If you enjoy gardening but not making
multiple trips to collect tools, fertilizer, flats of
plants, mulch, a garden hose and a weed bucket, you'll love
this simple cart. It's lightweight and easy to maneuver, but it
works like a heavyweight. It's solid enough to carry a heavy load
of soil and plants and a bunch of gardening tools to boot. It's designed
so the weight will balance nicely over the axle, not on your arms. And the
large wheels allow you to easily roll loads across bumpy lawns and up and
down slopes with minimal effort.
We designed this cart to look just as good 20 years from now. It's made from white ash,
a tough hardwood traditionally used for garden tool handles, boats and furniture. For extra
strength and longevity, we assembled it with half-lap joints, screws and exterior glue.
In this article, we'll walk you through the cart assembly step by step. As you'll see, several
joints require accurate detail work and patience. However, we'll show you how to build
a router jig to simplify the notching process. The rest is straightforward: You simply cut,
glue and screw the pieces together.
You'll need a miter saw, a circular saw, a drill and a router for this project. We recommend
a table saw as well, although you can build the cart without one. Once you have all
the materials on hand, allow two to three full days to assemble the cart.
Gather the materials
Look for ash at any hardwood supplier.
However, other species—white oak,
elm, Douglas fir, or even pine or cedar—
work well too if you can't find ash. No
matter which you choose, stick with
knot-free wood for the best results. Ash
and other hardwoods usually come in
random widths, so we ripped it all to
size before we started. (See Cutting List
and Figure B in Additional Information below.) But don't worry if you
don't have a table saw; most suppliers
will cut the wood for you for a small
charge. Or they'll refer you to someone who can. (Some mail order suppliers will also cut specified sizes for you.) We
list exact sizes in the Materials List, but
unless you buy the wood already ripped
and planed to size (S4S), add about 30
percent extra to account for waste.
Cut the lap joints
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Photo 1: Router jig
Cut all the cart parts to the exact dimensions and assemble the router jig
as shown in Figure A. Align the jig guide for 1-1/2-in. half-laps, clamp the
bases and handles in place and cut the half-laps. Reset the guide for the 2-1/2-in.-wide half-laps and rout the leg joints.
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Figure A: Router Jig
Set the ash handle between the two pieces of 2x2, then rout the half-lap cutouts using the router guide.
Cutting accurate half-lap joints is the
trickiest part of this project. Figure A
and Photo 1 illustrate the jig we devised
to make precise cuts with a router. But if
you own or have access to a table saw
with a dado blade, you can get equally
good results much faster. If you have a
steady hand, you can also cut the laps
with a circular saw and sharp chisel. But
don't expect the half-laps to be quite as
tight. Whichever method you use,
cut a pair of test pieces first to check the
accuracy of the jig and the depth of the
Setting up a half-lap
Assemble the jig by first screwing down
two lengths of 2x2 (1-1/2 in. x 1-1/2 in.)
at a right angle (90 degrees) to each
other in one corner of the worktable
(Photo 1). This forms a squaring template,
which you'll also use later for
assembling the cart sides (Photo 4).
These pieces should be at least 2 ft. long
and 1-1/2 in. thick, the same thickness
as the ash handles and legs. Make the
router guide portion of the jig from 2x2s
and 1x3s (Figure A). Keep all pieces at
right angles to each other. The router
base glides against the two parallel 1x3s.
Screw one into position and temporarily
clamp the other while you test joint
widths. The temporary piece will be
screwed down in two positions, one for
a 2-1/2-in. lap and the other for a 1-1/2-in. lap. The 2x2 fence screwed to the
table secures the handle and leg and
also provides an entry point for the
router bit. Test and tinker with the setup
until you get accurate cuts.
To cut the half-lap joints with the
router jig, you place the ash tight against
the squaring template, then lock it into
place with the 2x2 fence screwed to the worktable. Make the 1-1/2 in. wide x
3/4-in. half-lap cutouts in the handles
(A) and bases (B) first (Figure C), sliding
the router guide to the proper position
and screwing it into place. Clamp
the workpiece down—the router will
push it out of position otherwise.
We used a sharp, carbide-tipped 1/2-
in.-straight bit in our router, but smaller
diameter straight bits will also work.
In any case, make the cutouts in two
passes (3/8 in. deep, then 3/4 in.), and
take your time. If you try to remove too
much material too quickly, the router
may kick back.
Once you find the exact 3/4-in.
depth on your test piece, use this piece
to set the depth of the router for subsequent
cuts (unless your router has a
After the 2x3 pieces are done, reset
the guide and cut the 2-1/2 in. wide x
3/4-in. half-laps on the front and rear
legs (C and D) as shown in Figure C.
Figure B: Wooden cart exploded diagram
Figure B: Wooden Cart Exploded Diagram
Assemble the framework, then add the slats and wheels.
Figure B is also available in pdf format in Additional Information below.
Figure C: Half-lap joints
Figure C: Half-Lap Joints
Use these templates as a guide for cutting the half-lap joints.
Shape the handles and construct the frame
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Photo 2: Cut the handles
Cut the grips on the bottom edge of each handle
with a circular saw (half-laps on the handles face
inside). Then finish the cuts with a handsaw.
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Photo 3: Shape the handles
Round over the grip edges with a 1/2-in.-diameter
round-over bit. Support the router base on the
other handle while cutting.
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Photo 4: Assemble the sides
Spread glue on the half-lap joints and clamp the
cart side parts into the 90-degree corner of the jig.
Predrill and drive a pair of screws into each joint.
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Photo 5: Add the ledges
Attach a bottom ledge (G) to the inside of each base
(B) with glue and screws. Tighten the screws at the
ends by hand to avoid splitting the end of the ledge.
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Photo 6: Join the side frames
Set the two sides upright on a workbench and
space them with cross supports at the base and
temporary spacers. Then square and clamp them.
Predrill, glue and screw on the cross supports (H).
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Photo 7: Add bottom slats
Turn the cart on its side and screw the rear cross
brace (E) to the legs. Then predrill, glue and screw
on the bottom slats (J) from the bottom side. Use spacers
and clamps to hold the slats in place.
To make comfortable hand grips, trim
and round the end of each handle (Photos
2 and 3). After you round over the
edges, clean up any saw kerfs and burn
marks and soften any sharp edges with
Dry-fit all the side parts first to make
sure everything fits properly, and use
your jig to keep the framework square as
you assemble it (Photo 4). Resist the
temptation to drive screws without
predrilling. The ash will split. Use a No.
7 size countersink bit for the No. 7
screws. Make the final few turns with a
screwdriver if necessary to avoid driving
them in too far. If you do accidentally
split the wood, squirt glue into the crack,
back the screw out until the crack closes
up, and clamp it tightly shut. When the
glue dries, redrill the hole with a slightly
larger bit so the screw won't force the
Attach the bottom ledges (G) with
glue and 2-in. screws, lining the ledge up
with the bottom of the base (Photo 5).
Be sure to leave a 13/16-in.gap between
the ledge and the leg (C) to accommodate
the rear cross brace (E). Cut out a
3/4-in. x 1-1/2-in. notch at each end of
the rear cross brace (E) to fit around
the bases (B) so its top edge is flush with
the top of the bottom ledges. Then set
the two cart sides upright on the table
and screw on the cross supports (H; see
Photo 6) and the rear cross brace
(Photo 7). Clamp the temporary supports on the top to help keep the whole
assembly stable and square. You don't
have to stop to let the glue dry; the
screws will hold the joints rigid while
you continue working.
We positioned the bottom slats (J)
that form the bed of the cart lengthwise
and fastened them from underneath so
that big loads could slide in and out
smoothly. Space them evenly across the
bottom cross supports, using 7/16-in. spacers (Photo 7). The spacing won't be
exact; adjust it slightly for the last two
slats to make up differences.
Bracing strengthens the cart
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Photo 8: Add diagonal braces
Flip the cart upside down, clamp the diagonal
braces (F) into position at the front of the cart, and
mark the angle cut at the leg. Cut, then glue and screw
them to the top, base and leg with 1-5/8-in. screws.
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Photo 9: Add side rails
Position the side rails (K) and screw them to the
rear legs (C) and diagonal braces (F). Cut the front
rail (L) to fit between the side rails and screw it to the
front legs. Then screw the side rails to the front rail.
The diagonal braces (F) help keep the
cart square and rigid. Cut the braces to
length and glue and screw them to the
frame and legs (Photo 8). Bevel the
front edges slightly to soften them. And
round over the bottom edges of the legs
with the sander to eliminate sharp corners
that might catch and splinter.
Mount the side rails (K) before cutting
the front rail (L) to length to make
sure it spaces the side rails perfectly flush
with the outer edge of the front legs
(Photo 9). Predrill the screw hole
through the back leg accurately so that
it catches the center of the side rail. Fasten
it with a 2-1/2-in. screw (Photo 9). Fasten the front rail to each front leg
with a single screw. Then screw the side
rails to the front rail. Predrill with a
larger (No. 9) countersink bit so the
fragile end grain won't split. Use glue
and 1-1/4-in. screws. Hand-tighten the
screws to avoid overdriving them.
Install the hinged top
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Photo 10: Attach top ledges
Glue and screw the top ledges (M) to the handles
with 2-in. screws. Attach the three fixed top
slats (N) from underneath with 1-1/4-in. screws.
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Photo 11: Build the hinged top
Assemble the hinged top slat section in the
squaring template to keep it square. Space the
slats (Q) 1/2 in. apart and drive 1-1/4-in. screws.
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Photo 12: Attach the hinges
Set the hinged section on the top ledge, space it
1/2 in. from the fixed slats, and attach the hinges
with 3/4-in. screws. Leave a 1/8-in. gap on each side.
Attach the two ledges (M) with glue
and five 2-in. screws each, then attach
the three fixed slats (Photo 10).
Assemble the hinged top against the
square jig on the worktable, again driving
the screws in from underneath to
keep them hidden (Photo 11). Let the
glue set for an hour before installing
this top, to keep it perfectly square.
Then fasten it to the top slat with
hinges (Photo 12). Leave clearance on
both sides so it won't rub against the
handles when you open it.
Finally, screw the top rail (R) across
the tops of the front legs. Predrill to
avoid hitting the screws that hold the
half-lap joint together.
Install the axle and wheels
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Photo 13: Screw on axle supports
Attach the axle supports (S) with glue and four
2-1/2-in. screws. Drill 9/16-in. axle holes at the
center point on both sides.
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Photo 14: Mark the axle length
Push the rod through the axle supports and bolt
one wheel on, keeping the locknut flush with
the axle end. Slide the other wheel on, hold its locknut
in place and mark the threaded rod at the locknut.
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Photo 15: Cut the axle
Cut the threaded axle with a hacksaw. Then
unscrew the 1/2-in. inner nut to clean up the
cut threads. Retighten the inner nut, install the second
wheel and tighten down the outer locknut.
To mount the wheels, turn the cart
upside down on the worktable and
mount the axle supports (S; see Photo
13). If you have access to a drill press,
you could first drill 9/16-in. holes in
each axle support for the threaded rod
axle. If you have to use a hand drill, it's
easier to line up the hole with the axle
supports in place (Photo 13). Use a
9/16-in. bit to give yourself a little wiggle
room when you insert the 1/2-in.
threaded rod axle.
Now is the best time to apply an
exterior finish. Brush on a couple of
coats of an exterior penetrating oil. You'll want to
renew the finish after a few years.
Push the axle through the holes;
ream out the holes a bit with your drill
if the fit is too tight. To figure the exact
axle length, first mount one complete
wheel assembly, then mount the other
with the exception of the final locknut
(Photo 14). Then cut the axle to fit
(Photo 15). Dab a little varnish on the
cut end of the axle to prevent rusting,
then put the wheel on. The wheels
should spin freely; if not, back off the
locknut a quarter turn.