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Pulling Tools for Heavy Objects

Knowing the right pulling tools to use can be a big advantage when moving heavy loads.

| June/July 2004

  • Rigging Pulleys
    This picture depicts rigging pulleys of a block and tackle.
    Photo courtesy MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors
  • Ratcheting Winch
    A ratcheting winch, or "come-along," offers serious force multiplication with only a hand lever and cable drum.
    Photo courtesy MOTHER EARTH NEWS editors
  • Block and Tackle
    A block and tackle includes a series of pulley wheels called "sheaves" ganged together in one wooden or metal housing called the "block."
    Photo courtesy Fotolia/leeyiutung

  • Rigging Pulleys
  • Ratcheting Winch
  • Block and Tackle

If you haul timber, move boulders, drag or hoist heavy objects or salvage stuck vehicles, then you will want to own some pulling tools. Thanks to the magical mechanical advantages provided by clever combinations of wheels, levers and gears, three small-scale tools — the block and tackle, ratcheting winch and chain saw-powered winch — allow you to move very heavy objects all by yourself. An inexpensive and easy-to-use block and tackle can multiply your personal pulling power by as much as 900 percent!

Here are my three pulling favorites, which I use regularly working my 90-acre property, along with tips for finding and using them yourself.

Block and Tackle

If you only have the budget to add one pulling tool to your collection, you should buy a good block and tackle. It's one of those things that has many more uses than you originally imagined, and it can cost as little as $100.

A block and tackle includes a series of pulley wheels called "sheaves" ganged together in one wooden or metal housing called the "block."

I bought my first block and tackle in 1986 to hoist timbers and stone while building my house. It includes two sets of triple-sheave blocks, plus a 250-foot coil of five-eighths-inch braided nylon rope that I keep on a spool and use only for this purpose. Five-eighths-inch diameter rope is a good choice on which to base your pulley block system because it's large enough to grab easily by hand, yet small enough to store easily. It costs about 75 cents per foot.

11/13/2013 10:06:37 AM

Gotchas: 3 sheeve blocks at most can do a force multiplication of 8, not 9. Plus there is the friction in the system which will drop this substantially unless you get *really* good sheeves. Using a cable is dangerous. A cable stretches substantially before it breaks, and that stored energy makes a thin piece of steel move very fast. In the bad old days of steam donkey engine logging, setting choker was one of the most dangerous jobs in the woods. Don't cheap out and use 1/4" cable (thinking it will give you more reach) if the winch maker says 5/16" A good winch will stall below the breaking point of the cable. Periodicaly inspect the entire length of your cable. I disagree about impact of tractors. A carefully driven tractor will crush, but it doesn't dig up the soil. Using a tractor in winter with a few inches of frost in the ground has very little impact. For cable logging, you want a skid. Make one out of 4x4. (A pallet is a good starting point for materials.) Put 1/4" High density polyethylene on the bottom. (Any industrial plastics company. Ask for scraps the size you want. Cheap.) Roll the cable end of the log onto the skid and chain in place. This does two things for you: The load is far less likely to catch on a root and break your cable; it tears up the forest floor far less; you end up with less dirt embedded in the bark. Dirt is *really* hard on chainsaw teeth. Taking down just dead trees can be a mistake. If the primary tree in your area is shade intolerant, then taking out the dead trees will just make a more sparse forest. It also removes a whole set of habitats. Lots of critters need standing dead trees for nesting sites. With poplar forests now, I make micro clearcuts. I will take out about 1/2 to 1 acre in N/S running oval. This gives enough sun for a new crop of poplar to start. Standing dead are left until they fall. Most of my firewood is cut in November when the ground is frozen. At that point it's piled under a spruce, and moved to the wood shed by tractor and trailer the next summer in August or September when the trails are thoroughly dry, or if we have a rainy fall, I'll wait until after frost is in the ground.

larry russell_2
3/30/2009 8:31:42 PM

the article about moving heavey objects lacked illustrations big time. larry

Jeff B
7/30/2008 10:04:20 AM

Thank you for a very interesting and informative article. I wonder, though, where the photos of equipment and the list of "Pulling Tool Sources" can be located?

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