Climb Design – An interview with Tim Preston

As part of our series of interviews with Australian producers of gear for climbers, we speak to Tim Preston, owner of the Castlemaine-based Climb Design.

Can you tell us a little about yourself?
I like to make stuff. This has lead me from tinkering in the shed as a kid to shipbuilding (historical replicas), a degree in Industrial Design, and setting up a small furniture company usethings with my partner. We live in Central Victoria with two kids and a dog.

Tim on an aid ascent of Ozymandias at Mt Buffalo. Image Climb Design

Tim product testing. Image Climb Design

How did you get into climbing?
In the late ‘80s I shared a house with a climber, he took me trad climbing and we trained at a gym in between. He was a scientist and had energy for gym sessions at the end of the day, I was mostly knackered from shipbuilding. I did fully appreciate the chicken pho in Footscray on the way home from Altona though.

What is it about climbing that you really enjoy?
The total body engagement – every muscle and sinew powering through a move, I did that once, it felt great! The mental challenge – being shit scared but moving through it. Being outdoors in great places. Working with a mate to achieve something together. Doing something you didn’t think you could. All the shiny, highly-engineered gear. Solving problems on the fly – a physical move or protection. Creating eloquent anchors, by that I mean quick, efficient and bomber. I did that once too. Did I mention all the shiny gear?

What inspired you to start Climb Design?
Climbing, like designing, is problem solving. In climbing you do it with a set of elements: the rock, sling, pro, carabiner… it’s just taking that a little further to create an object. When I first struggled getting gear out as a second – my partner was old-school about really seating pro – I thought there must be a better way. LittleHammer evolved over a very long time in my head, I kept coming back to the problem. Years later I got a solution and tried a very rough prototype. It worked and that was the reason to start Climb Design. I did a few other products including a Kickstarter trial to get Climb Design off the ground. I was uptight about protecting the IP so I didn’t tell anyone at first, my partner said ‘That’s a nice logo, what’s it for?’ and I said I’ve started a new company, launched a website and have a provisional patent application in. I’m yet to be forgiven. Got an Australian Patent though.

The LittleHammer, the perfect nut key for those who have to second people who like to seat their nuts like Excalibur. Image Climb Design

The LittleHammer, the perfect nut key for those who have to second people who like to seat their nuts like Excalibur. Image Climb Design

Can you tell us about the products you have created?
Currently on the market I’ve got a super light belay seat (designed around some research we did for an office seat) a Zip-up rope protector, and LittleHammer. Other stuff I’ve made is a single portaledge (did two prototypes before I saw the D4 and gave up), aid ladders with a curved spreader, aid shoulder sling, aid hammer and a gear sack that opens flat and divides the gear to stop tangles. Most of this stuff I make because I can’t afford the real thing!

We imagine that picking a favourite design may be like picking a favourite child, but do you have a favourite among your designs?
You’re right it’s hard to choose because they are all the best solutions you get to within the parameters. I still really like LittleHammer and have redesigned it after feedback from the first batches. Every time it does what I need it to do I go ‘Yesss! It really does work!”, sure bangs them out when you’re aid climbing.

What do you think is unique about your products?
I think my design is unique: it comes from my understanding of materials, processes and my approach to climbing. Being a small operator you can have a crack at an idiosyncratic idea, something the bigger companies market research won’t allow mind you they make money! I’m unique instead.

Do you have an overarching philosophy that guides your design work?
I go for material efficiency and paring back to essential functionality. Doing that in something that is easily producible is another balance to strike. Is that a philosophy or just the way I understand the physical world? I have a sense of material properties from mucking around in the shed since a I was a kid. That’s still my favourite bit.

Tim's prototype locking bolt plate for placing on Australia's unique carrot bolts. Image Climb Design

Tim’s prototype locking bolt plate for placing on Australia’s unique carrot bolts. Image Climb Design

Do you have any new products (that you can tell us about) that you are working on?
The Locking Removable Bolt Plate is the new one. Been working on it for a while but recently got some numbers on a pull test so feel it’s okay to go further. You know how the old removable bolt plates come off with the I-beam carabiners not having enough volume to secure them? Well this is my solution. Hinges open then locks once the carabiner is in it. I got two prototypes to 12kN and know how to improve on that. I have to come up with a better name though, Perhaps VL readers can make suggestions… I know the risks of crowdsourcing names but I could even go with Bolty McBolt Face!

For a long time Roland Pauligk, creator of RPs, was one of the few successful peope creating gear in Australia, but there seems to be more people making gear at this present moment – what do you think is the reason for this?
Perhaps it’s that the small scale operation is possible with crowdfunding. LittleHammer got up, John’s beautifully designed D4 portaledge did too. Both these have supporters worldwide. It means you don’t have to be a big company or have a huge product range. I spoke to Roland on the phone once, I wanted to meet to talk to him about being a gear maker in Australia but he thought I wanted him to produce LittleHammer so we didn’t meet. He’s a bit of a hero along with Malcolm Matherson and his cams. Have had a few good yacks to Malcolm and talked engineering and materials. He uses the one high carbon, stainless LittleHammer I had water-jet cut.

Despite the small boom in companies creating climbing gear in Australia, we imagine that producing gear here is not without its challenges, what have you found most difficult?
Getting specialist materials is a lot harder now. Looking for a higher tensile stainless steel for the next version of LittleHammer, the response I got was ‘Yep that spec. stainless use to be available here but…’. As manufacturing contracts here, only standard materials get stocked. Small scale businesses like mine can’t afford to buy a container load of a fancy steel or go to China to set up and monitor production. One of the things we are into though is local manufacture and we do work with some great engineers and fabricators in our area.

When it comes to climbing gear more generally, do you have any favourites (and why)?
For innovation I love Edelrid, I’ve got a few slider carabiners and the Megajul twin rope belay assist. I also like their Bluesign environmental certification on ropes. I like La Sportiva for their environmental focus in manufacturing. I’ve got some Black Diamond OZ carabiners because the hood-wire is a cool solution. And I like DMM for top quality gear and manufacturing in Wales.

Learn more at Climb Design.

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