The Best Winch
Oct 14, 12 | by: Bruce Smith
How to make the best winch choice the first time
by Bruce W. Smith
The dirt access road along the section of new highway being built on the Mississippi Gulf Coast was slippery and rutted from all the equipment passing over its surface. The red clay base, drenched by heavy rains the day before, was like potter’s clay only worse.
I was riding along with one of the surveyors headed back to resume his work shooting grades when his Chevy Silverado’s right front suddenly took a nosedive. The truck came to an abrupt halt.
It didn’t take much of an inspection to see a temporary culvert running beneath the road had collapsed as his diesel 4×4 rolled over it and now the pickup was ingloriously parked in a two-foot-deep quagmire that no amount of four-wheel-drive or deep-lugged mud tires was going to overcome alone.
Fortunately my driving partner wasn’t that worried; the big winch mounted on the front of his pickup was there for that very reason—the unexpected.
Like true pros, we ran out the cable to the last few wraps, slipped a nylon strap around a big stump, connected cable to strap, and proceeded to yard three tons of mud-bound 4×4 to firmer ground.
Over the decades I’ve learned a winch is a lot more useful than just a tool used for getting my own vehicle moving. More often than not I find it invaluable for helping others get their vehicles out of trouble, or its mechanical muscle called upon around the job site.
But having the right winch combo is the key to it all. Choose wrong and it’s wasted money.
WINCH PULLING POWER
Before you begin to physically shop for a winch it’s important to understand how winches are rated in pulling power. The pulling power of a winch, stated as “line pull,” is the maximum load the winch can exert before it stalls.
Line pull is based on which layer of wrapped cable the load is exerted. But winches are only marketed by their maximum pulling power—a figure derived pulling from the innermost wrap on the drum.
A winch drum is actually another gear in the overall scheme of winching power: As more cable winds onto the drum, the larger the working diameter gets, which decreases the winch’s load-pulling capacity.
As a general rule of thumb, the second layer of cable above the drum cuts the winch’s rated pulling power by about 10-percent. Succeeding layers reduce effective pulling power anywhere from 5 to 15 percent. (See “Winch drum cable pulling power illo.”)
So when maximum pulling power from a winch is needed, run the cable out until it’s down to the bottom layer while leaving at least five wraps of cable around the drum.
Another factor to consider is line speed in and out. Those speeds, under full load, can vary from 3 feet-per-minute (ft/min) to 8fpm depending on model and brand.
No-load speeds can range from 16 ft/min to 75 ft/min. What you choose depends on how fast you need to winch something or retrieve the winch rope or cable.
Last on things to consider is the size of the motor. If the other factors are similar, favor the one with the biggest motor.