Reasons to Include a Hand Winch with Your Recovery Kit
The hand winch provides several key benefits as either the primary extraction tool, or as a compliment to a vehicle mounted electronic winch. In my experience using the device, it is the unit’s flexibility that proves most compelling. With the hand winch, the operator has the option of using the winch to pull to vehicle forward, backwards or sideways, and can compliment an electric winch pull by stabilizing the vehicle, or to provide a dual directional pull (forward and sideways, for example).
In the years I have operated winches on the trail, the majority of their use has been for road repair, not vehicle recovery. Felled trees, boulders that have rolled into the trail, etc. This is true of the majority of the Southwest, Baja and Northern Mexico. In these environs, the hand winch is a great primary recovery tool, as the use is minimal and the pull is typically very short. In wetter climates like the Pacific Northwest, Alaska and the jungles of Central America, the hand winch is not an ideal primary recovery tool; however, it can be used successfully in conjunction with the electric unit and provide a capable back-up.
The Benefits of the Tirfor Design
The Black Rat hand winch is based on the famous and effective Tirfor design. The Tirfor winch was designed and patented by Simon Faure during WWII for heavy, manual hoisting and moving of equipment. The key benefits of the Tirfor design are as follows:
- Infinite feed of cable from 0-3 cm (0-1.25″) per stroke on both pull and release (for this unit) that allows very controlled movement of the vehicle during recovery. This would also be a measurable benefit when attempting to line up a broken chassis component during a field repair. This infinite feed is possible because of the two pairs of jaws contained in the unit. One jaw is always holding the cable, and performs a pass off from one jaw to the next, back and forth (like pulling a rope hand over hand). A come-along by design requires a pull of a determined distance for the next tooth to be engaged.
- Safety Features: The jaws lock onto the cable in proportion to the load force, which means that the harder the pull, the more the jaws clamp on the cable. The jaw holding strength is five times the unit’s rating. So the winch case (which houses the jaws) would destruct at 4,000 kg (8,700 lbs.). To protect the winch, and whatever is being pulled, there is a shear pin in the pull lever (where the lever fits between the two plates at the base of the body). The shear pin will break at 125% of the rated load, or 1,000 kg (2,200 lbs.). If the shear pin breaks, the jaws still hold the load. The shear pin can be replaced with spares located in the jaw release handle.
The Recovery Hoist In Use
To test the recovery hoist, I simulated a stuck vehicle by driving the Expeditions West Jeep Wrangler up against a 2.0′ berm with a 65% slope. I did not want to “try” to get the Jeep actually stuck, as it would have resulted in unnecessary damage. This was a more than adequate simulation. I then parked the Expeditions West Tacoma 45 feet from the Jeep, placed the transmission in neutral (t-case in 4wd), applied the parking brake and chocked the front wheels. During the winching operation a driver manned the Jeep.
Safety Measures While Winching:
- Safety of all living things! Have all non-essential personnel stand clear (a minimum of the cable length away), and use tree straps around appropriate diameter trees for the expected load.
- Winch operator must wear gloves and eye protection.
- Cable and winch must be inspected for wear and damage.
- All steel cables (ropes) must be weighed while under tension at or near the midline of the tensioned cable.
Inspect the hoist body for damage, and inspect the cable for any kinks, fraying or other damage. Not only do those issues create a safety hazard, but the cable will likely not feed properly. The cable and hoist are lubricated with standard motor oil.
The process of connecting the hoist for recovery starts with unfurling the cable and connecting it securely to the object being pulled. Unwinding the cable is a little bit of a challenge for one person, as this style of cable holder keeps the cable inside the frame, as opposed to others that simply wind the cable around the outside of the cage. Though somewhat more challenging, the inside wind does have better advantages while the unit is stored.
For all of the rigging, I used the Black Rat Recovery Kit, which is very comprehensive, and contained all of the items required to set up a safe pull.
The first connection point should be to the object being pulled, which in this test is the Jeep. The Jeep is fitted with a heavy duty ARB front bumper, which also makes for a great anchor point. Never wrap the cable around an attachment point and hook it back onto itself, as that will damage the rope. Always connect the cable’s hook to an appropriate attachment point, like a tow hook, frame rail or receiver hitch (not the ball). Never connect to a suspension component, axle or similar point as damage to the vehicle is likely. I used the Black Rat 4.7 ton bow shackle to connect the hook to the bumper.
This image shows the cable’s hook connected to the shackle and the hooks safety catch in the correct position. When possible, always place the hook on the shackle so that the hooks opening is pointing to the ground. This helps prevent the hook from slipping off the shackle when the cable is slack, which could cause damage.
The next connection is a solid, safe winch anchor. For my example, the rear bumper of the Tacoma was the winch anchor. I used another 4.7 ton shackle and the Black Rat 10′, 30,000 lb. breaking strength tree strap. This made for a very solid connection for extracting the Jeep.
The static anchor side of the winch is connected by using the captive cross shaft at the rear of the unit. The cross shaft can be slid to the one side of the body by removing the retaining pin. The retaining pin is held in place by a circular spring clip and safety chain.
Remove the retaining pin and slide the cross shaft until it hits the stop (which prevents loss).
Slide the strap (or section of chain, etc.) into the body and lock the cross shaft back into position and reinstall the retaining pin. The hand winch is now correctly connected to the static winch anchor.
Extend the handle and lock it into position. There is a hole in the larger tube that the small button spring will pop into.
Next, it is necessary to open the cable jaws to allow the rope to slide through the jaws. This is a critical feature, as it allows the operator to slide the cable through the jaws easily, making bringing the cable length taught an efficient process (similar to free spooling with a powered winch). The jaw release requires the small safety shaft to be turned and the jaw handle to be slid forward and lock into position.
Now the cable can be inserted into the front of the winch (there is a small metal guide similar in size to the cable OD). This process was a little bit of a challenge, as the cable was so new and only lightly oiled. After the first hoisting test everything worked much smoother and it now feeds and starts easily.
With the cable past the two jaw sets and out through the rubber boot in the back, it is important to ensure that the cable runs below the rear cross-shaft towards the ground. I pulled the cable through the hoist until it started to come tight along its distance between the hoist and the object being moved.
With the cable set to the right length, the jaw release must be disengaged to allow the cable to be fed. This is done with a sharp blow from the palm of the hand to the top of the lever. This pops the jaw release out of its detent and clamps the jaws shut.
Lock the hoist handle onto the pull (rear) lever and begin winching the cable through. With every forward or aft stroke, the cable is pulled 1.25″. It moves the cable through quickly when the load is light. As the load increased, the strokes became more challenging, requiring a wider stance and greater effort (as expected). It was still very manageable. This test was an extreme evaluation of the winch’s capabilities. The Jeep had to climb a 2′ ledge, which required considerable pulling power. I intentionally did not use a snatch (pulley) block to ease the load. The winch amazed me and pulled the Jeep right up the ledge within a minute of winching. Typically, the use of a pulley block is preferred, as it doubles (for a single block) the pulling power of the hoist and reduces the stroke effort by approximately 50%. The downside is that the feed rate is also reduced by 50%, which means the cable would only feed 1.5 cm per stroke. If I were performing this recovery on the trail (not on a controlled test), I would have used a pulley block.
As my travels take me farther off the beaten path, I find the need for flexible recovery and trail repair tools all the more important. I have cleared three times more fallen trees than winched stuck vehicles. Having a back-up primary recovery tool is also critical, and allows more controlled self recovery from multiple angles. This unit is half the weight and half the cost of a typical electric winch. The effort and set-up required during use is more of a challenge, but the value and flexibility make it a compelling solution.
- Extreme Outback Products
- PO Box 3075
- Vacaville, CA 95696
- Toll Free: 1-866-447-7711
- Direct Line: 1-707-447-7711
- Fax: 1-707-447-7722
- Model Number: BBRL800 Black Rat 4wd Recoverer Hoist
- Capacity: 800 kg (1,750 lb.) dead lift
- Wire Rope (Cable): 20m x 8mm (65′ x 5/16″)
- Cost: $279.95 (costs are subject to change, verify pricing with vendor)
- Weight: 14 kg (30 lb) with cable
- Expeditions West 2004 Toyota Tacoma Double Cab TRD
- Expeditions West 1994 Jeep Wrangler Sahara