6 Tips for Using Steel Wire Rope

The first practical recorded use of steel wire rope dates from 1834 in Germany. Since the experimental days of the European Industrial Revolution, this sturdy cable has become an essential piece of equipment in most industries.

It is used for rigging in the marine and construction sectors, towing and lifting in the farming and automotive industries, and by home DIYers for a wide range of purposes.

A piece of steel wire rope is made up of fine individual wires woven together around a solid fiber core (FC) or steel wire core (IWRC). This durable design makes stainless steel rope heat and impact resistant.

Below, we explain how to use wire rope correctly in construction, boating, mechanics, home DIY, and more.

1. Start With Quality

When cared for properly, steel wire rope can last years. When buying a cable for your project, be sure to splurge on the best quality available in your area.

Visit stores to see the different thicknesses and construction of different brands of wire rope in person. Look for ropes that are trusted by industry professionals for their durability and strength.

If you’re on a budget, one of the best money-saving wire rope tips is to buy online. You might be able to get a better deal. Alternatively, shop around on second-hand marketplaces like Facebook Marketplace to see if you can find a quality pre-loved rope.

If you do buy second-hand, be sure to check the stainless steel rope carefully for any damage like corrosion, knicks, scratches, and kinks.

2. Break-in a New Steel Wire Rope

Once you get your new rope home, it’s time to break it in. This means using it in the manner you intended but without any load attached.

Wire rope is prone to stretching. On average, you can guarantee that structural stretch will add up to 0.5 percent of the rope length.

While the rope is rigged up, you can also check for things like structural damage without the danger of injury. This is wire rope safety 101. Once you put a heavy load on the end of that steel wire rope, it might be too late to remedy any issues.

When your rope is nearing the end of its life, checking for stretch can also be useful. If the diameter of your rope is significantly reduced, you’ll know it’s time to replace it.

3. Learn How to Seize Your Rope

Just like any other kind of rope, steel wire rope is bought in lengths that are cut from a much longer roll. This means that the loose ends are prone to fraying if not properly treated.

Seizing, which simply means binding the ends of a rope, is a simple but crucial first after-purchase step. If you use metal cables regularly, it’s worth taking the time to learn how to seize the ends yourself.

As a wire rope guide, there are two common seizing methods. Try out each and see which you prefer.

In the first, the end of a piece of seizing wire is placed in the valleys between two strands of the metal rope. Wind the wire around the diameter of the rope, ensuring the end stays in place under the wire. Once you’ve used up the entire length of the seizing wire, twist the two ends together to secure.

For method two, simply wrap the seizing wire around the rope end. Twist the two ends together once you’ve finished wrapping.

4. Uncoil and Wind-on With Care

Good coiling and storage practices give your rope the longest life possible. You can reduce the kinks and twists that will damage your wire rope over time.

To uncoil a rope, lift the drum off the ground using a horizontal shaft. For lightweight drums with thinner rope, it’s acceptable to use a vertical shaft.

Once the reel is securely hoisted up on a sturdy shaft, it’s time to start unraveling the stainless steel rope. Take the rope from the top of the reel and walk backward in a straight line away from the drum. Allow the rope to lie naturally on the ground.

To wind the steel wire rope back onto a reel, repeat the above action in reverse. Make sure the rope is bending in the same direction it sat on the drum before unraveling it.

The quality of the reel and shaft you wind your rope around matters, too. Look for a stainless steel drum and shaft from a reliable provider. Be sure to get the reel in a size that will accommodate the entire length of your rope.

5. Learn From the Professionals

If you’re installing steel wire rope onto machinery or rigging for the first time, the process must be completed by professionals. If you don’t have the necessary training, it’s time to upskill or hire someone who does.

Wire rope safety is an OSHA regulated activity.

Certified training will ensure you know the correct stainless steel rope diameter for each application (and teach you how to measure it accurately), ensure you install the correct rope length, and help you to understand the different rope designs, materials, and coatings, and what they’re used for.

6. Clean and Lubricate Your Rope Often

Because steel wire rope is manufactured using multiple strands of wire, dust, dirt, and moisture can accumulate in the tiny gaps. Use a wire brush and petroleum solvent to scrub away the debris.

As you’re cleaning, inspect your steel wire rope for any damage. A few broken strands will not compromise the strength of the rope but a lot will. If you see any distortion on the cable–from flat spots to unraveling–replace the cable immediately.

While it’s important to lubricate your stainless steel rope after cleaning, it’s also important to keep any machinery the cable runs through lubricated. This reduces damaging friction on the cable, which can lead to fraying, tears, or worse, snaps.

There are hundreds of types of lubricants on the market today. They come in drip, spray, or brush format. Industry experts favor petroleum-based oils, though other lubricants like vegetable oil are available.

Good Storage for Long Product Life

Now that you know the best practices for using your steel wire rope, it’s important to understand how to properly store it. Keep your cable in a well-ventilated, dry, covered area that’s protected from the elements.

If you must store your rope reel outside, be sure to stow it off the floor and cover it with a waterproof sheet. In either case, turn the drum regularly, even if you’re not using it. Check for damage at the same time.

For more great advice on manufacturing practice and materials, take a look at the other articles on our blog.

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