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How to choose and use a wheelbarrow

Adam_W
Valued Contributor

Wheelbarrow.jpg

 

A wheelbarrow is a frequently-used workhorse for many outdoor and garden projects. It’s one of the most useful tools in your shed.

 

Investing in a quality wheelbarrow can be a great investment as they can make your projects so much easier - and save your back. But which one to choose? This guide provides an understanding of wheelbarrows to help you select the best model for you and use the tool efficiently and safely.

 

How a wheelbarrow works


A wheelbarrow operates on the simple principle of leverage. Experts call it a "class two lever". The wheel is the fulcrum, the load is positioned close to or directly above the fulcrum, and effort is exerted on the handles. This means that you can put a 100kg load into a wheelbarrow and feel as if you are lifting 10 to 20kg.

 

Anatomy of a wheelbarrow

 

Deceptively simple, the wheelbarrow design we know today appeared in China nearly 2000 years ago and has remained largely unchanged. Here are the basic elements of a wheelbarrow:

 

Anatomy of a wheelbarrowAnatomy of a wheelbarrow

  • Handles – These extend through the length of the wheelbarrow as they are the actual lever. At the business end are the handgrips. Handles are made from hardwood or tubular steel, with the latter covered in plastic grips.

 

  • Tray – Varying in design to suit the wheelbarrow’s functions, there are three main material types: heavy-duty, UV stabilised polypropylene (poly), galvanised steel and steel with a powder coated (painted) finish. Tray size is expressed in litres with 100L being large capacity and 80L being a standard home-garden size. There are also special purpose wheelbarrows, like slim lines to get through narrow spaces, which have capacities of around 70L.

 

  • Base board – Generally made from poly, these boards are designed to do two main things: add rigidity to the barrow, stopping it from twisting, and adding strength in the tray base to resist damage or tray bending when loaded with materials like bricks or rubble.

 

  • Legs – More than just support, the legs also work as brakes to slow a wheelbarrow down. They are joined by a cross-brace or two to prevent bending and spreading.

 

  • Wheel – Comprised of the tyre, rim and bearings with a removable axle through the centre. There are various tyre types for different uses. Home-use and light-duty models have rounded tyres and are easier to push. However, they can also tip sideways more easily and sink in to softer soil, lawn or gravels. Medium-duty and trade-grade tyres are wider, having a "square" profile. Although a little harder to push, they are more stable and resist sinking into softer or loose surfaces. Bearings are usually fixed in the rim but can be replaced if required.

 

  • The axle – Holds the wheel assembly and takes the bulk of the load.

 

  • Nose guard – You’ll only know it’s there when you tip a load as the wheelbarrow will rest on this guard when needed. It also serves to brace and reinforce the handles.

 

  • Stays – Right at the front of your wheelbarrow, these vertical bars help to stabilise and strengthen it.

 

Common uses for a wheelbarrow

 

The basic functions of a wheelbarrow are to carry and to contain, making it easier for you to move heavy loads. Use your wheelbarrow to:

 

  • Carry loads of soil, sand, stone, rubble and mulch.

 

  • Bag materials like potting mixes, composts or concrete.

  • Move and tip dry loadsMove and tip dry loadsStore material while working, such as holding excavated material that will then be going back into a hole.

 

  • Collect excavated or waste material for disposal.

 

  • Blend materials like composts with garden soil before adding to the garden.

 

  • Mix dry and wet concrete and mortars.

 

  • Move wet materials like concrete from a truck delivery or an on-site mixer.

 

  • Carry tools from the shed or garage to where you are working.

Safety tips for using a wheelbarrow

 

Knowing the right way to use your wheelbarrow will make your work more efficient and safer. Here are some safety tips:

 

  • Give your wheelbarrow the once-over before every use. Check the tyre is correctly inflated, the wheel is rotating freely, that there are no loose nuts or bolts, handles and grips are free from damage and not loose. Finally, check that legs and stays are not bent or damaged.

 

Bend your knees to liftBend your knees to lift

  • Make sure the area you will be wheeling through is clear of obstructions like rocks, rubble or large sticks.

 

  • Before loading, position your wheelbarrow so it is level and pointing to the direction you need to go.

 

  • Never overload a wheelbarrow by either weight or volume. It’s easier to do a second load than manage a difficult one.

 

  • Don’t load a barrow in a way that you cannot see in front of you or where the load protrudes from the sides.

 

  • Make sure loads are evenly balanced and evenly distributed across the tray and are biased towards the front of the tray for easier lifting.

 

  • As you prepare to lift your wheelbarrow do the same as you would with any other load – lift with your legs, not your back. Grab the grips and, with your back straight, bend your knees until you reach a fully upright position. Finally, straighten your legs to lift.

 

Use ramps to travel over uneven surfacesUse ramps to travel over uneven surfaces

  • To get a single, heavy object into a wheelbarrow (like a bag fertiliser or a big piece of stone) lay the wheelbarrow beside the material and roll the material into the tray. Then with one foot on the upmost wheelbarrow leg and both hands on the lip of the tray, lean backwards to use the legs to bring the wheelbarrow upright.

 

  • Always walk forwards with the wheelbarrow in front of you.

 

  • Use care with liquid loads (like concrete) as they can slosh around, changing the centre of balance as they do so. A single large object, like a block of stone or concrete, can shift too.

 

  • Keep your wheelbarrow on hand as you work and use it to collect waste material, so your work area is tidy and safe.

 

  • If you are working on a slope, you can gently bring the wheelbarrow’s legs to the ground to work as brakes if needed.

 

  • If your wheelbarrow starts tipping over whilst carrying a load, steer clear and let it go. As soon as your wheelbarrow starts to tip, you lose all leverage advantages, and you will be fighting the full weight of the load.

 

  • As you empty a load, keep a firm grip on both handles and empty slowly and evenly.

 

  • Use fold-out ramps to bridge over landscape works. This makes access easier and avoids damage to your project. 

 

  • Travelling down steps with a fully laden wheelbarrow is extremely dangerous. Make steps easier, and safer, to negotiate with fold-out ramps. 

 

How to maintain your wheelbarrow 

 

Clean your wheelbarrow regularly to extend its life and keep it operating efficiently and safely. Here are some ways you can maintain your wheelbarrow:

 

  • Clean the tray thoroughly after use, especially if you’ve been working with cement products.

 

  • Keep the wheel and tyre free from dirt, mud and especially residue of cement products.

 

  • Don’t put your wheelbarrow away wet.

 

  • Apply suitable lubricants to the bearings regularly. Replace bearings if they start grinding.

 

  • Lightly spray bolt heads with protective lubricants.

 

  • Replace handgrips as soon as they are worn or show signs of splitting. 


Need more help?


The Bunnings Workshop community is here to assist if you need a hand with selecting a new wheelbarrow, or with using and maintaining your wheelbarrow. Just hit the Start a discussion if you need a hand.

 

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