How to calculate the lifting capacity of a forklift

Updated July 20, 2017

A forklift is a powerful machine that allows one specially trained operator to lift loads far greater than humans can carry, and to carefully place them where needed. Great care must still be taken, however, never to exceed the lift's capacity, nor to set it off-balance. The forklift manufacturer's recommendations for lifting weight and distance must be followed exactly or accidents may occur.

Locate the manufacturer's capacity plate, which contains information such as the model, serial number and other important data.

On the plate, look for and write down two numbers: standard capacity in pounds and the accompanying load centre in inches. These numbers represent the heaviest mass the machine can lift when its centre of mass is located at the specified distance from the front face of the forks. When not otherwise noted, the standard load centre is usually located 24 inches ahead of the cab.

Weigh the load to be lifted, and find its centre of mass. Measure how far the centre will horizontally be from the front face of the machine.

Divide this number by the manufacturer's standard load centre.

Multiply the resulting ratio by the manufacturer's stated maximum standard capacity. This will equal the heaviest mass that can be carried in a load of that size and dimensions. If your computed answer is higher than the weight of the load, then it can be safely carried.


Always shift or position the load to minimise distance from its centre of gravity to the front wheels.


Never travel with the load elevated, as this increases instability. Never drive a forklift with the load facing downhill. Always wear a seat belt when operating a forklift.

Things You'll Need

  • Certified and inspected forklift utility vehicle
  • Forklift operator's license
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About the Author

Jeff Cunningham has written on science and technology since 2007. He has co-authored volumes on science education and offered commentary on spaceflight on the Google Lunar X Prize blog. Cunningham has a Bachelor of Science in aerospace engineering from the University of Central Florida.