February 1, 2018

Parts of a Forklift: Main Parts and Description

Parts of a forklift and what they do: 

Are you trying to better understand the components of a forklift truck? You have come to the right place! Here we will help you understand the different parts of a forklift and their importance. There is an entire section on the forklift licensing exam that asks about the different parts of a forklift. If you are looking to take that test or need a refresher check out the guide below.
forklift parts guide

Forklift Nameplate Information

The nameplate, also called data plate, is one of the most important parts of a forklift. Not only is it required by OSHA, but it is very important to learn about the elements of that specific forklift before operation. Not reading a forklift nameplate can result in injury, damaged equipment, or even the load being damaged.

10 Elements of a Nameplate

  1. Serial Number - Number given to the product when it was manufactured. Used as an identification number.
  2. Model Number - Identifier of a type of product created by a company.
  3. Truck Weight - The total weight of the forklift truck.
  4. Load Center - The location of the center of gravity of a load on a forklift truck's forks.
  5. Capacity - The amount of weight a forklift truck can carry based on the item's center of gravity.
  6. Maximum Lift Height - The highest a forklift can lift an item without risking tipping over.
  7. Tire Size - The size of the tires on the forklift truck.
  8. Angle of Tilt - The maximum angle in degrees that a truck can tilt a load safely.
  9. Attachments - Any attachments that are added to the truck that change the truck's capacity.
  10. Mast Type - Type of Mast currently being used with that specific forklift truck.

Calculating Forklift Load Capacity

Load capacity is crucial for insuring a safe workplace. If you are looking to calculate load capacity use a forklift load capacity calculator.

Nameplate Requirements

  1. Unreadable Nameplate – Because of rules and regulations you can be fined for operating a forklift with a nameplate that is unreadable.
  2. Outdated Nameplate – If you have modified your forklift truck with attachments or changed the size of the battery you must update the nameplate with the new capacities. If this is not done you may be fined if your forklift truck is inspected.

Forklift Forks

Forks are the long prongs that are used to physically hold loads. Forks are attached to the mast of a forklift by the carriage. Forklift operators have controls that allow the forks to move up, down, right, left, and even tilt. These features are used to move loads safely and efficiently. There are a few things about forks that you need to know.

How to Use Forks Safely

  1. Never drag a load. This is unsafe to do and wears down the forks on a forklift. Wearing down the forks can cause the forks to not hold the proper capacity of a load.
  2. Only use forks for lifting or lowering loads. Forks were designed to withstand lifting and lowering loads. Sometimes operators skip steps and decide to push loads with the forks. This causes damage to the forks that will shorten the forks lifespan.
  3. Follow the trucks limits. Never Lift/Lower loads greater than capacity. This could bend or break the forks. In some cases forklifts that are overloaded tip over.
  4. Always use both forks when lifting loads. Using only one fork will greatly lower a trucks capacity and could cause damage or injury.
  5. Don’t walk under forks. There have been cases where people have walked underneath forklift forks and had loads fall on top of them. Never walk underneath forks when a load is on top of them.

Check out our guide on forklift safety

Forklift Fork Classifications

Forks are the part of the forklift that hold the actual loads. Different size forklifts use different types of forks. This is based on carriage size and the capacity needed for the forklift truck. The bigger the carriage the higher capacity the forks are able to lift.

Forklift Fork Classes

Fork Size Classification  Carriage Size (In.) Capacity (lbs.)
Class 1 13 0 - 1,999
Class 2 16 2,000 - 5,500
Class 3 20 5,501 - 10,000
Class 4 25 10,001 - 17,500
Class 5 28.67 17,501 - 24,000

Forklift Fork Maintenance

Another important factor related to forklift forks is making sure that they are safe to carry loads. Overtime forks on forklifts are worn down, cracked, and broken. This can have a huge impact on the load carrying capacity for the forks. It is highly advised to check the thickness of the forks in order to insure they are safe to use. This is done by using a pair of calipersOnce forks have lost 10% or more of thickness they are unsafe to use and need to be replaced.

Forklift Carriage

The forklift carriage is used to connect the forks to the mast. The carriage increases a forklift’s capacity and help prevent the blades from being damaged or destroyed. Forklift carriages have 5 classifications that can be seen under the forklift forks section. The upper portion of a carriage is known as the backrest which is used to help prevent loads from falling onto the operator or damaging the equipment.

Lift/Tilt Cylinder

The lift cylinder is hydraulic system that gives forklift it’s lift power. Almost all forklifts use hydraulic systems as it is the most efficient way to lift and lower objects with high weight.

How do hydraulic cylinders work?

When the forklift’s mast is activated, pressurized air is led into the hydraulic cylinders. Above the hydraulic cylinders are pistons. When enough air pressure is added the pistons above the hydraulics cylinders move upwards. This causes the forks to move up.

What is the Lift Cylinder?

The Lift Cylinder is a hydraulic cylinder that allows the load to move up or down. Forklifts generally have just one of these at the center of the mast.

What is the Tilt Cylinder

The tilt cylinder is a hydraulic cylinder that allows the mast to move the load forwards or backwards. This is used in order to tilt the load in order to make the load more stable during transportation. Usually forklifts will have a tilt cylinder on both sides of the truck in order to allow a uniform forwards or backwards movement.

Forklift Backrest

Backrests are the piece of metal above the carriage. Backrests have two main purposes. Firstly they help stabilize the loads during transportation, loading, and unloading. Secondly, they prevent loads from falling on the forklift operator. OSHA requires all forklifts to have backrests as they are proven to reduce injuries in the workplace.

A lot of people have asked if they are allowed to change the backrest out on their forklift truck. OSHA offers a Question and Answer section on this topic and on many other topics.

Forklift Mast

The mast, also known as an upright, is the physical system that allows the forklift to move up, down, tilt, and side to side. The mast connects the carriage and forks to the forklift truck itself. There are four types of masts that are used on different types of forklift trucks. Before we look at the four different types of masts there are a couple of terms that need to be defined. It is important to note that as loads are moved higher their capacity goes down. This is because it requires more and more energy to lift a load higher.

Lift Height vs. Free Lift – Lift height is the height loads can be raised without extending the mast. Free lift refers to the height that the loads can be raised with the mast extended.

Forklift Standard Mast
The standard mast is a singular forklift mast system. The standard mast is used on the most basic types of forklift as it only allows the forklift to lift loads to a certain height.

Forklift Duplex Mast

The duplex is a forklift mast system with 2 masts. This system has an inner and outer mast. The outer mast is immobile and is used specifically for free lift. The outer mast moves up an down with the load.

Forklift Triple Mast

The triple mast forklift is one of the most useful forklift truck mast systems. It typically contains one outer mast system and two inner. The outer mast system is used for free lift while the two inner are used for regular lift. The second mast allows for loads to be lifted much higher than a duplex or standard mast truck.

Forklift Quad Mast

A quad mast truck is much less common than the other three as it is generally used for lifting loads to very high heights. It’s triple interior mast system allows for loads to be lifted to even higher heights than the triple mast system.

Forklift Overhead Guard

The overhead guard is a forklift part that protects the operator of the forklift truck. In certain situations it is possible that objects from the load may fall off the forklift truck and onto the operator. The overhead guard protects the driver from being struck by any of these objects

Forklift Engine Types

Forklifts are either run by an engine, a battery, or a combination of both. It works by burning fuel and turning the fuel into mechanical energy. This fuel is turned into a gas which is moved throughout a series of cylinders that allow the forklift to move. The main types of forklift fuels are propane and diesel.

Diesel Engine Forklift Trucks – Diesel powered forklifts are much stronger than propane forklifts and are generally used for bigger jobs or outdoor lifting.

Propane Powered Forklift Trucks – Propane burning forklifts are cleaner than diesel and are tend to be cheaper. Propane powered trucks tend not to be as powerful as diesel, but are still able to get most jobs done.

Forklift Battery

Forklift batteries are an essential part of a forklift truck. Some forklifts are completely electric while others have batteries for reasons such as counterweight and electrical systems. Electric forklifts have batteries that must be charged about once a month depending on how often the forklift trucks are being run.

Forklift Charging Stations  Companies that have electric forklifts are required to have forklift charging stations that are up to par with OSHA standards. This means that these stations must prohibit smoking, have an eye wash station, and follow many more regulations.

Battery Hazards – Batteries contain sulfuric acid which could possibly burn or injure workers. It is highly advised to be very careful when working with batteries and aware of your surroundings. 

How to change a forklift battery – Because of how heavy batteries are they are not able to be lifted out of the truck by hand. The first step in changing a forklift battery is to make sure the forklift truck is powered off and the key is removed from the engine. A lifting beam is required to properly move the battery out of the forklift truck and into it’s corresponding charging station. Use this same method to place the forklift battery back into the truck after completion of charging.

Forklift Counterweights

Counterweights are used in order to make sure that forklifts do not tip over when raising heavy loads. They are located in the back of the forklift under the seat. If forklift trucks did not have counterweights they would fall forward when a heavy weight is raised. They are usually made of cast iron, concrete, or a combination of the two as these materials are cheap and heavy.

Types of Forklift Tires

The tires in the front of the forklift are known as the drive tires. The tires in the back of a forklift are known as the rear tires. These vary depending on the worksite that the forklift truck is operating and what capacity is being lifted. The two main types of forklift tires are cushion and pneumatic.

Cushion Tires – Cushion tires are made of solid rubber and do not contain any tread. They can be used on trucks inside or outside but are only able to operate on smooth surfaces. One nice benefit to cushion tires is that you won’t get a flat tire.

Pneumatic Tires – Pneumatic forklift tires are made with rubber but instead of being sold have air inside of them. They are used in rough terrain and do contain tread, unlike the cushion tires. One benefit of pneumatic tires is that they offer a smoother ride than the cushion tires.


After reading through this guide you will have all the knowledge needed on the different parts of a forklift truck. Whether you are preparing for the license exam or catching up on your forklift knowledge we here at ForkliftLicenseHQ hope that this guide was beneficial to you. If you have any questions, comments, or concerns feel free to comment below.  Hope you enjoyed our guide to the different parts of a forklift.

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