When you need a job done right, you need the right tools. Chain hoists and come alongs are excellent devices to have that make lifting or pulling heavy loads easier. These are standard tools used to turn big jobs into manageable ones.
What is the difference between a chain hoist and a come along? The difference between a chain hoist and a come-along lies in how each device lifts a load. Chain hoists lift weights when the operator/operating device pulls a chain and is used for lifting loads vertically. A come along, or lever hoist lifts through the use of a lever and can lift or move objects and loads horizontally as well as vertically.
A Brief Breakdown of Hoists
Both chain hoists and come alongs are hoists. A hoist is simply a device used to move and lift loads.
There are manual and electric chain hoists, but we will be discussing manual hoists. Most manual hoists can still have load limits of 20 tons. It’s doubtful you will need to lift anything more substantial than that.
Also, manual hoists are more cost-efficient, portable, and easier to maintain and repair (source).
According to industry leaders, 50% of all manual hoists purchases are made with intentions for use at home or a farm (source). As a DIYer considering a hoist, you’re in good company.
A chain hoist is operated by pulling down on a chain. Depending on the operator’s strength, it can be a quick lift. Chain blocks only move loads vertically.
A come along, or lever hoist has a chain that is operated by a lever or a hand crank. It’s easy to work but slow-going. Lever hoists can move loads in different directions, including horizontally.
In general, chain hoists can lift heavier loads, while lever hoists are more versatile. Let’s delve deeper into the mechanisms and uses of both hoists.
What are Chain Hoists?
A chain hoist can go by many names. It’s also known as a hand chain hoist or a chain block.
Simply put, a chain hoist is a pulley system used for vertically lifting heavy loads. Chain hoists multiply the pulling force. Here is an excellent chain hoist lift we recommend for our Gantry Crane Plans available in several lifting capacities here available on Northern Tool.
How Does a Chain Hoist Work?
A chain block is made of gears and two chains. The two chains are called a hand chain and a load chain.
The hand chain is, obviously, the chain the user pulls, while the load chain is the one that attaches to and lifts the load. The manual chain hoist is designed so that it takes minimal effort to pull the hand chain while lifting heavy loads.
Inside the housing of the primary mechanism, there is a series of gears that magnify the force used to pull the hand chain.
The energy used to turn the main cog is converted through a drive shaft, friction plate, and gears to the primary sprocket that lifts the load chain.
The hand chain is looped and threaded into slots on the cog. As the chain is pulled, the gear turns.
As the cog turns, it screws down the driveshaft until the face of the cog butts up tightly against the friction plate of a ratchet wheel. The gear, friction plate, and ratchet wheel all move simultaneously (source).
While pulling on the chain, there is a small catch or little lever that moves through the teeth of the ratchet wheel. This little catch prevents the cog from sliding backward from the force of the load.
The cog mentioned above is installed on the drive shaft, which also moves. The driveshaft is attached to a small gear in between two giant and identical gears. The larger gears increase the force used to turn the driveshaft.
These more giant gears each have a smaller gear on the back, both connected to a larger gear. This larger gear transfers its energy to the sprocket connected to the links of the lift chain.
In summary, when the hand chain is pulled, several gears move in synchrony to help multiply the force and lift the load.
How Do You Use a Chain Hoist?
Now you understand the mechanics happening inside the machinery, but how do you use it?
As can be expected, a lot of the steps in this process include checking and double-checking parts to ensure safety. A chain block may be easy to use, but it can be dangerous when misused.
Here is a quick step-by-step guide to using a chain hoist (source).
1. Check the Hoist Weight Limit
First and foremost, you will need to make sure the chain hoist can support the load in question. Check the safe working load, or SWL, of the machinery. It tells you how much weight the hoist can handle.
2. Check the Hoist Lift Limit
After the weight is squared away, you will want to check the height or lift range of the hoist as well. You need to check and double-check that the hoist can control this load (source).
3. Inspect the Hoist and its Parts
Next, check the condition of the hoist itself. Pull the hand chain to ensure it moves smoothly. Make sure any safety catches are in working order.
4. Perform a Test Lift
Once you have established that the hoist is properly operating, now you can perform a test lift. Try attaching a small load. Lift and lower the load with the chain several times.
5. Secure the Load
Now you’re ready to lift the real load. Position the hoist directly above the center of gravity of the object. Attach the load securely to the hook or sling.
6. Lift the Load
Begin to lift the load by pulling on the hand chain. Oversee the load. If it seems unbalanced, make adjustments.
7. Lower the Load
Once the load is in position at its desired destination, slowly lower it. If you lower the load too quickly, you could damage the load.
8. Detach the Load
Remove the load from the hoist hook.
9. Clean and Store Properly
Hoists work better when they are well maintained. Clean off any dirt or grease from the hoist. Store it in a dry space.
What Can a Chain Hoist be Used for?
Chain blocks are popular because just one person can do a job that usually requires several people. It’s an incredibly versatile tool. If something can be attached to the load hook of a chain hoist, then it can be lifted.
On a large scale, chain hoists are found in factories. In assembly lines, a hoist can be used to lift large loads on and off of conveyor belts (source).
Construction is another industry that commonly uses chain blocks. When raising an entire building, you encounter heavy loads.
I-beams and H-beams used in building foundations can weigh almost 300 pounds, depending on their length and width (source). For car enthusiasts, chain hoists are a lifesaver since the average car engine weighs about 350 pounds. That’s not even including the transmission (source).
Both professionals or DIYers can use a chain hoist to lift massive car engines. Engine hoists can also do the job, but they tend to be pricey. A chain hoist is typically a fraction of the cost of an engine hoist (source).
If you get creative enough, the possibilities are endless. DIYer and YouTuber April Wilkerson fashioned her gantry in her garage using a chain hoist. If you’re handy with a welding torch or plasma cutting torch, you can get creative.
What is a Come Along?
A come along, or a lever hoist is a hand-operated lifting device that’s very similar to a chain hoist.
One of the significant advantages of a come along over a chain hoist is that the come together requires only one hand to operate. Instead of pulling a chain with two hands, like on a chain hoist, you are operating a lever (source).
A good come along that is a good tool to have when offroading (it has helped me many times after getting buried in the mud or bottomed out on an old road). It also, of course, works excellent for heavy lifting and moving things around outside the house and yard. Affordably priced at Northern Tool, click on the image below for more details.
Similar to a chain hoist, a come-along is an advanced pulley system made with chains and gears. Specifically, a come along depends on “a ratchet and pawl system to rotate a gear or pulley a pre-set distance that lifts the load” (source).
A come along operates with a friction disk and ratchet wheel with a double pawl system. The pawls prevent the ratchet wheel from turning in the wrong direction each time you crank the lever.
The average come along has two hooks, one on top and one on the bottom. These are usually swiveling or sling hooks for easy access.
The bottom hook is how you attach the load. It’s connected to the load chain that spools through the main shaft of the tool.
The top hook will need to be anchored to something. Often, it may be easier to hang a come along from a ceiling. However, that’s not always an option.
Picture using a come-along for pulling out a tree stump. Usually, a vehicle is used for this task. In this case, the load hook attaches to the stump, and the top hook is anchored to the car.
Two Main Points Of Interest To Know About A Come Along
There are two parts of a lever hoist you will want to familiarize yourself with. First, there is the directional switch.
The directional switch is found on the tool’s body. It is what you manipulate to lift, lower, or free spool. The “up” selection is for raising, and the “down” selection is for lowering.
The neutral position is where the switch is pointing straight up and down. It is the mode needed to free spool (source).
Second, you’ll need to learn about the retaining pawl. It’s found above the grip ring on the tool’s body. Pressing the retaining pawl releases the grip ring so you can adjust, or free spool, the chain as needed.
A lever hoist can be operated with only one hand, which is very convenient if you are often doing tasks alone.
As a default, a lever hoist is set in the right-handed operation. If you should need to switch it because you are left-handed, it’s a simple process.
On the back of the manipulator control, you’ll notice six screws. Remove the screws. Rotate the throttle valve a complete 180 degrees. Re-install the six screws (source).
The most complicated part of the process is taking apart the tool. Switching it from right-handed to left-handed is just a matter of rotation. This only matters for lever hoists; chain blocks require both hands.
How Do You Use a Come Along?
As with a chain block, inspecting a lever hoist is vital to preventing injury. Proper storage of the tool is also essential to prevent damage.
Here’s a directive for using a come along (source).
1. Check the Hoist’s Weight Rating
Compare the weight of the load to the lever hoist weight capacity. Most have a 1000-pound or higher capacity. You can find this rating in product descriptions online, in the product manual, or, typically, on a label on the hoist itself.
2. Check the Hoist’s Maximum Lifting Height
Measure how high you will need to lift a load. Some lever hoists max out at 6 feet. Others can rise to 15 feet. Again, check product descriptions, manuals, and the product itself.
3. Inspect the Hoist and its Parts
Faulty hoists can lead to serious injury. Protect yourself by thoroughly examining the come along before using. Check the length of the chain for any twists. We recommend lubricating the chain with machine oil.
4. Perform a Test Lift
Before going big, you should start small. Attach a light object to the hook of the hoist and lift it.
5. Secure the Load
Typically, a swivel hook is found at the end of the load chain of a lever hoist. Secure your load to the swivel hook. Check the hook’s closure.
6. Hoisting or Pulling
Take note of the selector lever found on the body of the hoist. Set this lever to the “up” position. Begin to pump the lever clockwise to lift.
7. Lowering or Releasing
Return the selector level. Now set the lever to the “down” position. Pump the lever counterclockwise.
8. Free Spooling
This option is recommended when you need to make quick adjustments. Set your selector to “neutral.” Your particular hoist may just have this labeled with the letter N.
9. Clean and Store Properly
Once your work is completed, store the lever hoist properly. Loosen the brake system. Clean any dust or grease from the tool. Lubricate the chain before storing it to prevent rust.
What Can a Come Along be Used For?
According to industry leaders, it’s been found that lever hoists are commonly used for pulling. Chain blocks can only lift and lower, but lever hoists can pull in multiple directions.
Why does this give a lever hoist an advantage? It’s capable of tasks the chain hoist is not. For example, a lever hoist can be used to winch a car. Just carefully attach the vehicle to the bottom hook of the hoist. Standing some distance away, you can crank the lever and pull the car from whatever rough terrain it got stuck in.
You can use a come along to help install a chain-link fence. A come-along can create the tension needed to pull the fence fabric. To watch a come along used in this manner, watch this video from Lowe’s at 07:41.
Another application would be to use a come along when removing barbed wire fences. It’s best to use a lever hoist in conjunction with a wire gripper for this job.
Handymen and women the world over have used come alongs to pull tree stumps. It is a difficult task, considering how deep the roots of a tree can go, especially pine trees. A stretch along makes the job much more comfortable.
Here is a list of some other ways lever hoists can be used (source).
- Winching cars
- Moving machinery
- Keeping loads together
- Pulling pipe
- Straightening poles
- Load securing or lashing
Both chain hoists and lever hoists have their advantages. The scope of your project will help determine which is the best choice for your task.
Chain hoists should primarily be used to lift and then lower large loads. Loads that would typically require the strength of several people can be raised by just one. It is because chain hoists take the force exerted and multiply it exponentially.
A lever hoist also increases the energy used, but a lever hoist is more flexible since it can move objects horizontally and vertically. It also has the added benefit of freeing up an extra hand.
Most people find lever hoists most helpful in pulling situations, like winching a vehicle or pulling pipe.
Before committing to either tool, consider what tasks you will need to use it for. If your jobs mostly involve lifting heavy loads, consider a chain block. If you need to do more horizontal work, pick a come along.