6 Strategies to Prevent Webbing & Binding on Winch Cables

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Published By: Aaron Redstone
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Total: 6 min read time

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Using a winch involves carefully spooled cable winding onto a drum. But during operation, a cable can sometimes bind up instead of winding smoothly.

Binding strains and damages cables over time through overheating, flattening, fraying, and more. Thankfully, you can take steps to keep your winch cable in smooth-winding condition.

This comprehensive guide covers smart winch practices for ideal cable operation and longevity.

The Causes of Winch Cable Binding Before we dive into solutions, what causes winch cable binding in the first place? The most common reasons include:

  • Improper spooling – When cable overlays unevenly across the drum, it binds up easier. Any loose or uneven winds make for inconsistent and messy wrapping.
  • Extreme fleet angles – Fleet angle refers to the angle between the winch drum and the extended cable line. Ideal fleet angles are between 1-3 degrees. Larger angles create uneven tension that strains bindings.
  • Not supporting weight – Allowing the full load weight to hang freely from the winch places a lot of tension on the cable. This makes winding difficult and encourages binding.
  • Damaged cable: fraying, kinking, and flattening damage also cause cable binding by introducing more friction across the drum.

Learn How to Keep Winch Cable from Binding

1. Lubricate the Cable

Lubricate the Cable

Lubricating winch cables is one of the most important binding prevention steps you can take. The core goal is to reduce friction along the cable and drum surfaces.

Friction is the resistive force that leads to sticking, jamming, overheating, and uneven winding. It’s what makes smoothly rewrapping a cable difficult.

Lubrication oils minimize this troublesome friction in a few key ways:

  1. Creates a Smooth Contact Layer – Lubricants contain slippery compounds that coat and penetrate into the micro grooves along the steel cable and drum materials. This creates an ultra smooth interface layer for operating parts to glide rather than rub against each other.
  2. Cushions Shock Loading – Winches often engage under sudden dynamic snatching motions as you power slack out of the line. Lubrication helps cushion these initial shock loads to prevent instant locking up. The fluid nature helps dissipate energy.
  3. Displaces Debris – Lubricating forces out dirt, mud, water, snow, and other debris that may stick into and between cable coils. Gritty contaminants alone immensely escalate friction from all their surface areas. Clean lubrication prevents this.
  4. Prevents Corrosion – Moisture sitting inside cables can gradually oxidize steel into rust. Rust compounds grind action down to nothing but friction. Many winch lubricants contain anti-rust properties to actively combat this oxidation risk inside cables.

When choosing a winch cable lubricant, motor oils specifically designed for extreme pressure conditions offer optimal viscosity and corrosion protection.

General cable pulling lubricants also work very well. The key is regularly re-coating the cable surface.

Aim to lubricate along the entire cable length about once every month as standard maintenance. Inspect closely and lubricate 2-3 times more often if cables appear dirty or you notice friction mounting with use.

Before any major winching operation expected to tension or heat cables, preemptively lubricate as insurance against binding disasters.

Proper lubricant application is quick, easy, and extends the smooth winding ability of your cables considerably.

2. Control the Spooling

Control the Spooling

Proper spooling technique is imperative for preventing the messy binding of winch cables.

The goal is evenly layered, with consecutive winds stacking tightly onto the drum.

Any looseness or crisscrossing allows room for individual winds to catch and tangle.

On each spooling or unspooling cycle, consciously check that the latest winds are tracking straight and tight with the existing layers beneath them.

Notice how the edges line up for a cohesive pack. No gaps or popping outward. Guide rollers help observe the winding edges for uniform straightness.

The most common spooling culprit is haste – pulling too much slack too quickly before winds have formed tight. Instead, keep tension slow and regulated.

Use one hand to manually guide the last 1-2 feet of cable if needed so it tracks straight. Constant tension is key.

Adding a tagline provides extra stability to contain taut spooling. A tag line is a thin rope tied off at the end of a winch cable before respooling.

This gives leverage to pull at the end rather than relying solely on the motor’s cranking power. Pull the tag line hand-over-hand to manually induce tighter winds with a direct feel.

With both tension rollers and tag lines, you can resume spooling quickly and safely. The mass of the roller physically inhibits crisscrossing.

And the tag gives precision control to wrap under command rather than the usual aggressive motor rewinding.

By consciously tracking and guiding instead of relying on sloppy retraction, every pass of cable improves the next.

This exponentially minimizes binding chances over time as you build muscle memory for proper technique.

That little extra diligence prevents so many future headaches.

3. Maintain a proper Angle

The fleet angle refers to the angle between your extended winch cable and the axis of the winch drum.

Think of fleeting a fishing rod – you keep the line straight rather than pulling hard to the sides.

Winches function best in the same way, with subtle 1-3 degree angles off center.

The ideal narrow fleet angle range prevents an uneven buildup of tension. Pulling at extreme sideways angles places more stress on one side of the wraps.

This encourages crisscrossing and popping outward. It also accelerates damage through friction on the disproportionately loaded side.

You can proactively maintain proper fleet angles in two main ways:

  1. Align Loads Straight

Carefully position vehicles and anchor points so cables can extend as straight as possible back to the winch. Scope out your working zone first so you don’t have to pull on extreme diagonals.

Clearing debris also helps traverse straight lines to loads. Always double check angles by sighting the drum, cable, and load in one plane.

  1. Use Snatch Blocks

When angled pulls are unavoidable, rely on snatch blocks instead of fighting the fleet angle. Snatch blocks are rigged pulleys that redirect cable direction back towards the winch drum.

Feed the line through the pulley’s opening to effectively halve sharp pulling angles. An added benefit is reducing cable tension since pulleys double the line, halving individual strand loads.

Employing mindful placement and redirecting hardware prevents sideways binding forces from developing. Keep fleet angles around 1-3 degrees for safe operating norms.

This preserves steady, even tension loads rather than risking an uneven bite on diagonals. With smart rigging, you can work off-center safely.

The key is realizing that the fleet angle directly enables binding issues before they occur. So, remain aware of angles as you position winching loads.

Keep everything as straight as circumstances allow. Supplement with tension-cutting snatch blocks whenever necessary. Your diligence delivers smooth, reliable winding.

4. Support the Load’s Weight

Allowing the full brunt of a winch load to hang unsupported from the cable is asking for binding trouble. The static tension overwhelms cable and drum capacities.

This causes overstraining damage even before the winding begins.

Instead, separating cable and load forces protects the winding functionality. The cable acts as a guiding tether, while auxiliary accessories bear the actual load weight independently.

This massively dilutes tension in the spooling system.

There are several load bearing supplements to utilize:

#1 Booms

Steel booms rigged to vehicles are designed to hook loads directly without passing through the cable. Hydraulic booms extend outward, freeing the cable for manageable guiding roles only. The rigid strength holds scales measuring tons.

#2 Straps/Chains

Extra lifting straps and chains fasten alongside the winch cable to piles of lumber, equipment, etc.

Two or more separate lines of contact distribute the load rather than concentrating everything on one cable.

Chains also prevent cut-through damage on sharp materials.

#3 Tag Lines

A handy tag line is a thin rope tied to the end of a winch cable when spooling. This secondary line allows you to pull tension from the side for guiding control rather than letting the motor reel haphazardly. It offloads some tension as well.

#4 Snatch Blocks

Lastly, pulley snatch blocks offer load support in two ways: 1) they change direction, improving fleet angle; and 2) they double the line, halving tension on each strand. Again, this alleviates binding strains.

The winch cable should not battle heavy loads alone. Implement booms, chains, redirects, and aids to bear the brunt of overpowering tension.

This keeps the cable’s purpose streamlined on accurate winding instead of fighting binding and breakage threats constantly. Load support accessories transform winch capacities tremendously.

5. Inspect Cable Condition

As winch cables endure months and years of grinding usage, binding dangers escalate from accumulating damage. Gradual wear loosens windings and introduces messy snags. That’s why frequent inspections and timely cable replacements are vital.

Focus closely on these three binding warning signs:

  1. Flattening Healthy cables maintain a rounded profile, almost like a metal garden hose. Check that layers haven’t indented into annoying flat spots. Flattening introduces uneven drum contact, adding friction. The rigid planes also kink easier later on.
  2. Fraying Fraying appears first at cable ends as exterior wire strands poke out in a broom-like effect. This frays worse until mass wires stick out, acting like velcro against other winds. Fraying also indicates interior strand breaks.
  3. Kinking Permanent kinks form like knots that won’t smooth back out when manipulating the cable. Knots poke between winds randomly. They grow worse once they are formed by debris stuck inside.

Catching damage early allows respooling the cable neatly to use up the remaining safe portion. But extensive fraying, flattening, and permanent kinks necessitate full cable replacement.

Rotate Between Multiple Cables Rather than overusing the same single cable continuously until problems emerge, rotate a set of 2-3 cables.

Switch off cables on various jobs to distribute wear and rest cables. This prevents overloaded damage concentrations. With rotation, each cable lasts exponentially longer before requiring replacement.

Make quick condition checks before/after each use while cleaning and lubricating. And perform thorough, full-length inspections monthly for good measure.

This catches budding issues promptly, rather than allowing extensive binding and failure dangers to take root. Staying ahead of cable wear makes winching so much more reliable.

6. Consider Ambient Temperature

Outdoor winching operations span all seasons and temperatures.

But cold weather exponentially escalates binding dangers by literally freezing cables too stiff to wind properly. While summer heat keeps cables pliable, winter conditions turn the same line rigid and friction-prone.

In cold temperatures, steel cable polymers constrict and lose flexibility. What may rewrap easily at 70°F binds up tightly at 30°F because the line feels frozen solid.

Just a gentle bend takes tremendous force to overcome the cable’s stiffened state. Any winding friction is out of control.

To combat this, artificially warm cables in three main ways:

  1. Warm Storage Keep idle cables indoors or inside vehicle cabs rather than leaving them outside between jobs. The warmer temperature reduces stiffness before next use. Insulated cable covers work similarly.
  2. Increased Lubrication
    Cold weather lubrication proves its incredible importance. Apply standard lubricants 2-3X more often to retain fluidity. The added slick oil battles stiff friction.
  3. Heat Exposure Expose the working portion of the cable to vehicle exhaust heat during operation. The engine’s output thaws temperature-constricted cables as you work. Just avoid overheating sections.

With preparation, extreme cold doesn’t have to shut down winch capability. Being mindful of ambient factors lets you improve fluidity with warmth and lubrication.

The key is acknowledging that cables grow less efficient in freezing air. Respect their increased stiffness by working more gently compared to warm conditions.

Guide the winds slowly and deliberately. And take breaks to manually flex the cold sections back limber. Stay ahead of the gathering friction.

With reasonable precautions, winches still operate reliably through winter. A little cold weather compensation keeps progress flowing all year round!

Summary & Preventing Damage

With heavy loads, steep inclines, and repeating winds, winch systems endure immense pressure. But you need not accept binding, fraying, and breakage as inevitable. Instead, apply these spooling best practices to any operation:

  • Keep cables clean, lubricated, and wound tight
  • Minimize fleet angles; use redirects when needed
  • Always use weight-bearing supplements like booms
  • Inspect for and replace damaged cables
  • Adjust techniques for freezing temperatures

Taking these preventative steps means smooth, dependable winch performance for years on end. Investing a little extra care into the cables saves so much time, money and frustration from binding-induced jams in the long run. Use your winches wisely and they will seldom let you down!

Disclaimer: As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases at no additional cost to you. But all my reviews and guides are genuine and come from my experience.

Aaron Redstone 

Hi, I'm Aaron, the founder of Off-Road Pull. My love for off-roading began in my teenage years while exploring the diverse landscapes of Arizona.

With more than 16 years of experience in off-roading and winching, I bring a blend of practical know-how and a background in mechanical engineering to provide you with detailed and trustworthy advice.

My passion is to share this knowledge with both newcomers to adventure and experienced off-roaders. When I'm not tackling rugged terrain or crafting in-depth articles, you'll find me capturing the scenic beauty of the outdoors through my lens.

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