Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Evelyn. Evelyn Wonders, “How does a forklift work?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Evelyn!

Imagine you’re in charge of constructing a brand new building in your area. What will you need? You might think of concrete and other building materials. You’ll also need a whole array of tools to make the job happen. For example, how will you lift and move all those heavy supplies? We can think of one machine that can help—the forklift!

Have you ever seen a forklift? They’re common on construction sites, in warehouses, and many other places. These machines are great for lifting and moving heavy objects. You may have even seen a forklift used as a snow plow after a blizzard.

People have been using forklifts for nearly 100 years. The first machine to use forks to lift heavy objects was the Yale forklift. It was invented in 1923. It was widely used during World War II and continued to spread in use after the war. 

Most people who have watched a forklift in action have the same question: How does it work? The answer lies in the machine’s design. Read on to learn about how all the parts of a forklift work together to carry out its function.

When you look at a forklift, a few of its parts may jump out immediately. There’s the seat where the driver sits, protected by an overhead guard. There are the tall masts in front, which allow the machine’s cargo to move up and down. And, of course, there are the machine’s forks. Located in front of the masts, they help the driver carry cargo from one place to another.

Inside the forklift, though, several things are happening that help the machine do its job. Moving the forks up and down requires both a hydraulic system and a chain pulley system. The hydraulic system pumps fluid or air into the cylinders, pushing the pistons upward. This forces the masts up, activating the pulley system. Together, the hydraulics and pulleys lift the cargo.

The driver uses steering and lifting controls to direct the whole process. A counterweight at the back of the forklift also balances the cargo at the front. This stops the machine from tipping over. A forklift may be powered by gas, diesel, or electricity. The type of tires on a machine will depend on the job it’s meant for.

Not all forklifts look the same. People have made several types over the years to perform different jobs. Most of these can be separated into two categories based on their power source: electric or internal combustion engine

Electric forklifts include rider trucks, narrow aisle trucks, and hand-rider trucks. Those with internal combustion engines may have cushion tires or pneumatic tires. Some forklifts also have both electric power and internal combustion engines. Rough terrain forklifts often have floatation tires and can be used in many environments. 

Would you like to drive a forklift one day? Maybe you’ll really be in charge of a future construction project! If so, your knowledge of forklifts and other machines will certainly come in handy.

Standards: NGSS.PS2.A, NGSS.PS3.C, CCRA.L.3, CCRA.L.6, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.R.4, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.SL.1, CCRA.SL.2

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