"Pulling out isn’t as much fun than leaving it in there, but sometimes it's safer"
You’re about to hit the crux and you get to a bolt that looks more sketch than a 000 cam in wet sandstone on Friday the 13th. Unfortunately, some bolts installed do not pass the test of time and need to be replaced BEFORE they kill someone. It’s not ideal to have a bolt pull out while you are in the midst of using it, but when our bolting angels go to replace bolts they can be tricky to remove in such a way that the hole can be reused. This chapter talks about all the different ways to remove old bolts.
Ethics are important when re-bolting. Retro-bolting is when you add bolts to an existing climb. This is frowned upon by most of the climbing community but in some situations this can be done to improve the quality of the climb or make it safer, if the F.A. (first ascensionist) is consulted or if they are unavailable, community consensus is obtained. The goal of rebolting is to reuse every hole so our rocks don’t turn into swiss cheese. If quality stainless or titanium bolts are used, then no one in our lifetime should have to change them, except for the high use lower offs where the rope grinds through the metal over time, but that is just a maintenance thing.
If bolt holes are not reusable, there are several ways to fill them so they don’t show much. You can use glue you already have if you are installing glue ins and apply dust and pebbles you have collected from the new hole you drilled. If you aren’t using super red hilti glue and properly apply the dust, this can camouflage it well. Another option is epoxy putty like Damn Good Putty at about $19. You knead the two parts together, shove it in the hole, camouflage it with tiny rock chips or sand, and it is hard as the rock in 20 minutes. This comes in a few colors and other brands also have different colors. Any two part epoxy putty can work. LamLock Rocket Gel comes with the two parts and then 8 color bottles to get fancy if your rock isn’t boring and grey, but this is expensive and bulky. InstaCrete is another great option and is only about $14. Clear silicone, in a squeeze bottle, can also be used if you smash a small pebble into hole after filling it with the silicone. Keep in mind the silicone and even clear epoxies, can yellow over time, so consider your rock color when doing this.
If you are using a mechanical bolt that relies on the hole being the correct size, you may have to drill the hole to the next size up. Oftentimes you are replacing a ⅜” (10mm) bolt and so you just go to ½” (12mm) for a fresh hole. Sometimes the bit can get jammed in there and so you have to baby it. If you are installing a glue in, then as long as it is the right size hole, not being perfectly cylindrical doesn’t matter. However, additional drilling might be required if you need a notch.
Some bolts can’t be saved. They are so corroded the heads will snap off way before you could get the shaft out of the rock, or they get stuck as you try to extract them. Chopping usually is the term used for removing bolts in general and doesn’t mean an ax is used, but this can mean use brute force to wack it so much it breaks.
This would be more reasonable on really rusty bolts. Bolts with any substance that you can’t use finesse like the other options we have here can be cut off. The lightest and simplest way to do this is using a metal cutting hacksaw blade. Attach key rings to each side as handles. You can also use a battery powered angle grinder or Sawzall or get an wheel adapter that works on your drill called a Mandrel. This can be tricky to get under the hanger and/or not grind a half circle out of the rock. You can cut the bolt head off above the hanger, then remove the hanger and try to smash the bolt into the hole flush with the rock.
Sometimes you can just “over tighten” the bolt with a 18” breaker bar and ping! The head will snap off and will be ready to patch. SS studs break pretty easily, carbon steel has more elasticity and tends to be harder to snap. 5 piece bolts tend to spin in the hole before breaking. Either way this gives you insight on why we should over tighten them when installing!
Forking up - Button Heads
This is like chopping but with more finesse. A tuning fork, commonly made from pitons literally wedges bolts out. You start with quite thin blades then progressively work up to thicker ones and even stack them until the bolt is free. Of course a big enough crow bar would probably also work. Forking up more common on bolts that can’t have drills attached to them or adapters + extractors such as button heads. I have used this method in Yosemite where drills are not allowed.
Be mindful not to damage the rock. Granite can sometimes take a beating but softer rock can get scared if you are too aggressive on it. A paint lid or sheet metal works or if a piece of wood if you are using a lever like a crow bar. It can be assumed that if you are trying to replace a bolt, you care about the end result looking nice, so be mindful about keeping the rock nice. We remove button heads with forks in this PLAYLIST .
Roll up your sleeves - Powers 5 piece bolts
Powers 5 piece bolts can be unscrewed and the core bolt removed, however the sleeve and nut is still stuck in there. Even though the nut fits snug in the hole, if the sleeve wasn’t in the way, the bolt can be reinstalled and used to pull out the nut. The trick is removing that sleeve! With enough tears and patience, you can try using needle nose pliers to pull it out, hook it from the bottom, or smash and drill it into pieces with a concrete bit and your rotary hammer. If you are trying to grab the nut at the bottom after removing the pesky sleeve, then don’t bust your nut up. You can pull the reinstalled bolt with a bolt removal tool that we discuss below, or just attach a shit hanger to it and use a funkness device (hammer with sling attached to head), or grind it to a pulp and blow it out and use a magnet tool.
Spinning (Step 1 of 2) - Wedge bolts
This is step1 of of a 2 step process. Wedge bolts can be spun to create a grove next to the clip at the base, stopping the clip from expanding and being able to “just” be pulled out. Adding water helps mix with the dust to create an abrasive paste at that point of contact. If you want to really get gritty, you can use 240 grit aluminum oxide sand blasting powder in a squirt bottle so you can get groovy faster.
It can be tricky to get the right adapter to fit your drill AND the threads on the bolts. Once the bolt hits the set screw, inside the adapter, the bolt stops threading deeper inside the adapter and starts to spin the bolt itself. If the coupler touches the rock then the bolt won’t spin. As you drill you push and pull like you are truly screwing the rock.
Powered spinning: If you use the rotary hammer drill you probably already have with you, then you need an SDS adapter to generally a male threaded end. Then you put a coupler on that which is female on both sides that goes on the male… ok i’ll hold back the jokes. If you want more torque, you can use a 3/8" impact driver and that just requires a different adapter.
Manually spinning: Why on earth would you spin a bolt manually??? National Parks in the US don’t allow power drills even if you are a do gooder who wants to re-bolt. This video shows the spinner tool that Dan Merrick modified for bolt spinning. It is a speed wrench + universal joint socket that goes over the coupler nut + coupler nut (with course threads!). These components need to be secured together because you will be pulling out while spinning it. There needs to be a set screw inside the coupler (or an extra nut on the bolt) because if the bolt doesn’t bottom out in the back of the coupler it just pulls the bolt tighter against the clip instead of spinning it.
Extracting (part 2 of 2) - Wedge Bolts
Even with the base of the bolt compromised, it can still be surprisingly difficult to pull the bolt out. However, mechanical advantage can come in a small package. A giant screw inside a hollow tube is light and affordable, or a small hydraulic pump, that works very much like a car jack, gives so much advantage you have to pump carefully in order not to snap the bolt. If done correctly, there will be a clicking sound as the bolt comes out a little bit at a time. And if the tool doesn’t have enough lifting distance (throw), then you just reset it and put in a spacer and do it again. No one needs the BoltBusters crazy hollow ram puller unless you are trying to be dramatic! Something I learned with BoltBuster is more power isn’t always what you want. Technique is important or you just end up snapping the bolt and then the hole cannot be reused.
Giant Screws - Greg German (Gregger Man) has developed a Doodad bolt extractor that is a like a giant screw inside of square tubing with an adapter on the end that gets attached to the threads on the bolt you are trying to remove, the giant screw grabs the adapter, the outer pipe or square tubing that it is inside of, pushes against the rock around the bolt while you spin the handel in the back sucking the bolt into the square tubing. Watch us use this tool in this episode. Watch Greg show you how to make one on his video or him using an older version in this video and him explaining about it in this video .
Hydraulic Pumps - The outer part stays against the rock and the inside gets sucked up with hydraulic action. Hydraulics are amazing and that is how we do all our break tests in BoltBusters but we oversized everything for dramatic affect. The Greenly Hydraulic Punch Driver is designed to pull dyes together to cut holes in sheet metal and can pull up to 7tons. It is super handy and comes at the low low price of a condo in Thailand, but luckily at $892 it comes with free shipping! If weight isn’t an issue, it is an amazing tool at 14lbs with the adapters.
Unless you have BoltBuster’s hollow cylinder, these tools just don’t have much stroke, so you pump a little, place a spacer under it and repeat.
Hollow cores can also have adapters attached but require a hose and small hand pump but that isn’t practical on a cliff face. You can watch the Access Fund use the Greenly in this video.
Getting Hot - Glue In Bolts
Glue, in theory, can be heated up with a blowtorch and then pulled out. We say theory because it’s really hard to get the glue 4” down or even further hot enough to become weak enough to remove easily. If you can get the bolt out, then you can drill out the remaining glue and reuse hole. Try not to have too many flames next to your climbing ropes if you are hanging around while doing this!
Micro Core Drill - Glue In Bolts
Drill a very tiny hole around the sides of the glue in to loosen the glue until it becomes free. Drilling an equal size hole next to it doesn’t really solve a lot since the rock is now compromised and you still have two holes at the end.
Getting Twisty - Glue in bolts
Crowbar in the glue in + twist = done. This can be hard to get some bars in the glue in’s small space or the glue in head can wrap around the bar so you can’t get it off without other tools. Also, this method can possibly break the bolt instead of disengaging it from the glue.
The Access Fund has a great bolt removal page that dives into detail on even additional bolts not covered here and has lists and kits you can reference in these photos here.
Bolts that you tried to remove, but couldn’t, are now compromised. Make sure you can finish what you started AND replace them. Half finished work can be super inconvenient at best or kill people at worse. If you do suck, make the bolt and hanger unusable or put a note on it. Ideally practice at home before!
Unlike other bibles, we promote learning from other groups! Here are some fantastic resources that we learned a lot from.
Mountain Projects Bolting Forum is where the community is at. Stay up to date with the latest knowledge, trends and questions by following this thread. https://www.mountainproject.com/forum/108887311/fixed-hardware-bolts-anchors
The Access Fund not only helps keep access to climbing crags, but also helps re-bolting efforts. https://www.accessfund.org/our-causes/replace-aging-bolts
ASCA - American Safe Climbing Association’s mission is to replace deteriorating anchors on classic climbs in the US and educate climbers about the public about climbing safety. This link goes straight to their education section about bolts. https://www.safeclimbing.org/education.htm
AAC - American Alpine Club has a grant program to help fund rebolting https://americanalpineclub.org/anchor-replacement-fund
Francis Haden has a great all around resource that is like the abridged version of the Bolting Bible https://francishaden.wordpress.com/development/
Find a bad bolt? Let these guys know! https://www.badbolts.com/
Bolt-Products has a whole section dedicated to education and you can find that at http://www.bolt-products.com/Glue-inBoltDesign.htm
Michael Law wrote a 59 page bolting guide called “Soft Rock Bolting Guide” but is for all bolting and pretty thorough. He also have done a lot of independent testing.
Michael Law and Steve Hawkshaw published an official article in 2014 of their break tests that is available for purchase.
He tests fire damaged bolts in this video
He tests U bolts (staples) in this video
If you have feedback, additional information, more correct information, or just good ol' typos that need fixing, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment below.
It costs about $10k a year to operate HNTH and no we don't make money on youtube. Please spot us $20 on paypal/venmo or support us per episode on Patreon.