Wheelbarrows are extremely versatile inventions with many uses around your backyard. Some come with a single wheel and others with two – so what is the best choice for the type of tasks you’ll be doing and why?
The main benefit of two wheel wheelbarrows is that they’re more stable and can carry heavier loads, so are great for construction related jobs. However, single wheelers are easier to maneuver, better up hills and simpler to tip, so are better for gardening and general household tasks.
Let’s dive down into this subject in more detail, considering the benefits and drawbacks of both single and double wheel wheelbarrows. We’ll also look at the history of this incredible invention, and compare the price difference between the single wheel models and two-wheelers.
Are 2 Wheel Wheelbarrows Really Better?
Two wheel barrows are better for heavy loads. This is because you have greater stability at the front, making it easier (and safer) to carry weighty or unbalanced loads. However, you do sacrifice your ability to maneuver easily, and two wheelers are notoriously tricky to push up hills.
The design is simple. You still have a single axle, but with two wheels attached to it. A classic single wheel wheelbarrow has three points of support: the wheel, and your two hands pushing it. A two wheeler has four two wheels and two hands. So, you can see immediately how this improves stability but decreases maneuverability.
What Can You Do With a 2 Wheeler That You Can’t With 1?
There are two deciding factors when it comes to choosing between one and two wheel wheelbarrows: the weight of the typical load, and the size of your yard.
If you have a large garden, or carry out a lot of landscaping or building jobs, a two wheel wheelbarrow is a better option. It can carry a heavier load than a one wheel barrow can, and this is the main advantage.
This is thanks to the stability provided by that extra wheel. Think about what it feels like to push a single wheel wheelbarrow. It’s pleasingly agile and easy to move until the load becomes heavy. Then, it sways from side to side, and your focus becomes on keeping it upright rather than pushing it where you need to go. It’s hard work.
Because a two wheel has four points of contact, a heavy or uneven load won’t unbalance it. This enables you to wheel a larger load, making it a better choice for larger yards. You can even take one hand off the handles without it falling over.
Why Do Wheelbarrows Only Have One Wheel Anyway?
Good question, as it seems a strange design when you think about it. The earliest wheelbarrows have been traced back to China in the third century AD, when small, single wheeled carts were used to transport supplies to the front line of battles. They were the invention of a man in the Chinese army named Chuk Liang, and he named his device the “wooden ox”.
These early wooden barrows could quickly and efficiently replenish food and supplies, and were also used to transport wounded soldiers. Their usefulness naturally spread further into more agricultural and domestic uses. The barrow first came to Europe in the late twelfth or early thirteenth century.
Several centuries later, the design hasn’t changed that much, except that the single wheel is now further forwards than the ancient Chinese design. This makes it easier to tip out the waste. Also, wooden barrows are now rare: they’re attractive but heavy, and tend to eventually rot.
Wheelbarrows stuck with the single wheel design because they are easy to maneuver around the garden, especially if your yard slopes.
A two wheel barrow can feel easier to push, especially with a heavy load, as its design is inherently more stable. This is great – in a straight line. Now try to take a corner… It doesn’t handle well at all, and won’t turn in a tight space. So, if your yard is made up from corners and paths and decks and flowerbeds, you’ll find a single wheel barrow far easier to push.
Main Advantages of a Two Wheel Wheelbarrow
Why go for a two wheel wheelbarrow over a single wheel? Here’s an at-a-glance guide to why we like two wheels.
- Stability: that extra wheel makes a big difference when you’re pushing a heavy load. This makes it both easier and safer to haul large quantities.
- Balance: the second wheel keeps the barrow upright. You can concentrate on pushing the wheelbarrow forwards, rather than constantly leaning to one side then the other to correct the tipping barrow. This puts less strain on you as you’re pushing.
- Heavy loads: yep, you can stick tons of stuff in without fear of the wheelbarrow tipping up. You also don’t need to take as much care distributing the load around the barrow, as the stable design allows for uneven, oddly-shaped and bulky loads.
- Versatility: where the one wheel barrow is mainly a gardening tool, a two wheeler can be used for more building projects as it can haul heavier and bulkier items
- One-handed: you can take one hand off the handles without it falling over. Big advantage if you need to open gates, find keys and so on.
Main Advantages of a One Wheel Wheelbarrow
It can be a case of “two wheels good, one wheel better”, however. If you have a small or awkwardly shaped yard, a single wheeler may do a much better job.
- Easy to maneuver: the single wheel design is agile and simple to move. It turns beautifully (we sound like we’re describing a sports car here), making it perfect for smaller yards
- Better up hills: the lighter design is easier to push up slopes (as long as the cart isn’t overloaded)
- Better on uneven ground: they simply bump their way over lumpy terrain, especially models with pneumatic tires
- Fits into small spaces: if you’re working in a tight spot, your wheelbarrow can come with you – because you know you won’t have the painful job of trying to reverse out with it
- Tipping: the single wheeler was designed to be easy to tip. Once you’ve taken the top soil to the flower beds or the compost to the pile, you simply tip it out and set off again.
- Half the maintenance: you only have to look after one tire!
Are Two Wheelers More Expensive Than One?
There may be a slight price difference, but it’s not a huge one. We had a look at the range at Home Depot. Entry level single wheel wheelbarrows start at around $40, and the cheapest two wheeler was closer to $60 – but it was bigger. Comparing like-for-like 6 cubic feet models from True Temper, there’s only two dollars in it.
So, when you’re purchasing a wheelbarrow, cost needn’t be a big deciding factor. However, if you choose a barrow with pneumatic tires, you will literally have twice the wheel maintenance.
If you’re going for a two wheeler because you have a lot of heavy-duty gardening going on, invest in a good quality wheelbarrow. You want a reliable, hard-working design that will last you for years and be capable of hauling heavy loads.
Likewise, don’t skimp on the quality of a smaller, single wheel design. Sure, the cart portion won’t take as much wear and tear if you’re shifting lighter garden waste, but you do want it to maneuver well. If your one wheel wheelbarrow doesn’t steer well, you’re missing out on the design’s biggest advantage.
Of course, there are more deciding factors than wheels. Do you want steel or plastic? The latter tends to be cheaper but can’t always take such heavy loads.
Pneumatic or solid rubber tires? Pneumatic tires make the wheelbarrow easier to manage, but can pop so you have a maintenance expense. Think about your yard, your typical loads, and your wallet before you make a decision.
When writing this article, that old song about wagon trains kept going around in my head – you know the one that goes ‘Three wheels on my wagon, and I’m still rolling along’ etc.
The point being that how many wheels you need – be it on your wagon or on your wheelbarrow – depends upon your precise circumstances and requirements.
If you’re being chased by Cherokees and are in imminent danger of death, then four wagon wheels are certainly better than three.
However, unless you’re undertaking a major building project and need the extra weight carrying capacity and stability of a two wheeled wheelbarrow – then for most garden tasks a single wheel will suffice. (Editor’s note: you’ve had too much coffee!). 🙂
Homeowner and property investor Larry James founded Take a Yard in 2020 to bring you the very best outdoor living content, based on his years of experience managing outside spaces. Read more >