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lifting large pieces

April 18, 2011 |
6 replies [Last post]
dee
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Joined: 2011-01-06

I'm getting started on the King sized storage bed, using 3/4" plywood, and I have been confronted with the fact that I am not a very strong lady.  The larger cuts of plywood are both heavy and awkward for me.  I'm working alone for the most part, so I need to find safe and effective ways of handling these.  I'm also concerned about moving the final product.  Maybe this is an argument for assembling in place.

Perhaps one day I'll be lifting thick plywood like it's styrofoam, but for the moment, I would really appreciate any tips you folks have for handling the larger and heavier pieces.

claydowling's picture
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Joined: 2011-01-26
Lifting large pieces

I have the upper body strength to muscle one of these up with brute force if I wanted too.  I don't do it though, because a solid sheet of 3/4" plywood is perfectly capable of destroying my back or wrists if handled improperly.

The good news is that it doesn't require a huge amount of upper body strength to do it, as long as you aren't trying to carry the sheet very far.  I spent twenty minutes trying to write a description of how I do it, and realized that I can't write it down so easily.

The basic principle is that you use your arms only to hold the sheet and manipulate the sheet.  Get the sheet vertical, with the long edge up, and close to your body.  One hand under it is sufficient, and a hand on top to steady it.  The actual force of lifting it comes from your legs, which are a lot stronger than your arms.  It doesn't actually take much more upper body strength than you'd need to carry an infant around, and less than a toddler.  Also, don't be afraid to use your feet to support something.  Good sturdy shoes or boots are an amazing woodworking tool.

The thing you're going to notice is that you'll get a lot stronger the more you are involved in woodworking.  While there's a fair bit of muscular development that occurs slowly (never the burn of a good workout), the biggest part of it is mental. Once your brain gets comfortable with the idea that you can left sheet goods, and your body develops the muscle memory, you'll be amazed what large things you can move.

If you want a good example, watch the cable show Sweat Equity some time. The host, Amy Mathews, isn't built like a body builder, but she doesn't have a problem hauling boxes of tile, toilets, or drywall around.  She's just confident in her body's ability to do what she asks of it, and she does it.

dee
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Joined: 2011-01-06
lifting large pieces

That's exactly what I needed to hear - thanks!  It seems almost silly now, but what a difference it made to change the way I was holding the sheet.  The biggest piece I had today was 24" X 80" and I had no problem at all moving it around when I took your advice, holding it close and vertically.  It'll take some getting used to, but I was impressed with how much lighter it seemed this way.  We'll see how I fare with a whole 4'X8' sheet - I think I'll need some practice, but it doesn't seem so insane now!

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Joined: 2010-09-05
Use physics :)

I seldom do a clean and jerk kind of lift on heavy things. It's all levers and physics.

Holding it vertical puts the center of gravity (where the weight appears to be) closer to you and it's easier to control. As it moves off the vertical, it gets apparently heavier and harder to control.

Another technique is to let the ground or the garage floor or the sawhorse or truck tailgate take part of the weight, while you lift part of it.

  • Tape some cardboard to the edge you will be abusing and "walk" it: Hold it vertical, and lift and advance one corner, then the next. I can move stone slabs that are heavier then me with this technique. Tilting it vertical is a bit of a trick, but the laws of physics mean that I'm only lifting half the weight of the stone.
  • Put it on a towel, if the floor is smooth, and slide it.
  • To put something onto a flat surface, such as a pair of sawhorses, lean the heavy thing on the edge (taking off some of the weight) and then lift the bottom and slide it on.
  • Lower heavy things off a flat surface the same way - slide it and lower it to the ground with the edge of the surface taking some of the weight.
  • Use wheeled hand trucks and mechanics creepers and roll things around.
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Joined: 2011-03-21
Also, using gloves when

Also, using gloves when moving large unsanded pieces and using my sawhorses/tables for leverage when lifting up also helps. With gloves, you can use your hands to move more easily along the edges when you need to move them without being afraid of tearing them up! And yes, you will get stronger and burn calories while doing all of this--it's a great workout.

claydowling's picture
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Joined: 2011-01-26
Gloves help

But don't get dependent on them.  And take them off the minute you're done moving materials.  My skin is very soft, but I almost never wear gloves. Gloves are extremely dangerous when working around machinery.  They can snag and turn what would have been a small injury, or even just a bit of a scare, into an amputation.

dee
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Joined: 2011-01-06
Thanks!

These tips are all super-useful!  I was setting up some large sheets on the workbench today, and the tilting/lever approach worked really well for me.  "Walking" large pieces along the floor was helpful, too. 

I haven't used gloves at this point but I can see how they'd be useful with rougher materials. 

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