Aluminium Ladders: Their History, Features and Usage

Widespread use of aluminium did not occur until the early years of the 19th century. This was because the special process for extracting large quantities of aluminium from ores such as bauxite did not exist. For that reason, aluminium often had a higher value than gold. In the court of Napoleon III (1852–1870), aluminium plates were reserved for use by the most important guests. It wasn’t until the mid-1880s that an electrolytic process known as Hall-Heroult made it cost-effective to extract aluminium from ores. By the end of the 19th century, aluminium came into wide use as a building material all over the world. The dome of the Chief Secretary’s building in Sydney, Australia is made from aluminium, as is the apex of the Washington Monument in the US. This set the stage for the transformation of this versatile material into highly functional and durable aluminium ladders.

Aluminium Ladders: Their Early Use

In the 1930s, a fire department located in Norway asked ALCOA, the Aluminium Company of America, whether there was an alternative to the heavy and bulky timber extension ladders that they were using. They needed a type of ladder that was more reliable and easier to handle and manoeuvre. In addition, an innovative, more efficient and useful ladder design was needed by business, industry and DIY users. Because it’s light in weight, an aluminium ladder is ideal for a myriad of commercial and domestic uses. Unlike a wooden ladder, it is not susceptible to fire. Aluminium does not rot or weaken the way wood does when exposed to the elements. This means it can be stored outdoors with no problem. However, it’s best to keep your aluminium ladder in a dry and covered area, so that it’s ready to use at a moment’s notice and not wet and slippery. Aluminium isn’t affected by fire or insect damage. In addition, it’s impervious to water and isn’t likely to crack or warp. Finally, an aluminium ladder will never rust or corrode, although it may develop some minor pitting on the surface. It’s important to note, though, that aluminium will conduct an electric current, so it’s wise to choose a timber or glass fibre ladder for work around electrical sources. However, specially insulated aluminium ladder models are available, but usually at higher prices.

Aluminium Ladders: Many Positive Features

Since an aluminium ladder is much lighter in weight than timber or glass fibre, it’s a good choice for most commercial or domestic applications because the ladder can be handled by a single person, including women and older children. An aluminium ladder is likely to cost less than timber or glass fibre ladders too. For example, you can expect to pay well over £120 for a timber loft ladder, while an aluminium one sells for about £55, a saving of over 50%. When considering ladders, be sure to factor in that a timber ladder does require regular maintenance, and an aluminium ladder does not. So, over time, timber ladders can be more expensive, even if their initial price is less. Aluminium ladders also are an earth-friendly, environmentally sound choice, because aluminium is the 3rd most abundant element and can be recycled quite easily.

Aluminium Ladders: Attributes and Types to Consider

Most users want their ladders to be as strong as possible, and aluminium has a superior weight-to-strength ratio, thanks to a high degree of tensile strength. This can vary from 200MPa to as much as 600Pa. MPa is a measure of how much stress a material can withstand without stretching, rupturing, breaking or otherwise failing. In contrast, the MPa of pine wood is 37MPa to 45MPa. This means aluminium has superior strength and usually is preferred over steel because of its density and light weight. There is an excellent range of ladders made from aluminium to choose from. Leaning or lean-to ladders are popular with homeowners for exterior work like painting or washing windows on upper storeys. Aluminium step ladders can be used indoors or outdoors. For extra safety and stability you can buy aluminium ladders with rubber feet, stabilising bars, locking clamps and even step platforms to provide extra stability at height. Some aluminium step ladders have extra-wide rungs or steps that make the ladder very easy and comfortable to climb. Aluminium roof ladders are designed with curved bars at the top capable of hooking onto the roof to provide safe access.

Aluminium Ladders: More Types

Aluminium scaffold towers are ideal for applications where it’s necessary to work at height for extended periods. These ladders have special configurations of hinges and sections that make them the ladder of choice for this type of work. There’s also a special-purpose ladder for use on stairways that can be adjusted to accommodate the uneven nature of the steps. If you need several types of ladders, then take a serious look at combination ladders, which can be configured in a variety of ways, including stair ladder, extension ladder and leaning ladder. If you have limited storage space, a telescoping ladder is a good choice. This ladder has a number of sections, each of which telescopes into the section below it. Each section of the ladder features a locking mechanism, so the ladder can be telescoped to just the height that’s needed. Regardless of the ladder chosen, deploy it only on dry, level surfaces. If you’re using a straight or extension ladder, always put it up at a 75 degree angle, so that the distance between the base of the ladder and the vertical surface it’s leaned is about one-quarter of the ladder’s total height. Never use a steeper angle, because the ladder may fall when the user leans away from it. Shallow angles are dangerous as well, because they may cause the ladder to lose its grip on the ground. To avoid this problem, it’s wise to fit the ladder with stabilisers that improve its grip on the surface on which they’re deployed.

So, there we are. Over the last 80 years aluminium ladders have developed to provide a wide variety of innovative and useful applications in both commercial and domestic settings.

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