Luffing crane vs. saddle jib tower crane: what’s the difference?

When it comes to construction projects whether they be large or small, cranes play a vital role in lifting and moving heavy materials with ease. Among the various types of cranes available, luffing cranes and tower cranes are two commonly used options for vertical lifting. Both of these cranes possess distinct features and capabilities that make them suitable for different applications.

Understanding the differences between a luffing crane vs tower crane is essential if you are project managing any job that will require lifts, to ensure you select the right tool for the job. So let’s look at some of the key characteristics of luffing cranes and tower cranes as well as comparing some advantages, and disadvantages of each.  By delving into the details of each type, we aim to provide clarity on which crane is best suited for various construction scenarios.

Saddle jib tower crane: definition and functionality

With its tall, vertical mast and counterweights, a tower crane is able to reach great heights and manoeuvre large loads with precision. This makes it an essential tool in the construction of high-rise buildings, bridges, and other large-scale structures.

The key functionality of a tower crane lies in its ability to lift and transport heavy objects with ease. Equipped with sturdy cables or chains, the crane’s hook can attach to various types of loads such as steel beams, concrete panels or even prefabricated modules. By utilising its powerful motorised winch system, the tower crane can hoist these loads vertically to desired heights while maintaining stability through its robust base structure.


  • Design: A saddle jib tower crane is a tall, fixed crane that is mounted on a concrete base or attached to the side of a building or structure using a mast. It consists of a vertical tower or mast, which provides the crane’s height and stability, and a horizontal jib arm that extends out from the mast.
  • Rotation: Tower cranes have a full 360-degree rotation capability, allowing them to access and lift loads from various directions.
  • Lifting capacity: Tower cranes are typically known for their high lifting capacities, capable of lifting heavy loads to great heights.
  • Reach: Tower cranes have a long horizontal reach, thanks to their jib arm, allowing them to cover large areas on construction sites.

Luffing crane: definition and functionality

Luffing cranes are renowned for their efficiency and versatility. Like tower cranes, these machines are designed to handle heavy loads with accuracy and ease. The term luffing refers to the ability of the crane’s jib or boom to change its inclination angle, allowing it to lift materials vertically and then lower them at precise locations.

The functionality of a luffing crane is what sets it apart. Its unique design enables it to operate in tight spaces where saddle jib tower cranes may not have sufficient clearance. This makes luffing cranes particularly useful in urban areas with limited space for manoeuvring heavy machinery. Additionally, their ability to lift loads vertically without any obstruction allows for increased productivity and safety on construction sites.


  • Design: A luffing crane features a shorter and more compact design compared to a Saddle jib tower crane. It consists of a vertical mast, similar to a saddle jib tower crane, but instead of a horizontal jib arm, it has a luffing jib that can be angled or inclined. Unlike saddle jib tower cranes, luffing cranes have a smaller footprint and can operate and be placed out of service in confined sites.
  • Rotation: Luffing cranes can reduce the oversail of adjacent structures/properties, due to the inclined jib design. This allows them to operate in confined spaces without obstructing nearby structures.
  • Lifting Capacity: Luffing jib cranes can lift massive weights and are very powerful.
  • Reach: Luffing cranes can jib at a minimal distance and extend out to great distances. The angled jib enables them to lift loads in tight spaces and avoid obstacles.

Applications and advantages of each type of crane:

Tower cranes are often seen towering over city skylines, with their long jibs reaching impressive heights. These cranes are commonly used in the construction of high-rise buildings, where they can easily lift heavy materials to great heights. Their sturdy structure and ability to rotate 360 degrees make them an ideal choice where a wide range is needed from a static footprint.

On the other hand, luffing cranes offer a distinct advantage when working on projects that require precision in tight spaces. Unlike saddle jib tower cranes, luffing cranes can reduce radius and be adjusted to different angles. Their ability to work within restricted spaces and avoid neighbouring structures makes them suitable for projects where manoeuvrability is crucial.

Factors to consider when choosing between a luffing crane or a saddle jib tower crane

One key factor to consider is the height and reach needed for your project. Tower cranes are known for their impressive height capabilities, often reaching hundreds of feet into the sky. This makes them well-suited for tall buildings or projects with significant vertical construction needs. On the other hand, luffing cranes offer better manoeuvrability in confined spaces due to their ability to swing and rotate at various angles.

The choice between the two cranes depends on the specific requirements of the project, including space availability, lifting capacity, reach and manoeuvrability. At Fortis, we not only have decades of experience with large construction projects involving tower cranes but we can also assist with completing Lift Plans for project tender applications, ensuring an airtight application process. Get in touch for a quote today.

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