How to Remove an Old Bolt

What is the best way to chop a rusty quarter-inch split-shank Rawl bolt? The crowbar is trashing the rock, and the bolt isn't moving. The bolt is placed in a dish, so I can't get a hacksaw in there. Can I use a cold chisel? Any other ideas?

By Rock and Ice | February 2nd, 2010

What is the best way to chop a rusty quarter-inch split-shank Rawl bolt? The crowbar is trashing the rock, and the bolt isn’t moving. The bolt is placed in a dish, so I can’t get a hacksaw in there. Can I use a cold chisel? Any other ideas?

Earlier this year I broke off a jaw tooth and pondered my uncle who pulled all of his teeth with a pair of pliers. But folks who grew up in the Great Depression (not to be confused with the Awesome Depression we are currently in) were cut from a different cloth. After tounguing the bleeding stump for a couple of weeks, I saddled myself into a dentist’s chair like a little sissy. I entertained the dentist with the story of my uncle and asked if he had some sort of special dentist’s tool to quickly and painlessly remove the broken tooth.

“Of course,” he said. “We are not in Russia anymore!”

He then reached in my mouth with a pair of vice grips and pried out the tooth.

My point is, I have lots of ideas, Emily, and not many of them have to do with removing bolts. But a few do, and you asked …

Let’s start with your vernacular. “Chopping” is an ugly and violent word for the graceful act of coaxing a faithful old bolt out of its hole. Show some respect! Let’s try the word “retrofitting.” See the difference wordplay can make? Watching your language is especially important when conveying your actions to anti-climbers, such as anyone who doesn’t climb, and all of those who do.

Forget the chisel and crowbar. These cold and insensitive brutes do a poor job and scar the stone. For examples of what I’m talking about, go climb any rap-bolted route circa the mid 1980s.

To extract your bolt, you need a “tuning fork,” a #3 or #4 Lost Arrow pin with its center cut or ground out so it resembles, guess what, a tuning fork! The pin modification is tough and requires special tools that can nip off your fingers. Don’t try it at home! Instead, contact the fine folks at the American Safe Climbing Association (www.safeclimbing.org) and they will sell you one.

With tuning fork in hand, pry the bolt and hanger out far enough to accept the fork. Do this by gently hammering a long, thin knifeblade under the hanger. Work the pin from all angles. You may need to repeat the process using a larger pin before the tuning fork will slip behind the bolt hanger. With the fork in place,  tap its eye until it is driven to the hilt. If the bolt hasn’t already popped out, clip and weight the fork’s eye, gently levering out. Bingo.

Extremely rusty bolts, especially those with threaded ends and nuts rather than button heads (see photo), might break off rather than pull. Don’t freak out. Go home and get more tools. You will need a cordless hammer drill fitted with a high-speed steel ¼-inch bit. Drill the bolt shard out of the hole (the bolt will usually break off flush to the rock). Try your drill on spin-only mode, but if that doesn’t work, switch it over to hammer and spin. If that fails, leave the bits of bolt in the hole and artfully patch over it with a mix of epoxy resin and rock dust. If the bolt did come out cleanly, re-drill the hole to either 3/8- or 1/2-inch and set a new anchor.

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