Should a Winch Spool From the Top or Bottom?


In Brief: Should A Winch Spool From The Top Or Bottom?

A winch should always spool from the bottom rather than the top. Spooling over the top can put undue stress on mounting hardware and increase the apparent load, risking breakage. It also puts stress on the cone brake and can force it to lock. The rope can also be damaged due to misalignment with the fairlead.

Winches can be installed in two configurations – overwound, and underwound.

Overwound winch orientation means that the rope spools over the top of the drum, and underwound means that the rope spools under the bottom.

In short, your winch should be installed in an underwound configuration so that the rope spools from the bottom of the drum.

Should a Winch Spool From the Top or Bottom?

There are three reasons for preferring underwound orientations.

Stress On Mounting Hardware

If you spool in an overwound orientation then you will be increasing the load on the mounting hardware significantly.

How much the load increases by when spooling from the top depends on the size of the drum and the diameter of the cable.

Bigger drums and thicker cables increase the load more when spooled from the top.

You could increase the apparent load by nearly three times if you spool from the top compared to spooling from the bottom, which can cause your load to be over the apparent capacity.

Stress On The Cone Brake

Running the rope the wrong way can cause the cone brake to lock up. You may not be able to release the brake by operating the winch, which can cause serious problems.

The winch will also draw a much higher amperage and start running much hotter, which can cause a failure and at the very least will degrade your winch and rope.

Poor Rope Placement

The fairlead on your winch may not line up very well with an overwound orientation, causing poor performance and risking damage to the rope.

The rope, if poorly aligned with slots or fairleads, can rub against the edge of the opening and begin to fray through abrasion. You can ruin a good rope if you are not careful.


We hope this guide has convinced you to use your winch in an underwound orientation. Your winch should always spool from the bottom rather than the top.

If you have any comments or questions about this guide, please feel free to leave them in the section below.

About Ryan Henderson

Ryan has more than ten years of experience writing about power tools. He is an expert in the field, and is able to provide unique insights into the reviews, use, and maintenance of various products. He enjoys cooking when he's not working on his articles, as well as spending time with his dog.