How To Use a Sledge Hammer To Modify a Hand Truck for Hauling Propane Tanks

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Our heavy propane tanks have to be moved by hand (or hand truck)…and our newest hand truck had to be hit with a sledge hammer to modify its original design just a bit.

Say what?

It’s like this:

    1. In Arizona, state law forbids a propane supplier to fill a propane tank unless it’s hooking up to a system installed by a licensed contractor.

    2. Since I do all my own work (sans licence), having a nice big 500 gallon propane tank sitting out back to supply the whole place for a year or so is simply not an option.

    3. The only other realistic option is to use not one tank but a number of the largest available portable tanks. These are considered to be 100 lb., or 25 gallon, tanks–although safety considerations reduce each fill to around 92 lb., or 23 gallons.

That one legislative rule is quite literally the only thing I’ve come to purely detest about the state of Arizona. Love the gun laws, hate the propane law. In Montana, a propane dealer can and will run the copper lines from a big tank to the various appliances in your cabin or home. Pam and I know this for a fact, having had that done when we lived off grid (1999-2002) near Craig, Montana.

As we’ve developed our homestead, starting with the basic 1,296 square foot home we call the Border Fort, we’ved continued to add propane powered appliances: A refrigerator, a camp stove (switched out to a full service kitchen range in September of this year), a ventless wall heater (all we need to heat the entire home in this climate), and now a 50 gallon hot water heater.

The hot water heater installation is still a work in progress. When the 50 gallon tank is up and running, we’ll have a total of four separate appliances that run on propane. The kitchen range uses a 40 lb. tank that can easily be carried around by hand, even full. The rest of them all use the bigger 100 lb. tanks that will eat the average guy’s lunch if he starts lugging them around without a hand truck.

I can move those tanks by just picking them up and shifting them a bit at a time–and in fact did so for the first 18 months we were here–but it wasn’t the brightest maneuver of my career.

In every case, each appliance also has a spare tank on hand at all times, so the total (when all tanks are full to the recommended levels) looks something like this:

[Two tanks at 9.2 gallons = 18.4 gallons] + [Six tanks at 23 gallons = 138 gallons] = 156.4 gallons of total capacity. Were it not for that asinine Arizona statute, this could all be handled by a single tank. Man, I’d like to smack a lawmaker or two upside the head with a dose of common sense–but since that’s not happening, we deal with the reality of the situation, and that means keeping a functional hand truck on the premises.

The one I’d been using worked quite well for moving tanks when it was on its game, but unfortunately the air filled tires that came with it in 2010 were beyond salvaging and promised to be a bugger to replace.

We decided I’d splurge for a new hand truck, one that came with–or could be fitted with–no flat tires that would keep going for a number of years without totally disintegrating.

Home Depot had such a hand truck, but it turned out to need modifying in a couple of ways. The original tires were far too small in diameter; as it came from the manufacturer, the truck was designed to operate on flat concrete or tiled floors. Over our ground out here in the country, the frame would end up high centering as often as not.

Before loading the truck with a propane tank, I changed out the tires; that was definitely the first step.

This "No-Flat" hand truck tire is both taller and wider than the original equipment tire that came with the truck.

This “No-Flat” hand truck tire is both taller and wider than the original equipment tire that came with the truck.

The after market tires come zerk fittings (for geasing the axles) and spare sets of roller bearings.  This manufacturer is expecting serious use of the product.

The after market tires come with zerk fittings (for geasing the axles) and spare sets of roller bearings. This manufacturer is expecting serious use of the product.

The much smaller original tire (foreground) would allow the frame to drag on our rough ground.  The oversized tire set fixes that.

The much smaller original tire (foreground) would have allowed the frame to drag on our rough ground. The oversized tire set fixed that.

With the tires squared away, it was time to see how the hand truck worked in practice.

Not so well, as it turned out. This newer truck is, for one thing, three inches narrower through the frame body than the older version. Add to that the problem of the center pipe, and the thing was downright scary.

The big 100 lb. tank high centered on that center pipe, then rolled to one side. Now it was resting in an extremely narrow “trough” just a few inches wide, which was not enough to cover much of the curve of the heavy tank. At the slightest lurch over a stone in the path, the tank would roll to the other side. The sudden motion would convince me that the whole arrangement was going to crash over one side or the other, leading to nervousness I truly did not need.

I had three tanks to move today. The test run involved a tank than got hauled around to the side of the house, then inserted into the little open faced shed to wait its turn as the spare tank for the refrigerator. The other two tanks, brand new, were still in the pickup truck bed, waiting their turns. They needed to go double the distance, and over rougher terrain at that.

Something had to be done.

Clearly, the secret to success required a deeper channel between the two outer pipe “arms” of the hand truck frame. If I could grab our 8 lb. sledge hammer and slam that center pipe down a bit, so that it formed a bit of a bow instead of running in a straight line….

“Aren’t you likely to break the welds on that pipe?” Pam asked the question, and I had to agree.

“Yep. But I don’t care if I do. In fact, I’m pretty sure I could just hacksaw that entire pipe right on out of there, leave just the outer frame piping, and it would work really well.”

I could tell she wasn’t convinced. In her world, beating iron up with a big hammer to fix it is extremely counterintuitive.

On the other hand, she’s not the one who has to move those heavy tanks. I needed stability in the cradle that held them between the outer frame pipes while they were being moved, and that was that. Besides, it sounded like a pretty patriotic fix to me. Redneck fix done by a white dude using a blue handled sledge hammer.

Yeah. Why not.

The new hand truck before being assaulted with a sledge hammer.  The center pipe is nice and straight...and a dangerous pain when it comes to moving propane tanks around.

The new hand truck before being assaulted with a sledge hammer. The center pipe is nice and straight…and a dangerous pain when it comes to moving propane tanks around.

Over the years, I’ve had occasion to swing a 16 pound sledge, but the hammer we’ve owned for the past dozen years is a mere 8 pounder. It should do, though, so….

The hand truck rested on its back and took its licking. -Bang-Whang-g-! Bang-Whang-g! Bang-Whang-g!

After a few minutes of this, walking the hammer head up and down most of the length of the pipe, the hand truck had a new profile. The beaten pipe bowed nicely instead of running in a straight, bothersome line. Welds at either end were indeed cracked open on the hammer side, but welds on the back sides of the pipe remained intact.

After checking the fit a couple of times and adding a few more –Bang-Whang-gs!– to the equation, it was time to spray paint the wounded areas with a bit of Rustoleum, give it a few minutes to air dry, and load up a tank.

At the bottom end, the pipe still interfered–but the upper end of the tank was now nicely cradled between the two outer frame pipes. The tank wanted to rub against those pipes a bit during travel, so an old rug was added to protect paint on both tank and truck…and that was it.

The hand truck was now fully modified and fully functional. In fact, it felt so secure that I was able to load a tank, turn forward with both hands back holding the hand truck frame, and trudge off to wherever the tank needed to go with nary a worry about tipping.

After getting mauled (literally) with the 8 lb. sledge hammer, the hand truck has a nice, snug cradle for the upper end of the 100 lb. propane tank.

After getting mauled (literally) with the 8 lb. sledge hammer, the hand truck has a nice, snug cradle for the upper end of the 100 lb. propane tank.

An old rug provides a cushion between tank and pipe iron during travel.

An old rug provides a cushion between tank and pipe iron during travel.

Yes, the hammer-side portions of the end welds did crack open under the severe pounding.  So, what's your point?

Yes, the hammer-side portions of the end welds did crack open under the severe pounding. So, what’s your point?

During my growing up years on the ranch in Montana, I couldn’t help absorbing one of my Dad’s favorite sayings:

“Don’t force it; just get a bigger hammer.”

Thankfully, for today at least, that was not necessary. An eight pound sledge hammer was big enough.

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6 thoughts on “How To Use a Sledge Hammer To Modify a Hand Truck for Hauling Propane Tanks

  1. I have one that would have been perfect for your needs without modifying the steel. It has bars across the back from side to side, and they are curved. The tanks would have slid right into the cradle. I have no idea where it was bought though. The tires are a big pain, when every time we need to use it they are flat. Katy and I are getting quit proficient in its use.
    We used to have a big flat cart that we used a lot. We gave it to someone when he helped us move and was admiring it. We used to use it to haul groceries into the apartment. We had a really long sidewalk and got tired of going back and forth a dozen times.You could have hauled a couple of tanks on it.

  2. The older “retired” hand truck has that, the factory curved cradle that was ideal for the tanks. But the tires were so bad that even when I used Fix-A-Flat goop on them a while back (which is dangerous ’cause the spray cans put out too much oomph for small tires if you’re not super careful), the tires only stayed up for that one set of tank moves. Two weeks later, the worst one was completely flat again. I’d have simply changed to the better No-Flat tires except that the stock pair was held in place with those one way clips that are murder to remove. Could have fought them off and then drilled holes near the ends of the axle for cotter keys, but even if I had, the larger No-Flat tires would have scraped against the frame, so….

    The big flat cart might not have worked so well as you describe. Not here, unless I did a lot of shovel work to widen the path and then poured concrete to level it. Unless the tanks were secured to the cart, they’d be bouncing off all over the place.

  3. A legacy, eh? Yeah, I guess I could be doing that. Today, Pam and I hauled our roommate, Alta, to the dentist to have her last wisdom tooth extracted. It was a rough go, details not necessary here, but gave me the idea that someday I might want to write a book titled, “The Border Fort: A Way Station for Wounded Women”.

    Coming up with solutions should be a more profitable way to go at that; there’s certainly an endless supply of problems readily available for tackling.:)

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