How to Use a Pallet Jack: A Step-by-Step Guide

Pallet jacks are some of the most essential tools found in warehouses and construction sites. Cheaper and easier to operate than forklifts, and safer than manual labor, pallet jacks are used for transporting small loads for short distances.

These tools come in two variations: manual pallet jacks and electric pallet jacks. Both can be good options depending on the size and scope of the project. If you’re thinking about investing in one of these tools but are wondering how to use a pallet jack, take a look at the step-by-step instructions below.

How to Operate a Manual Pallet Jack

Manual pallet jacks are simpler and more affordable than electric pallet jacks, and also require less upkeep. They can be a good choice for small to mid-sized warehouses or construction sites. Here are the four simple steps for using a manual pallet jack.

Step 1: Locate Release Lever

Locate the release lever on the pallet jack's handle.

Stand behind the pallet jack with your hands on the metal steering handle, toward the prongs, which are facing outward. The prongs are the two horizontal pieces of metal which will actually lift the pallets. Locate the plastic release lever on the handle; this is usually found attached to the center bar. It may be a different color in order to make it stand out, but if not it should still be obvious.

Step 2: Move to the Pallet and Press the Lever

Animation showing the prongs of a pallet jack lowering after the release lever is engages.

Move the pallet jack to whatever you want to move and engage the lever to lower the prongs.

Next, push the pallet jack over to the pallet you would like to move. Press the release lever up and inward to lower the prongs to about one-inch off of the ground. If the prongs are already lowered, they will not move when you press the lever.

Step 3: Slide the Prongs Under the Pallet to Load

Animation showing a pallet jack being moved under a pallet.

Once the prongs have been completely lowered, you can slide them underneath the pallet you would like to move. If they are still too high to easily slide under the pallet, they may not be lowered all the way and you should press the release lever again. Make sure you push the prongs all the way through the underside of the pallet so that the wheels are resting on the floor and not on any part of the pallet.

Step 4: Jack Up the Pallet

Animation showing the prongs of the pallet jack lifting up the pallet.

Animation showing the pallet being lifted due to pushing down the handle.

Once the prongs are positioned underneath the pallet, pull the metal handle and the entire center bar toward you at an angle. You should feel some resistance and notice the prongs slowly lift up the pallet. Repeat this several times so that the prongs are far enough off the floor not to drag.

How to Operate an Electric Pallet Jack

Electric pallet jacks can be even more convenient to use than manual pallet jacks, as the manual motion of jacking up the prongs is done electronically. Many also have a “ride-on” feature that can make it easier to get around a large warehouse.

Step 1: Unplug and Store Cord

Animation showing an electric pallet jack being unplugged.

Unplug the electric pallet jack’s plug when you are using it.

Your first step for operating an electric pallet jack is to unplug the charging cord and store it away inside the machine. Because they run on electricity, electric power jacks need to be plugged in and charged when they are not in use. There is usually an obvious location to insert and store the length of the cord.

Step 2: Identify the Controls and Lower Prongs

Animation showing the prongs of an electric pallet jack lowering after one presses the down control on the handle.

On the handle of the pallet jack, there should be buttons to control the direction of movement. Push the “down” button to lower the prongs toward the floor. Again, these should be about one to two inches from the ground.

Step 3: Load the Pallet

Animation showing a pallet jack being moved under a pallet.

Next, use the controls to move the pallet jack to your destination. Once you arrive in front of your pallet, use the buttons to maneuver the prongs underneath and all the way through the pallet. Then, press the “up” button to lift the pallet and prongs off the ground.

Step 4: Use the Control Buttons to Move

Animation showing containers being moved on an electric pallet jack.

Once you have your pallet securely loaded, you can use the control buttons to move to your destination. When you arrive, again press the “down” button to lower the prongs and pallet to the floor.

Step 5: Charge the Electric Pallet Jack

Plug the electric cord back into the electric pallet jack when it is not in use.

When you are done, put the electric pallet jack back as you found it. You will need to pull out the charging cord from its storage area in the machine, and plug it back in so that the electric pallet jack will be ready for use the next time it is needed.

Do You Push or Pull a Pallet Jack?

You can push and pull a pallet jack, depending on how you need to maneuver it. However, humans are able to push much more weight than they can pull and excessive pulling can result in injury.

Pallet Jack Safety Precautions

Though they are relatively simple machines, pallet jacks can still be dangerous if the proper safety precautions aren’t taken.

A construction worker follows proper safety precautions before using a pallet jack.

Inspect the Pallet Jack Before Use

One of the most important steps before operating a pallet jack is to take a look and make sure everything appears ready and functional. You will want to look for things such as loose prongs, unbalanced wheels, or charging cords that aren’t stowed properly.

Though it may seem like a pain, it’s worth it to take the extra couple minutes to make sure you don’t accidentally drop your pallet due to a faulty pallet jack.

Make Sure Your Path is Clear

The second step is to make sure that the route you will be taking to the pallet and your drop-off point is clear of all obstacles. Look for stray construction materials and electric cords, and take note of the ground surface. If the ground is too bumpy, it may be best to find another route.

Keep Machine Access Restricted

Especially for more powerful machines like electric pallet jacks, you will want to make sure that only authorized personnel are able to operate. You could keep access restricted with a security code that must be entered in order to use the machine, or with something as simple as a desk with a sign-in sheet which will allow you to keep track of who is using each one.

Store Pallet Jacks in a Secure Area

This step is especially important if you are working on a site that non-workers can easily access, such as a retail warehouse or home renovation. Make sure that the pallet jacks are kept in an area that is not easily accessible by customers or civilians, and that the machines are kept out of the way for other workers that need to move around the site.

Do You Need A License to Operate a Pallet Jack?

In order to comply with OSHA safety regulations, operators of both manual and electric pallet jacks should complete a certification course. These are often supplied by individual employers, and there are online certifications available as well.

To use a pallet jack, construction workers should complete a certification course.

How Much Weight Can I Put on a Pallet Jack?

Most manual and electric pallet jacks can handle up to 3,500 kg, or 7,700 lbs. This depends on the size and model that you are using, as there are some that are made to handle larger weights. Consult the instructions for the specific model you plan to use for exact measurements.

Whether you decide to go with a manual pallet jack or an electric pallet jack, either choice will make your next construction project so much easier, as you won’t be stuck doing all of the heavy-lifting on your own. Take a look at our selection of pallet jack rentals to decide which would be the best fit for you.

There are two main types of pallet jacks: a manual pallet jack and an electric pallet jack.