How to Use Drywall Stilts
If you’ve never used drywall stilts before, they can seem a bit intimidating. They look complicated, have moving parts – not to mention that working at heights can make some people nervous. Fortunately, they are quite simple to use and a great way to speed up your drywall projects. Read on to learn everything you need to know about how drywall stilts work, how to use them, and what safety concerns to keep in mind.
A Unique Environment
Unlike stilts made for performance (like those used in parades and circuses), drywall stilts are made first and foremost for stability. Drywall stilts make it much easier to balance and much less fatiguing to stand still compared to stilts used by performers. The reason for this focus on stability and ease of balance is probably obvious: your focus is the project and the stilts, like any tool, should make the job easier and faster, not more difficult.
Drywall stilts are available in a variety of styles and materials. Circle Brand drywall stilts are available in EZ Stride magnesium or EZ Stride aluminium. Another noteworthy feature some drywall stilts have, such as the Circle Brand Skystrider, is a spring that allows the stilt foot to flex in a motion that closely mimics a person’s ankle when you walk.
The biggest difference that sets drywall stilts apart from other types of stilts is that they have a much bigger “foot” on the bottom, which is what makes it so easy to balance and stand still. Another noteworthy feature, some drywall stilts have a spring that allows the stilt foot to flex in a motion that closely mimics a person’s ankle when you walk. This special range of motion allows a somewhat more natural heel-to toe stride compared to performance stilts. Finally, most drywall stilts have a series of holes with a locking bolt that allow the user to adjust the height of the foot platform, typically to as high as 40” off the ground.
How to Attach and Walk on your Stilts
The first thing to know about working with stilts is how to put them on properly, as this is an important safety concern. Let’s look at how to attach them:
- The stilts are designed to be strapped on to both your foot and your leg, and you should NOT use them without all the straps securely in place. If a strap is missing, broken, or otherwise compromised, DO NOT use the stilts. Replacement straps are available.
- The foot straps attach best over a work boot or a shoe, so be sure to choose appropriate footwear before putting them on. The leg straps should be attached over pants for best fit and comfort.
- Once you have checked that the straps are all present and in good condition, and you have appropriate footwear and pants, you’ll want to find a raised surface to sit on – ideally, at a level where your foot can rest on the stilt with a roughly 90-degree bend in the knee and the stilt vertical.
- Put your heel firmly against the metal heel cup and tighten the foot straps as much as you can. This is where having sturdy footwear is critical – it allows you to tighten the straps farther without causing discomfort to the foot and ensures the stilt will not slide in any direction.
- Once you have the foot secured, attach the leg straps, making sure that the semi-circular knee brace sits BELOW the knee. Some brands have heightadjustable knee supports to fine-tune the fit. Tighten the straps as tight as you can without causing discomfort.
- Now that the stilts are properly secured to your legs, it’s time to stand up. If the surface you’re sitting on is high enough, you may be able to stand up easily by simply leaning forward. Otherwise, get a co-worker to take your hands so you can pull yourself up. This is a good idea anyway, as until you get the hang of it, you should have a co-worker around to spot you as you practice walking. As time goes on and your balance on the stilts gets better you will learn to get on the stilts from many different places around the worksite.
- Stepping with the stilts on is similar to walking normally but requires you to bend your leg more and lift your knee higher. This ensures that the stilt’s “foot” clears the ground. Otherwise, you can trip when the foot of the stilt drags on the floor. You’ll also be taking slower steps than you normally would, since the weight and length of the stilts will slow your stride a bit.
When to use Drywall Stilts
Despite being called “drywall” stilts, they are actually useful for any number of construction tasks at height, such as electrical work (ceiling fans, chandeliers, etc.), painting, and, of course, mudding, taping, and hanging drywall. Basically, if you need to be working on the ceiling (or above what you can comfortably reach from the floor), stilts can be a tremendous aid.
On the other hand, they aren’t suited to every job or every jobsite. For instance, if you have a very crowded space, you may find that moving around on the stilts is more of a hindrance than a help. At the other extreme, if your space is vast, you may find it more efficient to get a scaffold that can accommodate more tools and equipment that will be required.
One thing that should be done is using stilts on a worksite that is untidy and has a lot of trip hazards. You must ensure the worksite is clean and clear of debris.
All that said, stilts are at their most useful when you have a small- to medium-sized crew working in an average-sized space – and that describes a large percentage of the jobs most drywallers are likely to do. With practice, they make it possible to work comfortably and safely at height without having to have other special tools or change your workflow very much. They can enter jobsites where a scaffold won’t fit, transport easily in a truck or even a small car, and take only a few minutes to take on and off. In short, they are one of the most useful and versatile tools you can have for working on ceilings or other jobs at height.