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Pallet Jacks 101: Everything You Need to Know About Their Types and Uses

guy using a yellow pallet jack in warehouse
Pallet jack in use

Over 354,000 pallet jacks are scattered across the USA, being used in everything from food processing plants to the corner store where you pick up your quick service meal. While usually hidden from the public eye, these devices offer an effective tactic for organization and product accessibility for businesses to maintain clean operational and supply workflows. 

In this quick guide, we’ll go over what a pallet jack is, how to operate one, and the various types available for businesses to organize workspaces and storage areas efficiently. There is a lot to cover, so let’s jump right in.

What is a Pallet Jack?

A pallet jack is a wheeled tool that uses hydraulic systems to lift heavy objects without a lot of physical effort. Pallets can then be moved around easily, even in tighter quarters where space is at a premium. This is a basic definition of a pallet jack. Below, you’ll find more specification on the variants of styles available to rent or purchase. 

These devices are known by other names like “hand truck” or “pallet truck.” You can find them being used in grocery stores to move palletized goods or containers from the back to the purchase area or a storage facility, creating more space for future merchandise and equipment.

The operational efficiency and ease of use make pallet jacks a staple among numerous industries. They are used by companies as large as an auto parts distribution center to the local grocery co-operative. 

With a smaller form factor and easy operation, pallet jacks offer a wide range of adaptable uses for an even greater range of businesses, organizations, and industries.

What are the Different Types of Pallet Jacks?

There are numerous specific types of hand pallet jacks available on the market. However, most fall into one of three categories:

  • Manual Pallet Jacks: Manual pallet jacks rely on the effort of a laborer to “lift” items off the ground. This is done by pushing on a lever attached to a hydraulic pump (using oil to transfer force), which lifts whatever is on the forks of the pallet jack. Manual versions are easier to afford and maintain but do have a slightly lower load limit and lift capacity.
warehouse worker pulling an orange manual pallet jack
Manual pallet jack
  • Electric Pallet Jacks: Instead of using manual force through a hydraulic system, an electric pallet jack relies on a motor to operate the equipment. This powers the forks (sometimes called prongs) that raise or lower heavy loads. Everything is controlled by buttons, making it easy to use, but it does rely on a battery system that must be occasionally recharged.
Yellow and black Electric Pallet Jack with a white background and on a brown floor
Electric pallet jack
  • Double Fork Pallet Jacks: These devices can be either manual or electric. They are designed to carry two sets of forks for additional load capacity – meaning two pallets simultaneously.
red and black double fork pallet jack being used in warehouse by a worker
Double fork pallet jack

Below are different variations and add-on features to known pallet jacks: 

  • Stand-On Pallet Jacks: Also referred to rider pallet jacks, these machines feature a small platform at the rear of the pallet jack upon which the operator can stand and control the pallet jack. These are commonly used when it is necessary to transport pallets for long distances. 
worker using an orange and black stand on pallet jack in a warehouse
Stand on pallet jack
  • Center-Rider Pallet Jacks: These are a different type of rider pallet jack, this model features an operator compartment that is partially enclosed. An additional benefit of this model is that it often includes a steering wheel to control the machine. 
two orange and black center rider pallet jack sitting in a warehouse
Center rider pallet jacks
  • Off-Road Pallet Trucks: These pallets can be used in a wide-variety of outdoor terrains. As such, these pallet trucks are equipped with larger, durable tires that can handle rough terrain. The frame of the machine is considerably heavier than the average pallet to keep the palletized load stable when undergoing shocks/bumps in their path. Off-road pallets have the option of using gas engines, electric motors, battery-powered systems, or even manually-powered methods. Lastly, an important difference is the way the forks are connected to the truck. These pallet jacks mount the forks directly onto the hydraulic pump, rather than connecting to the load wheels. 
  • Adjustable Pallet Jacks: These are useful when it is necessary to adjust the fork width for particular loads. An operator can use a hand-crank to widen or narrow the forks, which can eliminate the need for multiple pallet jacks of different sizes for jobs that demand the transport of various sized pallets.
  • Single Fork Pallet Jacks: It is fairly self explanatory that these pallet jacks are equipped with a single fork rather than the typical two. They are usually capable of moving loads less than 14 inches wide. This is useful for operations in which regular sized pallets are too large for the task. 
  • Collapsible Pallet Jacks: These foldable pallet jacks are uncommon, but have the unique advantage in easy shipping of the pallet jacks themselves. Since they can be folded, they take up much less space inside of the truck that is carrying them. Outside of this feature, they operate similar to the typical pallet jack with two forks. 
  • Sideways Pallet Jacks: This variation of the pallet jack is manually operated, but has capabilities beyond the regular form. These pallet jacks are able to move side to side, instead of just forward and backward. The swiveling load wheels allow for lateral movement, which can be essential when moving odd-shaped or bulky loads in narrow paths. 
  • Roll-Moving Pallet Jacks: Funnily enough, these roll-moving pallets are dominantly used to move paper rolls or any cylindrically shaped goods. In place of the usual flat forks, these have curved, angled forks to prevent the load from falling off. 

You’ll find different variations within each of these categories. For example, there are “off-road” electric pallet jacks with pneumatic tires and steering wheels or manual pallet jacks with digital scales to make tracking loads from varying sources easy.

It all comes down to matching the style of the pallet jack with the unique needs of the business, its location, and workflow. 

Manual vs. Electric Pallet Jacks: What’s the Difference?

The primary difference between electric and hand operated pallet jacks is how you lift items off the ground. A pallet being raised through an electric motor is smoother, has a higher carrying capacity, and tends to have a throttle to move items forward and back.

When using a manual pallet jack, the human operator must place force on the long handle to lift pallets. Even though the hydraulic system makes the job of lifting objects accessible for employees, it still requires some physical effort. 

In both cases, you can steer the pallet jacks by simply moving the long arm to the sides you wish to travel. Some larger electric pallet jacks will have a steering wheel.

Beyond that, electric power jacks will be a little more complicated to manage in a tighter space. In addition, they require higher upfront costs and more extensive maintenance. However, they can improve productivity in a high-volume supply challenge. 

Is a Pallet Jack Better than a Forklift?

When a business chooses between investing in a pallet jack or a forklift, it comes down to operational needs and the skills of employees. 

Pallet jacks are going to be much smaller than a full-sized forklift. They have a much lower total cost and are easier to maneuver, making them the device of choice if you have a smaller storage space or don’t need endless stacks of pallets in your warehouse.

Forklifts have a much higher carrying capacity and can remove pallets from high off-the-ground locations. Where you might use a pallet jack for stacking 1-3 storage containers, a forklift can easily reach up to nineteen feet off the ground (in some cases up to 41 feet). There is also the consideration of licensing and training requirements for operating a forklift safely. 

A basic rule to follow is that forklifts are needed for heavy-duty items and pallet jacks are better fit for day-to-day tasks. 

How Do You Operate a Pallet Jack?

An electric or double-fork pallet jack will operate differently than a standard manual hand truck. Let’s stick to the essential operation so you get a general idea:

  • Carefully slide the pallet jack’s forks or prongs into the pallet’s open spaces.
  • Use the pallet jack handle to pump down and lift the pallet from the ground. You may have to squeeze a safety handle as you work.
  • Once onboard and at the correct height from the ground, let the durable wheels of the pallet jack do the work as you steer the device using the long handle.
  • Once moved into its proper space, use the handle release for the pallet jack to slowly move downward until the pallet is safely on the ground.
  • Slide out the prongs and continue using the hand truck, or put it back in its appointed space in your warehouse, storage area, backroom, etc.

It may seem like a complex operation from the steps, but it quickly becomes second nature once you get the hang of using a pallet truck. They are surprisingly smooth and make moving heavy-weighing objects a breeze.

How High Does a Pallet Jack Lift? What About Capacity?

Most manual pallet jacks can lift anywhere from 3,000 to 5,500 pounds. The electric versions tend to hold much more than manual pallet jacks, but you should always avoid overpacking them. The last thing you want is for the pallet jack to stop working when you are midway to your destination.

As far as height, you’re looking at anywhere from 3 inches to 8 feet. The difference is commonly referred to as the low or high profile pallet jacks. The higher the lift, the more likely you will require what is known as a “scissor” lift pallet jack. This provides extra height for ergonomic loading and unloading of goods at an elevated vertical position. 

The goal is to lift the items just enough for the wheels to do the work instead of you having to push/pull on the device with brute force.

Can You Rent a Pallet Jack?

Renting a pallet jack is a straightforward process. They are considered “small equipment” that you can pick up from nearby equipment rental companies in your local area. It is always best to secure a pallet jack rental as soon as you have a need. The versatility and productivity they bring to a business results in high demand which could affect rental availability. 

You can purchase pallet jacks for personal or long-term needs. Pallet jacks are used in a variety of industries, from pharmacy medical shipments to climbing equipment for camp instructors. They are the kind of universal dollies that make workflows much more manageable.

Must I Be Licensed to Operate a Pallet Jack?

Licensure depends on the type, style, and weight capacity of the pallet jack in operation. For manual pallet jacks, you should have internal training from your employer to ensure proper operation. In this case, there is no current license required for regular operation. 

For electric power jacks, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) requires you to receive proper training and certification. That is because these devices can lift more weight and have a motorized component.

Quick Safety Tips for Pallet Jack Operation

  • Always inspect your pallet truck before using it. A broken piece can lead to dangerous outcomes if not properly acknowledged.
  • Keep a clear pathway for the direction you intend to move pallets with this device.
  • Never exceed the weight or dimension limits of the pallet jack you are using.
  • Stick to proper lifting techniques using your legs to avoid strain on your neck, back, and shoulders.

Wrapping Up

Manual and electric pallet jacks are an essential part of any company. They provide much-needed efficiency in moving items around a facility of any size, shape, or industry. Whether renting, owning, or riding, a quality pallet jack is the ticket to enhancing your workflow and enjoying a smoother operation.


How much does a pallet jack cost?

This will depend on the model and type you pick. Based on its capacity, a manual pallet jack will probably run around $100-$599. If you’re going electric, expect to pay significantly more, up to $20-$50K.

What are the dimensions of a pallet jack?

Pallet jack dimensions are designed to lift and move goods stacked on pallets. They only need to be slightly bigger than the pallet for efficient use. You can expect to find most to be 27” wide by 48” long. That is all you need to lift an industry-standard 48” by 40” pallet.

Are there any weight limits for pallet jacks?

Yes, and you must follow the weight limits listed on the device. You can generally expect to lift and move pallets weighing between 3,000 and 5,500 pounds.

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