I have a home project that involves lifting a platform with a cable that runs through a series of pulleys to redirect the cable.

I'm selecting pulleys for the job and I see that some pulleys are rated for horizontal pulling while others are rated for lifting. This would make sense to me if they were fixed pulleys since it might imply the direction of force that the pulleys are suitable for, but that doesn't seem to be the case since I see free hanging pulleys that are marketed for horizontal pulling and lifting separately.


What makes a pulley appropriate for horizontal pulling versus lifting?

  • $\begingroup$ The vertical pulley does not have a bearing while the horizonal one does. I'm assuming this is in regards to a thrust bearing as both are (assumedly) rotating about their shafts. That appears to be the only difference. $\endgroup$
    – jko
    Sep 29, 2020 at 11:11
  • $\begingroup$ They do have some vertical pulleys with bearings rated for lifting (re: mcmaster.com/8545T32) though it is rated for 10,000 lbs and costs 500$. Wouldn't both applications require the same kind of bearing? $\endgroup$
    – Klik
    Sep 29, 2020 at 19:14
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ The gravity of this question is appealing. But the friction of this question may cause too much heat in the community. $\endgroup$ Sep 30, 2020 at 6:47
  • $\begingroup$ @StainlessSteelRat +1 You should probably write a conventional answer for the humourless of far future generations too. Just have to know though: do you speak Esperanto? ... Slippery Jim used to be one if my favourite characters in my very distant youth $\endgroup$
    – Gwyn
    Nov 17, 2020 at 2:23
  • $\begingroup$ Sadly no! Harrison was my favorite author in my distant youth! $\endgroup$ Nov 17, 2020 at 16:33

2 Answers 2


Most of my experience is with various blocks and pulleys on sailboats, and I can see one significant difference between the two McMaster pulleys you linked to:

The sheave of the lifting pulley has a very different cross-section than the horizontal one. It's probably assumed that the cable in the lifting pulley will always be loaded and will sit deeply in the groove. With that cross-section, if the cable goes slack it could jump out of the groove and sit on the side of the pulley.

The sheave of the horizontal pulley is more like those on sailboat blocks, a smooth groove that will self-center a line/cable as load is applied. This makes more sense is the line or cable will sometimes be loaded and sometimes be slack.



If you examine the catalog page, the majority of lift devices comply with specification ASME B30.26 (Rigging Hardware), while the horizontal do not meet any specification.

So it is easier to justify why a device is a lift device, rather than a horizontal pulling device.

American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) has created the B30 Safety Standards for material handling equipment, cranes, hoists, rigging equipment, and below-the-hook lifting devices. The 30 standards cover selection, use and maintenance of equipment.

ASME rely on manufacturers to test their lift products to B30 standards. Search terms like "Meet or exceed ASME B30.26" and "Proof Tested".

Horizontal AND Lift devices are needed. But if a lift device fails, the load becomes a pendulum, hence the need for safety standards. A horizontal device fails and the load stops moving. Someone may still die or be injured, but typically not because of the load. Lift devices still fail, but ASME B30 outline safety checks to minimize failures. Occupational, Health and Safety require operators to perform these safety checks.

As for why a device is appropriate for horizontal pulling versus lifting. The horizontal device does not meet some aspect of ASME B30 or the manufacturer did not go through the ASME B30 certification process because both horizontal pulling and lifting devices are needed.


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