Wondering “what is a pallet jack”?
Then you're in the right place.
Because this article explains everything you need to know about them, including:
- What pallet jacks are
- The different types of pallet jacks
- How to use a pallet jack
- And much more!
Let’s dive in!
Here’s a picture of a basic pallet jack:
And here’s a simple pallet jack definition:
A pallet jack (sometimes called a “pallet truck”) is the simplest type of forklift, consisting of a:
We said above that pallet jacks are the most basic type of forklift.
But beyond that, how do you compare forklifts vs. pallet jacks?
Here are a few ways they are similar and different:
Forklifts Have a Counterweight
Most forklift designs rely on the counterbalance principle.
This means they use a heavy counterweight at the rear to balance the load on the forks.
Pallet jacks do not work this way, however.
Instead, the weight is fully supported on wheels at both ends.
Operators Sit or Stand Inside Forklifts
Except for hand-controlled stackers, most forklifts feature operator compartments where the operator either sits down or stands up.
With pallet jacks, however, operators typically control the jack while standing behind them on the ground.
That said, some models - like ride-on pallet jacks - allow operators to stand on the truck itself.
All Forklifts Are Powered - But Not All Pallet Jacks Are
All forklifts are powered either by internal combustion engines or batteries and electric motors.
Hand pallet jacks, conversely, are powered manually.
But motorized pallet jacks do exist.
And these are powered by a battery and electric motor.
Forklifts Are Made for Lifting Loads High Up
Forklifts are designed to lift loads for stacking or loading into pallet racking.
Because of this, they’re designed with high-lift vertical masts.
And these masts offer lift heights ranging from 128 inches at the low end to 330 inches or more at the high end.
On the other hand, pallet jacks aren’t designed for stacking.
Instead, they’re designed to lift loads just high enough off the ground (i.e. 6 to 7 inches usually) so operators can move them across the floor.
Let’s answer some of the most popular pallet jack questions you might have.
Who Invented the Pallet Jack?
George G. Raymond of the Raymond Corporation.
He invented the pallet jack and the standard pallet design used today and received patents for both on November 7, 1939.
Patent US2178647A was for a "lift truck,” which is what we refer to as a pallet jack today.
And patent US2178646A was for the current two-faced wooden pallet design.
What Are the Most Common Pallet Jack Dimensions?
What Is the Standard Width of a Pallet Jack?
Measured between each fork's outer edge, most pallet jacks are either 20 or 27 inches wide, with the latter being the most common width.
How Wide Are Pallet Jack Forks?
For the width of each fork itself, most are around 6.25 inches wide.
How Long Are Pallet Jack Forks?
The most common fork length for both manual and electric pallet jacks is 48 inches.
But other lengths are available.
For example, manual pallet jack sizes can be 36 or 42 inches.
And 60- and 96-inch forks are common lengths for ride-on electric pallet jacks.
What Is the Smallest Pallet Jack?
How High Does a Pallet Jack Lift?
Recall that pallet jacks are different from forklifts in that they’re designed for transporting loads - not lifting them to great heights.
So their lift heights are just enough to get the pallet off the ground.
That said, most manual pallet jack models max out with around 7 to 8 inches of lift height.
However, some high-lift manual pallet jacks exist, which can lift to 31.5 inches.
On the other hand, electric models max out around 9 inches of lift height.
How Much Can a Pallet Jack Lift?
Manual pallet jack lifting capacity maxes out around 5,500 lbs., though some models have a 10,000 lb. capacity.
Electric pallet jacks typically start at 4,500 lbs. capacity but can go up to 8,000 lbs.
Here are the main uses and benefits of pallet jacks:
Reducing Manual Labor
Pallet jacks are designed to help reduce worker strain and fatigue.
After all, transporting loads by hand all day long would cause severe exhaustion for workers.
But by using pallet jacks, they can eliminate a lot of that physical labor while also improving productivity.
Traveling Short Distances
While pallet jacks help reduce strain, they don’t entirely eliminate it.
And this is because operators must still provide the effort for locomotion.
In other words, manual pallet jack operators have to actually put in the physical effort to move the jack and load around.
This is why manual pallet jacks are best for short-distance travel, usually within warehouses or stockrooms.
That said, other types of pallet jacks can be used for long-distance travel.
For example, electric pallet jacks, specifically ride-on models, are a better option for this.
Operating in Tight Spaces
When you need to move a pallet in a small space, a pallet jack is your best option.
This is because they have a smaller footprint and turning radius than regular forklifts do.
So you don’t have to worry as much about colliding with materials or infrastructure while trying to navigate.
Specific Uses of Pallet Jacks
Lifting and moving loads over short distances
For example, moving pallets from a loading dock to pallet racks for storage and vice-versa
Moving pallets within a semi-trailer
Often, semi-truck drivers use pallet jacks to rearrange freight within their trailer at stops. Then, they use the pallet jack to move the pallets from the trailer to the receiving dock
Handling basic inventory duties
For instance, restocking grocery shelves by moving pallets from the storage area to the grocery shelves
We’ve given a basic definition of pallet jacks as being simple forklifts.
But within the category of pallet jacks, there are many different types.
So let’s go through some of the most common ones.
Manual Pallet Jacks
Also called “double fork pallet jacks” or “hand pallet trucks,” manual pallet jacks are the most basic type of pallet jack.
These are hand-operated using a handle and lever to control the lifting/lowering of the forks and the horizontal travel.
Some characteristics of manual pallet jacks include:
Lifting capacities range from 1,000 lbs. to 5,500 lbs, with some going up to 10,000 lbs.
Most models don’t lift more than 7.75 inches
Easiest to maintain since they have simple parts and few of them
Electric Pallet Jacks
Are you wondering: What is an electric pallet jack?
Put simply, they’re manual pallet jacks with an electric motor added to them.
These trucks are also sometimes called “walkie pallet jacks.”
Because although they’re powered, the operator still must walk along with the truck.
Electric pallet jack features include:
An electric motor, which controls the hydraulic pump and forward and reverse travel
A twist-style throttle on the handle (just like a motorcycle) to control forward and reverse travel
A battery pack - either lead-acid or lithium-ion - that provides the power
Lifting capacities range from 4,500 lbs. up to 6,000 lbs.
Lift heights of around 9 inches
Electric pallets are more expensive and require more operator training to use than manual pallet jacks.
But they have the advantage of improved productivity and less worker strain.
Stand-On Pallet Jacks
If you’ve heard these called other names before, you may be wondering: What are riding pallet jacks called?
Other names include:
- Stand-up pallet jacks
- Rider pallet jacks
- Ride-on pallet jacks
These jacks are like walkie pallet jacks but feature a small platform on which the operator can stand during operation.
And because operators can stand on them, they’re better suited for long-distance pallet transport.
Center-Rider Pallet Jacks
These are a particular type of stand-on pallet jack.
In these models, instead of the operator standing on a small platform at the rear, they stand within a semi-enclosed operator compartment.
Additionally, instead of a tiller arm handle to control the truck, some center-rider models have a steering wheel for this purpose.
Off-Road Pallet Trucks
Other names for these trucks include:
- Outdoor pallet jacks
- All-terrain pallet trucks
And the main features of these pallet jacks that make them different from others on this list are the:
These trucks feature oversized, air-filled wheels instead of solid polyurethane wheels to handle rough terrain
They have a heavier-duty frame to withstand bumps and shocks while keeping the load balanced
Other pallet jacks use linkages underneath the forks which connect to the load wheels. But off-road pallet truck forks are mounted on a carriage that’s directly connected to the hydraulic pump. This makes their lifting mechanism more like traditional forklifts
Additionally, off-road pallet jacks can be either manually-powered or powered by a battery and electric motor or a gas engine.
Adjustable Pallet Jacks
The unique aspect of these is that operators can widen or narrow the forks using a hand-crank mechanism.
This makes them useful in applications that handle different-sized pallets.
Because of this function, these jacks have the advantage of versatility.
After all, the operator doesn’t need multiple fixed-sized pallet jacks to handle various pallets.
Single Fork Pallet Jacks
As the name suggests, instead of 2 forks, these pallet jacks have a single fork that can move loads less than 14 inches wide.
This allows single fork pallet jacks to handle much narrower loads than regular pallet jacks can.
For example, they’re often used to transport safes, ATMs, and vending machines.
Collapsible Pallet Jacks
Collapsible pallet jacks - sometimes called “folding pallet jacks” - are a rare design.
These jacks are basically a regular double-fork manual pallet jack.
The difference is that the forks can fold up against the handle section.
This allows the pallet jack to be easily carried, lifted, or wheeled to specific locations to transport materials.
The design is especially useful for making transportation easier and taking up less space, such as when they’re needed inside of a truck or van.
Sideways Pallet Jacks
A sideways pallet jack is a variant of the standard manual pallet jack.
But whereas regular manual pallet jacks only move forward and backward, these trucks feature swiveling load wheels that allow the operator to move the jack laterally.
This is useful when handling very wide loads since the operator can travel in the direction of the narrowest part of the load.
Roll-Moving Pallet Jacks
Wondering what kind of pallet jack should be used for handling paper rolls?
The answer is a roll-moving pallet jack.
Instead of flat forks, roll-moving pallet trucks have angled forks designed to cradle the load so it doesn’t slip off.
Besides being used for paper rolls, these jacks can also be used to handle other materials like:
If you’ve never used a pallet jack before, you probably have some questions about how to do so.
But before we cover that, let’s explain how a pallet jack works.
That way, the instructions for operating them will make a lot more sense.
How Does a Pallet Jack Work?
We said in the first section that a basic pallet jack consists of a few components, including:
But how do all these parts work together in a pallet jack?
It’s actually pretty simple.
The handle is attached to the hydraulic pump, which is located just above the main steering wheels.
And inside the handle is a lever.
When the lever is shifted to the “lift” position, the operator pumps the handle up and down, which causes a piston in the hydraulic pump to rise.
And this piston causes the linkages - which are beneath the forks and attached to the load wheels - to articulate.
In turn, this articulation causes the wheels and consequently the forks to rise.
When the operator is ready to lower the load, they simply place the handle lever in the “lower” position.
This causes the hydraulic pump to release pressure, which reverses the process above and results in the forks lowering to the ground.
How to Use a Manual Pallet Jack
Now that you know how a pallet jack works, understanding how to operate them will be a breeze.
Here’s a simple summary:
- On the handle, ensure the lever is in the middle (neutral) position
- Use the handle to steer and then push the pallet jack into position in front of a pallet
- Squeeze the lever upward (towards your head) to lower the forks to the ground
- Push the pallet jack forks as far through the pallet face as they’ll go
- Ensure that the load wheels are not over a cross-piece underneath the pallet. Otherwise, raising the jack will break the pallet
- Move the lever inside the handle into the lowest position (towards the floor) until it locks into place
- Pump the handle up and down to raise the forks
- Once the pallet is clear off the floor, return the lever to the middle (neutral) position
- Move the pallet jack to your desired location
- When ready to deposit the pallet, make sure to come to a full stop, then repeat step #3 above to lower the pallet
Here’s a video showing how this whole process works:
How to Operate an Electric Pallet Jack
Before we get into how to operate an electric pallet jack, we need to address a very important question.
And that question is:
Do You Need a License to Operate an Electric Pallet Jack?
Yes, you do.
OSHA requires that anyone who operates a powered industrial truck receive training and certification to do so.
So, what is a powered pallet jack considered to be?
Is a powered pallet jack a powered industrial truck?
Yes, it is.
Specifically, it’s considered a Class III: Electric Motor Hand or Hand/Rider Truck.
And this means that motorized pallet jack training must be done according to OSHA standard 1910.178(l).
We’ve covered this topic in great detail in our How to Get Your Forklift License: The Ultimate Guide.
So check out that article to learn everything you need to know about forklift training.
Check out Conger's OSHA-compliant forklift operator safety training course
12 Electric Pallet Jack Operation Steps
Operating an electric pallet jack is very similar to using a manual pallet jack.
The biggest differences are that there’s no need to:
- Manually pump the handle to raise or lower the load
- Manually push or pull the jack to travel
Instead, you’ll use the lift and lower buttons along with a twist-style throttle for horizontal movement.
So without further ado, here’s how to operate an electric pallet jack:
- Turn the pallet jack on. Some models have a simple on/off switch, while others have a key/ignition switch
- Enter the access code. Some electric pallet jacks (like the Toyota model 8HBW23) have a keypad, which requires inputting a special code to power up
- Pull down the handle so it’s at a comfortable height
- Use the twist-throttle on the handle head to move the jack forward and backward
- Use the handle to steer the pallet jack into place in front of a pallet
- Use the fork lower button to lower the forks to the ground
- Drive the pallet jack into the pallet as far as it can go
- Ensure that the load wheels are not over a cross-piece underneath the pallet. Otherwise, raising the pallet jack will break the pallet
- Use the lift button to lift the forks and pallet until they’re clear off the ground
- Use the twist-throttle to move the pallet to your desired location
- Once ready to set the pallet down, use the lower button to lower the forks and load
- Use the throttle to remove the jack from the pallet
Watch this video to see how to move a load with an electric pallet jack:
Frequently Asked Questions About Pallet Jack Operation
Do Pallet Jacks Have Brakes?
Manual pallet jacks do not have brakes.
Therefore it’s important to use them properly to avoid being hit by the jack or hitting something else.
On the other hand, electric pallet jacks do have a type of brake.
And this is called a “belly bumper” switch, which is located on the tiller handle head.
This button is designed to stop the truck and launch forward if the switch makes contact with the operator.
Do You Push or Pull a Pallet Jack?
- A person can push four times as much as they can pull
- Your legs have stronger muscles so they can provide more support when pushing
- Pushing help avoid you pinning yourself against other objects in the event you need to stop quickly but can't
- By not having to twist to look forward, pushing saves your back
- Pulling can strain your neck and limit your vision since your pulling arm causes your body to contort
- Pushing helps prevent your foot from making contact with the front wheels which can cause you to trip
That all said, it's acceptable to pull when pushing isn't feasible.
Just try to limit it to when you are stationary and the pallet jack is unloaded.
How to Raise a Pallet Jack
We’ve covered this above in the manual pallet jack operation section.
But just in case you’re still confused, here’s how to do it:
- Move the lift/lower lever into the lowest position
- Pump the handle to raise the forks
In electric pallet jacks, you simply use the lift button to raise the forks.
To help you decide which pallet jack to buy, let’s cover the most important factors to consider.
What Is Your Workspace Layout, Environment, and Load Size and Shape?
Here are some recommended pallet jacks according to different workspaces:
- Narrow aisles and small spaces: An electric or manual pallet jack
- Wide-open spaces and far travel distances: A walkie or rider electric pallet jack
- Outdoor work or work on uneven terrain: An off-road pallet jack
- Lots of different-sized pallets: An adjustable pallet jack
How Much Weight Do You Need to Lift?
Recall that manual pallet jacks max out around 5,500 lbs.
But electric models can lift 6,000 to 8,000 lbs.
And be aware that constantly handling heavyweights, even with a manual pallet jack, can cause fatigue.
So if that’s the case, consider an electric model to cut down on fatigue and strain.
What Is Your Budget?
Manual pallet jacks are significantly cheaper to buy and operate than electric pallet jacks.
So if you only need a jack to use occasionally, then a manual one is the way to go.
One way to lower the cost is by renting - especially if you only need the jack for short periods.
How Much Is a Pallet Jack?
The cost of a pallet jack depends on its type, size, model, and manufacturer.
That said, here’s a general range of prices:
Manual pallet jacks cost anywhere from $300 to $800
Walkie electric pallet jacks cost from $5,000 to $6,000
It should also be noted that walkie pallet jack prices usually include the battery.
But if you’re buying a larger pallet jack, such as a ride-on pallet jack, you may need to buy the battery separately.
And that can add another $4,000 or so to the total price.
Where to Buy a Pallet Jack?
You can find manual pallet jacks in big-box stores like Home Depot and Harbor Freight.
Additionally, you can check with your local material handling dealer to see their selection of hand pallet trucks.
Electric pallet jacks, on the other hand, are generally sold through equipment dealerships.
And equipment dealerships often carry only particular manufacturers.
For instance, Toyota, CLARK, Raymond, and Crown are some popular pallet jack manufacturers.
So, you’ll probably need to do a little googling to find the dealer closest to you who carries these lines.
That’s it: Everything you need to know about pallet jacks.
Now, we’d like to turn it over to you.
Have you ever used a pallet jack before?
Or are you looking to buy one?
Is there any other information you want to know about pallet jacks?
Let us know in the comments section.
Lisa Schramm-Clough says
This is very informative. Can you suggest the easiest/safest way to get a pallet off of a pallet jack that is stuck? This happens every so often and we just want to make sure we can disengage it the safest way possible.
Alex Hilke says
It may depend on why and how the pallet is getting stuck. It is very common to find a fixed object to secure the skid to and then pull the pallet jack away as the skid stays in place and separated from the pallet jack. If the pallets are getting stuck regularly they may not have the right pallet jack or using it properly. It is important to ensure the right equipment is being used and used properly.