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How do I make an 1860s wheel barrow?

Updated April 17, 2017

Wheelbarrows in the 1860s were of made wood with carriage-style spoked wheels. Wheels were either iron or wood rimmed with an iron band for durability. Hickory, oak and elm were used for wheels, ash for the frame, spruce or poplar for the bodywork. Bottoms were flat, and the flaring wood sides were removable. Removing the sides adapted the barrow to carry wide or unusually shaped loads. Alternatively, side extensions were available to increase body capacity for tall or precarious loads. These extensions also protected lightweight, loose loads -- for example, dead leaves -- that might otherwise blow off.

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  1. Make a cardboard template of the wheelbarrow handle. Ends should curve, then narrow to about 2.5 cm (1 inch) for a distance of 15 to 20 cm (6 to 8 inches), forming a handhold. Mark the handle shape on two 150 cm (60 inch) "one-by-twos."

  2. Cut the handles out with a jigsaw. File the corners and edges. Continue filing until the handle is a comfortable fit to your hand. Sand well.

  3. Lay these timbers on the ground, angled so that the handles are spaced comfortably for pushing -- about 60 cm (2 feet) apart -- and the other ends about 7.5 cm (3 inches) apart, or a little wider than the wheel thickness. Place wheel within them, checking fit.

Barrow body

  1. Lay the 40 cm (16 inch) boards across these timbers, slightly closer to the axle end than to the handles, forming the barrow bed. Screw down, checking that the boards and barrow sides will not foul the wheel.

  2. Cut a 15 degree slope from each end of the 60 cm (24 inch) and 70 cm (28 inch) boards, producing flared sides approximately 40 and 50 cm (16 and 20 inches) at the bottom. Round off the edges with a file, but keep the shape flat along the top to allow butting-up to the side extensions.

  3. Pre-drilling all holes first, screw the ends of the barrow to the bed, butting up against it. Screw the sides to the bed, resting on the bed and butting-up to the barrow ends. Screw the ends and sides together.

Wheel assembly

  1. Cut the axle to length -- about 15 to 20 cm (6 to 8 inches). Slide through the wheel. Secure it with wood pegs if using a dowel or broom stave, hex nuts if using a threaded metal rod, or follow the supplier's instructions.

  2. With the barrow upside down, place the axle assembly onto the frame with the wheel fitting within the frame. Make sure the wheel is straight.

  3. Secure the axle to the frame with pipe brackets. Use the two 75 cm (30 inch) "one-by-twos" to make legs supporting the rear of the barrow -- adjust their length to suit the height of the user. Screw the legs to the handle, frame and body, flush with the top of the body.

  4. Tip

    Experienced woodworkers may enjoy making their own wheel. Many Victorian barrows had arched sides. An attractive look, this means extension panels cannot be added -- choose the shape preferred. For the extension-sided option, cut four more boards to fit atop the body, with the same 15-degree angle. These can have arched tops. Screw together, reinforcing with metal corner brackets. Set on top of the barrow, and secure them with hooks or sliding bolts. For authentic removable sides, omit screwing the sides in Section 2; instead secure as above -- with bolts or hooks.

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Things You'll Need

  • 35 to 45 cm (14 to 18 inch) diameter wheel
  • 2 pieces 2.5 x 5 cm (1 x 2 inch) "one-by-two" treated timber, 1.5 m (60 inches) long
  • 5 pieces 2.5 x 10 cm (1 x 4 inch) "one-by-four" treated timber, 40 cm (16 inches) long
  • 2 treated 2.5 cm (1 inch) boards, 37.5 x 60 cm (15 x 24 inches)
  • 2 treated 2.5 cm (1 inch) boards 37.5 x 70 cm (15 x 28 inches)
  • 5 cm (2 inch) dowel, broom stave or threaded metal rod
  • 2 pieces 2.5 x 5 cm (1 x 2 inch) "one-by-two" treated timber, approximately 75 cm (30 inches) long
  • 6.2 cm (2 1/2 inch) brass or galvanised screws
  • Metal pipe brackets
  • Cardboard
  • Saw
  • Jigsaw
  • File
  • Sandpaper
  • Electric drill
  • Screwdriver

About the Author

Tamasin Wedgwood

Based in the Isle of Man, Tamasin Wedgwood has been writing on historical topics since 2007. Her articles have appeared in "The International Journal of Heritage Studies," "Museum and Society" and "Bobbin and Shuttle" magazine. She has a Master of Arts (Distinction) in museum studies from Leicester University.

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