Should I use a Block and Tackle or a Differential Pulley?

We're often asked whether to use a block and tackle or a differential pulley for a particular job. We're also often asked whether rope will suffice or whether it needs to be chain. Generally the heavier the load, the more likely the better tool for the job is a differential pulley using chain.


Block and Tackle: A system of 2 or more pulleys with a rope or cable threaded between them, usually used to lift or pull loads. The pulleys are assembled together to form blocks and then blocks are paired so that one is fixed and one moves with the load.

Differential Pulleys: Also called "Weston differential pulley," or "chain hoist". A pulley used to manually lift very heavy objects like car engines. It is operated by pulling up on the slack section of a continuous chain that wraps around pulleys. The relative size of 2 connected pulleys determines the maximum weight that can be lifted by hand.

Example Block and Tackle and Differential Pulley Jobs

Block & Tackle Differential Pulley
Lift a car engine Lift a car
Move a small tree trunk Lift and move a large tree trunk
Lift a kayak into a garage roof Lift a jet ski into a garage roof


Block & Tackle Vs Differential Pulley

Block & Tackle Differential Pulley
Low load capacity. Can hold load for a long period of time. High load capacity and can hold a load at height without a cleat or tie off
Easy to use and install. Small, compact system More complex to use
Can move items quickly Takes more preparation
Typically uses rope which is cheaper and easier to handle and quiet Typically uses chain which is durable but expensive and noisy
Easy to service or replace parts More complex to service or replace parts
Adjustable loads based on purchase Fixed ratio no matter what load
Moves loads quietly and smoothly Good for inching heavy loads in tricky spaces


The less friction in the equipment the more efficiently the block and tackle and differential pulley will work. For block and tackles we recommend Toulon roller balls and Toulon bushings on polished shafts. For differential pulleys we recommend steel ball bearings, either sealed or greased.

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