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Sunday, April 3, 2016

Building Vehicle Dollies

No direct car work today but work in support of it.

One of my more favorite movies is Jurassic Park. There is a quote, for the character of Dr. Ian Malcolm, that goes "Yeah, yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn't stop to think if they should."

As you all know, I buy quite a bit of stuff at Harbor Freight. While I wouldn't say that I'm on a very strict and limited budget, I'd much rather spend my money on good parts than on good tools that I will end up using very rarely. And, while I've only been burned by one of my larger purchases there, I also wouldn't buy something like a Harbor Freight MIG welder, either. I cannot stress enough to keep your receipts! They allow returns within 90 days BUT ONLY WITH A RECEIPT. I bought a vise for about $50 and over-tightened the swivel clamp and stripped it right out. I had trashed my receipt and shortly after, trashed the vise. The reviews on their vises aren't that great. In hindsight, it was a mistake to buy one there. But, enough of that...

One of the things I've had my eye on for a while is their Vehicle Dollies. While I rarely buy anything big there without one of their coupons, at about $40 a pair, I think they are pricey for what they are. If I had a big shop that I needed to move the car around it, it would be a no-brainer. But, I just want to be able to move the car a few feet in any direction to give me some more room when I'm working in a particular area. So, $80 was just a bit too much. I tossed around the idea of making my own, but just the swivel casters were about $4 each. At $64 just for the wheels, again, a bit too much. But, then I had an idea...

There was a coupon for their Mover's Dollies for about $8 each. They were rated for about the same capacity (1000 lbs). Of course, they were made of wood and had a big hole in the middle, but maybe I could do something about that. So, for $32 +tax, I picked up four of them.

First thing I did was take them apart. While I tore the carpet off that is attached to them, it is only held on with staples. I pried the staples off with a flat-head screwdriver and, if I was careful, I could have done that all the way around and save the carpet for re-installation. I just didn't see the point. Also, MOST of the bolts were already loose. While not only finger-tight, they were definitely not as tight as I would want them so if you are using these things in general, I would check on this before using them again.

Dolly from the bottom - as bought.
Next were the casters. Of course, I came across two different attachment methods and had unknowingly bought two of each. One way used carriage-like bolts, flat washers and lock washers. The other method used Phillips-head machine screws and nyloc nuts with no washers. Given the choice, I would prefer to use the Phillips-head method because it just seemed easier to make it work. I did note an external difference between the two styles, so you can pick the right one if you choose. In the long run, however, both were not too difficult and I would buy either kind to modify.

The burned-in label on the preferred design dolly.
Fortunately, the four pieces of wood are glued together so when you pull the caster bolts out the whole thing stays together. I had initially left a few screws in (you'll see that in the picture below) to keep everything aligned before I figured out it was all glued.

While I think the open bottom of the dolly would have been okay, I wanted to give something for the bottom of the tire to rest on to distribute more of the weight of the car. Also, this is how the "real" dollies are designed so I figured it would be a good idea. I bought a $5 piece of 1/2-inch plywood that was 2 x 4 feet. Each dolly measured about 17 3/4" x 11 1/2" and I cut a piece of plywood to about these dimensions. I centered the plywood up on the dolly and clamped it using a bar clamp (also Harbor Freight).

Clamped. The 12" bar clamps have pretty bad reviews, but they've worked "Harbor Freight good enough" for me.
Once clamped and steady, I used a drill bit just slightly larger than the screw and, using the existing holes as a guide, drilled through the plywood. I had originally intended to buy longer screws to make up for the extra thickness of the new plywood, but they run about $0.30 each. While this may not seem like a lot, when you add it up, that's almost $20 just in screws which would bring this whole thing close to defeating the purpose. With some more modification (below), I used the same screws.

I decided to put the plywood on the bottom of the whole thing to provide a bit of a recess that the tire could sit in while also providing a lip all around to minimize the chance of rolling the tire off of the dolly. To be able to use the same length screws, I used a 1/2" drill bit to cut a relief in the top of the dolly to provide a large countersink for the screw heads. I decided that about half-through the thickness of the board was probably good enough and I marked the drill bit to give me an idea of how deep I wanted to go.

Drill bit marked with Sharpie for a depth gauge.
Once that was done, I essentially slapped it all back together and tightened down the screws. I also greased the caster bearings (some were greased and others weren't).

Completed dolly, bottom side (obviously).

Completed dolly, top side. You can see the screw reliefs that I drilled.
Car on the dollies. They work, so there's that.
I dare say that I would recommend going this route if you don't mind taking a few hours. For about $40, I was able to build/modify four vehicle dollies that would normally cost me almost $80 (or $100+ without a coupon). They are definitely not as slick looking as the metal ones, but my guess is they are strong enough for a little car like this and will work just as well.

Back to the movie quote; while I was on the fence about getting the actual metal vehicle dollies, once I got it in my head of trying to do this, I just did it without really thinking if I should. It took an afternoon to accomplish and I'm not sure that I will really need to move the car around all that much. I also discovered that my 1.5 ton Harbor Freight jack does not have enough height to raise the car high enough to get the dollies under the wheels. I used my larger 3-ton Sears jack, but I'm sure a block of wood on the HF one would have done the trick.

So, while I'm glad I did it, I think if I had dropped the $80 on the metal ones, I would have taken them back. Who knows, though. Maybe that will become invaluable in mysterious ways. If I had a bigger garage that I could actually move stuff around in...these would be almost a necessity, I think.

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