Pallet jacks, also known as pallet trucks, are mechanical tools used to haul and maneuver items of freight. They are best suited for short distances and usually only elevate a load high enough for unobstructed travel. They are often used in conjunction with a pallet or skid, but many types of loads can be supported by the jack's forks.

 

Pallet Jack Operation

As the name implies, pallet jacks are frequently relied upon to transport pallets of materials. Pallets are used to provide a structural foundation and common footprint of various materials requiring transport; items on the pallet are usually secured via shrink wrap or bundling. This containerization makes shipping and handling more efficient across many industries. Pallet jacks do not replace the elevation or hauling capabilities of a forklift, but often supplement a forklift in warehouse situations as they are more nimble and manually-powered models do not require recharging/refueling. They are often used in retail stores because of their relatively low hazard risk.

 

 

Manual pallet truck indentified

Image credits SEM Metalworks Co.

 

 

Size and Capacity

selecting pallet truckPallet trucks almost always have fork widths of 7" or 9", but the measurement between the furthest edges of the forks can range between 20--47". The load-bearing span is known as the carriage. Models with a width above this range are used in specialty applications and some models come with an adjustable carriage width. The length of the forks is imperative to a pallet jack's ability to safety transport loads. Lengths often range from 32" to 90" depending upon the intended application.

 

The dimensions of the load-carrying components rarely determine the capacities of pallet jacks, which come in ranges of 1,000 to 15,000 lb. Higher-capacity pallet jacks are more likely to have additional components, such as a hand brake, reflectors, or motorized locomotion, to safely transport heavy burdens.  

 

Lift

Elevation is always a product of a hydraulic or pneumatic input. Manual versions require the operator to pump the handle to supply fluid to the high-pressure piston; a purge valve lowers the forks back to the ground. Motorized versions will incorporate a hydraulic pump to supply lift. Stroke is the measurement of elevation that a pallet jack  can provide and while most versions will have strokes of just several inches, some are capable of strokes calculable in feet.

 

 

Pallet jack hydraulic

Hydraulic unit of pallet jack

Image credit: Ok Ok China

 

Freight Handling

While the pallet's intention is to ship materials in a widespread footprint to ease handling requirements, most parts of the world do not conform to a single pallet design. A pallet jack should accommodate the pallet size that is most utilized in the market and industry in which it serves. Recall that the pallet's overall dimensions are less significant than the span between fork entrances. It may also be important to consider the pallet's type and material. Few pallet jacks will incorporate an adjustable fork to better fulfill inter-market functionality.

 

Selected Pallet Sizes and Markets

 

Mobility

Pallet jacks rely on four wheels to transport materials and are polyurethane, nylon, or rubber in composition. Smaller wheels recess into the jack's forks for loading (called load wheels) and unloading while larger, swiveling, tandem wheels are positioned around a hinged handle (steer wheels). This allows the operator to steer the pallet jack with a high degree of turning arc, typically up to 270°. For use outdoors, pallet jacks will have foam-filled or solid rubber tires to navigate terrain.

Pallet jack load wheelsSteer wheels

Load wheel (urethane or nylon); Steer wheels (urethan, nylon, or rubber)

Images credits: Global Industrial ; Service caster

 

Motorized pallet jacks usually incorporate a throttle for speed adjustment as well as a dead man's switch. Steering is still accomplished by handle positioning, but may utilize power steering. Motorized jacks tend to have a lower turning arc as well as a standing platform for the operator, both of which can restrict maneuverability.

 

Power Supply

The large majority of pallet jacks require the physical input of the operator for locomotion, braking, turning, and lift. This is an inexpensive and reliable option, but successive loading can fatigue employees.

 

For situations where very heavy burdens or repetitive loading is required, motorized pallet jacks may be more suitable. These types of pallet jacks are most commonly supplied with variable speed electric motors and heavy duty, rechargeable batteries. Outdoor-only, gasoline powered pallet jacks exist for extreme loads and rough terrain; they are common in lumber yards and construction sites.

Gasoline pallet jack

Outdoor pallet jack

Image credits: Vestil Mfg.

 

Pallet Jack Features

Uncommon designs and attributes are integrated to improve a pallet jack's faculties in certain applications.

  • Single fork
These designs have a single fork of abnormal width. They are recommended for moving irregular, cumbersome objects such as safes, ATMs, and vending machines. 

 Single fork pallet jack

Image credit: LiftMate

  

  • Angled forks
These jacks are retained for the hauling of large rolls, reels, and large sections of pipe. The aslant forks are capable of cradling round objects so they do not roll or shift during transport.

Reel and roll pallet truck

Image credit: Astha Enterprises

 

  • Corrosion resistant
Pallet jacks that are stainless steel or galvanized have an enriched structure to maintain functionality in corrosive environments. These jacks may have grease fittings and a specialized hydraulic pump.

Stainless steel corrosion resistane pallet jack

Image credit: Forklift America

 

 

  • Low profile
These pallet jacks are designed to transport low clearance pallets. The forks have very low resting heights.

Image credit: Vestil Mfg.

 

  • Four-way
With long and low profile forks, the jack is designed to pick up a four-way pallet from any direction.

4 way pallet jack

Image credit: Wesco Manufacturing 

  

  • Tilting forks
After accepting a burden, the forks can lift and rotate the load 90°. The tilt may be toward the operator or the sides. This is an ergonomic solution to prevent worker fatigue/injury when distributing cargo off the pallet.

Tilting pallet jack

Image credit: Carry Lift Group

 

  • Scale
An integrated analog or digital scale calculates the weight of the pallet jack's load. The scale will have a user interface for calibration and display.

Pallet jack scale

Image credit: Global Industrial

 

  • Scissor lift
A scissor lift mechanism is used to provide a higher stroke than what is supplied by a common hydraulic piston. This is used to provide ergonomic access to a pallet's content.

Scissor lift pallet jack

Image credit: Bernards Bins

 

  • Skid deck
A pallet jack that utilizes a high-gauge, solid steel deck rather than forks to lift and haul its burden.

Skid pallet jack

Image credit: Pallet Mule

  

 

Pallet Jack Safety

The following video provides a detail overview of inspection and safety for pallet jacks.

 

 

 

Video credit: Commerce Training via YouTube

 

 

Pallet Jack Standards

 

A-A-59333 The USGSA's guide to hand lift pallet trucks

BS ISO 509 Pallet trucks, principle dimensions

ISO 22915 Industrial trucks, verification of stability

MIL-T-21866 Electric pallet trucks

MIL-T-52809 Manual pallet trucks

 

 

 

 

Resources

 

Images credits: MHW Magazine; Hulst Import and Export

 

Global Industrial - Pallet Trucks & Jacks

 

Wikipedia - Pallet jack; Pallet

 

Pallet Mule - Products

 

C & H Distributors - Pallet Truck Selection Guide (.pdf)


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