Understanding Forklift Forks

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Forklift Fork Facts

Forks are a frequently overlooked on a lift truck due to their how they simply work.  However, when you need a different sized fork or your old ones are past their prime.  It can be hard to know what you need to replace them.  Here is a basic guide to get you on your way.

Fork Wear (knowing when your forks need replacing)

Forklift Fork Wear Gauge - CalipersYou should check your forks to make sure they haven’t been worn too thin with a Fork Arm Wear Caliper regularly to make sure it is still capable of carrying it’s rated load.  Forks are considered worn beyond their carrying capacity once they are at 90% of their original thickness.  In order to check this, you apply the outer jaws of the wear caliper to the shank portion of the fork because it is rarely worn.  Then you apply the caliper to the heel of the fork and check to see if the inner jaws slip past at any point.  If so, they are worn past 90%.


Fork Styles

Forks come in two basic styles and a few specialty styles.  Read below for a general description of each.

ITA Style Forks

Forklift Fork Class ExamplesThe most common of fork is the ITA style which are divided up into classes.  These classes define the carriage height that they can mount to.

  • Class 2 = 16″ Carriage Height (1500-5500 lbs. capacity)
  • Class 3 = 20″ Carriage Height (6000-11,000 lbs. capacity)
  • Class 4 = 25″ Carriage Height (11,500-17,500 lbs. capacity)
  • Class 5 = 29″ Carriage Height (18,000-up lbs. capacity)

Shaft Mount or Pin Mount Style Forks

shaft-mount-pin-style-forks Next we have shaft mount style forks which mount on a pole (shaft) that spans the width of the carriage.  Most of the time when you see these, they are mounted on an older forklift or a larger one.  They are also frequently seen on fork positioning attachments, skid steers, and telehandlers.  These are typically custom built and thus require a special form to be filled out in order to purchase.

PLEASE CLICK HERE if you need a shaft mount form to fill out so we can get you a  quote.



Fork Dimensions

After we get the style of fork nailed down, next we need to establish the proper length, width, and thickness of the forks.  There are usually a couple things to consider with dimensions; maintaining capacity limits and being able to properly support or fit into a load.

  • Fork Length – The most common fork length is 42-inchs for both Class II and Class III carriages.  This size allows for a standard 48-inch length pallet to be adequately supported without the fork tips protruding and possibly damaging whatever is behind the skid.  Of course, other lengths are desired for their application.  60-inch and 72-inch forks are highly desired for their reach or for their ability to handle two pallets at one time.
  • Fork Width – Fork width is commonly 4-inches for Class II, 5-inches for Class III, and 6-inches for Class IV.  This keeps them within their capacity limits for their classes.  Of course, some people will need narrower forks or wider forks depending on the application.  Often wide forks are desired to spread a load more evenly.
  • Fork Thickness – Typically, the fork thickness is selected mainly to maintain capacity.  Thicker keeps flexing down.  However, often times, a user will need to lift particularly thin pallets or items with no pallet at all.  In these cases, capacity is usually less important than the ability to reach under the freight.

Fork Taper Style

Forks can come in different tapers to enable a load to be picked up in different ways.  Typically the main difference is how thin they need to be at the tip in order to pick up a given load.

   Standard – This is the most common fork taper.  It is perfectly suitable for picking up most pallets and skids.  No beveling, normally, tapers begin 16″ to 24″ from tip and end with a 3/8″ tip.


   Full Taper – Taper begins at heel of fork and extends to tip, ending with 3/8″ tip.  Can be polished or not.  Good for getting under plywood or cardboard boxes.


   Full Taper & Polished – Same as the Full Taper above, but the fork is polished.


   Fully Tapered w/ Bottom Bevel – as the name states, the fork is fully tapered and will have a bottom bevel at the tip (also called a chisel tip)

   Fully Tapered w/ Top Bevel – same as above, but beveled on top.


Tip Styles

There are three main tip styles.

   Style 1 – This is the most common tip.  The front of the fork is flat with a gently rounded edge.


   Style 2 – These are a fairly sharp fork without the flat front section (popular for block forks).


   Style 3 – These are almost completely flat across the entire width of the tip and are standard on forks over 7” wide.


Specialty Forks

Along with what is listed above, there are literally dozens of different style forks that are special purpose that go beyond the scope of this page.  However, here are some examples below.

Note that if you need a specialty fork, please feel free to contact us.  We would be glad to get what you need.

   Block Handling Forks (brick forks) – These forks are predominantly for lifting concrete blocks in large numbers.  These forks are really thin and are usually used in quantities of more than 8 at a time in order to spread the load more evenly and reduce the risk of the skid losing structural integrity.



   Bolt-on Forks – These forks are fairly rare because they bolt directly to the carriage and diminish any ability to move them laterally.



   Coil Handling – These forks are chamfered on the edges to enable them to move coils of steel, reels, concrete pipes etc. when straddling the load is desired.




   Tire Handling – Similar to the coil handling forks, these forks have an inner chamfer to handle tires without damage.


   Corrugated Handling – These forks are typically used to lift loads that are not on skids or blocks and thus are really thin to enable them to fit between the load and the ground or split loads.  As the name implies, they are popular for lifting corrugated metal.

   Drum Handling – These forks are obviously designed to better lift drums.  They have radiuses cut out of the inner edges of the forks that are designed to lift 55 gallon drums.  Using these in conjunction with a rotator will allow you to have the ability to not only lift, but tilt a drum for dumping.



   Offset – These forks are primarily used to allow the forks to reach beyond the standard width of the forklift’s current carriage.
Offset Forks

Fork Extensions

One other consideration is to use FORK EXTENSIONS.  These are an economical way to get the length that you need if you only occasionally handle loads that require a long fork.  However, extensions are not intended for extended use and will wear rapidly if left on for extended use.  An additional consideration is that extensions are only rated to be 150% longer than the fork they are used on.  So, if you have 42-inch forks, you should only use extensions that are 60-inches or shorter.

Fork Vocabulary:

Blade – The horizontal portion of the fork upon which the load is supported.

Heel – The radiused portion of the fork connecting the blade to the shank.

Shank – The upright (vertical) portion of the fork to which the supporting hooks are fixed.

Hooks (or clips, hangers) – Lugs attached to the shank to support and retain the fork on the carriage.  They may be made as non-integral hooks (attached to the shank) or as integral hooks (formed integrally with the shank).

Tip – The free end of the blade that is inserted into the load.

Positioning Lock (or pin assembly, locking pin) – Device for locating the fork on the carriage (typically at the top of the shank on the hook).

Tube – The tube used for mounting the forks onto shaft-type carriages.

Fork Capacity Chart

This chart is a basic chart describing the minimum capacity of the forks that we stock.  Capacity is per pair @ a 24″ load center (thus the x24).

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