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The Woody Painter

In many cases herbicide is the best way to treat infestations of woody invasive species. Painting herbicide directly onto the vertical stems can be an excellent way to apply herbicide. Unfortunately, there are few good commercial applicators for such pinpoint work.

Frustrated by this lack of available equipment, John Bakewell, an arborist in Massachusetts, decided to create his own herbicide applicator. Thus, he developed what we call the "Woody Painter," but what he calls the "Deathstick"!

In some situations, Bakewell has found that simply using a paint roller with a foam sleeve works perfectly well to apply herbicide to the stems of woody invaders. (The ever-poetic Bakewell calls this incarnation of herbicide applicator his "Paintinator".) However, in high stem densities the bent-rod frame of the Paintinator is clumsy and awkward.

To make the applicator more streamlined and slender, Bakewell mounts the foam roller onto the end of a long 1/4 inch-diameter stainless steel tube or solid aluminum rod. (An advantage of the solid rod is that you do not have to worry about herbicide accumulating inside it, while this can be an issue with a hollow steel tube.) The tip of the tube (or rod) is ground into a bullnose shape so the roller sleeve easily slides on. The foam roller (1 inch diameter, 4 inches long) has an internal plastic bearing that fits snugly over the stainless steel tube. Once in place, the roller stays on the tube by friction. This incarnation is the "Deathstick."

The "Deathstick" applicator also has a custom handle made of a 10 inch section of 1/2 inch PVC pipe with end cap fittings. The stainless steel tube fits into the PVC handle via 1/4 inch holes drilled into the end caps, and is glued into place.

Bakewell has found that foam rollers labeled for oil-based paint have chemical resistance to oil based herbicides, and have the added advantage of having a protruding spongy end so they can be used to dab herbicide directly on the stems.

Deathstick and Paintinator
The "Deathstick" (top) and "Paintinator" (below)

Herbicide Reservoir
To apply herbicide to the foam roller, Bakewell uses either an 8 ounce laboratory wash bottle, or a 16 ounce pump oil can with flexible nozzle. The dispenser is attached to a large transparent plastic jar so that the dispenser nozzle squirts into the plastic jar. Exactly how you attach the dispenser to the jar depends upon the jar and dispenser you use. Duct tape is adequate for Bakewell's laboratory wash bottle, but for the oil can dispenser he relied upon the ingenuity of the crew at a local welding shop, who attached the oil can to a hoodlike bracket that holds the plastic jar. The bracket is welded to the oil can top, so the reservoir is refilled by unscrewing the oil can bottom.

While the plastic wash bottle is certainly simpler than the oil can, it has disadvantages. Herbicide should not be stored for many days in the plastic bottle because, presumably from temperature changes resulting in changing vapor pressures inside the bottle, herbicide can be driven out of the bottle.

Since one of your hands will be holding the "Deathstick" and the other will be pumping the herbicide dispenser, you may need to set the reservoir onto the ground when pumping. Alternatives include hanging the reservoir from a bracket on your jacket, or designing the dispenser so you can hold it and pump it with the same hand.

laboratory bottle   oil can
Reservoirs and dispensors: Wash bottle (left) and oil can (right)

Bakewell travels to his work sites with the applicator sponge stored in a sealable plastic bag. At the site he dons plastic gloves, then attaches the foam applicator to the "Deathstick". The herbicide dispenser is filled with herbicide. When a target plant is identified, he inserts the foam end of the "Deathstick" into the jar and squirts a little herbicide directly onto the foam roller sleeve. Now fully primed, Bakewell simply roller-paints the stem.

An 8 ounce bottle will last about 2 hours in heavy use. At the end of the day, he returns the applicator to a plastic bag and wipes down the "Deathstick" tube. Cleanup is trivial and complete!

Charging the Paintinator   Using the Paintinator   Using the Deathstick
The "Paintinator" in use (left & center); Bakewell and the "Deathstick" (right)

For his work, Bakewell uses Pathfinder II (active ingredient, triclopyr). The oil base allows for year-round application and has excellent bark penetration. He adds red dye (Becker Underwood's Bas-Oil dye) to his herbicide to help in application and clean-up. The dye also would alert him to possible spills or other hazards.

Bakewell only treats about 10 inches of stem; one side of a stem for plants with a dbh of 0.5 inch or less, two swipes (about 200 degrees around the stem) for thicker stems, and full-circumference for plants with stems thicker than 2 inch.

Bakewell has used the tool with great success on glossy and common buckthorn (Rhamnus frangula, R. cathartica), Norway maple (Acer platanoides), and tree-of-heaven (Ailanthus altissima). It is less effective on thicker-barked plants such as honeysuckle (Lonicera sp.), multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora), Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus), and barberry (Berberis sp.), so cutting them first and them dabbing the stump with the "Deathstick" is more appropriate.

For more information on this device, contact:

John Bakewell
290 Rutland St.
Carlisle, MA 01741

--Barry Rice, TNC/GIST, May 2007

Updated January 2005
©The Nature Conservancy, 2000