Tuesday, November 8, 2011

'Tis the Season for A Nice Screw

'Tis the season for what? Well, for Jack-o-lanterns and Turkeys maybe, for Christmas spirit, no way. It's the season to start prepping your ice gear for the upcoming winter. I've used a lot of gear over the decade and a half that I've been ice climbing and I've learned the value of having good gear in flawless working order. Ice and mixed climbing is really gear intensive, and most accomplished climbers are fanatical about their own personal kit.

I realized about five years ago, after sandbagging a friend with my dull ice screws, that it was time to get some new, sharper screws. I replaced my whole rack over the course of the next season. Now I keep my screws sharp, and most of the time I can do minor touch-ups with a small flat file.


If I roll a tooth over big time though (this happens easily on thin ice over hard rock like granite) I need to replace the screw or have it professionally sharpened. In the past I've just replaced screws, relying on a good propurchase price for new ice screws. However, I won't be buying new ice screws any longer unless I need more screws. It seems silly to replace a screw when a good sharpening plus a little cleaning can make a dull screw perform just like a new one. It's better than replacing, better than recycling, you can just keep reusing the same screw until you no longer need it, which means that same screw might just last your whole life.

Quick, solid ice screw placements are both safety and speed on hard leads where the limit of one's endurance is pushed. So, if I'm not going to replace screws when they get dull, how am I going to keep them sharp for speedy placements?

When my screws need sharpening I'll be sending them to Jason Hurwitz, a local climber and guide in the New Paltz area. Jason, a jeweler by trade, has transitioned to guiding and life in the Hudson Valley over the past few years, and last season started a screw and pick sharpening business out of his home in Stone Ridge.

Jason began sharpening screws for friends in the New Paltz area, and many of them were so impressed with his work that they suggested he start a screw sharpening service to make some extra cash and help local climbers out. Alas, A Nice Screw was born.

If you want to have ice screws sharpened you have several options. You can send them to a facility with a jig and have the screws machine sharpened, or you can have them manually sharpened by someone with a finer touch. Either way, when you grind the screw too quickly you can ruin the temper on the steel. This is really easy to do on a machine, and the weakened metal on your screws will have a bluish black tinge that doesn't wipe away. It's harder to do this when you're working each tooth by hand. Jason, who has a jeweler's touch, does a really good job preserving the screw's heat treatment.

In many cases he can make your old screw bite better that it did when it came from the factory. This is especially true of older screws like the old style Black Diamond and Omega Pacific models.

If you're thinking of having some screws sharpened consider sending them to Jason. He's a climber, local and a true artisan; it makes good sense. I've included some images of Jason's work in this post and you can check out his cleverly named website here.