Posted on 2 Comments

Hand crafted from salvaged wood: The Project boulder brush.

Making boulder brushes from salvaged hardwood

After finding a spokeshave, a hand tool used to plain and smooth wood, in a salvage yard – I brought it home to tackle some planks of hardwood we had stacked in the garden. The wood had been planking from a 1950’s flat bed truck, and had been saved from being sent to the scrap yard, and until now had been waiting for its moment to shine. As you can imagine this required some intensive wood preparation.

Instead of more cheap plastic boulder brushes I wanted to create something handmade, the old fashioned way.

Planks are sawn into strips followed by heavy sanding to remove years of weathering. The strips are then cut into lengths to form brush handle blanks, ready for shaping .

A simple homemade clamp (again from waste wood!) is used to hold all pieces in place while they are worked on.

Each handle blank is shaped using the aforementioned spokeshave, primarily a chair maker’s tool designed to shape intricate bits of wood.

Once shaped, the brushes are branded. To do so, a branding die was made from aluminium using a burr and Dremel. This die, I attached to the end of a soldering iron. At the correct temperature, this branded our logo onto each brush. On the other side, a pocket was cut using a combination of a drill and chisel for the bristles to be inserted.

Now for some personality. Spray can remnants from other projects were used to create lots of awesome colour fade effects. The colouring was sealed with a top coat of clear nitrocellulose lacquer.

I then painstakingly glued rows of boar bristle, keeping it dense because no one likes brushes that wear out too fast. It took me a bloody long time to make, so I want them to last a long time.

Once the glue had been left to dry for several days, the bristles were trimmed. Done.

I am pretty chuffed with our completely handcrafted Project brush, and we hope you are too. Each one is totally unique, just like you!

Posted on 1 Comment

Make do and mend: fixing a rucksack

Why replace when you can repair? Outdoor gear is usually made to last and it seems such a shame to discard a whole product just because of a faulty zip or a hole.

It is wonderful to see so many brands offering a repair service for products, to extend the life of their gear even further.

  • Alpkit stores have a Hatch, Patch and Sew drop off station.
  • Patagonia have a worn wear program. They also have lots of repair guides for fixing clothing yourself.
  • DMM and Black Diamond cam trigger wire repair and sling replacements
  • Rab repair service, fill an online form and post item off!

This repair was born from frustration at not being able to find a replacement for a much-loved bag. The waterproofing had worn away and there was a pretty gnarly hole in the rucksack part.

From what I could see, buckles, zips and the main body of the bumbag were still looking good. It was all looking tired, and in true Dirtbags style, all replacement and repair would be done using materials themselves recycled.

It needed to be lightweight, and the bag part needed to be small enough to smoosh down and pack away. The main part of the rucksack was fixed using tent material and the rest some lovely blue waterproof ripstop material, which was an end of roll fabric. We replaced the hip straps with an orange tent material, and the rucksack straps, taken from a beyond repair bag.

We simply unpicked the panels and used the pattern to cut new pieces, remembered where they went – carefully stitching it back together. Recycled rope trim was used on the front panel and on the zip pulls.

Looking fresh, and once again usable. A repair using only repurposed materials!

Don’t just throw your things away, there could be more life in them. We can repair and revitalise your disheveled outdoor gear – just get in touch.

Posted on Leave a comment

St Bees Head: product test and photoshoot.

A group of local friends and climbers joined us for a quiet afternoon celebrating the beginning of Spring hugging some rocks and testing out some chalk bags. We drove out to the coast, to St Bees; a gorgeous bouldering location.

Loaded with pads, shoes, lunch and a bag of new stock we carefully made our way down the cliff side to boulder the afternoon away. Due to the bird ban, and high tide, our visit was restricted to the Apiary wall area – which had lots of problems with a good range of difficulty.


We were excited to show off some of the new lightweight panel bags made entirely from offcuts, and the classic horizontal panel recycled rope chalk bags. We also brought along some bracelets and belts for the guys to have a look and test.

James and I were joined by Anna, Karly, Tess, Jonathan, Reece, Nick and Lauren. With a good range of climbing abilities it was a chilled day, not about performance or showing off – just everyone confident enough to have a go and to enjoy the day.

The day was made possible really by the power of social media , reaching out to those who might be interested in spending the day messing about on some rocks with us proved to be popular, and brought this little group together.

With aching fingers and bellies lit with an enthusiasm for this year’s climbing – we all left with big plans for summer.

And us particularly, to make days like this, with new friends all with the love of climbing in common – more regular.

Huge thanks to those who came, particularly Jonathan and Reece who worked hard taking photos while we all played.


Posted on Leave a comment

Recycled climbing rope rug.

‘Hey, cool rug, how’d you make it?’

This was a lovely commissioned piece and I really wanted to keep it, alas it is making itself cosy in front of the fire in its new home. the spec was for the rug to be reversible so if any embers escape and land it can be flipped over.

After washing – we chose the colours of rope and cut to length, then pulled the nylon core from the middle. This means the sheath can be flattened.

Pressed lengths are stitched together using a strong thread.

The sections are laid out and measured, put in a pretty pattern, and straightened out.

With all the pieces stitched together, we measured the correct dimensions (minus 8mm for the rope edging around the outside) and marked out. The rough edges were melted off using a soldering iron/ pyro pen. One final, long outer strand of rope was stitched around the edge to hide rough edges and give a nice border.

Recycled rope rug – done!
Testing it out before packing away to new owner.

We liked it so much, we have another in the project box due to be listed on the website soon.

Would you like a custom rug made, either from your own rope – or select colours of ours? Contact us. 

Posted on Leave a comment

Dirtbag Diary: James – overcoming injury.

Humans are quite good at problem solving. As Dirtbags solely uses recycled materials and machines in need of repair there has been quite a bit of problem solving to understand how we can create what we want from what we have at our disposal.

Lately I have been doing a lot problem solving. Since breaking my leg in Fontainebleau after landing awkwardly off my pad blowing my MCL and ACL. At first I struggled to come to terms with my injury and how my knee may never work the same again. It’s strange how having a problem to solve takes your mind off of immediate longer term problems like healing a climbing preventing injury. For example, a good few hours designing and building our own embroidery machine for the labels took my mind off the injury for a while, but being stopped from climbing in the longer term was the last thing I was going to allow to happen.

Night bouldering at Trowbarrow Quarry, Jame on Shallow Groove V11.
Trowbarrow Quarry – Shallow Groove V11
James in front of hospital with his new knee brace.
Brace yourself…

At first the frustration is immense, I actually spent 11 days laid up in Chamonix before I made it home. Staring at mountains you can’t climb only leaves you with one option….the bar. Rehabilitation started slowly as my leg was so swollen but after two months of intensive physiotherapy and lots of ice I started to get back into climbing outside. Here’s a quick run through of my of how I managed to get back to roped climbing within 5 months without surgery.

  • I didn’t take Naproxen to reduce swelling as there is evidence that it hinders the ligament healing process
  • I used constant ice and heat to get blood flowing to the area (ice also really helped with the pain).
  • Know the difference between the aches and pains of healing and making it worse pain
  • Knowing the above allowed me to tentatively put weight on my knee with a brace on and then start to regain flexion and extension (this hurts but you have to try really hard).
  • Once I could bend my leg a little I went hard with the TENS machine followed by a few private and NHS physio sessions
  • I stuck to the physio exercises religiously and did them two to three times a day to get my quads and hamstring working properly again.
  • I started going to the climbing wall and got straight back leading with a brace on.

Now five months on, and as a result of exploring every avenue to healing my leg, and training my upper body in the mean time; I’m already on the road to returning stronger.

A large part of my motivation to climb comes from finding a route that inspires me and makes me want to go climbing. I was feeling pretty low about not being able to climb well again so I knew that finding a new project route would be a large motivator to sorting out my head. My body would heal with time but the confidence I had in my physical ability had gone to shit.

Only a few days ago, while Wetherlam was dusted with snow and a mist hung low in Hodge Close Quarry I was dangling over the water scrubbling lichen from my new project. Excited for warmer, drier times to get back on the rock, some potential E6 slate is definitely on the cards for 2019.

I really enjoy climbing on the slate, it lends itself well to a climbing style typically adopted from climbing indoors. You move from hold to hold but without large dependency on smearing such as a grit route perhaps.

The Lakes slate areas sometimes get a bad rep due to their chossy nature. I love exploring esoteric choss that nobody wants to climb on and find something new in amongst the rubble pile. While Tilberthwaite Quarry is well known, some of its routes appear reclaimed by nature, part crumbling and dangerous looking. I’m always surprised to not see more people climbing at Tilberthwaite Quarry. In such a pleasant setting there are some great lines here with an adventurous feel, protected by a mixture of bolts and trad gear.

I’m always intrigued when I walk up to old routes in the slate quarries. Could I climb this route? Is the old peg still safe?

James Dickinson: Latex Generation E5 6b

The first route I projected rather than trying to onsight was Latex Generation, my favorite to date! The process of working this route opened up a door allowing me to realise that I could climb a lot harder if I really wanted to.

Initially I set up a shunt on the route, scrubbed twenty years of lichen off all the apparent holds and started to piece together all the weird compression moves, long powerful reaches and strange jams. It felt ridiculously hard.

I top roped Latex Generation a few times sporadically and finally I was able to make it through the first powerful crux, through the mid-section protected by a rotting peg and a tri-cam placed into a shot hole and up to the final hard move. This must be the 6b move. While smearing on slate, toe cammed in behind a flake and a two finger lock as deep as the first joint, a really powerful sideways dyno is made to a ledge. As I went for it, I latched the small flake hold of the ledge at the absolute extent of my reach. The hold snapped off and I took a big swing with the flake in my hand. The problem now was that I knew I could make it this high but I also knew how hard the sideways leap was and didn’t think I would ever be able to do this move, it was at the absolute limit of my reach even with a jump. A month later I was back. I top roped the route with a friend, making it to the upper crux and stuck the sideways dyno. I was at the top.

When working on a route at your limit I love and hate this moment.

I got straight on the lead the following afternoon. After placing the last piece just below the upper crux I lunged sideways, brushed the ledge with my fingertips, took a big fall onto the old fixed protection and smashed into a razor slate edge with my heel.

I could feel my heel swelling and I knew that if I didn’t try again, this time committing fully in my head then I wouldn’t be able to try again until the bruising had gone down. Back at the upper crux I clipped the gear. I felt really tense but after composing myself I sank the tips of the first two fingers of my right hand into one of the best finger locks you could ever wish for. Releasing, I leaped across the blank wall and latched the ledge. Mantel up, bridge the corner, off the top, done.      

I felt really absorbed by this climbing experience and the problem solving process. The exploration finding a route that inspires you, working out how the climb the route and the challenge are all great motivators for climbing but also as mini lessons on dealing with things that push you physically and mentally.

James Dickinson leading Latex Generation E5 6b – Tilberthwaite Quarry

Lesson: If there’s something you want to do whether that be solving a technical problem, recovering from injury or even working out the crux on a route then take something positive away from every failure and learn from the experience until you can eventually overcome the challenge.