• Moving Crates with J-bars, Etc

    By Paul Brewin

    The following equipment discussion is focused on the J-bar and other tools used for lifting crates in order to make them mobile via 4-wheel dollies or other means. A sister article Moving Crates with 4-wheel Dollies discusses dolly types and their placement under crates, while another Basics: Moving Crates with Pallet Jacks covers that multi-purpose tool.

    A general note on safety when using any lifting tools: inspect all tools for damage and insure they are in good working order before each use. Understand the limits of the tool, plan lifts methodically, and anticipate and avoid dangerous situations.

    Short for “Johnson bar”, this simple tool utilizes the ancient principle of leverage coupled with the equally ancient principle of wheels. The J-bar consists of a wooden handle (steel is also available) either 5, 6 or 7 feet in length with a steel plate with an angled lip bolted to one end, riding on a pair of 5” wheels. The longer the handle, the greater the lifting capacity (3500, 4250 and 5000 lbs. respectively). Wheel coverings include rubber, polyurethane, steel and cast iron, with rubber and polyurethane quietest and least harmful to finished wood and stone flooring. Wheels can be easily replaced and should be done if the wheels appear cracked or worn.

    6' J-bar with polyurethane molded wheels

    J-bar in action lifting a crate

    While designed for moving heavy loads, the J-bar is only intended to raise the load a few inches, unfortunately not enough lift for placing a dolly underneath a crate. One way around this is to place blocks underneath the wheels of the J-bar to provide extra lift, taking care not to allow the J-bar to roll off the blocks during the lift. The more temptingly dubious method is to place blocks onto the lip. In this instance there is the very real potential for the blocks to slip out during the lifting process.

    L to R: Seems OK...; BAM!

    An aftermarket extension plate is available which slips over the lip of the J-bar and is a great solution to the lift height limitation.

    Lift extension plate in action. Photos courtesy of ELY art services

    In addition to its lifting role, the J-bar is useful jockeying crates around. Pick the crate slightly with the J-bar at an angle and swing the handle as if rowing a boat, effectively rotating and moving the crate. Sliding heavy crates also becomes easier with the J-bar lifting at one end. J-bars come in handy with large crates which, either due to their construction or from resting on an uneven floor, have lids that cannot be bolted closed. Picking the crate slightly with the J-bar from one corner or another usually helps solve the problem of lining up bolt closures.

    Hand truck
    An alternative to the J-bar, the common hand truck can be used for lifting a crate to place a dolly underneath. The advantage of this tool is that the plate is much longer than the lip of the J-bar, and is at a 90º angle to the handle, providing much greater lift than an unmodified J-bar. Many configurations are available; steel or aluminum tubing, varying handle designs, short or long lifting plates, rubber or pneumatic wheels, and so on. Capacities for hand trucks range from 400 to 900 lbs., much less than that of a J-bar. Still, it is a very useful tool which can be safely used in this application under many circumstances. There is a point, however, where the physical stresses can exceed the structural capacity of the tool. It is difficult to determine to what limit this tool should be used for this alternate purpose since it is being used in a way that is not intended, so lift with caution.

    L to R: Aluminum hand truck with "D" handle and pneumatic wheels; a steel "2-in-1" hand truck in action

    Two-wheeled hyrdraulic lift
    This multi-purpose tool also known by a trade name “Pedalift” by Wesco, features either twin forks or a metal plate which can be raised up to 54” from the floor using the foot-actuated lever. It can function as both a hand truck as well as a material or object lift. The wheels lock, preventing the unit from sliding while lifting, and the wide plate also adds to its stability. The main advantage of this tool over other crate lifters is that others operating as a lever require that the operator stand at a distance when in use. This tool allows the operator to stand close enough to the crate to stabilize it during the lift – effectively gaining a crew member (not an advantage to be taken lightly). Capacity for this tool is 750 lbs.

    A Pedalift in action

    Machinery or Furniture Mover
    These tools provide the most secure, safe and effortless way to move large and heavy crates and objects by performing both the lifting and moving roles. Often referred to by brand names “Rais-N-Rol”, or “Rol-A-Lift”, these units are first strapped together as a pair at either end of the crate being moved. Then the crate can be lifted either by mechanical means (hand crank) or hydraulic action (bottle jack), depending on the model of mover. The result is that two handlers can safely lift and move a large crate which would normally require a larger crew. On most crates only a slight lift is necessary to position the fork or tongue of the mover under the crate. Both the lift and move is easer and safer compared to raising the crate high enough to place a dolly or dollies underneath. Notably when crates are optimally designed (skids are inset from the end the crate) no auxiliary lifting at all is required. The crate is also highly stabilized due to the longer effective wheelbase, and as the wheeled units are strapped together there is no danger of the crate slipping off its wheels. These efficiency and safety factors can be significant in an understaffed facility. The downside of this equipment is its high cost, and the subsequent likelihood that with one pair of lifts, only one crate would be mobile at a time.

    The orange-colored “furniture mover” can lift 1,350 lbs per pair up to 12”; an alternate model can lift 3,950 lbs per pair. The red Rol-A Lift “machinery mover” can lift 4,000 lbs per pair up to 12” (capacities range from 2,000 to 10,000 lbs per pair).

    A view of the different styles of lips and wheel types (polyurethane on left, hard rubber on right). Note the short metal spikes on the left unit’s lip to grip the load.

    Views of two different styles installed and lifting a crate.

    For information about other crate lifting and moving equipment, read the following PACIN articles:

    Moving Crates with 4-wheel Dollies
    Pallet Jacks

    Below is a sampling of links to commercial manufacturers and/or distributors of the equipment described in this article:

    New Haven Moving Equipment
    Movers Supply House
    C and H Distributors
    Rand Materials Handling Equipment
    Grainger Industrial Supply
    McMaster Carr
    The Fairbanks Company
    Ely, Inc