Ultralight Titanium Trowel Backpacking Gear Project

 

Sometimes if you want the lightest backpacking gear you need to make it yourself. In 2006 in my never ending quest to reduce my gear weight I was motivated by a backpackinglight forums thread to "build" a better (lighter) potty shovel for digging catholes out of titanium. You can construct your own by following the directions below.


Make your Own Titanium Trowel


Step 1: Go buy yourself some titanium sheeting.

I ordered from a metal company on Ebay and got a 0.016 inch thick 6" x 10" 6AL-4V titanium sheet. The sheet I got had print on one side but it blended in to the final product.

titanium sheet



Step 2: Draw your templates onto your titanium sheet.

A fine-point sharpie worked good. You can either free-hand it or trace from paper cutouts. If you mess up you can use alcohol to erase and start over. Be sure to keep a gradual curve where the handle transitions towards the blade to ensure your trowel is strong and won't fail you in the backcountry. That 1st titanium trowel I made actually lasted 4 years and worked very well even though it was roughly made with dull tools. Unfortunately the titanium developed a tear on the edge that had a 50 angle. The other edge had a 35 angle and was in good shape. So learn from my error and don't have such sharp angles when you make yours. My new models have about a 20-25 angle in the transition from the handle to the blade.

trowel template torn shovel



Step 3: Cutout your templates.

When you cutout your blanks do yourself a favor and use sharp tin snips. It will make it easier to work with the titanium and make your cuts more precise... not to mention making a prettier end result that will be the envy of your trail buddies. That's the goal of every MYOG project right?

trowel cutouts



Step 4: Prepare your blanks and your work area.

After I cutout the blanks I used a bench grinder to smooth the edges and to round the corners of the handles. After that I spaced 2 cinder blocks together for shaping the v-shaped bend in the trowel which will give it rigidity. I readied my hammer and metal rod as well. I left the tip sharp to make it a better digging tool but you may want to dull it a little bit if it may damage gear in your backpack.

trowel work area



Step 5: Heat your titanium cutout.

In order to shape your trowel you will need to heat the titanium to make it easier to form. As you can see I used what I had on hand.... my backpacking alcohol stove and some denatured alcohol. Depending on how hot the titanium gets it will change to a variety of mixed colors like purple, blue and brown that really makes it look cool.

heating cutout



Step 6: Hammer a bend into the cutout.

Because I heated the cutout right next to my work area I could take a pair of tongs to quickly place it onto the blocks for hammering before it cooled off. I only needed to heat it twice and only needed a few whacks of the hammer each time. I used a foot to steady the rod before pounding.

shaping titanium trowel



Step 7: Admire your work...

... And after seeing how nice your new lightweight hand shovel is the next step is to go backpacking to celebrate your new lighter gear weight!

final titanium trowels3 finished titanium trowels



Safety Note:

Even after smoothing the edges of the trowel handle it could still cut you. I use small pieces of duct tape on the top 1/2 of the handle but you may wish to use a rubber coating.



How the Homemade Titanium Trowel Compares to Other Shovels

  • The classic orange plastic camping shovel is 11 inches long and weighs 2.0 oz.

  • The Montbell Handy Scoop is a 6.25" stainless steel trowel that weighs about 1.3 - 1.4 oz.

  • Depending on the exact design your homemade titanium trowel can weigh somewhere between .30 to .60 oz which is considerably less (ultralight) compared to other shovels. My 1st trowel from 2006 weighed .40 oz. My new ones weigh .45 oz because I made the handle a little longer (total length is 7.5") for ease of use. You don't have to make it look like the ones pictured in my instructions... design it in whatever way you think will work best for you.

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