Create Upcycled Furniture With This DIY Shopping Cart Project

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This article was originally posted in Instructablesand is reposted with permission from Janell Fabor.

Living in the city has its ups and downs. One perk is that there is a plethora of abandoned materials hanging about just waiting to be taken home to be upcycled!  For those of you living in an urban setting, you’re no stranger to seeing these urban eyesores hanging out in alleys and abandoned lots. I’m talking about shopping carts. It’s time to turn those bits of rusting metro trash into something super funky, functional, and fun — furniture! In this post I will guide you through the basics of making your very own shopping cart furniture to be used indoors or out.

Step 1: Find an Abandoned Shopping Cart

Shopping carts are easy to find here in the mighty metropolis of Houston. They seem to be birthed out of thin air and then abandoned and forgotten in every corner of every neighborhood. If you live in a similar setting, scope out parking lots, alleys, and abandoned lots. You’re sure to find one or two. If you live in an area that is relatively clean and/or limited on resources you can always check with garbage dumps, recycling facilities, or even contact stores directly to see if they have some carts that are broken or no longer in use. 

(It is never OK to steal and it is not OK to take shopping carts from stores. It is against the law to drive into a store parking lot, load up a cart, and take it home. You will probably end up in some sort of trouble, or even in jail. Remember to use good judgment and remain lawful in the collecting of your materials.)

Step 2: Gather Materials

You’ll need a few simple tools, some creativity and a whole lot of elbow grease.

An idea!
Shopping cart
Socket wrench, standard wrench, or 4-way lug wrench sized to the wheel bolts
Heavy duty bolt cutters
Dremel tool*
Dremel attachments (reinforced cutting wheels, grinding wheels, sanding wheels and wire polishing brush)
2-inch PVC pipe or other sturdy tubing
At least 2 clamps
Crow bar or other sturdy tool strong enough to be used as a steel bending lever
Safety goggles
Protective gloves
Dust mask

*If you do not own a Dremel you can use a hacksaw, angle grinder or any other tool strong enough to cut through steel.

Step 3: Plan Your Design

Go ahead, have a seat in front of your shopping cart. Have a look and think about it. Brainstorm ideas, designs and concepts that may suit your own personal tastes. You can turn to magazines, books, or the Internet for inspiration. Map out a design on paper, in your head, or directly on your shopping cart. It is important to know what you’re doing before you make any first cuts or bends. I can tell you from experience that steel is very unforgiving!

Step 4: Remove Plastic Guards and Extra Pieces

Many shopping carts have plastic guards on the corners and handle bars. The first thing I did was to remove all these pieces.

Step 5: Make the First Cuts

OK, so you’ve thought out your design carefully and planned your moves.  It’s time to make the first cuts! I wanted this chair to have extra support in the front, so I opted to cut and free the front wire panel from the rest of the cage, making sure to leave the bottom part still attached. This can be done easily enough with bolt cutters.

Step 6: Make the First Set of Bends

Alright, pop on those protective gloves and get ready to bend steel like Superman! Grab the front panel with both hands placed at an even distance from the sides; slowly pull the panel toward you until it is forms a straight surface with the bottom of the cage (see photo at right). Then, flip the cart onto its back end. Using the same technique, continue to bend the front panel until it forms a 90-degree angle with the bottom of the cage. Please refer to photos to get a visual idea of what things should be looking like at this point.

(It’s important to not over-bend or stress the metal. Once the metal is bent, it becomes hardened steal and cannot be put back into place. Do not try to rebend or work out any kinks because things will NEVER line up the same way again. Also, the integrity of the steel will become compromised, leading to breakage or an unsafe product. Just go with what the metal wants to do, because it’s better in the end and adds character to your chair.)

Step 7: Remove the Front Wheels

The front wheels are easy to remove using any kind of wrench that you have on hand. I opted to go with a 4-way lug wrench/standard wrench combo — whatever gets the job done.

And you can save the wheels and wheel brackets for later use on another project.

Step 8: Remove the Rear Wheel Brackets

(Note: Remember, safety first! There will be sparks, loud noises, and flying debris during this step. Be sure to wear your dust mask and safety goggles.)

Using a Dremel equipped with either a reinforced cutting wheel or one specifically designed for metal, remove the rear wheel brackets by cutting through the center of the weld.

Step 9: Make the Second Set of Cuts for the Armrest

I wanted this chair to have armrests, so I used bolt cutters to make two cuts on each side in order to free the side panels from the rest of the cart. Please refer to the images to see exactly where I made these cuts.

(If you haven’t gathered by now, you should be making symmetrical cuts on both sides of the cart.)

Step 10: Prepare to Bend the Armrests

Clamp a 2-inch piece of PVC pipe or other solid cylindrical object to the side panel of the shopping cart. You’ll want to clamp it in the place that you want the metal to bend.

You can use any size of pipe for this. Larger pipe will provide a larger bend, while smaller pipe will yield a narrower bend.

Step 11: Bend the Armrests into Place

There are two parts to this step. The first part is to use the same technique that you used in Step 6 to bend the side panel down partially. Please refer the photo, and do this to both sides. 

After you make this initial bend for both arms, flip the cart over and use a crowbar or other sturdy device as a lever to coax the steel around the PVC pipe. I made a series of bends using a crowbar, moving it and bending the steel wherever I noticed it should be more rounded. Then I flipped the cart right side up and used the crowbar to do some gentle shaping and to even out the bend.

(Using a crowbar for this step instead of your hands will save you time, energy and lots of wrist strength.)

Step 12: Take off the Handle Bars

Using a Dremel and cutting blades, saw off the handle bar to create a more refined look. This step is completely optional. You can leave on the handle bar for a more obvious “shopping cart” look.

Step 13: Sand the Rough Edges

Now you’ve got a chair! But you’ve probably noticed that it’s full of jagged corners and sharp edges. We don’t want you or anyone else who sits in your new chair to get hurt, so now is the time to grab that grinding bit for your Dremel and smooth out the sharpness. You can take it a step further and use a sanding bit followed by a polishing bit to give the chair a more finished look.

Step 14: TADA!!

You’ve created a unique and useful product out of something that would otherwise be rusting up the cityscape. These make great additions to patios or gardens but can also be used indoors for something fun! The good thing about using shopping carts as outdoor furniture is that they’re already weather resistant!