Scaffolds offer many advantages over ladder-jack assemblies, so consider setting one up for your next paint project. We'll show you how to do it in just eight steps.

January 26, 2019

Framed scaffolds or pipe scaffolds offer several advantages over ladder-jack assemblies. They provide a wider platform working surface, can be moved without disassembly, and feature guardrails to keep you from falling. Assembly is more time-consuming, however, and they come with a bigger price tag at the rental outlet.

Scaffolds' main components consist of frames and crossbraces that stack to make taller units. The most common frame section is 5 feet wide and 5 feet tall with crossbraces 7 or 10 feet long. Other sizes are available.

In addition to base plates and guardrails, you should rent adjusting screws for easy leveling on uneven ground, locking casters to keep the unit from moving, and three planks that provide the work floor of the assembly. When you are computing the height you need, figure you can reach work 4 to 6 feet above the scaffold planks. Get sections tall enough to bring you to the height of the wall with two stacked units. Scaffolds higher than two sections can become unstable.

This tutorial walks you through the basic process of assembling a scaffold. We also offer a few important safety tips along the way.

What You Need

  • Scaffold unit (check out your local home improvement store for rentals)
  • Pigtails
  • Toggle Pins
  • Level
  • 2x4 board

Step 1: Organize All Parts

Before you assemble your scaffolding sections, organize all the parts in one place. Then lay two end frames on the ground near the area you intend to paint. Place the ends facing each other, their ladders on the same side, and their bases about 7 feet apart (or at the final width of your crossbraces). Raise the leg of one frame and insert the long end of the adjustable screw bar into the leg. Then insert the remaining bars into the remaining legs.

Step 2: Assemble Baseplates

Install the baseplates or casters now so you don't have to lift the assembled scaffolding later to put them in. Different scaffold models may have different methods for this assembly, but most have an open tube that slides over the base of the adjustable screw bar. Secure all baseplates or casters with pigtails, toggle pins, or the locking accessory supplied with the scaffolding. Once you slip the mechanisms into the holes, lock them in place.

Step 3: Assemble Crossbrace

Raise one end frame, expand one crossbrace, and slip the holes in the crossbrace arms over the pins on the frame. Lock the pins and let the crossbrace support this frame while you raise the second frame. Raise the second frame and slip the opposite ends of the crossbrace over the pins and lock them. Repeat the process by assembling the other crossbrace and locking the pins.

Step 4: Lock and Level

Move the scaffold into the position where you'll use it. On soft ground slide 2x10 blocks under each baseplate or wheel. Lock the wheels, and set a long straight 2x4 on the bottom bars of the end frames. Level the scaffolding with the adjusting screws.

Step 5: Install Planks

Grasp a scaffold plank in the middle, hoist it overhead and at an angle, and slide it on the top bar until its upper end is beyond the bar. Level the plank and position it so the hooks will engage the bars on both end frames. Then lower the plank until the hooks are on the bars. Secure the plank with the swivel locks. Repeat until you have installed all the planks.

Step 6: Install Rails

Carry the guardrail parts to the platform using the ladder side of a frame. Slide the guardrail posts down over the corner posts of each frame and secure them with a pigtail, toggle pin, or bolt, as provided with your scaffold model. Install top and bottom rails between the posts.

Step 7: Prep Workstation

Set up a workstation on your scaffold platforms either by carrying needed items up the ladder with you or by putting the items in a large bucket and hauling them up with a rope. Having all the items you need readily at hand before you start will cut your prep and painting time by a surprising amount. It's not just the painting that will go faster. Such major repairs as tuckpointing brick walls and removing large sections of paint from wood siding are much easier from a scaffold than from a ladder.

Step 8: Avoid Danger

Avoid working on scaffolds around electrical power lines. If power lines are present near your work area or in the path of your workflow, pay close attention and keep an eye overhead when moving the scaffolding. Don't assume the scaffolding will always move on the level. Variations in the ground surface can cause the scaffold to tip, bringing the metal frame into contact with power lines that are higher than the scaffold. If a framed scaffold assembly simply won't let you paint without danger of electrocution, you may be able to use ladder jacks to get you close to the house but away from the lines. Otherwise, individual fiberglass ladders will make your work slower but keep you safe.

Pro Tip: Understand Toggle Pins and Pigtails

Many scaffolding designs have slight differences in their construction, but all will include some kind of mechanism that locks the pieces together. Toggle pins are common, as are "pigtails"—curved steel pins that insert into holes in the scaffold assembly. Your scaffold model may use other forms of locking mechanisms to hold the assembly together. Always make sure that connecting mechanisms are correctly engaged or in place.


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