Load capacities and forklift dimensions vary widely. Here’s how to find the right piece of equipment for your job.
Countless jobs require a forklift. Whether you’re lifting items from warehouse racks, loading pallets onto a truck or transporting materials around a construction site, there’s a forklift for every task. But with so many forklifts types and forklift sizes to pick from, you may be wondering how to choose.
Understanding common forklift sizes, forklift dimensions and forklift types will help you identify the right machine for your job.
What size forklift do I need? Consider load capacity and dimensions
To get the most out of your forklift, you’ll need one that can function in your workspace, whether that’s the narrow aisles of a warehouse or the muddy terrain of a lumber yard, and one that can lift and carry your loads.
One of the main considerations when choosing a forklift is its rated capacity, or load capacity, which tells you the maximum weight it can safely lift. The number is listed on the machine’s data plate. Larger forklifts often have greater capacity.
Forklifts come in a wide range of load capacities, from 3,000 pounds on the low end to 70,000+ pounds for a high capacity diesel forklift on the high end. Counterbalance forklifts can usually lift more weight than forklifts without a counterweight.
The actual load capacity of your forklift will be affected by several factors, including the shape of load you’re carrying, any attachments you’re using and how high you need to lift the load.
When choosing a machine based on forklift capacity, give yourself wiggle room — consider your heaviest loads, not just your average ones. And keep in mind that forklift capacity is reduced as you lift the load higher.
There’s no point in buying or renting a forklift that can carry the loads you need to lift if it won’t fit where you need it to go.
Consider the length, width and height (especially the collapsed height) of your forklift with respect to access points such as aisles, doors, gates, low-hanging beams and branches; the height of your ceiling (factor in any overhead lights); and your storage space. Also consider how much space you’ll need to maneuver when lifting and transporting loads. Longer forklifts will have a larger turning radius.
Standard forklifts range in width from about 3 feet to 7 feet and in length from about 8 feet to 10 feet. The largest forklifts can be 10 feet or more long and 10 feet or more wide.
Forklift types by function and power source: 7 OSHA forklift classes
The Occupational Safety and Health Organization (OSHA) divides forklifts into seven classes based on function and power source. Of course, heavier duty forklifts such as telehandlers and high capacity forklifts are typically larger than standard forklifts meant for warehouses.
Class 1: Electric motor rider trucks
Electric motor rider truck forklifts, which include most warehouse forklifts, are normally used indoors. United Rentals’ warehouse forklifts have maximum lift heights of about 20 feet to 23 feet and load capacities up to 50,000 lbs.
Class II: Electric motor narrow aisle trucks
Narrow aisle forklifts, which include side loaders, are meant for working in narrow spaces such as industrial warehouses. They may have lower load capacities than Class 1 forklifts.
Class III: Electric motor hand trucks or hand/rider trucks
These forklifts, which include pallet loaders, are meant for traveling short distances and are often used for loading and unloading a truck. The operator typically walks behind them.
Class IV: Internal combustion engine with cushion tires
Powered by gas or diesel, these forklifts have cushion tires made of solid rubber. The tires are long lasting but have low ground clearance and are suitable only for smooth surfaces. You’ll find class IV forklifts in areas such as loading bays.
Class V: Internal combustion engine with pneumatic tires
With pneumatic tires, Class V forklifts can navigate rough terrain, so they’re often used outside, in places such as lumber yards and construction sites. They have a wide range of load capacities.
Class VI: Electric and internal combustion engine tractors
Class VI forklifts are akin to tugboats and are used for pushing or pulling loads, not lifting. You’ll find them on the tarmac at airports and pulling heavy pallet loads around warehouses.
Class VII: Rough terrain forklift trucks
These large, powerful forklifts are almost always diesel powered. They can handle uneven and rough or muddy surfaces and are often used on logging sites and on construction projects that require more load capacity than a Class V forklift can offer.
Forklift types by feature and use
In addition to the OSHA classes, manufacturers categorize forklifts based on their features and how they’re used. Here are five common types of forklifts.
Counterbalance forklifts are generally used inside warehouses. They have a heavy counterweight at the back of the machine that offsets the weight of the load in the front, which allows them to lift heavier loads. There are several types of counterbalance forklift. Three-wheel counterbalance forklifts are useful for maneuvering in tight spaces.
A reach truck has extendable forks, which are useful for lifting items off the back of racks in a warehouse or placing items at construction sites. Some high capacity reach trucks can lift as high as 45 feet.
An order picker is a small forklift suitable for loads up to 2,000 pounds. These lift the operator up, so they’re used for picking individual items rather than moving a whole pallet.
Heavy duty forklifts
A heavy duty forklift, also known as a large capacity forklift or industrial forklift, is a cross between a warehouse forklift and a telehandler. It has load and lift capacities that rival those of a telehandler, but it has a mast, not a boom, so it lacks the telehandler’s reach.
Industrial forklift sizes vary; some can lift as much as 125,000 pounds.
Rough terrain forklifts
Rough terrain forklifts are designed to handle uneven surfaces — hills, soft ground, mud, rocks. There are several types of rough terrain forklift. Variable reach rough terrain forklifts, also known as telehandlers, have a cab for the operator and a telescopic boom with overlapping sections, which allows the operator to place items directly in front of and above the forklift.
A telehandler or reach forklift, also known as a telescopic forklift, has features of a crane and a forklift. An angled boom allows it to access hard-to-reach areas. Telescopic forklift sizes vary. A compact telescopic forklift might hoist 5,500 pounds up to 19 feet high. The heaviest-duty telescopic forklift might hoist 10,000 to 12,000 pounds up to 56 feet high.
The best forklift for your job comes down to a variety of factors, including size. To choose the right machine, focus on what you need to lift or transport, how high you need to lift it, the limitations of your space and the type of surface you’ll be traversing.
When choosing a forklift, you should consult with an expert regarding the specific circumstances, and the applicable rules and regulations related to your jobsite.