Equipment and Solutions

Forklift Mast Types  

Jungheinrich electric Forklift on a dock

A forklift’s mast performs the actual lifting of a load. Also referred to as an upright, the mast is a vertical component on the front of a machine that raises loads to specified heights. It elevates and shifts horizontally through hydraulic displacement and lowers via the force of gravity.

Forklift Mast Components and Other Important Terms

There are several common types of forklift masts, all of which have multiple parts critical to their operation. The primary components include:

  • Nested rails: Nested rails, also known as channels, allow the mast to extend to its maximum height and lower to its collapsed height. They move vertically using hydraulic power from the lift cylinder.
  • Forks: The forks come in various designs, sizes and shapes. They attach to the carriage and extend outward from the machine. Forks come in direct contact with the bottom of the load.
  • Carriage: The carriage is a steel frame that houses the forks and connects to the machine by the lift chains.
  • Lift chains: A mast chain attaches to the carriage and extends up and over a chain wheel that acts as a pulley. The chain connects to a boss mounted to the inner mast rail. When the rails raise, the chains do as well, allowing the carriage and the forks to rise.
  • Load backrest: The load backrest mounts to the carriage and contains the load when in motion. It also protects the mast, lift cylinders and other components.
  • Sideshifter: This hydraulically powered mechanism allows the carriage to maneuver side to side. It improves the machine’s efficiency by shifting a load horizontally without moving the forklift. 

Different types of masts have a set of functions unique to their performance. Before buying or renting a forklift, you should become familiar with the mast features to determine which type is best for your application. Some of the critical factors to consider are:

  • Lift height: The lift height is the maximum fork height. This measurement tells you how far the forks can elevate with the mast fully extended.
  • Free lift: Free lift is the maximum height the forks can achieve before the mast rises. Free lifting is critical in areas with restricted overhead clearance. A mast without a free lift feature will move upwards as soon as the forks lift.
  • Collapsed height: The collapsed height is the distance from the floor to the top of the mast when the forks are touching the ground.
  • Extended height: The extended height measures the distance from the floor to the top of the mast at the maximum fork height.

The 3 Most Common Forklift Mast Types

Understanding the different forklift masts and their functions is critical when choosing a machine for your operation. Three main types of masts offer various features and capabilities that benefit many applications.

Single-Stage Mast

Also known as a simplex mast, a single-stage mast has just one channel with limited height capabilities. Free lift features are not available on these mast types. While they are economical and provide excellent visibility, single-stage masts are best suited for outdoor applications because of their lifting clearance restrictions.

Two-Stage Mast

A two-stage, or duplex, mast has two sections. The outer section is stationary and provides a free lift option, while the inner section elevates to raise the carriage. Two-stage masts offer excellent visibility and are ideal for applications with restricted heights, like trailers or boxcars.

Three-Stage Mast

A three-stage mast, known as a triplex, is the most popular because of its superior versatility. The outer rails provide the free lift feature similar to that of a two-stage mast. However, the two inner rails allow this version to achieve much greater lifting heights.

Forklifts with three-stage masts are beneficial in warehouse applications that use racks and stack to heights that exceed the two-stage maximums.

Though they are less common, a four-stage or quad mast type is available for operations needing unique lifting capabilities. Thanks to its four sets of moving rails, a four-stage mast provides the highest reach possible. Despite requiring extra caution due to the extensive heights, these machines work well for high stacking functions in specialized warehousing applications.

Determining the Right Type of Mast for Your Needs

When purchasing or renting a forklift, people often ignore the type of mast it features, focusing mainly on other factors like price, the tires, the condition and the number of hours instead. While all these factors are critical, having a lift with a mast that will work in your facility or application is vital to ensuring it performs as expected. Here are a few things to keep in mind when considering mast types:

  • Measure the collapsed height first. This measurement will tell you if a lift can function efficiently in your doorways, loading docks and aisleways.
  • Consider the maximum heights your machine needs to achieve in your operation, then add another 6 inches to allow ample clearance.
  • Consult an experienced forklift operator or a professional service provider to discuss any additional factors you may have missed.

Partnering With RAKA for All Your Forklift Requirements

The experts at RAKA are happy to answer any questions and help you decide on the perfect lift for your business. Once you have determined the best type of machine for your needs, we have a comprehensive forklift inventory for you to explore, whether you’re considering a rental or purchase. 

Contact us online today to learn more about the equipment and services we offer.