Just as there are many rope choices, blocks (or pulleys as many refer to them) also have a vast array of manufacturers and designs. Holt, Ronstan, Harken, Schaefer, Lewmar, are just a few of the options available to choose from. If you head down to your local chandlery, you will see that aside from the super “Gucci manufacturers” (like Karver), that Harken and Ronstan are the clear choice when it comes to ball bearing technology. When looking for a quality ball bearing block you want to make sure that those little balls aren’t made out of cheap white plastic. Instead, make sure those ball bearings are black instead of white, they’ll last longer. The same goes in regards to the sheaves themselves, the white ones will disintegrate quickly from U.V. and are not worth the hassle considering their lifespan. The best kind of ball bearings that I have come across are of the Torlon variety. The Torlon ball bearing, as far as I know, can only be found in the Harken and Schaefer block line-up (there could definitely be others). Of course you don’t always need the rip roaring action of ball bearings. So in some applications, like a boom topping lift for example, you are better off with a non-ball bearing or plain bearing unit. Although ball bearings are nice, less moving parts makes for less maintenance. When it comes to choosing a good sturdy non-ball bearing blocks, I like Schaefer Marine’s black sheave lineup.
Yes, there are better/fancier/pricier blocks out there that are great, but I find these products unnecessary and overdone in most cruising sailboat configurations. Long story short: if you are looking for good quality yet well priced ‘ball bearing action’, look to Harken or Ronstan! For something sturdy yet something that doesn’t require the speed of let’s say a spinnaker sheet block, then I recommend Schaefer’s black Delrin sheave blocks. Check them all out for yourself and tell us what you think. What is your favorite block and why? We’d love to hear from you!