Scale crawlers get a lot of attention from non-RC’ers, but if you really want to wow ’em, show off a working RC winch. Most people (I have yet to meet someone who wasn’t) are pretty impressed when a winch hook and line is unspooled, hooked up to something and then spooled back in–all from the remote. Winches are, but as I’ve said before, not all RC winches are created equal.
Scale winches are scale models of real winches that fully function. If you just have to have a winch sitting up on your front bumper, a scale winch is the top choice. It’s not the only choice, but more on that later. One of the most popular scale winches is the affordable 3Racing Automatic Crawlers Winch. The 3Racing winch comes in two sizes (one is listed as 1/8-scale), but both are rated to lift slightly more than 2 lb. Since 3Racing 1/10-scale winches can be found for less than $30 and sometimes as low as around $20, they have been a popular choice. The problem is they are not capable of serious work and usually winching is pretty serious work. There are a few smaller “garage companies” offering scale winches that are more stout than the 3Racing unit, but you can expect to pay significantly more.
One of the strongest–if not the strongest–scale winch is the Quicksand 8274 winch which is modeled after the famous Warn 8274 full-size. The Quicksand winch is a little on the large size, but it is a machined work of beauty. Just be prepared to spend $225.
Another option that I have used extensively is the C.L.A.W. winch from Center of Mass Designs. It has a heavy-duty, no-plastic design and includes a very good winch control box, but its best feature is its ability to free spool. Not only is the C.L.A.W. up to the stresses of competition, but the free spool function makes it very practical when speed is of the essence. The C.L.A.W. v2 winch costs $148.
Splitting the difference between the light-duty winches and the small-run specialty products are the RC4WD winches. RC4WD’s Bulldog 9300XT is rated at twice the max pull rate as the 3Racing winch and is fairly close in price. The Bulldog 9300XT costs about $35 and the wireless version will run approximately $60. The Bulldog 9300XT is has a very good scale appearance and features all metal construction.
Overall, the downside of scale winches is that they are not very heavy-duty–unless you’re willing to pay the price. The upside is that scale winches like the 3Racing and RC4WD models are extremely realistic. The heavy-duty models give up a little scale realism, but still look like real winches. It’s also worth noting that with this style of winch, water exposure can ruin an expensive investment. It’s important to seal off the winch controller or mount it as high and out of the way as possible. Even then, if the winch is dunked, it may require a rebuild.
It’s always interesting when things go full circle, and we have done exactly that with servo winches. Before scale winches, enterprising scale enthusiasts modified or hacked servos to function as winches. These servo winches provided winch functions but no scale realism. When the scale winches became available, people flocked to them–they were cheap and looked real as opposed to being hidden under the body. As scale comps became more popular (and grueling), the need for heavy-duty winches increased and we started seeing more and more servo winches being used again. We’ve come full circle and servo winches are now very popular again.
Many servo winches are homespun creations and any standard servo can be modified to function as a winch. The modifications aren’t that extensive, but the conversion always voids the factory warranty. The basic idea is to remove a pin found on one of the internal gears. Doing so allows the servo to rotate continuously and thus operate like a winch. The beauty of the servo winch is that very powerful servos are available and waterproof servos can even be used. If a factory-waterproofed servo isn’t used, servos are relatively easy to waterproof.
If opening up electronic devices isn’t your thing, you’re in luck because in the same way there are “garage companies” offering small-run scale winches, there are small companies offering converted servo winches. We recently tested the HeyOk Servo Winch that features HeyOk its No Drift Controller installed inside the winch. It’s has all metal gears, comes with a spool for line installed and only costs $50. In addition to HeyOk, there are a few other options for ready-to-use servo winches.
A company called KMS offers an interesting twist on the servo winch. The KMS K3 Remote Mounted Servo winch features a modified case that places the spool inside the case. KMS K2 winch can best be described as a hybrid between a scale winch and typical servo winch. KMS describes it as a military style winch and it does have some scale appeal. KMS winches feature a lifetime warranty on the mechanical pieces and come wound with high strength line. The K3 is $140 and the K2 is $150 (a lower strength unit is available for less). KMS servo winches also feature HeyOk No Drift Controllers. In comparison to the HeyOk Servo Winch, KMS’s most powerful units offer approximately 11 oz.-in. more torque. KMS winches are available from ZNO-RC.
BEST OF BOTH WORLDS
Want the power and reliability of s servo winch and the scale realism of a bumper-mounted scale winch? Combine the two. An old 3Racing winch can be gutted of its internals and used in conjunction with a chassis mounted servo winch. Mount the 3Racing winch on the front bumper and run the line through the 3Racing winch. You can even use the 3Racing winch’s roller fairlead. You can find a broken 3Racing winch fairly inexpensively. If you don’t have any luck with sourcing a 3Racing winch, Pro-Line offers a Scale Accessory package (Assortment #1) that includes a modeled plastic winch. The front faux fairlead and hook piece is easily removed.
Most winches include a controller, but some are noticeably better than others. The common problem controllers exhibit is drift–they spool or unspool when they are supposed to be at neutral. HeyOk’s No Drift Winch Controller is a popular–but not the only–choice for preventing this problem. If you notice your winch is drifting and can not cure the problem at the radio, an aftermarket winch controller is probably needed.
Most winches are controlled via a third channel on the radio system. RC4WD offers a remote key fob style control. RC4WD offers the remote control separately ($40) or with its Bulldog 9300XT winch ($60).
HOOK, LINE & SINKER
Some winches are sold as complete packages and some are not. Some are sold with high quality comments such as hooks and line, and as you guessed, some are not. The 3Racing winch includes a lobster claw clasp for a hook that is both on the weak side and not scale looking at all. Other winches come with scale hooks that look great but are often too small. RC4WD offers its popular King Kong hook in different sizes. There are a number of other options available such as ZNO-RC “5 Dollar Hooker” Stainless Winch Hook. The key is to get the largest hook you feel still looks scale.
As important to having the right hook is having quality winch line. The wire line included with some winches should be replaced as the wire has far too much memory and wants to stay coiled. RC4WD, ZNO-RC and others offer quality winch line replacements.
The sinker part of this equation is the fairlead. Roller fairleads look very scale, but it is hard to beat the simplicity and reliability of the hawse fairlead. In the same way the a hawse fairlead is recommended when switching to a synthetic line in the full-size world, a hawse fairlead is also recommended in RC when dot running wire. RC4WD offers a number of fairlead options.
About the Author: Matt has over 25 years of experience in RC and has worked professionally in media for over a decade. Matt enjoys everything from racing to rock crawling to bashing, and he believes RC should be all about having fun. Matt is as at home covering a world championship in an exotic country as he is showing a new hobbyist how to set gear mesh. His desire to share the hobby with as many people as possible inspired him to create RC Truck Stop and RCTruckStop.com.