Can you believe it took until 3,500 B.C. for the wheel to be invented. And then it wasn’t until 200 AD that the wheelbarrow was invented. Since then, the wheelbarrow in many forms have aided construction of every type of building and the creation of many gardens, yards and landscaping. These days wheelbarrows are also used as planters.
You’d think a tub with a wheel, what we call a wheelbarrow would be a straightforward purchase. Well, it’s not. There are many different types of wheelbarrows. Yet, every person with a yard needs one of these super handy gardening tools. It’s applying the ancient invention of the wheel in its most basic form.
Table of Contents
- Handle Material
- Bucket Material
- Number of Wheels
- Cubic Feet
Frequently Asked Questions
- Who invented the wheelbarrow?
- When was the wheelbarrow invented?
- How many wheelbarrows are sold in the U.S. each year?
- What are the standard carrying capacities of wheelbarrows?
- How wide and long are typical wheelbarrows?
- Can wheelbarrows be recycled?
- Can used wheelbarrows be resold?
- Can you rent wheelbarrows?
- References and more information
Metal handles are incredibly secure and allow the wheelbarrow user to operate the wheelbarrow without any concerns over the safety of the load. These handles will not bend, break, or splinter. While they do tend to get very hot if the wheelbarrow is left in the sun for a long period of time, using gloves will minimize the discomfort that you feel when the handles get too warm. Metal handles are long-lasting and won’t get damaged, which means that you will have one less thing to worry about when using your wheelbarrow.
Source: Home Depot
Wooden handles are very popular on wheelbarrows and many people prefer them because they will not get hot in the sun the way that metal ones will. The downside of wooden handles is that they can sometimes get rough and cause splinters. These are incredibly painful and can really limit the person’s use of the wheelbarrow, even after they have been removed since they damage the hands. While wooden handles aren’t affected by the sun, they can get damaged if the wheelbarrow is left out in the rain. Not only are wet wood handles unpleasant to hold and to use but the wood can actually begin to rot away. This will lower the lifespan of your wheelbarrow as wooden handles are often the first thing to go on the wheelbarrow itself.
Plastic handles are generally only found on plastic wheelbarrows that have an ergonomic single handle. They create a cohesive look in the wheelbarrow due to the matching color and design but that color can quickly fade if the wheelbarrow is left out in the sun. Another danger of using a wheelbarrow with plastic handles is that the handles can crack or even shatter if the wheelbarrow is exposed to very cold temperatures. This makes using the wheelbarrow in the late fall or winter a little tricky as a heavy load combined with cold temperatures is a recipe for disaster. Unfortunately, once plastic handles break or crack, the whole wheelbarrow usually needs to be replaced as the handles alone can’t just be replaced.
Steel wheelbarrows are very common and easy to find in stores. They can handle everything from light loads of sawdust or leaves to heavy piles of bricks without bending or cracking. Unfortunately, they are very heavy and can be difficult to control and to maneuver when they are full. Another problem with steel wheelbarrows is that they will rust if they are left out in the rain. Any time that the wheelbarrow starts to rust, it will create a weak point in the bucket; over time, this weak point will break. When this happens, it will be time to buy a new one so it’s important to always store a steel wheelbarrow in a covered area.
Wood wheelbarrows are not nearly as common as steel or plastic ones. They are very heavy when they get wet, are prone to rot, and can cause splinters. Although they will not crack the way that plastic wheelbarrows will or rust the way that steel ones tend to do, they are difficult to keep looking their best and will mold easily. Moss will grow on these wheelbarrows if they are not kept dry so they need to be stored in a covered area whenever they are not in use. It is most common to find wood wheelbarrows that are decorative or to be used for planters for these reasons.
Plastic wheelbarrows are going to be much less expensive than their metal or steel counterparts and also weigh a lot less. This makes them ideal for the gardener who is on a tight budget or is worried about if he or she will be able to handle a metal wheelbarrow, especially when it is full. One of the downsides of plastic wheelbarrows is that very heavy loads can cause the bucket to crack. When this happens, it is only a matter of time before the crack gets so large that the wheelbarrow is unusable. Another fear with plastic wheelbarrows is that the extreme cold can cause them to crack while leaving them in the hot sun can make the plastic lose some of its strength. Plastic won’t rust when left in the rain, however, making it a great choice for users who don’t have a lot of covered storage space.
While not nearly as popular as other bucket materials, there are canvas wheelbarrows that you can buy. These are generally great for people who don’t have a lot of storage space for their wheelbarrows as they can be folded up to be stored. While canvas buckets can’t hold the higher weights that steel or even some plastic wheelbarrows can, they are often rated up to around 200 pounds. They are incredibly lightweight and easy to use, making them ideal for people who struggle with the heavier traditional wheelbarrows. In addition, the canvas bucket will keep the load perfectly centered so that you will have an easier time moving it. Unlike traditional wheelbarrows with fixed buckets, the canvas bucket allows movement of the load and it will settle into the optimal position for moving.
Not all wheelbarrows have to be used to move items in the garden. Some are perfect for planting flowers and look great in all kinds of homes, especially in a more country setting. These wheelbarrows are generally much smaller than full-sized traditional wheelbarrows but have been built to last so that they won’t be damaged when left out in the elements. They are usually made of wood as this will allow excess water to drain out of the planter and will keep the plants from drowning. If you do find one made of metal or even plastic, then you will have to make sure that there are drainage holes in the bottom of the bucket or your plants will drown in a hard rain. It’s also a good idea to make sure that your planter wheelbarrow has been sealed so that you don’t need to worry about it rotting.
While not nearly as common as traditional wheelbarrows, ones that will lay flat on the ground make it very easy to move items from one location to another without having to lift them to put them in the wheelbarrow. These are incredibly easy to use; simply place the handles down on the ground and then rake items such as branches, leaves, or rocks onto the canvas. When the handles are lifted again, the bucket will reform with all of the load securely inside.
Source: Home Depot
Being able to fold your wheelbarrow when it comes time to store it ensures that you’ll easily be able to find space for it in your garage, under your carport, or in your storage building. Unlike traditional wheelbarrows that are very bulky and can be difficult to store, foldable options are easy to fold up into a much smaller item. These take up less space and are generally also much lighter and easier to move.
Stainless Steel Peg Rests
Every time you set your wheelbarrow down, it will rest on peg rests. While these can come in wood, the best ones will be stainless steel. Not only will stainless steel not crack or be affected by bugs but it is much stronger than wood. This means that it won’t warp or bend even under heavy loads.
Source: Home Depot
While steel handles are the strongest ones that you can buy on a wheelbarrow, they’re not terribly comfortable to use, especially in the middle of the summer. If you want a wheelbarrow that will stand up to all kinds of use but are worried about whether or not you will be able to control it and comfortably hold on to the handles, then it’s a good idea to find one that has non-slip handles. Not only do these handles make it much easier to control the wheelbarrow but they are more comfortable to use as well. These handles are especially helpful if your hands get wet while you are working as you won’t have to worry about accidentally dropping the wheelbarrow if it were to slip.
Heavy-duty wheelbarrows are built to stand to up heavy loads and lots of work without cracking, breaking, or having problems with either the wheels or the handles. While they can easily be bought and then used by an individual who needs a wheelbarrow for home use, they are mostly used by professionals who need them for commercial gardening projects. They are very easy to use and often ergonomically designed to remove any stress on the person using the wheelbarrow but tend to be heavier since they are going to be made of strong and heavy-duty materials. Look for one that has handles that are easy to grip and a very secure wheel so that you can easily move heavy loads of brick, rock, and gravel. The steel frame on these wheelbarrows won’t bend or dent, ensuring that you have an easy time no matter what you’re moving.
While heavy-duty wheelbarrows are great if you are tackling large jobs, they’re only useful if you are strong enough to easily move the wheelbarrow and all of the contents. If you struggle with moving heavy items, then you may be much better off with a lightweight wheelbarrow. While they will still be rather heavy when they are full, they are generally much easier to move. This is especially important if you need to be able to maneuver the wheelbarrow in between plants in the garden as a heavy-duty one tends to be harder to steer. Additionally, these lighter wheelbarrows are a better option for families, especially if the desire is to get all of the kids involved in gardening as well as they will be able to push and pull their wheelbarrows with less effort.
These handles are closed or a single bar that makes it a lot easier to move the wheelbarrow from one place to another. This makes it very easy for most users, even the elderly or younger teens, to use the wheelbarrow without having to exert a lot of effort. The trade-off is that they are not as easy to maneuver or to tip and it can be very difficult to dump out the thing that you are hauling. Ergonomic handles are perfect for people who don’t have a lot of hand strength or simply need to be able to haul things in a straight line without worrying about carefully moving through a garden without damaging plants
Traditionally, wheelbarrows have two handles that stick straight out towards the user and make it very easy to move the wheelbarrow. If maneuverability is important to you, then you will definitely want a wheelbarrow with traditional handles as they make it easy to dump, flip, tilt, and turn the wheelbarrow. The trade-off is that users have to be stronger to be able to easily use this type of wheelbarrow. Without a lot of hand strength, it’s easy for the wheelbarrow to get out of control and to tip over accidentally when you only meant to dump out a small amount of what you were moving. People who have narrow shoulders or who are more petite tend to struggle with traditional handles and will benefit from ergonomic ones instead.
Source: Home Depot
If you want to be able to have more control over your wheelbarrow and want to ensure that it’s easier and smoother to use this piece of equipment, then you will want pneumatic tires. These have an inner tube that gets pumped up similarly to the tire on a bike. Due to the design of these wheels, they will act more as a shock absorber and make it easier to control and to move the wheelbarrow. Unfortunately, this inner tube can easily pop if you take the wheelbarrow on very rough ground. This type of tire also needs to be pumped back up on a regular basis to ensure that you will not be stuck with a flat tire. While this doesn’t take a lot of work to do, it is an extra maintenance step that takes time away from gardening and can be easy to forget.
Source: Home Depot
These tires are solid rubber and won’t ever go flat or accidentally pop while you are out working. The problem with these tires is that they do not offer as smooth as a motion as pneumatic ones do and can make it more difficult to maneuver the wheelbarrow. Nevertheless, they’re ideal for the user who doesn’t want to have to worry about keeping the tires pumped up or uses the wheelbarrow on ground that may cause a puncture in pneumatic tires. These are also commonly called “flat-free tires.”
Number of Wheels
Source: Home Depot
Most people think of a traditional wheelbarrow as having one wheel right in the middle and front. This is a tripod design that makes it very easy to dump what you have in the bucket of the wheelbarrow as well as to maneuver it around in a garden without running over any plants. Unfortunately, when you only have one wheel, then you need to be stronger in order to maneuver the wheelbarrow and keep it from accidentally tipping over while you are moving it. It can be very difficult to move heavy items such as firewood and it is very easy for the wheelbarrow to become off balance and tip over.
While not as popular as wheelbarrows that only have one wheel, wheelbarrows with two wheels are becoming more and more common as people realize that they are generally a little easier to use. The second wheel adds a lot of stability to the wheelbarrow, making it ideal for someone who may have problems handling a wheelbarrow and keeping it from tipping over. There is a sacrifice to enjoying this ease of use and this is that the second wheel makes it much more difficult to maneuver the wheelbarrow through the garden or in tight spots. Unlike a wheelbarrow with just one wheel that can pivot and turn in place, turning the two-wheeled wheelbarrow takes a lot more room and effort. They also do not work very well on hills and are best suited to only be used on flat ground.
Up to Five
Source: Home Depot
It can be rather difficult to find wheelbarrows that are smaller than five cubic feet. Generally, these are going to be sized either for children or be more of a lawn cart-style wheelbarrow. They are great for getting kids out in the yard helping with yard work, however, and can be used to carry most items that larger wheelbarrows can, just in smaller quantities. These smaller wheelbarrows are much easier to store, although you do have to take the same precautions with them as you do their larger counterparts as they will just as easily become damaged by exposure to the elements. Unless you buy a lawn cart that is designed for adults, they can be much too small for an adult to be able to move and use easily but do have their place and their use in a family with younger children who want to help outside. Keeping them loaded with lighter items is key so that they don’t accidentally tip over while in use. Another reason to opt for this smaller wheelbarrow is if you are very petite, have problems lifting heavy items, and only need to be able to move a few things at a time.
Five to Eight
Source: Home Depot
Most wheelbarrows fall in this size range, with many of them six cubic feet. This makes this size the easiest to buy either in stores or online and generally the most useful. They are large enough to handle moving plants, dirt, rock, and other items but still small enough that they can easily be maneuvered without a lot of effort. Make sure that when you are looking for a wheelbarrow in this size range, it has strong enough handles to support all of the weight that you are moving as well as a wheel that has been firmly attached. It’s common to find both single- and double-wheeled wheelbarrows that are this size and you can easily buy ones that are made of steel or plastic.
Eight and up
Source: Home Depot
Larger wheelbarrows are, unfortunately, a little bit trickier to store but they have many uses that smaller ones do not. Unlike significantly smaller wheelbarrows, these larger ones can cut down the amount of trips that you will need to take from one part of your yard to another when moving yard trash or building supplies and are generally stronger and can handle heavier materials and items. The downside to these larger wheelbarrows is that they are significantly larger and therefore harder to maneuver due to their bulk. For many people, especially those who are strong enough to handle these larger wheelbarrows, that’s a trade-off that they’re willing to make as a larger wheelbarrow can make the work go by more quickly and make it significantly easier to move your materials. Make sure that the handles are securely attached so you don’t have to worry about them being damaged or compromised when moving particularly heavy loads.
Frequently Asked Questions
Below are answers to common questions about wheelbarrows.
Who invented the wheelbarrow?
About half a millennium ago, “modern” physics codified ancient physics by recognizing the wheelbarrow as a compound machine that utilizes two of the six classic machines that provide mechanical advantage to multiply applied force to move objects. Physics explored by scientists in the time of the Renaissance were based on Archimedes’ description of simple machines utilized for military applications some 2250 years ago. Strangely enough, the device recognized as an early wheelbarrow emerged in the ancient world as a military transportation device.
Today’s word for a a human-powered moveable platform with a single wheel is derived from Old English “bearwe.” Think of the Modern English word “bear” which describes what happens when a burden is moved by a person. The “barrow” is the platform. The wheel was added to the platform by Zhuge Liang in China about 1800 years ago according to ancient writer Chen Shou, but art from tombs in Sichuan suggest wheelbarrows were already in use in China about a hundred years earlier. The technology with the modern wheel location was not in Europe for another 1000 years, about 1200 AD.
When was the wheelbarrow invented?
The idea of having a moveable platform capable of being carried to bear an item to another location is ancient. That burden-bearing device obviously predates the wheelbarrow. Actual documentation of the “first” wheeled use appears tied to the Chinese with formal documentation to 231 AD and extant artwork to a century earlier. The suggestion of use by ancient Greeks and Romans has not been proven, but researchers have suggested development some 200 to 400 years earlier, perhaps as early as 200 BC.
How many wheelbarrows are sold in the U.S. each year?
2,000,000 wheelbarrows are produced in the United States per year for the North American market. Based on 2003 guesstimates, about 75% are consumed by the U.S.
What are the standard carrying capacities of wheelbarrows?
Wheelbarrow capacity on average ranges from 2 to 6 cubic feet. That capacity is dependent on the depth, height, and width of the given wheelbarrow.
How wide and long are typical wheelbarrows?
Wheelbarrow sizing is dependent on application. Gardening, construction, farming, animal husbandry, multipurpose—each need requires a wheelbarrow-size that fits the job. The question about width and length are important, but application needs in terms of cubic feet needed for a particular application is first consideration. Wheelbarrows are most often chosen on the basis of two or three cubic foot models. The shape of the load may vary, dependent on the necessary fit of the unit to the job. Dimensions of a six cubic foot wheelbarrow may be 58 x 27 x 26 inches while specifications for a two cubic foot model may never even be part of specifications listed.
Can wheelbarrows be recycled?
This question is not simple. Wheelbarrows can be constructed out of a variety of materials, ranging from plastic to wood to metal. They may be constructed with a single wheel or more than one wheel. They may be maintained (e.g., tires replaced, handles replaced, etc.) or have no maintenance. They vary in size and purpose. They may have single users or multiple users, and users may not be in agreement concerning replacement. They may be repurposed for an application that does not tax their structures (e.g., planter, artwork, etc.).
Can used wheelbarrows be resold?
Value is determined by a given buyer. When a buyer perceives value in old equipment, there is potential for resale. Reselling awaits the “meeting of minds” of buyer and seller. The old adage, “Everyone has his price,” applies, since every vintage wheelbarrow has a value determining property transfer.
Can you rent wheelbarrows?
Wheelbarrows are readily rented in the U.S. Prices vary with location. A survey of rental prices across the nation suggest an average rental charge of $13 to $14 per day is typical in much of the country.
References and more information
- A Salute to the Wheel
- A wheelbarrow is a 2nd class lever
- At what point do you just let the wheelbarrow R.I.P.?
- Determining the value of a wheel-barrow ride
- Do You Know Who Really Invented the Wheelbarrow?
- How Many Wheelbarrows Are Sold in the U.S.?
- Where are 85 percent of the country’s wheelbarrows made?
- Wheelbarrows Sizing Guide
- Wheelbarrows Market Share, Size 2019.