The Tools of Our Trade
- How to pick the best equipment for the job.
- Where to find that equipment.
- How to use your equipment most effectively.
There are a couple of great reasons to build up an arsenal of quality moving equipment.
#1 - Professionals Carry Their Own Tools
The first is obvious: Like any professional, doing the job right means having the right tools. What carpenter is going to show up to frame out an addition to your house and then ask if he can borrow your hammer? How often are you going to run into a customer who just happens to have a hand truck and a couple of four-wheelers, maybe a reefer dolly in their garage?
#2 - Pleasantly Surprise Customers
Now, go beyond the practical and put yourself in the customer's head. How relieved, perhaps even overjoyed would they be to find out they don't have to lay out the cash to rent dollies and four-wheelers to go with their U-Haul because the helpers they hired are bringing everything with them? Exactly. Folks who are moving have plenty to think and worry about. Tell them you'll be taking care of every last piece of equipment (except maybe the truck) and they'll immediately see you as nothing less than a move-day messiah.
For local moves the subject is straightforward: You bring all the equipment to the job and take it all home with you at the end of the day. Here are the essentials, along with a few added options.
The single most indispensable tool for any mover, a good hand truck will serve you far beyond getting boxes in and out of the house. Use it for any piece of furniture that offers a solid edge – and don't limit yourself to end tables and night stands. You can move curios, dressers, sofas, armoires and loaded file cabinets with these babies.
Be wary though of how much you are asking your hand truck to do. The larger the item, the more you'll need to provide balance. The heavier the item, the more it will bounce as you try to ease it down those porch steps. Technique and caution go a long way, but for those large and heavy items – and this goes double (if not triple) when there are stairs involved – you'll want the services of a hand truck super hero.
Your hand truck is your best and most-used friend on the job. And like a best friend, you don't want just any old companion. You want a buddy to be there for you at all times, through the toughest of jobs, again and again and again.
So don't go bargain basement. Get the best you can afford. $100 might sound like a lot for some metal and two wheels - until that $40 dolly breaks down on you mid-stride.
Likewise for your reefer dolly. As you shell out $300 or more for one, think about how many $500 appliances and furniture items you won't have to repair or replace because you can now handle them properly.
The Refridgerator or 'Reefer' Dolly
This heavy-duty piece of functional art is made extra thick to handle the heaviest of items while sporting a cinch strap to keep his cargo in place. He's got sliders built into the backside of his frame for navigating staircases and extra hand-holds for added maneuverability in tight spaces. A little later we'll get into the nuts and bolts of using one. For now, just know that having one is critical – and infinitely more valuable than the cost.
Don't Try This At Home
A piece of furniture made of press board (aka particle board) does not tend to hold up well during a move; to ensure complete destruction try tightening that reefer dolly strap around it.
(We say that facetiously by the way.)
A few places you can purchase a hand truck:
4 Wheel Dolly / 4-Wheeler
On flat surfaces this kind of dolly is a great alternative to a hand truck, particularly for those larger, heavier pieces of furniture. Armoires, dressers, sofas etc. often lack a solid and flat bottom surface; be aware but don't worry. Lay tall items like armoires, china hutch tops, tall dressers and wall units on their sides; place long dressers, sofas and china hutch bottoms on their backs. Make sure they are steady and balanced, and then roll them away. Careful though! If you try to roll a piece of any significant size from the driveway right up onto the truck ramp you'll bang the leading bottom edge on the ramp before the wheels get there and scrape and otherwise damage the item. (Yes, of course, this is common sense…and very easy to forget.)
For office moves involving a lot of desks and cabinets having a fleet of 4-wheelers is critical. (We'll talk more on this elsewhere.) For residential moves two or three should do – and will often do you well.
As with your hand trucks, you want to make sure you buy quality. Check out your options at:
Piano Board or Skid Board
This is one piece of equipment you may or may not be able to do without. You might never come across a DIY mover with a baby grand piano; then again you might. Familiarize yourself not only with the use of the piano board but the proper and safe way to get a baby grand safely strapped onto it. The video below offers a quick tutorial on wrapping, breaking down, situating and strapping down a baby grand – all without catastrophe. You'll see the importance of the design of this long padded board the lip on one end, the strap cleats built into the sides, and the heavy-duty straps on the ends for extra maneuverability and safety.
On a recent move, a crew had a brand new piano board for the baby grand they needed to get down a series of short, wide stairs. First, the straps tore off the frame. Then, the frame itself began to crack and split under the weight of the item it was supposedly built to handle. The lesson? Quality is worth the cost.
We continue to search for buying options; for now check US Cargo Control, Premier Moving Equipment, HandTrucks2Go or Cargo Equipment for skid boards starting at around $200. You may also consider finding someone to rent you a piano board; inquire at a place that sells/tunes/repairs pianos, they might have something you can use - something that they themselves use so you can be pretty confident in the quality.
Just as a hand truck is indispensable for moving boxes, so are furniture pads for protecting the customer's belongings. We've seen a variety of sizes and degrees of thickness; here we'll break them down into two basic kinds.
First is the quilted and padded type. These bad boys are thick and durable and usually six feet long or more. They provide ample protection for a long haul – but they are only good for the parts of the furniture they actually cover! Make sure they reach down to the legs and feet of those dressers and chests and armoires where scratches often occur, and use rubber bands (below) or box tape to hold them in place (especially when using them on chairs – keeping all four legs completely covered can be challenging to say the least).
The second type of pad is a thinner, non-padded combination of felt and burlap commonly called a skin. While not as thick or protective as quilted pads, these thinner jobs do offer decent protection. Most often, though, they are used for less valuable, less damage-prone items like patio furniture, a tricycle or the collapsible metal dog crate. They also serve well enough for items that will go on top of the load, like floor lamps and golf bags and those folding beach chairs that, though a bit corroded from the salt water and perhaps not in need of critical protection, can scrape and scratch items around them if left uncovered. Skins are also good for saving space in the load; you don't want to so much as nick those dining room table legs, but wrapping them in a skin and slipping them into a tight space in the load where they won't move around should be more than adequate.
How many pads do I need?
The answer is elusive because no two moves are the same. For a 26' truck some say you should have 40-50 pads; others suggest upwards of 100. We like to err on the side of preparedness. Bring a healthy mix of pads and skins (75%/25%), about a third more than you think you'll use, and start focusing on doing the job right instead of wondering if you'll run out of padding.
Sell Pads to Storage Container Customers
Scenario: Your customer didn't want to shell out the money for furniture pads he'll never need again (until the next move, which every customer you ever meet will swear will never happen). But that same customer now doesn't seem to have much faith in those paper pads – not for that antique decorative carved wooden chest from Taipei.
Solution: Whether your customer wants to protect one specific item or decides she want to give her entire load a little extra TLC, you'll want to be ready. Have a stash of blankets you can sell to customers, for their POD or PackRat moves, or just for those moments when they decide that paper pads won't do for that one special - and expensive - item.
Check out some options at:
Long Haul Paper Pads
When discussing the loading phase with a customer who is moving out of your area, give them three options for protecting their stuff:
- Buy furniture pads (expensive)
- Rent furniture pads (if available for long-distance truck rentals)
- Use these protective paper pads
While they are cheaper than renting furniture pads, the customer might balk at the idea of buying them only to throw them out at the end of the move. Assure them that, at the end of the move, they will be glad they used them. (We've seen it suggested that people use their own blankets, linens and towels to protect their furniture. We are inclined to disagree.)
While paper pads are certainly thinner than furniture pads, their triple-ply structure, including a padded paper center, offers immeasurably better protection than using nothing, which will only result in a truck load of scratched furniture. If you decide to include the use of paper pads as part of your moving service, don't be stingy. Make sure you use enough to cover both the customer's furniture and your own butt. A roll of paper pads is not nearly as costly as a new oak table. And there's a high potential for a return on the investment - in the form of a glowing review.
Here are a few places that carry paper pads:
Another option some movers go for is kraft paper, sometimes referred to as sack paper. Due to the manufacturing process, this type of paper sports an elasticity and a durability not found in more common types of heavy paper. Look into this option at:
Mover Bands / Oversized Rubber Bands
As mentioned above, these heavy rubber bands are extremely useful for keeping furniture pads where they belong: on the customer's furniture. Using box tape may seem the cheaper, easier way to go but using bands not only cuts down on waste but saves you lots over the long haul. (Just don't use them for a long haul because you'll never see them again.)
Admittedly, they do take a bit of getting used to. Snapping a band around a dresser is not brain surgery, but wrapping up a chair can be interesting. Check out the step-by-step photos below for one method of using rubber bands to keep an office chair protected.
Rubber bands for movers come in various sizes (and colors, which usually signify size – a helpful bonus). Compare prices:
Plastic Wrap / Shrink Wrap
These overgrown, super clingy rolls of Saran Wrap have a variety of uses on a move. Shrink wrap is handy for keeping dust and dirt off of sofas, love seats and easy chairs.
Avoid contact with leather or vinyl, especially on long distance moves; heat, cold and time all conspire to ruin such surfaces – and a leather couch is not cheap to replace. Wrap these items in pads first, then shrink wrap them.
Also, use plastic wrap on things like tool chests, barbecue grills, file cabinets and plastic drawer units to keep drawers from slipping out and lids from sliding off. Wrap china cabinets, curios and other items with glass surfaces for added protection after wrapping these things in pads.
Plastic Wrap And Glass
Some movers will put a piece of cardboard on a padded china cabinet or curio (or whatever) over where there are glass surfaces, both for protection and to remind whoever that 'Hey there's glass under here!' Plastic wrap aids in keeping this cardboard securely in place while adding that extra ounce of protection.
Another use for shrink wrap involves wrapping open shelving units, plastic or metal, with everything still on the shelves – this in lieu of packing everything in boxes (provided, of course, there is nothing heavy on those shelves.) Granted, it's rare that you will come across a shelving unit you can shrink wrap as is and carry onto the truck but we have seen it done. Plastic totes are also popular, though people tend to forget that those lids can pop off. Consider wrapping them enough to keep them shut.
Look for your pro-sized plastic wrap at:
Neoprene Floor Protection
So much attention is given (and rightly so) to taking care of the customer's things that the house itself can end up going relatively neglected. But your customer doesn't want his or her floors damaged any more than their furniture. And you don't want to pay for damage to the house any more than you want to pay for damage to that eight-person dining room table.
Covering the floors in high-traffic areas is not only essential for landing those coveted Elite Gold jobs, it simply makes good moving sense. One effective and eye-catching way to do this is by using Neoprene floor runners. These durable blue beauties like to stay in place for you while standing up to the pressures of loaded hand trucks and movers' boots, job after job after job.
See what's out there:
These are less expensive than their neoprene cousins but are, predictably, not nearly as durable and clearly less protective. They do have their place, however. Use them throughout the house to keep your crew from soiling the customer's carpeting. (In this sense they can also replace neoprene in a pinch.) To help keep them in place (and keep them from tripping up the crew) tape down the edges with wide masking tape or some kind of zero residue industry tape to avoid leaving sticky residue on the flooring or pulling on the carpeting when removed.
Look for plastic runners at:
Door Jamb Protectors
As we've mentioned elsewhere, these suckers offer a quick, easy way to protect both doorways and the items that (inevitably) bump into and scrape against them during a move. But don't get complacent! Just like helmets don't keep football players from getting concussions, a door jamb protector will only do so much when the corner of that mahogany desk comes ramming into the door frame. (But of course you are much more careful than that. Right?)
Here are a few resources for picking up these door (and admiration) grabbers:
We also stumbled upon Surface Shields, a company that offers a plastic door jamb shield. (Disclaimer: we have no direct experience with this type of door jamb protection; if you do please let us know how they performed!)
You may find other resources for the trade weapons you want. Shop around, online or on Main Street - you might save yourself a few dollars. And if you find an exceptionally good deal please let us know!
But wherever you go to hunt them down, just make sure you are fully armed before you head to your job. Make it clear to every customer that not only do you know how to do the job, you care enough to nail it!
So now that you've got everything you need to get your customer's belongings properly prepared and loaded onto the truck, how are you going to keep all those stacked items secured? As we will see a little later, a tight pack will go a long way in protecting your customer's stuff against the unavoidable shaking and lurching when the truck starts heading down the road. Still, this may not be enough to keep your claim sheet clean.
Investing in a stash of straps is a sound decision. Choose some that are versatile as far as how they will attach to the interior of the truck; different trucks will have different configurations: L-tracks, E-tracks or, quite often, just wood slats. Rather than stocking up on several types of straps/fittings, you might go with the versatility of ratchet or cam straps fitted with S-hooks. But as always, do what works best for you. Here are a few resources to help you decide.
For basic securing of furniture and boxes.
U-Haul offers some of the simpler rope and tie-down options you might also find at your local hardware store.
When it comes to straps and fittings, one type does not fit all trucks. Fortunately US Cargo Control offers a wide selection of straps, tie-downs and fittings, and are able to customize to your needs.
E-Track: Cargo Equipment sells the E-track ratchet and cam buckle straps that the 'big guys' usually use. The advantage to this type of strap - besides fitting the occasional E-track system you come across - is that the fittings at the ends of the straps allow for simple knots that will hold firmly around the wood slats often found in rental trucks.
Freight-grade container moves require solid, no-nonsense, industrial strength tie-downs. The cargo straps found at Global Industrial offer a variety of fittings and extra weight-bearing toughness (similar perhaps to what you've already seen at US Cargo Control).
Explore the selection at any of the above resources. You are sure to find exactly what you need.