Yes, they are designed as an efficient construction material meant to be maneuvered by hand under normal human power, a feat they excel at, as evidenced by their ubiquitous proliferation.
But what if you're not a normal human? What if you work in an office all day and have the equivalent forearm strength of a small child? Or what if you just don't really want to torque up your wrist and elbows hauling big heavy things because it would interfere with your tennis swing or the fluidity of your interpretive dance expressions? Or what if you're an OCD engineer and simply must devise the most efficient load transfer mechanism throughout your body for every single item you ever pick up? Or what if you're lazy?
Well, gather around misfits, and hear tell of how you, too, can be of some marginal use on a construction site, despite your crippling dainty or schizoid mannerisms.
Step 1: Think.
Man is a tool-making creature, not because he is particularly noble, but because he is lazy, and would prefer it if the laws of physics would do his work for him, or at least interfere with his desires as little as possible.
One of those laws is Gravity. More often than not, Man finds himself diametrically opposed to this law. He is at odds with it all day long, and though he appreciates its purpose, he will try to circumvent it at every opportunity. But in order to do this, he needs to know a little about it, for "Knowing is half the battle." **
So he sits down in a comfortable chair (See? Already he's giving Gravity the proverbial finger, because his legs sure as smack don't want to carry all this weight around) and says to himself:
"Gravity moves in a straight line, and an object supported any angle apart from directly up and down will incur additional resistance, particularly at those points at which departure from vertical begin." Or "Heavy things held out make arms and hands hurt."
In order carry a concrete block normally, Man would grip the block from the side, offsetting the block's loading axis from its center to the edge. Now, the block is a tightwad and will follow Nature's statutes and by-laws to a T, so when it senses it's being picked up off the prescribed axis, it will contort itself until it has re-righted itself with Gravity's regulations. As it angles itself, it becomes more inconvenient for Man to hold. He must angle his wrist and elbows to counter-compensate for the block's adjustment and tighten his grip to prevent the block from slipping. All of this because he marginally infringed upon Gravity's "straight down" clause.
But what if there was a way to keep everything in line? What if there was a way to grasp the block from straight above? It would mean eliminating all ancillary stresses from the equation, rendering the block much easier to maneuver... but how?
Now, bear in mind, Man is not a creature of infinite intelligence, and thinking takes effort, so he employs another strategy to hold information for him and minimize his own exertion - he draws. And once an image mysteriously appears that makes some modicum or sense, he musters up enough strength to get out of his chair and get to work.
* This person's name was Apollo Creed. He was a genius who hospitalized an Italian with a below-average IQ in a fist-fight. Later, he lost to that individual, but while his opponent came close to squandering all of his new-found wealth, Apollo managed to retain buckets and buckets of money, because he was smart.
** Quote from another one of history's most pivotal personalities.
Step 2: Things to Buy! or Bum! or Steal!
[4x] 24" lengths of 3/8" (#3) rebar
2 - 10" of 3/4" PVC pipe and some means of cutting it. Not laser vision. Will melt.
3 - A long metal pipe or two. I used 1" EMT conduit at about a 6' length.
Oh, and a vise.
A fancy-pants rebar cutting/bending tool
A MOM Corp. Bending Unit
4 - Zip-ties. That's right.Zip-ties. Because they're awesome.
5 - A welder? This is semi-optional. If you can, do it, but if not, you'll still be alright, I guess. You will just lose 0.7 seconds every time you go pick up a block. Some of you couldn't care less. Some of you require this as much as oxygen.
Step 3: Rebar.
First thing you'll want to do is get ya some. Go to your favorite big box hardware store or jobsite dumpster* and pick you out some winners. The handles I made were designed for a 8" thick block with a clearance of maybe 2" - 2.5" for my hand above the top of the block, which can get up to 1.5" thick. The handle itself is going to be even with the block (keep things symmetrical, and just to make things easy), so I figured 8" (block bearing surface) + 4" (clearance bar) + 8" (grasping handle) = 20" total. You'll need 2 of these for each handle you make. If you make 2 for yourself (since you have 2 hands, and carrying a block in each hand evens the pressure on your body), you'll need:
80" OF CONTINUOUS 3/8" (#3) REBAR or
(4x) 24" lengths of 3/8" (#3) REBAR
[Makes 2 handles, in case you're skipping the commentary for the meat.]
When you get 'em, cut them down to the 20", then mark at the numbers mentioned above (8" on each end, 4" in between).
*Don't do this unless you: A) know the contractor really well or B) have a unique desire to see the inside of a hospital or holding cell.
Step 4: Rebar - Part II (Feats of Strength)
Into the vise with them. Align your marks with the edge of the vise.
Once clamped down, grab a large bar or other device that can apply a lot of leverage and make you feel like a superhuman. Proceed to act like a superhuman. I recommend bending to a very slight acute angle (when loaded with a block, the bar will flex slightly). Flip and repeat.
If the two bends don't align correctly in the Z-Plane, you can rotate the assembly vertically in the vise (so that the legs are above and below each other), grab another long bar and bend the two legs in opposite directions until they are corrected.
Isn't leverage amazing? Think of it this way - the tremendous amount of torque you're applying to the steel (the work you're putting in) at minimal effort to yourself will be relieving the torque put on your joints by the blocks. You're storing energy into a system instead of exerting it on your body. By using the material's natural properties and some basic principles of universal mechanics, you've loopholed Gravity and not only lawyered your way out of excess work, but have gotten Physics (your constant rival) to foot the bill. So cheers to you, you crafty, cunning, conniver. You deserve a comfy chair.
Step 5: PVC.
I'm not telling you where to get it, though. It's a secret. Find your own PVC. And cut it yourself. You're an adult.
Step 6: A + B = .....
If you don't plan on welding the forks open, then congratulations! Your work can technically be considered done! When you go to hook a block, you'll just have to take half a second to split the forks evenly apart in the core. (Again, evenness and centrality in distribution of load. Thought that would be clear by now.)
If you plan on trying to save those extra seconds by welding, then you should do this anyway. Of course, you were going to whether or not I said anything, because you want to test to see if yes, actually, everything will go together correctly and because it is just so very rewarding to get a glimpse of the final product as you're going along. It's ok. I know.
All done? Good. Moving on...
Step 7: Bzzzzzzt. Bzzt-bzzt.
For this exercise, all you need is just a few tacks up and down the handle to set the angle, plus some little beads on the ends to keep the PVC in place. (Oh, you'll also need a cool uncle that has the equipment to shoot magic lightning bolts with relative accuracy.)
Step 8: Prettify. (Optional)
1 - Psychologically, people are far more inclined to take better care of things that are "finished," things that display evidence of slightly more particular care put into their creation or maintenance. This means that they may get treated with some degree of respect and last a bit longer.
2 - Super-bright fluorescent orange shows up easier on a construction site than rust-brown and dark grey. Easier to find. Remember how our proverbial Man abhors having to exert himself.
Step 9: Proceed to Pretend to Work.
Take that, apparent discord between natural law and anatomical limitations! No longer shall we be slaves to the marginal inconveniences you impose upon us! We emerge victorious, conquering in the name of Ease and Comfort, our most revered virtues.
Furthermore, we claim this victory as a strategic stepping stone to a larger conquest - that of defeating our enemies of Sun and Rain, who tyrannically beat down upon us and afflict us with such discomforts as sweat and a compromised immune system. And we will again use our same tactics - employing the laws and systems of the physical environment to construct Shields against these foes. We shall be victorious. We will not stop until until we are tired and/or don't feel like working anymore.