Lifting Techniques Part 1 – Basics

This is ANOTHER series by Senior Refrigeration Tech (and prolific writer) Jeremy Smith. Pay attention to this one, folks. I know rigging and safe lifting practices may be boring to some of you, but it could very well save your back or your life.


This article is written by a technician representing his real-world experiences and his advice for best practices. You MUST understand the particular application, the weight of materials, and the load strength of every item you use—from struts to pulleys to anchors, ladders, ropes, etc. HVAC School is NOT giving OSHA-approved safety advice. Refer to your managers, safety professionals, and OSHA guidelines first and foremost. Apply any and all of these practices at your own risk with the knowledge that we are trying to help keep you from hurting (or killing) yourself.

I know, I know. Everyone is super strong, and nobody needs any help lifting those big, heavy compressors and motors. At least, that's what a guy could think if he just reads the HVAC pages online.

Reality check: if you're lifting anything over 50 pounds and are not using a mechanical device to do it, you're risking serious injury. I speak from experience here. In 2016, I spent 16 weeks off of work progressing from chiropractic care to physical therapy, and I ultimately had to have surgery to repair a herniated disc. The injury resulted from a twisting motion when a 200lb compressor we were throwing into a scrap bin went sideways and started to fall on me. I caught it, but I didn't avoid a painful injury.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to share more than a few tips, tricks, and techniques to help you work more safely, more effectively, and even inspire you to learn more about this subject. By no means should this be taken as a comprehensive treatment of the subject of lifting and rigging, but it's just a primer with some cautions and warnings and the advice to go slow and always, ALWAYS double-check yourself **before you wreck yourself**.  (**Added by Bryan in editing… because he's a child.)

Let's lay down some baseline rules. Not to be a “preachy CrossFit guy,” but keep your core strong. Sometimes, you just have to gut it out and move a heavy thing. Those core muscles are what prevent injury when your body goes outside of your normal range of motion, and if they aren't strong, they can't support your spine and skeletal system. That's when you get injured.

Also, when you just have to lift using body strength, use proper techniques. We all know the words, “Lift with your legs, not your back,” but how many of us actually DO? I can tell you for 100% certain that any time I’m moving to lift something, I’m using proper techniques, whether it’s a refrigerant drum or a screwdriver I dropped. Now get down and give me 20 squats!

As we get into the application of ropes and pulley systems, we will be tying knots. Knot tying can be a very involved topic, but you can do everything we're going to be doing with the bowline and the clove hitch. If you can't tie either of those knots, here are links to simple videos that illustrate how to:



If you attempt any of these techniques with inferior knots, you run a very real chance of losing control of that load, injuring yourself or someone else, and damaging that expensive part.

Another thing to take a bit of time to learn about is basic rope care. A knotted, twisted rope isn't as easy to set up, and you'll waste time dealing with twists, knots, and tangles. Learn to coil and stow your rope well, and this stuff will be a lot easier.

A quick note on the rope: buy some good rope. Avoid the 3-strand twisted rope. It's stretchy, and the ends unravel and are difficult to manage. What you want is called Kernmantle rope. This is the type of rope that has a kind of braided “sheath” over inner fibers. It's stronger, doesn't stretch, and it rides much easier through pulleys. Burn the ends well to prevent them from getting out of control.

One final note: wear a decent pair of relatively snug-fitting gloves while hoisting and lowering loads with a rope. If that rope starts to slide, the burns you will get on your hands take a long time to heal.

Now, basics covered, we can move on to actually lifting things.


P.S. – Here is a good rope: ROTHCO UTILITY ROPE 3/8” 100 FT / OLIVE DRAB


Tim Haley
Tim Haley
1/10/17 at 02:34 AM

Good stuff Maynard. We are having a rigging class at our shop within the next 30 days. Interesting how this article, MCAA rigging info distribution, and my shops rigging class all hit on the same morning! 😉

Robert Dest
Robert Dest
8/14/18 at 08:23 AM



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