Shop Talk: Bucket List

The most important items to have available to you while working up in the air

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Several years ago, we retired an older but still good bucket truck when we bought a two-man Genie manlift and a heavy-duty truck and trailer to move it around. When it became such a hassle to meet DOT regulations for even one truck and trailer, we began to pay someone to move it to jobs where the manlift was really needed. At that point, I was back in the market for a bucket truck to work out of on the many jobs when a one-man lift was all that was needed.

So, a couple of years ago I bought a small telephone service bucket truck-well-used, but still in good working shape-from a local sign shop that was upgrading its equipment. The bucket lift is a simple one, which is a good thing, with three switches and relays to control lift, extension and rotation, and a single telescoping boom that reaches about 25 feet when stood mostly straight up.

Even with this limited height, it will reach most of the install jobs I have to do, and we still have the manlift that can go to about 50 feet. I like the little bucket truck and have become very familiar with what I can and can’t do with it, and I love the tool box bed that once again gives me an organized place to put just about everything I’m likely to need out on the job.

But, and I have mentioned this once before, I don’t know how the sign guys (or even telephone guys) before me used the bucket to actually work from, because when I got it, there was no place to put a drill, ratchet, level, paint can, or even a box of fasteners while working from that bucket. Holding things between my knees does not work too well, and when I am on the job I want everything I need to go up with me, and be within easy reach at all times.

For this month’s Shop Talk, I thought I’d mention the very helpful additions made to our sign shop bucket truck, and show ways this old rig has been configured to making the work we do go faster, easier and even safer. At this point, I can’t imagine how I’d do my work with any efficiency and proficiency without these simple common sense modifications to the standard manlift bucket.

The first thing I made, which I have shown once before in this magazine, was a compartmentalized tool and hardware unit attached to the bucket itself. This unit was made from .040 and .063 mil finish aluminum and riveted to the top ledge of the bucket, supported by triangular brackets below. It has two trays to hold hardware, tools and batteries, plus another tray that has holes in which can rest securely three cordless drills at one time. A small add-on section at the front holds other tools and even another cordless drill if needed.

On some of my letter installs, I need drills or screw guns with different fastener drivers, counter sinks, drill bits, etc. I don’t have time to swap these things out; having three drills with the right hardware keeps the work moving forward quickly and efficiently. And I never want to drop one of these drills for several good reasons. With this setup I don’t have to worry about that, or try holding them between my knees.

Inside the bucket there are a few “U-bolts” that can hold other tools, drills, a large level, and so forth. U-bolts are ideal as they are rounded and won’t snag an operator, and come in different sizes and are easily available. They safely hold everything from hammers to drills, and reduce the chance of dropping something from an elevated bucket.

In addition to those handy units at the top of the bucket and inside the bucket, recently I built a “grill” or letter holding unit to help me carry multiple flat letters that are too big to fit in the bucket with me, are clumsy to just try to hang on to, and need a place to rest while I am measuring or drilling holes, etc.

The unit consist of a ledge for holding sign panels being installed, plus a removable grill to hold letters in front of me on the bucket itself. A sign panel holder (ledge) is something I always have on our buckets. After all, how does one manage to hang on to signs or sign sections, operate the bucket, and hold and operate tools, without a place to rest the sign being installed and to safely carry it up to its installed location?

This unit was made from some waterjet-cut aluminum parts formed on a brake, some 1″ aluminum tubing and shop-made brackets to hold it together. No aluminum welding was required. Again, the base or “ledge” is bolted permanently to the bucket, and the “grill” part can easily be removed by taking out two self-tapping screws.

You can see from the photos several large letters can be set into the unit at one time, and even though it is a very good idea to hold on to them while maneuvering the bucket, once in working position, the letters are safe and handy and a lot fewer trips up and down will need to be made, saving a lot of install time.

Keeping the right things on hand for install jobs, which is what our truck is really used for, can make a difference in how long installs may take. One very simple tool is partly shop-made and shown in these photos. The tool is a standard small level or two that have been modified with a sheet metal lip that allows the level to rest on top of a flat cutout letter (or sign panel) so the installer is not trying to hold letter, drill, and level all at the same time … just not enough hands!

The small levels shown in the photos have a .040 sheet aluminum lip permanently riveted to them which will allow the level to simply sit on the top edge of a letter while the installer is leveling and securing it in place, which takes two hands. This way the level does not take the unavailable “third hand,” for which I have been looking for years!

Another small but still worthwhile addition to the tool box part of our bucket truck is a small holder for carrying several colors of touchup paint. Oh, I’ve carried paint in small containers many times, and tried not to worry if they fell over since their lids should do the job. However, judging from the paint stains in various places in the truck’s tool boxes, lids do regularly fail.

Being tired of that, I made a simple holder for four colors and it is also shown here. Finally, I can go to the truck touchup paint supply when I need it and find everything still in good shape, still upright and holding paint, and not making any annoying messes!

One last and somewhat unrelated item I should mention is really more about keeping a valuable item on the truck. A thief can practically smell a portable generator, and I have lost three or four over the years. But, the fine little generator carried on our current truck is a bit harder for a thief to abscond with because of how it is retained in the truck. Chains are easy to cut, but a high-quality lock and braided harness is not.

We sure don’t want our 2,000-watt Honda generator walking off. After all, we’ve got work to do, and we need the tools of our trade on the job, every job, and exactly where they belong. They need to be handy to use, easy to keep up with, and unlikely to be dropped every time we go out into the field to get our installs done. Customizing our old workhorse bucket truck with common sense items like the ones shown makes a big difference in getting our work done safely, efficiently, and profitably … and that’s exactly what we’re after.

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Rick Williams

Rick Williams owns Rick's Sign Company, a commercial sign shop in Longview, Texas. He has been in the sign industry since 1973 and has been a contributing editor to Sign Business since 1986. Contact Rick via e-mail at ricksignco@aol.com.

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