General Purpose Tools

Johnson Bar, or Pry Truck


How to move five tons

I have always had a penchant for large, heavy objects, and therefore long ago started to pay close attention to how to move things which had weights far past the threshold of “mere human” move-ability. Palette jacks are the first and foremost tool for moving such things, but there are serious limitations with palette jacks in close quarters, or just getting a heavy load raised to the point where you can put a palette under it.

The “Johnson bar” (also known as pry truck, pry bar, mule, or wheeled steel lever) is a tool that solves those problems, and it has a host of other uses which you will discover. The pry truck is a miracle of simplicity and unbelievable strength. Moving a 1500 pound (680kg) lathe is child’s play with one of these levers, and I have moved multi-ton steel shipping containers (empty) with them. With two levers (and two people) almost any large object can be shifted and moved into position or onto more convenient conveyance (dollies, casters, or just onto steel pipe rollers.) Given two people, some time, and some shims, one can get large objects raised off the floor enough to slide a palette under with a palette jack or dollies. While it seems like this should remain in the realm of “industrial moving”, I’ve found that I use it almost once a week for other odd jobs around the house, like levelling a shed, moving a palette of floor tiles in the basement, etc.

Unlike a floor jack that needs clearance, this can be put under things with only ~1/4″ (~64mm) of gap between the floor and the object. It takes a few minutes of experimentation, but one can learn very quickly how to move objects by levering them off the floor and then rotating the handle around it’s axis to make objects move 4-6 inches (10cm-15cm) at a time.

Every time I use this tool, I wonder how I would have ever been able to do any moving and transport task without it and I can’t imagine not having one handy. Apologies to Archimedes: Give me a big enough lever on wheels and a place to stand, and I shall move the world.

There are several varieties and sources to purchase them. I have always used the wood-handled variety, however I can’t imagine there’s much of a difference between various models other than capacity. They’re somewhat expensive, but I’ve never seen one on the “used” market — I suspect once people have such a useful item, they only part with them during estate sales.

-- John Todd 07/10/06