Build an All-Purpose Work Cart

The less time you spend hauling supplies to and from a job, the faster you'll get the job done. With that in mind, we designed a multipurpose cart that will help you tote supplies, tools and gear to various projects around your home quickly and easily.

This cart features an open bin that's large enough to hold just about anything you'll need, such as tool bags, paint cans, a mortar-mixing tub or bags of mulch. A small bin between the handles can hold small tools, hardware or gloves and safety glasses. We even created a channel to haul a ladder or long-handle tools. The side rail can be removed when you want to place large objects across the tops of the side panels.

The cart's 20-in.-dia. wheels will easily roll over most backyard terrain. They're positioned so that the weight is balanced to make even heavy loads easy to move.

Because this cart will spend most of its time outdoors, you'll need to use exterior-rated materials that are rot- and corrosion-resistant. All lumber should be pressure-treated pine or a rot-resistant species such as cedar or redwood. Plywood should be 1/2 in. thick and rated "Exterior" or "Exposure 1," or you can choose high-density-overlay (HDO) plywood, which has a smooth resin top layer. (This material might be more difficult to find.) All hardware should be designated for use with the materials that you choose. For example, ACQ-treated lumber requires stainless steel fasteners, hot-dipped galvanized coated fasteners or fasteners with an approved proprietary coating.

I used a jigsaw, miter saw and benchtop table saw to cut the lumber and plywood, but you could make all the cuts with a jigsaw. You'll also need a drill/driver to fasten the parts and bore pilot holes. Safety note: Wear protective eyewear, gloves and a dust mask when cutting or drilling exterior-rated lumber and metal.

To work with the conduit, you'll need a few specialty tools. I used a hacksaw to cut the pieces and a conduit bender to make smooth, kink-free curves. You can purchase a conduit bender at a home center for about $40 or rent one for about $5 to $10 a day. I also used a right-angle drill guide to bore centered holes through the conduit.

Assemble the wood parts
As you cut the parts and assemble the cart, you may need to make slight adjustments to the dimensions listed on the cutting list because the thickness of pressure-treated lumber is sometimes inconsistent — varying as much as 3/16 in. from piece to piece. You may find it easiest to cut the plywood parts first and then cut the framing components to fit.

I used deck screws to assemble the wood parts. It's easiest to clamp the parts together, drill 1/8-in.-dia. pilot holes and then drive the screws. I chose not to use any adhesive so that I could easily replace worn or damaged parts in the future.

First assemble the base frame and attach the bottom. Next, attach the side panels to the base. Then attach the back corner posts, foot kick and handle posts to the side panels (photo 1). Attach the axle blocks, bin sides, bin bottom, back panel and door guides. Finally, using the drawings as a layout guide, cut the notch and the handle hole in the door (photo 2). The wood assembly can be left unfinished, but I chose to apply two coats of barn-red solid-color deck stain to all exposed surfaces.

Assemble the wood parts. Use 2-1/2-in. deck screws to attach the 2x4 parts and 1-5/8-in. deck screws to attach the plywood to the 2x4 framing.

Follow the door (front-E) detail drawing, to lay out the door cuts. Drill 1-1/8-in.-dia. pilot holes at each end of the hand hole, and cut between the holes with a jigsaw.

Make the conduit components
To make the handle, front leg and side rail, I used 3/4-in.-dia. electrical metallic tubing (more commonly known as EMT), rather than wood for several reasons. First, EMT is lightweight. Second, it's inexpensive — a 10-ft. length costs only a few dollars at a home center. Third, it can be bent to create smooth, continuous parts. Finally, it looks cool and gives the cart a more industrial appearance.

The trick to forming the curved conduit components is to use an EMT conduit bender. This tool features alignment marks that you position at the different bending points (see "Bending Conduit," in PDF below). Forming basic conduit bends is not difficult (photos 3 and 4), but it might take a few tries to create smooth curves, so purchase one or two extra 10-ft. pieces to practice on before you make the actual components.

Position the bending tool alignment mark (in this case the star marking, see inset) on the measurement mark and pull the handle to bend the conduit. Increase the bending force by pressing your foot down on the tool footrest.

You must make two sets of bends to form the handle. First make a U shape; then bend the straight ends up to a 55-degree angle. Use the bending tool angle guides to match the final bend angles.

Once you've bent and cut all of the parts to size, drill 3/16-in.-dia. pilot holes for the machine screws (photo 5). Use a hacksaw to cut the sections of aluminum channel that will cover the tops of the cart sides and the tops of the back and door that are outside the handles.

Use a right-angle drill guide to bore the fastener pilot holes in the conduit. The drill guide features V-channel supports that center the drill bit over the conduit.

Attach the wheels, rails and handles
I used hot-dipped galvanized bolts to fasten the wheels (photo 6) and stainless steel deck and machine screws to fasten the handle, leg and EMT straps (photo 7). It's not difficult to find fasteners that are compatible with ACQ-treated lumber. Unfortunately, cart wheels and conduit made from stainless steel aren't on the shelves of most home centers, so I did my best to create barriers between the metal and wood surfaces. Two coats of stain don't provide impermeable protection, but they limit direct contact between the treated lumber and metal parts. I also isolated the conduit and wheels by using stainless steel washers between each metal part and the wood frame.

Drill 1/2-in.-dia. axle holes through the side panel, base-frame side and axle block. Fasten the wheels to the cart with 1/2-in.-dia. x 8-in. bolts and locknuts. Place flat washers at each end of the bolt and between the wheel and the side panel.

Attach the handle to the handle posts with 2-1/2-in. deck screws. Place stainless steel washers between the conduit and the wood to limit the risk of corrosion caused by the ACQ-treated wood.

The aluminum top rails are most vulnerable to corrosion from contact with the ACQ-treated wood. I considered several options and finally chose to simply attach them with a generous layer of construction adhesive, knowing that I eventually might have to replace them.

Once the metal components have been attached, your cart is ready for years of service. Besides helping with projects around the house, it makes a handy chariot — so with the time you saved hauling supplies, you can reenact your favorite scene from Ben Hur.