Update to Portable Aerial Rig Pulley System

If you are up to date with the rest of my Aerial Equipment blogs – Great! This is an update to the pulley system I use with my Ludwig Portable Aerial Rig. If you are just starting out please go back and read my other posts then come back here when you’re ready for more info about pulley systems.

**I am NOT an aerial instructor or rigger. I am NOT a professional. My ideas on safety may not be the same as yours or what a professional aerialist/rigger/instructor recommends. Please refer to a professional if you have questions. Facebook Safety in Aerial Arts Group is a great resource to find the professionals.**

I was contacted by Peter Boulanger, the Artistic & Tech Director of The Underground Circus. I think you can see his comments in the comments section of my blog. I’m going to post his concerns and say that going forward please consider using tandem pulleys opposed to the double pulley in your system. Please read his attached documents and then read our comments from The Underground Circus Facebook post (I’m Amy, if you’re curious.) If you already use the double pulley beware of the rope abraiding while lifting heavy loads. Also keep an eye on the outside safety plates of the pulley for any deformation that may be tell tale signs to take the pulley out of service.

I have not seen this large of a twist in my setup  (I’m not lifting people with my pulleys just the equipment so I don’t see the abrasion of the rope at all) but I do understand that the twist is there and it is putting extreme pressure on the sides of that double pulley that it is not designed for. It would be awful to have something unexpected happen to that pulley in a drop…

Luckily I’ve been playing with different ways to set up pulleys and I have additional pulleys in my arsenal so I can swap out my double pulley without much pain. Ooh, speaking of pain…I did learn a valuable lesson the other day. I DO NOT recommend ever trying to take down the Ludwig rig (from full height) ALL BY YOURSELF. Although, I did get it down to a manageable height so I could swap out the pulleys it was not fun, pretty, or easy. There was a ton of swearing, straining, and a few “OMG what just happened!” moments as the rig started to topple to the side almost crushing into my house. (And that is a major conversation I never want to have with my insurance company bc as you know these rigs are about as coverageable as a trampoline in Florida…use at your own risk). Get someone to help you take that rig down. Learn from my mistake…plus you’re going to need someone’s help to put it back up again anyway.



Additionally, I said above that I’ve been playing with different pulley ideas. This is because I want to be able to use my new Aerial Animals Trapeze as a static trapeze but with the current system it only has one rigging point. Discussing it with my Fiancé he decided to make me a spreader bar with 3 rigging points and we’d use a complicated pulley system to make it work. Well … complicated is rarely the best way to do things and it did not work.

I don’t have many pics of it because I really wasn’t going to write about it…but here it is. The steel spreader bar being painted and getting ready for eyebolts. (The spreader bar is perfect but just not used with the pulley set up that I had in mind.)


I used one rope and 4 single pulleys. I could raise and lower it just using one side of the rope. It looked great.

It seemed to work ok at first if I pulled it up to the top. But it wasn’t real stable and wobbled back and forth and the pulleys would bump each other. Then the final “oh crap, this definitely isn’t going to work” moment was when I put the trapeze up. Even if I used span sets and pulled it to the top the trapeze rocked back and forth (side to side) as I shifted weight from one side to the other. It wasn’t fun…oh it could be worked with as a unique apparatus but it wasn’t at all what I wanted.

Finally, I’ve gone back to the original pulley system (until I change the double out for a tandem set up…). Plus a seperate system for the trapeze: a single pulley for each side. I cut a 100ft rope in half and knotted a loop to attach the trapeze. Then I level each side equally and tie it off on the cleats. So now I have 2 pulley systems on one rig…this only works if you have 5 eyebolts on the top and I have 4 tie off cleats (one on each leg). I choose to tie off the trapeze pulley to the opposite legs of the single-point pulley.

Any questions or comments?

Aerial Equipment Part 6: Portable Aerial Rig *1 Year Outdoor Review

**I am NOT an aerial instructor or rigger. I am NOT a professional. My ideas on safety may not be the same as yours or what a professional aerialist/rigger/instructor recommends. Please refer to a professional if you have questions. Facebook Safety in Aerial Arts Group is a great resource.**

It has been over a year since I purchased my Ludwig Aerial Rig. I still love it and I’m glad I have it. It has been kept up outdoors the entire time. Recently, I took it down and inspected it, then put it back up. I took photos of how it has weathered over the past year.

Ludwig Rig

Purchased and first installed February 2016.

Complete inspection March 2017.
(I do regular inspections of the legs, tie downs, rope, and climb to the top to visually and physically inspect pulleys and connections on every use.)

My biggest concern was to look for rusting on any of the welds on the rig and to make sure all the screws were tight on all connections on rig.

  • There was NO rust on any of the welds.
  • All screws on the legs pieces were still screwed down. There was one screw on the header leg that was not super tight but it was still secure. All quick connects (the buttons) were in place and secure. The header eye bolts were tight (unmovable) and free of rust.
  • There was some surface rust on the inside of the tube of the header and on parts of the legs that were inside the other pieces of leg. There was not not a huge amount of rust. I will continue to monitor it.
    Note: My Fiancé used some grease on the connection legs to reduce friction and be another barrier to prevent rusting (likely not needed but he wanted to do it).
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One year: Surface rust on the leg beam where it was inside of other beam.

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One year: Surface rust on inside of header beam.

  • The area with the most rust were the tie down cleats. These are untreated steel and get wet almost daily from our sprinkler system. I cleaned them with Navel Jelly (soaked them for 15 minutes then scrubbed them off with a green scrubber, did this 4 more times-soaking for 15-25 minute intervals & then scrubbed them before they were clear of the rust.) Then I sprayed them with Rustoleom Clear Primer to slow down future rust.
    Note: I also ordered a brand new set just to have available, if needed. 

Before and after: Tie off cleats.

Soaking cleats in Navel Jelly.

One year: Rust on leg from cleat.

Pulley System

I decided I was going to change out all the hardware on the pulley system when I took down the rig for inspection. I did this for 2 reasons:

  • I was concerned about weathering of the pulleys, carabiner, quicklinks, and rope. The labeling on the carabiner & pulleys say: “For intense use the pulley should be replaced every 12 months, for normal use the pulley should be replaced every 24 months.” I was not intensely using it. (I consider something like zip line use all day long to be intense use. I was only using it to pull aerial equipment up one or twice a week and on the equipment for a few hours at a time.)
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    Pulley labeling.

    But I wasn’t completely comfortable with leaving them out in the elements (sun, wind, and rain) all year and not taken them down for cleaning/thorough inspection.
    AND on my regular inspections, I’d noticed that the top carabiner had some rust on it that concerned me…

  • Aesthetic purposes: I found that Fusion Climbing had come out with all black pulleys. I like that look so much more than the Blue/purple/orange pulleys and the price wasn’t much different on Amazon.
    Note: I confirmed with Fusion Climbing that the Amazon “Shop For Lifestyle” fulfillment company was a licensed distributor. Fusion Climbing also sent me additional information about the pulleys so I was able to confirm the packaging & product was legit.)
    Fusion Matte Black Pulley Flier

    I purchased a new all black rope. The old rope had a yellow stripe in it that I didn’t really care for.

I adore having the pulley system because it is so easy to switch out apparatuses and to take down and store equipment. But it is definitely a piece that requires more inspection and maintenance than if I didn’t have it. That is something to consider when putting together a portable aerial rig system.

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One year: Eyebolts, side pulley and quick links.

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One year: Middle eyebolt, carabiner, and double pulley. Note the rust on the carabiner.

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One year: Side eyebolt, quick links, and pulley. Note how the top quick link doesn’t look like its all the way tightened.

During my big inspection I was curious to how they weathered. This is what I found:

  • The quick links weathered phenomenally. No rust. No damage. I noticed that one wasn’t fully screwed tight. It was closed and the threads engaged but just not fully tight. See above photo.
  • Pulleys
    • The pulley’s color (blue, purple, orange) had faded from the sun.

      One year: Paint color faded.

      One year: Paint color faded.

    • The spinning mechanism did not stick at all. All of the pulleys moved freely. Only slightly less freely than the brand new pulleys.
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      New and one year old pulley: side by side.

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      New and one year old pulley: side by side.

    •  

      The only rust on the pulleys was a small amount on part you clip into where it was being rubbed metal on metal. Other than that the pulleys were very clean after being left up outside all year.

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      One year: Small amount of rust and wear.

    • I cleaned, dried, then lubed/oiled the old pulleys with silicone oil. They now run smooth as ever. I bagged them and will store them for later use.
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Silicone oil. Bought off of Amazon.

  • Top carabiner = Rusted.
    • This was the piece I was most worried about. It was the most ugly. I had noticed it getting rusty about 2 months prior to taking down the rig but did not realize it was as bad as it was until it was off and in my hands. The shine had disappeared. There was visible rust. However, the triple locking mechanism worked fine and was not fused shut and it opened and closed fine.
    • I cleaned it up and lubricated it with graphite. Then I did some research. I found that this rusting is called “Surface Oxidation.”  It is a steel carabiner and they are plated finish to prevent this. After time that coating wears off and they do begin to rust. See last paragraph of this link to Fusion’s Carabiner Information.
    • I’m keeping it for minimal use (I.e. I used it when rigging for an underwater photoshoot.). I think it is fine to use but it is kind of ugly so it won’t be used every day.
      Note: I was also informed that I could use clear nail polish to protect it.
    • I initially replaced it in the pulley system with the same type of steel carabiner because that’s what I had on hand. I have now changed my pulley configuration and have a Maillon Rapide Quick Link 10mm to take its place.
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      New and one year old carabiner.

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      One year: Wear on carabiner.

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      One year: Rust on carabiner.

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      One year: Wear & rust on carabiner.

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      One year: Carabiner after cleaning and oil.

  • Rope.
    • The old rope is still in excellent shape. There is no deformities, breaks, bends, kinks, or abrasions to the outside sheath.
    • It does feel slightly stiffer than the new rope but I think with a wash it will be back to normal.
    • I did research on climbing ropes. Here is an “How to inspect a climbing rope” guide.
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One year: Rope.

Final Thoughts

First question:

I have heard people ask if they can keep their rig up year-round.

My opinion:

For the Ludwig rig in Florida is YES

  • BUT make sure you are constantly inspecting it for wear, rust, screws that are loosening, etc.
  • Ludwig has also commented that he has kept a rig up year round in Colorado and it has not had issues. If you have more questions, I refer you back to the makers of the rigs. Please read all the info on his website about his rig. Ludwig Rig
  • There is also a lot of information on the Safety in Aerial Group on Facebook. Please join and use the search function to look up questions. (Outdoor, aerial rig, portable, pulley, free standing = these are good places to start.)

Second question:

Can the pulley system be kept up year round?

My opinion:

For my pulley system in Florida is also YES with a few considerations.

  • Think about how much use and weathering the pulleys and the rope are taking. My rig was used only by myself for a few hours once or twice a week (so not that much use). You may want to change out parts or the entire system once a year or do a complete inspection/cleaning of the system and evaluate replacing the system (at least once a year).
  • I feel like with cleaning and lubrication of the pulleys and cleaning of the rope I could continue to use the old system. I have changed out my system for aesthetic reasons not purely because I needed to retire the other system.

Note my shed that holds all my mats and other aerial and circus equipment.

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Aerial Rigging: Carabiners/Quick Links/Shackles? 

Early in my aerial training one of my instructors asked me to “check a carabiner.” Sure, no problem. Look at it. Check! Make sure it’s locked. Check! Easy peasy! Now I try to make a habit of checking biners whenever I go up on equipment. Yes, I have found a few carabiners that were not locked, carabiners that were cross loaded, carabiners that are overloaded and carabiners that are stuck closed/open or damaged. As an aerial student it’s important to ask questions and learn about the equipment you are using.

As I was writing this blog, I found these videos from Vertical Art Dance. Please take a few minutes to watch them. I learned I was currently making rigging mistakes. I’m heading back to make some new purchases and update my hardware. I need to stop relying so much on carabiners and think about using Quick Links and shackles more often.

Aerial Rigging The Carabiner Talk Part 1

Aerial Rigging The Carabiner Talk Part 2, Overloaded Carabiners
*I have been overloading my spansets for my lyra into carabiners.

Aerial Rigging: The Carabiner Talk Part 3, 3 Way Loading
*I have been 3-way loading my lyra spansets onto one carabiner. I knew it wasn’t ideal but I didn’t know it was a bad mistake.

Why is this important? Remember the Ringling Hair Chandelier accident? It was due to an improperly loaded connector. Review the article and some of the comments. Then look around at what is being used at your studio or your own set up and ask questions. Is it safe? Is there a better way to rig it? Why did they/you decide to rig that way?

Here are some tips about connectors for aerial rigging:

CARABINERS

  • Before use, carabiners (and all connectors) should be inspected. Damaged or worn carabiners/connectors should NOT be used. Visually check for any stress. Look for bending, corrosion, excessive wear, or cracking. The locking mechanisms should have smooth operation. If it doesn’t take it out of service and don’t use it.
  • Carabiners need to be oiled (& cleaned) regularly. Sometimes locking biners stop working just because they haven’t been oiled.
  • Screw down, so you don’t screw up! It may not be a huge deal in aerial, especially if you are using auto lock biners, but it can help keep screw gate carabiners locked if there is anything that might rub on the screw gate and unlock it. Examples: a hand grabbing the biner, a knee locking around it, a rope/spanset rubbing against it, or even vibrations loosening the the screw. This video explains in a bit better. Not much of an issue with auto lock biners but its not a bad habit to get into for all biners just in case. *If you don’t know the difference between a screw gate and an auto lock carabiner please watch the above videos again and read the Simply Circus link below.

Carabiners are designed to take a load only along the major axis:

  • Do not cross-load a carabiner. Loads should only be placed lengthwise along the major axis. If a carabiner is loaded widthwise it could fail especially with a drop or abrupt change in motion. They are a lot less strong widthwise (up to 70% less).
  • Do not overload a carabiner. Review Video Part 2 again. Spansets can easily overload a carabiner. Rigging a silk directly to a carabiner will also overload it.https://rescueresponse.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/RoundSlingBinerBreak.jpg
  • Do not 3-way load a carabiner. Review Video Part 3 again. I’ve seen this a lot in rigging. So much that I thought it was normal. But its not. It is a mistake in rigging. See above pictures of rigging a double-point Lyra. Have you rigged this way? Which way is the best?
    Riggers have been lucky only because they use a large safety ratings (2000-5000 lbs). It is a better idea to use hardware that is designed for 3-way loads (an anchor shackel or a Quick Link).
    This is an interesting video that shows testing tri-loading carabiners. Its focus is on slacklining, not aerial, but its still good info.
  • The D-shaped carabiners are usually stronger than the oval carabiners…but only if the load is verticle down the long end of the carabiner. *I’m re-thinking how to rig the pulley on my outdoor rig I was going to use a 50kN steel D-shaped biner at the top but now I might look for a Quick Link or shackle so its not overloaded.

Please read this reference on carabiners from Simply Circus: Carabiners.

There are tons of places to buy carabiners. I’ve purchase mine from Aerial Essentials and Fusion Climbing. I like the sleek black coatings that they offer. They are more expensive than the regular stainless steel biners.

*I’ve been buying steel (vs aluminum) carabiners because I believe they will last longer than aluminum. I am planning to write a blog about that debate.

SHACKLES

I have heard/read that many professional riggers are recommending using shackles instead of carabiners. Especially if it is a permanent connection. Carabiners are designed for quick/temporary connection.

  • Shackles are a lot stronger than carabiners
  • 2 main types of shackles: Anchor/Bow shackle can connect 2 or more rigging pieces together while a Chain/”D” shackle is designed to connect components in a straight line. See the Simply Circus link below for more info and pictures.
  • Shackles will decrease the amount of height lost when using a carabiner (average shackle is 3″ vs 5″ carabiner).
  • For aerial you can use a screw pin shackle that can be moused/locked in place with a zip tie after they are screwed tight. (You could also use metal wire to mouse it.)
  • UPDATE: Load only in one direction on the pin of a shackle. Use the bell to collect the legs of a bridal. (In other words: when 3-way loading, put 2 loads on the bell and 1 load on the pin.)
  • My fiance calls them “bull nose” As in: “Amy, why are you using carabiners when you should just get a bull nose? They are safer for you.” (I had no idea what he was talking about. Until now)

Please read this reference on shackles from Simply Circus: Shackles. This link has a ton of information with pictures of different shackles, how to inspect & clean and even how to mouse a shackle.

You can buy shackles MANY places. This is an example of all the different types at Rigging Warehouse.

QUICK LINKS

I’m just learning about Quick Links (or screw links). I didn’t even know what they were up until about a month ago.

  • Quick Links come in several different shapes. Depending on your need, you may want to use a triangle/tri-link/delta/square Quick Link to attach spansets to a swivel for a double point lyra (instead of 2 carabiners into a swivel-see Part 3 video above)
  • To avoid overloading a carabiner with a spanset, consider using a Quick Link (again I refer back to the videos above). Review the Quick Link shapes to see which may be the best fit.
    Update: Delta and tri-link Quick Links are for vertical use only. They are wider to be used with webbing.
  • Link to Petzl Maillion Rapide technical info
  • Ratings are significantly lower when cross-loaded. (Ex. a Quick Link that is rated 25kN on major axis can be rated 10kN on minor axis)
  • When tightened with a wrench Quick Links can be considered a permanent connector.

I am attaching several links that have more Quick Link information:

Aspiring Safety Products:  This has Quick Link ratings and a description of why and what they use particular shapes.

You can buy Quick Links at MANY places. This is an example of all the different types at Rigging Warehouse. I’ve read that many people recommend Maillion Rapide Quick Links because they have very good reliability.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on connector use and aerial rigging?

*Interesting solutions to “fix” tri-loading carabiners and spansets (or Quick Links) from a slackline point of view. Remember to consider the ratings on the spansets when putting them into different shapes: basket, chocker, etc.  Triloading 101