Cheap material to use as a track for a mechanics creeper in crawlspace?
March 27, 2018 6:44 AM   Subscribe

Hello! I think it's a fun idea to have a bit of a sled to get through my crawlspace instead of literally having to crawl. There's a few projects down there, and having a bit of a mine-cart type situation to get around would be super interesting. I bought a mechanics creeper - but now I'm trying to think of the cheapest way to build a "track" for the small wheels so they don't get caught in the dirt. this is kind of what the sled/creeper looks like. this is basically what my crawlspace looks like, but a tiny bit dirtier and more hills.

Ideas so far:

plywood with frame on the edge

pvc pipes

pieces of gutter.

What would you choose as the cheapest? For pvc pipes or gutter, how would you connect them so that there wasn't huge bumps in them for smooth cart transition?

Any other tips/ideas for this?
posted by bbqturtle to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I can't really imagine this working very well unless you can get it very straight and level and perfect. That said, this is totally something I would attempt to do so i will help you brainstorm.

I would basically make a train track.

Use 1x4 pressure treated boards to make the ties. On the ties you could either make plywood rails or use aluminum "L" channel, which you can get at Home Depot, though I don't know how cheap it would be.

If using plywood, you could either make the rails and fasten a little lip on the outer edge (with glue and nails), or if you had access to a router or table saw you could cut shallow groves (dados) in the rails to hold the wheels. I would just make lip.

Cut yourself a length of wood to use as a spacer each time you attach the rails to the ties. This will ensure you keep the width consistent for each tie.

The real trick will be where the sections of rail meet. At these points you could just attach two ties together using 8" lengths of the same PT stock on the bottoms of the ties. You'll want to be sure there are no bumps or gaps between the rails. If there are, you could sand them down so they make a smooth transition.

I might also fix the creeper wheels so that they can only go straight. You might find if the wheels are constantly turning in the track the creeper will keep getting stuck as the rubber wheels act like a wedge in the tracks. You could get some replacement fixed casters at Home Depot.

You will need to get this pretty level in order for it to work well. I think the wider the ties (actually the length, but they're perpendicular to the rails) are the easier it will be to lay it securely. Ideally you'd lay some ballast like gravel below it but that would totally be overkill.

Attach a length of rope or chain above the tracks so you have something to grab onto and propel yourself. Make sure you say "wheee!" as you do this.

Better still, make three tracks and name them "Tom", "Dick", and "Harry" and pretend you're Charles Bronson in The Great Escape.

This won't be worth it, and it probably won't work very well, but it sure as hell sounds like fun. Good luck.
posted by bondcliff at 7:29 AM on March 27, 2018 [10 favorites]

This is cool as hell, but is probably going to be more expensive than you're planning if you want it to work well.

You could replace the casters on the creeper with V-groove casters

Then the wheels would fit over top of PVC pipe, EMT Conduit, angle iron, or even wooden crown molding. EMT conduit would be relatively inexpensive, and could be bent to whatever shape you want fairly easily (or you could buy/build/beg a greenhouse hoop bender: Use cheap lumber as ties. Drill a through-hole in the top of the conduit, use self-drilling screws to drill through the bottom of the conduit and into your tie (or similar). EMT is designed to nest into itself relatively smoothly, so there's your track section transition.
posted by Zuph at 7:40 AM on March 27, 2018 [6 favorites]

I would try using hardboard panels (for example these) cut so that they are wider than necessary so that the creeper doesn't get jammed in. Sections could be joined at the bottom with a layer of scrap hardboard from the cuts. You can edge them with rails made from furring strips (like these) to keep from rolling off the edges.

As neat as a train track type of arrangement would be, I think it will be cheaper and easier to rely on the usual awkward directional guidance with hands and feet.
posted by exogenous at 7:44 AM on March 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I love the idea of the v-groove casters! However, my real budget for this project is like, $50 total. I'm liking the idea of plywood/hardboard panels with furring strips on the edges. So far I'm in $17 for the creeper.

With a rope and knots overhead for easy hand-over-hand movement.

I'm not sure if the ties are even necessary with plywood/hardboard?

I'm glad you guys think this is possible. I also have pretty low expectations for the idea. But, no harm in trying!
posted by bbqturtle at 8:06 AM on March 27, 2018

If you can't replace the casters on the creeper, make sure you design a decent amount of lateral room for the casters to turn around to change direction. Measure the maximum room the casters will take up and allow that plus an inch or so each side because if casters *can* be arseholes, they will be.

Also - consider making the alignment rail/edges in the centre, not the outside. It will make the whole thing stiffer as the extra wood for the alignment parts will be directly under where your weight is, rather than having it try and add stiffness at the sides way outside your weight. If (for an example) the creeper is 18" internal width between the casters, you just need a 12" board running up the middle on a 3 foot flat track and the creeper can't fall off. No edges required, plus it's easier to sweep stuff off it and keep it clean.

It doesn't need much to keep those casters from rolling over something - maybe even as little as 3/4 inch if there is weight on the creeper.
posted by Brockles at 8:19 AM on March 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Brockles - thank you, love the idea. With a wider piece in the middle, I can use that to join the sections and reinforce the whole thing.
posted by bbqturtle at 8:29 AM on March 27, 2018

If you want this to last more than a couple years then any wood that touches dirt should be pressure treated or whatever non-rotting grade of plywood you can find. I suppose you could put plastic under it but that may just trap moisture.

I really want to ride your crawl space tram.
posted by bondcliff at 8:31 AM on March 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

All you really need is a smooth surface and something to keep the wheels on it. Let's assume the creeper's got a width of 20". It's probably less. So a 4x8 sheet of plywood, cut in half, at 24" wide, could give you 16 feet of runway.

If you take each of those 24" x 8' lengths and rip off 2x 2" of material to make 2" x 8' strips, then screw those strips onto the edges of the 20" x 8' runways that are left, you get something the wheels won't roll out of.

Just attach the runways together by screwing something to both pieces on the underside so it doesn't make a ridge, but instead just a little hump you can roll over.

I don't know how expensive the crappiest 3/4" plywood is in your area, but two sheets of it will almost certainly be less than $50, and you can make a 32' long runway with side rails.

That's about as cheap and simple and versatile and foolproof as I can figure.
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:34 AM on March 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

Two words: bigger wheels.
posted by Poldo at 8:50 AM on March 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

$17 off the shelf option for track steering if you wanted to play around with arduinos and cameras and stuff.
posted by oceanjesse at 9:21 AM on March 27, 2018

I think I sat on a skateboard for one project. I don't remember how the "scooting" went. I would go with the no track/bigger wheels approach.
posted by SemiSalt at 10:40 AM on March 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Do you guys think I would have better luck with the "stoppers" being a wide track down the middle, or small edge pieces?
posted by bbqturtle at 10:47 AM on March 27, 2018

The crawl space you link already has plastic sheeting on the ground, so if I were you I'd go back to the original "sled" idea, remove the casters altogether, and sand down any protuberances on the bottom of the creeper.

Then I'd buy a roll of 20+ mil polyethylene and some carpet tape, and lay down a roadway of the poly wherever you might have wanted a track, and stick it to the underlying plastic with the carpet tape.

For extra gliding power, I'd candle wax the bottom of the creeper.
posted by jamjam at 10:51 AM on March 27, 2018

What about going a different direction and making making the creeper able to traverse the current ground you have? A quick google search turned up plenty of 6"+ casters that are labelled all terrain/offroad/etc. If the sheeting is reasonably stiff that may make more sense than trying to build an amateur railway in your crawlspace.
posted by _DB_ at 11:03 AM on March 27, 2018

Do you guys think I would have better luck with the "stoppers" being a wide track down the middle, or small edge pieces?

I think anything that lets the wheels rotate (side to side) even just a little is going to make this thing very frustrating. I do like the idea of one wide central "rail" for both strength and stability.

Whether or not the big wheels would work better than a track really depends on how lumpy and/or soft it is under your house.

My feeling on this right now is that it's kind a a crazy endeavor but it's also hella cool so I think if you're gonna do it, you need to go full on Island of Sodor and build a train track.
posted by bondcliff at 11:10 AM on March 27, 2018

I think anything that lets the wheels rotate (side to side) even just a little is going to make this thing very frustrating.

if the casters aren't restrained to only roll in a straight line, it will be impossible to change direction without at least some kind of lateral movement. Having had to try and get casters on heavy things change direction in limited space many many times, it is REALLY ANNOYING and the casters always go stupid-ass directions without a bit more room.
posted by Brockles at 11:27 AM on March 27, 2018

This is where Unistrut (or other extrusion products) shine. Changing the wheels out for purpose-made sliders would be a nice bonus.
posted by JMOZ at 11:59 AM on March 27, 2018

How about home made caterpillar/tank tracks?
posted by monotreme at 12:14 PM on March 27, 2018

Poldo and _DB_ are onto something. Return the creeper, get a piece of plywood thick enough not to flex under your weight, a pair of 8-10" pneumatic tires each side of your hips, and one swiveling tire at the front, and you have a maneuverable, non-damaging cart. Probably want the rear wheels on an axle so you're only raised by 1/2 diameter, but having the head end a little elevated, maybe with a 6" swiveler, might not be bad.
posted by bullatony at 5:37 AM on March 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

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