From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Spool Handling

Dan MacLeod, CPE, MA, MPH

Lifting and handling

Principles affected

Related pages

Material handling


Spools (or reels or coils) of wire, cables, and cords constitute a special category of loads that need to be lifted and handled.  The spools are often heavy, plus the cylindrical shape and the need to rotate when in use creates unique requirements.

Forklifts are often used for handing, especially for larger spools.  The usual dilemmas involve (a) locations with insufficient space for any type of lift and (b) medium-weight spools that can be physically lifted (at least by some people), but which may still cause excess strain on the body or are otherwise difficult to handle.

Ideas and Options

Carts, dollies, and hand trucks

Handtruck1 Dolly
Hand truck (with hook to help secure) Round dolly (with removable handle)

A varity of carts, dollies, and handtrucks can be used to move spools from one location to another.  Some are commercially available, others homemade.

CoilJack1 c
Pallet jack modified to hold wire coils
Handtruck2 Cart
Multispool hand truck and cart

A useful variation is a transporter device that also serves as a dispenser.  Several approaches are shown.

Combination transporter and dispenser (unknown vendor)
Handtruck3 Handtruck4
Another version (

Long handle (zero cost)

Before: Bend and roll After: Removable long handle After: Handle on large spool

The standard procedure in the above facility was to roll the spools from one place to another.  Both the storage location and the point of use were low, so rolling had its advantages.  But the method caused sore backs (and occasional damage to the cable when the employees needed to stand up straight, but the spools kept rolling).

During an ergonomics kaizen event, the supervisor noticed several pieces of used electrical conduit in the recycling bin.  Each piece happened to have a right angle bend and, as it turned out, several happened to be of the exact lengths needed to use as long handles.  Shorter lengths fit small spools and longer ones fit the large spools.  Surprisingly, the spools could be maneuvered very easily with this technique.  The conduit handles quickly became the new procedure, with no bending and no further damage to the cable — at zero cost.


ForkliftLoader LiftLoader
Forklift adapter for spools Lifter-transporter with spool end-effector (

Heavy spools are often loaded with forklifts.  Smaller, more maneuverable lift-transporters can also be used, with end-effectors that rotate from horizontal to vertical to lift and position spools in either orientation.

LoaderDown LoaderUp
Down position (empty for demonstration) Up position

Loaders can be built into equipment.  In the above example, when the loader is in the down position, the spool can be rolled into place.  By lifting up with the lever, the spool is then positioned correctly for dispensing.

Loader TranspDispense
Powered hydraulic loader Hand pump

The above examples show similar built-in loaders.  Once again, the spools are rolled in at floor level, then raised into position for dispensing.


Vacuum1 Vacuum2
Two styles of vacuum lifts (

Hoists can be used for loading, usually with a customized hook or bar to connect with the spool.  The examples above show vacuum hoists.  The version at right shows an end effector that enables changing the spool between horizontal and vertical orientations


Roller1 Rollers2
Rollers — At left, the large arrow indicates the rollers and the small arrow shows skate wheels on the side to keep spool aligned

Spools are often held by a center pole, which facilitates both handling and dispensing.  An alternative is to place the rolls directly on rollers.  Horizontal turntables can also be used.

Vertical carousel

Vertical carousel

Vertical carousels provide a good alternative to rigid racks.  Advantages include:

  • Better use of vertical space
  • Ability to position the spools at a good height for manual lifting
  • Allows easy cutting of short lengths without needing to remove the spool