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Installing a steel winch line seems like a no-brainer... spool the old one off and spool the new one on. But doing it correctly can mean the difference between a safe recovery or a dangerous one once out on the trail. Anytime that you make a recovery, it's a good idea to inspect the cable for any damage upon re-spooling it. If it's damaged ( frayed, heavily rusted, crimped badly, etc...) then it should likely be retired.Many of us have progressed into the realm of synthetic but for those of us that still use steel lines, there are some basics that you should consider in order to protect your cable, your recovery team, and you.

I obviously take no responsibility here if you damage something or if you injure yourself when spooling new line or making a recovery. It's up to you to recognize and understand the load ratings, the operating procedures, and the condition of your recovery equipment.

Installation advice/ Method:

* Anytime you're working with winch cable ( during installation or recovery) you absolutely need to wear a heavy pair of leather gloves that are in good condition.

* You may also need some basic hand tools that will vary depending on your particular set-up. Some may be using a thimble, d-rings, captive hook, remote winch controller, etc... so act accordingly and have everything ready that you may need. I used a mallet, winch controller, thread-locker, needle-nose pliers, several wrenches, new lock-washers, powdered graphite, crescent wrench, hitch-pin, screwdriver, hex-key, etc, etc.

* Take your time and use some muscle. Think about what you're doing and be smart. It's not a difficult job, but it is one that you should not do in haste or without thought.

* Be careful and wear gloves due to possible frayed steel that might impale your hand... even through your gloves. This goes for spooling and un-spooling. Pinching your fingers between a roller and a cable or between a cable and anything metal can really mess up your day too.

* As you remove the old cable, check the condition of the drum, fairlead, cable attachment screw, rollers, roller snap-rings, etc. I'm not going to discuss opening up the winch to inspect or service it. It's either working properly or it's not. That's up to you to decide.

* Once the cable is completely un-spooled, simply remove the cable attachment screw on the drum and you're done with the old cable. Don't let that little screw go flying or get lost because you probably don't have another one in your hardware bin. Replace the screw if it shows any sign of damage or significant rust to the threads or to the head. Not a bad idea ( if throwing out the old cable) to wrap it up in the way you would a heavy-duty electrical extension cord, and subsequently use some zip-ties to secure it neatly. This is a safer and more respectful way to dispose of your old cable rather then just throwing the whole mess in the trash can or recycle bin.

* The easy way to spool on the new cable is NOT the correct way. Don't simply lay it out on the ground and spool it onto the drum. To properly install winch-cable, you must stretch the cable as you go. If this is not done then the outer wraps will draw into the inner wraps and subsequently damage the cable. You can refer to your winch's owner's manual for more specifics, recommendations, load ratings, etc.

* To stretch the cable, you must put a load on it as you spool it up. Do not put a ridiculous amount of weight on it ( as you would in a recovery situation), but you instead might use another vehicle or a large tree as an "anchor" and bring your Jeep towards it, OR you can use the Jeep as the "anchor" and bring the load towards it. You want to put a load of roughly 500 lbs on the line to stretch it. I used a little more weight than necessary ( my actual Jeep) since I was spooling up a 3/8" line.

* In my particular circumstance this time, I used my GMC truck ( with the parking brake set) as the anchor. I have a manual transmission in my Jeep, so I put the Jeep in neutral and released the parking brake. Keep in mind that you must be familiar with even the slightest variance of the terrain when using this particular procedure. Perfectly level ground is obviously best. Regardless... you must not wind up in a situation where either vehicle is going to be able to roll freely into the other vehicle or into another object or over you. I suggest using another person in the non-anchored vehicle so that they can steer or apply brakes if necessary. I had no one to help so I had to be extra vigilant of what was happening.

* Lay the winch-cable all the way out between the anchor and the load. Make sure that you have not only secured the end of the cable to the drum, but that you have used HIGH-STRENGTH thread-locker on the cable attachment screw as well. Let it set-up for a few minutes. Failure to use thread-locker can allow the screw to back out during use and release the cable... obviously deadly consequences can ensue.

* Now attach the trailing end of the cable to your load or your anchor. I personally, will not use any kind of hook when making a recovery, but I did use a captive ( closed) hook to stretch my cable this time. Best to use a d-ring, tree-saver, etc... but in a pinch you can use a closed hook to stretch the line if there is no other option. IMO stay away from open hooks altogether.

* Now you are ready to start spooling. Keep your gloves on and begin wrapping the cable around the drum. Go SLOWLY. The load will ensure that the cable is seating fully and correctly. You will begin at one end of the drum where the cable attachment screw is, and you will progressively wind the cable towards the other end of the drum... keeping each wind tightly alongside of the previous wind. Please note that the cable must be spooled onto the drum in accordance with the "rotation direction" label on the winch or the brake won't function. Keeping a constant load on the cable will also ensure that it is seating where it needs to be and that it doesn't unravel. Work towards the other end of the drum and then slowly allow the next turn of the drum to bring the cable up onto the previous layer of cable ( wrap). Start moving back the other way along the top of the first wrap. Continue wrapping towards the opposite end again. You should now have 3 wraps on the drum and should only have to wrap 1 or 2 more layers before you're done. Depending on whether using 5/16" or 3/8" cable, you should end up with between 4 to 5 total wraps. Never allow multiple wraps to stack up on one side of the drum ( especially during recovery) or it can damage the winch motor.

* Once you have the line spooled in and looking perfectly wound, you can secure it however you typically do it ( carabiner, d-ring, thimble, etc) and lock ( engage) the drum. Your hands and other assorted body parts might be sore at this point and that's a good thing lol. Your gloves should be completely smooth and grey colored from feeding all of that cable onto your winch by the time you're finished.

* That's all there is to it. Hope that anyone that hasn't done this yet, will find this write-up to be somewhat clear and helpful.

* Below are some pics. Feel free to add any comments or questions regarding this write-up.

#1) Upgraded attachment screw.
#2) Anchor set-up.
#3) Halfway done.
#4) What your cable should look like when fully spooled.
#5) My old 5/16" cable. Now replaced with 3/8" cable.


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As a merchant marine engaging in heavy cargo, we ran all sorts of cabled contraptions. When it came time to install new wire, the new wire was fed off the coil drum so it wound onto the winch drum in the opposite wind from what it was on the coil drum. In other words, we did not wrap cable onto winch drums in the same direction they came off the coil drum, the cable was made to do a 180º. This relaxed the cable so it wouldn't have any problems in and of itself. And, yes, they were wound under tension...measured in tons, or anywhere from thousands of pounds to hundreds of thousands of pounds, depending.
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