Compact tractor implements are designed to add utility, ability and function to your small farm tractor. Many implements can get expensive when you opt to buy them from your local dealership or farm store, but simple tractor implements are sometimes just as easy to build than to buy, and much cheaper. A simple counterweight is an excellent example.
Why You Want a Counterweight
Both compact and full-size farm tractors can struggle with physics, especially leverage and gravity. If your tractor has a hard time gaining traction in the rear end, especially while picking up a load with your front end loader, then a counterweight tractor implement for your three-point hitch will prove to be infinitely useful to you.
When you pick up an object that is close to your maximum working load limit with your front loader, your front axle becomes the fulcrum point of your tractor. Since your rear axle is on the opposite side of the fulcrum, down force is transferred away from it, which causes you to loose traction in the rear end of your tractor. Driving your tractor can be dangerous when this happens, especially with a 4×4 tractor, since one wrong move can lead to a catastrophic rollover or tipping. The simplest way to eliminate this issue is to add weight to the rear end of your tractor, which will change the balance on that side of the fulcrum.
Even older two-wheel drive tractors without loaders, such as the ones in our compact tractor comparison article can benefit from the added traction a counterweight can provide.
In lieu of a dedicated compact tractor implement counterweight, there are other ways of achieving added weight on your rear axle. Tire loading or tire ballasting can be done to add weight directly to your tires, or most tractors can add wheel weights to achieve ballast in the rear end. In addition, you may have another implement that can serve double duty, such as a backhoe. When I need to move heavy (possibly too heavy) objects, I hook up my three-point backhoe tractor implement to give me some serious counterweight. This can be considered one of the best small tractor hacks you can do to save some cash.
Unfortunately, there are drawbacks to having a compact tractor implement backhoe attachment on your tractor while moving something with your bucket loader. Approach and departure angles become a big deal when you need to negotiate sloped terrain. You may find that, as you drive over uneven terrain, you wind up catching your backhoe on things or hanging it up on the ground as you try to negotiate a ramp or slope. Many times I’m forced to elevate the hoe itself, or lock it to one side to stop it from bottoming out on the terrain, but then I need to be conscious of the fact that I have a hoe bucket sticking out somewhere. Especially when operating near vehicles, barns, houses and trees, the added stress of having to remember where your backhoe is can be unnerving. Remember; auto body work is expensive, and a backhoe can modify your spouses’ car in a hurry.
There are many ways to build a compact tractor implement counterweight, but the most popular methods include a box, barrel or suitcase arrangement. Suitcase arrangements usually employ a bar that fits your three-point hitch and allows you to attach what is known as “suitcase weights” which are solid cast iron flat weights. As nice, flexible and clean as this arrangement may look, cast iron suitcase weights can be expensive to purchase, which is why most people won’t build a suitcase bar counterweight.
Steel boxes are a simple way to build a compact tractor implement counterweight, and they allow you to toss in anything to add weight such as sand, rock, steel scraps and random weights you may have around. It’s not a bad arrangement, but unless you design it well, it will catch and hold water. A frozen box full of water may break your welds, stagnate water will make for some disgusting mosquito breeding grounds and a rusted-out box with no bottom doesn’t really help anyone, so unless you wany to take the challenge, I suggest the third option; the barrel.
My personal favorite is using an open top 30-gallon or 55-gallon plastic drum. Used plastic drums can be found for free or cheap locally, the plastic will never rust, you won’t need to paint the drum, and the plastic is soft, which may save you from damaging other objects in the event of an accidental rub or scrape.
Depending on the size of your tractor, you may be able to use a 30-gallon drum in the horizontal position, but a 55-gallon drum is best used upright. Regardless of the orientation, the plan is to fill your drum of choice with concrete. Concrete is cost effective, easy to use, fills every square inch of space and above all else; it’s heavy!
Basic Horizontal 30-Gallon Drum
Especially for compact tractors, a simple 30-gallon drum setup is usually enough to equalize the leverage equation. Although you can set a 30-gallon drum vertically, building it horizontally will let it roll over obstructions instead of hanging up on rocks or stumps. Since it’s situated horizontally, we can eliminate the three-point top link since it’s not necessary, but since we won’t have a way of stabilizing it, the lower arm pins must be centered in the barrel to avoid swinging of the counterweight tractor implement. A swinging compact tractor implement counterweight could swing at the wrong time, causing unsafe lurching or even impact the tractor, causing damage and dangerous situations. Because of these variables, be sure to center your draw bar pins in a horizontal drum compact tractor implement counterweight.
Building a Vertical Drum Counterweight
The easiest way I’ve found to build a counterweight drum includes using an off-the-shelf draw bar. A draw bar is literally a bar of steel that has several holes to accommodate trailer ball hitches or chain shackles, and includes a pin on either side which fits your lower three-point arms. These bars are commonly sold in farm stores, tractor dealerships and online, so hunt for the best price and order a bar that fits your class of hitch. In my case, I’ll be using a category two hitch, but most tractors use a category one hitch and many compact tractor implements require a category zero, so verify which size you need before buying.
Once you have the drum you want to use, be it 30 gallon, 55 gallon, plastic or steel, you need to make it an open top drum if it isn’t already. If you have a closed head drum, be sure not to cut the barrel head’s strengthening rib while cutting the top out, otherwise the top will deform and be out of round when you’re finished. I usually use a reciprocating saw by starting a cut from a bung hole and cutting the inside of the barrel head out, being sure not to cut the outside lip. A reciprocating saw usually does the trick, but a cutting torch may be easier if you have a steel drum. Be absolutely certain the contents of the barrel were non-flammable since cutting steel drums causes sparks, and having a drum go boom in your face is non-habit forming. When in doubt, use a different drum, or fill it with water before cutting.
Once you have an open drum, you will need to add slots for your draw bar to fit. I don’t suggest sticking the draw bar through the center line of your upright drum but instead, plan on slipping it through the barrel somewhere between the outer edge (closest to the tractor) and the center line (when looking at a side profile). When placing your draw bar this way you gain more leverage, keeping the counterweight further away from the tractor’s axle, and avoiding pinching your top link. I suggest placing the barrel between your hitch arms, marking their lowest point on the barrel, and then placing your bar several inches above that level to avoid having a hard time when trying to hook up your counterweight on uneven ground.
In order to stabilize the barrel, you will need a top link attachment point. This is something that you will need to fabricate or have fabricated for you. This vertical bar will protrude from the top of your drum and attach to your draw bar. You can weld it to the draw bar, but I suggest bolting it to the center hole on your draw bar, since you may accidentally weld it before placing it in your drum, or weld it crooked while reaching into your drum. Bolting your vertical bar to a single point will offer some wiggle room when you’re trying to square things up, and a bolt of that size should hold just fine.
A simple C-channel vertical bar is easy to fabricate, but if you’re up for a challenge, consider adding bar or tube structures that tie into the concrete for added strength. The sky’s the limit if you’re handy with a torch and welder, but if you’re not, you may want to contact a local welder or fabrication shop and have them build you an upright support bar. Be certain of your measurements before contracting someone to build you a bar. When designing your vertical bar, consider the angle change of your top link when raising and lowering the implement. Setting the distance of your top link attachment point too close to the barrel may result in you impacting and bending your top link when you raise the weight up. Measure twice, cut once and be sure to dry fit everything before you go to the next step.
Do you have a project coming up that requires a concrete truck? Does your neighbor? Having a truck pour your concrete is an easy way to fill your barrel, but unless you have a project coming up, you may be stuck with mixing bags of concrete. This is a compact tractor implement counterweight, not a foundation, so don’t get stressed about which concrete is best for filling a 55-gallon drum. Bags of ready-to-mix concrete are readily available at your local home improvement store or hardware store for a reasonable cost and they take the guesswork out of this part of the project. This may be a good time to borrow a friend since concrete is heavy and you don’t have an awful lot of time to work with it. An extra pair of hands can make things easier.
Now that you’ve added this to your arsenal of farm tools and equipment, you have a handy compact tractor implement counterweight that you built yourself. You’ll find it easier to lift things without tipping as easily, and you’ll have more traction when moving around in mud or snow. Did you come up with a different or more innovative way to build your counterweight? Let me know in the comments below!