Synthetic vs. Steel Cable pt.2

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Synthetic vs. Steel Cable (cont.)

Pictured above: One of the many unconventional yet legitimate, rugged uses for synthetic winchlines...in this case, logging.

In this week’s blog entry, we pick up where we left off in our discussion over the reasons why synthetic winchlines are superior to steel cable winchlines. Continue below.

Durability

  • Cuts: This can be one of the downsides we alluded to in our previous blog entry. So long as you install and exercise proper care with your synthetic winchline, however, they last for a long time. Synthetic ropes, whether Dyneema or Technora, are extremely tough materials and highly resistant to cuts and abrasion. For example, Dyneema is used for cut-resistant gloves in industries requiring that feature. Also, if you cut these ropes with a good sharp knife you will find your knife will dull very quickly. Viking uses high quality scissors to cut the ropes and those scissors have to be replaced weekly because the ropes are so difficult to cut.

    Nontheless, we are still talking about fibers. As such, they can be cut more easily than steel. Put a winchline under a few thousand pounds of force on a truck, and it will cut instantly if dragged over a sharp edge on a bumper. Because of this, you have to be more careful with synthetic lines compared to steel, even though you can also ruin a steel cable as early as its first use, if you’re not careful.
  • Bend: This is one of the real disadvantages of steel cable. Try this experiment for a minute, or at least visualize what you’ve probably already done sometime before. Grab a thin wire and bend it back and forth many times so that it doubles over onto itself. If you do it enough times, will it break? Yes. Now what happens when you do that with synthetic fibers? It keeps lasting way beyond the point at which that steel wire broke in half.

    Same idea applies to synthetic winchlines vs. steel cable. Over time, one thing that weakens steel cable is if it gets pinched or kinked, it will break strands after a pull or two. It will corrode, and after many pulls, it will begin to fatigue due to being forced over a small diameter winch drum over and over. This is why Warn and Superwinch started offer more synthetic lines with their winches because they realized that synthetic holds up better over time from this perspective. It doesn’t matter how many times you wrap a synthetic winchline around a drum; no matter what, its strength will not noticeably or significantly degrade due to the bend it undergoes.
  • Weather resistance: At worst, synthetic endures extreme temperatures the same as steel. It certainly doesn’t underperform. Synthetic winchlines were originally designed for heavy commercial fishing that happens mostly in the north seas. These areas see a lot of cold weather, ice and freezing saltwater. There may be some damage caused by this, but it is very minute. This will effectively shorten the life of the rope by a relatively small amount, maybe 1-2% reduction in overall lifespan.

    Wet, salty and sunny conditions are other factors to look at when evaluating Dyneema’s weather resistance. We don’t know that the hot sun will have any impact on a steel cable winchline’s durability (only that it could affect your own willingness to hold onto that cable if it gets hot enough). We do know, however, that the elements of water and salt can turn a nice steel cable into a rusty line of garbage that whittles down and weakens. A rusted cable is not something you’d want to entrust with your life. This is where synthetic, yet again, “outshines” steel. Keep your synthetic winchline out in the sun long enough, and the dye color will noticeably fade. However, synthetic winchlines are UV stabilized so that the strength of your winchline will continue to be just about the same for many years.

    Samson Rope, a well-known manufacturer of rope made from Amsteel Blue (essentially, “Dyneema”), tells us that they have seen their ropes on ship decks for 10 years without any degradation. We mention this to make it clearly known that Dyneema is also unlike other rope materials that break down sometimes after a short period.

Reparable

If your synthetic winchline were accidentally cut somehow or dragged over a rough surface that comprised is strength to ultimately break the line, you could easily repair it right there in the field with the proper rope repair tools that you would have brought along as part of your recovery kit. The Viking rope repair kit also comes with instructions that make it easier for you to follow along or remember how to do it.

Repairing a steel cable is not so easy.

Price

This is the other possible downside of synthetic (the other, as we mentioned earlier, was the need to ensure you do not run synthetic winchlines over sharp edges or rough surfaces as this can lead to a nick or fray in the material which can then lead to snapping the line when placed under the extreme tension of a pull).

Some people balk at the price of synthetic when they compare it to the price of steel cable. Most of our customers that tell us why they invest the extra money say it’s because the value of the advantages they get out of synthetic far outweighs the cost. Plus, when they go to check out of our store, they have the option of breaking up their purchase into smaller and interest-free payments that really make it quite affordable. All they have to do is select PayPal Credit as they’re checking out, and PayPal gives up to 6 months to pay off the total cost of whatever it is they’re buying, including a winchline. Payments can be made beyond 6 months, but it’s best to pay it off during that 6-month timeframe of interest-free payments because interest starts to kick in after the 6th month of payments.

Summary

So there are the main reasons we would recommend a synthetic winchline over a steel cable winchline. The bullet points below summarize the gist of this and the previous blog entry, and also include one or two extra advantages we hadn’t yet mentioned.

Our next entry will discuss a few short points about how to choose a winchline that fits your winch. Should you have any questions for us in the meantime about synthetic winchlines or these blog entries, please feel free to reach out to us through our contact page.

Difference between our lines and traditional steel cable lines:

  • Viking lines are stronger with a 30% greater breaking strength than steel.
  • Viking lines are lighter weighing up to 85% less than steel cable.
  • Our torque-free rope design is safer. The weave of the synthetic rope stores very little kinetic energy making it more likely to drop to the ground if breakage ever occurs. Contrast that to the violent force of steel cables that rotate and lash outward in an unpredictable trajectory when breakage occurs.
  • Viking lines are malleable and easily bent, rolled up or brought back into shape.
  • Our lines are easier on the hands with no sharp strands that can cut or rip.
  • Viking lines are available in easily visible colors - making them easier to see and safer in winching and recovery situations.
  • Viking lines are engineered with marine standards making them the right choice for wet and muddy recovery situations. They are also buoyant so they float on water.