Forklift Components

Forklifts operate thanks to many moving parts. If you use a forklift, it’s helpful to understand forklift terminology and forklift components. To assist you, below we have defined many of the parts of a forklift anatomy and different forklift terms.

Find out what parts of a forklift you know and familiarize yourself with the other parts. With this information, you can have a better understanding of all the forklift parts and functions, which helps with communicating with coworkers on the job. And it makes buying or renting forklifts easier as well.
Let’s look at the fundamental parts of the forklift anatomy.

Forklift Terminology

Here we dive into some forklift terms, giving you a quick, but comprehensive view of the parts of a forklift.

Forklift Mast

What is a mast on a forklift? Forklifts all have a forklift mast that provides the vertical support that allows loads to be raised and lowered.

The forklift mast is located toward the front of the forklift, directly in the line of vision of the operator. Forklift masts come with sections that elevate or lower the fork carriage, along with the forks. You will find these forklift mast types:

  • Duplex: Comes with two mast sections
  • Triplex: Comes with three mast sections
  • Quad: Comes with four mast sections

When selecting a forklift, it is important to familiarize yourself with the different features and terminology of a forklift mast: the mast’s lift height, the free lift height and the extended height and the lowered height. This will allow you to select a forklift that is designed to fulfill the specific needs of your applications.

For more information on forklift masts, read our article Forklift Mast Types

Lift Cylinder

The forklift lift cylinder powers the vertical mast movement, or in other words, the raising and lowering of the forklift carriage and forks. A forklift lift cylinder is usually hydraulically powered and a single-acting hydraulic cylinder. It only pushes in one direction.

Tilt Cylinder

The tilt cylinder controls movement for operation of the forklift. The difference between the tilt cylinder and the lift cylinder is that it controls the tilt movement of the forklift carriage and the angle of the forks to the ground.


The carriage is a platform located in front of the forklift mast. The forklift carriage is used to mount objects that are controlled by the mast. This includes the forks of the forklift, or the forklift tynes or prongs, the load backrest and other features of a forklift truck that are in direct contact with loads.

Forklift Prongs

The prongs or forks of a forklift make direct contact with the load being transported. Forklift prongs are also known as tynes. The forks are attached to the forklift carriage and carry the load from the bottom. There is a variety of forklift prongs and you can find the right one for your application. They come in all shapes and sizes. Standard ITA forks are most common, but even those are available in different widths, lengths and shapes.

Load Backrest

A forklift backrest provides the operator another surface to rest the load against. The load backrest is attached to the carriage, and it helps prevent the load from slipping backwards toward the forklift operator while the forklift is lifting and traveling. The forklift backrest also helps protect the forklift mast and mast components from being damaged by the load.

Always use a load backrest that is designed for the forklift you are using. It is also important not to remove the backrest before operating the forklift, both for your own safety as well as the well-being of the forklift.


The counterweight helps offset the weight being lifted by the forklift. This helps keep the forklift stable during lifting and traveling operations. Forklifts are designed with maximum carrying capacities using the counterweight for balance, so it is important to know the carrying capacity intended for the forklift. Check the rating plate on the forklift for this information.

Internal combustion forklift counterweights are located toward the back of the forklift or on the opposite side of the forks. For electric lift trucks, the battery acts as a counterweight.

Power Supply

The power supply refers to the power source of the forklift, which can be the engine or batteries. Forklifts can be battery powered (electric forklifts), diesel, gas or propane powered. For internal combustion forklifts, the power supply, or the engine, is typically located toward the back of the forklift, below the seat. Propane powered forklifts often have the tank externally mounted for easier access.


All forklifts need tires to operate. But there are a variety of forklift tires that can help make the forklift most applicable to your needs. Forklifts that use four tires are capable of lifting heavy loads and are versatile for many applications. Three-wheel forklifts are ideal for indoor environments where space is limited and the ability to turn and maneuver efficiently is important.

There are two main types of forklift tires:

  1. Cushion Tires: Cushion tire forklifts are generally used for indoor operations, where surfaces are flat, smooth and consistent. Cushion tires are generally less expensive and easier to maintain, but lack the traction pneumatic tires offer. Cushion tire forklifts are ideal in warehouses and other indoor environments where small turning radiuses are necessary.
  2. Pneumatic Tires: Pneumatic tire forklifts are generally used for operating outdoors, where surfaces can be uneven, rough or variable. Pneumatic tires are more similar to your car’s tires, making them better at handling non-paved and rough-terrain surfaces. Pneumatic tires come in two varieties: air pneumatic tires (which are air-filled forklift tires) or solid pneumatic tires (which are made entirely out of solid rubber).


There are two types of wheels on a forklift:

  1. Drive Wheels: The drive wheels provide the necessary power for the forklift to travel and are often larger than the steering wheels as they are responsible for bearing a large amount of mass during operation.
  2. Steering Wheels: The steering wheels are generally located in the rear of the forklift and facilitate the steering of the forklift. It is easier to control the movement of the forklift using the rear wheel or wheels.

Operator Cab

The forklift cab is where the forklift operator controls and operates the forklift. The operator cab of a forklift can be open or enclosed depending on what options you select. The cab contains a variety of forklift operating components and features, which are used to control the forklift. These include (but are not limited to): the brakes, the steering wheel, mast controls, acceleration pedals, levers and gauges.

Operator Seat

If operating a sit-down forklift, the seat is located in the operator cab. Some forklifts are designed to have the operator stand. Whether you’re operating a sit-down or stand-up forklift, it is important that the forklift operator is seated or standing in the location deemed appropriate by the Operation and Maintenance Manual for that particular forklift.

Operator Steering Wheel

The forklift operator steering wheel controls the movement of the forklift rear wheels or steering wheels. Some forklift steering wheels have a knob attached to the wheel to enable faster turning.


There are various levers located in front of the seat that control movement of the forklift mast and forks. These parts of a forklift can include:

  • Tilt Lever: The forklift tilt lever controls the angle of the forks relative to the ground.
  • Lift Lever: The lift lever controls the height of the forks.
  • Side Shift Lever: The side shift lever controls horizontal movement of the carriage.

Rating Plate or Capacity Plate

The capacity plate is featured on the front of a forklift and tells operators detailed information about the forklift. This will include model carrying capacity, lift heights, forward and back tilt degrees, tread width, tire information and other safety information. It is important for all forklift operators to read and understand the information on the rating or capacity plate before operating the forklift.

Overhead Guard

The overhead guard is a critical feature of a forklift’s safety. The overhead guard helps protect the operator should something fall onto the forklift cab. Forklifts are specifically designed to minimize the potential for falling objects, from the loads, on top of the overhead guard. However, an accidental bump or misplaced load can result in a falling object onto the forklift cab. Always properly secure loads and follow the operator’s manual instructions prior to lifting any load.

Find the right forklift for your job.

We hope this forklift parts description and explanation of forklift terms has been helpful. Forklifts come in a variety of models. Not every forklift anatomy will contain all the forklift components and forklift features described above. This guide was developed to give you a better understanding of the general parts of a forklift.

Forklifts are designed to suit different applications, and if you need to find the right one for your job, give G&W Equipment a call. We can assist you in buying or renting new or used forklifts. Contact us today.