Blocks or Rings: Which Rigging Hardware is Best?
“To use rings or blocks? That is the question. Whether ‘tis smoother on the rope and easier to pull, or struggle with inconsistent friction, And, by using them, prolong the rope’s existence?”
Truly a philosophical question that Hamlet himself could not crack.
In all seriousness, which rigging hardware is better: rings or blocks?
“You mean a pulley?"
No. There are several differences between a pulley and an arborist block, better known as impact blocks or rigging blocks. Pulleys are very versatile, but they are not designed to handle negative rigging--better known as “butt-checking”.
Most pulleys have a rated becket to connect with carabiners or via textiles (depending on the manufacturer), all the while blocks have a double sheave set up. The smaller sheave on the block is designated for sling connections either through loopies, dead-eye slings, whoopie or an ultra-sling. This all depends on what the user chooses and whether they like tying knots or looking to simplify the setups with cinching down fast. It is important to look at the weight specifications of any block you're looking to purchase because staying within those specs is critical to your safety.
The larger sheave is set for your lowering rope. This sheave rotates, giving the system a “friction-less” feel. Always follow manufacturer recommendations regarding the max diameter of rope/sling allowed in the block. That goes for all pulleys. Minding the rope diameter per block is critical and keeping that a sharper bend will equal more strength loss. This sharp-enough bend in the rope will actually sever it, and that's a bad day waiting to happen! The recommended acceptable bend radius is a 4:1. If you go larger with your bend, the more rope is being used. The more rope in the system = more room for the energy to dissipate into.
Rings took a while to catch on in popularity like they are today. I was also skeptical of using them for a long time in my career, but today I love them.
There are a multitude of rings that vary from sizes and manufacturers. Rings tend to add friction to the rigging system, which is handy when aerial friction is desired.
When is aerial friction needed? From personal experience, friction is useful you’re working with a newbie and you’re training him how to run the ropes all the while getting some production done. It can be difficult to decipher how many wraps to take on the Port-a-Wrap. If there is failure in communication between you and the groundie, and they take one too many wraps and you're in for quite a shock!
What about rigging with no hardware?
There's nothing wrong with rigging without hardware. It's incredibly likely on small, easy projects. This is usually because the time it takes to set up a rig could be longer than the climb. While this can be true, rigging without hardware does have its limits! Don't let laziness make you unsafe. Set up a proper rigging line if you're going to be working with large limbs.
Single or Double Rings?
I’ve always rigged from dual and triple rings. My favorite are those that have one or two small rings, and then a third large one just like a friction saver does.
This allows a rigging system to be set from the ground just like a floating block system. The difference between the two: the friction saver style won’t quadruple the load at the union of the tree like the floating system would.
Some climbers and personal friends of mine rig from a single ring. I don't understand this. They claim, “rig from two or more rings to have the appropriate bend radius on your rope. As for single rings, they are intended to be used when redirecting your rigging rope.”
I view it as single ring rigging with the intention of small to moderate loads. The way I interpret rigging with a single ring is simple, user beware.
Regardless of what rigging gear is being used, always be mindful of working load limits and the method that they will be applied. Just because something has a minimum break strength (MBS) of 22,000lbs doesn’t mean you should load the living shit out of it.
All rigging gear and climbing gear have their working load limits (WLL). Exceeding the equipment’s WLL can lead to catastrophic results. Such as equipment failure and personal injury or worse, DEATH! Sometimes rigging big and going home early is not the correct mindset to have, believe me on that! Climb safe.