After selling off his last remaining connection to the world of Igland, forestry contractor Simon Bowes reflects on his decades of working with, maintaining and repairing the iconic winches.

IT’S funny how the most surreal conversations start at the most unexpected moments. Now that I’m down to just two machines and we’ve almost abandoned any pretence of being a hand-felling operation with a complementary mechanical harvesting element, our chances to sit and eat together during the day are few and far between. Years ago, we’d all congregate at lunchtime where the cross-cutting man had his landing laid out and talk rubbish for an hour.

I’d guess the ‘woke’ generation would view such a scene as some kind of idyll. Those days are long gone. An entire hour for dinner? Not any more. We don’t need an hour to recuperate before another gruelling afternoon on the saw. We just shut the door and carry on riding in air seats with the heater on low and some inane chat or old songs on the radio. It’s hardly the same as felling rough trees on a steep bank in the pouring rain.

Just recently, the sale of a couple of forwarders, harvesters, various winches, tracks and other miscellaneous spares in the yard has provided opportunities to either sit and eat in the van or in the estate’s sawmill bothy with the estate staff.

I had advertised, in this very journal, a set of Igland 5000 double-drum manual winches among the surplus-to-requirements items. Interest was surprisingly strong. I had a number of calls, including one from an Irish contractor who was keen on the Iglands but readily admitted he was short of funds. He’d sold his own Iglands some while back and had regretted it ever since.

Then there were voicemails from callers expressing interest and promising to ring back later, but they never did. There were the ones who wanted to know everything about the winches’ history, which seemed absurd. They have a Jones plate on them with a build year of 1970. How is anyone supposed to know the life story of something that’s 50 years old, unless it can talk? Then there were calls from people who quickly convinced themselves Igland winches weren’t what they needed and even one inquiring mind who decided they were too expensive before I had given him even a hint of a price.

We had spent a cold, wet day fettling the 1270 with the thinnings head, ready for a prospective new owner, when the phone rang. It was a business-like gentleman called Bob enquiring about the Iglands. He came across the following morning from Lancashire and collected the winches and some cable and spares I had gathered up as a sweetener, although really I wanted rid. This no-nonsense buyer was 73 years old and displayed all the traits missing from the myriad ‘buyers’ you generally find in the eBay generation. Life will be a lot poorer when people like Bob have gone.

So that was the end of my Igland adventures. The remote-controlled hydraulic 5000s that had replaced my manual winches had been sold off along with my last County and so, at lunchtime a couple of days later, while we were again attending to the old 1270, I was asked the sort of question that could inspire a book: “What’s your most memorable recollection of using timber winches?”

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Well, I can remember the first set I used – 3000s, fitted on a Roadless (a Fordson Major model, not the later one like a 95 with a cab and power steering, or a 115 that I owned at one time, which is another story). We were line thinning pine on a flat site and those winches wouldn’t pull a hen off a nest, the skin off a rice pudding, etc, etc. . .

Later on, I used a set of 3000 Iglands that would bounce the tractor about when pulling hard. The first set I used was badly maintained, worn and improperly set up. The second set was beautifully maintained and adjusted – and therein lies the problem with old Igland winches. If they’re set up right, they’re a joy to use. Anything less and they’re the most frustrating and painful thing to use anywhere in forestry.

Since then, I’ve owned numerous Igland winches, generally 4000 or 5000s. The FC used 4000s because of the bigger drum capacity, making it possible to high-lead to greater distances (although a couple of ex-FC drivers told me it was so they had to walk further to chain trees on), so there was a better supply of second-hand 4000s, though these generally needed a great deal of TLC. The smaller (but bigger in pulling capacity) 5000s were generally a better bet, having often been in private hands. There isn’t really a simple answer to how they rate the pulling capacity because what it says on the tin (or what timber people understand it to say) isn’t actually anything to do with how much the winch will pull. A 5000 Igland won’t pull five tonnes, it’ll hold five tonnes on the brake. That’s a generalisation and doubtless someone will put me right, but that’s how it was explained to me by the fitter who maintained the FC’s fleet of winch tractors locally.

It always seemed a mystery to me how and why some Igland winches were so good and others weren’t. Even more annoying was why one drum would pull like a train and yet its buddy on the other end of the shaft would hardly pull at all, no matter how hard you tugged on the lever. I’ve seen winches with bits of scaffold pole welded on the levers that still wouldn’t pull.

Forestry Journal: Jas P Wilson’s yard full of County tractors from back in the day.Jas P Wilson’s yard full of County tractors from back in the day.


The secret is all in the physics of friction. If the winches pull well it’s because there is a huge amount of friction generated between the clutch plate and the two clutch surfaces the plate acts upon. If that interaction is correct, then the amount of pressure applied doesn’t need to be particularly great.

If we take the two winch drums as separate units and look at them individually, they are made up of one driven clutch plate, two clutch surfaces, a set of ramps on the back of the inner clutch surface and a set of ramps on the plate that forms the bottom of the operating lever. The clutch components are all fitted around a rotating shaft driven by the tractor PTO via a chain on the outside and a crown wheel and pinion internally. The friction plate is connected to the shaft by three round pegs that form part of a large boss keyed to the shaft. The friction plate rotates with the shaft but can move laterally along the pegs allowing it to be self centring.

The inner clutch plate runs on a bearing and has in its centre a cam or ramp plate held in place by the heads of three M10 bolts. This cam plate can be rotated by loosening these bolts and knocking it round using the end of a slim drift against a tab welded to its outer edge. The inner plate is locked to the winch drum by three offset notches that locate over three tabs on the cable drum’s inner edge. Igland must have been obsessed with doing things by threes and just why these notches and pegs are offset remains a mystery to me. One of the most infuriating tasks when repairing an Igland winch is trying to get these three pairs of locators to line up without the clutch plate dropping off the pegs on the drive boss. In later years, we always removed the winch from the machine so we could stand it on end, making gravity aid – rather than hamper – the fitting process. The outer clutch element is part of the winch drum, which carries the winch rope, has the brake band surface on one edge and holds either two, three or four bearings that support it all on the main shaft.

The whole assembly is secured by a large circlip on the end of the shaft with a backing spacer that acts on the outermost bearing in the cable drum along with several shims to allow adjustments.

In operation, the driven plate spins with the shaft and, by applying pressure to the inner plate via the cam plate on the lever, both it and the clutch plate are forced against the winch drum. Friction then causes all three components to turn together with the shaft winding the rope onto the drum.

All this is actually much more simple than it sounds. There are far fewer component parts to an Igland winch than you’d expect. A variable displacement piston pump is much more complicated.

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If you are thinking of buying an Igland winch, it’s best to see it working on a machine. If it isn’t and you can’t see it working, it’s best to presume it’ll need a major rebuild, clutches, shaft bearings, cam plate bearings, oil seals and a brake-band reline. The one thing you can’t tell about a winch that’s not on a machine is whether or not the shafts are bent. If it’s working, you can watch the winch drums and see if they rise and fall as the shaft rotates. If shafts are bent it won’t ever be perfect. A little deviation is acceptable, as in many things, but the more bend the less performance and too much bend will make setting the winch up without any drag almost impossible.

If the shafts are straight, the next thing to look at are the circlips. They must sit snugly in unmolested grooves. If there’s any sign of welding, be very suspicious. You can’t weld the circlips in, not effectively, as they are spring steel of very high quality and welding them ruins the temper, making them liable to break. Having good circlips in the shaft ends is a must.

It’s always struck me as an odd design having all the load on a shaft only supported at one end. The shaft acts like a fishing rod, depending on where the rope is settled on the drum when the winch last stopped, but the winch I just sold was 50 years old and the shafts are perfectly true. It did need a full rebuild when I bought it though, as it had been sitting under a tree in the weather and all the friction material on both clutches and brake bands had delaminated.

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So you’ve got a winch and you’ve gone through it and made it all good mechanically. Now you have to get it working.

To adjust the winch, make sure the operating lever is back against its stop and the cam plate is rotated all the way back so the two sets of ramps line up lowest point to lowest point (so the bottom of both opposing ramps line up) and the three bolts are tightened up. If you want to be really fussy you should try the cam plate and the lever together to make sure they separate evenly. The ramps need to be exactly the same height. If they aren’t the lever will not push the inner clutch in evenly and there’ll be more pressure on one side of the clutch, giving a spongy feel on the lever and poor pull on the winch.

Fit the circlip and spacer, push the winch drum towards the winch gearbox, then measure the distance between the spacer and the inner edge of the circlip. We always took up all but about 1–2 mm of this clearance with shims, which are available in different thicknesses from Jas P Wilson for not much money. The circlips, however, are a different story. They aren’t cheap but they’re unique to Igland winches and while alternatives are available, they aren’t recommended as they pop off and damage the grooves in the shaft. Pay the extra money and get the right ones. It’ll be cheaper in the end.

Once this is done, refit the circlip and push the operating lever over a couple of times, then repeat the measure. If it’s changed you’ll most likely have to add more shims. If it won’t remain constant then there’s a bigger problem and at least one of the surfaces of the clutch plates isn’t true. Sometimes it can be bearings or the cam plate might be cracked, but if you can’t get it to set up at this point it’ll never winch properly.

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The circlip grooves in the shafts are, in my opinion, the Igland’s Achilles heel. If they are damaged and the circlips won’t stay in, then it’s not an easy fix. Re-cutting the grooves properly entails a total strip-down and a good engineering shop. The alternatives are having the shaft ends cut with a thread and then using large locknuts or, alternatively, centre boring and tapping the shafts and having a cup made that fits over the shaft and butts up against the outer bearing. Both options give very good adjustment, but circlips and a good groove are the best set-up. Once fitted properly they can be forgotten.

With everything in place, it’s time to loosen the three bolts on the cam plate and tap the plate round so the two ramps climb up each other. Go too far and the winch will work without the lever being pushed. Not enough and the lever runs out of travel before the winch engages fully.

Repeat this process on the other side and then it’s time for the real set-up work. Often forgotten are the three blade springs fitted to the inner clutch plate. These fit against the ends of the locating tabs on the winch drum. Their function is to make sure the outer elements of the clutch remain clear of the friction plate, unless the operating lever is pushed into the winching position. I’ve seen winches with these fitted but hanging in mid air and I’ve seen them missing altogether. They have a small grub screw and locknut for adjustment but generally, so long as the ends are sitting against the drive tabs, they work fine. If they are missing, the winch will drag and pulling the rope out will make a hard job intolerable.

When everything is as it should be, the winch lever should feel like a good brake pedal on a car – free until it bites, then you shouldn’t be able to push it any further. If it feels spongy, there’s a problem. It’s the bald truth that if an Igland winch won’t pull well, it’ll also pull the ropes in without the lever being operated or the rope will be hard to pull out, even with the PTO disengaged. No amount of adjustment will fix it. I’ve found over the years that a strip-down, having everything checked for true and refaced or replaced as necessary, is the only way to go.

I spent years working Iglands that were about 75 per cent of what they should be. The first time I rebuilt one properly it cost a couple hundred quid and a day of my time to get it right, but what a difference it made. Going from manual to hydraulic with remote control, however, was a completely new ball game. I wouldn’t say it made winching fun, but it lessened the constant shouting at the fallers who seemed hell bent on making my job as hard as possible. Everyone had to work to the limitations of a poor winch because it would only pull trees that had been laid out precisely, dressed out perfectly and didn’t have big stumps to negotiate.

Forestry Journal: My set of 5000 double-drum manual winches, now sold, were my last connection to Igland.My set of 5000 double-drum manual winches, now sold, were my last connection to Igland.


Today, hand cutting and winching is a highly specialised operation that some forest managers prefer to avoid. It has been an aspiration to make harvesting operations requiring hand felling and winching worthy of separate pricing outside the scope of standard mechanical harvesting operations. Unfortunately, this remains an aspiration, though it is backed by most of the industry.

I moved from hand cutting to mechanical harvesting 20 years ago, starting with a 360 digger fitted with a 600 Tapio stroke head and a Lokomo 909 forwarder. I could produce more timber with two men and two machines than I had with five men and two skidders, plus the timber was clean and we didn’t have to stop for the weather. For not too much investment I could cut more timber and pay less in wages as profitability went up. I started picking the jobs I could do without needing to do any winching but, around home, these jobs were few and far between, so within two years I bought a skidder.

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Even though I came from hand cutting to mechanical harvesting, it was only when we were doing the two together that I sat down and did some figures. I quickly realised that even when we winched whole trees to the harvester and the only chainsaw work we did was cutting the trees off, the margin I was working on was squeezed. If we had to fell and dress the trees out before skidding them to a landing and processing them with the harvester, the margin disappeared completely.

I did work a small compartment of thinning entirely by hand; felling, skidding and crosscutting in the traditional way. A simple calculation told me the rates paid for mechanical harvesting were less than half what I needed to break even if I were to hand fell the same site.

And so the most stark memory I have about Igland winches isn’t how hard bad ones were to use, but that once harvesters became affordable winches became unprofitable. It isn’t a problem with winches or winching, however. The problem is, as always, with the rates paid to harvest timber. Igland winches are dependable, durable and adaptable bits of kit. The new hydraulic models are more powerful and much more user friendly, while the remote-control versions can be very productive.

There is a place for winching in forestry, but until the link between pricing jobs that can and can’t be done with a harvester is broken, it will remain a marginal business.

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