You wouldn’t think the sight of a bicycle wheel attached upside down by its fork to a wooden stool could be life-changing. But that’s exactly what happened when I first clapped eyes on a version of Marcel Duchamp’s original 1913 ‘Readymade' sculpture Bicycle Wheel. In an instant, my perception of the world changed – I’ll never look at an axle the same way again!
The artist’s fresh take on the way ordinary things usually work struck me like a bolt out of the blue – and not only a bolt but with visions of fittings and brackets and handles. Since that day, my imagination has run wild, transforming pipe clamps into bottle holders, flanges into candle holders, pallet scraps into…well, you get the idea. When I’m out with friends for a day of shopping, they beeline for haute couture and I head for hardware or, even better, a salvage yard or thrift store if there’s one nearby.
When I found myself in need of an outdoor serving cart during patio season, I shopped around but was underwhelmed by the generic styles available and their startling price. I wanted something more eclectic, maybe with period touches or repurposed materials to give the cart some character.
Oddly enough, it was again a wheel that inspired me to design my own cart. I came across an old-fashioned steel wheel that looked like it belonged on a 19th-century wheelbarrow and I loved the look of it. My design morphed into a patio cart that, instead of having all the bells and whistles, had all the nuts and bolts – reclaimed wood, angle irons, U-brackets, drawer pulls, steel wheels and other easily obtainable materials. The cart would look rugged, industrial and trendy. My salvager’s heart sang.
To bring my design from page to patio, I needed some help. Since my workplace (Lee Valley) has no shortage of woodworking experts, I approached my co-worker Andrew to partner with me in building the cart. Andrew’s expertise with tools, materials and construction techniques (and his great sense of humor) gave me confidence that my design could be fully realized as I’d imagined.
You can see by our materials list that we chose mostly inexpensive materials that were easy to find at hardware and box stores. We did splurge a little on a classy appliance handle for pushing the cart, and on those cool traditional steel wheels. If you have the knowledge and skills needed for the safe use and handling of power and hand tools, you could build this cart from our plans or adapt the project to suit your own designs and preferred materials.
Dressed barn board or knotty pine
(12) 1/2” x 6” x 27”
(2) 1/2” x 2-7/8” x 23-5/8”
(2) 1/2” x 2-7/8” x 14-5/8”
(2) 1-1/2” x 3” x 24”
(2) 1-1/2” x 3” x 18”
(1) Bluing metal finish
(1) Danish oil wood finish
(1) Wood stain
Step 1: Cut the angle iron pieces for the frame to length using an angle grinder. Just as when buying wood, we tried to find straight pieces of iron with no twists or bends. Conventional wisdom says “measure twice, cut once”, and this certainly holds true for cutting the iron – too long and you put the frame out of skew, too short and there won’t be enough material to drill through for fastening bolts.
Before cutting, we sanded the angle irons using a coarse grit (80) for a rough textured look to match the wheels. If you don’t have access to an angle grinder, you can use a hacksaw, which makes a cleaner cut but takes longer. Remember to sand out the burrs after cutting.
Step 2: Cut miters on all horizontal pieces of angle iron. We used a combination square to lay out the miters on the ends of all horizontal pieces so they’re on the same plane without overlap. This allows the shelves to rest flat on all four “arms” of the horizontal frame.
Step 3: Measure and mark the angle irons for holes; drill using a drill press.
When measuring to position the middle shelf, be sure to account for the thickness of the recessed shelf, as well as the thicknesses of the bottom and middle shelves. If you simply put your hole halfway up the frame, spacing between the shelves will not be equidistant.
Step 4: Mill up wood for the bottom and middle shelves, the top recessed shelf and the removable tray. We chose to use dressed barn board for our cart because we like its well-worn look, but other kinds of wood suitable for outdoor use could be used instead.
If you decide to work with salvaged wood, be sure to keep health and safety considerations in mind. Inspect the wood for embedded nails or fasteners that can damage tools, and always wear a mask/respirator when milling and sanding to guard against chemicals, mold and other unknown substances that may have made their home in the wood.
Step 5: Glue up the shelves and the bottoms for the recessed shelf and removable tray. Because our shelves are 18” wide, we needed to glue up several boards. We used four pieces at 4-1/2" wide, and made sure to rotate the orientation of the end grain during glue up to help prevent warping. We used the same principle for the bottoms of the tray and the recessed shelf.
Step 6: Cut the shelves when dry to finished dimensions.
Step 7: Cut the front, back and sides for the recessed shelf and removable tray to finished dimensions.
Step 8: Cut 1/4” wide 3/8” deep grooves 1/4” from the inner bottom edge on all sides of the recessed shelf and tray. We made both the recessed shelf and the removable tray using floating bottoms. This allows the wood to expand and contract freely, without causing warp or damage. We cut grooves all the way around the interior of the front, back and sides and cut rabbets along all four edges of the bottoms. (Later, during assembly, the bottoms slide into the grooves.) We used a table saw for this step, but a router is another option.
Step 9: Cut the bottoms of the tray and recessed shelf to finished dimensions. The finished sizes of the bottoms of the tray and recessed shelf need to be ½” longer and ½” wider than their respective openings to account for the rabbets you will cut in step 10.
Step 10: Cut 1/4" deep x 3/8” wide rabbets along all the edges of the bottoms of the recessed shelf and tray.
Step 11: Glue and clamp the recessed shelf, securing the butt joints with screws. Miter and glue the removable tray.
Originally, we made the recessed shelf and removable tray of the same material thickness, but we ran into trouble when the bolts that secure the shelf to the frame poked through the sides of the shelf, interfering with the seating of the tray in the recess. We preferred the look of the thinner material but switched to thicker wood to absorb the bolts. Then we retraced our steps. We weren’t happy that you can see some end grain peeking around the angle irons attachment points if you look closely. (We’ve chosen to believe this adds to the rustic charm of the cart.) Next time, we’ll use thicker material from the start and miter both the recessed shelf and the tray.
Step 12: Attach the vertical and horizontal angle irons with carriage bolts. Be sure to orient the angle irons so that the bolt doesn’t interfere with the way they cradle the shelf.
Step 13: Attach the recessed shelf to the top of the frame using lag bolts. The top of the tray should be flush with the top of the angle irons.
Step 14: Install a piece of 3/4" x 2-1/2" x 18" hardwood to the underside of one end of the cart by screwing through the frame. Fasten the swivel casters to it. With the casters installed, you can prop the opposite end of the cart up until level to allow you to install the steel wheels.
Step 15: Measure, mark, drill and install the steel wheels using a 3” bolt and 2 nyloc nuts as an axle.
Step 16: Drill holes for the shelves. First position the shelf in place on the frame and then drill three holes through both the wood and the frame at both ends of each shelf. Remove the shelf and make the two matching outer holes in the frame 1/2” larger than the bolts. This will allow the wood to expand and contract without cracking.
Step 17: Attach the shelves to the frame using carriage bolts. Be sure to use a wide enough washer on the underside to cover the oversized holes.
Step 18: Install the appliance handle on the outside of the recessed shelf at the same end of the cart as the swivel casters are located.
Step 19: Install the drawer handles on the removable tray. Bore out 1/4" wide holes, 2” deep into the underside of the removable tray walls to accommodate screws for the drawer handles.
Step 20: Install the glass hangers to one side of the underside of the recessed shelf. On the other side, install the U-clamps (spaced 3” apart on center) front to back to make the bottle holders.
We used an oil-based Early American stain on the barn board. It gave the wood a slightly darker look, which nicely complements the industrial effect of the angle irons. As a finishing coat, we used Danish oil for a clear, satin protective coating. And for the final touch, we applied a gun blue on the U-clamps and all the nuts and bolts to give them a weathered look.
With this combination of finishes, the cart needs to be covered when not in use to protect it from rain and snow. There are exterior grade polyurethane clear coat finishes on the market that are better suited for outdoors if proper storage is not available.