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Heavy Lifting

Updated: Dec. 16, 2019

Lift heavy stuff without breaking your back

hump strapsFamily Handyman
Whether you're moving a couch or a boulder, a heavy planter or a delicate glass mirror, these heavy-lifting tips will make the job easier and save wear and tear on your body.

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Use the muscles in your head, not in your back

Get adjustable moving straps

Moving and lifting straps (“hump straps”) make lifting heavy objects easier on your back by relying on stronger muscle groups like your legs and shoulders. They also leave your hands free to maneuver awkward items like mattresses. However, they can be tricky to use on stairs because the weight shifts completely to the downhill mover.

Look for moving straps that can be adjusted for different length objects as well as for different-sized movers. Be careful not to trip on any slack from the straps. Since these straps are rarely padded, they can leave your shoulders sore (but that’s better than your back!). The Forearm Forklift, Teamstrap Shoulder Dolly and others are available at home centers and online retailers.

Need to move a boulder? Or maybe wrestle a refrigerator down a flight of stairs? Brute strength may have served you well back in high school. But growing older means using your mind more than your muscles when it comes to moving heavy or awkward things. Otherwise, you risk wrecking your back, your house and the item you’re moving.

We asked veteran movers and our Field Editors for their top moving tips. Their brains can make your next move faster and easier, even if you don’t have the brawn of a high school he-man.

Take the back off a recliner

Look for locking levers

To move big recliners with ease, find the back brackets on the outside or inside of the back frame. Lift the locking levers on both sides (you may need to use long-nose pliers) and slide the back straight up to remove it from the recliner. Always lift a recliner from the sides, not by the back or footrest. Tie the footrest in place so it doesn’t spring open.

Be a sofa magician

Great goof

“I thought my large sofa could make it around the 90-degree angle of the basement stairs. Needless to say, I got the sofa wedged in the stairwell and had to climb under it just to escape. So I took out my trusty handsaw and sawed the thing in half! Once it was downstairs, I was able to quickly fasten it back together with some screws and scraps of wood. Because the rips in the fabric were at the back and bottom, nobody was the wiser.” – Chris Bannister

Take apart what you can

Remove legs and knobs

When you’re lugging a sofa through a doorway, remember: You can always make it a few inches smaller by removing the feet. The same principle applies to any piece of furniture you need to make sleeker or lighter: Take off any and all knobs, drawers, shelves, racks and legs.

Break heavy things into smaller pieces

Use a sledgehammer

Need to replace a cast iron tub or get rid of old radiators? Use your trusty sledgehammer to smash them into pieces.

Remove your door stop molding

Every inch helps

Sometimes, an extra 1/2 in. is all it takes to get through a doorway. If removing the door doesn’t open up enough space, pry off the door stop molding. That will give you another 3/4 in.

Ramp it up (and down)

Use simple machines

Use lumber, scaffold planks and blocks to create ramps to maneuver items.

“To load my wheeled generator into the back of my SUV, I built ramps using supported lengths of 2×6 and attached a come-along tool to the parking brake handle in the front seat. I was able to move the ratcheting lever with one hand and steer the generator up the ramps with the other.” – Jim Boyle

Carry mirrors and glass with suction cups

Great tool for glass

Available in single and double versions, these FastCap Handle on Demand suction cups can be attached to any nonporous surface. They’re not for unfinished wood surfaces. A single pad can support 100 lbs. and the double pad twice that.

Two ways to budge a boulder

Rolling stones

Bury it: Dig a slightly deeper hole next to it and roll it in.

Heat it: “When I was little, my father had to remove a large boulder about the size of a filing cabinet laid sideways. He cleared the grass from around it and built a fire all around it. After a few hours he put bags of ice on top of the boulder and it cracked into pieces.” – Marc M.

Dragging a heavy log…can be a drag

Great goof

“I was dragging a log with a four-wheeler. The log had a small branch sticking out, which caught a small standing tree. The tree broke off and hit me on the head, knocking me silly and flipping me off the four-wheeler. Nothing was hurt but my pride.” – David Green

Use rollers for big loads

Shed moving

“I moved a 10 x 10-ft. shed by myself recently. I put 2x4s down and used 10-ft. sections of PVC pipe to roll the sled into position.” – Karl Schroeder

Use plastic wrap, not tape, to secure items

Wrapping is safer

Secure appliance doors, cords, tubing and other items with plastic wrap or moving bands rather than bungee cords or tape, which can leave a residue or damage the finish.

Slippery pads really work

Reduce friction

You can buy furniture slides in many shapes and sizes at home centers and online retailers. Use hard plastic sliders for carpeting, and soft, carpeted sliders for hard flooring.

Lift plants the smart way

Great tool for big pots

PotLifter plant straps let you tote up to 200 lbs. without straining.

Use chains, not your back

Easy lifting

“I love my chain hoist (available from It lets me load just about anything into my pickup without breaking a sweat. Here’s how: I beefed up one of my garage roof trusses by screwing and gluing 3/4-in. plywood to both sides. Then I hung my chain hoist from the truss. Now I can lift any load a few feet off the floor, back my pickup in under it and lower the load into the bed.” – Gary Wentz

Buy moving blankets-don’t rent them

Inexpensive protection

Moving blankets are invaluable for protecting items as well as your house. Sure, renting them is cheap, but you can get one for just a few dollars more at home centers or and have it on hand. The blankets work great for sliding appliances and furniture over hard floors and hauling lumber home on your car roof.

Bring in the heavy lifting gear (and cut a hole in your house)

Great goof

“After measuring carefully, I thought I could get a fiberglass one-piece tub/shower up the steps into a remodeled bath. After an hour of scratching the hardwood steps, the walls and ceiling and destroying custom-fit curved crown molding, I realized it would not fit. Plan B: Cut a hole in the second-floor exterior wall (it was coming out anyway) and use the excavator’s backhoe as a crane and lift it to the second floor. Plan B took 15 minutes. It should have been Plan A.” – Brian Zoeller

Move it on ice

Granite installers’ trick

“We were setting granite stair treads, and moving them around was tough. We poured bagged ice on the ground, set the treads on top and moved them easily into place. When the ice melted, those treads were there forever.” – Jim Haglund

Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

  • 4-in-1 screwdriver
  • Circular saw
  • Cordless drill
  • Needle-nose pliers
  • Pry bar
  • Safety glasses
  • Sledgehammer
You’ll also need a come-along, glass suction cups, a chain hoist, plant straps, moving blankets and moving straps.

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here’s a list.

  • 2 x 4s
  • Furniture sliders
  • Ice cubes
  • Pipes (for rollers)
  • Planks and lumber for ramp
  • Plastic wrap