Yard Work 101: Wheelbarrows

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Today, I tackled a project which direly needed doing: Getting the area around the raised beds by the house mulched. While my back ran out of juice before getting it entirely sorted, it’s mostly done.

What started out looking like this:

Now looks like this:

These many hours of work involved hauling a metric honkload of woodchips from our rapidly-shrinking pile. Today, I gave thanks many times for our trusty lawn tractor and trailer, which saved me dozens of manual trips.

Still, the wheelbarrow saw a lot of active duty, hauling loads between the trailer and the areas I couldn’t reach with it. Also, I might have wished for a Bobcat, just once or twice, which would have saved a lot of shoveling.

In my days as an animal caretaker at Wolf Haven International, a vet tech at an alpaca ranch with 1700+ animals, and in various other capacities, I have hauled literally tons of gravel, rocks, sod, grain, hay, straw, manure, cinder blocks, deer carcasses, mulch, dirt, water, and other items too numerous to list with wheelbarrows.

After watching a neighbor struggling with his barrow, I realized not everyone knows the proper method – and neither did I, at first. It’s something most of us have to learn.

Our current wheelbarrow came to us from the previous owners of the house, and my guess is it saw many years of use (and neglect) before we got our mitts on it. Still, it’s a valuable tool and has a lot of life left in it.

During my brief time with a union-based employer, my supervisors drilled the following adage into my head: Work smarter, not harder. While I was perfectly content to carry the 50-pound whatever over to wherever it needed to be, this was frowned upon. Harshly. Slowly, the adage percolated into my dense skull, and I started bringing the right tools to the work, rather than some other dumb way.

Rest assured, if there is a mistake to be made … well, anywhere, really, on any topic… I have made it. Probably twice.

Take, for example, not wearing long sleeves when working with welded wire fencing; the fence drew first blood less than 5 minutes in. Le sigh.

Learn from my mistakes!

Basic Wheelbarrow Tips

  1. Make sure your tire is inflated. It may look fine when empty, but after you load it up, if the tire pressure is low, it will squish under the load and make it a lot harder to get to your destination.
  2. Load the most weight over the tire, not at the back. Let the barrow do the work for you; weight over the tire is carried mostly by the tire, whereas weight back toward the handles will be mostly carried by you.
  3. Load the weigh evenly side to side. If the weight is uneven, the barrow is much more likely to tip over, especially in a turn, or going over a bump. Don’t even ask me the number of times I’ve dumped a full barrow because I lost balance.
  4. Lift with your legs, not with your back. You’ve heard this before, and it’s true. Don’t lean forward when you pick up the handles; squat and lift.
  5. Don’t overfill the barrow. Take loads you can manage. For me and my questionable upper body strength and perilously round shape, this means not filling the sucker up every time. It also means I can’t fill it up in 30 seconds flat, despite wishing I could. Which brings us to:
  6. Be patient, and don’t overdo it. If you’re a strong, fit, healthy person, you can probably go to town all day with a shovel and a wheelbarrow. Me? Not so much. While I always want to get everything done Right Now, reality forces me to pace myself.
  7. Don’t be lazy in stupid ways; empty the full load every time. Getting those last little bits of your cargo out every time may seem like a pain in the ass, and if you’re only making two trips, maybe it’s no big deal. However, if you’re making 5, or 8, or 20 trips, do you really want to carry that same [stuff] every single time, making each trip that much less efficient? I don’t.
  8. Point the barrow in the direction you want to go before you fill it up. Turning a loaded wheelbarrow around, especially in close quarters or on bumpy terrain isn’t much fun. Make it easier for yourself.
  9. Two wheels are not necessarily better than one. While two-wheeled barrows are indeed easier to balance than their single-wheeled brethren, they’re also harder to push due to the increased friction.
  10. Work smarter, not harder. It pains me to foist adages upon my readers, but this one is worth it. Put the wheelbarrow close to the loading point, and as close to the end point as you can so you can shovel efficiently. Bend your knees, use your arms and legs, and keep your back protected.

Use the right tools, use them intelligently, and you’ll be well on your way to being efficient and not screwing up your back. 😉

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