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What’s under the hood of your forklift zipping around the warehouse? Those sturdy machines that can lift and move heavy loads are engineering marvels with many complex components working together. As an operator, understanding the anatomy of a forklift helps ensure safe and efficient use.

Your forklift is a feat of engineering that combines the power of hydraulics, electricity and raw horsepower to get the job done.

Let’s take a look at Anatomy of a Forklift how these industrial workhorses function.

Understanding the Main Systems of Forklift

The forklift has four main systems: the power system, the hydraulic system, the electrical system, and the drivetrain. The power system, including the engine and fuel components, provides the energy to operate the forklift.

The hydraulic system uses high-pressure fluid to power the lift and tilt functions. The electrical system starts the engine, powers the lights and other accessories, and ensures safe operation. Finally, the drivetrain, including the transmission, axles, and wheels, propels and steers the forklift.

Understanding the Parts of a Forklift

Know about the parts of a forklift in brief;

The Mast: Providing Height and Reach

The mast is the vertical beam on a forklift that allows it to lift loads high up and extend its reach. Without a mast, a forklift wouldn’t be able to lift much off the ground! The mast comes in different heights depending on how high you need to lift materials. Taller masts, like 8-10 meters, are better for warehouses while shorter masts around 3-5 meters suit most general purposes.

The Carriage: Moving the Load

The carriage is the component that allows the forklift to lift and move heavy loads. It consists of two parallel forks that slide under the load, and a mast that raises and lowers the forks.

To pick up a load, the operator uses the controls to slide the forks under the cargo, whether it’s a pallet, crate or loose object. The mast, which connects the forks to the main body of the forklift, then lifts the load to the desired height using a hydraulic cylinder or cable. The carriage travels up and down steel mast rails with the help of rollers or glides.

Once the load is raised, the operator can transport it by driving the forklift. Steering is accomplished through the front wheels, while the rear wheels provide power and braking. The operator tilts the mast backward to keep the load balanced during travel.

To deposit the load, the process is reversed. The mast is tilted forward and lowered, and the forks are slid out from under the cargo. The carriage then returns to the ground, ready to pick up another load.

The Forks: Lifting and Placing

The forks are arguably the most important component on a forklift. They are what allow the forklift to lift and move heavy loads. The forks slide under the load and then lift it up so it can be transported.

·         Fork Size and Type

Forklifts come with different fork sizes and types for handling various loads. The most common are standard forks, but some forklifts also have tapered forks for handling skids and slip sheets, lumber forks for moving wood, and coil forks for steel coils. Fork size is designated by the fork blade width and thickness. Wider, thicker forks can handle heavier loads. The fork type must match the load to ensure safe and effective handling.

·         Fork Positioning

The forks can be adjusted for different load sizes. They slide in and out along rails and the space between the forks can be adjusted. For the best stability, the load should be balanced in the center of the forks. The forks should extend all the way under the load for the most support. Never lift a load with the forks only partially under it.

·         Lifting the Load

Once the forks are properly positioned under the load, you can lift the load using the hydraulic lift lever or pedal. Raise the load slowly until it is a few inches off the ground. Tilt the mast back slightly to stabilize the load. Make sure the load is balanced before moving. Move the forklift slowly and carefully to the desired location. Gently lower the load by slowly releasing the hydraulic lift lever. Ensure the load is stable on the ground before removing the forks.

The Power Source: Driving the Forklift

The power source is the heart of your forklift, providing the energy to get the job done. Most forklifts run on electric motors, internal combustion engines, or a combination of the two.

Electric Motors

Electric forklifts are powered by rechargeable industrial batteries that supply energy to electric drive motors. These eco-friendly lifts produce zero direct emissions, so they can be used indoors. However, their range is limited by how long the batteries last between charges. For most operations, batteries provide 8 to 12 hours of runtime.

Internal Combustion Engines

Gasoline, diesel, propane, and natural gas forklifts have internal combustion engines that combust fuel to generate power. While less environmentally friendly due to exhaust emissions, ICE forklifts typically have a longer runtime between refueling. Many models can operate for an entire shift without refueling.

  • Gasoline engines are common but require frequent fill-ups and oil changes.
  • Diesel engines are very durable but more expensive.
  • Propane and natural gas engines produce fewer emissions but require special fueling stations.

The Hydraulic System: Enabling Precise Movement

The hydraulic system is the network of hoses, pumps, valves, and cylinders that provide the power and precision behind a forklift’s movements.

The Hydraulic Pump

The hydraulic pump pressurizes the hydraulic fluid and circulates it throughout the system. It is powered by the forklift’s engine, which spins an impeller inside the pump to build pressure. The higher the engine RPMs, the higher the pressure the pump can produce.

Hydraulic Hoses

The hydraulic hoses transport the pressurized fluid from the pump to the cylinders and valves.

Hydraulic Cylinders

The hydraulic cylinders convert the energy from the pressurized fluid into mechanical force and motion. As fluid fills the cylinder, it pushes on the piston rod to extend it, which in turn lifts the forklift carriage and load. To lower the load, valves release the fluid from the cylinder back to the reservoir.

Control Valves

Control valves direct the flow of pressurized fluid throughout the system. The operator manipulates joysticks and levers in the forklift cabin, which electronically signal the valves to open or close. This level of control allows for small, precise movements when positioning and lifting loads.

Hydraulic Fluid Reservoir

The hydraulic fluid reservoir stores excess fluid to replenish the system as needed. It must be kept at the proper level for the hydraulic system to function. The fluid also requires periodic replacement to remove built-up contaminants and maintain viscosity.

The hydraulic system, with its many interconnected components working together under extreme pressures, is truly an engineering marvel. Proper maintenance and operation are essential to keep this system running safely and efficiently.


Understanding the anatomy of the equipment you operate every day is important for safety, productivity, and troubleshooting issues. Forklifts may not be the most glamorous or complex piece of machinery, but they deserve our respect for the hard work they do.

Next time you’re loading or unloading materials, take a minute to appreciate the mechanical symphony happening all around you.

Take good care of your forklift, and it will take good care of you!

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