Moving A Heavy Rock Without Hurting Your Back
Copyright © 2010 McGroarty Enterprises Inc.

At some point, a gardener may need to move heavy rocks. Maybe some large rocks will be used as part of a landscaping project or incorporated into a stone wall, or perhaps a small boulder has lain beneath the garden for years, getting in the way each time the garden is tilled. No matter why a heavy rock needs to be moved, itís a tough job that can take its toll if not done correctly.

Above all, do not try to lift a heavy rock with brute force. This is a sure way to strain a muscle or cause ongoing back pain. Instead of using your back to move rocks around, use physics and the proper tools for the job.

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Before beginning to tackle a rock-relocation project, make sure you are prepared for the job. Wear a pair of heavy gloves to protect your hands, and wear heavy shoes to protect your feet. Steel-toed shoes are best, while sneakers, sandals or bare feet are unacceptable. Take another gander at that heavy rock too. Are you sure you can safely move it? If you think the rock may be too large to move it safely, donít attempt it at all. If the rock is too large but it simply must be moved, hire someone to move it with a tractor or backhoe. Donít take chances with your own health and safety.

A heavy rock that is partially buried will be easier to move if the surrounding soil is dug away. Youíll get a better look at the rock once it is exposed, and this will help you determine how to tackle the job of moving it.

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Rocks that are a hundred pounds or less can usually be moved by one person using the right tools and techniques. A pry bar is an essential tool for moving a heavy rock. A 4-foot long pry bar looks much like an extra-long crowbar and it is used as a lever. If the rock is completely above ground, slip the flat tip of the pry bar beneath the rock and place a smaller rock or block of wood beneath the middle to lower part of the bar. Using the smaller rock or block of wood as a fulcrum, push down on the other end of the pry bar to lift the rock. Slide another rock or block of wood beneath the rock to support it, then use the pry bar to lift and shift the rock a few more inches. 

If a heavy rock needs to be moved just a few feet, it may be possible to ďwalkĒ, roll or flip the rock to its new location. Walk a fairly heavy rock to its new location by first moving one side forward a bit, then rotating the other side forward. Or lift an edge of the rock and flip or roll it forward again and again until the rock is where you want it to be. Crouch down low to lift the edge of the rock, and always lift with your legs and arms rather than lifting with your back. 

Walking, rolling and flipping heavy rocks works best on fairly level, soft surfaces. Avoid using these techniques on a concrete surface that could be chipped or marred, and avoid rolling or flipping rocks on wet, muddy ground or steep slopes. 

If there are numerous rocks to be moved or a rock is just too heavy and awkward to be moved by walking, flipping or rolling, a stone boat may come in handy. A stone boat is traditionally constructed with a flat surface made of wood that is placed over two wooden runners. A chain or cable is attached to the stone boat which is then pulled by a tractor, a 4-wheel-drive vehicle, or draft animals. A stone boat doesnít have to be pretty or fancy; it just needs to be strong enough to do the job. 

Use your pry bar to loosen the heavy rock and gradually lift and slide it onto the stone boat. Then pull the stone boat and the rock to the rockís final resting place. Bring the pry bar along for the ride and use it to lever the rock from the stone boat. 

Unless you have a lot of rocks to move, you may not want to go to the trouble of building a stone boat. There are plenty of things that can be used to move a heavy rock in place of a stone boat. A snow sled will work in a pinch as an improvised stone boat. To help it slide even better across the lawn, spray the bottom of a plastic sled with floor wax. 

A wheeled trashcan may also do double duty as a rock-toting receptacle. Lay the trashcan on its side, roll or flip the heavy rock into the trashcan, then tip the can back up onto its wheels and use it like a dolly to wheel the rock around. To unload the rock, just tip the can over onto its side again. Be careful to not overload the trashcan as this could result in damage to the wheels.

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A rock that is just too heavy to be lifted at all can be pulled from one place to another. In the past, this job was accomplished with the help of draft animals. But these days very few of us have access to strong horses or oxen and we must resort to using tractors or other heavy machinery. Youíll need a length of cable, chain, heavy rope or nylon webbing to make a sort of sling that is wrapped around the heavy rock. Then the rock is pulled to its new location with the tractor. When using this method to move heavy rocks, use caution and never allow anyone to come near the cable, chain or rope while it is taut. A chain or cable that breaks while taut has a whiplash effect that can seriously harm or even kill anyone standing within its reach. 

In some instances, dragging a heavy rock across the lawn or driveway is out of the question because of the damage it may cause. If the lawn is too soft it could be torn up by the rock, and a driveway could be badly scarred. To avoid this damage, you might try moving the rock across rollers. Some archaeologists believe this may be how large stones were moved to the Stonehenge site thousands of years ago. 

For this job, youíll need at least three rollers, a helper and your pry bar. Rollers can be made from logs or from lengths of PVC pipe. Use sturdy 4-inch diameter Schedule 40 PVC for this project. The hardware store that sells the PVC pipe to you can also cut it to appropriate lengths. 

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Begin by lifting an edge of the heavy rock with your pry bar, and have your helper slip two of the pipes or logs beneath the stone. One should be near the front and the other at about the middle of the rock. Place a third pipe or log on the ground in front of the rock, toward the direction you want to move the rock. Now roll the rock forward onto that third pipe and keep rolling it until the rear pipe is no longer beneath the rock. You may need to use your pry bar to help push the rock forward. Once the rear pipe or log is free, move it forward in front of the rock and repeat this leapfrog process until the rock is in its new location. Use this method only on fairly flat surfaces. 

Some rocks just shouldnít be moved at all. If the rock is too large to be moved safely and itís in a spot where it canít be reached with earth-moving equipment, you may have to resign yourself to living with that rock right where it is currently. Consider mounding some well-draining soil around the base of the rock and transforming it into a lovely rock garden.

by Michael J. McGroarty
© Copyright 2010