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How to Make and Use a Flip Flop Winch

How to Make and Use a Flip Flop Winch

This week, we're bringing you a classic and interesting post from the archives of Todd Walker, aka Survival Sherpa. Todd has years of educational and survival experience under his belt, and his blog is a truly valuable online resource. 

I first discovered this ingenious flip-flop winch from a YouTube demonstration by Mors Kochanski, the Godfather and author of Bushcraft. A search of flip-flop winches on YT will garner several clips demonstrating the power of using two logs and some rope. So why would I add my video to the mix? Because it's only theory until you put it into action by Doing the Stuff!

In an emergency vehicle kit, weight and space are not an issue - unless you tool around in a Smart Car. For this winch, all you need are two logs and some rope. Of course, you're not hauling eight foot logs in your vehicle. You will have to cut those with your truck ax or takedown bucksaw.

Material and Tools

  • Ax or Saw - cut two logs about 8 feet in length
  • Rope - non-elastic is preferable for safety reasons
  • Cordage - enough to make two loops about 1 foot in diameter

 Scout for a straight tree (dead or live - it's an emergency) to cut. Anything between 4 to 6 inches in diameter is suitable. Cut two lengths in the 8 foot range. De-limb the poles by chopping any branches off with your sharp truck ax. You can saw them off but proper ax-manship makes quick work of the de-limbing. 

Lever and Pulley Pole

Now that you've got two poles, one will be used as the "lever pole," and the other will be your "pulley pole." I noticed in my video that I called the drum pole a "barrel" pole interchangeably. In this written tutorial, I will use "pulley pole" to hopefully clear up the verbiage. The terminology is not that important. What you need to know is that the pulley pole is where the rope will coil, similarly to that of a modern come-along.

Locate an Anchor

The base of a live tree is perfect. A dead tree is not a good candidate. You'll risk toppling the tree down if the object you're pulling is really stuck or heavy. Wrap the rope around the base of the anchor twice and tie it off.

Ideally, you want the anchor point and the object you're pulling to form a straight line sighted down the rope. Hopefully you have a few snatch blocks on hand to make a pull around trees and obstacles. 

Rigging the Poles

Midway between the anchor and object lay the two poles perpendicular to one another. Run the rope on top of the pulley pole about a foot from the larger end of the pole. Pull the rope back under the pole to form a loop. Insert the lever pole into the loop from the side of the pulley pole where the loop is formed. Give yourself about a foot of lever sticking through the loop.

There are two methods of rigging the winch. Rig 1: One causes the rope to coil on both sides of the pulley pole where the lever pole crosses (demonstrated in the video below). Rig 2: This technique causes the rope to spool on one side of the pulley pole. 

With the winch rigged, pull the slack out of the line and tie it to the object you're pulling. 

Watch the winch in action here.

Start the Flip-Flop

Flip the lever pole up and over the pulley pole. Once on the ground, check the first wrap on the pulley pole. This is the time to straighten the loops around the pulley before real tension begins. Try to keep the rope from spooling on top of the previous coils, as this may weaken the rope. With each flip-flop, the rope will begin coiling on the pulley pole.


Now, flop the pulley pole over the rope for the next flip of the lever. If the pulley pole was magically suspended off the ground, no flop would be required. This would become a Spanish windlass. You'd simply spin the lever around a wheel and axle. The earth prevents this continuous spin. But the ground is what keeps the system from unraveling. The flop of the pulley pole is necessary for the lever to make another 180-degree revolution.

Continue this flip-flop action until the object is freed. Six full revolutions around the pulley is what it took to inch my truck up the incline to level ground in the video.


Disconnecting the Rig

Obviously, once a vehicle is freed, the rope is no longer under tension. However, when pulling a tree or rock, tension can be released by reversing the direction of the flip-flop. Once tension is removed, the spooled line can be handled safely.

Safety Concerns

There are inherent dangers when tension is applied to a rope or cable. If the rope has elasticity and snaps, the potential energy turns to kinetic energy moving like a slingshot or bow and arrow in opposite directions. Use rope without elasticity, nicks, abrasions, and a working load suitable for the task.

If you're alone, you must cross over the rope in this process. Minimize the risk from flying rope by laying a heavy coat or blanket (if available) on the rope at both ends. You can also lay branches on the line if no blanket is available. With two people, stepping over the taut line is unnecessary and much safer.

This powerful, simple machine takes practice to perform properly. With a minimum of tools and some rope, the flip-flop winch can be a lifesaver on the homestead or in the backcountry. Add it to your preparedness toolbox. Give it a try and share your results.

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