What Is a Walk behind Forklift?

Paul Scott

A walk behind forklift is a smaller version of a conventional drive-on forklift used to lift and move pallets and loose goods. As the name indicates, these forklifts are either pushed by hand or self-driven and manually guided from behind by means of a steering bar. The load bed on a walk behind forklift is very similar to the larger, motorized versions and consists of two flat arms designed to slip into the openings on a pallet or under a suitably stable load. These load arms may be adjusted to accommodate differing load widths and most feature a tip-back function that prevents the load from slipping off of the arms during transit. The load bed is raised and lowered by means of a hydraulic pump that can be manually or electrically operated.

Walk-behind forklifts help people move heavy goods.
Walk-behind forklifts help people move heavy goods.

Forklifts are material-handling vehicles specifically designed to move goods on pallets. The most familiar form of this vehicle is the ubiquitous ride-on type commonly found in most large warehouses, stores, and factories. Smaller walk behind forklifts are equally popular workhorses and make the moving of smaller loads in tighter quarters easy. These forklifts fall into two broad categories — manual and self-driven types. Both are guided from behind by the operator and steered by turning a wheel, lever, or steering arm.

Manual pallet jacks operate hydraulically to allow lifting of heavy objects.
Manual pallet jacks operate hydraulically to allow lifting of heavy objects.

Manual walk behind forklift models are designed to clear pallets off of the ground and move them around only, and have a limited lifting distance capacity as a result. Often known as pallet jacks, these walk behind forklifts are most often found in warehouses where single pallets are regularly moved around. Fitted with a set of static castors at the front of the load area and a set of steering castors at the rear, these forklifts have a load bed that is raised and tipped back by means of a hand- or foot-operated hydraulic pump. The rear steering castors are turned by means of a separate steering arm or the handle of the hydraulic pump.

Self-driven walk behind forklift models are typically electrically-driven by a motor that drives a set of rubber traction wheels. These forklifts are more commonly used to lift heavier loads consisting of multiple pallets. They also generally feature the same rack lift mechanism found on ride-on types, allowing the pallets to be lifted onto shelves or loading ramps. They are steered in the same fashion as the manual types by means of a steering wheel or arm located at the rear of the forklift. The load bed on this type of walk behind forklift is generally raised and lowered by a hydraulic pump driven by the traction motor.

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