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Pulling Power | Fall 2007 Out Here Magazine

Winches are handy for all kinds of chores, such as dragging brush or freeing stuck vehicles, but they’re also valuable for stretching and tightening fencing between posts.

Winches are more versatile than you might think

By Noble Sprayberry
Photograph courtesy of Warn Industries

A truck-mounted winch has saved many four-wheeling fans from mucky embarrassment and off-road entrapment. Look beyond the obvious, however, and you'll see that a winch is a powerful workhorse that can be used in countless ways.

"A winch is like a good Swiss Army knife," says Scott Salmon, product manager for winch manufacturer Warn Industries, Inc. "It can be used in multiple ways."

One person might mount a winch to a trailer to help load a boat. Others may use the device to bend a tree, adding tension to help in the cutting, or to drag brush up from a ravine. A rancher might rely on a winch to stretch and tighten fencing between posts.

"It's for whenever you think you need to add tension or to pull something up that is heavier than yourself," Salmon says.

Defining potential tasks for a winch is just the first step. A user should become comfortable with its operation, an understanding that can open up the full potential of the tool.

"I think if a person ever has one or ever uses one, they see the versatility of it," Salmon says.

A winch is a simple device. The most common consumer-level models operate on 12-volt batteries, such as the one found in a vehicle.

A gear box coverts the speed of the winch motor into pulling power. A drum or reel provides a spool onto which the cable winds. A brake system stops unwanted movement. And the cable itself creates the final piece.

Winches come in a range of prices, from $100 to $600 for those capable of pulling 6,000 pounds or less. Larger units with the power to pull as much as 16,500 pounds can cost $2,000.

Understanding how all the parts work together is essential in buying the right winch for your jobs.

A crucial mistake often centers on the maximum pulling capacity, Salmon says.

A winch rated at 8,000 pounds can pull the full weight, but only for one revolution of the drum. Each layer of cable makes the drum bigger, decreasing the mechanical advantage.

Failing to understand this ratio causes problems. And while winches can handle jobs large and small, a buyer should always plan for tackling the biggest foreseeable chore.

Someone who wants to pull a 1,500-pound load onto a 24-foot trailer might buy and mount a 1,500- pound winch, Salmon advises.

"It may pull that 1,500 pound load for 5 feet, until you get to the second layer. And then, it begins to stall out and they get disappointed," he says.

Before buying a winch, estimate the maximum load that you plan to work with, such as a boat or the weight of a vehicle. Then, multiple that weight by 1½, Salmon says. A 1,000-pound load, for example, would require at least a 1,500-pound winch. Multiplying the weight by two adds a better margin for error.

Also, always consider properly mounting the winch. A weak anchor point such as a bumper might not only leave a job unfinished, he says, but also a hefty repair bill.

Noble Sprayberry is a freelance writer in Phoenix.