Tractor bucket hooks are seldom a stock option from the factory, but nearly every farmer I know adds them at some point. A bucket with hooks is a valuable addition to our farm implements list. We don’t exclusively use our tractors to dig or scrape; we like to pick things up and move bulky things too, which is why so many farmers weld on chain hooks. I’ll admit; I’ve been lazy about it, but my procrastination is about to end.
A word of caution: I’m not an engineer, a certified welder, nor do I represent any tractor manufacturer. I’m just a guy taking it upon myself to modify my tractor. If you follow any ideas I offer, understand that it’s at your own risk. I accept no responsibility for your work.
If you’re ready to buy your first welder, or if you’re borrowing one, know that this project can be done with a cheap arc (tombstone) welder or an inexpensive wire feed welder with flux core wire. I happen to have my gas-fed Millermatic 210 mig welder at my disposal, so that’s what I’m going to use. Just know that you don’t need to blow $2000 to stick metal tractor bucket hooks on your equipment. For first-time welders, a cheap wire fed flux core welder is likely the best place to start.
To be safe I’ll be using some leather welding gloves, a cheap auto-darkening welder’s helmet, safety glasses, and a garden hose or fire extinguisher if things go south on me. I suggest you do the same.
Remember to wear long sleeves that are non-flammable so you don’t give yourself a terrible arc burn like I did. I usually wear a welding jacket, but I’m not sure where it went off to. Arc burn is the same as a sunburn, but if you weld enough, it will be the worst sunburn of your life. Trust me.
I’ll also be using a shop grinder to shape, cut and clean up my metal surfaces before I start welding. With the grinder, I’ll use cutoff wheels to cut notches, a grinding wheel for shaping and cleaning, as well as a wire wheel to strip paint.
To keep things straight, I’ll be using a square, tape measure, pencil and welder’s magnets to hold the hooks in place. A ratchet strap and clamp will hold the C channel in place as I weld it in.
Acetone is a wise choice for wiping welding areas clean before starting an arc, but don’t ever use brake or carburetor cleaner; the gas it puts off when welding is toxic.
The Tractor Bucket Hooks
On Amazon, I found weld on tractor bucket hooks. I was lazy and let Steve the UPS guy bring me my parts, but in my travels, I found cheaper hooks at a tractor dealership. Lesson learned. I bought a six pack of 3/8” grab hooks in grade 70 weld on chain hooks because I use 3/8” chain for farm work (see my farm tools and equipment article for more on chains). These grab hooks have a working load limit of 6,600 pounds or slightly more than 3 tons. More than enough for this application.
In addition, I bought a slip hook that’s rated for a three-ton working load limit with an “ultimate” (aka failure point) of 15 tons. Three tons exceeds the limit of my tractor’s loader, so I’m confident I won’t be breaking this hook. I suspect my welds will bust before the hook fails.
All of these hooks are weld-on style hooks. Instead of having a yoke to attach them directly to the chain, they have flat surfaces meant to be welded to another flat steel surface. I could have modified some old chain hooks, but this makes my life easier and my project faster.
I like my John Deere, but the bucket it came with doesn’t live up to the challenge of supporting loads from its top edge. For that matter, many of the best tractors for small farms ship with buckets that are not always up to the challenge. As such, I’m going to reinforce it before I add tractor bucket hooks. My biggest concern is adding a centrally located hook. If I add too much weight to a hook welded to the center of the bucket it will buckle, and damage my loader arms in the process. To prevent this, I’m welding C channel steel to the top of it.
Locating the Hooks
Both of my 3/8” grab hooks will be close to the edge of my bucket and turned slightly in toward the bucket. I’m angling them this way because I expect to loop a chain between the hooks often. The slip hook will be welded dead center of the bucket so I can use it as a center lift point with chain or rope. This will come in handy when pulling engines or suspending a load that needs to swing.
I went fishing in the scrap heap behind the barn and came up with a 5 inch wide by 2-inch tall length of C-channel that was longer than my bucket is wide. If you don’t have a rusty pile of iron gold out back, check with local scrap yards. There are several in my area that will sell scrap steel to the public.
I cut the C channel down to 73 1/8”, which is the outside measurement of the top of my bucket. The side plates of my bucket sit proud of the bucket’s top edge, so I notched the ends of the C channel to fit and chamfered the corners to clear the existing welds on the bucket. Additionally, I made two notches in the back to accommodate the John Deere “quick tach” plates.
Since this is an old re-purposed chunk of steel, there are some random holes drilled in it. I welded them up before clamping the C channel to the bucket. I’ll be completely enclosing this since I don’t want water or wasps to sit in this pocket I’m about to create.
My plan of action was to fabricate and tack weld everything before committing myself to fully welding my project. Tack welding is when you add a few spots of weld to temporarily hold something in place. When you’re welding things together, it’s advisable to tack weld it first in a sort of dry-run. If things don’t work out, breaking tack welds is easy, but cutting full welds is no fun and may not be an option.
After I’d fabricated my C channel reinforcement, I tack welded it into place. I realized there was a significant bend to it, so I wound up welding one side down, then using a strap to bend the whole assembly down and square with the bucket. Foregoing my plan to tack weld everything first, I went ahead and fully welded the C channel into place.
As I was welding the C channel to the bucket, I was plagued with a wire feeding issue. At first, I thought that rust on my welding wire was causing the mandrel to slip, but I eventually realized I was using the wrong size tips on my welder. Oops.
Half way through welding, I started to get some very poor welds. It occurred to me that my welder is a 60% duty cycle machine, so I stopped to let it cool. I cut out the bad welds and re-welded that area once my welder had rested. Duty cycle ratings tell you how long your welder can weld before having to rest. A 60% duty cycle means I can weld for 60% of a 10-minute time span, or six minutes straight before I need to stop and let it cool down for four minutes. If you weld past that time, your welds will be terrible and your machine may be damaged.
Once the C channel was fully welded, I chose my tractor bucket hooks positions, cleaned the metal surfaces with my grinder and tack welded them in place. My outer grab hooks are roughly 3 inches from the edge and angled in at around 25 degrees. I simply centered and squared my slip hook in the middle of the bucket.
Satisfied with where my tractor bucket hooks were, I fully welded them in place.
Thing’s I’ll Get To
Paint is largely optional around the farm since paint eventually disappears anyway. I may primer and paint this new addition to my bucket, but the chances are a bit slim. I will, however, fabricate and weld in plates to seal my ends, because I’ve been stung by wasps living in such convenient hiding places too many times.
I’m glad I finally got this project finished, but I do regret the fact that I did it in 95-degree heat with 97 percent humidity. I also regret the fact that I lost my welding jacket and was in too much of a hurry to buy a cheap replacement. I’ll be paying for my poor choices for the next few days while nursing this rather painful arc burn. Don’t be like me, buy a welding jacket!
Otherwise, I’m rather pleased with the outcome. Our last tractor had tractor bucket hooks like this and I’ve missed them for years, so now I can stop missing them and start using them.
Did I miss something? Have I left you with more questions? Let me know in the comments below, and if you attempt this yourself, show us on Facebook!