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How a Forklift Works

How a Forklift Works

Forklifts have improved and evolved a great deal since they were invented in the early 1920s. Now forklifts are a critical part of businesses and are capable of lifting thousands of pounds more than 20 feet into the air. To take a closer look at how a new forklift works, read the following article.


Forklifts can be powered by one of several power sources including battery, liquid propane, natural gas, gasoline, and clean-burning diesel. For a long time, internal combustion engines used to be the preferred choice but electric forklifts are more common these days because they are more efficient and last longer.

Lifting Mechanism

When a forklift is engaged, its power source activates a hydraulic pump which activates a series of hydraulic cylinders. Once the cylinders have enough pressure, the forklift will have the power to push the pistons upward. These pistons push the masts up, which then engage a set of chains that pull the forks up and down to raise and lower the load.


Just like a car, forklifts have three basic controls. The first is a steering mechanism that operates the rear wheels. The second control is for lifting the load. Pushing forward on the lifting mechanism lowers the load up while pulling back on it raises the load. The third control is for tilting the load back and forth. An optional 4th control is for attachments such as a side shifter, clamps, etc.

Balance and Protection

Sometimes carrying thousands of pounds, forklifts must be stabilized by a counterweight and a load back-rest. These components keep the load from shifting backward and prevent the forklift from tipping over when it has a heavy load. To protect the driver from a falling load, forklifts are also equipped with an overhead guard.

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