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Joined: Dec 2003
Posts: 886
hbiss Offline OP
Here is something that has been bothering me for a long time and that I haven’t been able to find an answer to. Why are extension ladders used and manufactured “backwards”?

According to the instructions on any extension ladder I have ever seen (and the only way to set up a “D” rung ladder) is with the fly section on top or outside of the bottom section. This presents two problems:

1) Assume that you are right handed and are setting the ladder against the side of a building. According to instructions, in order to raise the ladder you must be under the ladder, between the ladder and the building. You place your left foot on the bottom rung, left hand on the fourth or fifth rung and the rope in your right hand. The ladder must be balanced near vertical in order to raise it. You have to look over your shoulder and behind you in order to see how high and where the ladder needs to go while maintaining that vertical balance. When the proper height is reached and the ladder is dropped back against the building, again, you are looking over your shoulder and your foot on that bottom rung works against you by pushing the bottom of the ladder out and away.

Now, what I have always done when I had round rung ladders is to turn the ladder over, putting the fly section on the bottom. You set the ladder the same way with your left foot on the bottom rung, left hand on the fourth or fifth rung and rope in your right hand. Now the ladder is in front of you. You can balance and raise the ladder easily because now you have your foot, hand and rope working together. You can easily see how high and where to place the ladder. To drop the ladder against the building, you simply relax the tension on the rope and left hand. You have complete control.

2) When descending a ladder with the fly section on top the fly section abruptly ends and you have to step into the bottom section making the possibility of missing that step much greater. If the fly section is on the bottom you step onto the bottom section which is definitely easier and safer.

So, is there a mechanical reason why the ladder needs to be used with the fly section on top, perhaps affecting strength or rigidity? I definitely feel that the fly section on the bottom is safer and certainly makes much more sense.

Anybody else notice or have opinions on this or am I just being anal?


Joined: Jan 2003
Posts: 4,391
I never put that much thought into it.

But I stand on the front side of ladder when I set it up or take it down I just bring the rope around the side to the front, no problem. [Linked Image]


Bob Badger
Construction & Maintenance Electrician
Joined: Dec 2003
Posts: 886
hbiss Offline OP
Ok, but the rope comes off the "back" of the ladder and you have to wrap it around the side rail to pull it. Doesn't pull very easy and the ladder will want to turn.

Give it a try- flip the ladder around and extend it from the front. I know you can't climb it but you will see what I mean.

Believe me, back in the 80's I spent time in the cable industry and for months all I did was take the ladder off the truck, set it up, take it down, put it back on the truck, go another block and do it again. We had round rung ladders back then and everybody used them reversed. It's a real PITA doing it their way and it was bad enough on your back as it was.


Joined: Jul 2003
Posts: 394
With the conventional orientation, gravity keeps the two sections together and the cross load is placed on the fixed brackets at the top of the first section. If you reverse the ladder, you are relying on the hook assemblies on the bottom of the second section to keep the sections together. The natural cross-loading is trying to pull the hooks off of the rung. I used a consumer-grade ladder that was built that way and it kind of scared me - no margin of safety.

Joined: Jun 2003
Posts: 1,143
Big Jim makes a good point about relying on design, v. relying on two little welded tabs. We've had the same argument for years in the Fire Service - "Fly in" v. "Fly out", and our ladders are rated to almost double the 1AA standard (600lb, IIRC).

Another problem you can have raising the ladder with the sections inverted (especially with "consumer grade" or rented ladders) is the possibility of the "dogs" (the rung catches) not properly engaging - especially with broken, missing, or loose springs. Most dogs are cheap, and are meant to use gravity to assist in their operation. Many ladders also have rounded tips, which would make a secure anchor difficult.

One technique (based on one the FD's use) is to extend the ladder on the ground (using the halyard, so as not to get it snagged). As long as you raise it high enough to clear your overhang / gutters / roof edge, you should be fine. Make sure the dogs are locked. Then you place the butt or heel (bottom) of the ladder against the wall, and then pick the ladder up at the tip end, and, lifting it up over your head, continue to walk towards the wall, raising the ladder as you go.

Once it's up (and over any obstruction,) you can simply lean the "base" section against the overhang (if it's long enough) and pull the halyard until it's at the correct height.

For ladder raises without an overhang, you can raise the ladder to the vertical using the same technique, and then raise it "fly in", using the wall to hold the ladder upright. Simply give it a half - spin to bring the fly to the "out" position for climbing.

Joined: Dec 2003
Posts: 886
hbiss Offline OP
Thanks guys, I suspected that there was a reason for this and I'm glad that I'm not the only one to notice it.

Doug, I like the idea of raising it "fly in" (as I used to) then flipping it.


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