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Wits' End Hydraulic Winch Project

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PART ONE: The Winch

Originally there was no plan to ever install a winch onto the Turbo Test Mule #3. That all changed when a customer (C.J.) offered me one and offered to drop it off at the start of his family trip. And so it sat until I could make time to do something with it. I had posted on Facebook to see if there was a ready made solution for a winch mount only. The response was lots of home brew setups. Some better than others. None tickled the pickle.

A few months later there was a lull in projects moving forward due to the shipping nightmares at the time. How to fill the gap? Ah, the hydraulic winch project could use some decisions made to get that marble moving forward.

I knew what I didn’t want; I didn’t need/want a big heavy steel bumper. That’s not what this build is about. The obvious answer was a hidden winch install behind the stock OEM bumper. There were a couple of these done on IH8MUD but I always felt they were all one-hit wonders. That isn’t how I move forward on new project developments. I like projects that solve problems, multiple problems, for extra cool points.

There are several reasons to go with hydraulic vs electric winch:
• Hydraulic winches have 100% duty cycle. They just don’t stop.
• Hydraulic winches don’t get excessively hot needing to cool down.
• Hydraulic winches will always work so long as the engine is on.
• Hydraulic winches work underwater without any issues.
• Hydraulic winches won’t kill your battery.

The winch in question is a Mile Marker 75 Series 10k hydraulic winch that is quite a few years old. The age of the winch wasn’t a hindrance to installing it but it should have caused the project to pause while it was rebuilt (more on that later). The winch itself was visually in very good shape although some of the components certainly looked their age. No matter, it was all going to be improved upon. The first step was just buy a winch mount, get it mounted and call it a day. The Mile Marker winch mount, it turns out, is damn near identical to the Harbor Freight Badlands winch mount. I wonder if Mile Marker knows that? Hmmm…

Needless to say, the mount wasn’t used because it wasn’t a great fit and it didn’t get the mounting base in center of the frame, vertically, like we wanted it.

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PART TWO: The Mount

Once we knew that a custom mount was going to be needed, it was time to figure out what problems were going to be solved. If its JUST a winch mount, we could have saved ourselves a lot of time. But that was boring and just not very interesting. It was time to remove the bumper and see what we had to work with. What kind of space is there between the frames? Would the frame horns be repurposed? Would the bumper mounting brackets need to be modified? Would the winch and hoses get in the way of anything? All of these questions needed to be answered.

Once the bumper was off a cardboard bumper profile proxy was made to see what kind of space we were looking at so that the bumper didn’t have to go off and on a hundred times.

Note: it was still off and on a hundred times.

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There are a few ways to skin this winch mounting cat. The way chosen was to acquire two sections of 3x5 square tube with 1/4” walls. Turns out this is the perfect inside dimensions to mount over the Land Cruiser’s frame once the frame horns were removed. This was needed to give the winch mount supports on both sides of the frame and give the structural integrity needed to safely mount the winch but to also solve another problem that needing solving (more on that later).

Once the measurements were taken from the outside and inside of the frame rail AND the distance to the inside of the bumper, it was then time to figure out all of the mounting holes. It was decided early on to take advantage of all of the available mounting holes, instead of just the few that were needed to accomplish the task. In the end it just looked better and was very secure.

Drilling with cutting oil is a must to keep the drill bit happy. This was a step up process, building up to the required size. Once all of the holes were drilled out each side was test fit. Nailed it each time. Couldn’t be happier. From there both sections had a date with the plasma cutter so that the bottom could be notched out. The flap at the bottom would later be pounded into its forever home.

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With the frame caps drilled and bolted into place, it was time to cut the plate out that would become the winch mount. This was cut from 3/8” steel to keep from bowing or twisting under severe load. Now, we definitely could have gone with 1/4” or 3/16” plate but in order to strengthen it we would need to add a bend or two into it and since there wasn’t a press brake that powerful enough handy…3/8” it was.

The holes for mounting the hydraulic winch were measured and drilled out. Then a notch was cut out of the back of the plate to allow good airflow around the Wits’ End Power Steering Cooler. Then the sides of the plate would have two "fingers" trimmed into it. These "fingers" had matching notches cut into the inside of both frame caps. Once assembled, everything locks right into place.

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At this point this could be a Wits’ End product by itself. But we just couldn’t leave well enough alone. It needed to do more. If this were to become a product it would be shipped in three pieces: the two end caps and the center plate. As its designed it doesn’t need to be welded. But for this application it was welded together to make it one piece. Once fully welded it still slid over the frame rails without too much fuss. Since everyone’s frame has an unknown history, it could NEVER be shipped fully welded to the customer because it would never fit right off the bat. That would be hell for the end user.

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At this point the “tongue” of the end caps could be hammered into their final position. This is done to make sure the end caps follow the INSIDE curve of the OEM bumper without actually contacting it. Lots of measuring was done to get this done correctly the first time.

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Here is where things start to get interesting…

PART THREE: The Usefulness

Now that the winch mount itself is technically “done”, how can we get more usability out of it? I mean, having a winch is cool. Having a hidden winch is even cooler! But what else could be done? Notice that new square space in front of the new end caps after the tongue was hammered up into place? Well what if we were to take some 2” receiver stock and cut out some inserts so that we can make both of those end caps into 2” receivers? Kinda neat right? Could slap a tow bar onto it or a basket or something else equally goofy. A couple of notches were cut, a pieces cut off, some angles added…

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And now we have an ideal setup to use either side as a Hi-Lift lifting point!

One of the sucky things about a Hi-Lift was you could never use them on an 80 Series Land Cruiser’s OEM bumpers. OK, the rear but only if it had the dealer installed hitch.

After detailing the lifting arm of the Hi-Lift it was easy to see that a flat for the Hi-Lift to lift from is actually bad because it puts all the pressure on the up-pointed cast tip of the Hi-Lift. This would force all the lifted weight onto just that one point when lifting from a receiver hitch. Not common at all but the potential was definitely there.

The way around this is to add a welded spacer to the TOP of the inside of the new receiver and only make it deep enough so that the Hi-Lift's pointed tip would actually position itself so that the tip wasn’t used at all and instead all of the weight was spread out over the face of the Hi-Lift’s lifting arm.

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Then a small V-notch was cut into the BOTTOM of the receiver to allow the buttress of the Hi-Lift’s casting to move all the way forward instead of cantilevering the weight away from the Hi-Lift. Everything worked out perfectly. A quick check with the CAD (Cardboard Aided Design) template to make sure the bumper would not interfere with the placement and usage of the Hi-Lift.

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The result...

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Now that testing is complete, it was time for some primer and paint. My only regret (due to time) was that I didn't find a local shop to vapor hone the mount before it was painted. Next time. For now it gets an acetone bath, some etching primer and a few coats of semi-gloss black. It'll do just fine for what I want to do with it.

The mount gets its last install into its final home. Hopefully it should never need to be removed again.

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The hydraulic winch is then bolted up into its final home after drilling some mounting holes into the mount that are then bolted into the winch from the bottom. There are still a couple items to take care of to make sure everything fits perfectly but otherwise its good to go.

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The OEM bumper needed to be cut so that the receivers were exposed. This just mean some careful measuring and cutting with the coping saw. The bumper was put back into place so that Hi-Lift fitment would be tested one more time with the bumper in place. Zero issues. So far so good once again.

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Some close ups of the cutouts needed for the Hi-Lift. Notice the small notches at the bottom. Those notches allow the buttress of the HI-Lift jaw to slide in the receiver without ever touching the bumper.

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PART FOUR: The Wiring

Next it was time to tackle the wiring for the winch. Of course you may be wondering, "wait, its a hydraulic winch, what wiring?"

Well the wiring part of the project started because I HATED the wired controller that came with the Mile Marker winch (although most now make a wireless controller, I still wasn't interested in something I needed to keep charged or could lose). Actually, I hate all wired controllers on any winch. Its a personal thing. The control box was just a pass-thru for the wiring going to the trailer-type connector. Lame. Hated it.

Instead the decision was made to eliminate this box and go with custom wiring solutions. This meant pulling power for the switch(es). Now, I didn't want ANYONE messing with the winch that wasn't supposed to be messing with it. Its easy to walk up to an exposed winch, turn the handle to FREE and start unspooling the cable (or rope). I wanted to prevent that and accidental control operation. This meant pulling power for the relay and switch(es) from keyed 12v+.

The power was pulled from the fuse panel under the hood. There is a molded blank spot in the fuse panel. Some connectors were installed into place and now a spot for the new 5A fuse. Some GoogleFu found the Japanese text for "winch" (ウインチ Uinchi) and a new label was produced to go onto the fuse panel cover. Ok, step one done :P

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Like others before me I wanted in-cab winch control. Since I 100% knew that a steel cable was in absolutely NOT my future, operating inside the truck with the hood down was now possible.

To accomplish the winch control a standard 80 Series antenna switch was repurposed to become a WINCH IN and WINCH OUT momentary switch. This switch requires a person to purposefully activate the winch. Once wired, the switch was then relabeled for the winch instead of the antenna. This was done using the labels from the IH8MUD post made by some nut.

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Now it was time to have the switch control the winch's in-out electromagnetic solenoids. This was accomplished using two Hella waterproof 30A relays mounted behind on the bumper but on the core support. These were attached using M4 rivnuts. From this point it was just a long wiring exercise.

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With relays in place, everything wired up and, working fine. But...something was missing. How to spool in the winch line without a wired controller at the winch. This seemed like oversight...

PART FIVE: The Aux Switch

It wasn't. There was going to be a SECOND winch control switch mounted behind the grill that gave winch control right at the winch. This means you can guide the UNLOADED winch rope onto the drum from right at the winch.

A bracket was designed to hold the waterproof dual-action momentary switch to be held at a recessed point behind the grill. The bracket itself was attached to the two bolts holding the trans cooler in place. Perfect solution. An on-off switch was then repurposed to actr as the winch's "power" switch. This switch turned on the system that then allows the winch to be used. Without this switch being turned on to activate the relay, the winch doesn't work. Its not impossible to operate the winch unless you have access to the inside of the truck.

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Everything tested and retested and all is good. Now for the wiring schematic:
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PART SIX: The Hoses

Now that the hydraulic winch was mounted on the new mount, and the wiring was all done and ready to go, the only thing left was to figure out the hydraulic hoses.

The instruction manual was kind useless. We knew the winch needed hydraulic pressure, high pressure. On the 80 Series 1FZ Land Cruiser there is only one place to get high pressure from the power steering system; from the gear-driven pump. Now we could have tee-d into the pump's banjo fitting or we could do one better: chop the high-pressure hose in half and mount the winch in-line.

The truck's high-pressure hose was sacrificed to make two new hoses using the fittings from the old hose. The "old" pressure hose was sent to my hydraulic shop to chop up and make into two new hydraulic hoses to the winch. The desired specs were sent to them, along with the old hose, and within a week we had two new hoses in the exact configuration needed. No stacking of fittings.

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Once the new hoses arrived there was too much excitement to photograph them before installing. But took some pics of them installed. So now its one high-pressure hose going from the power steering pump to the winch. And one going from the winch back to the steering gear box. Could not be happier with how it all turned out.

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PART SEVEN: The Rope

Now it was time for the winch line. I knew I didn't want the steel cable. There are plenty of discussions of synthetic rope vs. steel line and there is no point discussing it here. Synthetic was the only option for this project. For this install it was Yankum Ropes' synthetic rope instead of using Warn. Why? Because they are local to me and made in the USA. More to come from Yankum Ropes and Wits' End.

The decision was made to go 7/16" rope vs 3/8" @100ft. Why go the thicker rope? Because it was stronger and it fit my drum. Simple as that.

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The winch rope itself doesn't come with a lug. Turns out that decision was made because there were so many mounting options available. Could have done clevis knot or duct tape or crimped on a battery lug. Ultimately we decided to go our own route because although the battery lug made the most sense, we wanted something more malleable that could be shaped to the drum. As it turns out there was some copper pipe handy that fit around the rope perfectly. Tried crimping it first but that wasn't ideal. So we moved to instead use the press to shape the copper flat after drilling a mounting hole thru the copper. Worked great.

Now that it was in the shape we wanted AND the copper was pre-drilled, it was time to get the hole into the rope so that the bolt would go thru. Easy fix, used a soldering iron and melted the hole into place. This also prevents the rope from unraveling.

Now the rope can be slide thru the RED WINCH PLASMA LOCK to literally lock the first ten loops of the winch into place AND screw the bolt into the drum. This rope will NEVER come undone. Its secure for sure without gumming up the rope with duct tape.

Once the rope was taught enough, the copper lug was "suggested" into place using a dowel and a hammer to form it to the drum. Came out awesome. The first spool up was done by hand and not under load. The second spool in was done under load. This is when a huge problem was noticed...

But first we had to notice how bad ass it was all starting to come together...

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Looking VERY good!

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PART EIGHT: The Teardown

BUT... it turns out the winch was getting VERY hot!

I know what you are thinking, "Wait, I thought hydraulic winches don't overheat?!"



This is normally true...when its not been sitting for a decade unused. Like any tool, it need maintenance and that part was skipped.

Not only was it heating up bad but we were getting noise in one direction.

We narrowed it down to a few culprits but ultimately it was removed and taken apart.

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Turns out the TINY nylon guides on the valve stem were all missing or in pieces. Mostly missing. It made the winch very unhappy because the valve wasn't working correctly.

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A conversation with Mile Marker and $175 later, we had a new valve and solenoid pack in hand.

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Couple of minutes later and the valve assembly was swapped out and it was time to bleed the system for air. It took no time at all. Just turn on the truck and cycle the steering wheel a few times. A little bit of bubble time in the power steering reservoir and it was done. Tried the winch again. Guess what? Zero heat and zero noise in either direction. Problem solved.

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PART NINE: The Fairlead

Next up is dealing with the hawse fairlead. Typically the fairlead is mounted on a flat surface of the bumper that is sandwiched between the fairlead and the winch face. But we are dealing with the OEM bumper that has compound curves. The bumper won’t be sandwich but will instead be notched out to slide the fairlead in and mount directly to the winch face. The fairlead we went with was the Factor 55 1.5 Hawse Fairlead.

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Once cut out everything on the OEM bumper was CAREFULLY measured out several times, it was finally cut. All that measuring sure pays off when it fits right where its supposed to and looks pretty slick with the bumper back in place.

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Throughout all of this there ONE glaring issue that needed to be dealt with: how to operate the hi/low and free/lock controls found on the winch? There are two levers that need to be actuated when operating the winch for various functions. The problem is there is an OEM bumper covering everything and thus access is gone. How to deal with it?



It started with an idea to machine a wedge to act as a ramp to pull in/out the plunger as needed to operate the gearing. We went back and forth with all sorts of different scenarios. This idea was eventually scraped.

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Went thru a bunch of ideas but ultimately settled on trimming one of the legs of the lever. Now its all tucked away behind the bumper.

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Out of everything going together on this project there was only ONE thing that was totally overlooked. But only because the bumper towers were taken off at the beginning of the project and weren’t needed until the end stage of the project. That being the hitch bin for the shackle mount. It turns out the bumper towers, once bolted back on, slightly cover the hole for the hitch pin that we added at the beginning of the project.


Doh!

Now we could have just drilled a hole and pitched the bumper tower. But would have looked like complete ass. There was another way, cut some grooves and a notch and then weld and grind. Damn it looks freaking fantastic and looks factory. Very proud of the work. Now the hitch pin has a clean path.

The next “whoops”

The hitch pin worked perfect through the receiver the way it was drilled out. The trouble was when I got the Factor 55 Hitch Link 2.0 and test fit it. at first the hitch pin didn’t work at all. Crap. So a rat tail file and an hour later and yay, the hitch pin works…

Only in one direction on the shackle mount. If you turned the mount 180 it doesn’t go in. WHAT THE?!?!?!

As it turns out the Factor55 Shackle mount is not drilled out perfectly perpendicular. Its off by enough to not make the shackle mount work. Now I could go nuts and increase the receiver hole to say 3/4” but that’s lame. If the shackle mount was true, this would be done. Oh well, gotta rock what I bought. Time for a die grinder and all is good again.