What Are Pallet Jacks and How Are They Used?

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Pallet jacks are affordable, easy-to-use alternatives to forklifts and lift trucks. They feature a hydraulic mechanism that makes it possible for a single operator to lift a full-size pallet and move it around a warehouse without strain. Their earliest incarnation dates back to 1918, although modern units are much simpler to use and require less maintenance.

Types of Pallet Jacks

Manufacturers typically distinguish between two types of pallet jacks:

  • Manual pallet jacks, which are fully hand-operated and are best for simple tasks
  • Electric pallet jacks, which feature a powered lift mechanism and, in some models, ride-on capabilities

Electric pallet jacks offer additional lifting power, which makes them better suited for lifting heavier loads or stacked pallets. However, they do require additional maintenance and, because they are more complex, they have a shorter service life than fully manual models.

How to Use a Pallet Jack

Using a manual pallet jack is a straightforward process:

  1. Stand behind the jack and locate the release lever
  2. Press the lever to lower the prongs
  3. Slide the prongs under the pallet
  4. Gently pump the handle up and down to raise the pallet to the desired height
  5. Move the pallet into position

Powered pallet jacks operate in much the same way, except that raising and lowering is done with the push of a button. Most units feature a braking mechanism, too — either a dead man’s switch or a plug-type system to slow and stop the machine when necessary.

Pallet Jack Applications

Manual and electric pallet jacks are suitable for use in most warehouse environments. However, they do not work with reversible pallets and have limited functionality when working with double-faced, non-reversible pallets and four-way notched-stringer pallets. Always consult with the jack’s manufacturer before attempting to lift something unfamiliar.

Benefits of Pallet Jacks

Pallet jacks have several advantages over forklifts and lift trucks. They are more economical to purchase outright and require less ongoing maintenance. Manual models, in particular, are virtually maintenance-free. When service is required, it can generally be completed with a minimal amount of downtime, making your operation more productive.

Another advantage of pallet jacks is that, because of their simplicity, new operators require less training. This makes it easier to onboard new staff members.

Disadvantages of Pallet Jacks

Aside from the operational limitations listed above, the main drawback to pallet jacks is that they require more effort from the operator. They are also slower, mainly when lifting a loaded pallet, and are less suitable for use in rough or uneven terrain. Additionally, they tend to have lower lifting capacities and vertical reach. For fast-paced or heavy-duty environments, a lift truck or forklift may be better suited to the needs of your operation.

Manufacturers and Models

McCall Handling carries several types of electric and manual pallet jacks to serve customers with a range of needs. Hyster manufactures walk-behind electric models that offer excellent performance and great overall value. We also carry used units and have a large rental inventory.

Visit one of our five locations for assistance or contact our head office directly for more information about our full range of material handling solutions.