Interviewing the J-strut team

Interviewing the J-strut team

A new solution to an old problem is set to strut its stuff on site. Professional Builder catches up with the team behind the J-strut temporary steel support

If you’re in need of temporary support on site then you’ll reach for a telescopic steel prop, but just because a product is ubiquitous doesn’t mean the concept itself can’t be improved upon. Anyone who’s accustomed to using what is generically known as an Acrow will be able to tell you that spinning the collar to the required height can be hard work, especially if it’s jammed by the inevitable cement, mud and sand-based detritus of a building site. Resorting to a hammer for those last few turns can risk injury, and it can often be an  awkward proposition for one person, with many a pinched finger testifying to the unwieldy task of holding the steel in place whilst trying to adjust the height.

Despite those drawbacks, since it was first introduced nearly a century ago, the Acrow has remained largely unchanged until now. A UK engineer decided that this industry staple needed to be brought into the modern world and he’s achieved just that by utilising a power tool that’s become as universal a solution for tradespeople as the Acrow itself.

Changing the norm

The J-strut inventor, Austin Owens, was alerted to the Acrow’s limitations by a builder and took up the challenge of finding a better way. Austin and his team designed a hollow pinion gear which fits on a standard impact wrench and interfaces with a modified collar and pin on the J-strut support. Simply attach the quick-fit pinion to a ½in. impact wrench, locate over the locking pin and let the cordless power tool do the work. It’s safer, quicker and can easily be undertaken by one individual.

“The Acrow has been accepted for so long because it’s fundamentally a very good idea,” explains the developer of this UK-made enhancement and UK-designed product. “What we’ve done is augmented what everybody is already familiar with using a tool that almost every builder will have in their van.”

Acrows are available in five British Standard heights all with the same design of trapezoidal thread. The range extends from the 1.1 – 1.8m Size 0 through to the 3.3 – 4.8m Size 4. It is the Size 1 steel prop, however, that dominates, representing over 60 per cent of the market. As a result, although there are plans to introduce J-struts in all sizes, it is currently exclusively available in that Size 1 category. That makes the load capacity at the lowest 1.8m extension 3.2t, whilst at its fullest 3.1m height it will support a maximum of 1.9t.

“We’ve conducted extensive on-site trials and the reaction has invariably been ‘that’s amazing, and where can I get one,’” enthuses the company’s Product Champion, Will Helme. Four years in the making, the J-strut has been refined through several prototypes, with enhancements to its features along the way. In terms of compliance to standards and regulations, in fact, it actually goes beyond the BS 4074 benchmark for telescopic steel props and is a fully patented solution. “The upgrades we’ve made have been a result of feedback from builders who’ve been using the product,” continues Will. “For example, a new forged pin design prevents that pin from moving as the collar rotates. Instead, it now locks firmly in place.”

“When we’ve given them to builders to try out, we invariably find that they don’t want to hand them back,” adds Austin. “The ambition is for the J-strut to become as standard a solution as the Acrow itself.”

Did you know? 

The story of the Acrow begins much as the J-strut has done with an inventive and entrepreneurial individual on a mission to solve a problem. In the days when flat caps and waistcoats were de rigueur, on-site falsework was held up by timber structures that were usually fashioned on site.

In 1935 William de Vigier came up with the idea of a steel support that could be adapted to the right height with a threaded collar. It was easy to install and take down, could be moved from job to job, and saved huge amounts of time and materials. So where, you might ask, does the Acrow name come from? Well, it was actually the name of the Swiss-born inventor’s solicitor – Mr A Crowe. In keeping with that tradition, the J-strut itself is named after the inventor’s late father-in-law Jim Stout – hence the J-strut.

For further information on the J-strut visit J-STRUT – Award-winning Temporary Steel Prop.

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