Good Ways To Shorten A Chain

In previous articles we discuss the importance of trailer safety chain length.  If the chains are too long, what can you do?  Yeah, odds are you won’t need them, but what if you do?  Long chains can complicate things quickly, so how can we safely shorten a chain?

This is a follow-on from the “How to Attach Safety Chains” article.  Also, it goes more into the “how” to shorten a chain than in the original Trailer Chains? article.  We invite you to read both of these if you haven’t already.

Chain Reminders

The goal with safety chain is pretty simple.  If the unthinkable happens, the chains are there to keep the trailer connected.  It won’t be pretty, but at least the trailer won’t go off on it’s own to kill someone like in this story, or to completely destroy your things if it tumbles.

Crash Did Not Have To Be This BadHere’s a photo of a vehicle with long safety chains.  Until the chains were needed, they didn’t matter.  As noted in the previous article, I don’t know the details, and I don’t know if it would have saved things, but an incident like this is easier to control, with less resulting damage if trailer chains are short.  They are also less likely to disconnect (as you can see one of them in the photo did).

Ideally, you want the chains connected (at both ends) as close to the trailer ball as practical.  So, how do you do that?

Chain Length Matters

How long should trailer safety chains be?  That’s a good question.  The easy answer:  Long enough that things don’t bind when you turn, yet short enough that there’s no extra.  However, since this is a DIY site for people who like to build, let’s go one more step.

Trailer safety chains should be short, the shorter the better.  That means 2 things enter the equation, one for each end of the chain.

  • First, at the trailer, the chains should attach near the coupler (hitch).  Within reason, of course.  If they attach farther back, then by nature, they must be longer.  But, the extra length doesn’t help.
  • Second, at the tow vehicle, it’s best to connect near the ball.  While there is always a balance, a short coupler is desirable.

Here is one of my trailers.  You can see, given the attachment points, the chain is relatively short.  There’s not a lot of extra drooping down.  Now look a little closer to see what we can improve.

Can We Shorten A Chain?

Should I Shorten The Chain?

The coupler is about as short as practical given the drop for correct towing attitude.  Chains at the tow vehicle are pretty standard, and reasonable.  Extra slack is out, as you can see with the excess dangling.  However, on the trailer, the chain connection is actually pretty far from the ball.  That should change.

The solution?  Add another bolt just behind the coupler (with the needed spacers).  The chains will then have 2 bolts (for redundancy), and the loose length of the chains will decrease.

It’s tempting to attach the chain with the same bolt that attaches the coupler.  While that would be cool, the bolts do different things, so it won’t really work.  The coupler bolt needs to be tight, firmly tight.  The chain bolt should allow just a little movement for link — if the chains are ever in action.

How much difference if we shorten the chain?  In a devastating situation, every little bit helps.  If the trailer swings back and forth 4″ less per side, that’s a lot.  If the trailer can come into or under the vehicle 4″ less, again, that’s a lot.

How Can We Safely Shorten A Chain?

Moving the attachment points is the first and most significant way to shorten a chain.  As close to the hitch as practical.  While it usually takes some work, it makes the biggest improvement.  After that, it’s a matter of making the chains the right length.

But what if you don’t want to cut your chains off to make them the right length?  Or, what if you tow with more than one vehicle so you need different lengths?  Good questions.  This calls for something you can adjust.

Length Shortening Methods:

Doubling back the chains

  1. Wrap the chains through the connection and back onto themselves.  The image shows a wrap going all the way back to the connection on the trailer.  You can actually hook into the chain at any link that makes the chain length right.  :  U-Haul gets away with long chains since they only want insurance money if you destroy things.  However, when we rent, we must deal with the consequences — and extra chain.  This is one approach.  Still, these chains are too long, but at least they are not all twisted up like the helper wanted to do!
  2. Use parts made for shortening chain.  These 2 can help.  Please make sure they are rated for more than the chain you want to shorten.
    Connectors to Shorten a Chain
  3. Use a variable system like one in “How to Attach Safety Chains“.  Some you can purchase, some you just make.  Here are two examples — one using a bolt, and one using a pair of shackles.  These can adjust by going through a different link to take up some slack.  Pictures from William. Thank you.Chains That Can Adjust
  4. Now, some Don’ts.  Don’t twist the safety chains.  Under tension twisted chain is much weaker.  And, please don’t ignore it and leave them long.
  5. If you think you need a devise like one of these (below), it probably means your chains are too long.  Correct the length first, then you probably won’t need one.  They are a nice way to keep chains neat and tidy, but not as an excuse for long chains.
    Chain Lift Devises
    Examples of chain lift devises.

    I believe these are from Fastway and Curt, but there are many others.  Both these companies make good stuff, but I think these kinds of products are mostly misused.  (For instance, Chains in the center image are too long.)  Don’t hide a long chain problem.

A Customer Example

From our previous articles one customer, Charles H from Georgia, sent these images of his trailer.  The first images show what he did to shorten the chains.  (Full image left, closeup right.)

Installation to shorten the chain.A Shortened Chain

Using connectors, he took several links out of the chain without cutting.  This is a good example.

Looking a little deeper, Charles also sent some images of the chain connection at the trailer.  You can see the chain attachments are on the inside face of the tongue beam, but from the first images, we can’t really see what it is.  These next two images show it from the inside.

The first (left photo below) shows the chain hook welding to the frame.  A second (right side) is the same image with comments from Charles.

Welding Chain Hook To Frame

We talk a lot in previous articles about strong attachments for chains.  I think Charles does a great job of pointing to the issues.  Thanks!

Looking back at the full hitch image, we can see a more complete fix is to change the connection entirely.  Make a new attachment closer to the hitch, and that will shorten the chain even more.

Weight Distributing Hitches

As a side note, weight distributing hitches like the one above are great for many reasons, but they often need longer chains.  While it’s not ideal, it’s still good to shorten the chains as much as practical.

Chain length is one reason, we don’t recommend using the WDH as the drawbar when the spring bars are NOT in action.  The spring bars apply a lot of force to hold the hitch on the ball, which is good for safety.  Take the spring bars off, and the lever for the trailer to sway the vehicle is longer, and the issues with safety chains are worse.  Anyway, if you don’t need the weight distribution function, use a shorter drawbar and shorten the chain.

We may write more on this topic at some point, but we’ll leave it here for now.

That’s it, hopefully these ideas help.  Be safe out there.

Comments

0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View All Comments

We Found These For You . . .

Product
6' 10" width, 12' Length Trailer Plans

Blueprints for a Strong and Stable 6x12 utility trailer.  This single axle, 3500# capacity trailer with many options is ideal for a million uses.  We provide great DIY Plans for builders who want the best.

Article
Good Trailer Design Article Updates
The most popular pages on Synthesis are the Trailer Design Article that now has a fresh revision.  May, 2017.  They include more content, more pictures, and a mobile friendly web design.

Read The Article

Article
Living Tiny In A Bigger Way
OK, so you want to Live Tiny.  That’s awesome.  What can you do without?  What do you really want to have?  And how about that claustrophobia?

Read The Article

Article
Welding Pre-Stressed Steel Fabrication
The concepts of pre-stressed steel fabrication have been around for ages, but they are not often applied for simple welded structures like trailer frames or crane stands.

Read The Article

Article
New Trailer Test Ride
When the rubber meets the road, that’s when the feeling of real accomplishment kicks in.  This is the first on-road trailer test with (with video) of our new frame and funky walking beam suspension design.

Read The Article

Article
Study of Torsion Axles In Triple
Torsion axles are awesome, so Why not use torsion axles in tandem?  It’s a frequent question, along with the corollary “Why shouldn’t I have torsion axles in triple?” Good questions, especially in light of all the misinformation

Read The Article

Product
24 Foot Deck-Over Trailer

Complete Plans for an awesome 24 Foot, Tandem Axle, Deck-Over Trailer – 10,000 lbs Capacity!  At 8.5' wide x 24' deck length, the plans include plenty of options to build it the way you want it.

Product
6 x 16 Trailer Plans

Sixteen feet length at 6 tons capacity is a good size for hauling heavy things -- from multiple ATV’s to UTV’s to large loads of building materials or landscaping products.  Fully engineered to take it all.

Article
I-Beam Clamp Introduction
Introducing a new product to the Mechanical Elements family of Do-It-Yourself Plans — the gantry crane I-Beam clamp.  A simple product we give as Free Plans in our launch celebration!  Well, is it really FREE Plans?  Yes.  Use the coupon…

Read The Article

Product
Winch Drive Gantry Crane Leg Extender

Do you want an easier, faster, more controlled way to raise the top beam of your Gantry Crane?  We have it, with these winch driven leg extender plans that go with all the Gantry Cranes here at Mechanical Elements.

Article
Trailer Axles - Springs - Wheels - and Tires
I’ll just drop by the parts store and grab an axle . . . . Well, trailer axles are not quite that simple, but knowing a few important details, we can certainly get the right one.  Here’s a quick guide…

Read The Article

Product
32' Tiny House Trailer Plans For DIY

With options for length, these blueprints address the unique needs of a Tiny House Trailer.  Low 8.5’ x 30’ or 32’ top deck height.  Up to 18,000 lbs total capacity.  Fully Engineered.

Article
Is there escape from covid-19?
What more can we say about Coronavirus?  The daily press updates are full of horrible news!  There’s so much concern and sadness everywhere.  Then there’s the “Stay at Home” mandates.  I need an emotional escape from COVID !!

Read The Article

Product
4' x 6'6" Off-Road Adventure Trailer Plans

Build your custom adventure rig with these fully Engineered Off-Road Trailer Plans.  They have a Torsion Axle w/ Big tires to achieve a good ride and High Ground Clearance for your coming 4x4 adventures.

Product
Heavy Duty Gantry Crane Plans

The big one, actually the big many.  These Gantry Crane Plans include Engineering graphs to choose the beam and legs from 2000 lbs - 6000 lbs lifting capacity.  Free Standing, Large or Small, Wide or Narrow. Build to fit your…

Product
Torsion Axle Conversion

Convert our 6' 10" Width, 3500#, Single Axle trailers to use a Torsion Axle instead if leaf springs with these Conversion Plans.  Build with confidence using engineered plans.

Article
Small Trailer with Big Benefits
Caught on the streets, this small trailer provides big benefits.  It’s an excellent example of using a trailer instead of a truck, and this business owner understands efficiency.

Read The Article

Article
Welding Trailer Spring Brackets
There is some disagreement in trailer building about how to weld-on trailer spring brackets (also known as spring hangers).   Some of you have sent questions about which techniques are best, especially

Read The Article

Product
Mechanical Elements 4x8 Utility Trailer Plans

A small-ish, yet really tough little trailer.  Get these single axle 4x8 Utility Trailer Plans to get the jobs done.  With a total capacity of 3500 lbs., trailers built from these plans will work hard.

Article
Custom Changes To The Plans
I can’t find quite the right plans for the trailer I want to build.  Can I make changes to the plans at Mechanical Elements to fit my needs?

Read The Article