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Build a Custom Winch Bumper

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Bud Miller | Writer
Posted September 1, 1999

Putting a Warn 8274 Onto an Early CJ

Step By Step

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  • We started with a Warn mounting plate, but plain, 1/4-inch steel could also be used. Here, we’ve marked the new centerline on the mount (based on fairlead position) and determined how much can safely be cut off the sides and bottom. Think ahead. It’s easier to cut more later than it is to weld material back on.

  • A torch, a cutting wheel, a reciprocating saw, or a plasma cutter (or even a hacksaw) can be used to shed the mount of unnecessary material. If you start with a flat piece of steel and have access to one of Shop Outfitters’ Handy Bend benders, the nice and strong 90-degree bend at the bottom can be easily added. That bend and the rectangular hole for the cable were the main reasons we started from a complete, more costly mount.

  • With the mount rough-cut to shape, the centerline and primary Cut Here lines were marked on the Con-Ferr bumper and the mount. Again, think first and cut more later, if you need to.

  • Here, things are starting to fall into place, showing where the bumper needs to be cut to match the fairlead hole in the mount. Note that the mount must be inset at least 5/8-inch into the bumper for the winch to clear the grille. There’s more mount left on the passenger side because more of the asymmetrical 8274 is on that side.

  • Since the bumper’s bottom flange is completely removed, the bend on the bottom of the winch mount helps put strength back in the setup. Welding in a piece of flat stock could accomplish the same thing, but the bend is a cleaner approach.

  • To match the frame horn height of a CJ-3A, you should place spacers inside the bumper (left) to avoid tweaking the frame as you bolt on the bumper. The round spacer on the right takes up the room between the winch mount and bumper, where the lower winch mount (and fairlead) bolt goes through. This is a good time to squirt some paint onto areas that will become inaccessible.

  • We opted to cut the bumper down in width, which provided material, which we used to make reinforcements for the bottom of the mount. Gussets are our friends and make for a more finished look. Tack-weld everything together and do a trial-fit before laying down the real beads.

  • This photo shows what a wind gust can do to the shielding gas when you’re MIG-welding. Note the small tab to the right that helps support the fairlead on hard downward pulls.

  • Powdercoating is really nice, and VHT’s Epoxy Plus is a darn good imitation for a lot less money. The drying time is quite a bit longer than for regular rattle-can paint, but Epoxy Plus has held up very well in encounters with rocks and such.

  • This winch is mounted with the fairlead centered on the vehicle, leaving just under 2 inches of room to the right framerail and a good 71/4 inches on the left. Most Jeeps these days have the steering box there, but it’s also a good spot for a small ammo can for housing the choker chain and such.

It’s common knowledge that real Jeeps are built—not bought as the bumper stickers proclaim—so why settle for using an off-the-shelf winch mount when it’s so easy to build one yourself? Mostly, perhaps, the reason to whittle out your own is because it can be done better and can be more functional when one size doesn’t have to fit all. Case in point: a Warn 8274 onto an early CJ.

On pre-’72 Jeeps, there’s nothing between the grille and bumper except space for a winch, yet the store-bought mounts put the winch atop the bumper—blocking not only the view of the classic grille, but also the airflow through it. That high mounting position doesn’t help the center of gravity either. Additionally, if the Jeep is taller than stock, having the fairlead at a lower lever can be advantageous when you’re trying to pull out of a nasty situation.

Bill of Materials

You’ll need two things to make a custom winch bumper like this one: a bumper and a winch mount, the two items will be combined into one. The factory bumper may be marginal for supporting an 8274 that’s used hard, but Con-Ferr makes stout (3/16-inch-thick) replacement units that are a near bolt-on, and what we used for this story. The winch mount itself can be the deciding factor, depending on ambition and the tools on hand and thickness of your wallet. A 7 ½x15 piece of ¼-inch plate is one starting point. The other extreme is a ready-made winch mount that fits the Warn 8274. Either way, you’ll have to cut and grind a bit, but it’s definitely easier to start with an existing mount. We’ve done a bumper like this armed with only a drill motor, a drill, a hacksaw, and a file, so we can testify to it.

Just Do It

It’s more work to create your own winch bumper, but the results are worth the effort. If the winch blocks less of the grille, improved cooling results, and even if you use a low-profile winch, you still have the advantages of a lower center of gravity and less angle on the pull. An 8274—which is the winch of choice for many hard-core winch users—is less than 17 inches wide, so there’s plenty of room left for the steering box.

Go get the tools, you’ll be glad you did.


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