The standard bucket attachment that’s included with front end loaders is pretty versatile, particularly when it comes to lifting stuff. But you can only lift loose materials like soil, sand, rocks, gravel and dirt.
If you need to lift something big and solid like a pallet, hay bales, logs, or timber, pallet forks are the best option.
In this guide, we tell you everything you need to know about pallet forks, how to use them with your front end loader, and how to choose the right ones for the job.
What You'll Learn Today
- Pallet Forks Are Great For Lifting and Moving Solid Objects
- How To Choose The Right Pallet Forks For Your Front End Loader?
- How To Safely Lift Loads With Pallet Forks?
- Lifting Non-palletized Loads
- Add A Pallet Fork Grapple To Lift Non-palletized Loads
Pallet Forks Are Great For Lifting and Moving Solid Objects
You might be wondering why you need pallet forks when you have a perfectly good bucket that can hold a lot of stuff.
It’s true you can lift and move just about anything with a loader bucket as long as you stay under the loader’s max lift capacity.
But a loader bucket is designed to scoop loose materials like sand and gravel.
In theory, you could also move solid objects like lumber, logs and pallets with a loader bucket. You would need to manually place the objects in the bucket, since you cannot scoop them up.
This is inconvenient and tedious. It only really works for one time applications.
It’s also hard to balance the load properly on the bucket, and can cause the loader to get unstable when you start moving.
In contrast, pallet forks can easily pick up objects simply by positioning the pallets under the load and then lifting.
You can adjust the width of the forks depending on the size of the load, ensuring it stays balanced.
If you often move things like logs, boxes or pallets of materials, large blocks of stone, stacks of timber, bales of hay, pallet forks are a great investment.
How To Choose The Right Pallet Forks For Your Front End Loader?
You won’t find pallet forks designed specifically for front end loaders. Most pallet forks are meant for use on a wide range of equipment including wheel loaders, skid steers, compact track loaders, and telehandlers.
What differentiates pallet forks from each other is lifting capacity and size (width, height and tine length). You’ll also find pallet forks specially designed to lift specific types of loads such as lumbar.
How Much Lifting Capacity Do You Need?
Pallet forks have a lift capacity between 1,000lbs and 10,000lbs. The right capacity depends on your needs.
What’s the average weight of the pallets you move? Choose pallet forks with a lift capacity above that figure.
If you move things like stone blocks, logs and anything without indicated weight, you have to figure out how much they weigh on average and get forks that can handle the weight of a full load.
While settling on the right lifting capacity, don’t forget that your front end loader also has a lift limit. The weight of the pallet forks plus the weight of the pallet both count towards that limit.
To figure out the maximum loads you can lift and move, take away the weight of the pallet forks from the lift capacity of the front end loader.
Something else to check is the loader’s tipping load. This is the max load it can carry before it tips forwards. Make sure the combined weight of the pallet forks and the pallet load is below the tipping load.
Pallet Forks Size – Choosing The Right Length
When it comes to the size of the pallet forks, the most important aspect is the length of the tines. They determine the size and bulk of loads you can lift.
Some loads can be within the limit of the lifting capacity of the forks, but too bulky to fit on the pallet forks.
Pallet forks range in size from 36 inches to 72 inches.
Keep in mind that the longer the forks, the heavier they’ll be. So be careful to avoid eating too much into your loader’s lift capacity.
Smaller 36-48 inch forks are great for compact and midsize front end loaders. They are not too heavy and they can lift a wide range of loads including standard 48” x 40” pallets.
Bigger front end loaders can handle longer and heavier pallet forks.
As for the width of pallet forks, it’s adjustable. But there are still differences in how wide the forks can be.
Standard pallet forks will have a max width of 40”, but you can also find forks that can widen to 70” or more to accommodate bulky loads.
Check The Brick Guard
The rear frame of pallet forks includes a tall brick guard that protects you and the loader in case the load slides or tips back on the pallet forks.
Do not buy pallet forks without a solid brick guard, especially if you plan to lift heavy objects like bricks, logs or lumber.
Specialized Pallet Forks
If you’ll be lifting the same kind of loads, consider getting pallet forks specially designed for those loads.
For instance, there are specialized pallet forks for lumber. They feature a higher backrest, allowing you to carry a tall stack or multiple stacks of lumber safely.
There are also heavy duty pallet forks with short thick tines designed specially to lift heavy blocks of stone, granite, marble and other materials.
If, however, you plan to use pallet forks to lift and move different kinds of things, standard pallet forks will do.
Are Clamp-on Pallet Forks Any Good?
One of the options you might come across when researching pallet forks is clamp-on pallet forks. They are designed to attach to your loader bucket.
Clamp-on pallet forks are cheaper than traditional forks and they are easy to attach and detach from the bucket.
On the downside, they have reduced lifting capacity, they can damage the bucket if you lift heavy loads, and they have poor visibility because the bucket is in the way.
Clamp-on pallet forks are ideal if:
- You plan to lift light pallets and other light loads (ideally less than 1,000lbs).
- Your loader doesn’t have a quick attach plate. Switching between the bucket and pallet forks can be a tedious job.
- You are on a budget.
The biggest concern when using clamp-on pallet forks is damaging the bucket. That’s why you shouldn’t do any heavy lifting with these forks. It’s also a good idea to use chains to provide additional support to the load and bucket.
Clamp-on pallet forks range in capacity between 1,000lbs and 4,500lbs. However, you should first check the lifting capacity of your loader bucket to ensure you do not damage it.
If you plan to lift heavy pallets and things like lumber, logs, or bricks, we recommend sticking with a traditional set of pallet forks. They are safer, offer more capacity, and have better visibility.
And since most front end loaders have a quick attachment plate, it’s easy and quick to switch between the bucket and the pallet forks.
How To Safely Lift Loads With Pallet Forks?
The same controls you use to operate a loader bucket are the same ones you use to operate pallet forks.
Moving the lever or joystick forwards and backwards lowers and raises the forks. Moving the lever side to side tilts the pallet forks down or up.
Before you lift a load with the pallet forks, here are a few things to check.
- If you’ve just switched from a bucket, make sure the forks are securely attached. You can check by tipping the forks forwards such that they are touching the ground, then back up the loader. If the forks are not attached, they’ll slide out.
- Check the weight of the load and make sure it does not exceed the lift capacity of the forks or the loader. This can be a bit difficult with non-pallet loads like bricks and logs, so you have to estimate or weigh the load.
- Check the size of the load and make sure it can sit properly on the pallet forks. If necessary, adjust the width of the forks.
- Check the height of the load. Don’t lift a load that is too high that they block your visibility. Also, the brick guard won’t protect you if the load is much higher than it is.
- Check the condition of the pallet or skid. A damaged pallet can break when you lift the load.
- Make sure you are working on firm and flat ground. A soft or uneven surface can lead to an accident especially once you lift the pallet and start moving.
It’s easy to lift palletized loads and move them since they sit on pallets or skids. You simply lower the forks close to the ground and make sure they are level.
Drive the loader forwards to insert the forks into the skid. To ensure the load doesn’t slide forwards, angle the forks slightly upwards. Move the pallet forks up to lift the load.
Here’s an important tip: If your front end loader has auto-level of self leveling, use it. It’ll keep the pallet forks level as you lift them up and down, ensuring the load doesn’t tip backwards or slide forwards.
If your loader doesn’t have this function, you’ll need to curl the pallet forks forwards to keep them level as you lift the load and curl them backwards as you lower the load.
If you are moving the pallet to another location, keep the load low to the ground to maintain balance and stability.
If you are lifting the pallet somewhere high, first come to a full stop before you start moving the load upwards. The same applies if you are fetching a pallet from a high point. Come to a stop before raising the pallet forks, and only start moving once you’ve lowered the load.
Lifting Non-palletized Loads
Lifting non-palletized loads (i.e. loads that are not packaged neatly on a pallet or skid) is a bit more awkward.
You have to find a way to get the pallet forks under the logs or bale of hay. The most important thing is to keep the load balanced.
In some cases, you may just have to stack the load onto the pallet forks manually then strap them down to keep them secured.
Follow the same safety tips as with pallets. Keep the load low when on the move, and use your loader’s auto-leveling function to keep the load secure on the pallet forks.
Add A Pallet Fork Grapple To Lift Non-palletized Loads
If you frequently lift non-palletized loads like fence posts, brushes, or small logs, adding a pallet fork grapple will massively improve how well you lift and move objects.
A pallet fork grapple consists of a single grapple arm that attaches to the pallet fork’s frame. Some grapples slide onto the forks themselves.
A grapple clamps down on loads, keeping them secured and eliminating the need to secure loads with chains or straps.
To install and use a pallet fork grapple, you’ll need to install a third function valve kit to your front end loader, if it already doesn’t have one. That’s because the grapple is operated by the loader’s hydraulics.
A third function valve allows you to lift and lower the grapple using buttons on the lever or joystick. You can have your dealer install it for you.