High strength steel winner in Alpine environment
For most people the thought of being on a vertical wall of ice would probably be their idea of a nightmare. For others it would be pure pleasure. That pleasure was the foundation of a successful collaboration between two Italian driving forces resulting in a series of climbing devices made of advanced high strength steel, a material that is proven to meet the highest standards for light weight, high safety levels and strength.
Italian passion and Swedish steel
What began with an idea from a welder with a passion for climbing is now a series of climbing devices made for demanding high level alpine climbing. Climbubu are hand made ice axes and tools for ice climbing and dry-tooling, i.e. climbing with ice tools in mixed environments of both rock and ice, which are now sought after by climbers worldwide.
The first seeds of Climbubu were sown when the welder and amateur climber Stefano Azzali began designing ice axes in his spare time. The growing dry-tooling trend inspired him to produce a product that was specially adapted to the tough demands placed on equipment for handling both rock and ice. After a few less successful attempts, Azzali’s ice axe had become so good that he decided to contact Mauro “Bubu” Bole, a professional mountaineer whose speciality is dry-tooling.
“When I asked Bubu what he thought about my ice axe he was hesitant. But he was interested in working together to develop the products,” says Stefano Azzali.
“I thought the products were rubbish, but at the same time was impressed by Stefano’s creativity, imaginative solutions and knowledge of metals – there were no similar products to be found on the market. I used to modify the commercial ice axes myself as they didn’t meet my requirements,” says Mauro “Bubu” Bole.
“We have several things in common and are both motivated, passionate and creative,” “Bubu” Bole continues.
The choice of material – a success factor
The collaboration was initiated in 2003 and extensive development work began, with many hours at the computer with Stefano Azzali translating Bubu’s design concepts to 3D sketches. After a trial with stainless steel the choice of material quickly turned to Hardox, one of SSAB’s best-known brands and the name of the company’s advanced high strength steels where toughness and durability were a priority.
“In the welding workshop my father and I manufactured other products of high strength steel and when we realised that we needed a stronger material in the axes, we decided to try Hardox there as well. Dry-tooling requires extra hardwearing high quality material, whilst the tools have to be light, and Hardox was the solution to our problem,” says Stefano Azzali.
The choice of Hardox is interesting, as this is a completely new area of application for steel associated with totally different environments.
“Hardox is one of the world’s top steels for highly vulnerable wear parts in construction machinery, lorries, stone crushers and excavators,” says Alberto Moglia, key account manager at SSAB. “Here we have evidence that the steel offers more possibilities for designers worldwide.”
The trial with Hardox was successful and Climbubu could become reality, a series of high performance tools made of Swedish high-strength steel.
“It’s great to follow the success story of Climbubu. This is, at the very least, an unusual use of high strength steel and it is great fun to see the results of Stefano Azzali and Mauro Bole’s innovative spirit,” Alberto Moglia continues.
The handmade axes are manufactured with great accuracy in a material that meets the high demands. The axe blades are cut from the steel using water. The water jet cutting is most appropriate in that the steel properties are not affected by heating. The handle is made of carefully selected carbon fibre.
“By using 3.2 mm Hardox instead of chromium-nickel-molybdenum steel, which is otherwise commonly used in climbing devices, we have been able to halve the weight whilst the axes are stronger and last longer,” explains Stefano Azzali. “I am very interested in metals and for me, the quality is crucial when choosing materials.”
News for amateur climbers
Competitive climbers have quickly become aware of Climbubu and today winners of World Cup contests use the ice axes.
Climbubu’s products, which are still unique on the market, have evolved since the start and the business has grown, with more products and new distributors. Demand from professional climbers is high and Climbubu now has distributors in Japan and South Korea.
Until recently, the tools have only been manufactured for professional climbers. The latest axe, which is made entirely of Hardox, has however, been developed for amateur climbers and has a much lower price tag than the tools for competitive climbers.
“Despite the fact that we now have thousands of modern materials to choose from, it is steel – an ancient material – which is best for manufacturing tough and hardwearing products,” Stefano Azzali concludes.