How Forklifts Operate

Category: Equipment and Solutions

Operator Training

A forklift is a piece of material handling equipment that can lift, move and transport palleted loads. It can move large quantities of material in one trip, saving time and manual labor on transportation. Forklifts have essential parts and engineering aspects that make their material handling capabilities possible.

The Components of a Forklift

A forklift has several components that are needed for operation:

  • Truck frame: Forms the base of the machine and is where all the other components attach.
  • Counterweight: A weight at the rear that balances the lifted load.
  • Power source: An internal combustion engine powered by a fuel source.
  • Mast: The vertical structure that raises and lowers the loads.
  • Carriage: The forklift’s base that moves up and down on the mast.
  • Forks: The extensions that carry the loads.
  • Load backrest: Part of the carriage that prevents the load from shifting backward during movement.
  • Overhead guard: A section above the operator that will protect them if a load tips.

How Do Forklifts Operate?

Forklifts lift loads with hydraulic cylinders and roller chain pulleys, which are operated by steering and lifting controls.

Hydraulic Cylinders

The hydraulic system includes a few components that allow the forklift to raise and lower the load. These components include:

  • Cylinders: Hollow tubes shut on one end to trap fluids and including a lubricated, mobile piston at the other end.
  • Lift handle: Lowers and raises the load and is connected to the pump.
  • Pump: Pushes fluids through a tube that leads to the cylinders.

Here is how forklifts run using the hydraulic system:

  1. Fluid enters the hydraulic cylinder through a valve. As the amount of fluid in the cylinder increases, so does the pressure.
  2. When this pressure is applied to the piston head, it creates upward force.
  3. The force causes the piston to move up, increasing fluid and decreasing pressure.
  4. When the fluids’ force equals the load’s downward force, equilibrium is achieved.

Roller Chain Pulley

The roller chain pulley system allows the forks to raise higher than they would with solely the hydraulic system. The forks are attached to the mast by roller chain pulleys. Here is how forklifts work in the chain pulley system:

  1. The pistons raise the mast.
  2. The gears on the mast are pressed into the roller chains.
  3. The mast’s upward movement raises the forks.


A forklift has two main controls:

  • Steering: Acceleration and brake pedals, forward and reverse gears, and a steering wheel are the steering controls. Forklifts use rear-wheel steering to give operators better precision when carrying a load.
  • Lifting: One lever moves the load up and down, and another lever tilts it backward and forward.

Get New, Used, and Rental Forklifts at RAKA

RAKA has nearly 50 years of experience with selling and renting quality material handling equipment such as forklifts. Our friendly, knowledgeable team serves the Upper Midwest and is prepared to help you find a machine that suits your operations and increases your efficiency at the work site.

For more information about our forklift inventory, contact us online.


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