Wheelbarrow Facts and Uses

A parked wheelbarrow in the yard with garden tools in the basin.
A parked wheelbarrow in the yard with garden tools in the basin. (Image: Sally Wallis/iStock/Getty Images)

Through sweat and toil, humans built whole cities where none stood, but given the opportunity, people create inventions to make work a bit easier. One such invention is the wheelbarrow -- a simple machine designed to facilitate the movement of materials and reduce back strain. The wheelbarrow is an incredibly versatile tool and is as useful on a rural farm as it is in a city construction site.

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Different Designs

The first wheelbarrows, used many centuries ago, consisted of a large, wooden center wheel covered by a platform. At the back were two supporting legs, and the contraption was maneuvered with two wooden arms. Compared to that design, modern wheelbarrows have similarities and differences. Many still have one wheel, stabilizing legs and two front arms. Others have two front wheels or one wheel in the front and two in back. Most modern wheelbarrows feature a deep bucket with a large carrying capacity rather than a flat platform.

Materials for Moving

Gone are the days of the 100-percent wooden wheelbarrow. Most wheelbarrows have a sturdy, rubberized wheel and a metal frame. The handles may be wood, but they are sealed and often have rubber grip covers for comfort. The bucket of the wheelbarrow may be made from plastic or steel. There are even collapsible wheelbarrows, designed for space-saving and portability, with a sturdy canvas bucket.

Weight Limit

The amount a wheelbarrow can carry depends partly on its material and partly on the user's muscles. A light, collapsible wheelbarrow won't hold much -- up to 150 pounds. Heavier-duty wheelbarrows with a capacity of 6 or more cubic feet can have a load capacity of 500 to 600 pounds -- necessary for hauling heavy gardening materials such as topsoil and sand.

Motorized Machinery

You don't have to pant and sweat to get soil from the front garden to the back yard anymore. Some wheelbarrows do the work themselves. A motorized wheelbarrow has four wheels but still has two handles for steering. Its carrying capacity isn't necessarily any greater than that of a manually operated wheelbarrow.

A to B

The potential of a wheelbarrow is almost limitless because it is simply meant to help you transfer materials from point to point. Wheelbarrows are used by gardeners to move soil, sand and mulch. They are common fixtures on farms, where they are necessary to haul feed or animal waste. Contractors, roofers, tile layers and plumbers all use wheelbarrows to move materials at work sites. If you get tired of hauling, you can even park your wheelbarrow on the front lawn, fill it with soil and use it as a planter.

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