Selecting A Crane Winch For Lifting

There are dozens of ways to lift with a crane.  Chain falls are popular.  Come-alongs are another common method.  There are also a variety of winches – from the hand crank to an electric crane winch for lifting.  Is one better than another?

From a DIY perspective, there are some specific things to consider.  Among them, and the focus of this article, is head room.  I like my come-along, and I have a nice chain fall.  Yet, many lifting methods are lacking for DIY because of the head space required.  A chain fall, or a come-along takes a lot of space under the crane beam, which limits how high we can lift.

Crane ToolsUntil we think about the winch.  For us, lifting with a winch, and locating it away from the crane beam makes the most sense.

In a garage, head space is prime because lifting things in small spaces requires every inch.  That is why we created the Winching Pole.  It removes the bulk of a chain fall or a come-along, so only the pulleys and hooks take space between the crane beam and the load.  This gives more space for lifting.

But this article is not about the Winching Pole.  It’s about choosing a crane winch for lifting that works in a DIY shop.  There are a bunch of super expensive products for industrial environments.  While I wish I had the money to buy super expensive industrial products, I really don’t have the space anyway.  So, I’ll choose other methods.

Products “For Lifting”

We see the delineation “For Lifting” with chains, cables, pulley’s, straps, anchors, . . . and winches.  There is a difference, and we see it easily in things like chain.  For instance, the same size chain links are rated higher when “Not For Lifting”, than chains made “For Lifting”.  (There are exceptions and various grades.)  Sure, the consequences of dropping something are likely worse when lifting.  But then again, when pulling something with wheels, consequences of failure can be pretty severe, too.

What does “For Lifting” really mean?  Products are to meet a more stringent requirements like added safety factor, more attention in the design, quality or materials for safety.  It can also mean, additional features to assist with managing a load – such as internal brakes, like a crane winch.

Anyway, the industry designation “For Lifting” is a thing, and certainly worth thinking about for a crane.  Compare it to products designed “For Pulling”.

The “For Lifting” designation is a good thing overall.  I like the idea of using cables with added quality for lifting.  The same for chains, anchors, carabiners, etc..  These are passive devices, and I like the rating.

On the other hand, for active devices, requirements “For Lifting” can create issues.  Usually there are safety features inside the devices.  My chain fall (quite old) requires that I lift before lowering, for instance.  Only once in a while does that become a hassle, but it’s still there.  Active brakes, for instance in a winch for lifting.  We’ll get back to this topic later.

Power Devices, Power Winches

Power LiftAdding power changes the dynamic considerably.  Yes, it allows electrons to do the work instead of you.  It often allows you to have a hand free while operating the crane winch.  Convenient.

The downside is wires, or battery, or both.  Also, cost and hassle if your crane is mobile.

Certainly, and electric crane winch is something to consider if you have the right situation.  Perhaps indispensable if you have a high crane that you can’t reach easily for a chain fall or something like our Winch Pole.  The power winches offer a lot of promise, for sure.

I picked this one as an example because it does not take a lot of head room.  By the time it mounts on a trolley (thinking gantry crane), it does take space, but not as much as many others.  This particular one is for stationary use.  However, with a little fabrication it can certainly mount with wheels for a trolley.  (Then you just have to deal with the wires.)

As an option for something hybrid, get a hand winch with a removable handle, then make an attachment for your drill to fit where the handle goes.  The drill won’t give full torque for the winch, but it will do light loads.  That can make winding up slack and some other chores a little faster.

Crane Types

JibAnother factor in choosing a winch is the type of crane.  Most of the references in this article are to a Gantry style crane, however, that is not always the case.

Other styles of crane also use a winch.  A jib crane (like in the image), is an example.  This one has both hydraulics and a hand winch.   These are sometimes on a truck or trailer to lift for loading.

A beam crane is another style (like this one made as a sky hook) which frequently use a winch.  Some are electric, and some find a hand crank more appealing.  Either way, it’s a job for a winch that is lifting.

How do you select a winch for lifting?  The obvious first step is knowing the capacity.  Next is knowing the reach (how much cable will you need?).  Will it use power?  Or be a hand crank?  And finally, how will it mount?  On a face, or from a hook?

My only real recommendation is to go big.  Don’t push the limits of capacity.  Not so much because of safety reasons, but because hand winches in particular become quite hard to turn when near capacity.  A higher capacity crane winch will have a little lower ratio, so it will be easier to work with.  This recommendation is perhaps most true when working with something like our winching pole.  Because you have to hold the pole with one hand while cranking with the other.

Next,  What is the difference between a winch “For Lifting” and a winch “For Pulling”?

Two Hand Winches For Comparison

Let’s illustrate with a comparison.  I like the Dutton-Lainson products, so I’ll use 2 of their hand winches to compare.  The first is a hand winch made “For Lifting”.  At first blush, this looks like a good crane winch.

Crane Winch For Lifting

The second is a very similar product but it is “Not For Lifting”.  Specified labeled as “for horizontal pulling” or something not for a crane winch.

Not for lifting

In the above, I have reduced the feature list to just those relevant for our discussion.  Both are 2500 lb. capacity.  Brakes are different.  See the “Note”.

The comparison is easy.  The first is “For Lifting”, the second one not.  So why bring this up?  Because the first, even though it is “For Lifting” won’t work well as a crane winch in a typical DIY shop.

What features does a DIY shop crane winch need?  Adequate lifting force with a gear ratio sufficient to manually crank.  Ratcheting action at a reasonably fine resolution (for load positioning).  And, the ability to operate even with small loads.

For the 2 options, the key feature in this comparison is the “minimum operating load to function properly.”  When lifting smaller things (still bigger than most can lift and hold comfortably), the “For Lifting” winch won’t operate properly.  Sort of like – You can lift it, but you can’t put it down.

What Crane Winch Works For You?

With my shop crane, I lift things of less than 175 lbs fairly frequently.  So, the crane would be far less useful if limited to above 175 lbs.  To me, the “For Lifting” version will not work as my crane winch.  I suppose that creates a pickle.

I can’t recommend things the manufacturer does not condone.  However, I use the second winch, understanding full well, that the mechanism will not compensate if I fail to latch it, or hold it properly.  (One of the reasons I have one with a hand brake.)  If I do it wrong with a big load, the handle could well swing around and break my arm.

With safety in mind, it’s not only the crane failure modes we must consider, but the human failures also.  Perhaps the best solution is a small winch for small jobs, then a larger “For Lifting” crane winch for larger jobs?

You will need to make such decisions for yourself.

BUT, there is another option.

Crane Winch Option 3

Worm Drive Crane Winch for Lifting

A worm drive offers the best of both worlds . . . sort of.  It does not have a minimum lifting load, but it also can’t free-wheel to spool out.  It offers some simplicity with the safety of inherent stopping when the handle stops.  But, lubrication and wear can be issues.

I really like worm drives for the inherent non-back drive capabilities, but I prefer them in a lubricated compartment to avoid getting grease all over.  Maybe you are supposed to run this dry?  That sounds like a bad idea because of the high sliding forces of steel on steel.  Anyway, it’s an option.

Worm drive hand winches are not that common because of the issues mentioned.  In this case the one shown does not have as much capacity (2000 v. 2500) as the ones above.  DL does not make one at 2500 lb. capacity.

A Note About Capacity:

None of these hand winches lift as much as some of our gantry cranes.  That’s OK, because you can use pulleys to double, triple and quadruple the lifting ability.  I have a cable pulley for my gantry crane and winch pole.  I simply add the pulley hook at the load, and swing the end of the cable up to the hoop on the winch pole.  That doubles the lift while staying within the limits of the winch.  Pulleys give an awesome mechanical advantage.

I will point out, however, that DL does make a version of the worm drive crane winch that has a hex drive rather than a bolted handle.  That allows the handle to come off when not in use, or to reposition the handle to a better spot.  Also, you can use a drill (or similar) to drive the worm.  That helps paying out and pulling in the cable (since it won’t free-wheel).

The Cost Of Lifting

The last area we’ll discuss in the quest for which winch – the big one for many – cost.  We’d all love to have unlimited resources, and we’d all love to have the an immediately available sky hook.  But, there are always limits.

In terms of low cost, for DIY lifting, the Come-Along tops the list.  They are easily available, and they don’t cost a lot.

Next is really a toss-up.  Depending on where you shop and what quality you are willing to accept, the hand winch or the chain fall could be second.  As we move to better quality, winches don’t increase in cost as much as a chain fall for the same capacity.  Also, capacity jumps up dramatically with a pulley.  So, we’ll put Hand Winches #2.

That said, most hand winches are not set to start lifting out of the box.  You need something else, like the jib crane, a mounting of some type, or the Winching Pole.  Maybe a pulley?

The next step up is the electric winch.  Again, depending on quality and capacity, they get expensive, fast.

Our advice?  A come-along is a pain to use, so it’s well worth some money for a winch.  Also, adding in the “functional” and “easy” factors, it’s hard to look beyond the hand winch — when it’s mounted well — even if cost is not a big factor.

Conclusions:  A Winch For Lifting

We’ve covered several crane winch topics here, and especially the “For Lifting” designation.  Well, that brings us right back to the original implied question – Which Winch?  But we are not going to answer.  The way you use it is the basis for your correct answer.

For a gantry crane in smaller spaces, it’s hard to beat the advantages of our Winching Pole.  It makes lifting so convenient.  I’ve had one in my shop for 30+ years, and I absolutely love it.  For that, I recommend a good hand winch like one of those above.  I use one from Dutton-Lainson, but there are many hand winch manufacturers.  Look at the feature set, then choose one that works for you.

For a large over-head gantry (I wish I had one), there’s nothing quite like a hard core, remote actuated, electric winch made “For Lifting”.  One that also drives along the crane beam.  (I’m jealous every time I’m in a big shop that has one.)

But this is DIY.  So, don’t forget, as you consider capacity, there is amazing value in using a pulley.  The winch does not have to directly lift your full load if you double lifting capability with a simple pulley.  However, your trolley and crane beam still need to meet the total capacity!

Again, the choices are many.  Make your decisions based on your values and your expectations.


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