• Moving Crates with 4-Wheel Dollies

    4-wheel dollies are standard issue equipment for moving crates, as well as just about anything else (display cases, materials, office furniture). Moving crates with good quality dollies and with safe and efficient methods is part of a foundation of good art handling practices. This article describes varieties of dolly types and construction
    features, and illustrates techniques of dolly placement under crates and crate moving fundamentals.

    The dollies we refer to consist of a wooden frame about 18” wide x 30” long outfitted with four swivel casters of 3-1/2”, 4” or 5” diameter, and with an overall height of about 6” to 9”. Other dolly frame construction materials may include aluminum, steel and polyethylene, and a variety of frame designs and sizes are available. Caster wheel types vary in quality and material, with the most common two wheel types being black hard rubber or gray soft rubber (“non-marking”).

    Caster wheel hardness is a consideration for the type of surface the dolly will be rolled across. Due to less resistance, hard rubber wheels roll easier than soft wheels over carpeting, however they are not as well suited for rough surfaces. Soft rubber wheels are quieter than hard rubber ones and better for rough surfaces yet are not rated for as much weight. Other caster features to evaluate: look for higher quality construction in larger kingpin and axle, thicker plate and yoke, and quality bearings.

    The most common type of dolly used in the art environment is constructed using hardwood such as oak, with raised ends which have rubber caps to help grip its load. Casters are typically 4” diameter wheels of either gray soft rubber or black hard rubber, with an overall capacity of about 900 to 1200 lbs respectively depending on caster quality. An alternate frame style is the “H”-type, which features a flush top surface sporting additional gripping material. Although the raised cap design provides a more predictable two points of contact than a flush top model, the latter has improved grip, has a lower profile, and can be a versatile complement to a dolly fleet.

    L to R: “H”-type flush-top dolly and hardwood dolly with raised rubber caps

    Another dolly commonly seen used in commercial office moving is the lower-cost carpeted dolly. Its construction is more pedestrian, with common 2 x 4’s and carpet-covered plywood panels at either end. Outfitted with quality casters found on higher priced dollies, they function very well, although the carpeting is not grippy like the coverings on the hardwood and “H”-type dollies. Note that spacing between the carpeted sections is less than hardwood dollies. Capacity rated at about 900 lbs.

    A common strategy with most crates is to tip up one end and place a single 4-wheel dolly underneath at the center point of the crate, orienting the dolly inline with the length. A typical scenario would involve three handlers; one designated as the lifter at one end of the crate, a second as the stabilizer at the opposing end to the lifter, and the third as the dolly placer. All players should either clearly communicate a plan of action or implicitly follow a commonly used approach. The lifter counts out (“1-2-3”) and then lifts, while at the same time the stabilizing person spots the opposite end and prevents the crate from sliding by placing a foot at the bottom edge of the crate, as well as keeping the crate from tipping to either side. The dolly handler must be aware of potential dangers once in position to place the dolly in case the lifter loses grip and drops the crate or it tips. Rolling the dolly under the crate should be done with the hand or hands underneath the rails of the dolly. The dolly placer indicates to the lifter when the dolly is in position, who then slowly lowers the crate (and may announce this accordingly). As the crate contacts one end of the dolly, the dolly handler lifts up the other end of the dolly to mate with the bottom of the crate, providing added stability as the crate is lowered.

    Crate goes up and dolly is placed underneath

    Crate slowly lowered and dolly brought up to meet crate bottom

    Crate down and ready to move

    Many crates can be safely loaded onto and off of dollies with only two handlers, although others may require 4 or more. As the weight and/or size of the crate increases, likewise the communication of the lifting and placing plan becomes more critical. Although a team effort, one handler should take primary responsibility in clearly directing crew in order to reduce confusion.

Mechanical lifting advantages can be gained through the use of either a J-bar or hand truck. With tall and thin crates prone to toppling, use of these tools most likely predicates the need for a person to stabilize
as the lifter does not have hands-on control of the crate. For safety’s sake, keen supervision of a mechanical lift is vital by both dolly placer and lifter for the same reason.

    Two dollies or one?

    An interesting question with an answer that might surprise you. On many crates, even large ones, you would imagine that two dollies would be safer than one. However, placing a single dolly under the crate focuses the weight on a single pivot point, enhancing maneuverability for negotiating surface variations such as thresholds, dock plates, extension cords, curbs, etc. Skilled handlers, coordinating alternate upward and downward pressure on relative ends of a crate can effectively step over these obstacles. With two dollies under a crate, uneven surfaces and the resulting uneven weight distribution can cause either of the dollies to unexpectedly weasel out from underneath the crate. Whenever possible, of course, eliminate
 obstacles from your crate moving path for the safety of handlers and the crates.




    Other factors
    Large crates may require careful evaluation before dolly placement. For instance, crates which are heavy and wide in both directions may be ill served with a single dolly placed in the middle of the crate bottom; in this case, dollies under crate battens or skids at either end would be more prudent to avoid stress and damage to the crate bottom. Or, sometimes a thin crate with skids placed such that the crate does not sit flat when placed inline with the crate length may be more stable with the dolly perpendicular to the length of the crate.

    In some instances it may be required by a courier or conservator that a crate is to be lifted by hand straight up in order to place dollies. Extra care should be taken because the crate no longer has the safety of having at least one end on the ground during dolly placement or removal. Individuals may not be evenly paired for lifting and the potential for one or both persons to drop their end can be detrimental for the object as well as for the handlers. Other moving equipment may be more suitable for special needs crates. For information about other crate lifting and moving equipment, read the following PACIN articles:

    Pallet Jacks
    Moving Crates with J-bars, Etc

    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