OT: Rebuilding an old forklift for home shop - dumb idea?
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  1. #1
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    Default OT: Rebuilding an old forklift for home shop - dumb idea?

    I'm considering buying a forklift for my home shop. One option is to buy a nice, low-hours used machine. The other option is to buy an older has-needs machine and renovate it, and because of the potential "fun factor" I'm considering that route.

    I'm a car restorer in addition to being an amateur machinist. Engine repair and similar tasks would be straightforward for me. However I don't know too much about forklift systems, e.g. hydraulics and power transmission, other than having some user experience.

    An older machine of 1960s-70s vintage would seem to offer straightforward mechanicals and, if spare parts were hard to source new, they might be easier to reproduce for a simpler, older machine than for a more recent model. A machine like that would fit well with the era of the other machines in my shop, too.

    Ultimately, I don't mind spending some time getting an old fork truck cleaned up and running reliably and safely, knowing that it would not really be a profitable undertaking. My question to the forum is, is it feasible to do a top-to-bottom renovation on an oddball old forklift?

    Voice-of-experience replies particularly welcome.

    Thanks in advance,
    TW

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    I fixed up an old forklift although a good portion of that work was cosmetic as most of the systems were in decent shape. This was not a "top-to-bottom" resto and to be honest, I'm glad it wasn't. Regarding a old machine..60' or 70's..the parts are often hard to find and usually not cheap. While the task sounds fun I'm sure it would have to be a labor of love and unless you did a outstanding job you would still have a leaky old boat anchor.

    I have enclosed a before & after of my mini resto. It sits most of the time but when it's needed there is no substitute.

    Stuart

    yalepictures.jpgnewyale2.jpgnewyale3.jpgnewyale6.jpg

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    I have had a few big old shitty forklifts, every time I need to use them I wish I had spent more money for a newer better one. Parts are generally expensive enough to make repairing them seem like throwing good money after bad
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails img_0512.jpg  

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    I found an 59 Clark(2 speed standard trans) at auction for $500.00, they had tried to fix the hyd pump and messed it up. I fixed the pumped and it works great.
    I say look around and go for it.

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    Not a suggested hobby. As mentioned above it can suck getting parts. Just about everything but the seat and air filter is a pain in the arse to work on. You don’t get the luxury to pull a fender off for convenience. Oh ya, they are heavy and like to fall off cribbing when you apply enough force to break stuff loose. Overall I would buy something newer and pay someone else to fix it. I work on this type of junk for 44 hrs/wk and I will be happy when I quit. The darn union wages make it tough to leave though

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    Probably one of the best purchases I've ever made is my mid 70s vintage 25,000lb capacity hyster. Paid 8500 for it delivered to the farm, it came with some hydraulic leaks and tire issues.

    But aside from that, and blowing some hoses recently, it's been nothing but fuel efficient, dependable and very strong.

    My inside forklift is a 4,000lb TCM that I paid 1200 for it. It leaks like a sieve, but starts, moves, lifts and stops like it should.

    Small ones are pretty much disposable, the bigger ones are easier to work on (more room, but way heavier), and worth more.

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    I've had two. My first mistake was buying one with solid tires to use outdoors. Took it off the trailer and went about 20 feet across the yard before it got stuck. Sold it and bought another one with pneumatic tires. MUCH better for outdoor use, but you can still get stuck quite easily. I've used it for the normal lifting stuff, pulling tree stumps and fence posts, moving trailers, moving JetSkis from one trailer to another, I made a man basket and have my wife lift me up into our fruit trees to pick fruit, I've put Christmas decorations on the roof of the house, etc. I'd like to use it to lift my vehicles to change oil & rotate tires, but it just doesn't have quite the capacity (2500 pounds).

    You also need to consider what type of fuel you want; gasoline, propane, diesel, or electric.

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    I had a cat v40b and loved it. It was short wheelbase compared to the datsun I replaced it with. Even though the cat had solid pneumatic (no-matic) tires it did way better in the field, as in dirt field, than the datsun. Datsun is longer and wider so more weight in back over the steering wheels so the drivers spin easier. Both use the same 7.00x12 tires. The cat was also narower behind the drive wheels so it was easier to get into tighter spaces.

    If you are able to restore cars I would look for a really old lift that has nice art deco lines or other good styling. I would also want manual trans. The manual makes it much easier to creep up on something, say you are setting a part of a machine and need to move it just a little, it is not easy with auto trans. Most parts are not made by forklift company, they bought them as off the shelf stuff so a goos parts guy at napa or?? should be able to find simple stuff like brakes cluthes etc.

    The datsun I replaced the cat with has a 3 stage mast and sideshift. The old cat would easily lift 6000lbs, I unloaded steel bundles that weighed that much a few times.

    Some cool old forklifts here at this site:
    Explore Forklifts | Forkliftmuseum.com
    I like the red 1957 pettibone.

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    What are your budgets for the two options?

    I bought a Cat T35D (automatic, 3600 lb capacity, side shift, power steering, solid but fairly large tires, 1993) for $2000 in "running" shape. I changed out the vaporizer and spark plugs and now it actually runs right. It does leak and the mast drops 1/2" per hour unloaded, and much more when loaded. It has one service log written on it and it rolled over it's hour meter in the first year of service.

    I bought a Clark Yardlift Y20B (manual, 2000 pound capacity, pneumatic tires, 1958) that runs absolutely beautifully for $1450 but it had no hydraulic valves. It cost me $60 to buy a random surplus tractor valve and another $80 in fittings to get the hydraulics working. It needed a new shaft seal (~$10) and the engine and hydraulics on that thing are for whatever reason the smoothest of any vehicle I've ever driven. It also needed a new brake cylinder and a kind of hard to find fitting. Low gear is a bit too high and high gear is only good for concrete and gets you going stupid fast. I have lifted 4000 pounds with it at 24" on the forks trying to adjust the relief valve, which was unexpected, considering I can rock it back and forth by hand to the point where the tires lift off of the ground. It works well enough for unloading 10' and 12' pallets of sheet that are 1500 pounds each on an uneven dirt road, but I am often skiing on the left two or right two tires and sometimes have to turn into the grade to avoid rolling.

    Both forklifts came with a fresh coat of paint, which isn't the original color and you can tell they did absolutely nothing to the mechanical parts. Expect electrical stuff to not work right. If it has a hydraulic parking brake it won't work, many gauges won't work, and there's a good chance the horn won't work. Check over the electrical system very thoroughly.

    Bring tools. If you go with a manual lift (I suggest you don't, for several reasons I can elaborate on if you aren't dead set on what you want) take off the cover plate and check the condition of the clutch. Forklifts are very rough on clutches, and some designs even let you swap out the clutch with only removing four bolts.

    Expect leaks. The engine is easy enough to fix up to running condition, and in my experience are much nicer to work on than other vehicles (no plastic clips that snap everywhere) and propane engines seem easier than gas engines, but be aware if you need to get to the underside it can be an issue. You will have a lot of hydraulic leaks out of various fittings and cylinders, and those are very difficult to get to sometimes, and you may need to remove the mast to get to the tilt cylinders. Seals aren't that bad to change, but sometimes can go badly and become very difficult.

    The wheels and brakes on forklifts are weird. On my caterpillar I can pull off the wheels easily, but I can't get the brake drum off no matter what I do. It also caps off the differential, so if I ever get them off it will drain it. The Clark has split rims that make tire changes easy to do, but one half of the rim is the brake cylinder, and was very seized. I had to do high gear donuts with no brakes and loose lug nuts for several minutes to get a flat tire to come loose.

    Both are propane and I like that. Very convenient to swap tanks once it runs out, and the exhaust is barely smellable, whereas when we pull in a truck in the shop and run it for 15 seconds it gases everyone out. Electric is okay but expect to not have power steering and kind of weird throttle response.

    Bottom line for me is I'm very happy with my old forklifts, and prefer to work on them over the engine in my small pickup truck. But there are some leaks I'm never going to fix because it works fine and they are too difficult to access. I probably have about five 8 hour days of work in total for both of them.

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    Old Clark box loaders or car loaders are still around, have 4 cylinder continental engines and Clark still has parts for them. Depends on what your time is worth and depending on your year conditions, seriously ponder soild or pneumatic tires (its no fun extracting a forklift from soft dirt/gravel).

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    With discretion, it is very doable and rewarding. I did the very same thing with a US Army 4,000 lb. STILL. I do not have room to store this inside, so the chosen forklift had to be capable of existing outside in the weather without deteriation and work in all weather. This forklift has a 3 cylinder Deutz diesel engine. As others have said, parts can be problematic to find and expensive to buy. Be prepared to buy tools you normally would not own though, like a forklift jack.

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    Another thing to note, people mention special jacks and such for working on their lifts, but if you get a small one they don't weigh any more than a car. Definitely block it up solidly and safely though.


    And in terms of parts I use solidliftparts.com and they have been able to get me anything I need at a reasonable price, even for the 60 year old lift.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Strostkovy View Post
    Another thing to note, people mention special jacks and such for working on their lifts, but if you get a small one they don't weigh any more than a car. Definitely block it up solidly and safely though.


    And in terms of parts I use solidliftparts.com and they have been able to get me anything I need at a reasonable price, even for the 60 year old lift.
    I don't agree with you. My 4,000 lb. STILL weighs 6000 lbs. I have a forklift jack and that's ok for wheels, brakes and tires. It is NOT ok for blocking it up to service the stuff underneath. You either need a pit or a truck service lift for that. With the mast weight up high single point lifting can be dangerous. I don't do it.

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    I am now 87 years old, and finding it hard to continue on the remaining projects that are on my bucket list. Looking back, I completed projects that were very interesting, things I did because they were rewarding at the time. I realize now that I should have concentrated on things that were important to me. I do not have significant regrets, but use this example to encourage you to look at long time goals and determine what you want to accomplish.

    On the fork lift, you would probably enjoy having one for the occasional use. With experience with both battery and internal combustion units, I encourage you to go for a propane powered unit. Gasoline these days gets stale and gives problems if you are not running the engine regularly. Batteries degrade with time and are expensive to replace. Try to find a fork lift in reasonable shape and spend your time on long goal projects.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Williams View Post
    I am now 87 years old, and finding it hard to continue on the remaining projects that are on my bucket list. Looking back, I completed projects that were very interesting, things I did because they were rewarding at the time. I realize now that I should have concentrated on things that were important to me. I do not have significant regrets, but use this example to encourage you to look at long time goals and determine what you want to accomplish.

    On the fork lift, you would probably enjoy having one for the occasional use. With experience with both battery and internal combustion units, I encourage you to go for a propane powered unit. Gasoline these days gets stale and gives problems if you are not running the engine regularly. Batteries degrade with time and are expensive to replace. Try to find a fork lift in reasonable shape and spend your time on long goal projects.
    Why do you think Americans have such an aversion to diesel? You obviously think propane or CNG is better than gasoline or diesel. Of course gasoline is out of the question because of all the additives that cause the fuel to go stale and gum up the works, but you really have it wrong about diesel. The engines start in all kinds of weather. Dampness is a non-issue, as there is no high voltage ignition and with the glow plugs built in, even very cold temperatures are no concern for diesel, but cold temperatures are a killer for propane and CNG. I keep a battery tender hooked up to my STILL and starting is a non-issue even left standing for a whole year at a time.

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    Why do you need the forklift? If it is convenience and fun hobby factor, restore one.

    If it is for business, get the nice low-hour machine and avoid the project.

    A forklift is convenient and extremely useful when it is working. It is extremely frustrating when you need it and it doesn't work.

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    A forklift that won't run sure is a dead weight. They don't move easy.

    I bet you could spend a ton on hoses alone fixing up an old forklift.

    I sure love those car restore shows where they use a forklift to install an engine/trans. Pure hack-job.

    That's all I got to say on the matter.

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    You may want to look at Stuart's experience and consider whether its worth it
    he started on the project a young boy
    and it took him till he was a lot older to finish

    I'll add something of importance to look for whether a project or a turn key
    I picked up a walk behind battery powered lift that will pick up 2400 lbs.
    During shop reno it was a very useful tool
    But ground clearance won't let me out of the shop to unload a truck

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    Steve,

    I do not have an aversion to diesel. It is that in my experience, which I admit may be limited, you do not find many old used diesel forklifts on the market over here, so I left them out of consideration. We enjoyed the Peugeot diesel station wagon we had. I did a bare block rebuild on that one, and it was a joy to run.

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    I used to work with a railroad museum that had four forklifts. No funds to buy anything, so we got donations from various forklift dealers. Our first was a 1940 6000# Clark. It was fairly easy to work on, and in the 20 years that I was a museum member, all it needed were oil changes, a few tuneups, and finally, new tires. As far as I know, they're still using it.

    The museum's next forklift was a 2000# Hyster that was literally pulled from the dealer's dumpster. We added a battery, and it became a very useful machine since it was small enough to drive through a 36" interior door.

    Number three was the first lift that the museum bought for $500 - a 5000# Hyster. It needed a tuneup, then it joined the fleet.

    Last was a 4ooo# military surplus Hyster with dual front wheels.

    All any of these ever needed were oil changes, tuneups, brakes, and new tires when needed. Repairs were easily done with normal tools.

    Granted, the museum was made up of many gear heads, but we never had problems getting parts, or needed expensive parts. We knew that fork lift manufacturers bought engines and brakes off--the-shelf, so we could match them. The GOTTCHA would have been parts unique to each machine, such as transmission components. We never went for dismantled machines, just machines that were too old to be used in a modern production facilities.

    A friend of mine purchased a 4000# propane lift from a warehouse sale. The warehouse periodically auctioned off their older lifts, and he was able to purchase a 5 year old lift for $1200. He uses it daily in his rigging business.

    The only challenge with buying your own forklift is where to put it.


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