2017 May 16    ToolsMetal & Shop


Today we're going to mod one of these, a Milwaukee hand truck.  It's a useful tool as it is, but we're going to make it better.

The base plate on most hand trucks, including this one, is kind of small.  If you want to move a crate full of bricks or something, the crate will overhang the edges so much that it could fall off.  We're going to fix that.

For many welders, modding a hand truck or welding cart is their first "real" project.  It's fairly easy,  it doesn't require much metal,  and the end product is useful.

Now let's get to this fun and easy welding fab project.  (Metalworking, painting, and similar tasks can be dangerous;  Disclaimer.)

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In This Article

1.  The Angle Iron

2.  Preparing the Steel Plate

3.  Welding

4.  Post-Weld

5.  Painting

6.  Metal Shop Phase, Complete!


1.  The Angle Iron

Most hand trucks have sort of an open-backed frame.  That frame has a curved cross-section when you look down from above.  It doesn't offer any support to a flat-sided object like a crate;  instead it acts like so much empty space.

Solution?  You could put a piece of angle iron across it. 

I think the scrap piece I used was 1" x 1" x 1/8".  (Have to measure it again).  Just pick something that looks right with the rest of the hand truck. 

The first tricky part of this step was to cope the angle iron so it would fit to the round uprights.  This can be done with an angle grinder;  just be careful not to remove too much material.

When you've got the ends coped, set the angle iron where you'll want it to be.  If you know the height of the crate you'll build, place it where it'll be about an inch below the top edge of the crate.  Then you can use bolts to anchor the crate there.  Bolts will also go through the underside of the crate (through the base plate).

Mark where the ends meet the painted uprights of the hand truck.  This is where you'll grind away paint for the welds.  It's usually better to remove paint than try to weld through it.

If you're going to drill holes in the angle iron for bolts or whatever, do this before you weld it on.  The ubiquitous, low-priced Chief L4 and Littlestown 112 vises work very well here, if you can keep the metal turnings out of the main screw.  These things must have been the most popular vises in America at one time, based on how many of these I've seen around.

Clean up the angle iron with a flap disc before you weld it in place.


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2:  Steel Plate Preparation

First, get a piece of 1/8" steel plate.  I think I settled on 19" x 11" 16 1/4" x 10".  (The wooden crate was about 19" x 11", not the plate).  Whatever you decide, measure it out and try to cut perfectly straight lines. 

The angle grinder was pure fail for this.  No matter what I tried, I could NOT get a straight line with it: 

Long story short, you need the proper tool.  Get a metal-cutting circular saw like this one or this one.  If you want professional-looking builds, there are many situations where an angle grinder is not good enough. 

At first you may not think you'll use this very often, but when you need it, you'll be very glad you have it.  It works with a straightedge guide, just like a regular circular saw.  The main challenge is to use a thin enough guide and low-enough-profile clamps.  You have to find something that won't block the motor as you cut along the straightedge. 

But yeah, get one of these saws, and don't forget the batteries and charger.

After you cut the steel plate to size, figure out which will be the front two corners.  Cut those off at 45 degree angles, so the base plate doesn't have sharp corners.  You could do this step after the plate is welded on, which is what I did... just don't mess up.

Let's not forget the grinding and de-burring.  I used a 60 grit flap disc on the angle grinder.  This will remove paint where you're going to weld, and it will also deburr edges quickly.  Actually it will remove quite a bit of material if you're not careful.

Many welders keep a spare angle grinder with a flap disc always attached to it.  This is smart;  then you won't waste all your time constantly changing wheels.


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3:  Welding

Before you weld, protect the tires with something.  Suede or leather work OK.  I used old work gloves, but a couple welding blankets would be better. 

Also make sure the hand truck is clamped solidly to your work table.

The angle-iron weld was fairly easy.  For a weld like this, you could use either 3/32" or 1/16" 7018;  I used the 1/16" to weld the angle iron.

I tack-welded each corner, then did the welds full-length.  For these short spans, there was no problem with warping.  This is far from being a great weld, but for this purpose it'll be OK.

Next is the steel plate.  It has to be clamped securely in at least three or four places.  I like Chinese C-clamps just fine, but there's a lot to be said for the vintage USA ones.  They add character to a grimy old metal shop. 

OK, all clamped up?  Welding blankets over those tires?  Time for the welds.  Here I used 3/32" 7018 with the Easy Weld cranked all the way up.

The biggest challenge here:  thin plate warps VERY easily when you weld it.  This is why professional welding tables are topped with one-inch-thick steel.  Some of them, two-inch steel, and you need a crane to move them.  But with thin steel, clamping really helps. 

Short welds do a lot to prevent warping.  Basically you make tack welds on opposite sides and corners.  Then you go back and weld a bit longer;  keep alternating.  Take it easy, though.  What seems like a short weld could still be long enough to warp the metal.  But then again, my welds were not really that short.

This is not a super high-stress part anyway;  you really don't need welds more than about half inch long.  I just welded longer because this is so easy to use.  And fun. 

This weld is waaaay longer than it needs to be.  Actually I think this was two or three welds in a row.  I see what looks like undercut in one place, but if you saw my earliest welds... let's just say this is a huge improvement.  Always trying to improve!


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4.  Post-Weld

Make sure the welds are good & solid and you didn't warp the steel plate into a bowl!  Then, clean up any weld slag with the chipping hammer and a wire brush.  Next, get the angle grinder with the flap disc.  Use it to remove the smaller beads of weld spatter.  A hammer and a sharp cold chisel is what I used for the bigger ones.

There are a couple things left to do before painting.  First, you might as well drill the bolt holes in the plate now.  At this point it really helps if you've decided the dimensions of your crate, and where you can put bolts through it.  On your newly-extended base plate, mark out the positions of the bolt holes.  I used a tape measure, a try square, and a pencil;  a smarter person would probably use a combination square and a soapstone pencil.  Also, use a center punch and a hammer to mark where to drill.  Centerpunching helps keep the drill bit from walking.

I used a 1/4" drill bit and some gear oil, going slowly.  On the part where the plates overlap, you're drilling through a total of 1/4" of steel.  That's not too difficult, but cobalt bits are still a good idea.  Get a set if you're doing much metalworking.

The bolts for this were going to be 1/4-20 machine screws, so larger holes weren't necessary.  Whatever size you choose, be sure to clean out the metal turnings and deburr the holes.  A small piece of coarse sandpaper works OK for this.


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5.  Painting

Make sure you de-grease the metal before you paint it (respirator with GME-P100's for both steps.)  Chlorine-free brake cleaner works great.  Xylene or acetone work great (acetone attacks a lot of plastics, so watch it).  Mineral spirits is an OK option, too. 

None of the "green" products is really that good for this.  If not rinsed off completely, they can leave residue.  They can also rust the metal sometimes.  Many of them also pose a MUCH greater acute lung hazard than VOC fumes (no, it won't say that on the label...).  And besides, water-based degreasers take a while to dry. 

Use something that evaporates quick and leaves no residue, and you can be painting five minutes later. 

Make sure you cover the tires with plastic bags and blue tape before you paint.  Then, pick your favorite rattle-can paint and have at it.  I would suggest a layer of primer first;  after it semi-dries for about twenty minutes, spray the top coat.  (If it's hot out, top-coat as soon as five minutes later.)  Rust Oleum Sunrise Red seemed like the closest shade to what was already on there.

Important painting tip:  don't let the base coat dry too much, unless you are willing to let it cure for a couple weeks.  Otherwise, for some reason the top coat will never dry right.  Best results:  spray the top coat on there ten to twenty minutes after the primer coat.

It takes a lot of practice to rattle-can-paint something without drips.  Minimize your dwell time;  don't spray it on too thick in any one place.  Practice on some scrap metal before you paint up your first fab project! 

The underside of the toe plate is going to get scuffed up a little from use.  Not much you can do about that.  But if you don't let the paint cure, even a small pebble will take big swaths out of your nice paint job.  For true paint curing, think in terms of weeks or months.  Direct sunlight greatly speeds up the process.


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Metal Shop Phase, Complete!

We still have the
woodshop phase ahead of us, so it's not really done yet.  That said, you could use it to haul milk crates or something.

Either way, it's a good idea to seal those tires.  Hand truck tires like to lose air.  Do yourself a favor right now and order some of this.  You could install it before or after the plywood crate build.  But whatever you do, don't forget this step. 

When hand-truck tires go flat, the beads seem to break easily.  It can be a real hassle to get them seated back on the rims.  (Been there, done that.)  Use the sealant, be sure to use plenty of it, and save yourself a lot of work.


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This was the first phase of the "Milwaukee Hand Truck Upgrade" project.  Basically, we put an oversized toe-plate on the hand truck.  I've found this to be a useful upgrade.  It's even more useful if you're planning to bolt a big wooden crate to it. 

If you're ready to try this project, get a Milwaukee hand truck and have at it.  They're well-built, made in USA.  I also recommend this welder if you have a 20-amp circuit and you feel confident enough with it to weld your first "real" project.  Some people claim it only works with 6013 electrodes, but I also found it to work great with 3/32" 7018AC's.

The mods we did here add to the weight, but they make the hand truck better for carrying heavy crates.  If you work with steel, cast iron, stones, bricks, or anything else that's heavy, this type of mod can be of great benefit. 

Besides, hand truck mods are a great way to practice welding and painting skills.

If you found this article helpful, please help me out by using the links on here to purchase your tools and anything else.   Your support is greatly appreciated and is the only way I can keep this website on-line and adding helpful articles to it.


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Part 2:  The Plywood Crate

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