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The Root Jack

jack
Waiting for something to grab

jack
Yay! Something to grab

jack
Ready to pull

jack
Jacking, but sinking...

jack
Jacking...
jack
...removing
First, let me note that the name "Root Jack" has been applied to at least two separate tools that I have seen. Look at the photographs to see what model I reviewed.

This is a hand operated, mechanical tool that pulls plants out of the ground. I was especially interested in reviewing this tool so I could compare it to the Weed Wrench, which works on the same principle. While those Weed Wrenches are heavy, especially at the end of a long day, the Root Jack is about 1/2 the mass. It is also cheaper.

Alas, the nutshell review can be noted as follows: I gave away our Root Jack, but I kept the Weed Wrenches.

The Device & How it Works
The Root Jack has a long wooden handle for you to hold. At the base of the handle, in front, are two crescent-shaped metal grippers. When the Root Jack is positioned at the base of a plant, the grippers rotate up so they lock against the stem (see the photographs to the right, showing the rotation of the toothed grippers).

Once the grippers have locked against the stem base, you simply pull back on the handle to lever the plant out of the ground. The leverage is helped because of a large, fan-shaped metal brace that extends out of the other side of the base of the tool (see the photos below, in the "Field Test" section). Once you pull a plant out of the ground, you remove the stem from the grippers, and move to the next plant.

A Field Test
I took the Root Jack to a nearby preserve that was invaded by a number of woody and herbaceous weeds. Notably, there is a bad invasion of Sesbania punicea---a relatively small tree with a shallow root system. Weed Wrenches are very effective against this weed.

Almost immediately, I discovered what I consider to be a major design flaw in the Root Jack. Since the gripping teeth are directly in front of the tall, vertical wooden handle, lateral branches on the main stem easily interfered with the handle. It was necessary to reposition the angle of attack to accommodate this. Similarly, bends in the trunk also caused problems with the handle. This may not seem to be a major problem, but when you are dealing with weeds on uneven soil, with obstacles such as brush and roots, limitations like this are very irritating.

Once the tool is in place, you are supposed to torque the weed out of the ground. Again, I ran into problems. In the figures to the right you can see the metal, fan-shaped shield that extends from the back of the tool---this is designed to be a lever arm to help you easily pull plants out of the ground. Unfortunately, as soon as you start pulling the plant out of the ground, the region of contact of the tool with the ground is reduced to being the rear rim of this shield. The force from your weed removal efforts translates into a lot of force concentrated in this knifelike edge; the high pressure cuts into the soil and as a result the rear of the tool sinks into the ground. This is especially the case in soft or soggy soil. Pulling riparian weed trees out of moist soil was a long, tiresome process of repositioning and reattaching the tool. Maybe bringing a big piece of wood to stand the tool on would be the best solution to this?

Once you successfully pull a weed out of the ground, by the way, it is not always easy to get it out of the spring loaded grippers! This is another annoying feature of the tool.

Safety Notes
As with all other tools used in weed control, safety comes first! Fortunately, the Root Jack does not have any particularly risky attributes. The metal grippers have pretty sharp teeth---use gloves when you are positioning stems in them, otherwise you could lacerate your fingers. Obviously, if you jerk and tug on this tool in a foolish way, you might hurt your back.

Advantages of the Root Jack
  • It is light.
  • It is inexpensive.
  • While I was not impressed by this device, there may be some applications for which it is well suited.


Disadvantages of the Root Jack
  • The plant must have very specific morphology, i.e. a stem that does not interfere with the tall, vertical tool handle.
  • The stem cannot be much thicker than a few cm.
  • It is hard to get the tool to release weeds after pulling them.
  • The tool sinks into the ground if the soil is soft or mucky.


Summary
The Root Jack might be good on some small plants or yearling woody plants. It might be good against young buckthorn (Rhamnus sp.), for example. However, the tool's effectiveness is hobbled by its tendency to sink into the ground and the requirement that the tool handle must not interfere with the stem.

More Information
I have seen this tool offered by a few forestry/agricultural suppliers. It costs about $50. However, I cannot find a current dealer. I suspect it will be offered again by various suppliers.

--Barry Rice, TNC/GIST, May 2003


Updated January 2005
©The Nature Conservancy, 2000