This project was an exercise in problem solving. Everyone knows that moving around a full sheet of 3/4″ plywood is awkward and cumbersome, but what if I could quickly make something to help with that problem?
In the past, I’ve moved big pieces of furniture and equipment by using an old skateboard as a makeshift dolly. This method isn’t really stable or easy to steer so I thought I’d make a device that is meant to help one person move big sheets of plywood. I thought the new plywood dolly would use the same basic idea; a small, wheeled plate that could firmly hold a sheet of plywood vertically while I pushed it around.
- Design Criteria
- Make it More Simple
- Decide on a Design
- Make a Prototype from Scraps
- Test, Evaluate, and Iterate
I began my design process with a problem statement, “plywood is heavy and doesn’t turn very well when using the skateboard as a dolly.” Nailing down this core irritation will help direct the decision-making process once we started drawing out ideas. Each iteration has to address the problem statement or it shouldn’t be considered as an option. The design had to be easy to use for 1 person, maneuverable, and simple to make; these are our design criteria.
Josh and I drew up an initial design that would hold the plywood vertically and would use springs, some angled walls, and the board’s own weight to act as a locking clamp. This idea would be secure, maneuverable, and great for one person because they didn’t have to touch the dolly at all, the board’s weight would activate the clamp. But, the small springs and the angled walls’ precise geometry would be more complicated to build and other people would be less-likely to make one themselves. PASS.
A second iteration took the original concept’s hinged wall idea but removed the springs and the complicated self-locking features. The sheets would sit on a wheeled base that had two hinged wings that would fold up to hug the plywood. These two hinged walls would be held in place by adding a separate spring clamp to lock the dolly to the wood. This design was more simple that the previous, but also had some shortcomings: the dolly isn’t self-contained, you need an additional clamp and the hinged walls may be less stable side-to-side, hindering maneuverability. While this plan would work, it could be better.
Our third design scrapped the hinged wall idea all together and instead integrated a locking cam that would apply clamping pressure as you turned the lever. The initial design called for a wheeled plate with two simple side walls, each of which would have a cam clamp. The plywood sheet would ride in the middle of the two quarter-turn locking clamps that could be actuated by your foot. This concept addressed easy of use and self-containability, it was to recreate, and the simple low-profile design could be placed anywhere along the bottom of the board, making it very maneuverable. WINNER!
Because the concept behind this project was to quickly prototype a functional solution to the plywood problem, I didn’t want to spend a lot of time 3d modeling an articulated part and over-analyzing the mechanics. I rummaged through my wood scraps and found a piece of oak that was just big enough for some casters that I had laying around and I used some left-over oak strips to act as the side walls. I drew out a really basic cam shape, a tadpole-type shape but with a hole for an axel offset from the center point of rotation. This allows the rounded head of the clamp to engage more and more as the lever is turned. The shape was cut out on the scrollsaw and then transferred that outline to another piece of oak that was then cut in the same way.
I drilled the offset holes in the cams using the drill press and used my wood taps to create some threads in the side walls that would accept a 1/4-20 bolt to secure the cams to the base. We added 3 swiveling casters to the bottom for added maneuverability and it was all done.
Although not one of the initial design criteria, we wanted the dolly to be able to hold two sheets of plywood. The side walls were spaced far enough apart to hold two sheets and the cam clamps were designed to be able to hold either a single our double sheets. When we tested the prototype, we placed the dolly under the front edge of a 4’x8′ sheet of 3/4″ plywood and I easily clamped it in place using my foot. I was able to move the whole around my shop wayyyy easier than I could by myself, it was great!
While the dolly worked really well, I did note some things that could be improved upon. First, the dolly doesn’t need two cams, one came can push the plywood up against the flat side wall all by itself. Second, I would add another caster which would held it not tip as much when you’re putting it on. Lastly, I would make another one. Lifting the back edge of a full sheet is still pretty heavy, and adding another dolly to the back may really help.
Yay, Problem Solving!
I hope you found some value in this simple problem-solving project. You may not need to move large sheet goods around your space, or maybe you’re way stronger than me and this isn’t an issue, but I hope you got something from this systematic approach to looking at a problem and addressing it in a way that saves time and effort in the long run. If you liked this simple shop accessory, check out more of my videos where I improve my workspace one little piece at a time.
(purchasing via these affiliate links supports ILTMS)
- SawStop cabinet saw
- Dewalt 20v drill driver combo
- Craftsman Scroll Saw (Mine is an older model)
- Shop Fox Hanging Air Filter
- 2HP Dust Collector
- 1 Micron bag