2017 September 12     Metal & Shop  


In other articles we've looked at cheap vs. good lawn carts, and the prospect of building your own.

But what if you've already got a cheap cart that's in bad shape, and you don't want to throw it away?  Well, as long as it's not rusted out, there might be a fix.

This is a highly makeshift repair project, but maybe some of you will find it helpful or entertaining.  By no means does this pretend to be a "how to" on welding sheet metal, since my results were kind of awful.  But they did work, and the result is somewhat usable.  So there's that.

Was it worth all the work, though?  Let's find out.

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In This Article

The Cheap Cart... Again

The Sheet Metal

The Sort-Of Angle Iron Fix

Welding It Up


The Cheap Cart... Again

Cheap stuff made of metal presents a bit of a paradox.  It's supposed to be durable, and you don't want to throw away good metal.  But they made the darned thing so flimsy that it's difficult to repair.

I don't have a shop full of press brakes and other sheet-metal equipment.  So if something breaks, there's a good chance it's going to get arc-welded, hammered on, or both.

For a long time I left the cart sit there, because it had two or three problems.  Among other issues, the axle was supported by a preposterous hinge-like assembly made of sheet metal, and even this was bent.

In fact, the only reason I decided to save this cart (or try) was that it had a decent pair of flat-free tires.  (See this article for more about that project.)

The Sheet Metal

In the first cart-build article, I mentioned how the sheet metal would make a loud oilcanning sound.  And the hinge-like contraption seemed unfixable, now that it was bent and stuff.  But those wheels were kind of too nice to throw away.  How could I let them go to waste?

If you already can't fix something, there's not much to lose by trying the old standby.  "Kinetics".  And what do you know?  It worked.

After much pounding, the sheet metal was in usable shape. 

The Sort-Of Angle Iron Fix

When a cart decides to bend in improbable ways and you can't easily fix it, you just know that other stuff is going to get in on the act.

Such as: the angle iron you want to use is, itself, bent into improbable shapes.  Yes, the only piece in your scrap pile which would exactly fit the project... won't fit until you do a whole bunch of extra work.  Meaning, you can't just pick the thing up, tack it on there with a couple welds, and be done with the repair. (And you might notice it's the kind of "angle iron" that's not really angle iron; it's thin and full of holes, made for people who bolt stuff together instead of welding.)

No problem, though.  I knew that 1979 Taiwan Bench Vise Upgrade would eventually prove useful.  That little anvil reinforcement, which at the time may have seemed like a "why bother", was now 100% mission critical.  Know how you're not supposed to hammer on a vise anvil with a 3- or 4-lb mini sledge?  On steel that's not even heated?  Well this vise withstood it.

Here's the bent steel:

Here it is, fixed:

The anvil reinforcement was definitely helpful here.  I'm fairly certain the mini sledge would have cracked the cast iron otherwise;  without the mild steel overlay, it's hollow there and probably no more than 1/4" thick.

Anyway, now that this mission was accomplished, it was time to fit the sort-of angle iron to the lawn cart:

Angle grinders are low-cost, almost every shop has one, and they're easy to start using.  But be careful... an abrasive wheel that's spinning at 13,000 rpm is very dangerous.  It can fragment if you're not careful.  Wear that face shield.  Even better, wear safety glasses and a face shield.

OK, so now the angle iron is sort of fitted to the cart, and some lines are marked for taper cuts. Once those are cut, it's time to figure out where the cotter-pin holes are going to go.

First put the wheels on, then washers if you plan to use those.  Then, use an automatic center punch to mark the metal so the drill bit doesn't walk:

That's really the most tricky part: placing the cotter-pin holes properly. You want the wheels to fit on the axle ends, with a couple washers maybe, but not with a lot of wasted space.

Mild steel is not that difficult to drill if you have a good bit and don't overheat it.  I used 3/16" diameter for this.

Welding It Up

Before you embark on a project like this-- or a real project built with non-junk-- make sure you have a proper extension cord if you're using a 120-volt welder.  The difference in performance is like night and day.

OK, let's see here... a few tack-welds first:

Welding to an axle can be risky when it's alloy steel.  This axle was mild steel, so no problem.  That said, be careful you don't weld too much at any one time, because the welds can bend the axle as they cool.

Next, the axle-bracket-whatever goes in place:

So here I'm welding 14 or 16 gauge angle iron to... what is that, 22 gauge sheet metal?  Not exactly a prime substrate for arc welding: 

That first weld wasn't bad.  At first.  But even the 1/16" 7018 blasted through the metal in a lot of places.  6013 was a disaster.  22 gauge sheet metal is thinner than a canned potato chip, and about as fragile when you try to stick-weld it.

By the way, remember this blacksmithing article?  That solid punch was very handy for knocking a bent steel piece back into place so I could weld it again:

Lookit that cart.  Quality!

...there it is, almost done.

And the wheels are on it! 

Last step, spray down the metal with a can of this, because you know there's no way you're going to surface prep and spray-paint it tonight before the dew settles.  (And after you spray it with that, you're pretty much never going to be able to paint it.)  The idea here is to keep the thin metal from starting to rust at the spotty welds that already burned through the metal in about 99 places.  Because something tells me they wouldn't withstand rust too well.

It's the Miracle Cart:  a miracle that it holds together.  (You know not to try something like this on anything that goes on the road.  Had to say that, of course.)


So far, after a couple weeks more than a year, the cart hasn't fallen apart. 

Now, whether a row of tack welds to sheet metal can handle 500 pounds of rocks I don't know.  (You know I'm going to try it, though...)

This was a look at fixing up a semi-trashed lawn cart that wasn't really worth fixing.  Well, the addition of nice flat-free wheels did sort of make it worth fixing, because what else would I do with wheels that were made for only 5/8" axles?  No way was I going to throw those away, and no way was I going to build a whole new cart based on a 5/8" axle.

While somewhat fun (at times), this project was an extraordinary amount of work.  The entire thing could have been avoided by simply getting a better cart from the beginning.

The real problem with this cheap cart wasn't even so much the thin sheet metal;  it was the woefully-thin axle.  Choose a cart with at least a 3/4-inch axle instead.  This one from Agri-Fab is supposed to have a 1" axle, although it's also more expensive (about twice the price of the cheap one I have).  But the amount of work you save by getting the 1" axle should more than offset the price difference.

And then there's always the possibility of a custom cart build.

If you found this article to be helpful or entertaining, please help me by using the links to purchase any of your stuff, from tools to Triumph motorcycles.  The commissions don't add anything to your cost;  your kind support is the only way I can keep this website on-line.

Thanks for reading!


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