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What is a Pallet Jack? Common Types & Uses

What is a Pallet Jack? Common Types & Uses

Pallet jacks, also known as pallet trucks, hand trucks, pump trucks, or walkie stackers, are material handling machines used in places like warehouses, grocery stores, or retail stores. They’re most commonly used to transport palletized loads short distances, such as from a stock room to retail shelves.

Because they’re on the smaller side, their load capacity and lifting capacity are limited. But their small size makes it easier for them to navigate through narrow aisles and tight spaces. Pallet jacks are the most basic type of forklift, ideal for use in environments where conventional loads on pallets and skids need to be transported.

In this guide, we explain how pallet jacks work, their lifting capacities, the types you can rent, and how they compare to a forklift.

what is a pallet jack

Table of Contents

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How Does a Pallet Jack Work?

How you operate a pallet jack depends on whether it’s manual or electric, though both use the same basic mechanism: a control lever to raise and lower the load. For manual types, you use the lever-like steering mechanism, called a tiller, to both steer as well as raise the pallet. This pump-handle action is why this equipment may also be referred to as a pallet pump. For electric versions, you use buttons and levers to control the height electronically.

How High Can a Pallet Jack Lift?

A pallet jack isn’t designed to lift things high off of the ground the way forklifts. Most hand trucks can lift loads only three to eight inches off the ground. Some high-lift models can lift multiple feet into the air. Check your operator’s manual for the exact lifting height of your model.

How Much Can a Pallet Jack Lift?

How much weight a hand truck can lift depends on the type you’re using. Typically, standard hand pallet jacks have a lift capacity between 2,000 and 5,500 pounds. Heavy-duty, high-capacity models can lift up to 15,000 pounds.

Manual vs. Electric Pallet Jacks

Manual and electric versions perform the same function, but each type works a little differently. Here’s how these two types of pallet jacks compare.

manual vs. electric pallet jacks

Manual Pallet Jacks

Manual versions rely on manual labor to operate, meaning that they require a human operator to perform their function. The lever is attached to a hydraulic pump which gives the truck the ability to lift. Generally, manual trucks have a lower load and lift capacity than electric models do, but they tend to be more affordable and easy to maintain.

Some common manual types include:

  • Weighing scale: These jacks are equipped with a digital scale showing the weight of each load, making it easy to keep track of the weights of materials.
  • Adjustable: The forks on these pallet trucks can be adjusted to be wider or narrower to accommodate loads of various sizes.
  • All-terrain: These trucks come with larger, shock-absorbing wheels designed to handle rough terrain as well as work in conventional environments.
  • Mini: Mini versions, as the name indicates, are smaller and operate without a hydraulic pump. They’re able to carry only very small loads.

Electric Pallet Jacks

Electric pallet trucks, also known as powered pallet jacks, function similarly to manual ones, but are powered by an electric motor with a rechargeable battery. Instead of using a hydraulic pump to operate, the forks or prongs raise and lower electronically and are controlled by buttons and levers.

Common types of electric versions include:

  • Electric walkie stacker: This battery-powered version requires the operator to walk behind or alongside it as it moves. Larger than its manual counterpart, it has a higher lift and weight-bearing capacity, making it ideal for heavier loads.
  • Rider: This type comes with a platform for the operator to stand on. It works similarly to an electric walkie stacker but is larger and heavier.
  • Counterbalanced walkie stacker: This pallet truck is equipped with a heavy lifting mast and a stabilizing counterweight, making it able to lift heavy loads high off of the ground.
  • Off-road: Similar to the manual all-terrain pallet jack, this model is equipped with durable pneumatic tires and steering wheels as well as a wider frame that makes it able to handle operating on rough terrain.

When Should You Consider a Pallet Jack over a Forklift?

Both pallet jacks and forklifts are used to transport materials from one place to another and generally come with double-pronged attachments ideal for lifting loads. The main difference between pallet jacks and forklifts is in their size, load capacity, reach, and cost.

The table below shows you what each machine can typically do as well as its maximum capacity. Keep in mind that these are only estimates, and the actual specs will vary between each specific model.


Pallet Jack Forklift
Lifting Capacity Up to 15,000 lbs Up to 158,000 lbs
Cost (Monthly Rate) $204 – $542 $1,200 – $3,475
Size Can weigh up to 300 Ibs Can weigh up to 20,000 Ibs
Lifting Height Up to 8 feet Up to 15 feet


Here are some factors to consider in determining which type of material handling equipment your project needs.

  • Lifting height and capacity: Forklifts have a greater lifting capacity than pallet jacks, both in terms of the heights they can reach as well as the weight they can carry. If your project involves transporting heavy loads at significant heights, a forklift may suit your needs better. Pallet jacks, on the other hand, are suitable for handling smaller loads in narrower spaces.
  • Cost: Because of their smaller size and capacity, pallet jacks are generally more affordable than forklifts. They may be the better choice for a project with a limited budget provided they meet your load-bearing needs.
  • Maneuverability: Due to their smaller size and lightweight frame, pallet jacks are generally much easier to maneuver than forklifts and are designed to navigate tight and narrow spaces.
  • Size: If the loads you need to transport are on the larger side, you’re likely to need a forklift. Small to moderate loads can be handled by pallet jacks.

Do You Need a License to Operate a Pallet Jack?

For any “mobile-powered” hand truck, such as an electric one, OSHA requires operators to be certified in order to operate or drive it. Employees will need to go through formal operator training courses, and hands-on training, and be evaluated on their performance.

Operators of manual pallet jacks, on the other hand, aren’t required to undergo any formal training courses.

How Much Does It Cost to Rent a Pallet Jack?

Manual versions are generally less expensive than electric ones. It may cost you $32 to rent manual hand trucks for a day or $204 for a month. Electric models can cost you $75 daily or $542 monthly. However, the rental cost may vary by location.

Keep in mind that other factors, such as the type, availability, duration of the rental, and any fees, can affect your rental costs.

Pallet Jack Safety Tips

Though a pallet jack may not seem complicated to operate, it’s still a piece of heavy machinery. To operate it safely, be sure to keep the following in mind.

  • Check the weight capacity. Be sure that the loads you’re transporting don’t exceed the machine’s load capacity.
  • Ensure your pathway is clear. Obstructions in the path can pose safety hazards, especially if they cause the machine to tip over or go off track.
  • Inspect the pallet before use. Be sure that any piece of equipment you’re about to operate is in good working condition before you use it.
  • Evaluate your workspace. Assessing the size, shape, and surface texture of your workspace will help you choose the truck that’s best equipped to handle it.

Need to Rent a Pallet Jack?

Whether you’re looking for an electric pallet truck, or a manual hand truck, or aren’t quite sure what you need, BigRentz has pallet jack rentals to meet all of your material handling needs. Check out our rental directory to find the best equipment for your next project.

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