​What's the Difference Between a Sack Barrow and a Sack Truck?

16th Feb 2024

What's the Difference Between a Sack Barrow and a Sack Truck?

In reality, there is no real difference between a Sack Truck and a Sack Barrow besides the name, with both names being used by different regional dialects and languages. A Barrow is defined as a 2 wheeled carrier, particularly used around fast-moving fruit and veg markets or fish markets which have always been industries that would have used barrows. The Barrow is something which is still prevalent in many third world countries where it is still a very cheap and simple way to move bulk. Even having designs towed by donkeys as with an old horse and cart. The design has not changed for hundreds of years and still plays a huge role in industry today, sometimes the simplest designs remain effective even with technological advancements. However, as we will cover in this article the design has progressed somewhat to bring us into the 21st century.

How Does a Sack Barrow Work?

The barrow in essence, is still just a standard flatbed trolley. But instead of having 4 castors of which two or all four of them assist you in obtaining the correct direction for that trolley (The Swivel Castors) the turning point of the trolley becomes the centre axle where the wheels are positioned. This enables the operator to turn in tighter circles reducing the space that is needed for the barrows to operate in.

The balance function on the Barrow behaves like a seesaw where the weight is distributed either side of the axle, meaning no matter what weight is evenly distributed on the barrow the load is made to feel extraordinarily light. The basic maths makes sense. If you have 500 kgs on one side of the barrow and 500 kgs on the second side of the barrow the two weights counterbalance each other therefore the amount of effort needed from the operator is minimal. These are the simple principles of balance and leverage.

What are Sack Barrows Used For?

The humble barrow has been around for eternity. Some will tell you it was invented for moving spices around ports, others will tell you that they were used originally for sacks or flour in flour mills, some will say the railways have the credit, however Barrows have been used in farming before we even started importing spices. Moreover, looking back as far as roman chariot racing, the chariot by design is a form of barrow, my personal belief would be that as soon as the wheel had a central spindle or axle someone would have put a base across it and made the very first barrow. Circa 2675-2130BC where wheels were shown in Egyptian hieroglyphics in the Late Old Kingdom, it is as old as the wheel itself. The barrow design as we will cover later is continually evolving.

Sack Barrows have evolved over the years, now encompassing a myriad of designs for a huge number of applications. There are designs of sack barrows manufactured from different materials, Steel, either angle, tube, or box section, as well as stainless steel, aluminium, and even now plastic. Among the many design styles including sack Barrows that will climb stairs. Sack Barrows that have straight frames designed for carrying a product that has a flat face to rest against the back of the truck. Sack barrows are designed with curved backs to allow the operator to rest loads which are cylindrical, which stops the loads rolling off the back of the Sack Barrow. These further have been adapted to accept chains and straps, these can be used to secure loads such as gas bottles. Along with other designs specifically to move white goods, oil drums, water bottles, kegs of beer and even strange things like tombstones.

Over the years the Sack Barrow has become an integral part of industry and health and safety, specifically having a large presence in logistics. For delivery and courier companies not only does the Sack Barrow enable more equipment to be moved more quickly but more importantly allows you to be more productive whilst remaining safer, which should always be your number one priority.

Even though the fundamental design of the Sack Barrow has remained the same, the design has had a few facelifts particularly over the past few years. With advances in electronics, trucks available now will load via power, drive via power, and even climb stairs with loads under its own power. Designs can all be modified to carry the same loads as suggested above, yet the fundamentals of the Sack barrow really haven’t changed, with most of the best inventions, they were, and remain a simple theory.

What Sack Barrow Do I Need?

There are many factors to consider before you select the sack truck that is right for you. These include:

  • The Weight of the Load
  • Size of the Load
  • The Load Centre
  • The Shape of the Load
  • The Working Environment
  • The Strength and Ability of the Operator

How Much Weight Can A Sack Barrow Carry?

This is the most obvious yet critical factor when deciding the capacity of the Barrow, it must be greater than the maximum load. Be careful when reading specifications for capacities as some companies do seem to over exaggerate the ability of their Barrow to carry the weight. As a good rule, most Barrow wheels will have the capacity that one wheel can carry, this will then aid you to determine the weight that the two wheels can carry.

How Tall Should A Sack Barrow Be?

The height is extremely important, yet something that quite often is overlooked. If you have a very short Barrow with a very tall load and that load is tipped back vigorously there is a chance that the load could hit the operator plum in the face. This is something that obviously should be avoided. The higher the back of the Barrow, the higher the handle position, the easier it is to carry the taller loads. Moreover a taller Barrow also provides better leverage to break the back (tilt) of the load.

What is the Footprint Of A Sack Barrow?

The footprint of the load is again critical and something that is often ignored too. Wherever possible place the longest measurement across the back of the Barrow base, this ensures the shorter dimension juts out from the front of the Barrow. This again is based around the principles of leverage on the same principle you encounter when holding a broom handle. Hold the broom close to the head of the broom, and it feels light, the further down the handle your hand moves from the head, the heavier the broom will feel. This is because you have adjusted the load centre. The same will happen with the load on a Barrow, the further from the back of the Barrow the load sticks out, the heavier the load will feel, as the load centres have been pushed forward.

Where is the Load Centre Of A Sack Barrow?

This ties in very nicely with the above, trying to understand where the centre of gravity is on the product that you are lifting will seriously reduce the amount of effort needed to break the back of the load (tilt). If you can find specifications that will show you where the centre of load and centre of gravity is, please take this into consideration when loading the barrow. However, ascertaining the centre of gravity on most loads is not always possible. Try sticking to the rule of thumb above, where the longest measurement of the footprint straddles across the face of the Barrow, and the shorter dimension sticks out from the front of the Barrow away from the wheels. This will always give you the best chance of keeping the centre of gravity as close to the wheels as is possible. Again, for safety reasons if you are not used to using the load or are not very confident in the weights of the load try breaking the back of the load gently and with care so as not to cause any personal injury. There are mathematical equations available that will allow you to take the weight of the load, and adjust its actual weight, to the weight that would be needed to counterbalance the weight of the load with an extended load centre. However, the maths behind this is very intricate and you would spend most of your day in the classroom rather than moving product. General common sense and caution, if used correctly should be enough to ascertain whether the load is safe to move. If it’s difficult to break the back of the load, find help, and try the same exercise with a colleague or friend.

How Much Friction Will A Load Put Against A Sack Barrow?

If there is very little friction caused between the load and the back of the Barrow there are a few ways that you can help keep the load safely secured to the Barrow.

Increase the friction - this can be done by simply adding strips of foam rubber to the back of the Barrow or the load.

Fasten the load to the Barrow - ratchet straps or Cam buckle straps are usually the best way to achieve this.

What Environment Can You Use A Sack Barrow In?

As with all risk assessment and all manual handling assessing, the environment that equipment will be used in is essential. Weather conditions, ground conditions, time and people are some of the basics that will need consideration. As we touched on earlier stairs can also cause problems, so assess this correctly. Whether the load is suitable for one or two people to ease the load downstairs is possible, this can be the case if the movements are infrequent. Or Whether specialist stair climbing equipment is required whether that be manual or electric stair climbers if the movements are frequent and with heavy or awkward loads. This is something where advice from professionals could be advantageous to you.

What are my personal abilities When Operating A Sack Barrow?

The personal abilities of the operator again is also something that should be considered under risk assessment as sack barrows work on leverage principles and the wheels on a sack Barrow are not positioned at the halfway point a certain amount of effort will always be required to break the back of the load. This will mean that the operator’s personal strength and weight will have an effect on the operator's ability to do the job. The load is broken if you have a well-balanced piece of equipment moving the load should remain easy.

What footplate should I choose For My Sack Barrow?

For safety the general recommendation is that the width of the toe plate / footplate / Nose should be 2/3 of the width of the load that you are carrying, this will save the load toppling. The length is very much a discretionary point, however a good firm recommendation is that the toe plate should be just over the halfway point of the length of the load. This will ensure the load does not topple forward whilst trying to break the back of the load.

Which wheel should I choose For My Sack Barrow?

Well, this is very much dependent on the environment that you will be using the Barrow.

On very flat warehouse type floors a solid wheel will provide less friction against the floor, meaning that less force is used for your Barrow to gain traction.

If you are on rough floors or outside, a pneumatic tyre would be a far better option as solid wheels can stick on variances of floor surfaces. This can cause an immediate stop of the Barrow and the inertia of the load could continue forward creating risk.

Since 2001 there have been hybrid wheels, these are a blown polyurethane foam which provides a solid wheel of hard foam, with millions of pockets of air inside, the best way to describe it, would be that it looks a bit like the inside of an Aero chocolate bar. This means you get the best of both worlds, a softer ride that you would get from a pneumatic but without the inherent punctures or deflation. From my research it would seem that these wheels are now far more popular than either the pneumatic or the solid tyres, whilst also providing better value for money. No punctures mean you do not need to replace the tyre, a softer ride means you do not need to replace the bearings.

How to maintain my Sack Barrow and Keep it safe?

In industry your sack Barrow will fall under PUWER regulations (Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998) so ensuring that a competent person inspects this equipment annually is a legal responsibility. Moreover, this is common sense, and does not need engineers or technical experts to achieve this. Check sheets and service sheets available to download at handle-it.com will help you identify the elements that should be inspected, and also will provide you with a paper record of the inspection. Moreover, these inspections if carried by a competent person out on a frequent basis will reduce the risks of breakdowns or incidents or failures of the equipment, so not only becomes great for your health and safety but moreover provides frequent visual maintenance checks which can be actioned to ensure continuous safety.