The trouble with wheelbarrows
Wheelbarrows are great for hauling stuff around the yard—unless you’re working on a hill ... or trying to negotiate steps and rough terrain...or moving a lot of bulky material like leaves and branch trimmings...or trying to load something big into them.
Spike's wonder cart
Since I added this garden cart to my arsenal of outdoor tools, life has gotten way easier. Two wheels means it doesn’t tip; large pneumatic tires means it’s easy to push; a big box lets me haul 10 bags of mulch in one load; and because the front tilts down for loading, my aching back doesn’t ache as much. I’ll still use my trusty wheelbarrow for mixing concrete and hauling the super-heavy stuff, but these days I “cart” nearly everything else.
I designed this cart to be as rugged and durable as any cart you can buy at any price, yet the materials cost about a hundred bucks. It’s one of the wisest landscaping investments you can make.
Round up the materials
You’ll need a straight-cutting jig to cut the plywood. To learn how to make one, watch the video How to Cut Straight with a Circular Saw or check out Create Circular Saw Cutting Guides for Plywood for written instructions. I used exterior plywood and standard pine boards for the structure. You can use treated plywood and lumber, but it may be hard to find treated material that’s dry and flat.
I bought wheels at northerntool.com (item No. 145120). The threaded rod, washers and nuts are available at home centers and hardware stores.
Figure A: Garden Cart
Use this exploded view of the garden cart as a construction diagram. The materials list shows what you'll need to get in order to build the cart. The cutting list shows you how many of each part you'll need. Most of the components are cut from a single sheet of plywood (see the plywood diagram).
Video: How to Cut Straight With a Circular Saw
The Family Handyman editor, Jeff Gorton, will show you how to make perfectly straight cuts with a circular saw. You will use this circular saw jig over and over again.
Assemble the box
Lay out the plywood as shown in Figure B. Start by cutting the sheet lengthwise into 14-in., 30-in. and 3-1/2-in. strips (Photo 1). After positioning the jig for each cut, clamp or screw it into place. Cut the angled sides (A) from the 14-in. strip and the bottom braces (E) from the 3-1/2-in. strip. Cut the front (C), bottom (D) and back (B) from the 30-in. strip.
If you use your straight-cutting jig, as is, for cutting the 45-degree bevels, you’ll cut a bevel on the jig itself, making it unusable for future square cuts. Temporarily modify your jig by screwing a 3/4-in. strip of wood to the jig’s fence (Photo 2), positioning the edge of the guide on the cutting line (like you would for a square cut), then make your 45-degree cut.
Drill 1/8-in. holes about 3/8 in. away from the edges of the sides (A), spaced about 4 in. apart. Then secure the front with 2-in. exterior screws through the pre-drilled holes in the sides. Note: To ensure maximum sturdiness, use construction adhesive for all the connections—even for the metal corners.
Install the bottom (Photo 3) flush with the edges of the sides (A). Make sure the front beveled edge of the bottom makes solid contact with the bottom edge of the front (C). To complete the box, add the back (B). If you’ve cut and assembled everything correctly, there will be a 3-1/2-in. cavity at the back of the box to accommodate the tool rack. If it’s a little larger or smaller, no big deal.
Install the wheels
Turn the cart box upside down. Secure the bottom braces (E). Secure the middle bottom brace so the center of it is exactly 20-3/4 in. away from the back of the back bottom brace (E). If you don’t get this positioned right, it will affect the balance of the cart.
Position this assembly (Photo 4) snugly against one side of the cart and measure the amount of space it takes up. Transfer that measurement to the other end of the rod and mark the rod. Cut the rod and install the other wheel assembly. Tip: Before cutting the rod to length, twist a regular nut onto it beyond the cut mark. After making the cut, twist the nut off; it will “recut” any damaged threads so the locknut will go on easier.
Apply glue to the axle braces (F), snug them tightly against the axle, then secure them to the middle bottom brace (E) with 2-in. screws. Finally, install the axle cover (G). Note: If you want to strengthen the wheel assembly for hauling heavier loads, use oak for the middle bottom brace, two axle braces and cover.
Install the legs, handles and tool rack
Cut the legs and screw them to the protruding sides (Photo 5). Use the spacer block as shown so the legs can accommodate the upper tool rack slat. Cut and install the handles (J), leaving space at the front for the aluminum angle.
Cut two lengths of aluminum angle. Don’t try to measure them; just hold them in place and mark them for cutting. Drill holes and drill countersink “dimples” for the heads of the screws to nest into. Install the aluminum using adhesive and 3/4-in. screws (Photo 6).
Position the handle bar (P) and add the L-brackets (Photo 7) to reinforce the handle. Finally, install the three tool rack slats (Photo 8).
Remove the wheels and apply a coat of high-quality exterior primer, followed by two coats of exterior paint. To keep your cart in good condition, store it inside; if it will be outside, flip it upside down on a couple of scrap 4x4s.