What is Forklift? Definition, Parts, Types of Forklifts, Uses

There is no doubt that forklifts are one of the most versatile vehicles in the construction industry. As long as you have a forklift that can lift objects that cannot be lifted by humans, then you know you have a very valuable piece of equipment on your job site, whether it is a warehouse or construction site.

It can be difficult to choose the best forklift for your needs since there are a large variety of styles and models available. You will find information about the different types of forklifts, their benefits, and popular models of forklifts in our guide that can help you choose the right forklift for the task at hand, whether you intend to rent one or to purchase one for your next project.

What is Forklift? Definition & Basics

It is a powered industrial truck that is used to lift and move materials over short distances. It is also known as a fork truck, lift truck, jitney, fork hoist, or forklift truck. Forklifts are used in factories, mining operations, and warehouses. In the early years of the 20th century, a variety of companies developed the forklift, including Clark, which manufactured transmissions, and Yale & Towne Manufacturing, which produced hoists, among others.

what forklift definition parts types forklifts uses basics
What forklift definition parts types forklifts uses basics

During the last decades, forklift trucks have been widely used and developed worldwide as a result of the end of World War II. In the manufacturing and warehousing industry, forklifts have become an essential piece of equipment. A total of 944,405 machines were sold by the top 20 manufacturers worldwide in 2013, with sales totaling $30.4 billion.

Uses of Forklifts: Where is Used?

Forklifts are small industrial vehicles that have an attachment at the front that can be operated by a power motor, which can raise and lower the platform, which can be inserted under a cargo in order to lift or move the cargo. Various industries make use of forklifts, such as warehouses and large storage facilities, to meet their needs.

  • A forklift is powered by either an electric battery or a combustion engine. The operators of some forklifts are able to sit while they drive and operate the machine, whereas the operators of other forklifts must stand while operating the machine.
  • A wide range of materials and goods are being transported using this method throughout the industry.

Workflow & Characteristics of Forklifts

There is a limit on the maximum weight and forward center of gravity of forklifts, so they can only lift loads up to a certain level. As explained on the manufacturer’s nameplate, this information can be found on the nameplate, and it is necessary that the load does not exceed these specifications.

  • A forklift manufacturer must be consulted before altering or removing the nameplate on the forklift as this is prohibited in many jurisdictions.
  • In order to be able to operate a forklift properly, it must have rear-wheel steering, which is an important aspect of its operation.
  • There is no doubt that this increases maneuverability in tight corners, but it differs from the experience a driver would have with other wheeled vehicles in the past.
  • Due to the fact that there is no caster action when steering, it is not necessary to apply steering force in order to maintain a constant rate of turn during steering.

Other Characteristics of Forklifts

The forklift is also characterized by its instability, which is another crucial characteristic. With each movement of the load, the center of gravity of the forklift and the load itself must be considered as an integrated unit with a continuously varying center of gravity. With a raised load, a forklift should never be allowed to negotiate a turn at speed with the load at its sides.

Both centrifugal and gravitational forces may cause the forklift to tip over. It is important to note that the load limit for the forklift is designed to decrease with the elevation of the forks as well as with the undercutting of a load.

On the forklift, there is usually a loading plate that is used as a load reference when loading the loads. Forklifts should not be used as personnel lifts without the use of specific safety equipment, such as cherry pickers or cages, which provide the operator with additional protection.

How to Maintain a Forklift? Other Features

A forklift is one of the most important elements of a warehouse or distribution center. A structure such as this must be designed to be able to accommodate the movement of the workers in a safe and efficient manner.

  • As with Drive-In/Drive-Thru Racking, a forklift needs to travel through a storage bay that is several pallet positions deep in order to place or retrieve a pallet if it is being used for drive-in/drive-thru racking.
  • Forklift drivers are often guided into the bay by guide rails on the floor, and pallets are usually placed on cantilevered arms or rails and the forklift quickly navigates into the bay.
  • A well-trained operator is required to perform these maneuvers. Whenever a pallet is stored, it requires the truck to enter the storage structure in order to load it, so damage is more noticeable than when the pallet is stored in another way. A drive-in system requires careful consideration of several dimensions, including the overall width as well as the mast width, when designing a drive-in system

Parts of a Forklift

There are various parts of a forklift and these are as follows:

  • Forklift frame
  • Counterweight
  • Source of power
  • Operator Cabin
  • Steering
  • Brakes, accelerator
  • Carriage
  • Livers
  • Driver seat & seat belt
  • Mast
  • Wheel & tires
  • Lights
  • Controls

Forklift Frame

This is simply the base frame that holds all other components of the forklift.


It is a weight that is kept at the rear side to balance the capacity of the forklift. The forklift lifts weight at the front side which needs to be balanced and with the help of a counterweight, it is done. The capacity of the counterweight depends on the weight which needs to be lifted.

Source of Power

The source of power depends on the type of forklift, it may be driven by an engine or battery and kept just below the seats. Nos of battery or capacity depends on the capacity of the forklift. In case of engine driven, the entire system is provided like:

  • Engine
  • Oil tank, fuel oil pump, gear arrangements, transmission system, etc.
  • Air intake, radiator, etc.
  • and all other accessories

Operator cabin

This is a compartment for the driver of the forklift.


The steering system is in the operator’s cabin and it is for the direction of the forklift.

Brakes, Accelerator

Like cars or trucks, it also has a brake, and accelerator to control and move the forklift.


This is a rigid part that is at the front side to hold the objects.


This is a vital part of the forklift which differentiates from the car or other vehicles. The livers are inside the operator’s cabin and handled by the operator. There are many livers to handle the objects.

Driver seat & seat belt

These are basic requirements for the operator.


This is the vertical structure from which where the carriage is connected and the carriage can be up and down for handling the objects. There are different types of forklift mast depending on the capacity, manufacturers, etc.


There are lights like headlights, backlights, indicators, etc. like cars or other vehicles.


There is a control system to control the forklift, as well as the carriage, a dashboard like cars, etc.

How Does Forklift Works?

It is believed that two entwined mechanisms contribute to the power of forklifts

  • Two hydraulic cylinders
  • An assembly of roller chain pulleys
  • The controls

Lifting Mechanism of Hydraulic Cylinders

In order for the lift handle of the forklift to operate, it is attached to a large air pump at the base. With the push of a handle, the air pump is activated, which pulls fresh air from the outside through a filter and forces it into a tube connected to the hydraulic cylinders once the handle has been pressed.

Hydraulic cylinders are hollow tubes with flexible pistons that fit into lubricated grooves at either end. Gasses enter the cylinder without leaking out because air is trapped at the base of the cylinder

The pressure inside the cylinder is raised by the volume of gas inside. As a result of the pressure applied to the piston head, an upward force is generated. As a result of this force, the piston moves up, resulting in an increase in gas volume and a decrease in pressure. By creating an equal force between the Gas and the Forklift’s Load, it creates physical equilibrium at the forklift height.

  • In elevating the load: With a push of the handle, the Operator signals the forklift to pump excess air into the cylinders in a forward direction, so they can begin working.
  • In order to lower the load: By pulling the handle in the backward direction, the operator activates a special valve that discharges the gas from the cylinders by actuating it.

Lifting mechanism of Roller chain Pulley

As a matter of fact, there are two main vertical structures known as “masts”, that are attached to the hydraulic pistons. There are two roller chain pulleys at the top of the mast of the forklift that is attached to the main body of the forklift and that form a gear at the fulcrum that transmits the load to the forks that carry the load.

Therefore, the gears on the masts are pressed against the roller chains when the hydraulic pistons push up the masts. Forklift masts only move upward when gears rotate in a clockwise direction and pull forks overheat when one side of the chain is fixed to the immovable frame.

It is important to note that the mechanism allows the forks to go far beyond the reach of the cylinders. In order to lift the load to an equivalent height, forklifts would require much taller cylinders if they are not designed for roller chain pulleys.

Controls of a forklift

There are two sets of controls on forklifts:

  • one for steering and
  • one for lifting.

Controls for the Steering

As in a golf cart, the steering control has similar controls, such as the accelerator pedal, the steering wheel, the brake, the reverse gear, and the forward gear, similar to those on a golf cart. It is common for forklifts to use rear-wheel steering in order to steer.

 As soon as you turn on the steering wheel, the wheel at the rear axle of the vehicle starts to turn back and forth. There is an intentional design to allow the operator to be able to take a greater degree of rotation and precision while handling cargo with this device.

Controls for the Lifting

In the Lifting Control, there are two levers: one that is used to lift the fork up and down, and one that is used to tilt the load forward and backward.

Lifting Controls work in the same manner as the lifting mechanisms discussed above. There is a slight difference between the Tilting Mechanism and the Sliding Mechanism. In addition to the cylinders that are attached to the base of the masts, two additional pairs of hydraulic cylinders are also attached.

The features of the lifting control are as follows:

  • The moment the Tilt Handle is moved forward in the direction of the chamber, the chamber automatically fills up with air once it is tilted. As a result of the rise in pressure, the piston head is pushed forward with enough force to allow the masts to come away from the body of the vehicle.
  • Upon reversing the Tilt Handle, the air gently moves away from the cylinder, so that it can be pumped to another part of the mast-attached cylinder once it has been moved back. By pushing the pistons forward, the masts will be pushed back to the vehicle when the pistons are being pushed forward

How Can You Choose or Select a Forklift according to Your Needs?

In order to decide which type of forklift you should buy from all the different types available, you should think about how you will be using the machine. If you are looking for a forklift that will perform efficiently and safely, make sure you reference the following general criteria when choosing the equipment

Deciding the required capability

Is there a certain amount of weight you have to lift?

Measuring the height for the required space

Does your forklift have the capability of passing through openings?

Calculate the weight of your required job place

Would the forklift be able to stand on the ground?

Choosing the correct type of fuel

What kinds of power do you need, battery power or gas power?

Analyzing the terrain

Does the surface appear smooth or uneven?

Different Types of Forklifts

Throughout this article, we will discuss the different types of forklifts available in the market so that you can decide which type is the best one for you based on your requirements.

Warehouse Forklifts

One of the most recognizable types of lift trucks is the warehouse forklift. From the front of the cart, there are two forks extending from the center and it is reminiscent of a yellow golf cart. The most common application for this forklift would be in a warehouse or storage facility with a great deal of inventory in it. In addition to loading and unloading pallets as well as loading and unloading balanced materials, these trucks are great for removing things from delivery vehicles as well as transporting them.

  • There are several popular warehouse forklift models, including the Hyster 36-38T, Komatsu 20 BX50 Hyster, and the Toyota 3-Wheel Electric Forklift, which are among the more popular warehouse forklift models. Some models of heavy-duty industrial forklifts are capable of lifting up to 25,000 pounds of weight, which is more than twice the weight of most industrial forklifts.
  • Side loading forklifts and counterbalanced forklifts are some of the subtypes of warehouse forklifts, which include a variety of versions. The key feature of this particular forklift vehicle is that it has a loading capacity of a total of 1 to 5 tons. Short distances are best for raising and transporting items with it.

Counterbalance Forklifts

In order to counterbalance the weight of the load on a counterbalance forklift, the forks of the lift are located in front of the load, and the weight is located in the back. Due to the lack of extending arms on counterbalance forklifts, they are capable of moving directly to the load as they have no extending arms.

  • It is imperative to note that there are several types of counterbalance forklifts available on the market. There is also a 3-wheel variant of the machine that is best suited for situations requiring the operator to turn and maneuver in circles.
  • With the stand-up counterbalance forklifts, operators are able to easily hop from load to load without having to worry about the balance. Mitsubishi, Toyota, and Crown are some of the most popular manufacturers of this particular type of forklift car.
  • The main feature of this product is the weight mounted on the back, which helps balance the load. It is used in situations where there is a need for circle maneuvering

Side loader forklifts vehicle

Side loaders are subtypes of warehouse forklifts that are used to carry heavy and bulky items such as steel service centers and manufacturing facilities. It is impossible for the operator to unload objects on the side of the side loader from a compartment if the loader is standing sideways.

Side loading forklifts have a unique design that allows them to easily drive up alongside racks in order to load and unload without having to turn around due to their sideways operation. In addition to being able to navigate narrow aisles with ease, they are also able to carry long loads like timber and pipes with ease.

There are a number of companies that manufacture side loaders, including Toyota, Raymond, Yale, and Hyundai, among others.

The key features and uses of side loaders forklifts are

  • The compartment that is positioned in a sideways direction and moves in the direction of the load
  •  The lifting of heavy and long items, such as pipes and timber, is a difficult task that can be done using side loaders.

Telehandler Forklifts

Telehandlers are also referred to as telescopic forklifts or reach forklifts because they combine the features of a crane and a forklift into a single unit. This unit has an extendable arm and a boom. Pallets are moved from the ground to the arm using the twin forks that are attached to them.

  • The maximum weight that a standard telehandler can lift is 5,500 lbs, and it is capable of reaching into confined spaces and working at odd angles. When used properly, telehandlers can lift materials up to 19 feet in the air.
  • In recent years, there has been an increase in the popularity of telehandlers as a result of manufacturers such as JCB, Genie, Bobcat, Haulotte, and Caterpillar offering telehandlers of high quality. Several models, such as the JLG 1644, are capable of lifting loads up to a height of 55 feet, whereas other models are capable of lifting loads up to a height of 60 feet.

The key features and uses of this particular forklift are as follows

  •  Attachment for an articulating boom and an extendable arm
  • It is used for taking loads off the ground and elevating them to a higher level.

Heavy Duty Forklift 

Forklifts that are heavy-duty are also known as large capacity forklifts, as they combine the functionality of warehouse forklifts with those of telehandlers.

In spite of the fact that it is unable to reach the angle that a telehandler can, it is able to lift heavier loads much higher off the ground than a warehouse forklift can.

  • With a 30,000-pound capacity, the heavy-duty forklift is capable of lifting a huge amount of weight, but such power should only be needed on very specific jobs. Due to this, it is a smaller machine in comparison to telehandlers or warehouse forklifts in terms of its scope.
  • There are a total of 20 manufacturers of heavy-duty forklifts on the market today. Many of the popular models boast an impressive weight capacity of 36,000 pounds, and some of the biggest names in the industry include NACCO Industries and Mitsubishi.

The key features and uses of heavy-duty forklifts are as follows

  • It is the combination of power and reaches that makes hydraulic levers so effective
  • The purpose of this particular forklift is to transport heavy loads for industrial use.

Rough Terrain Forklift

Rough terrain forklifts, also known as straight mast forklifts, are designed for outdoor job sites, especially on uneven surfaces, which is why they are commonly used on uneven surfaces. In order to overcome the difficulty of traveling on rocky terrain, these trucks are fitted with sturdy pneumatic tires.

  • As the tires are oversized and threaded, they have a better balance and stability than normal tires, enabling them to transport materials safely. There is no doubt that you will never need a rough terrain forklift if you do most of your work indoors, but if you work outdoors or on construction sites, you will need one.
  • Some of the most popular models include the JCB 950 and the CASE 588H which are both available in four-wheel drive. In addition to this feature, rough terrain forklifts also have the advantage of being able to lift big models, most of which have a weight capacity of between 6,000 lbs and 8,000 lbs.

The key features and uses of the rough terrain forklift are as follows:

  • The key feature of this vehicle is its robust design and reinforced cage cab with oversized tires.
  • This particular forklift can be used for a variety of outdoor jobs on uneven, rocky ground.

Industrial Forklift

In addition to combining the capabilities of a warehouse forklift and that of a telehandler for the purposes of storage and transportation, the industrial forklift is also called a large capacity forklift.

  • Despite lacking the ability to reach difficult angles to the same extent as a telehandler, it is able to lift payloads much higher off the ground than a warehouse forklift and heavier loads than a crane.
  • With an industrial forklift, the maximum lifting capacity starts at 30,000 pounds and goes up from there.
  • It is, however, only in the case of specialized jobs that you require such power. As opposed to warehouse forklifts and telehandlers, industrial forklifts are narrow in scope in terms of their utility.
  • On the market, there are more than 20 popular manufacturers of these particular forklifts. Many of the popular models are manufactured by big names such as NACCO Industries and Mitsubishi, and some of them feature impressive capacities of up to 36,000 pounds.

Walkie Stacker Forklift

In terms of appearance, walkie stackers are unique, but they are also unique in terms of their functionality. Forklifts that do not have cabs, such as this material handling vehicle, are different from other forklifts.

  • The operator of the stacker instead walks behind the stacker and steers it by using an attached handle that is attached to the stacker.
  • In spite of their lack of power, maneuverability, speed, and power, these units make the best pallet jacks for situations where a taller pallet jack is needed.
  • A walkie stacker can reach much higher than a traditional pallet jack, so it is a much more convenient way to stack pallets.
  • Forklift manufacturers that make walkie stackers include Hyster, Jungheinrich, and Toyota. The 6BWC20 from Toyota is ideal for 4,000-lb loads, while the EMC 110 by Jungeinrich is ideal for narrow aisles.

The key features and the uses of the Walkie Stacker forklift are as follows

  • One of the key features of this truck is that it is designed in such a way that the operator must walk behind the truck.
  • Pallet jacks can be used to move pallets to a much higher level than those that can be reached with pallet jacks.

Pallet Jack

It is important to understand that pallet jacks are specialized in nature. Due to their small size, these forklifts are also referred to as pump trucks, and because of their size, they are not capable of lifting large loads.

  • There is a trade-off between power and a small footprint, which allows pallet jacks to fit into tight spaces and lift small loads even when they have a small footprint, allowing ease of use and efficiency.
  • Although a pallet jack sacrifices some power and maneuverability, there are much lower acquisition and rental costs associated with renting a pallet jack.
  • Pallet jacks are available in various sizes and types, with the Mighty Lift 20×36-inch Pallet Truck and Vestil Electric Pallet Truck being among the most popular. Pallet jacks are available in manual and electric versions, so buyers and renters can choose according to their needs.

The key features and the uses of pallet jack forklifts are as follows

  • There are several key features that make this product stand out among the rest. 
  • Pallets can be maneuvered in tight quarters and over long distances using this device

Reach Fork Truck

It is important to note that the reach forklift is mainly used for indoor work in warehouses. As a result, it is very useful to have forklifts with extensions that are able to reach into the storage racks of warehouses in a way that standard forklifts cannot.

  • Furthermore, it also features an open compartment that allows the operator to have a better view of the surroundings. The fact that reach trucks have minimal clearance underneath the chassis makes them unsuitable for outdoor use, despite their excellent indoor performance.

Among the most high-quality forklifts available are those manufactured by UniCarriers, Clark Materials, and Yale.

The key features and uses of the reach fork truck are as follows

  • This product has a number of unique features, including stabilizing legs and forks that extend forward
  • Pallet picking in indoor environments can be accomplished quickly and accurately with this system

Articulated Forklifts

Forklifts need to be able to maneuver through narrow aisles in some factories, due to the limited width of some aisles. Among the solutions available to this problem is the use of articulated forklifts. In the case of this type of forklift, it is unique in that the mast can turn independently from the body of the truck in both directions. Thus, the operator is able to drive straight in the aisle and turn the mast at a 90-degree angle to gain access to the material by driving straight in the aisle

Marina Forklifts

Marina forklifts are designed to lift boats into and out of tall storage racks, while also being able to cope with the corrosive nature of seawater, as they are large, rubber-coated lifts with long forks. Among the many options available, there are diesel and electric versions of these machines.

How to Decide Whether You Should Go with an Electric Forklift or an IC (Gas-Powered) Forklift

The decision of whether to use a forklift either driven by an internal combustion engine or an electric forklift depending on your application can seem like an overwhelming process. If you are considering whether to choose between a gas-powered and an electric-powered forklift, the following are some high-level considerations that you might want to consider:

Benefits of having Electric Forklifts

The benefits of having Electric Forklifts are as follows

  • This type of forklift is usually easier to maintain than a conventional forklift
  • Lifespan depends on the application, use, and maintenance
  • Forklifts powered by electric motors are quieter and emit fewer emissions than those internal combustion forklifts.
  • Fuel storage is not required as there is no need to store fuel
  • A charging station is required in order to charge the forklift
  • The electric forklift does not have any kind of tailpipe emissions

Benefits of having an Internal Combustion Forklift

The benefits of having an Internal Combustion Forklift are as follows

  • There are some applications where a product like this can be used indoors in moderation but is predominantly used outdoors
  • The machine can be operated using gasoline, diesel, compressed natural gas, or liquid propane gas as the fuel source.
  • It is capable of operating under a wide range of conditions
  • Battery recharge is not required since there are no batteries to recharge
  • It is estimated that the IC Forklift line can lift over 51,000 pounds.
  • In order for the product to last as long as possible, it must be used, maintained, and applied correctly
  • There is compliance with or exceeding the standards of ANSI B56.1 in terms of noise emissions

Forklift sizes that you should know

Depending on the purpose of the forklift, forklifts are available in different sizes. Despite the fact that they are versatile machines, you will have to make sure you choose the right one for the job that you have.

An average forklift measures about 4 feet wide by 7 feet long. This is with a width of 4 feet by 7 feet and a length of 8 feet by 10 feet. Depending on the terrain, forklifts can be as long as 10 feet when they are used outdoors or on rough terrain. There are many types of narrow aisle forklifts, including walkie stackers and side loaders, which can measure less than five feet wide.

Other sizes of Forklift

It is imperative to consider the aisle width when using a forklift in a warehouse setting, however, if you are using it in order to move goods. In order to effectively turn, navigate, and move pallets with a standard counterbalance forklift, an aisle of approximately 13 feet wide must be provided to the equipment.

It is also important to consider the height when measuring. There are several different types of forklifts, but the most common is the standard forklift, which has a reach between 10 and 15 feet, as well as the telehandler, which has a reach that depends on the size you select, and can go as high as 55 feet.

What are the Elements of a Forklift?

There is no doubt that size plays an imperative role when it comes to forklifts, but their special design allows them to carry a considerable amount of weight. The main characteristics of a forklift include the lift capacity, the load center, and the stability of the load on the forklift. It is very crucial to take into consideration the different abilities of forklifts in each category when choosing a forklift for your needs

The factors that you need to consider are as follows

  • There is a limit to the amount of weight that a forklift can safely carry, and this is the lift capacity. In addition to weight, this amount also plays a key role in determining the stability of a vehicle; a forklift that carries too much weight will not be able to handle it.
  • The distance from the forks to the center of gravity of the load is called the load center. As a result, the amount varies depending on the weight of the load, the angle at which it is lifted, and the angle at which it is tilted. Forklift operators do not have to be concerned about the load center of the forklift as long as they adhere to the listed load capacity and maintain a balanced load as they drive.
  • The forklift’s base is where the stability triangle is located. It keeps the vehicle’s center of gravity where it needs to be to keep it from toppling over. The load center is not a concern because of this triangle. That is handled for you by the truck’s design.

Frequently Asked Question on Forklifts

In The Case Of Forklifts And Automobiles, What Is The Most Significant Difference Between Them?

In contrast, a car is able to maintain four points of stability, while a forklift only possesses three, which are its front wheels and the center of its rear axle. There are a variety of reasons why a forklift can tip over much easier than a vehicle, and statistics indicate that this is a common occurrence in forklift accidents.

What is the total number of forklifts in the world?

Forklifts were sold worldwide in 2019 by a total of 1,493,271 units, up 0.25% from the same period last year, including 647,229 units sold in Asia, which accounted for 43.3% of the total. There were 608,341 units of China-made forklifts sold in 2019 worldwide, of which 455,516 units, or 74.9%, were distributed at home. A total of 608,341 forklifts were sold worldwide in 2019 by China, the world’s largest producer and seller of forklifts.


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