How To Attach Cable To A Winch Drum – Best Methods

| Last Updated: April 21, 2021

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A cable is perhaps the most integral part of your winch in terms of safety and operational efficiency. Yet over time, both steel and synthetic cables start to fray from use.

At some point, they’re going to need replacing. That’s why you should know how to attach a cable to a winch drum.

With these tips, this somewhat confusing task becomes second nature, even for the novice mechanic.

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Quick Questions Before Starting

Before you attempt to attach a cable to a winch drum, make sure you know the answers to the following questions. Understanding the complexity, length of time, and costs can help save you time and budget appropriately.

How Difficult Is This to Complete?

Even if you’ve never attached a cable to a winch drum, the process is straightforward and relatively easy compared to other vehicle maintenance.

How Long Does This Take to Complete?

Depending on your level of patience and innate ability to work with your hands, expect this process to take anywhere from 10 minutes to half an hour, with most people on the lower half of this timeframe.

How Much Do Materials Cost?

The cost to attach a cable to your winch drum will vary depending on the length and thickness of the cable, as well as whether you choose a synthetic or steel cable. Besides, you should factor in the price of a pair of durable gloves with a preference toward leather. The total cost should be somewhere between $70 and $200.

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Items Needed to Install Winch Line

Installing a winch line is an easy process that requires little to no extra equipment. In fact, the only things you’ll need are:

  • A pair of gloves - $20 to $50

  • A synthetic or steel cable - $50 to $150

  • Medium grit sandpaper if you’re switching from steel to synthetic - $2 to $5

This means that you can reasonably expect to spend between $72 and $205 to attach a cable to the winch drum.

You may also need some basic tools that you probably already have lying around. This includes a socket wrench, pliers, and possibly a hex key (Allen wrench).

Note: Keep in mind that you may endure additional costs if you switch from a synthetic line to a steel cable if you have an aluminum hawse fairlead. Aluminum hawse fairleads can’t handle the abrasion from a steel cable. Therefore, you’ll need to buy a steel hawse fairlead or a roller fairlead. The cost of this item can range from $30 to $60 for either of these two products.

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How to Attach Cable to a Winch Drum

Now that you have the materials ready to go, it’s time to get to work. Here is a step-by-step guide to attaching the cable to a winch drum quickly and easily.

1. Remove the Winch Hook

Start by disconnecting the winch hook front the end of the cable line. To do this, simply pull out the locking pin.

2. Detach the Fairlead (If Necessary)

In some situations, you may have to remove the fairlead from the winch. This isn’t always necessary, but it may be easier for you to reach the winch drum during the replacement. The fairlead has two bolts, one on each side, that need to be taken out to remove the fairlead. Set these bolts aside for later use even if you’re replacing the fairlead, as most new ones don’t come with any hardware.

3. Turn the Winch to Free Spool Position

Next, turn the winch to a free spool position, which disengages the motor. This is typically a knob, switch, or lever that’s marked on the winch. Turning to the free spool position will allow you to remove the old line, as the drum should spin freely.

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4. Unspool the Old Cable

Remove the old cable by hand by pulling it until you reach the end. Don’t use the winch, as this can cause the cable to bind on the winch drum. Once you’re at the end of the line, you’ll notice that it’s attached to the drum with a screw in the sidewall of the drum, a hole with a wedge-shaped slot, or a hole with an Allen screw. If you have to remove a screw or Allen screw, set these aside to attach the new cable later

5. Inspect the Winch and Fairlead

Before you attach the new cable, inspect the winch and the fairlead for damage, especially if the winch previously had a steel cable. Steel cables can dig into the drum and fairlead, leaving sharp edges, burrs, and nicks that could damage the new line, especially if it’s synthetic.

6. Mount the New Cable

The same screw that you used to remove the old cable is the one you’ll use to attach the new one. Simply put the new cable in place and tighten the screw into place. For some older model winches, you may have to loop the cable around and tighten it or use a hole with a wedge-shaped slot that you can loop the cable around.

7. Lay Out the Winch Line

For the sake of ease, you should lay out your winch line on the ground so it spools evenly without any problems.

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8. Re-engage the Winch Motor and Start to Spool the Line

Turn the winch motor from the free spool back to the on position. Now grab the line and give it a firm pull while the drum starts to spin. While it’s spinning, go from side to side to ensure the spooling is flat and even across the winch drum. Complete this process until you have the entire length of the cable on the drum. Leave a little bit left on the end so it’s not completely spooled.

Pro Tip: If you have a friend or family member with some free time, a second person makes this process far easier. Using the winch controller while simultaneously feeding the line is a cumbersome process. With one person spooling and the other on the controller, this becomes a far easier process.

9. Attach the Fairlead

Once you have the entire line spooled, thread it through your new or old fairlead and bolt the fairlead into place using the two bolts you set aside from before.

10. Install a Winch Bump Stop

If your previous cable didn’t have a winch bump stop, now’s the time to put one on. For only about $10, this piece of rubber can prevent significant damage to the winch if you reel it in too quickly. Just screw the bump stop around the line via the instructions. It should only take about 30 seconds to a minute.

11. Reattach the Winch Hook

The final step to attach the cable to a winch drum is to reinstall the hook.

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Tips and Safety Considerations When Installing Winch Line

When you’re installing a winch line, always make sure to follow proper safety measures. Not only will it protect you during the process, but also when you use your winch in the future.

Wear Gloves

Even if you’re using synthetic cables, always wear gloves. This is because your fingers can easily get pinched in the winch drum. Furthermore, you should wear gloves when you’re dealing with the fairlead and drum, as the cable could have worn the metal to jagged edges.

Make Sure the Cable Is Attached Correctly

While screws are relatively easy ways to attach a cable firmly, double-check your work if you have to loop or knot the cable. If done incorrectly, you risk the cable coming off the winch drum when you operate the winch.

Keep Your Hands Away From the Winch Drum When Spooling

When you’re spooling the line over the drum winch, make sure to keep your hands a safe distance from the winch. If you’re feeding the cable and you get too close, you can easily get your fingers pinched.

Winch Line Attachment Methods & Designs

Winch line attachments come in a variety of designs and styles. So to avoid any surprises and familiarize yourself with the attachment process, here are some of the most common line attachment methods.

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Screw-in Sidewall

This is probably the easiest design to work with. Just remove the screw to take the cable out and screw it back in with the new line.

Allen Wrench Screw

Another popular type of line attachment is with an Allen wrench screw. This hexagonal screw requires an Allen wrench to remove and attach but is the same principle as a screw in the sidewall.

The Knot Method

Some older winches don’t have a set screw. In that case, you’ll have to tie the cable to the winch drum using a knot. This may take a few attempts to get the job done correctly.

Hole With Wedge-Shaped Slot

Another old-school method of line attachment is a wedge-shaped hole with a slot/pin nearby. To complete this line attachment, create a loop at the end of the line, thread it through the hole, and attach it to the slot/pin.

Attach Your Cable to Your Winch in a Cinch

Attaching your cable to your winch is a fairly simple process as long as you have the right tools for the job and follow the steps above. Just make sure to follow the proper safety protocols, and you should come away with a new, tightly wound cable that’s ready for your next adventure.

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People Also Ask

If it’s your first time attaching a cable to a winch drum, you may have some concerns. To put your mind at ease, here are some of the top questions that people also ask.

Can I Install a Winch Cable Alone?

You can install a winch cable alone. However, the spooling process is much easier with two people: one to guide the rope onto the winch drum and the other to operate the winch controller.

Can I Replace My Steel Cable With a Synthetic Rope?

Yes, you can. Just make sure to use sandpaper or a file to remove any nicks, burrs, or sharp pieces of metal on the fairlead and the winch drum to ensure it doesn’t fray the synthetic rope.

I used to work in construction and landscaping, so I've seen my fair share of ratchet straps, winches, and similar rigging gear. I started Winch Central because I've seen some nasty accidents due to crappy rigging or poor practice. I wanted to be able to recommend good equipment that's SAFE and also provide resources for how its used. I handle the research side of things here as well as product selection for gear reviews.