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Hamptons Life

Apr 15, 2019 10:57 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Buying Wheelbarrows: Don't Be Penny Wise And Pound Foolish

How do you get a wheelbarrow up steps? This walled 1930s cutting garden has a stone carved ramp in between the steps that works perfectly. Not something you find in today’s gardens. ANDREW MESSINGER
Apr 15, 2019 11:40 AM

A few weeks ago, when I started writing this series on wheelbarrows, I was walking my dog and we took a peek behind some hedges and at rear yards of the homes we passed. The first five properties were very telling.

Each one had a dead wheelbarrow and one had two. Each had been rendered useless due to what appeared to be an unfixable part. One had a totally rusted tray, another a wheel that had become detached from its spindle and a third had tray supports that collapsed from being overloaded while another had a tubular metal handle that was bent and broken.

In each case there were unmistakable signs (like brand names) that the owner bought a bargain wheelbarrow that proved how often we are penny wise and pound foolish. So this brings me to the point where I have to ask first and most important, what will you be doing with your barrow? Mixing cement? Hauling firewood? Mixing soil? Moving around trees and shrubs? A little bit of everything but nothing over 50 pounds? Do you want to be able to remove the sides and dump from the sides or only from the front? Do you want the smooth ride of an air-filled pneumatic tire or will a solid rubber tire with a harder ride suffice? Do you mind if the handles are metal or do you want the strength of wood even though that adds weight to the barrow?

Here’s some help: The tray of the wheelbarrow can be made of wood, steel or a poly resin and each has its advantages. Steel trays tend to be stronger and more resistant to breakage. But keep in mind that there are varying gauges of steel and the thinner “bargain” gauges will crap out really fast. Poly trays, made from various plasticized resins, are lighter weight and corrosion proof but the thin ones (as in cheap) can crack and chip.

All these trays are measured by their capacities and will range from 4 cubic feet up to 10 cubic feet. The 4-cubic-foot type tends to be made of light-gauge steel or thinner walled poly. The 5-cubic-foot type is used by both homeowners and contractors but still considered light duty. These are almost entirely made of steel. The 6-cubic-foot type is used by homeowners but mostly by professional landscapers and contractors. A heavier gauge steel is used and a thicker walled poly. The 8- and 10-cubic-foot types are generally used by landscapers and contractors to move large amounts of lightweight materials like mulch, or on farms to move manure and stall bedding. Some homeowners like to use them because of their extra-large capacity. Due to the weight considerations, these are available only with poly trays and most have dual wheel assemblies to provide added stability for the large tray.

The handles are generally made from steel or a variety of hardwoods and again, each has its advantages. Steel handles are more durable and more resistant to weathering. Steel handles also typically come with rubber grips. Steel is typically used in medium- to heavy-duty applications such as landscaping, construction and concrete work. Hardwood handles are generally lighter than comparably sized steel handles, and wheelbarrows with wooden handles are typically less expensive than like units with steel handles. Hardwood handles are also available in different thicknesses with the thinner handles being ideal for light-duty home work and thicker, heavier handles typically being used in landscaping, construction and concrete work. It’s always a good idea to see if the handles are replaceable, and you’ll find some home centers and garden centers carry replacements.

The wheels of your barrow are also an important consideration. First and foremost, is the wheel replaceable? On the least-expensive barrows, they aren’t, and that can make this tool virtually useless in short order. Pneumatic tires, the type where you can add or reduce the air in the tire, is the best type where traction and a smooth ride is important. These are usually the tires of choice, but the downside is that they can go flat. But then there are flat-free tires, which are essentially solid tires. These work well on solid surfaces such as concrete or blacktop, but they give a rough ride which can be translated back to your arms and back. Solid tires are also unforgiving and can leave ruts in your lawn and garden when heavy loads are moved. There are also different types of treads to the tires such as a diamond tread which is better when moving over firm ground while a turf type tire will “float” over your lawn and handle mud much better. You may also have a choice of wide and narrow tires. Wide tires won’t leave deep ruts when moving around heavy loads.

At the store, you’re likely to find the wheelbarrows divided into three duty classes that may go by descriptions similar to homeowner, landscaper and contractor. The homeowner wheelbarrows will have the lighter, thinner trays with small (14-inch) pneumatic tires, thinner and lighter weight hardwood handles, 5- to 6-cubic-foot trays and a front tray brace to provide extra support for heavy loads. This barrow will suffice for gardening, general property maintenance and light construction or remodeling around the house.

A landscaper’s wheelbarrow has a heavier, thicker tray with thicker and heavier hardwood or steel handles and usually 16-inch tires, either pneumatic or flat-free. The tray will range from 6 to 10 cubic feet and the undercarriage will be of heavier construction including front tray braces. This type is best suited for a professional landscaper, large property owner or contractor who will be moving large volumes of material that may be bulky or heavy as well as working on rough terrain such as a construction site.

The contractor’s wheelbarrow will have the heaviest gauge and thickest trays with the thickest hardwood or steel handles. The tires will be 16-inch diameter and the tray 5 or 6 cubic feet. The undercarriage will be of heavy-duty construction with front tray braces. This type of barrow is best suited for a professional contractor that is hauling large volumes of heavy or bulky material and can also be used for mixing and hauling concrete. These are engineered to stand up to harsh use which includes repeated drops from pickup trucks and being bounced over curbs.

There are also specialty wheelbarrows that may have narrow trays, wide tires, folding trays and dual wheels and there are even motorized wheelbarrows and dumping carts that go behind lawn and garden tractors. Here again: watch out for capacities and look for the load range before you make your purchase. Garden carts that have bicycle type wheels are easy to maneuver and difficult to tip over.

Lastly and possibly most important: When you buy your wheelbarrow at a quality local garden center you may pay a few bucks more, but chances are they’ll have that replacement tire, new tray or replacement handle years down the path when something breaks. Watch your weights and balances—and keep growing.

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