7 Popular Types of Forklifts

August 21, 2020
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Forklifts revolutionized the industrial industry by allowing people to move more, faster. Forklifts became widespread after the first World War and evolved along with equipment technology. While the first forklift was a very basic lift truck that could move pallets a few inches off the ground, forklifts today are designed for all different kinds of jobs. 

From counterbalance forklifts to industrial forklifts, these machines have been designed to fit any kind of lifting or moving job. These are some of the 7 most popular types of forklifts. 

Counterbalance Forklifts

Counterbalance forklifts – also called a counterbalance forklift truck – operate much like a crane does. The name comes from the weight on the back end of the vehicle that acts as a counterweight for any loads picked up with the front forks. This balancing method allows the machine to pick up and move heavier loads than if the weight wasn’t there. 

Counterbalance forklifts are often used for heavy operational purposes because of this additional measure. The cabs are fitted for sit down or stand up operation and are often used in loading docks and warehouses.

Side Loader Forklift

A side loader forklift is different from other forklifts because the forks are at the side of the cab, not the front. These machines are perfect for narrow aisles or for lifting loads that aren’t as straightforward as a pallet. 

Since the forks are at the side, the machine can carry long sheets of wood, pipes, or other long materials without being blocked at corners or entranceways. For this reason, side loader forklifts are often used in lumber yards to pull sheets of wood off the wall storage.

Warehouse Forklifts

The most standard type of forklift that most people think about, the warehouse forklift resembled a John Deere Gator cab with a hydraulic forklift on the front. They are mainly used for lifting and moving pallets of materials within a warehouse setting. The best visual of a warehouse forklift in use may be from any time you’ve been in CostCo and have seen them use a forklift to move their pallets of goods

Industrial Forklift

An industrial forklift is also called a large capacity forklift. The payloads and lifting capacity of an industrial forklift is much higher than a warehouse forklift. They can lift more weight much higher than other forklifts. For this reason, the industrial forklift is often described as a mix between a telehandler and a warehouse forklift. 

Industrial forklifts are often seen on construction sites because they are large enough and have the structural build to carry heavy loads over rough terrain across longer distances. The types of materials that industrial forklifts can help move on construction sites include:

  • Pallets of bricks
  • Steel joists
  • Wood and steel beams
  • Stones
  • Drywall

These machines can unload the material and move them directly to the location on site that they are needed.

Pneumatic Tire Forklifts

Pneumatic means, “containing or operated by air or gas under pressure.” So a pneumatic tire forklift is just a forklift with tires that are filled with air – just like your truck. They are unique to the cushion tire forklift because the makeup of the tire provides a strong grip on slippery or uneven terrain and surfaces. This grip comes from the design of the tires. They’re both longer and wider than cushion tires. 

There are two kinds of pneumatic tires for forklifts: solid pneumatics and air pneumatics. Solid pneumatic tires are pure rubber. This type of forklift tire is great for construction sites where nails and other sharp materials could easily pop a tire. They are more expensive, though. Air pneumatics are great for asphalt conditions or outside warehouses or supply yards. Although they do carry a risk of puncture, they are really helpful for any terrain that could prove a little slippery or uneven.

Cushion Tire Forklifts

Cushion tire forklifts are similar to solid pneumatic tires except they don’t have the same grip as pneumatic tires. The plastic is fitted around a metal band, making them a simple and long-lasting tire for interior use. Cushion tires are often smaller than pneumatic tires, giving them a smaller turning radius and making them useful for tight corners in smaller spaces. With no real traction, you wouldn’t want to use a cushion tire for outdoor use.

Rough Terrain Forklifts

Rough terrain forklifts are designed to run on unpaved, uneven and rough terrain – as the name implies. Rough terrain forklifts are fitted with pneumatic tires in order to have that great grip. They are often used for military purposes or on construction sites. 

Rough terrain forklifts are the largest of the forklift family and were designed to be a heavy-duty lifting machine. Their bodies are often longer and larger than the traditional forklift. The machines are more durable and therefore, pricier than traditional forklifts. However, depending on the type of project or the nature of a construction business, this monster of a lifting machine could be exactly what is needed. 

Some people refer to a telehandler as a forklift because the front of a telehandler can be fitted with a fork attachment. Telehandlers, however, are an entirely different type of machine.

When it comes to lifting and moving goods, pallets and packaged materials, there is no machine like the forklift. With a variety of shapes, sizes, lift capacities and tire types, there is a forklift for every job.

Kevin Forestell

Kevin Forestell is CEO of DOZR and one of the co-founders. Kevin first got started as an entrepreneur when he founded Forestell Landscaping right after graduating from University. His love and passion for the industry and desire to help solve an equipment problem that contractors faced every day is what brought the founding team to start DOZR. Kevin is proud of the level of efficiency brought to the industry through DOZR and hopes that DOZR will help change the standard way equipment is rented.


  1. Michaela Hemsley

    I didn’t know that there were so many different types of forklifts. I like that you said that there is one for every job you need to be done. Since there are a lot of options, I think if it would be smart to talk to a professional about which kind would be best for your warehouse or what you needed to do. That way, you could get the job done efficiently and safely.

    • Julie

      Hi Michaela,
      Thanks so much for your comment! I’m happy to hear you learned something new about this great machine. We agree – it’s a good idea to ask questions if you’re ever not sure what machine is best for your job, whether its a forklift or any other type of machine.


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