It rings like the beginning of a bad joke, but what do rope, pottery, stone monuments, sewing needles, oars, lacquer, weaving, a flute and the mortar and pestle have in common? They were all invented before the humble wheel. In fact, the wheel existed for some centuries in horizontal position for crafting pottery before some ingenious person turned it vertically. It is not exactly known if a light bulb went off, figuratively of course, in the same person’s head or if it took a while to figure out that two wheels with an axle could be incredibly useful for hauling goods and people. And going to war.

Enter the chariot, from which we get modern railroad track [and early road widths] with rails 4 feet, 8 1/2 inches apart. Since the Romans constructed a vast road system with chariots, those ruts were used to build wagons, which fit into the same ruts. When settlers from Europe assembled wagons in the New World, they used dimensions they already knew, and the rest is history.

Wheels have made an incredible impact in many industries, construction and masonry among them. Mobility on the job site vastly improves efficiency by rolling equipment, supplies and materials right to where they are needed at the moment, with the simplicity of moving them along horizontally on rolling wheels as work progresses. And things can be moved vertically by lifts on wheels. For this article, mobility refers to “hardware” and not to “software” as in mobile apps. That’s a topic for the technical gurus to cover.

While it is counterproductive to “reinvent the wheel” itself, it has become extremely worthwhile to invent equipment with wheels. Companies like SPEC MIX®, DEWALT, Milwaukee Tool, iQ Power Tools, Worx, Metal Forms Corporation, Stanley and many more have entire R&D teams that study job site efficiency and develop creative ways to improve work flow with innovative designs. A perfect example is the SPEC MIX®, a Quikrete Company, D2W Workhorse Continuous Mixing System. The large capacity hopper, complete with a bag breaker, is securely attached to a steel foundation that moves like a wheelbarrow – two ergonomically designed handles on one side and two wheels opposite for simple rolling forward or backward. At 210 pounds, it is stable at rest, yet easy to maneuver.

The simplicity of operation includes power from a standard 120V AC circuit or a generator. Once connected to a water source, the operator can flip a switch and start breaking bags for continuous and consistently blended materials. Output is 1.5 yards of mix per hour or smaller amounts. The high speed mixing action hydrates pre-blended materials. According to Brian Carney, Vice President:  “Water is metered directly into the system to achieve a constant water-to-cement ratio that ensures superior color uniformity, bond strength and compressive strength. Additionally, this D2W Workhorse is appealing for both indoor or outdoor work, and it is easily cleaned.

Multiquip, a California company founded in 1973, carries a line of MQ WhitemanTMportable heavy-duty concrete mixers in a range of sizes and engine configurations. Both steel and EasyCleanTMpolyethylene drums are available with a removable tow bar of schedule 80 steel for a 2-inch ball, pin-type coupler or loop coupler. The engine is mounted solid to base, minimizing vibration, and double-sealed bearings have greasable shaft seals. A specially designed seep hole not only protects bearings but also warns when the seal needs replacing. Multiquip also promotes its 10-cubic-foot mud tubs on wheels for transporting up to 1,000 pounds of mortar on smooth surfaces. Husqvarna’s adjustable rolling stand for brick and block saws MS360 could be just the ticket to get equipment rolling as well.

Wheelbarrows

Wheelbarrows have been in use for a very long time by farmers, masons, gardeners and soldiers. Around 230 A.D., a prime minister in China purportedly used it for moving food and munitions to the front lines. The Europeans have been credited with moving the single wheel farther forward, and many of today’s wheelbarrows have two front wheels for added stability. It has also been employed for carrying sick and wounded in pre-ambulance days, as well as crops, mine tailings, dirt, bricks, rocks and children. What child doesn’t want to ride in a wheelbarrow?

Entering its second century of operation, MFC has earned the reputation

 as a world class provider of quality products

 for the construction industry.

Metal Forms Corporation [MFC] was founded in Milwaukee back in 1909 when a postage stamp was two cents and William Howard Taft was President. Solidifying its reputation as a supplier of steel building and paving forms included new and improved products for Eisenhower’s interstate highway vision. Ten years ago MFC acquired Sterling Handling Equipment, known for its Sterling “Tough Guy”® wheelbarrows. The original Sterling Wheelbarrow Company is a full five years older than MFC, having sold its first unit to a Milwaukee foundry in 1904. Sterling’s edge in the construction industry is having its heavy gauge steel wheelbarrows manufactured by skilled workers in its own plant, not mass produced or imported. Made in the USA.

“Buying Sterling was such a good fit for us,” relates CEO Tom Miller. “We’ve both been in business more than 100 years, and Sterling’s commitment to high quality products coincides with ours. Both companies do not seek to be lowest price in their product lines, but the highest quality. Every year at World of Concrete, people stop by our booth just to say: ‘Best darn wheelbarrow ever made!'” Miller contends they are the strongest and last the longest. For stone masons and construction managers, buying a Sterling might come down to evaluating how many wheelbarrows they want to buy across the years. In the end, the cost could be the same, with more of a hassle replacing the less expensive ones.

Each Tough Guy® wheelbarrow lives up to its tough name for having “trays of 16 gauge steel cut, formed and folded to produce a double lapped thickness, multi spot-welded at rim and body sides where competitive units often first deform. Rim is further reinforced with continuous 5/16″ rod one-piece. Welded 10 gauge U-channel leg unit fits into routed wood handles. V-shaped front tray has braces plus under tray support plate for overall unit durability.” [metalforms.com] MFC also carries an impressive line of rolling mortar tubs with an 8-inch front slope for easy mortar removal, and they come in 6, 7, 10 and 12-cubic-foot capacity.

And there are many other wheelbarrows on the market with one and two wheels. The one wheel option can actually be more stable from tipping, especially when wheeled across a plank over mud. Worx tools are “built on a platform of innovation, power and performance”. Its Aerocart 8-in-1 wheelbarrow is a novel concept in multi-tasking as a:

  • yard cart
  • dolly
  • bag holder
  • extended dolly
  • cylinder carrier
  • rock/plant mover
  • trailer tote
  • wheelbarrow

The Worx patented 2-wheel design adjusts the center of gravity for a balanced and easy to manage load. Durable, flat-free tires never need inflating and two sets of handles fold neatly into sides when not in use. With a 300-pound maximum load, it’s ideal for small jobs.

Cutting Equipment

California-based iQ Power Tools was founded by Joel and Paul Guth, third generation masons who often brainstorm for ways to improve the work environment and design tools to match.  The company goals include:

  • 100% dust free concrete and masonry cutting
  • safer job sites
  • healthier work practices
  • a more sustainable construction industry

To those ends, the company has introduced its iQMS362 masonry saw, a mobile device with a 16.5″ blade, 5 3/4″ depth cut and 24″ length cut. An integrated vacuum and filter system captures 99.5% of hazardous silica dust in a tray that comes out for easy cleaning. There’s no need for water, no dust, and the blade is cooled by a vacuum air stream. And the best part maybe well be its portability. The unit is designed with two back wheels and shocks for easy drag to location. The high-flotation tires allow one person to move the unit over rough terrain. Then the scissor-like stand raises the unit up with a gas-shock powered mechanism. With 120V and 20 amp connection, work can begin.

Tools and More

While the wheel was a later invention than many things, so was the pairing of wheels and luggage. Credit Bernard Sadow, vice president of a Massachusetts luggage and coat company. He observed a heavy machine being rolled through an airport while he was carrying and dragging two suitcases returning from a vacation. Back at work, he removed casters from a trunk, installed them on a suitcase, added a strap and voila! Rolling luggage was invented with a subsequent patent issued to him. However, 15 years after his patent, the Rollaboard took over for its two wheels and telescopic handle.

Lots of tool and equipment manufacturers are responding to demands for mobile equipment for masons, many of them incorporating luggage-like features in wheels, extending and retracting handles and rectangular shapes for balance.  Milwaukee Tool introduced its innovative PACKOUTTMModular Storage System last September. Several tool boxes, totes and organizers of different configurations can be stacked and locked together for  easy movement to and within any jobsite. The rolling toolbox has 9-inch all-terrain wheels and can transport up to 250 pounds.

DEWALT’s DWST20800 Mobile Work Center mimics luggage but it is much stronger with a telescopic handle for an ergonomic hold. Side handles accommodate easy lifting and ball bearing slides assure a smooth opening even with heavy loads. Its heavy-duty wheels are also suitable for rough terrain. Stanley’s Fatmax® 4-in-1 Mobile Work Station is made with a durable structural foam construction and has four tiers of storage and workspaces. A front latch can lock the entire unit, and V-groove on top of the lid can hold long items like lumber and pipe for cutting.

Lift trucks, pick-up trucks and other powered vehicles on wheels are invaluable for moving heavy equipment, bricks, generators, power washers, people and materials on large and small job sites. Smaller ones may employ Bobcat®, Kubota, MQ Whiteman or other brands of utility vehicles. Small jobs may be served well with an all terrain vehicle – business expense for the mason and fun to borrow on weekends.  Many of these have a truck-like chassis or one specifically designed for weight distribution and/or tight spaces.

The word “mobility” comes down from Latin through Old French and refers to the capacity for motion. On the masonry job site, there is now an abundance of mobility products for equipment, supplies and tools. Moving everything quickly and easily for the stonemason ensures spending more time working and building than moving.  Time is Money, no doubt about it, and the longer it takes to position mixers, bricks, rock, tools and supplies, the longer the job takes, the more it costs, and the less efficient a project becomes.

Words: Joanne M. Anderson
Photos: DeWalt, iQ Power Tools, lawcain, SPEC MIX, welcomia
Joanne M. Anderson is a long-time freelance writer and frequent contributor to Masonry Magazine. www.jmawriter.com