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July 06, 2021
What is a Winch and Why Are They Important?
Winching is a crucial and incredibly helpful part of our everyday lives. It is a mechanism that is used with vehicles and motorized machines. For our purposes, we will examine winches used for vehicles in off-road recovery and general overlanding purposes.
Winches have been in use throughout human history. From lifting heavy objects to pushing and pulling objects, they are important for many day-to-day purposes. However, the most common modern-day purpose for winching is for off-road recovery.
If you are unfamiliar with off-road recovery, the term is used when vehicles get stuck off the road or need to be moved from a stationary location. Often, a vehicle is recovered or extracted when it has become stuck or immobile. Many off-road vehicles also have winches installed to help pull or recover other vehicles that get stuck or need help to get through bad weather conditions such as snow, mud, sand and so forth.
Now let’s take a look at the main components of a winch. For most off-road applications, winches are generally made up of several components. First, a circular drum is used. Next, a steel cable or synthetic rope is attached to the drum. A motor powers the drum to turn and spool the cable around the drum. This electronic control allows the speed of the drum to be sped up or slowed down. With tow trucks, winches can be electrically or hydraulically powered from a power take-off and are run at variable speeds (15K-20K lbs at 10-20 hp). On a truck or SUV, like a Tacoma or 4Runner, you typically see winches with a static speed motor (9-10K lbs at 7 hp).
Lastly, you have various types of shackles or hooks attached to the end of the winch which connects to whatever needs to be pulled or raised as the drum reels the cable or rope.
Now let's further examine what is connected to the winch.
The first type of connecting point that is commonly used at the end of a winch is a Clevis slip hook, which is simply called a winch hook for short.
They are made from various steels and often used due to their low cost and abundance. This style of hook has three distinct features. First, it has a curved opening that may or may not have a safety latch that opens and closes. The main curvature of the hook forms a deep airfoil shape in its cross-section. Next, it has a cable attached to the hook by a clevis pin and a cotter pin.
Finally, the size of the link that can be “slipped” through the hook opening is generally made for chains or ropes that are ⅜ thick.
Because of this aspect, winch hooks are intended to be used with chains or ropes only which makes them less versatile. The hook opening of this style of winch is too small to properly accommodate two ends of a common recovery strap.
This can be a negative, especially since a vast majority of off-roaders use synthetic recovery straps. They are not recommended at all for use with recovery straps because their shape causes higher fiber stresses. As a result, winch hooks pose the threat of accidentally cutting and damaging recovery straps.
Also, most winch hooks that are ⅜ inch thick can only work to a maximum of 4000-7000 pounds. On average, winches work with loads 9500-12K lbs which far exceeds the safe working load limit of clevis slip hooks.
Problems with Clevis slip hooks?
Whenever a slip hook is used, there is a chance for a strap or chain coming loose or falling out. During vehicle recovery, the winch cable is cycling in a loaded and unloaded condition regularly. This can quickly create a dangerous and unsafe situation with hooks because you are constantly creating "slack" in the recovery system.
What's better than a Clevis slip hook?
Due to these factors, a closed-pin winch shackle is a much better choice because it is a completely contained link. During operation, strap ends inside the shackle have no way of escaping even during tight/loose cycles. Ultimately, hooks should only be considered during controlled and specific competitions. Now that you know why a closed-pin winch shackle is superior to a hook shackle, let’s further go in-depth in regards to other winch shackles.
The main difference between a hook and a shackle is that a shackle has a connector piece with an opening release mechanism such as a pin or a hook that creates a strong closed position.
Just like a winch hook, a winch shackle is attached to the end of a winch and fastened onto another object (like a d-ring, strap, or shackle) to be pulled from or by.
Winch shackles are manufactured from metal (unless it’s a soft shackle, more on that below) and come in different sizes each with its own safety load rating.
The three main parts of a winch shackle are the main body, the shoulder, the ear, and the pin, itself.
The body is the shape of the shackle, the pin is the bolt that goes through the ears, and the shoulder is the part of the pin that makes contact against the ear when the pin is fully threaded or engaged.
Agency 6 offers Billet Winch Shackles which are a key component in trouble-free recovery. Our unique design protects your winch line and can be removed an reinstalled with common tools. Rubber isolators protect your fairlead while the winch is rewound.
We offer many colors to choose from:
There are lots of options out there to choose from when it comes to advanced Billet when shackles. All of our products are designed and manufactured in the USA and come with a limited lifetime warranty. We are confident that you will love our Billet when shackles.
Don't believe us? Many off-roaders have reviewed our winch shackled in detail.
Just Google "Agency 6 Billet Shackle Reviews" and see what comes up. You will be shocked at our price point and how many people love our winch shackles.
Now let’s take a more detailed look at two types of winch shackle connection points.
Bow shackles resemble the contour of a light bulb. They are also called anchor shackles, D-Rings, d shackles or the proper term for most of the shackles we see in off-road use are "bow shackles" (pictured above with an Agency 6 winch shackle and ARB tree strap).
The rounded design of a bow shackle allows them to handle loads from multiple directions without developing a significant sideload. However, the larger loop shape of a bow shackle does reduce its overall strength, but it is also able to handle a larger strap.
The other common shape of a winch shackle is the “D shackle” which is what it looks like when fully closed off. D shackles are also known as chain shackles.
Difference between a D shackle and a bow shackle?
Bow shackles offer a wider opening and are made for side loads (to a certain extent) while the D shackle are designed for more of a straight pull. It’s important to note that D-ring shackles are intended for straight-line pulling because using it for side pulling can possibly twist or bend a D shackle. When using a D shackle, the centerline of the load should always align with the centerline of the shackle for the safest and most effective operation.
Both the bow and D shackle are generally made available in galvanized metal or stainless steel. Furthermore, they all have multiple pin options and combinations available.
Soft Shackle Connected to Agency 6 Shackle Block and ARB Snatch Strap
Soft shackles are made of rope and have predominantly been used on sailing ships for hundreds of years. As part of a sailor’s craft, they were an integral part of sailing. Over time, as sailing evolved into more commercial industries such as cruise liners and cargo ships, the use of rope was replaced with more heavy-duty materials such as wire and steel.
However, recreational sailing has made a comeback, and because of this, a high-modulus polyethylene line (also known as high-molecular-weight polyethylene) has been developed. Enter the soft shackle. To their credit, soft shackles are lightweight, waterproof, don't damage things like the deck, rigging, mast, or sails, and they float too. For all of these reasons, four-wheelers like having them as an option.
The material most four-wheeler shackles are made from is the high-modulus polyethylene rope, which is also known as Dyneema. This type of rope is generally made up of an 8- or 12-strand construction and can be produced in varying widths from 6 millimeters to 48mm in thickness.
Most soft shackles that are used in 4x4 recovery scenarios are 12mm in thickness and constructed from 12-strand Dyneema SK75 or SK78. Both are approximately the same, with the latter offering slightly better resistance to stretching-out with better shape recovery under a sustained amount of tension. Some shackles are even wrapped in a thinner Dyneema to give improved abrasion resistance.
As far as construction goes, a soft shackle couldn't be simpler. A soft shackle is made up of a “strop” with a stopper at one end which is usually a diamond-style knot and a loop end at the other. When using soft shackles, just make sure to check them for abrasion wear after and before you use them each time.
5th Gen 4Runner Running Agency 6 Winch Shackle & Fairleads. Read more on the 5th Gen 4Runner review here.
Now that you understand the basics of these types of shackles, it’s easy to understand why the majority of off-roaders would rather use a winch shackle instead of a winch hook.
The closed system shackle drastically outperforms the design of a winch hook.
During a vehicle recovery scenario, it is not worth the safety risk associated with standard winch hooks when you can have more peace of mind with a winch shackle.
If you ask most off-roaders what they use, you’ll find that most prefer the winch shackle to the winch hook.
For example, let’s look at a standard ¾ screw pin shackle. Most shackles in this category have a working load limit (WLL) of 9500 pounds. Most screw pin shackles have an ultimate breaking strength of 50,000 to 60,000 pounds. This far outclasses what winch hooks can offer.
To put it all into perspective, here are the reasons a winch shackle is superior:
It’s important to use a rated shackle whenever possible.
Unrated shackles are not tested to their maximum use capacity and are riskier to use. Shackles that are rated have a “WLL” (working load limit) embossed or etched on them.
And usually, rated shackles have a different colored pin and the pin will generally be larger in diameter than the body of the shackle. Make sure to follow the manufacturer’s specified ratings and tolerance limits. They can also have an S or M rating. An S-rated shackle is made of stronger materials and is lighter than an M shackle, depending on manufactures. Some list this, some do not.
Winch shackle systems are evolving both technologically and design-wise.
Newer billet winch shackles now offer materials such as US Certified 6061 T6 CNC machined aluminum with a 17-4 hardened pin. This allows them to be lightweight and strong.
And new designs offer integrated powder-coated covers to help minimize abrasion and UV damage to the connected synthetic line.
Ultimately, continue doing your research, asking industry professionals, and speaking with other off-roaders about the type of winch systems they use will lead you in the right direction.
There are various combinations and methods that are being utilized for off-roading and overlanding.
In our modern world, having a winch and winching hook or shackle system for off-roading can be considered a necessity.
Winch systems like winch shackles are stronger, more dependable, and safer than open system clevis hooks. They typically provide the most peace of mind when going on off-road and helping to recover stuck vehicles.
Agency 6 offers Billet Winch Shackles which are a key component in trouble-free recovery. Our unique design makes protects your winch line and can be removed an re-installed with common tools. Rubber isolators protect your fairlead while winch is rewound.
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