Coping: My Top Mechanical Labor Savers

There we were late Wednesday:  A local freight forwarder got our new Gold’s Gym here about 4:30 PM, or thereabouts.

The woman who owns the outfit was very pleasant and in two shakes, her son who works with her in the business had 230-pounds of gym off the truck and into the driveway.

Great!  (But now what?  It’s 94F and humid about that moment…)

(Continues below)


Turned out to be only a minor sweat.  We popped the box open and set about getting after it with our favorite Mechanical Labor-Saving Devices.

For me, it was a simple hand truck, not unlike the Milwaukee 30019 800-Pound Capacity D-Handle Hand Truck with 10-Inch Pneumatic Tires which runs about $60 bucks.   But it’s almost a dead-ringer for the red hand truck that I bought at the local Tractor Supply store back in 2005.

They were having a sale and testing the waters on Chinese tools, from what I could figure.  And on sale it was only $19.95.

As we have rebuilt the house, shop, guest quarter, out buildings and more, that damn hand truck has never failed to cut the amount of George-power needed by two-third, or more.  Even moved two compact water heaters (40 gallons per) with it, up stairs and down with nothing more than 500 mg of chlorzoxozone for three days for the back…. But I shudder to think what it would have been like without the wheeled helper-from-God.

Elaine’s approach was different.  I’d bought her a Radio Flyer Classic Red Wagon about 8-years back.  She schleps deer food, bird food, concrete stepping stones, and whatever else around with that.

Seemed like a poor choice to me, because even though I’ve explained this a zillion times,  people think I’m nuts.

One of the “urban survival secrets” is understanding what happens where the “rubber meets the road” or gravel, or lawn, or whatever.

Growing up in the 1950’s, my dad had a family legend:  A steel wheelbarrow with a metal wheel.  Hell of a fine unit EXCEPT one day my dad brought home a pneumatic tire wheelbarrow and I asked why?  The metal wheel was dandy.

He then “took me to school” on how reality works.

The TIRE should be right for the kind of surface you’re working on.”

20-minutes later, my dad *(firehouse nickname Capt. Encyclopedia) had me understanding that steel wheels on concrete are grand.  But if you’re doing construction (as he’d learned about in the Great Depression from folks working building Grand Coulee Dam), a metal wheelbarrow needs to have a track of boards laid down, otherwise the surface friction will cut material moved, by the same crew, dramatically.  Kaiser figure it out.

Fast forward a few years (about mid childhood) and my buddy (the retired major now) were off riding bikes along the freeway that was being built along the side of Beacon Hill in Seattle.  It’s now I-5 and the section ran from Dearborn Avenue down to the Rainer Brewery.

I had a spanking new “Robin Hood” three-speed English Racer (cats meow in the pre-mountain bike universe).  Tires pumped to 70 pounds and I was faster than the wind…on pavement.

The major, on the other hand (on the trip that comes to mind) was on his brother’s two speed Schwinn and it had a two-speed shift.  Those balloon tires had more surface friction than you could shake a stick at.  Try though he would, there was now what he could keep up with me.  I told him he’d been schwinndled.

Made me feel fit as a fiddle…competition and all that.

Then we got off pavement.

Those thin, hard tires?  Cut right down into the gravel and even in low gear I was standing up jumping on the pedals and screaming what a crappy bike I had.  He laughed and we have several million such events:  One where I’d be right for a minute, then he’d be right…you know how that stuff goes.

So Elaine brings out her Red Flyer and I smile.  “You might want to let me do that dear…thin tires, gravel, you’re asking for trouble….”

You could almost hear Helen Ready tuning up “I am woman.”  “I’ll be fine! she declared.

Uh-huh…sure…  Eventually, she got her wagon load through the 4-6 inches of gravel under the carport off the shop.  Meantime, the pneumatic  tires on the hand truck were floating my loads to into the shop with just a twinge of guilt.

OK, I was over it in 10 seconds.  Maybe 12.

My second favorite MLSD (mechanical labor-saving device, remember?)  is a good heavy vice and an assortment of 3/4 and 1” black iron pipe.

I don’t use it often, but if you ever have to straighten out a rod on a piece of equipment, like the anti-sway rod on the riding mower which gets bent up like a pretzel when you bang into trees (surely Swedes do that, too, don’t they?).

Take the nearly circular rod, put it in the vice, and then carefully work the 3-4 foot section of pipe like it’s a HUGE bending machine and in no time, you’ll produce a workable piece of rod and you’ll mentally make a not that the next time you go to Jacks Small Engines for parts, you MIGHT  order a new anti-sway rod.  I’ve lot count of how many times this one has been “fixed” only to run into a crazy at the wheel…

Next labor saving device is an assortment of pry bars.  OMG, give me a long enough lever and I really can move the world.

Stanley makes a pretty nice PRY BAR SET 5 PC by STANLEY MfrPartNo STHT55139 and though it’s $33, or so, there is NOTHING like a great pry bar.

I don’t know how many rooms you have walked into and said “This sucks.  I’m going to rip this sucker down to studs and do it MY WAY…”  I’m done it so many times I’ve lost count.  Doesn’t matter that my way gets shelved;  since it ends up being Elaine’s way…but we’ll table the discussion of change orders and celibacy some other morning.

Once you get a pry bar set, practice the “Ure Move.”

You see, most people know that you can take a pry bar, hammer it in between two boards that are attached, and pull BACK like a regular bar.

But did you know the sideways motion is event more effective?

The reason has to do with where the fulcrum is for the foot.  That right angle piece is often not in more than a fraction of an inch, so the fulcrum can be over an inch out from the work.

Hammer a thin bar (3/4″) in and then moving it sideways and you get a noticeable increase in mechanical advantage.

Final labor saver is a good shop brush.  Like the Weiler 71019 Horsehair Counter Brush which is $11-bucks.

I know there are people who would insist that a shop vac does a better job. But for counters and keeping the big piles of sawdust off shop equipment, nothing is better than a couple of shop brushes.  One for each bench.

Yeah, we have a retracting cord reel for power but the brooms work fine and they don’t eat filters. (Am I the only one that sees vacuum filters as a racket?)

And before I give this morning a final “brush off” remember with fall workshop projects ahead, there is nothing more useful than a couple of cases of chip brushes.  For $12 bucks, or so, see this 24 Pack of 1-1/2 inch Paint and Chip Paint Brushes for Paint, Stains, Varnishes, Glues and whatever. 

We usually get a case of these about once a quarter, or so.

How many times have you though “Yeah, I could throw half a dozen coats of spar varnish on this and it would look bitchin!”  Then you figure brush cleaning time or you don’t have enough brushes on hand…and then you don’t do it, the finished work is “unfinished” looking and you get depressed…

See how easy it is to avoid that mindset?

Before taking on ANY task around the house, ask “Is there an easier way to do this?  If I was as incredibly lazy as that Ure SOB, how would I do this different/faster/cheaper, more effectively (gai zin) and get the same results?”

Armed with my impact driver the first half of gym assembly Wednesday went well enough…not enough time in the day, though.

Elaine looked a bit worried because she actually read the instructions.  “See dear where they say no power tools?

There’s a time to read instructions and there’s a time to ignore them. Most times, I will sheepishly admit, yeah, reading the damn book may be one of those labor savers, too.

Write when you get rich,

16 thoughts on “Coping: My Top Mechanical Labor Savers”

  1. Drinking coffee tied with living longer, researchers at USC say 

    By the University of Southern California press staff 

    Here’s another reason to start the day with a cup of joe: scientists have found that people who drink coffee appear to live longer.

    Drinking coffee was associated with a lower risk of death due to heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, and respiratory and kidney disease for African-Americans, Japanese-Americans, Latinos and whites.

    People who consumed a cup of coffee a day were 12 percent less likely to die compared to those who didn’t drink coffee. This association was even stronger for those who drank two to three cups a day: 18 percent reduced chance of death.

    Lower mortality was present regardless of whether people drank regular or decaffeinated coffee, suggesting the association is not tied to caffeine, said Wendy Setiawan, senior author of the study and an associate professor of preventive medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

    “We cannot say drinking coffee will prolong your life, but we see an association,” Ms. Setiawan said. 

    “If you like to drink coffee, drink up! If you’re not a coffee drinker, then you need to consider if you should start.”

    The study, which will be published in the July 11 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine, used data from the Multiethnic Cohort Study, a collaborative effort between the University of Hawaii Cancer Center and the Keck School of Medicine.

    The ongoing Multiethnic Cohort Study has more than 215,000 participants and bills itself as the most ethnically diverse study examining lifestyle risk factors that may lead to cancer.

    “Until now, few data have been available on the association between coffee consumption and mortality in nonwhites in the United States and elsewhere,” the study stated. 

    “Such investigations are important because lifestyle patterns and disease risks can vary substantially across racial and ethnic backgrounds, and findings in one group may not necessarily apply to others.”

    Since the association was seen in four different ethnicities, Ms. Setiawan said it is safe to say the results apply to other groups.

    “This study is the largest of its kind and includes minorities who have very different lifestyles,” Setiawan said. “Seeing a similar pattern across different populations gives stronger biological backing to the argument that coffee is good for you whether you are white, African-American, Latino or Asian.”

    Previous research by USC and others have indicated that drinking coffee is associated with reduced risk of several types of cancer, diabetes, liver disease, Parkinson’s disease, Type 2 diabetes and other chronic diseases.

    “Coffee contains a lot of antioxidants and phenolic compounds that play an important role in cancer prevention,” Ms. Setiawan said. “Although this study does not show causation or point to what chemicals in coffee may have this ‘elixir effect,’ it is clear that coffee can be incorporated into a healthy diet and lifestyle.”

    About 62 percent of Americans drink coffee daily, a 5 percent increase from 2016 numbers, reported the National Coffee Association.

    As a research institution, University of Southern California has scientists from across disciplines working to find a cure for cancer and better ways for people to manage the disease.

    The Keck School of Medicine and the univeristy’s Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center manage a state-mandated database called the Los Angeles Cancer Surveillance Program, which provides scientists with essential statistics on cancer for a diverse population.

    Researchers from the center have found that drinking coffee lowers the risk of colorectal cancer. But drinking piping hot coffee or beverages probably causes cancer in the esophagus, according to a World Health Organization panel of scientists that included Mariana Stern from the Keck School of Medicine.

    University of Southern California graphic

    Instituto Interamericano de Cooperación para Agricultura photo     

    Coffee is a good in the morning and in life apparently.

    In some respects, coffee is regaining its honor for wellness benefits. After 25 years of labeling coffee a carcinogen linked to bladder cancer, the World Health Organization last year announced that drinking coffee reduces the risk for liver and uterine cancer.

    “Some people worry drinking coffee can be bad for you because it might increase the risk of heart disease, stunt growth or lead to stomach ulcers and heartburn,” Ms. Setiawan said. “But research on coffee has mostly shown no harm to people’s health.”

    Ms. Setiawan and her colleagues examined the data of 185,855 people aged 45 to 75 at recruitment. Participants answered questionnaires about diet, lifestyle, and family and personal medical history.

    They reported their coffee drinking habits when they entered the study and updated them about every five years, checking one of nine boxes that ranged from “never or hardly ever” to “four or more cups daily.” They also reported whether they drank caffeinated or decaffeinated coffee. The average follow-up period was 16 years.

    Sixteen percent of participants reported that they did not drink coffee, 31 percent drank one cup per day, 25 percent drank two to three cups per day and 7 percent drank four or more cups per day. The remaining 21 percent had irregular coffee consumption habits.

    Over the course of the study, 58,397 participants, or about 31 percent, died. Cardiovascular disease (36 percent) and cancer (31 percent) were the leading killers.

    The data was adjusted for age, sex, ethnicity, smoking habits, education, preexisting disease, vigorous physical exercise and alcohol consumption.

    Ms. Setiawan’s previous research found that coffee reduces the risk of liver cancer and chronic liver disease. She is

    currently examining how coffee is associated with the risk of developing specific cancers.

  2. Your dusting brush reminded me of the horsehair drafting brushes used back in the day of drawing on paper with pencils. They were especially needed when using an electric eraser (a real labor saving tool) or a gum rubber puppy that made booger sized debris. Those brushes are used for all sorts of dusting tasks now and don’t require any maintenance or parts replacements like the new faddled ‘duster’ devices do.

  3. A great gym… Had one. Got it because I went to the local sweat shop four days a week and figured having my own equipment at home would save me the thirteen hundred a year for a family membership. after the three months of using it regularly every morning using it dropped down to three days after another month or six weeks once a week the last month I discovered it works great as a coat hanger lol lol lol when it started to really get in the way I called the local thrift store to pick up up.. they said no but for a sizable donation they would cart it away.. ended up putting a sign on the equipment saying free.. even then it took a couple weeks for it to vanish .
    I sure hope you get more use out of yours than we did mine..
    I would offer a good erercise cycle but totally have plans on hooking that up to a front end loader washing machine so when the kids start talking about needing to loose weight I can say have at it.. don’t forget the spin cycle lol lol lol

  4. George, as I see it. Elaine got you twice. Once on her load in the radio flyer. And again when she read the instructions while you put the gym equipment together. You maroon.

  5. “When all else fails, read the manual!” That, and Murphy’s three laws were words to live by for this ‘expedient maintenance engineer’.

    My other long-wished dream fantasy was to execute a design-engineer by forcing him to do maintanance on his own badly-designed, unmaintainable contraptions with inaccessible critical parts.

    I’m pretty sure George has encountered these.

    • In my 25 year career in the Space Shuttle Program I designed many electronic systems where the pieces parts were installed into replaceable line units, (drawer assemblies). The young engineers laughed at this and built there systems onto non-removable shelves. My systems could be repaired by swapping drawers and returned to service in minutes. The other guys had to dig deep into hard to reach spaces to replace parts and take hours to do so. Who’s laughing now?

  6. I believe in conserving energy wherever possible. Especially my own. The less trips, etc. the better.

  7. I have a variety of bench brushes, but, the one I always pick up and use is a natural fiber wall paper brush. Thin, flat, it just feels right in the hand. Two of them hang on a nail next to the dust pan.

  8. My top labor (and back) savers are 2-bys (they work as non-marring levers, or throw a few together and you have a ramp or a floor), block & tackle, hand truck, engine hoist (cheap, portable crane) and 4-wheel dollies. The oldies are the besties, and it amazes me how few of the under-35 crowd can figure out how to improvise or utilize tools that’ve been around for many thousands of years…

    BTW George, I don’t know whether E would be interested in an upgrade, or not, but, I picked up a Chinese “garden cart” some months ago — steel mesh, ~10×2½” balloon pneumatics, drop sides, rated @900lbs, handy stuff-mover, and <$40 (on sale.) Everybody sells the same basic cart, although some are rated 400# or 500#. It's about $80 at Harbor Freight, without sides, retails for between $50-70 at your local HomeDepot/BuildersSupply/Menards/Lowes/etc. I dunno whether it'll carry 900 pounds, but it'll carry a 240 pound Rockwell drill press through a hundred feet of gravel, without issue. It's certainly not as sexy as a real Radio Flyer. Then again, I studied Frank Lloyd Wright whilst not yet dry behind the ears…

    • Oh, see has one – she just doesn’t like it as well as the RFW – she likes the rfw because ity is lighter.
      “But dear it doesn’t carry the same load…”
      “this is my gig, right…”
      “yes dear…”

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