Article Categories Archives: Winches & Accessories

Which Winch is Which?

Merriam – Webster defines a winch as a machine for hauling or pulling.  Specifically, a winch is a powerful machine with one or more drums on which to coil a rope, cable, or chain for hauling or hoisting.  In industry, winches stand at the heart of machines as diverse as tow trucks, large industrial cranes, heavy hauling equipment and off road vehicles requiring self-recovery.  The more elaborate designs have gear assemblies that can be powered by electric, hydraulic, pneumatic or internal combustions drives.

The two most common designs of winches used in the Industrial Marketplace are the Worm Gear Winch and the Planetary Winch. Worm gear winches, by design, provide a very rugged platform for heavy duty applications. The planetary winch design offers higher speed and higher efficiency when compared to its counterpart.  However a separate breaking system is required with the planetary design. Which type of winch is better?  It depends on the application.  This is where a winch professional comes in; to help with the specification of the proper winch.

Most US manufactures design to the Industry Standard:  SAE J706 Rating of Winches:  SAE J706 is a voluntary standard for intermittent duty winches.  Winches meeting this standard must comply with design guidelines for the free spool mechanism, brake holding force, drum diameter in relation to the cable diameter (8:1), cable anchor pocket and other design guidelines.  As part of the testing procedure, all winches must be tested to a two times load test.

Worm Gear Winch

Worm gear winches have fewer moving parts than other designs and are known for their superior endurance and high reliability.  The gear box of a Worm Gear Winch has two major parts, the worm and the main or bull gear. It is generally accepted in the industry that worm gear winches have a slower line speed and are less efficient than other designs. However, they are also generally self-braking, meaning that they stop when the driving worm gear stops and are extremely robust.  Due to some new highly efficient gearing technology, there are some worm gear winches that have line speeds that are equal to their planetary counterparts for the same line pull.  Reference:  Ramsey Winch HSW 10,000 Worm Gear Winch has the same line speed as the HD-P 10,000.

Planetary Winch

The planetary winch has gained popularity because of its compact size, smooth operation and good resistance to torque loads.  This design also allows for generally higher efficiency gear ratios than the standard Worm Gear Winch. The planetary winch gear box is made up of the sun gear surrounded by a number of planetary gears that engage the ring gear.  The planetary winch is also more efficient than its worm gear counterpart.  However this device does require a braking system to safely hold the load.

Other Major Components of the Winch:  Although the basic industrial winch design is named after the winch gearbox, there are other components that make up the total winch product.  The major ones of these are the Rope (Synthetic or Wire Rope); the Drum; the Clutch Assembly; the Braking System; and the Driving Motor (generally electric or hydraulic.)

Rope and Drum

The winch rope is stored on the drum in layers.  The published rating of the winch is the “rated line pull on the first layer of rope on the drum.”  The first layer is the layer closest to the drum.

Clutch Operation and Maintenance:  There are several defining factors in the operation of a winch.  One of the most important of these is the operation, inspection and care of the “Clutch Assembly.”  The clutch is used to engage and disengage the gear and drum assemblies of the winch.

Clutch Disengaged

When the clutch is disengaged, the cable on the drum may be pulled off by hand, commonly known as “free spooling”.  There are a number of specified ways to disengage the clutch assembly based on the type of winch, its design and the procedure for operation that is detailed in the winch owner’s manual.

To Disengage Clutch: Run the winch in the reverse direction until the load is off the cable.  Pull outward on the clutch handle, rotate counterclockwise 90 degrees and release. With other designs, the clutch handle can be moved toward the drum until the clutch disengages.   The Clutch is now locked out and the cable may be pulled off by hand. (Free Spool.)

To Re-engage the clutch, pull outward on the handle; rotate clockwise 90 degrees and release. In the other design shown, to reengage the clutch, the handle is pulled away from the drum to the, “IN” position.  The drum is then rotated until the clutch jaws engage the drum jaws.

Important Note:  The most important rule with respect to winch operation: The Clutch must be fully engaged before starting any winch operation. Failure to do so may result in the dropping of the load, with the potential for injury.

Clutch Re-Engaged

Clutch Inspection and Maintenance:  As part of the normal maintenance procedure of the winch, the clutch assembly should be inspected regularly.  These inspection procedures are detailed in the Winch Operation Manual provided by the winch manufacturer.  As an example, on the Ramsey Winch HSW-10000 model, an inspection plug is provided on the top of the clutch housing.  During the inspection procedure, this plug should be removed with the clutch engaged.

The jaw clutch must be fully engaged with the drum jaw to see if the Jaw clutch shows wear.

Drum jaws and clutch Jaw should have square edges.  If the Drum jaws are rounded, the drum must be replaced. It is important to note that the drum should not be welded or machined in an attempt to eliminate round edges.  If the drum jaws are rounded, the drum must be replaced.  This is just one example of a clutch inspection procedure.  The procedure can and will vary depending on the winch design.  See the winch operation manual for the specific winch model and design.

The important thing to remember about the Winch Clutch Assembly:

  • A fully engaged and properly maintained clutch will not release under load.  The operator is responsible for ensuring the clutch is fully engaged before starting winching operations.
  • A partial engagement of the clutch can result in a sudden loss of load and damage to the clutch mechanism, and the possibility of injury.

Summary:  An industrial winch is a robust and reliable device that is used in a variety of industrial applications e.g., towing and recovery, heavy hauling etc.  If properly maintained and operated correctly, it will provide service for a long time.

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Winch Basics and Not-so-Basics

Todd K., AWDirect Technical Product Support

Coming from a life working in (and owning) collision centers, repair shops, tire shops and now working in the marketing and technical side of the industry, my human hard drive of stories, mistakes, accomplishments and knowledge of the towing industry is reaching critical mass.

I think back to the beginning of my recovery days when it seemed fine to wrap the wire rope around the frame of an overturned casualty, attach the hook back to the wire rope, idle up and jerk the vehicle back to its correct “top-side-up” position. I compare that situation to the knowledge I have now of doing it correctly and safely, all while saving money from having to replace damaged parts. It seems as though it should be easy to teach the new guys not to make the same mistakes I made. WRONG. Now, I do not proclaim to be a psychologist or even know much about the human thought process, but 20+ years in the recovery industry has taught me that most of us have a hard time admitting we have done things wrong or do not know something recovery related.

This leads me to why I am writing this article. When we think of winches and wire rope, we assume they’re super-strong and nearly indestructible. WRONG again. That was the impression I had when I started out in the recovery field. For quite some time, I had the impression that if something broke within the winching system then it had to be a manufacturer’s defect. And…I was WRONG again. Are you seeing a pattern here?

Let’s start with wire rope. First off, we need to think of our wire rope as a running machine with moving parts. How’s that you ask? Think of a 4×4 truck on dry pavement. The truck hops and chirps when you make a really tight turn. This is because the outside wheel is traveling much farther than the inside wheel while being locked together, which wears rubber off of the outside tire. Wire rope behaves the same. When it goes around a sheave or the winch drum, the outside wire strands of the rope rub against the slower-moving inside strands. This wears on the small metal strands of the wire rope the whole time. It’s a sound practice to replace wire rope at least every six months on a regularly used recovery vehicle, even if there are no obvious signs of wear. The wear could be taking place, unseen, inside the rope where the small wire strands have worn on each other, leaving breakage to occur anytime with no warning. A six-month replacement schedule should keep you, your employees, your equipment and your customers safe.

There are a host of other damages and problems one can inflict upon wire rope. These include, but are not limited to: bending, smashing and kinking. For instance, a 3/8″ wire rope should never be run around anything less than a 4″-diameter sheave, or across sharp edges (such as the edge of your carrier bed). Plus, we all know we should never wrap the wire rope and hook around an object and attach the hook back to the wire rope itself. Most of these problems can be avoided by using a synthetic rope, but that is an article all by itself and we will leave that for a future writing.

Now on to the winch. The winch is the heart of your truck. Just like the heart that beats in your chest, you are bound to have problems with it if you neglect it long enough, and probably at the most unfortunate times. You do not have a heart attack at the hospital and your winch will not give out at the shop. So…Lubricate! Lubricate! Lubricate! Lubrication is the lifeblood of your winch. Be sure to change the lubricant at least every season to prolong the internal parts of your winch. The type and weight of lubricant can be found in your winch’s manual. (AHHH! No manual? Manuals for most common name brand winches can be found on the manufacturers’ websites).

Check for leaks at the gear and motor side of your winch. The hydraulic motor mount usually has a weep hole. If there is any fluid dripping from it, replace the seal between the motor and the mount. Check for leaks at any gear case seams and replace the gaskets as necessary. Check for loose bolts in the winch frame and for excessive play in the winch drum from side to side. Last, but certainly not least, check the clutch side of the winch. This usually has a fairly simple design—a handle hooks to a clutch fork that slides the jaw clutch’s two teeth in and out of the two teeth in the side of the drum. This allows the winch to free-spool. The simplicity of this design is also what causes the most problems with user error. That’s right, here is where a lot of us go wrong.

There’s that pattern again. Since I was one of the largest violators of the correct clutch disengagement-engagement procedures, I can explain it well! It is 18 degrees outside. We are picking up a stranded mid-size car in 15″ of snow. We pull up, hit the MICO lock, engage the PTO and idle up. We jump out, pull the clutch release and raise the bed. We shovel the snow from the front of the car, attach our V-strap and proceed up the bed to pull the winch cable out. We find ourselves sliding down the snow and ice on the bed until we stop abruptly at the snow-covered V-strap and attach the hook. Now shivering and slightly shaken from the unintended luge trip down the carrier bed, we check traffic then hurry back to the side of the carrier. We tap the clutch release lever back in and pull on the “winch in” handle until the clutch engages into the spool. WRONG again. Rounded jaw clutch teeth are the single largest repair to winches that I see and are easily the most dangerous condition to have with your winch.

It all stems from the clutch engagement method mentioned before. When we power in to engage the clutch, the pressure and speed of the drum rotation can catch the jaw clutch before it is fully engaged, leaving only a 1/4″ or less of the teeth engaged. This situation causes the teeth to round out if done repeatedly. Once rounded, it may cause the winch to disengage at any time, allowing your casualty to freely roll down the bed and over anything and anyone behind it. The correct procedure for engaging the jaw clutch is to release the clutch lever, then tug on the wire rope until the jaw clutch engages into the drum and stops the free-spooling. Then and only then should power be applied to the winch. I want to stress this: we can prevent damage to our machines and customer vehicles, or even prevent the loss of life by simply using machines the way they were designed to be used—safely and correctly.

Give someone a winch and they will pull stuff around. Teach someone recovery and they will be an asset to our industry and society.

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Does It Really Matter

Cargo Control for Tow Professionals

Cargo Control for Tow Professionals

B/A products has been manufacturing and distributing towing and recovery products since 1978. We have come a long way since our start, increasing our product line, doing more manufacturing in house, larger space and more employees. Product quality is our top priority, and to ensure quality, we do a lot of testing.

If you have been to one of our open houses, you may have seen some of the testing we do. Random samples of all inbound chain, wire rope and forgings, snatch blocks and more are tested. While we receive documentation from our manufacturers, we test to verify that documentation. Does it matter? Yes!

In the course of testing, we occasionally find product that does not meet our specifications. We received a batch of chain that was not breaking properly. While the chain made minimum break strength, there was little to no elongation, the chain was too brittle. After discussing the problem with the chain manufacturer, it was discovered the chain had been heat treated to the wrong specification. The chain was returned, annealed and reheat treated, and now met spec. Did it really matter? In this case, yes.

We also test finished product to verify that the ratings we give them are accurate. When we started making tie downs for the auto hauling industry, there was a lot of debate on what the Work Load Limit of the straps should be. One side wanted to rate it based on the weakest component. The other side said in use, the load would be distributed and it would withstand a higher load. How to settle the debate? We built a mock up of a car hauler deck to use on our Crosby National CN22 flat bed tester, strapped a tire in, and tried to pull it out from under the strap.

The result? At 15,400 lbs, the test was stopped. The tire was still under the tie down, and as you can see in the photo, we compressed the tire a few inches. The strap got the higher work load limit, and we are confident the strap is suitable for the job. Did it really matter? Once again, yes.

We also get customer driven requests. A customer asked us to document the differences in the breaking strength of ratchet type load binders depending on how far in or out the hooks were relative to the ratchet mechanism. Test parameters were set up, and the testing began.

Load Binders at the Beginning of the Test

Load Binders at the Beginning of the Test

For the first round of testing, a 5/16”-3/8” load binder with a Work Load Limit of 6600 lbs and a Minimum Break Strength of 19,800 lbs was tested. Three samples were tested: one with the hooks wound all the way in, one with the hooks 1/3rd of the way out, and one with the hooks 2/3rd of the way out.

The samples were then hooked onto a section of 3/8” grade 80 chain. Each end of the chain had a clevis grab hook, and loops were formed over the hooks of the test bed.

Load Binder and Chain in a Test Bed

Load Binder and Chain in a Test Bed

Force was applied to the point of failure, the results were graphed and photographed. So what happened? Here are the results:

Hooks all the way in: one grab hook on load binder opened at 23,275 lb

Hooks 1/3rd of the way out: one grab hook on load binder opened at 23,711 lb

Hooks 2/3rd of the way out: one grab hook on load binder opened at 21,396 lb

So did it really make a difference? In this case, no. Regardless of the hooks position, the load binders exceeded their Minimum Break Strength, and nearly four times their work load (remember: NEVER exceed a products Work Load Limit!).

Just to confirm our results, another group of load binders was tested. These were 3/8” G100 binders, with a Work load limit of 8800 lbs, and a minimum break of 26,400 lbs. The test set up was the same, using 3/8” grade 80 chain. This time the results were a little different:

Hooks all the way in: chain broke at 29,889 lbs

Hooks 1/3rd of the way out: chain broke at 22,089, where binder was hooked

Hooks 2/3rd of the way out: chain broke at 22,029 where binder was hooked


Graph of initial test

Graph of initial test

So what happened? First, the Work Load Limits were mismatched. Binder Work Load Limit is 8800 lbs, 3/8 Grade 8 chain WWL is 7100 lbs. One test went above the Minimum Break Strength of the chain (28,400 lbs); two were below the MBS. In both cases, one of the links the binder was hooked to failed. This is known in the chain industry as a Preferential Failure. Because of the way force is applied to the link by the grab hook; it can fail at up to 20% below the chains MBS. Chain is designed to be pulled in a straight line, not from the side. Also remember, that an assembly is rated by its weakest component, and once again, NEVER exceed the products Work Load Limit.

So did it really matter in this test? I’ll have to say yes and no. No because the position of the load binder hooks did not affect the result of the test. Yes because the differences of the Work Load Limit of the components did affect the test, as well as the Preferential Failure.

I’ve asked the question does it really matter several times, and answered some with yes and some with no. The answer to all of them should be yes. We test to make sure you get the best product available, every time. It matters because when we ship a product, any product, we want there to be no question it will do the job for which it was designed., every time. Yes, it really does matter.

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