Safely loosening a come along (pack mule) tool requires first, a thorough knowledge of how it works. This knowledge is essential when using a come along alone during jobs like hoisting heavy items, ground-level load pulling, and turning logs for milling and firewood cutting. Once you understand the basic concepts you can learn how to loosen release a come along without damaging your self or the tool.
The majority of single person-operated come alongs have a 1:1 ratcheting ratio. This means one end is hooked to an anchor, the opposite end is hooked to the object being pulled. The come along winches weight by distributing and locking it in an internal gear mechanism. Once the come along is fully bearing the weight of the object, a tremendous amount of torsion is generated. This is why releasing a come along safely is important.
Scenario 1: Pulling Down A Widow Maker
A log that is jammed mid-fell with another tree is called a widow maker for good reason. This was a common way that old time loggers were killed. Snagged trees are unpredictable, and often fall in unexpected directions. Dislodging widow makers is one of the primary reasons firewood harvesters have a reliable come along with them at all times.
Once a come along is affixed to a vertical log, the only reasons for releasing tension is to readjust the pulling angle, or unhooking the device completely. To readjust the hook end of a come along, first place a heavy tarp or section of chain over the tense end cable. In case the cable breaks, the recoil will be stopped by this object. Use the safety bar in combination with the side release to gradually ease tension from the pull end. This will safely be done by no more than quarter turns of the ratcheting mechanism.
Repositioning a come along setup for a widow maker is delicate work. Often the needed repositioning is discovered only after unsuccessful attempts at ratcheting. During the first “tugs,” the log may have shifted a bit, and will become quite unpredictable. It is important to use the side release levers or gears on a come along to completely release all tension from the pulling end. The safest way to know all tension is gone, is by releasing the come along until it rests on the ground.
Only release the come along through a measured range determined by the tension/safety arm. Never allow a come along to completely disengage and turn randomly to release tension. To maximize having control over a come along throughout the release process, create a pulling line as close to the ground as possible. When all tension is released, wait at least a minute to reposition the line in case the widow maker shifts. Also, only put fingers and hands along the sides, or anchor end of the come along to avoid exposing them to the working parts of the winch.
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Scenario 2: Making Firewood From A Felled Log
Cutting prepped logs into workable pieces for firewood sometimes requires the use of a come along to roll the log into desired positions. Whether cutting bolts from a log’s free end, or pulling a log up a stand to rotate it, the come along release is a touchy procedure.
To avoid chainsaw bar binding, make sure the come along pull end it supporting more than one half the full weight of the log. Cut bolts no more than two lengths away from the chain or hook of the come along. Sometimes, it is necessary to release the come along in order to saw through the underside of a log. First, place a barrier on the chain to prevent snap-back if the device fails. Hold the ratcheting arm in its retracted position and release the safety stop. Decrease the tension one pull-length at a time until the log has rotated. Two or three inches of release on a come along can equate to feet of rotation on the pull end, so monitor it carefully.
Once this process has allowed chainsaw cutting to resume where most of the weight of the log has shifted, completely disassemble the come along set up, reposition the pull chain, reengage tension, and restart the sawing process. It is very important to know the pulling capacity of a come along on a job like this. Keep in mind that logs have different densities, they can slip because the come along is pulling on bark, and the declines in terrain will add to the overall loads. The number one safety measure is always being able to release a come along under control, and avoid injury through device failure, or snapped cables and chains.
Before using any come along, experiment with it on a fixed object that allows the operator to gain control of its ratcheting handle and release lever. The key to avoiding injury and completing a job, is being able to methodically release tension at a safe and appropriate pace. The next time someone asks you ‘what is a come along tool‘, you will know what to tell them and show them how to loosen release a come along safely.