Friday, March 04, 2011

How To - Sweeping the Road

Need pictures of Digger, Drag, XL Sweep (techniques)

This road needs sweeping (picture from sweep day at Bethel, March 1, 2008).

There's nothing that reminds me more of bike racing than picking up a broom and sweeping sand and debris off of a patch of pavement.

One of my very few ventures into seeing (experiencing?) one of those Broadway type shows was to see Stomp. I sat down in the somewhat vertical seating area (no heads in the way when you're there) and waited in anticipation. My last show was some murder mystery thing in eighth grade so this was an unusual thing. I sat in anticipation as the crowd murmured around me.

The lights dimmed, the audience hushed, and we waited.

A light appeared on the empty stage. We heard some swishing scraping noises. Repeating rhythmically.

Noises absolutely unmistakable to someone who has helped clear the Bethel course for a decade or so.

"No," I thought, "They're sweeping?! I can't believe they need to sweep the stage now! They must have swept the stage before the show!"

Then a broom head, sweeping the stage floor, poked out from behind the curtain. Got pulled back. And reappeared. And here came this guy, sweeping the floor.

The problem was that he was sweeping it wrong!

Two handed hold, digging like he was trying to get to China or something. If you want to dig holes or wear out your broom's bristles, that's the way to do it.

If you want to sweep, though, you have to do it a different way.

Trust me, I know.

So, for all you early season promoters, helpers, and sweepers, this is how you do it.

There are three types of brush strokes - the Digger, the Drag, and the XL Sweep. A few miscellaneous moves complements the brush strokes - the Bang, the Chop, and the Upside Down Chisel. After going over technique I'll review some broom basics.

Broom types

Porch - The porch broom come in all different flavors. Significantly all of them have the pole and the bristles in the same plane - they're parallel. There's the one with an angled brush head, pointy on one end due to the angled cut of the bristles, for reaching into corners. The witch's broom is a classic, with stiff bristles and direct reach great for precise sweep work.

Unfortunately no Porch type broom works well when sweeping roads.

Normal - You'll find these everywhere. They have bristles mounted on a separate bar that screws onto a handle. The bristles sit at an angle relative to said handle. Bristles can be soft or stiff.

For basic road sweeping these work fine. Look for stiff bristles (versus soft ones) and short bristle lengths (versus long lengths). The really coarse brooms, meant for spreading driveway sealer, are too coarse. You need a broom broom with consistent bristles densely packed together, not a Harry Potter type where you have random shape bristles in a not-very-dense package.

Contractor - The ultimate in brooms, the contractor grade broom resembles a Normal with two metal braces between the handle and the brush head. Other less visible differences include wider brush widths, stronger handles, better quality bristles, and better quality wood.

The Contractor broom rules the roost. You can tighten up the braces (they loosen over time), the handles don't break, the bristles work well, and they seem to last forever. You know how you never use up a pen, how they disappear before they're done? Well, I've actually seen worn out contractor brooms. They're that good.

After the equipment, the technique.

The Brush Strokes

There's a huge variety of brush strokes. Just like in bike racing you need to use different methods for different challenges. Think of these as the different versions of pedaling - sitting, standing, and with hands on different parts of the bars.

Digger - The Digger is the most stereotypical sweep motion and the one used in Stomp. Grasp the broom with two hands and push the broom forwards and backwards while exerting a downward pressure on the brush head. The brush stroke can range from a few inches long to a couple feet. The Digger is used when breaking up heavily compacted sand, or simply wet sand.

Drag - The Drag is a very basic sweep motion. It's actually the most simple and involves walking along while letting the broom head drag along the ground. Used for dislodging dry but compacted sand, it's most effective when used with a power blower. The guy dragging the broom should walk just a bit ahead of the "impact zone" of the forced air from the blower. You know you're doing it right when you see a plume of sand blasting sideways from the blower.

The Drag also works well with an exhausted sweeper. For example, a worn out sweeper can walk back to Sweep Base with the broom held in Drag mode behind the person. The exhausted sweeper can still have some effect on sand and stuff with the broom bumping and bouncing on the road behind said sweeper.

XL Sweep - This is the most powerful of all manual sweep techniques. Instead of digging into the pavement and wasting energy, the XL Sweep relies on the bristle design of the broom head to move debris efficiently.

Since a pusher broom has its bristles at an aggressive angle, oftentimes it is unnecessary to exert anything but the lightest downward pressure. The acute angle of the bristle (kind of pushing against the grain) will spring the bristle back until it springs forward. This movement pushes debris up and away from the broom with very little sweeper input.

Such light pressure can be applied with just one hand, one arm. Therefore the XL Sweep uses just one arm. The other can rest or move to act as a counterbalance. When the sweeping arm tires, the sweeper can simply switch arms and continue sweeping.

The XL Sweep will allow full arm extension, enabling the sweeper to get 5 or 6 or even 7 feet of pavement cleared at one stroke. It takes only two passes to clear a normal lane, perhaps three to clear a wide lane with a shoulder. With a rhythmic pattern, a Sweeper can execute an XL Sweep about once a second. This will clear about two feet of road, maybe 6 feet width.

After 60 seconds, the sweeper could have cleared 120 feet of road, 6 feet wide. This is 40 yards by 2 yards. In 10 minutes it's a little less than a quarter mile. In 40 minutes, a mile. 80 minutes means a mile long, 12 feet wide. 160 minutes, 3 hours, means a mile course, curb to curb if it's 24 feet wide.

Ideally one should follow the XL Sweep with a blower to get rid of the light dust inevitably broken up by the sweeper's broom.

Additional Actions

The associated movements can be incorporated in one's sweeping repertoire as conditions require. Although not technically strokes, they'll come in handy. Consider this to be something like, say, wiping tires on a bike. It's not how you attack but it's a handy skill to have.

Bang - this is a simple technique used to clear the bristles of accumulated sand. Just like a paint brush holds paint, a broom will hold sand and debris. Turning the broom 90 degrees to the side and banging it on the pavement will clear the bristles decisively. Use this motion every fifth or tenth brush stroke in damp sand, depending on how much moisture the sand has absorbed. In dry stuff it's virtually never used.

Be careful that the debris doesn't end up on the swept part of the road.

Take care if you're not using a Contractor (metal reinforced) broom. An ordinary broom can fail in Bang mode.

Chop - a variation on the Bang, the Chop consists of using the broom head's side to break loose stubborn bits of sand, snow, ice, decomposing leaves, etc. Instead of banging the broom head on the pavement, the sweeper bangs it on the debris, ax-like. This motion breaks up the debris, allowing the operator to use one of the main sweep techniques to move the debris as necessary.

Another effect of the chop - you lose the end bristles.
Blue broom has been used in a Chop manner a lot.

Again, unless you have a reinforced broom, avoid this method.

Upside Down Chisel - this is used on wider swaths of sticky debris such as rooted grass/shrubs/trees, piles of decomposing leaves, clods of dirt, and other heavy, difficult to move debris. Ideally one would use a shovel but in the interest of expediting the sweep process, sometimes it isn't prudent to go find a shovel. Instead, turn the broom upside down and dig at the debris using the wooden head of the broom. Although not particularly effective if needed for long stretches of pavement, the Upside Down Chisel works for spot work on sewer grates, small potholes, and places where plows have uprooted grass clumps and dumped them on the road.

Broom Basics

Over the years I've learned that brooms are not created equal. Most brooms are totally inadequate for sweeping wide stretches of road. They're designed to sweep smooth concrete garage floors, not rough granular road pavement. So how do you pick out a broom?

First, eliminate all that do not have metal reinforcing braces connecting the broom head and handle. Such braces indicate that the broom was meant for heavy duty use. Said braces also allow the operator to use the Bang and Chop techniques with significantly reduced chances of snapping the broom head off the handle.

Contractor Broom
Note metal reinforcing bars.
Natural bristles like this are inferior and do not work as well, nor do they last as long.

Second, get the stiffest bristles possible. Softer ones allow one to get more of the soft, fine sand moved, but if you follow the brooms with a blower, it's easier to let the blower do the work. Stiff bristles let the operator move more sand, heavier sand, quicker. It's similar to coarse sandpaper - removes a lot of stuff but isn't that finely tuned.

Note that the red bristles are relatively thin and densely packed.
These are good for dusty sand but not great for pebbles and such.

Blue bristles are thicker and less densely packed.
Excellent for pebbles but not good for detail work.

Not too tall - 3" height works best.
This is what that blue broom looked like when it was new.

Third, from my experience, if it doesn't cost $35 or more, it's probably not what you're looking for (in 2008 prices at a big box hardware store). Look for "contractor brooms".

Fourth, look for all wood broom heads and handles. I have yet to see a plastic broom as strong as the wooden ones. I don't know if there are metal ones out there but in cold weather they'd be, well, cold.

As the broom gets used, the bristles wear down. A new broom is nice to use but reeks of, well, new-ness. When you sight a broom with bristles less than half their original length, you know you're dealing with a pro operator.

Pro broom to the right. Note bristles worn down due to massive amounts of sweeping.

A final warning for those driving leaf blowers while holding a broom - artificial bristles melt when they contact engine mufflers, like those on a leaf blower. 'Nuff said.

Anyway, that's about it for sweeping the road. Here's to a clean swept course!

And that thing about Stomp? Well, ends up the sweeper was part of the act. The Digger technique he used allowed the mics all over the place (including the stage floor?) to really emphasize the sweep noises.

Although he picked up a little bit of dust, there wasn't a lot. It was more for the show effect. And it worked.

(Orig written 3/29/08)


MrsSDC said...

I find it ironic that the person who does not know where the broom in our house lives, has posted a tutorial on sweeping.

Aki said...

They're to the right of the washer :)

Speaking of which, I need you to take picture of me doing the three sweep techniques.

I love chatting via blog when we're in the same house :) Staples says that they'll be done by 8 PM or so (no hole punching, they'd need to trash what they did and redo it on different paper). Still working on spreadsheet masters, then will put in the download info from today.

Aki said...

bless you!

Marten said...

I didn't think sweeping could be so interesting. Things I never considered...

Aki said...

After many hours of sweeping, I can't help but think of how to make it easier.

Of course now we have leaf blowers and power (rotary) brooms and paddle things. But there's still an element of sweeping necessary.