on each handle. Qual-Craft's pump handles have a tendency to reseat themselves into their safety positions as you crank. You have to consciously hold them in proper position while lowering the staging.
Both companies' crank handles lock in as secondary safety brakes. Both systems seem to operate with great control and safety. Alum-A-Pole knurls the surface of its safety brake to give it more grip on the rubber surface, but both systems are a breeze to operate.
Costs: Once you figure in the same components, both systems are comparably priced. Alum-A-Pole's basic 24x24 system (two 24-foot poles, two 24-foot platforms, two pump jacks, workbench brackets, braces, bases, safety net, and rails) costs about $2,700. Qual-Craft's 24-foot poles, jacks, workbench brackets, braces, and bases cost about $1,350. If you add in about $1,000 for another company's 24-foot platforms and a few hundred bucks for safety railings, you end up spending between $2,500 and $2,700.
Despite their hefty price tags, buying into one of these systems seems like a no-brainer to me. And with the potential time savings and increased safety -- not to mention morale -- you'll wonder why you waited so long to make the change. Contact: Alum-A-Pole, 800-421-2586, www.alum-a-pole.comeaxyawrztaccvtaxfraexavutudzyvawd; Qual-Craft, 800-231-5647, www.qualcraft.com