About Casters and Wheels:
What I've Discovered
IntroductionSo, there's nothing mystical or magical here. Simply stated, I buy and mount casters to help me move heavy crap. Anything too big, too heavy, or too awkward to move without considerable effort gets them. Here is my experience so far:
Like many, my shop is my garage. So, I'm cramped for space and as a result, everything is on wheels. Most of the roller platforms, I build myself; torsion boxes. Before the top skin of the box goes on, I always beef up the corners with some scrap plywood to make sure the lag bolts used to mount the casters have a little something extra to bite into.
This is not meant as an endorsement for any particular casters or any caster company. Rather, it's much more of a rant in progress; my way of imparting the experiences I've had with one aspect of trying to build a usable shop. Hopefully, some of the other guys and gals doing similar things will get a little useful information out of it. Keep in mind that this page is a "work in progress."
DisclaimerI know that the general theory of a torsion box is much the same as a steel I-beam in that the more weight is loaded and centered, the more it's distributed and radiated outward. However, common sense dictates that there has to be a certain "duh" factor here; load 800 lbs. on the first 6" of an 10' platform with nothing but air as a load on the last 9 feet and the weight obviously isn't distributed equally. But, depending on the utility of the stand, I do try to center the weight, within a margin of error, as best I can.
Also, I've made one general assumption that may be in error... I've assumed that the load limits on casters (again, as long as the weight is relatively centered, and within a margin of error) can be summed; i.e. four casters with a 250 lb. load limit will hold 1000 lbs. If I'm correct, then I've never exceeded the load limits on anything I've ever built. If on the other hand, the loads can't be summed up, then any blown treads are my fault, but the wheels are worthless to me in that case.
Having said all that, I'm not a Mechanical Engineer... I don't even dabble in it. So, take what follows with a grain of salt. Also, if anyone reading this happens to be a M.E. and can add some legitmate light to the subject, please e-mail me. I'd love to have your input (before I spend any more money on round spikes) and add your comments so all of us can get some useful information.
So, let the saga (and whining) begin...
Big Box Store CastersThis was the starting point. These are your generic Chinese made casters from the big box stores. In particular, these were the 3" and 4" casters from Home Depot. Althought their website has gotten much better over the years, especially with descriptions and specs, a trip to the store will get you little more than the wheel diameter and a price, and at the time I bought them, their website was no help either.
What I do know is that the swivel bearings weren't sealed or shrouded, and they were very suseptible to dust. And, dust is something ever present in a power tool or hybrid woodworking shop. The swivel mechanism didn't work well, and the wheels simply wouldn't roll without Hurculean effort with any appreciable load on them. The brakes were "wheel only," and whatever they were on was subject to shift and often didn't actually lock the wheels. Live and learn...
In the spirit of being fair, these casters never did "flat out." So, they aren't rubber, but that's about all I know of their construction. Also, there was no info on the load limits or any other specifications on them at the time I bought them other than that they were "Made in China." So, I may have overloaded them. I still have them, and if you're in the Jacksonville, FL area and willing to haul this junk off, shoot me a note and we'll make arrangements for you to pick them up for free.
Woodcraft Premium CastersWoodcraft Premium Casters -- © S.C. Rogers Woodcraft as the source for the casters, and as they had just opened up a new store in Jacksonville, and they were only a couple of bucks more for premium casters, I decided to spring for a set of them for a new cart I was building. One can search for Woodcraft casters by using this link.
Bought a set, and initially, I couldn't have been happier. They were smooth as silk, and when locked, they were rock solid. Loved them! Then... CRAP!!! One of the poly treads just blew out while sitting in the garage. These particular casters use a bolt as an axle, so the fix was fairly simple; jack one end of the torsion box up, pop the nut off the bolt, slip the bolt out, slip a new caster wheel in, and reassemble.
What it cost me was the time and $$$ to go pick up a new caster. Not too big a deal for a one time fix, but what I'm finding is that they just don't hold up. I get a couple of years out of them and CRAP, another blown tread. So, I started keeping a few caster wheels as spares... at least I didn't have to stop for too long if I blew another one. But, frankly, I'm tired of buying them. If you have a light duty application, and a local woodcraft, these may be good casters for you, but you'll pay a premium for them.
As of this writing, Woodcraft's site lists these casters as having polyurethane tires, but don't say much about the caster's core material. They also list them as being load rated at 300 lbs. HOGWASH! Caster City, SES Casters, and other sites that deal only in casters and wheels list the load limits of this type of caster at between 190 lbs. and 250 lbs. While they may actually hold 300 lbs., they certainly won't hold up for long. I'm talking about casters that are only a few (two to four) years old. After what I've been experiencing, I'm beginning to believe that the various caster company specs are closer to the truth than Woodcraft's propaganda, and I've overloaded these things.
I won't be buying any more of them.
SES CastersCaster Comparison -- © S.C. Rogers LumberJocks forum in this thread, a fellow user (Many thanks to Lumberjocks user PurpLev) suggested SES Casters, a company that sells direct to consumers from their website. Also, LumberJocks user "mcase" suggested Caster City. So, I ordered a couple of sets from SES...
UPDATE -- I've been using the SES 5" casters for about five years now. I'm several sets into the trial, and I could not be happier with the performance these things have delivered. I've never had one fail in any way. And frankly, I haven't always treated them well.
As stated earlier, I build torsion boxes as platforms for anything that rolls in my shop. Depending on the size, the torsion boxes alone can weigh up to 100 lbs. Then add the cabinet and contents, and these things can start to approach 400 lbs. or more. For example, I have two cabinets that are 2' x 5' x 32", all out of 3/4" plywood. Then, throw in the drawers (six in each cabinet), a 1 1/2" hard maple top, and the contents, and I'm sure my finishing cart weighs over 500 lbs. The casters have performed flawlessly.
Final Words...I think the Woodcraft casters failed because of one simple thing: method of manufacture vs. mechanical shock. They use injection moulding to seat the poly treads onto the caster. Thus, traversing cracks in the floor or rolling over something causes a mechanical shock. Every one of those is another nail in the coffin, eventually leading to catastrophic failure. If they were used on pristine, monolithic surfaces, I suspect they would work fine. Sadly, a wood shop is never going to be that environment.
I'm happy with the casters I've gotten from SES. I'm not affiliated with them in any way, other than being a happy customer. If you want casters that have to perform, these should serve you well... they sure have for me.
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