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The Ultimate Forklift Guide - All You Need to Know

by Ion Rotaru 13 Jun 2023 0 Comments

If you've clicked on this article, chances are you're on a quest to discover all there is to know about forklifts. Maybe you're starting a new job, researching for a project, or simply satisfying your inner curiosity. Whatever your reasons, you're in the right place! In this ultimate guide, we're going to dig deep into the world of forklifts - no stone left unturned.

Article summary:
1 - What is a forklift 5 - Forklift parts
2 - Types of forklifts 6 - Forklift attachments
3 - How a forklift works 7 - Forklift companies
4 - How to get a forklift license 8 - Forklift terminology

Let's dive in!

Your complete guide to forklfits - Forklift guide

What is a Forklift?

Imagine you're at a bustling warehouse scene. Boxes stacked high, workers bustling around, and right there in the middle of it all, a mighty little machine effortlessly lifts a heavy pallet as if it were a feather. That would be a forklift.

In a nutshell, a forklift is a powerful yet compact industrial vehicle. You've probably seen one before - it's the little truck with prong-like forks sticking out from the front. They're used to lift and move loads, especially heavy ones, that human muscle alone couldn't possibly handle. These machines are commonly used in warehouses, construction sites, and any place where there's a need to move stuff from point A to point B.

But a forklift is not just a machine. It's like a superhero of the industrial world, swooping in to lift heavy loads with ease and grace. Its special powers? A robust engine or electric motor that breathes life into it, and a hydraulic lifting mechanism that's like its super strength. Controlled from a comfy cab by a skilled operator, a forklift can lift, lower, and transport goods with precision.

What is a forklift? - Forklift 101

What are the Different Types of Forklifts?

Forklifts come in many different shapes and sizes, each with their unique specialties. Here's the main forklift types:

  1. Counterbalance Forklifts: The most common type. They're straightforward, with forks at the front and a weight at the back to balance the load.
  2. Reach Trucks: These are for high-reach applications, perfect for warehouse work.
    Read about the differences between reach trucks vs forklifts.
  3. Telescopic Handler: Like a forklift-meets-crane, excellent for construction sites where height and reach are needed. Also known as a Telehandler.
    Check out our article on Forklifts vs Telehandlers to see what each are best used for.
  4. Rough Terrain Forklifts: These are the 4x4s of the forklift world, designed for uneven outdoor surfaces.
  5. Narrow Aisle Forklift: Designed to work in tight aisle spaces. They have two outer legs that distribute the load weight, with a wheel configuration of two or more wheels per leg.

Forklift 101 - Forklift Types

Other than the type of tasks they're made for, forklifts types can also differ based on how they're powered: Electric vs Internal Combustion (IC).

Forklifts are sometimes confused with electric pallet jacks. But in fact, these 2 machines are not quite the same at all. Read our article on Forklifts vs Electric Jacks to learn about the differences between the two.

How Does a Forklift Work?

Let's dive into how a forklift actually works.

First up, the power source. Just like you and I need food to fuel our bodies, a forklift needs a power source to get going. This is either an internal combustion engine (fueled by gasoline, diesel, or propane) or an electric motor powered by a battery.

Once it's powered up, the fun really begins. The engine or motor brings to life the hydraulic lifting system - the real key to make the whole thing work. This system is what enables the forklift to lift those heavy loads.

Inside the cab (that's where you'll find the operator), you've got an array of controls. These are the forklift's steering wheel, levers, and pedals. The levers control the lifting and tilting of the forks. One lever raises and lowers the forks, another tilts them forward and backward.

How does a forklift work - Forklift guide

How to Get a Forklift License?

Operating a forklift requires special training and a specific license, unlike driving a car. The exact requirements can vary by province/state, but generally, you'll need to complete an accredited training course and pass a practical and theoretical test. Here's what that would look like: 

Step 1: Understand the Requirements

While there isn't a standardized forklift license throughout Canada, many provinces require operators to receive proper training and certification before operating a forklift. Understand the specific requirements of your province's Occupational Health and Safety regulations.

Step 2: Complete a Training Course

Many organizations across Canada offer forklift operator training courses. These courses usually include both theoretical and practical elements, covering topics such as safety procedures, operational techniques, and equipment maintenance.

Step 3: Pass the Evaluation

Upon completion of the course, you'll typically have to pass an evaluation to demonstrate your understanding and ability to operate a forklift safely. This often involves a written test as well as a hands-on demonstration of your skills.

Step 4: Receive Your Certification

Once you pass the evaluation, you'll receive your certification. Remember, this certification may need to be renewed periodically, depending on your province's regulations.

Remember, the specifics can vary depending on your province and the type of forklift you'll be operating. So it's crucial to do your research and understand the regulations applicable to your specific situation.

How to get a forklift license - Forklift 101

Forklift Parts

A forklift is composed of several essential parts, each playing its role in the safe and efficient operation of the vehicle. Here's a rundown of the key parts of a forklift

  • Forks (also known as tines or blades): These are the parts of the forklift that slide under the load to lift it.

  • Mast: The vertical assembly that the forks move up and down on. It provides the height to which the forklift can lift loads.

  • Carriage: The frame that holds the forks. It moves up and down the mast and can tilt to secure the load.

  • Lift Cylinder: This is part of the hydraulic system that powers the up and down movement of the mast and carriage.

  • Tilt Cylinder: Also part of the hydraulic system, it controls the tilt of the mast to secure loads during lifting and moving.

  • Cab Enclosure: This is the operator's space, containing all the controls, steering wheel, and seat. It's designed to protect the operator while providing good visibility.

  • Tires/Wheels: These can be either cushion (solid rubber) or pneumatic (air-filled, like car tires). The type depends on whether the forklift is meant for indoor or outdoor use.

  • Overhead Guard: This is a metal structure over the cab that protects the operator from falling objects when lifting loads.

  • Chassis: This is the body of the forklift, providing the base structure. It holds the key components such as the engine or motor, mast, and wheels.

  • Counterweight: A heavy weight built into the rear of the forklift to balance the load at the front. It prevents the forklift from tipping over.

  • Power Source: This is what gives the forklift its juice! In an internal combustion forklift, it's an engine that uses diesel, gasoline, or propane. In an electric forklift, it's a large battery.

Forklift parts - Forklift Guide

Forklift Attachments

Forklifts can be tailored for specific jobs by adding different attachments - they allow forklifts to handle all sorts of tasks beyond just lifting standard pallets:

  1. Side Shifters: These allow the carriage and forks to move left and right, without moving the forklift. They make it easier to position the forks and the load.

  2. Fork Positioners: These adjust the distance between the forks. They're useful for handling loads of different sizes.

  3. Rotators: Rotators can turn the forks up to 360 degrees. They're handy in industries like food processing, where bins often need to be dumped.

  4. Roll and Barrel Clamps: These are used to handle items that roll, such as drums or barrels. They clamp onto the item to prevent it from slipping off the forks.

  5. Carton and Multipurpose Clamps: These are used for handling large, awkward items like cartons, bales, or crates.

  6. Slip Sheet Attachments: Also known as 'push/pulls', these are used to handle loads on slip sheets rather than pallets.

  7. Telescopic Forks: These forks can extend to handle double-deep stacking, i.e., placing one pallet behind another on shelving.

  8. Man Baskets: These attachments are designed to safely lift workers. They're used when a forklift needs to double as a mobile elevating work platform.

Forklift attachments infographic - Forklift guide

Forklift Companies

When it comes to forklifts, there are a few big names:

  • Toyota Material Handling: The world's largest forklift producer.
  • Kion Group: European based, known for their brand Linde.
  • Jungheinrich: Another big player in Europe, famous for their reliable electric forklifts.
  • Hyster-Yale: A long-standing American manufacturer, operating since the 1920s.
  • Crown Equipment Corporation: An American company known for their material handling equipment, including forklifts.
  • Mitsubishi Logisnext: A Japanese company that produces a variety of forklifts under the Mitsubishi, Caterpillar, and Nichiyu brands.
  • Komatsu: A Japanese multinational corporation that manufactures construction, mining, and military equipment, including forklifts.
  • Clark Material Handling Company: An American company that claims to have invented the world's first forklift truck.

Although chances are that most forklifts you will see will be from one of the above brands, there are many others out there. Just make sure you check the reviews of smaller brands to confirm their reputability before purchasing from them. 

If you're considering purchasing a forklift, it's also important to understand the cost of a forklift. They certainly differ from brand to brand and will also differ for new forklifts vs used forklifts.

Forklift Terminology

Here are 21 key terms to make you sound like a pro:

  1. Mast: The vertical assembly that raises and lowers the load.

  2. Carriage: The frame that holds the forks and can move up and down the mast.

  3. Load Center: The distance from the front face of the forks to the load's center of gravity; crucial for determining the forklift's maximum capacity.

  4. Capacity: The maximum amount of weight a forklift can safely lift.

  5. Counterweight: The weight integrated into the forklift's rear to counterbalance the load on the forks.

  6. Lift Height: The maximum height to which the forks can lift a load.

  7. Free Lift: The height to which the forks can rise without extending the mast.

  8. Tilt: The ability of the mast assembly to lean forward (downward tilt) or backward (upward tilt) to help stabilize the load.

  9. Gradeability: The maximum slope or incline a forklift can climb or descend safely.

  10. Stability Triangle: The three-point suspension system that most forklifts use for balance — the points being the two front wheels and the center of the rear axle.

  11. Attachments: Additional tools or equipment that can be added to a forklift to allow it to handle different types of loads.

  12. Overhead Guard: A metal framework over the operator's cabin to protect from falling objects.

  13. Data Plate: A metal plate affixed to the forklift that provides crucial information, such as the make, model, and capacity of the vehicle.

  14. Backrest: An attachment to the carriage that prevents the load from shifting backward onto the operator.

  15. Side Shift: A mechanism that allows the carriage and forks to move side-to-side, which assists in precise load placement.

  16. Load Backrest Extension: An attachment that extends vertically from the backrest to prevent tall loads from falling backward.

  17. Electric Forklift: A forklift powered by a rechargeable battery rather than an internal combustion engine.

  18. LP Gas Forklift: A forklift powered by liquid propane gas.

  19. Reach Truck: A type of forklift designed for warehouse work, with the ability to 'reach' into racking.

  20. Order Picker: A type of forklift where the operator's platform lifts along with the load, allowing for manual handling of goods stored at height.

  21. Deadman's Switch: A safety feature that immediately stops the forklift if the operator leaves the seat or loses control.


And there you have it - a crash course on all things forklifts. Remember, they're powerful machines that require respect and proper training to operate safely. Now go forth and keep up the good work!

P.S: Don't forget to browse our catalogue of used forklifts for sale in Quebec and all across Canada.

P.S.S: Here's one of my favorite forklift memes:

Forklift meme: Forklift oeprators working remotely

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