Andrew Johnson|

How Do Forklifts Work?

How do forklifts work? It’s a question that many people have, including those who have used these machines in the past and people who are simply curious. 

In short, a forklift uses a combination of components to lift heavy objects and carry them across distances. For example, they’re commonly used on construction sites and in warehouses and distribution centers. 

The 9 Main Parts of a Forklift

There are nine main parts of a forklift, each of which is critical to its safe and efficient operation. 

  • Load back-rest: Designed to prevent the load from shifting backward. 
  • Carriage: This is the base of the forklift. It’s attached to mast rails to allow for easy up and down movement. 
  • Overhead guard: The overhead guard protects the operator in the event that the load falls. 
  • Mast: The mast is designed to safely raise and lower the load. 
  • Forks: This is the part of the forklift that carries the load. 
  • Counterweight: This is a weight that’s used to stabilize the forklift, which prevents it from tipping over. 
  • Truck frame: This is the base of the machine. 
  • Power source: Forklifts are powered by many different sources, such as gasoline, propane gas, fuel cells, diesel engine, or batteries. 
  • Tires: Forklifts use either solid tires or pneumatic tires. In most cases, pneumatic tires are used outdoors while solid tires are for indoor use. 

Every part of a forklift is important, as it helps the operator safely lift, transport, and lower loads of varying weights. 

Here’s How a Forklift Works

Knowledge of the parts of a forklift allows you to understand how it works. The machine’s forks are attached to the frame with two roller chain pulleys. It’s this forklift mechanism that allows the machine to do its job.

Here’s how it works:

  • Hydraulic pistons push the masts upward.
  • The gears attached to the mast press against the roller chains.
  • As the masts move upward, the fork follows. 

The hydraulic system powers the forklift, with these three parts doing the work:

  • Hydraulic cylinders: The cylinders are hollow and closed off on one end to trap fluids. On the other end is a piston. 
  • Pump: Upon activation, the pump pushes fluid through a tube that leads to the cylinders.
  • Lift handle: The operator uses the lift handle to lift or lower the forks. 

All of these forklift parts must work in unison for the machine to function properly.  

The 2 Main Types of Forklift Controls

There are two main controls of a forklift: one for steering and one for lifting. While it sounds simple enough to use these controls, it takes quite a bit of knowledge and training to do so safely and effectively. 

Steering Controls

Forklift steering controls are similar to what you would find in a conventional motor vehicle. There is a brake, gas pedal, steering wheel, forward gear, and reverse gear. 

Forklifts use rear-wheel steering, which allows the operator to control the rear wheels. This is preferred over front-wheel control since it provides the operator with better rotational control and precision.

Lifting Controls

Forklifts have one lever for moving their forks up and down, and another for tiling the load forward and backward. 

Pushing the lifting lever forward moves the forks up while moving it backward brings it down.

Tilting is more complex, as there are more parts involved in the process. Here’s what happens when using the tilt lever:

  • Forward: Air is pumped into the chamber, which pushes the piston head and tilts the mast away from the frame.
  • Back: As air is released from the chamber, the masts lean toward the forklift. 

Most new forklift operators find it easier to use steering controls than they do lifting controls. Fortunately, with the right training and proper practice, it soon becomes second nature. 

5 Common Uses of Forklifts

With so many types of forklifts to choose from, there’s a greater chance of finding one that suits the specific requirement of your job. Choose a forklift based on factors such as:

  • Indoor or outdoor use
  • Weight capacity requirements
  • Terrain
  • Power source
  • Size 

Here are some of the most common uses of forklifts:

  • Warehouses: Used primarily for loading and unloading trucks and moving loads throughout the warehouse. 
  • Construction sites: A good choice for moving building material and other objects throughout construction sites. There are forklifts designed to tackle rough terrain. 
  • Distribution centers: An efficient way to pick up products and move them to other locations, such as a dock for shipping. 
  • Snowplows: Used to clear snow (this requires an attachment).
  • Dockyards: Used to load and remove objects from barges and ships. Preferred over other equipment for their size, versatility, and speed. 

Forklift Safety Tips

The more you learn about how forklifts work, the easier it is to assume that you know how to safely use one of these machines. But even if you have the proper training and years of experience, there’s always a chance of an accident that can cause serious injury or even death.

Here are five forklift safety tips to keep in mind at all times:

  • Receive the proper training: You should never operate a forklift without proper training. Should you have any questions, ask your supervisor or company owner for clarification.
  • Inspect your forklift before use: This allows you to find any damage or defects that could cause you trouble. 
  • Know the type of forklift you’re using: There are different forklift classes, all of which have unique details regarding usage, capacity, speed, turning radius, and more. 
  • Implement a floor marking system: This gives the forklift operator a clear idea of where to drive the machine. It also allows pedestrians to avoid areas in which forklifts are operating.
  • Don’t transport people: A forklift is designed to transport objects, not people. 

This is everything you need to know about how forklifts work, along with an overview of their many parts, controls, and uses. 

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