Ever since I got a riding mower, I’ve been waiting for the chance to do something really cool with it (other than cut the lawn, of course).
We had recently went to a farm to go strawberry picking, and they shuttled us to the field in a hayride. I joked to Eileen that I should build our own hayride to pull the family around the backyard.
But then I got thinking how useful a wagon would be.
So as many great inventions once started with a mere joke, so did my next project. I was going to build a utility cart for the mower.
Planning the Utility Wagon
I was really excited for the utility cart. Aside from the original purpose of a wagon ride around the yard, it could really help me save time in many other tasks (particularly when refuse pickup day comes, and I had to haul 10 heavy bags of grass clippings to the curb).
I looked at many commercial mower wagons, trailers, and utility carts in the past, so I had a pretty good idea of what the project entailed.
In the past, I had once considered buying one of them, but never got around to it because of the cost and small sizes they came in.
The actual construction of the wagon was not going to be that hard. It was just a platform with a fence.
Since the wagon was completely custom-made, the wheel system needed to be built from scratch. I had a rough idea of what that entailed.
Wheels would need to be mounted to an axle, which would be mounted to the base of the wagon.
Even though I knew this, I still had lots of questions, such as what would prevent the wheels from sliding off the axle, or the axle from flying off the wagon?
Building the Utility Cart
I did a lot of research on wheels, axles, and bearings and gained some exceptional knowledge on wheeled machines. I made my list of materials and started construction.
Assembling the Axles
Each axle consisted of some pillow blocks, washers, shaft collars, end caps, and wheels. The steps below will show you how to put them together.
My wagon wheel system would be comprised of the following:
- 4 pneumatic tires
- 4 locking pillow blocks (explained below)
- 2 axle rods
- 4 locking shaft collars
- 4 axle rod plastic caps
- a number of spacing washers
A pillow block is a support pedestal used to mount a spinning axle to a flat surface. It contains a bearing that lets the axle spin independently of the mount.
The ‘locking’ feature of the pillow block is just a screw that you tighten that prevents the axle from sliding out of the bearing.
The pillow block housing comes with attachment holes to let you bolt it onto a surface (in my case, the underside of the wagon).
Here’s a picture of one of the pillow blocks I used (The bearing on top fits into the blue housing below, and the axle rod slides into the bearing):
So here’s how the wheel parts go together.
First, the two locking pillow blocks are secured to the wagon. Then the axle is inserted into the pillow blocks and locked into place with the block screws.
Before the wheels can be put on the axle, some spacing washers need to go on first.
It’s generally a good idea anyway to use washers to separate spinning parts, but I needed them specifically to enforce a minimum distance between the pillow blocks and the wheels.
If I didn’t put a small distance between the two, then the pillow block mounting bolts would be too close to the edge of the wagon, and risk splintering the wood, or worse, ripping right out the side during usage.
Wheels, More Spacing Washers, and Shaft Collars
So after the spacing washers were put on, the wheel comes on.
After the wheel comes another spacing washer, and then a locking shaft collar.
This is essentially a fat ring that you slide onto the axle rod and becomes immovable once you tighten a screw on it. It’s a lot like the locking mechanism on the pillow block.
The shaft collar is the key part needed to prevent the wheel from sliding off the axle.
Shaft collars come in a variety of flavors. I chose to go with a 2 piece clamping collar. This type of collar comes with two half circles that screw together to form a ring.
I chose this type because compared to other types of shaft collars, it provided a larger amount of force to the axle to prevent it from moving.
Here’s a picture of the shaft collar I used:
Finally, after the shaft collar comes the axle rod plastic cap. This is just a cap that you hammer onto the edge of the axle. However, it really has 3 purposes.
First, the axle rod has some sharp edges on both ends, so I didn’t want it digging into things and doing damage.
Second, it provides an additional layer of locking protection to prevent the wheel from sliding off. Albeit the locking shaft collar will do its job just fine, but it never hurts to have something extra to re-enforce it.
Finally, it finishes off the wheel setup giving it a nice aesthetic look.
I did a lot of shopping around online and found the best prices to come from Zoro.com and Amazon.
The rest of the parts came from Zoro. Additionally, I made sure that all the parts fit on the axle size I was using, which was ⅝”
Here is a picture of the assembled wheel structure (see what a nice finishing touch the end plastic caps give):
Here’s a close-up of the pillow block and the spacing washers:
Building the Wagon Chassis
With the wheels completed, I could focus now on the wagon platform for the utility cart.
This step was going to be a piece of cake.
The wheels were going to be mounted on 1 ft blocks of 4 x 4s. Those blocks would be attached to a rectangular frame made of 4 x 4s.
I planned on using pressure-treated wood for these foundational 4 x 4s. They were going to be underneath the wagon and exposed more to insects.
Any structural damage to the foundation would be catastrophic so pressure-treated wood seemed a necessity.
However, knowing that people would be riding in the wagon at some point, I didn’t want them in close proximity to the chemicals used in PT wood, so the wagon floor and above would be regular wood.
Also, I did plan on using deck stain though to protect it from water and weathering.
On top of the frame would be some 2 x 8 planks for the floor of the wagon.
Attached to the perimeter of the wagon would be a fence made of 2 x 4s.
Finally, the rear of the wagon would have a swinging gate to allow easy access into the wagon.
Here’s my TinkerCad design of the vision I had in mind:
The rectangular frame underneath the wagon needed to be strong, as it comprised a majority of the foundation.
So I used half lap joints to secure the corners of the frame (see my mailbox post where I used a center lap joint).
I made repeated cuts with my circular saw to get rough cut of the joints.
Then I used my chisel and hammer to clean up the cut, and smoothed it down with a sander.
Here’s a picture of a half lap joint in the process of being made (for efficiency and consistency, I clamped two 4 x 4s side-by-side to get 2 joints cut at the same time):
Here’s a picture of the lap joints completed, and the rectangular frame is ready to come together:
To connect the joints securely, I used wood glue and lag bolts.
I also wanted the lag bolt heads flush with the surface of frame, so I used a Forstner bit to carve out smooth holes to countersink the bolts.
Here’s a picture of the completed frame bolted together with glue:
Forstner bits are awesome. I just added them to my tool collection and have been using them in a lot of recent projects.
Here’s a close up the holes they made for the bolts:
To complete the foundation, I attached the 1 ft blocks that the wheel axles would be fastened to.
They needed to be firmly attached, so I used wood glue and two 6” bolts to make a strong connection.
Here’s a picture of one of them:
Making the Wagon Floor
Next up was the floor. I used 2 pieces of 2 x 8s for the center, and 2 pieces of 2 x 10s for the ends.
I attached them to the 4 x 4 frame with some countersunk deck screws.
Here’s a picture of attached floor:
Attaching the Wheel Axles
Now the moment of truth came.
It was time to attach the wheel axles to the frame. I bolted the pillow blocks tightly and flipped the frame over.
Would the frame roll smoothly… (drum roll please).
Yes it did!
Here’s a picture of the attached wheels and frame:
Here’s an underneath close-up of a pillow block mounting to the frame:
I could stop right now and have a gigantic skateboard, but the fun was only beginning. It was time to build the wagon fence and gate.
Building the Fence and Gate
This part was really easy.
I just cut a number of 2 x 4s. Some were attached to the 4 x 4 foundation frame to serve as posts, and the rest were used as cross pieces screwed into the posts.
For the swinging gate, I used some 1 x 3 wood left over from a previous project.
I made the rectangular gate frame with some pocket holes using my trusty Kreg pocket hole jig, and some wood glue.
Here’s a picture of the gate in progress:
Here’s a picture of the wagon with the finished fence and gate (it looks great, doesn’t it?):
Attaching the Hitch
Prior to starting work on the utility cart, I had done some research on how to actually connect it to the mower.
I found a contraption that let me attach a 2” diameter hitch ball to the back of the mower.
I could bolt the connection to my wagon, and attach the other end to the hitch ball on the mower. In theory it sounded good, so I hoped it worked in practice.
Here’s a picture of the hitch and tow bar linking the utility cart to the mower (the tow bar can be easily detached on either end when not in use):
Now it was time to test the mower and the wagon together. I started up the mower and slowly let the brake go.
It started pulling the utility cart without hesitation!
I was worried the engine would struggle, but it did not. I did a few laps around the yard and it was working wonderfully.
The First Ride
Now, I just needed a test subject.
After all, what’s the fun in pulling around an empty wagon?
Eileen was on the phone, and I was anxious to try out the wagon with someone. Then I looked at the house and who did I see looking out at me but my dog Zeus.
Here’s a picture of me testing out the wagon with my first test subject:
I later applied some deck stain to the non-pressure treated wood, and the utility cart was completed.
Since building, I’ve given many rides in the back yard. I’ve also hauled many bags of refuse to the curb in minutes, saving a lot of time.
It does take a few minutes to hook up the wagon to the mower though. So I don’t always use it attached.
Although, it works just fine as a stand alone utility cart when I don’t feel like hooking up the hitch.
Now for some pictures of the wagon hard at work.
This was was taken when I needed to move a lot of equipment into my storage shed from the garage.
What would have normally taken me several trips, took just one with the utility cart:
Here is the wagon hauling 10 bags of refuse to the curb.
I used to use my wheelbarrow, but that would only hold 2 bags at a time. It pales in comparison to the wagon:
Finally, here’s a glamour shot:
It was one of my most fun projects to date, and best of all, it was completed in just a weekend.
The total cost was around $120.