Pallet Jack vs Forklift

Understanding the difference between a pallet jack and forklift is important if you’re planning on doing some heavy lifting. 

If the work that you are doing involves dealing with large loads in different shapes and sizes, you are going to need a durable and powerful handling machine to get the job done.

While there are a wide variety of heavy-duty machines on the market, many people don’t know what makes one unique from the next. Most often, you will either find yourself looking at pallet jacks and forklifts when it comes to material handling machines.

If you’re unsure about the differences between these two large pieces of equipment, we’re here to help! 

Continue reading to learn more.

What Is a Forklift?

Forklifts are much larger in scale compared to pallet jacks (also known as pallet trucks).

These pieces of warehouse equipment are often used in heavy lifting and loading situations thanks to their solid lift height, as they can carry larger loads compared to pallet jacks too.

When it comes to stacking and retrieving loads of heavy goods, forklifts are the number one choice. The reason is that they have the ability to extend vertically. 

example of a forklift

Those who use forklifts often consider them to be workhorses of loading machinery. Some of the tasks that they are able to perform include:

  • Loading and unloading large items on to and off of trucks
  • Moving or lifting large inventory materials
  • Dry sweeping of warehouse floors
  • Lifting workers to perform tasks high up

In terms of size, forklifts are much larger than pallet jacks. This means that they have the ability to lift heavy loads and tons of materials at once. If you are working in a warehouse space, they are great for navigating around tight corners or moving through narrow aisles.

What Is A Pallet Jack?

A pallet jack is a much smaller piece of equipment when compared to a forklift.

They are best for handling simpler and smaller materials. The main designation of a pallet jack is moving loads the size of pallets throughout warehouses.

The weight capacity of a standard pallet jack is around 7,700 pounds.

A standard pallet jack comes in two different options: powered or pump.

Forklift vs Pallet Jack

Choosing between a powered or pumped (manual pallet) model comes down to what you are willing to spend and the ease of use that you are looking for.

Workers stand on the ground or behind the lift on the footings or fork to operate a manual pallet jack. You must slide the forks underneath a pallet before lifting, which may seem obvious, but it is a crucial step nonetheless. You can then use the hand pump or power hydraulics to lift the pallets off the ground.

Workers will often use pallet jacks to get the job started before heading over to the forklift to lift the pallets and load them into areas that are much higher.

One of the biggest benefits of the pallet jack is that it doesn’t need to be recharged or fueled. Pallet jacks are also far more portable than forklifts, great for smaller warehouses and workspaces.

Forklift and Pallet Jack Training/Certification

No matter what piece of equipment you choose to use, OSHA requires that all forklift and pallet jack operators are certified. The training teaches workers the proper way to use a forklift and a pallet jack so that workplace safety is optimized, as well as workplace productivity.

Those who choose not to go through the proper training and use these pieces of equipment anyway can be heavily fined. The training typically includes:

  • Basic maintenance
  • Inspections
  • Avoiding potential hazards
  • Preventing injuries and forklift accidents

Proper training will help you to operate forklifts and pallet jacks, drive them through uneven terrain, and conduct proper training/evaluation for future employees.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is a Pallet Jack a Forklift?

Some might say yes to this question, as according to OSHA, pallet jacks are your most basic types of forklifts. These pieces of equipment also require the same training to operate. With that said, it does not ring true the other way around, as forklifts extend far beyond standard pallet jacks in terms of versatility and complexity.

What Is the Life Expectancy Of A Forklift?

A forklift is like any other piece of machinery. The more you pay to a forklift dealer, the longer they will likely last. A good forklift will typically have a lifespan of 10,000 hours if that forklift is operated more than 2,000 hours throughout each year. 

This means you can expect a forklift to have an average lifespan of about five years.

Do Pallet Jacks Have Brakes?

If you look at the majority of pallet jacks out on the market, you’ll notice that many of them don’t have brakes installed. Most of the hand pump models do not have any brakes installed as well. This is because the forks are raised through a simple and manual hydraulic system that the operator operates, meaning there is no reason to put on the brakes. 

When it comes to electric pallet jacks, these work through on/off hydraulic systems. Many of them include some sort of throttle that allows them to be stopped or slowed down. The high-tech pallet jacks have what they refer to as a “dead man’s switch”. These switches can shut the power off altogether.

Which One Do I Need For My Material Handling?

Forklifts can provide serious height and versatility. They cost much more, though have a much wider range than pallet jacks too. When you need to get your loads into higher locations, a forklift is in order.

On the other hand, a pallet jack or pallet truck can be used to move and store lower load capacity pallet loads and materials on floor space.

Both of these pieces of machinery have advantages and disadvantages when it comes to material handling. In our experience, one of the best ways to figure out which one you need is by considering the load amount that you or your company deals with on a day-to-day.

Tim Postlethwaite

Tim Postlethwaite // Staff Writer