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Handy homemade wire unroller

When building barbed-wire fence, a person needs an easy way to unroll the wire. Many methods have been used such as putting the roll on a stationary bar and taking the end to pull out along the fenceline. People often put a bar or pole across the end of a pickup, putting the roll on the bar/pole, attaching the end of the wire to the fencepost, and driving along to unroll the wire.

A simpler and easier method was devised by 69-year-old Idaho rancher Lynn Thomas last year when he needed to build several miles of fence with limited crew and waning strength. He says necessity was the mother of his invention.

He looked at a home-made unroller that a neighbour had given him. This was a device attached to the rear bumper of a pickup. It was a U-shaped piece of metal a little bigger than a roll of barbed wire, with a metal rod in the middle to hold the roll of wire. The idea behind this creation was to park the pickup and pull the wire out from it, or drive the pickup along the fenceline to unroll the wire, with the end of the wire fixed to a post.

The problem with this method was that Thomas’ ranch terrain (steep sagebrush-covered mountainsides) did not lend itself to either of these applications. Wire unrolled in this manner tends to catch on sagebrush, creating a jerk, and then the spool of wire unrolls too fast — with backlash and entanglements.

Thomas created his own version by taking one of the round, flat metal plates from the neighbour’s device as a starting point.

“A person could make a similar plate out of a piece of 3/8-inch metal, cutting it in a round circle about the diameter of a roll of barbed wire, putting a hole in the center that a bar will fit through,” he says.

Thomas put a tire rim around the outside of the metal plate; the roll of barbed wire sits on the flat metal plate with the tire rim around. “Make sure the rim does not stick up beyond the plate. It must be flush so the wire won’t catch on the rim,” he says.

The rim Thomas used was from a 13-inch tire off a small car. A proper-size rim could be easily found at a wrecking yard. “It works best to leave the tire on the rim, to give it more stability,” he explains.

“The main reason this works so well is that the friction between the metal plate and the unrolling wire (the roll sitting on the plate with a bar through the center), creates a little bit of drag that acts like a brake. The wire won’t go spinning off it, out of control.”

This past year, he used this method to unroll the wire for about four miles of five-strand barbed wire fence — more than 20 rolls of wire. “In all the unrolling, the wire pulling over the tire and rim did not leave any cuts in the tire rubber and very little abrasion.”

He suggests placing the unroller at the spot you want to start, making sure it’s flat, even if you have to put some rocks under the lower edge. Every stretch of fence should be unrolled either on flat ground or heading downhill; it doesn’t work to pull the wire uphill.

The roll of wire is set on the flat plate, with a metal bar or small rod put down through it into the ground. You can pound the rod into the ground a few inches to hold it in place. At first Thomas tied the bar back with a wire to another rod pounded into the ground — about four feet behind it — to help hold it in place, but soon found that it stayed in place very well without having to be tied back.

This device stays in place even when pulling some long runs — even the whole roll (1/4 mile) if you make sure the final end of the wire doesn’t come off the spool. Even in uneven, brushy terrain, two people can readily pull the wire — with one person starting down the hill with the end of the wire, and the second person taking hold about 75 or 100 feet back of the front person to give some added pull.

“With this device, unrolling this much wire, I never had any problems. We’ve never had anything that worked as well as this — and we’ve built more than 20 miles of fence over the past 45 years on this ranch,” says Thomas. †

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