How Does a Forklift Work?


Whether you work with them all the time or are just aware of their existence, you likely know what is meant by the term forklift truck. Those small trucks with a single driver cabin that lift huge weights and can move them from one location to another. One thing you may not have considered is how they actually work. In the following post, that’s what we are going to look at.

Brief History

First, let’s look back at how forklifts came to be. As is the case with numerous other inventions, forklifts were first devised to meet a need. A truck named the Truckator was developed by the Clark Company to help move parts and materials around their business premises. It was only designed for use by the company, but in time, visitors to the company’s factory saw the Truckator working and wanted it for their own business, so put in orders for it.

Within a few years, the first hydraulically powered lift was installed onto some trucks to help give them greater lifting power. Then it was in 1923 that Yale became the first company who used forks to lift loads from ground level elevated masts that extended above the truck’s height. Therefore, the world’s first forklift truck is considered to be that Yale design.

Several advancements and developments were made that increased the production rate of forklifts, such as the addition of standardized pallets. As forklifts became more popular across industries, they were also used for longer periods. As a result, trucks were designed that ran on rechargeable batteries that allowed 8-hours of use during a single charge.

During the 50s, warehouses were expanding upwards rather than outwards, so forklift manufacturers needed to design them to manage lifting loads as much as 15.2-meters high. Along with the increase in lifting height, specific safety features were added to forklifts around the same time, like the cage to protect drivers from falling loads and a special backrest that helped to secure loads as they were lifted.

By the 80s, additional safety features like forklift balance tech and a driver/operator safety restraint were being introduced. Many of the key parts for forklifts can be found at

So how do they work?

Classifications and Design

While you may think you know exactly what a forklift truck is, you may not know that there are seven different classifications of these machines. The OSHA or Occupational Safety and Health Administration established the classification and ranges from Class I Electric-powered Rider Trucks, through to Class IV Internal Combustion Engine Trucks and Class VII Rough Terrain Trucks.

The different classifications are based on differences between forklifts, including the terrain they are designed to work on, their power source and even the kind of tires they use. Solid tired (also known as cushion tires) made from solid rubber and of flat and hard indoor surfaces and pneumatic tires, designed to cope with outdoors terrain, are the two most common.

Basic Elements of Forklifts

In addition to the tires, there are some components and parts that make up the basic structure of most forklifts, including:

  • The Frame
  • The counterweight – this is used in stabilizing forklifts while they lift heavy loads
  • The Power Source – Most rely on batteries or a diesel, gasoline or liquid propane gas engine to power them
  • The Mast – this is the lift that is powered by hydraulics to lift loads up and down.
  • The Forks – The forks are utilized when lifting wooden pallets
  • The Backrest – this stops loads from falling backwards
  • Overhead guards – these provide protection for the driver from loads that may accidentally fall

Different attachments can be used on forklifts, for operations like lifting and transporting barrels rather than pallets, and each different class of forklift is designed specifically for different conditions and loads.

Due to how technical forklift trucks are to operate and how dangerous they could be if driven and controlled by someone who is not suitably experienced and qualified, operators have to pass specific tests and gain a special license before they are legally allowed to drive one.

If you felt a little in the dark about how forklift trucks worked, we hope this brief look at their history and the different parts and components that make them has been useful.