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The Difference Between Wire Rope and Cable

Safety is of the utmost importance when your operation involves lifting or transporting heavy objects. From 2011 to 2014, unsecured cargo resulted in accidents that led to 500 fatalities and 39,000 injuries. To keep your personnel and potential bystanders safe, you should know the difference between wire rope and cable and which suits your needs the best.

What’s the Difference?

The terms “wire rope” and “cable” are often used interchangeably. You may have even heard them combined into “wire rope cables.” Their main difference is in their size. Wire rope refers to steel ropes with diameters larger than 3/8", while smaller ones are considered to be cable or cords, also called aircraft cable.

To make wire ropes, aircraft cables included, a set of wires are twisted together to form a strand. One or multiple strands are twisted together and then form a single wire rope.

Cables commonly come in 1x7, 1x19, 7x7, and 7x19 configurations. The first number is the number of strands, and the second is the number of wires in each strand. Wire ropes come in several more configurations, some utilizing strands of different widths.

Both wire ropes and cables are made of either stainless steel or galvanized steel. They can be coated with PVC or nylon to increase their weather resistance.

Is size the only difference between the two, then? Not exactly. While it may be the only obvious difference, size influences a wire rope or cable’s other physical properties. This means they also have different applications.

Wire Rope vs. Cables


The thicker they are, the higher their maximum safe load is. Wire ropes are far stronger cables and are used in heavy-duty applications.


Compared to wire ropes, cables are thin and flexible while still being extremely strong. This makes them suitable for a wide range of non-heavy-duty applications.

Abrasion Resistance

Unfortunately, as a wire rope or cable’s flexibility increases, its abrasion resistance decreases. Wire ropes are generally less vulnerable to metal loss than cables.

Fatigue Resistance

Breakage due to fatigue is the natural end-state for wire ropes and cables. Cables are less susceptible to fatigue due to their flexibility. This doesn’t necessarily mean they have a longer lifespan, though. It depends on the application.

Wire Rope Applications


Wire rope is used extensively in the construction industry. It’s used to support utility equipment, secure shafts, suspend lift cars, and many more.


For cranes and hoists to lift, move, and position heavy objects safely, they need wire rope designed to meet their requirements. The rope needs to be highly durable, resist torsion and impacts, and have sufficient flex for the application.


The mining industry is a major contributor to wire rope consumption. It’s used in lift shafts to extract minerals, provide supplies, install equipment, and secure stairwells.


Wire ropes are used in assembly lines to manufacture goods. They’re fitted to conveyor belts, hoists, and other devices. It’s easy to install with minimal maintenance, making it an essential component of many operations.

Cable Applications

Aircraft Control

Cables are commonly used to secure aircraft during shipping and transportation, hence why they’re called aircraft cables. They’re also used to tie heavy cargo down.

Maritime Operations

Stainless steel cables are used to secure boats when docked, hoist them out of the water, and secure cargo. The stainless steel varieties are used due to their strength and corrosion resistance, which is crucial due to exposure to the elements and salt water.

Pulleys and Winches

Many industries use cables for lifting and hoisting, so they’re standard components in various pulley systems and winches. Either galvanized steel or stainless steel cables are used, depending on the user’s needs and the environment.

Stage Rigging

Most theaters are equipped with cables to manipulate the stage. They’re used to open and close heavy curtains, move backdrops, position lighting, lift and lower props, and sometimes hoist actors safely into the air.

woman in zipline


Ziplines are made with cables, usually stainless steel. They’re strong enough to handle people’s weight and resistant to weather conditions.

Get High-Quality Cables and Wire Ropes

Maximize your operations’ safety with durable cables and wire ropes for rigging from Southeast Rigging. We provide a wide range of options to suit your needs. Fill out our contact form to talk to our team.

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