Making A Wheelbarrow

When we moved into our current home the previous owner left behind an old wheelbarrow. When we first found out the owner accepted our offer for the house my wife was actually anxiously hoping that he left behind this wheelbarrow. She said it was perfect for planting flowers in and to put near a flower bed. Two years later and she hasn’t done anything with it. Neither have I.

The wheelbarrow has seen better days. It was obvious that the previous owner neglected it and so did we. It has been living at the end of our driveway near a couple of trees with the good side facing the road. Actually, the side facing the road is the only side it has.

One side of the wheelbarrow is missing. It rotted away and I don’t recall what happened to it. The left handle is also rotted pretty bad. The entire thing is really just one big gust of wind away from collapsing. Here’s a couple of shots showing what was left of it when I started.

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The first order of business was to knock off all of the dirt and junk so I could bring it in the shop and assess the damage. My original plan was to salvage the wheelbarrow and only rebuild a couple of parts as needed. This is when I realized there was no saving it. It was too far gone. Time to build a new one.

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The wood I chose to use is red oak. According to my research it’s not a good species in regards to rot resistance. But in this situation, the best wood to use is the wood that I have on hand. I knew I was going to apply a protective finish so using red oak didn’t bother me too much. And this is a batch of wood that’s been sitting around for too long.

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One of the reasons why this batch of wood has been sitting for so long is because it warped bad enough that I avoided it for most projects. For something like this that will require a lot of smaller pieces it’s not a bad choice though. To start I ripped some over-sized pieces at the bandsaw. When your material is warped it is generally better to do ripping operations at the bandsaw. Having material rocking back and forth as it goes through a table saw blade is a recipe for disaster.

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Because these were still warped quite a bit I chose to not use the jointer and went straight to the planer to skip plane one face. If I were to use the jointer I would have to remove way too much material to get the pieces flat.

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These were the pieces to make the handles. Just skip planing is OK in this situation as I knew I was going to clamp everything together with the bow of each board working against the next. After the glue set up these were pretty straight but still required the fill milling procedure.

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While the handles were in clamps drying I started gathering material for the bottom, side, and front panels.

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With my panel dimensions determined I started the milling process for the panels. Here you can see how warped my stock was. If you try to flatten boards like this with the jointer first you will end up removing a lot of material as the cup is much greater in wider pieces. The difference from the high spots to the low spots determines how much material needs to be removed in order for the piece to be flat. However, if you rip the board into multiple boards those resulting boards have a much smaller difference between the high and low spots which will result in a much greater material yield when jointed and planed.

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Now the jointer can be used to flatten one wide face and one edge.

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Followed by the planer to flatten the opposite wide face and reduce all pieces to a consistent thickness.

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The last step in the milling process is to rip the pieces to the final width at the table saw. I wasn’t shooting for a specific width here. I just wanted consistency with all pieces. It just happened to work out so that the final material width was perfect for the project.

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As day one was nearing an end my goal was to get all of the panels in clamps and let them sit overnight. This is a fairly long panel and due to the joints being perfectly straight I only needed two clamps to hold them together while the glue dried. When gluing panels together an even bead of glue squeeze out along the entire joint is ideal. This says that there is even clamping pressure and there is glue in the entire joint.

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While I was at it I chose to fill some defects in the bottom boards with epoxy. These will end up being horizontal in the final project so I don’t want to leave these defects open as it is an open invitation for water to pool and cause rot.

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Day two started with cleaning up all of the glued panels and epoxy overflow. I got the majority of the epoxy shaved off with a hand plane and then smoothed the rest with a card scraper.

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The glue joints are really easy to clean up. I started with a cabinet scraper to shave off the glue bubbles and then smoothed everything with a card scraper. It’s almost a shame that this panel will be covered in a solid stain shortly. Almost a shame….almost.

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After milling the handles to square on all four sides I laid out reference lines on both handles for the hand grab area. This gave me an opportunity to use my spoke shave for the first time. I received it as a gift a couple of months ago from Shawn Stone at Sone and Sons Workshop. Thanks again dude! The process is pretty simple. Turn the corners into chamfers and then blend the resulting edges.

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After the initial shaping I wasn’t too happy with the results. It was nice and round but a bit too thick visually. To fix this I used the bandsaw to remove about 1/8” material on the top and bottom side of both the shaped handle as well as the one I have yet to shape. Then I reshaped the first one and then shaped the second. The resulting handle was much more user-friendly as far as size and more visually appealing.

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With the handles complete I could start on attaching the bottom panels. Placement of the first panel is important here as it locks the handles in place. To make sure the handles would end up symmetrical and sticking out the same distance in the front I clamped two scrap blocks in between the handles to space them out appropriately. Then I could rack them front to back to make sure they were even. I placed marks at the same distance from the front and lined up the first piece with those marks. Once the interior angles were the same I knew the handles were symmetrical and I could secure the first board.

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For the rest of the boards I used a large nail to space them apart. Some may argue that gaps between the bottom boards are not what you want for a wheelbarrow but for this case it is what I wanted. We already have a utility wheelbarrow so this one is mainly for decoration, however, it can still be used if necessary. This only prevents the use of small stuff like sand. Even then you could put a tarp down first if you really needed to. I didn’t want water pooling in the wheelbarrow so that’s why I included the gaps. My wife will probably end up putting some plants in this next spring. Even if we don’t use pots and simply place the dirt in the wheelbarrow I don’t see a problem with dirt falling out.

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At this point I realized I could not salvage the hardware off of the old wheelbarrow. Some of the pieces were too far corroded and felt a little brittle for me to trust long-term. So instead of making the sides removable I changed course at this stage to make the sides fixed in place.

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I started with the front panel. With it standing on the edge of the front most bottom board I used gravity and a pipe clamp to temporarily hold it at an angle that looked appropriate. I have absolutely no clue what angle this is. I never measured any angles on this entire project.

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Because the front panel is angled I needed to cut a matching bevel on the two supports that will secure the front panel to the handles.

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I clamped the supports to the front panel and secured them to both the handles and the front panel. For all of the joints in this wheelbarrow I am using washer head screws. Because I’m using solid wood panels in a couple places I need to allow room for expansion and contraction of the panels or else they will split. For the areas like this where a solid panel is attached to a piece of wood with the grain in a perpendicular direction the washer head screw allows me to elongate the hole to allow the board to move a little more freely while still being secured.

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The joint between the front and the side panels is a compound angle. Sometimes I get confused when setting up for compound cuts so to make things a little more error proof I decided to make the compound cut via two processes. The first was to make the main angled cut with the miter saw. To setup the miter saw for the cut I used a t-bevel to transfer the angle. I did this on both side panels.

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Then the panel can be put in place and the compound angle scribed on the panel with a pencil. This basically tells me how much material I need to remove on the outside.

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The compound angle is nothing more than a slight chamfer along the end grain. A sharp low angle block plane does the job quickly and efficiently. This is a good example of how sometimes breaking down a single task into multiple processes can reduce the chance of error and also make the overall process easier.

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Once the compound faces were fitting properly I secured them to the front and bottom pieces with a few more washer head screws.

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Next up is the legs. Just like the front panel supports, these needed a bevel cut on the face touching the handles. This is because they will be secured to two items that go in two different directions.

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A horizontal stretcher connects the legs and a couple 45 degree braces stiffen the legs in the front to back direction.

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Unfortunately, the only piece from the original wheelbarrow that survived was the wheel. But man what a difference that wheel makes on the overall look of the build.

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Here is the completed construction. At this stage I still need to trim off the excess overhanging on the sides and then apply a finish.

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The entire wheelbarrow was then disassembled so that finish could be applied in between every joint. This will provide some extra protection to those hidden places in the even that water makes its way in an unsealed joint. My wife picked out a solid color stain made for decks. It has a 10 year protection rating for decks and a 25 year protection rating for vertical items like fences.

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Time will tell how long this one holds up. I think the solid stain color she chose was perfect and a fresh coat of black paint on the wheel adds a great visual contrast.

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9 Comments

  1. Tom

    Nice looking restoration, Jay. Those old metal parts were just waiting for you to come along and build them a new body.

  2. Ron

    Nice rebuild. I really enjoyed watching this one. This stirred up some good ole memories (48+ years ago) of when I was a kid of pushing my grandfather’s wheelbarrow around collecting corn off the stalks and other vegetables from his gardens. As I recall his smaller one was just like this one, except in much better shape and usable. I like how you brought it back to life to enjoy life in the “pasture.”

  3. Tommy Allen

    Jay when you made the front and side panels for the Wheel Barrow . Would using biscuits or dowels to make the panels less likely warp over time ? Either way Nice job .

  4. Keith

    I know I’m late to the party here but can you tell me what kind of epoxy you use for this kind of application and does it screw up your blades when you plane it ? Thanks.

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