Turnbridge windlass lifting road bridge over Huddersfield Broad Canal
Differential windlass

The windlass /ˈwɪndləs/ is an apparatus for moving heavy weights. Typically, a windlass consists of a horizontal cylinder (barrel), which is rotated by the turn of a crank or belt. A winch is affixed to one or both ends, and a cable or rope is wound around the winch, pulling a weight attached to the opposite end. The Greek scientist Archimedes was the inventor of the windlass.[1] The oldest depiction of a windlass for raising water can be found in the Book of Agriculture published in 1313 by the Chinese official Wang Zhen of the Yuan Dynasty (fl. 1290–1333).[2]


Differential windlass

See also: Differential pulley

Comparison of a differential pulley or chain hoist (left) and a differential windlass or Chinese windlass (right). The rope of the windlass is depicted as spirals for clarity, but is more likely helices with axes perpendicular to the image.

In a differential windlass, also called a Chinese windlass,[9][10][11] there are two coaxial drums of different radii r and r′. The rope is wound onto one drum while it unwinds from the other, with a movable pulley hanging in the bight between the drums. Since each turn of the crank raises the pulley and attached weight by only π(rr′), very large mechanical advantages can be obtained.

Spanish windlass

2 Spanish Windlasses on a bunch of sticks, in the starting position and tightened.

A Spanish windlass is a device for tightening a rope or cable by twisting it using a stick as a lever. The rope or cable is looped around two points so that it is fixed at either end. The stick is inserted into the loop and twisted, tightening the rope and pulling the two points toward each other. It is commonly used to move a heavy object such as a pipe or a post a short distance. It can be an effective device for pulling cars or cattle out of mud.[12] A Spanish windlass is sometimes used to tighten a tourniquet or a straitjacket. A Spanish windlass trap can be used to kill small game. An 1898 report to the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations about an American vessel captured by a Spanish gunboat described the Spanish windlass as a torture device.[13] One of the captives' wrists were tied together. The captor then twisted a stick in the rope until it tightened and caused the man's wrists to swell.

See also


  1. ^ Sarton, George (1959). A History of Science. Vol. 2. Harvard University Press, Cambridge. p. 123. ((cite book)): |work= ignored (help)
  2. ^ Needham, Joseph (1986). Science and Civilisation in China. Vol. 4, Physics and Physical Technology. Taipei: Caves Books, Ltd. ((cite book)): |work= ignored (help)
  3. ^ Hartenberg, Richard; Danavit, Jacques (1964). "Kinematic Synthesis of linkages". McGraw-Hill.
  4. ^ "Medieval Builders' Windlass". BBC. Retrieved September 11, 2012.
  5. ^ "Engineering the Medieval Achievement-The Crossbow". MIT. Retrieved September 11, 2012.
  6. ^ Oleson, John Peter (1984), Greek and Roman Mechanical Water-lifting Devices. The History of a Technology, Dordrecht: D. Reidel, p. 56, ISBN 90-277-1693-5
  7. ^ "Albert Goldfields Mining Heritage" (PDF). Outback NSW. Retrieved September 11, 2012.
  8. ^ "Searching for Gold". Kidcyber. Retrieved September 11, 2012.
  9. ^ "Chinese". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.) (registration required)
  10. ^ Morris, Christopher, ed. (1992), Academic Press Dictionary of Science and Technology, Gulf Professional Publishing, p. 416, ISBN 978-0-12-200400-1
  11. ^ Knight, Edward H. (1884), The Practical Dictionary of Mechanics, Cassell, Petter, Galpin & Co "Chinese-windlass, a differential windlass in which the cord winds off one part of the barrel and on to the other."
  12. ^ Jordan-Bychkov, Terry G. (2006). "Does the Border Matter: Cattle Ranching and the Forty-ninth parallel". In Evans, Sterling (ed.). The Borderlands of the American and Canadian West. University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 9780803218260.
  13. ^ Davis, Cushman K. (1897). Report of the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.