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Nena Knows: Winch Fairlead Myths Debunked

Posted in Features on March 6, 2019
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When you purchase a new winch, it usually comes packaged with a fairlead. A winch with wire rope comes with a roller fairlead, and a winch with synthetic rope will have a hawse fairlead. We’ve talked before about good winching practices and winch rope care, but let’s talk about the pros and cons of your fairlead choices, and why you may want to switch fairleads.

No matter which fairlead you choose, it is important to keep it unobstructed, clean, and free of nicks and gouges than can catch your winch line as it slides on and off of the winch drum. A hawse fairlead is lighter and slimmer than roller fairleads. It is easy to install and inspect regularly. Its slim design makes it less likely to impact rocks, trees, or other things that can damage the surface of it. It weighs significantly less than roller fairleads. However, whenever the rope is dragging across it, there is friction. And friction is what will wear out your winch rope. Not all hawse fairleads are created equal. It should have a smooth, rounded radius for the rope to slide over—and no sharp edges. The opening needs to be approximately the same width as your winch drum in order minimize friction on the rope and allow it to wind back on the drum evenly.

Roller fairleads are heavier and bulkier than hawse fairleads. They are more complicated to install and maintain. There are six bolts required on a roller fairlead (one for each roller, and two to hold it to the bumper), as opposed to only two for the hawse. There is much more surface to inspect; you must rotate each roller all the way around to check for burrs and scars, and to ensure that they are able to spin freely. However, the roller fairlead allows for freer movement of the rope because the roller surface moves with the rope and does not make the rope slide across it, which would create more friction.

When you use gear hard on a regular basis, you find what works well and what doesn’t.

Which do I use? I like synthetic rope and a roller fairlead, along with a clean Flat Splicer to eliminate the metal thimble getting dragged into the fairlead. Whenever I post photos of my winch fairlead setup, someone comments, “But you can’t use synthetic rope with a roller fairlead!” The usual argument is that synthetic rope can get caught in the corners of the rollers. If you have properly designed rollers, this doesn’t happen. In fact, with the frequent winch use that I do, I find that hawse fairleads tend to abrade synthetic winch rope far more than the rollers. After more than a decade of using synthetic rope on my winches, and trying it both ways, I find a roller fairlead to be more effective for my needs most of the time.

The final choice, though, is yours. Given the advantages and disadvantages, and your specific needs and four-wheeling environment, you must choose what works best for you.

Photo: Mary Leas
Although an ideal winch scenario is to pull straight ahead, circumstances don’t always allow for that.
The downside of hawse fairleads is the friction they place on any side load or even slight downward pulls.
One of the advantages of a hawse fairlead is the low profile. Rollers would have taken more of an impact on this particular incident.
Not all hawses are created equal. This Factor 55 hawse fairlead offers a much larger radius to reduce point-of-contact friction by spreading out the force.
Notice how the fairlead is not only the same width as the drum on the winch, but it’s also centered in front of the drum. This allows for full use of the drum, reduced friction on the edges, and proper winding of rope back onto the drum.
Rollers do stick out farther than hawse fairleads, exposing them to impact.
Polyurethane rollers reduce weight and resist the nicks and burrs that tend to accumulate on metal ones, but they are likely to fail sooner under heavy side loads.
This scrape on the metal roller makes it a no-go for any synthetic rope use.
A well-designed roller fairlead will not allow the rope to slip into the corners.
The Factor 55 Flat Splicer with a roller fairlead is used for the rigs that do heavy recovery work. On a rig that’s more of a dedicated rockcrawler and less of a working-for-a-living recovery rig, I prefer the lower weight and profile of the Factor 55 hawse fairlead.

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