How We Made The Toughest Winch Cradle
Why Use a Winch Cradle?
My D22 Navara has the stock alloy bullbar that it came out with from new.
Unlike most stock bars, the D22’s look pretty decent. By not getting a new bullbar, I can save a hefty wad of cash and also keep the great weight savings that come with aluminium.
Alloy bullbars can’t run a winch on their own as they’re not strong enough. This combined with my frugality, leads to requiring a winch cradle. A strong, steel platform that independently mounts the winch behind the bullbar.
Why Build Your Own Winch Cradle
Existing options on the market go for about $350 to $400. This is a fair price, but as I have ample facilities for making my own, I didn’t think it would take too much time.
I built this winch cradle with $39 worth of steel. As it was between Christmas and New Years when I was making this, all the steel suppliers were closed. I had to buy a 2m length of 75mm wide, 5mm thick flat bar from Bunnings. Aside from having to weld small parts together which increased the workload, it meant I was getting stung with high retail prices for small sections. If I had been able to buy a sheet of 5mm mild steel, I would have only used $20 worth of materials.
Making a Stronger Winch Cradle
The existing retail options aren’t as strong as what I wanted. The cradles looked more than capable in isolation, but the mounting points are an issue in my mind.
All the retail options that I found, sat on top of the chassis rails and bolted into the bullbar mount. This mount bolts into the chassis rail and then supports the bar. They’re more than sturdy enough for the bullbar, but not – I believe – for the 12,500lbs of force that a good winch should be able to place on it.
The bullbar mounts look to be 3mm steel or thinner. Where the cradle mounts is also a reasonable distance from where those supports mount to the rail, so it creates a long enough “arm”, making for a strong twisting moment, aka a lot of torque at the mounting point. I believe this would create enough force to buckle the mount, with a half decent single-line-pull on the winch. Having since used my cradle for a few double-line-pulls on cars suction stuck in salt lakes, I’m convinced it would have overwhelemed such a mounting solution. Not only could this lead to an unusable winch, but could also lead to a detached bullbar.
I previously had a loose bullbar, as the captive thread in the mounting holes in the rail, had worn out. A common occurrence on older 4WD’s, particularly D22’s.
I had already drilled these holes through on one rail, so I could put bolts all the way through and secure them with nuts.
This had worked so effectively, I knew it would be an awesome way to mount the cradle.
I drilled all 4 holes out to 13mm, to allow for M12 high tensile bolts. With the mounts on the cradle made from 5mm steel and using M12 bolts, it will outperform any winch that I could afford.
How to Make an Ultra Tough Winch Cradle
Here, I measured the high of the winch and added 5mm for the steel. I’ve then measure how much clearance I have from the top of the bullbar. Fortunately, I had enough clearance to between the top of the rails, and the underside of the top of the bullbar. If I hadn’t I would have cut a section of the bar out, or made the cradle inset between the rails. Possibly both.
Mocking Up and Making Up
I cut the steel into lengths, just short of the length of the outer side of one rail to the other. This allowed for it to sit snugly between the two bullbar mounts which would go back on.
I had to make clearance for the power steering hoses, so it wouldn’t rub and make the existing leak any worse… I cut out where I marked, double checked the fit and then smoothed it out with a flapped grinding disc. I then tacked the two main pieces together for a final check of the fit. By cutting out as little steel as possible while maintaining clearance, I’m maximising strength. Overkill no doubt, but may as well.
With the main flat piece sitting where I wanted it, I snugly marked it across on the underside, along the inside of one of the chassis rails. I cut a section of flat bar, 150mm long (the width of the main platform), to use as the perpendicular section. This will mount against the rail, with the M12 bolts.
I then mounted the bullbar mount, marked it along the topside of the platform section. This way, I can use it as a template for where to drill the previous section.
With the perpendicular mounting section tacked in place, I’ve marked out the contour of the rail, so I can cut the corner off to match.
Now, I should admit that my measurements never line up perfectly. With this in mind, I haven’t measured between the two rails. The reason I’ve only tacked on one mounting plate, is so I can place the whole cradle where it needs to be and tack the second mounting place in situ. Just a reminder to disconnect the negative lead from your battery, before welding on the car.
With the two mounting sections tacked, I started on making some 45° braces. These would add extra welded sections for further strength, but make sure the mounting sections stay perpendicular to the main plate during welding. Because I wanted these sections as close to a perfect 45° as possible, I used my horizontal bandsaw. I used an angle grinder everywhere else as the accuracy wasn’t as important, and I try not to dull my bandsaw on thick plate if not necessary.
With everything tacked, it was time to weld everything properly.
For thick plate, I would usually prefer to use a stick welder with a 3.2mm electrode for better penetration. As it was so many pieces that had been cut with an angle grinder, I opted to use my mig instead. Normally, I would use a mig to make up for my lack of welding skill, as it provides a much nicer look, compared to my stick welding. As this was going to be concealed and required a lot of strength, I opted for high voltage and wire speed settings that would get me a deeper, but uglier weld. I was also willing to suffer a fair amount of warping in exchange for penetration, as the winch only contacts the cradle in 4, relatively small locations. I then did an ugly job grinding down the welds, to allow the winch to sit flat.
I started building a crab…
I made the main platform from two sections of flat bar that were 75mm wide.
The bullbar starts to sweep back, not very far from the centre. If I had used three lengths, across the whole width of the cradle, it wouldn’t have fit.
I instead had to put a protruding section in the middle, just wide enough for the winch and fairlead.
I had originally wanted to buy steel plate big enough for the whole cradle. With that, I would have cut out one whole section and the triangle gap that now exists between the shorter piece of flat bar and the others, would have been a part of the one big section.
I also would have made the mount for the fairlead differently. What is now just two square tabs, would have been one entire piece across the front of the cradle, tapering down and sweeping back to the corners. This would have provided much more strength for holding the fairlead and the cradle wouldn’t look like a weird dancing crab.
You’ll see an extra piece of checker plate that I’ve got running perpendicular to the larger sections. This is simply just to add more weld and give greater strength between all the bar sections. The way the winch pulls, places all the load such that it pulls directly on the welds between the main sections.
I put the cradle back on the car and put the bolts in loosely. I then free-spooled the winch rope through the fairlead which I had bolted on to the cradle. It showed that it might rub slightly on the tabs holding the fairlead. I took it back off and hacked off some bits with the grinder. I was fairly sure there was enough clearance, but smoothed them out with a flapped wheel, as a matter of good practice.
As you’ll see on the image below, I outlined on the bullbar where the hawse fairlead would mount. I originally outlined with the intention that I would mount it on the outside, but instead opted to cut the whole outer profile and mount it inset in the bullbar. This was to eliminate the chance of rubbing on a cut part of the bullbar, on an extreme winching angle.
I have seen photos of D22’s using winch cradles where they’ve cut out all the sections that are designed to allow airflow to the radiator. I think it looks really agricultural and clunky that way and am very happy with how my method turned out by comparison. Of course, it’s still an old alloy bullbar at the end of the day, but every bit counts.
The cradle has been brilliant in terms of strength. The winch has also been fine with allowing enough airflow, which was one of my concerns. I have put the car through it’s fair share of punishment in the tropics and the desert, and haven’t noticed any degradation of cooling capability.
It’s a bit of an ugly duckling. Or rather an ugly crab, but it works just the same. If I get roped into making another one, I’ll get my hands on a big enough piece of steel plate to make the base out of one piece, with a truncated triangle design.