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Pallet Jacks

Pallet Jacks – The Smallest Workhorse in the Materials Handling Fleet

Pallet jack

Technically a pallet jack is a form of forklift. It has forks, it lifts cargo (albeit not very high) and it moves and drops loads. Pallet jacks or "pallet trucks" come in a seemingly wide variety given the simple basic mission for the machine. Some are completely manual using a hydraulic system to raise the cargo and muscle power for maneuvering; others are electrically powered for both lift and propulsion while still others are large enough to allow a standup operator.

Why so many models for a device whose function is to carry a pallet(s) about 8 inches off the ground from point A to point B? The answer lies in the diverse needs of operations that need pallet jacks to optimize their productivity.

What this article hopes to do is assist you in your decision making process by describing the three major classes of pallet jacks and how each is typically used.

Manual Pallet Jack

For retail businesses with small storerooms the manual pallet jack is an easy way to get product from storage to the sales floor. They also come in handy for spotting a pallet in a tight space like the inside of a truck trailer.

Manual pallet jacks use a hydraulic system to raise the forks off the roller wheels at the end of the forks. The "tiller", the device the operator uses to steer the pallet truck, will have a lever that activates the "jack." The operator positions the truck under the pallet and then pumps the tiller up and down to hydraulically raise the forks.

The operator then pulls or pushes the truck to the desired location and then flips the lever deactivating the hydraulics allowing the forks to return to "ground" level.

If you are moving pallets of 2000 lbs. or less you can pick up a pallet jack at a home improvement store or garden supply shop for a few hundred dollars. If you have heavier loads or if you use the truck frequently each day, you'll want to look at the manual trucks offered by some forklift manufacturers. These trucks will be built out of more substantial materials, have a low rolling resistance design, and typically handle up to 5000 lbs.

While the components of a "professional" pallet jack will be essentially the same, the quality of the construction will be similar to that which goes into manufacturing a forklift. That said, you'll still have to pump the tiller and muscle the truck into place.

Electrically Powered Walkie Pallet Jacks

For large retail operations or grocery wholesale businesses who are restocking on a daily basis the electrically powered walkie pallet jack can be a solution for higher productivity. The battery powered motor in these units lifts the forks and provides propulsion. Controls located in the handle of the tiller allow the operator to engage the jack up or down set the speed. Because there is no pumping or pushing there is obviously less wear and tear on the operator.

The electric truck can handle upwards to 8000 lbs. and when equipped with optional extended forks can accommodate loads two pallets wide. In addition, most walkies include a steel guard located at the base of the forks that will allow safely picking up stacks of multiple pallets so long as their total weight doesn't exceed capacity.

Like the manual pallet jacks, these electric units are highly maneuverable and ideal for rearranging or spotting stacks in a truck.

Electrically Powered Rider Pallet Jacks

A rider pallet jack may seem a bit over the top for such a simple machine but they have their place. Rider trucks are all about leveraging electrical power to optimize the operator's productivity.

These trucks have the speed and features that make them ideal for low grade order picking. Some even have wireless controls that allow the operator to dismount, pick an order then move the truck remotely to a nearby pick rack without having to mount and dismount.

Steering is accomplished from a standup tiller making turning radius significantly tighter when doing a 900 angle to stacks. A tighter radius means aisles can be narrower which equates to increased productivity.

But the major advantage of the rider is it not being limited to the speed of a walking human being. The operator can get to the appropriate place in the warehouse comparatively quickly, pick an order, and "high tail" it to the dock. A walkie or a manual would take significantly longer to accomplish the same task.

To give you an idea of the differences between classes we have prepared the following table of specifications:

TypeBrandPowerCapacityFork LengthRaise SpeedTravel Speed
HysterRiderElectric6000 lbs.46"2.0 seconds9.0 mph
LindeWalkieElectric3000 lbs.46.4"1.9 seconds4.0 mph
ManualUlineMuscle4000 lbs.48"UK (manual)UK (manual)

Pricing for new pallet jacks from forklift manufacturers is not available for a number of reasons. The price for the Uline manual jack shown above is $399 new.

Here's an idea of what powered pallet jacks are going for on the used market:

  • 2002 Crown walkie with 5000 lbs. capacity $1800
  • 2005 CAT walkie with 6000 lbs. capacity $6000
  • 2004 Crown rider with 6000 lbs. capacity $6900
  • 2010 Yale walkie with 6000 lbs. capacity $2500

In summary, pallet jack buyers usually fall into two groups; those who don't have forklifts and just need limited pallet moving and those who do have forklifts but don't want to distract them from their primary function just to move a pallet.

Speed isn't a major concern for the first group while speed, maneuverability and stress on the operator play important roles for the second group. Once you decide what works best for you, we can help you find your new or used pallet jack with our Forklift Locator tool.

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