What type of hydraulic jack do I need?

How to match your job requirement to the massive range on offer.

A selection of hydraulic jacks from Hi-Force. Image Hi-Force

What are the two most important things you need in a hydraulic jack?

We think that these are the two basics. The obvious requirement is a hydraulic jack that will lift your load. You either must know the load and buy the right one or you accept that you may not achieve enough load to do the job. You could always hire a jack to try it. If you can’t achieve what you are trying to do, you might have to confront whether you are applying the load in the right place or if the method is flawed. Hydraulic jacks can generate massive loads so you can’t go on and on loading up something, hoping it will come right.

Maybe the bigger requirement is that you can apply the load correctly and safely. That means transferring the load to the object or component you are moving without damage or danger plus taking up the reaction safely and again without causing damage.

What certification and approvals apply to a hydraulic jack?

Combined CE and post Brexit UKCA marking

Hydraulic jacks are very specialist tools for jobs and quite a lot of skill can be required in their use. “Lifting gear” is inherently specialist. Just because a unit is cheap and on the web doesn’t mean that it is properly certified. What standard should you look for?

Jacks will be tested to a standard like ASME 30.1.

For a UK or EU hydraulic jack, we would be expecting the unit to satisfy the essential health & safety requirements of both the Machinery Directive 2006/42/EC and the UK Supply of Machinery (Safety) Regulations 2008.

Any hydraulic jack should be designed to meet the requirements of BS EN 1494:2000 ‘Mobile or movable jacks and associated lifting equipment’.

The jack that you buy will be CE and UKCA marked. Article 4 paragraph 3 of the Pressure Equipment Directive (PED) 2014/68/EU applies; the equipment is manufactured under sound engineering practice and therefore meets the requirements of both the PED 2014/68/EU and the UK Pressure Equipment Regulations 2016.

That applies to gear that is used at home, which does need to be certified. If you are using it in work we would be very fussy indeed. You are talking about safety and the risk of serious injury.

What is the range of hydraulic jacks that are available?

Let’s look at a few different types and how they are used. You may need to search to find the right jack for you. There is no “one size fits all.” Note also that there are lots of special tweaks on hydraulic jacks for particular industries or tasks. We have mentioned a few, but these specials are a massive business.

Remember, some applications still use mechanical jacks in place of hydraulic at low tonnages, but we will look at hydraulic variety. Think some car jacks or jacking up trailers for perfect mechanical jack applications. These a still widely used. The rail industry also uses mechanical jacks. Don’t dismiss them completely, but our discussion is hydraulics because that is what we do.

Bottle and integrated jacks are the biggest sector.

Power Team 20 ton hydraulic bottle jack of conventional configuration

Tangye Hydramite integrated hydraulic jack integrates the parts into a machined or cast body

Bottle jacks and integrated jacks are a massive sector of the hydraulic jack market. What are the basic for bottle and integrated jacks and where do you start?

The normal configuration is a hydraulic cylinder on a rigid base that is extended one side to accommodate a hydraulic hand pump. Add a tubular reservoir over the hydraulic cylinder to store the oil and you have a very neat configuration. Loads range from say 5 tonnes to 50 tonnes, although they get quite hefty at the high tonnages, as does any jack. The next level of sophistication for this concept is to use a single casting with the reservoir, pump cavities and space for the hydraulic cylinder liner to produce units like the Tanyge Hydramite and lots of others. You are still using a cylinder, pump and reservoir. These run to even higher tonnages of up to 100 tonnes.

Because of the massive market, these units are available at low cost with a whole range of quality. You do get what you pay for so the units from the hydraulic majors that offer good quality still cost money. Units are available with telescopic cylinders to provide extended strokes. The stroke available is the same as with any hydraulic cylinder, based on the length of the cylinder less the internal bearing and piston. You can achieve a long lift with a bottle jack, although the closed height will inevitably be larger unless you go telescopic. Jacks are supplied with single speed hand pumps or two speed to provide a rapid extension before work commences. Note that bottle jacks inevitably ask the user to remove the handle and use it to operate the hold/release valve. That’s a basic rule of hydraulic jacking. Don’t put fingers, hands or even limbs anywhere near raised loads.

If you are designing any gear that needs a hydraulic cylinder, spend a few moments just considering where a bottle jack could do the job. Probably not, but when they are used, they can be massively successful at low cost.

Bottle jacks are easily carried around, at least for lower tonnages. They are compact.

What about high tonnages? Some bottle jacks can be very high tonnage. Sometimes, rather than fitting the hand pump parts into a base casting as is invariable done on smaller units, the hand pump can be a two speed hydrapak or Micropac PSP hand pump bolted onto the cast reservoir. A cruder version of two speed operation seen on some cheap imported units is a double hand pump and a handle that is swapped over from one to the other. This is low-tech but achieves a result.

The Hi-Force JAH and JAS jacks have been around for years, as have a similar range from Tangye/Allspeeds in their Hydramite and Hydralite units. On these, the construction is based on a more complicated casting than the simplest bottle jacks and they are quite sophisticated tools. Lifting forces run up to 100 tonnes, so the largest units are very substantial.

Air powered bottle jacks

These have the addition of an air driven pump, often leaving the hand pump in place as a backup. Here you can connect shop air to the unit to generate the hydraulic pressure. Because of the extra size, these are often mounted on a two-wheel cart.

Low Height Compact Jacks.

jack with handle

Ultra compact low height jacks like our own JAK10 fit in a pocket

Low height compact jacks are a variant on the bottle jack that provides a great solution for anybody who just can’t work with the high closed height on a bottle jack. It uses a short hydraulic cylinder then the reservoir and hand pump are at 90 degrees, parallel with the base. For people like machine movers or shipyards, low lift hydraulic jacks are very widely used. You have, for example, a closed height of 76mm and a lift of 35mm up to 10 tonnes on our own JAK10 unit. Tonnages run up to 30 tonnes. A low height jack is invariable very compact, so it is commonly used as a toolbox tool by specialist fitters and technicians. Our JAK10 is often carried in a pocket.

Failsafe jacks;

can be provided for a bottle jack or a low height jack by extending the rod with a load bearing male thread and using a collar that is screwed down once the jack has lifted its load. They are low tech and good engineering, but the extra rod length may be a problem, depending upon your application.

Hollow jacks;

have a hole through the axis of the cylinder, effectively allowing the jack to exert a tensile load instead of a compressive load.

Toe Jacks.

Two typical hydraulic toe jacks, images courtesy of Hi-Force and Simplex. Hi-Force unit is for machine lifting.

Power team heavy duty toe jack provides a very rigid configuration with reduced side loading

Toe jacks offer a fix where a user can’t even tolerate a closed height of 76mm or you need a higher lift than a compact jack.

You may see them called “machine lift jacks” if they are aimed at a specific market. They need to get a relatively small lug or angle under their load right down at floor level. As tonnages get higher, keep in mind that the toe must be a certain size to achieve its strength. You cannot ask the impossible. The toe jack is in essence a bottle jack with a slider that extends from the top of the piston rod down to the base, basically providing a “z” to transfer the load. The vertical face of the jack body will provide a reaction point as the “z” slides up. These are very widely used for moving machinery and similar applications. Keep in mind that you are putting an offset load on your cylinder and that as noted previously, you cannot expect the toe to be ridiculously small. A good designer will include a jacking point on kit that has to be lifted so that people are not struggling to get a toe jack into a minute gap. The Power Team heavy duty toe jack has a slightly different configuration, probably to beef up the slide rigidity. That’s an interesting variation. The Hi-Force machine lifter has a very solid slide arrangement as well.

Some hydraulic toe jacks are specifically aimed at the rail industry and become “rail jacks”, although note that mechanical ratchet jacks still have a place in this industry. Mechanical jacks are able to instantly release a load, a feature that crops up again and again as a limitation on hydraulics. Yes, hydraulics will release a load in a controlled manner, which is great but there are circumstances where users need a very fast drop. The rail industry obviously does and we have seen it as an issue in defence as well. There are times when a load needs releasing and dropping in fractions of a second.

Jacking solutions using 700 bar cylinders, hoses and pumps.

A typical pump, hose and ram set from Enerpac. Look at Hi-Force as well. 

Hydraulic cylinders, hoses, and pumps from the 700 bar ranges offered by all the majors and peripheral manufacturers have a place in hydraulic jacking. Why look at them?

They can offer flexibility in being able to use the pump or cylinder for other tasks. Having the pump well away from the job can be beneficial from a safety perspective, although from experience, having the separate pump and cylinder can require three pairs of hands which isn’t good. You also must confront the safety issue that having two people doing a task adds a level of risk if there are misunderstandings. Self-contained jacks are used by a single operator. Cylinders can range from pancake cylinders with high tonnages and very small, closed heights up to large telescopic cylinders. There are also hollow cylinders to exert tensile loads. Many people will simply go down the separate cylinder route to achieve a jacking solution rather than searching for an integral pump with its own reservoir and hand pump. That solution has pluses and minuses, although the 700 bar hydraulic majors do push jacking as a big application for their kit. We have used both solutions. We use Enerpac and Hi-Force cylinders and small oil hand pumps for our own production requirements. For Enerpac, our first port of call would be Shaw Hydraulics.

Integral 700 bar 10 tonne cylinders/pumps

Integral cylinder/pump hydraulic compact jacks are a great option if you want the flexibility of mounting a press frame or production fixture onto the industry standard thread on the 2.250-14UNS external thread on the body diameter of a 10 tonne 700 bar cylinder but don’t want the bulk or complication of a cylinder plus hose plus pump. This is a slightly different configuration to compact jacks like the JAK10 where the ram is at 90 degrees to the reservoir axis. The MV10 keeps everything on the same axis. Our MV10 has been used for years in nut splitters, flange splitters, chain link presses and other production equipment. Using this pump on smaller batches or as a standby does give you the option to swap from manual across to an electric or air driven pump and catalogue cylinder once volumes increase. Your press or tooling will be the same. Our unit runs to 700 bar and 10 tonnes, has a very neat integral pump, a built-in relief valve to limit the force it can exerts and it offers a sealed hydraulic system for use in any orientation. Read more for this product.

Pancake Hydraulic Jacks

A specialist railway industry pancake jack from Torrent Trackside

Pancake hydraulic jacks are invariably configured as a cylinder, hose, and pump. Managing to achieve a reservoir and hand pump integrated into a single very flat body is very tricky as a one piece. We are happy to be corrected. The rail industry uses hydraulic “pan” jacks to lift rails without removing much or any ballast. Again, a special application for hydraulic jacks.

Trolley Jacks

5 tonne conventional trolley jack by Compac. Image Spaldings

An alternative trolley jack configuration from Chicago Pneumatic

Trolley jacks are a specialist variant on hydraulic jacks. What makes them special?

A chassis with wheels on it offers the pivot for an arm fitted with a saddle, vee block or shaped plate which grips (for example) an axle. The arm is raised using a bottle jack or variant on one. Very often the hydraulic cylinder and pump are integrated. These are widely used in garages and auto repair shops because they can have high lift by virtue of an area of flat floor being available under the vehicle. Much as a trolley jack offers that useful high lift and low close height that a simple bottle jack can’t, the need for space to slide it under the job limits its application. The arm will often be quite long to provide the mechanical advantage. They are mostly used on vehicles where the arithmetic works on the arm length and tonnage of the cylinder. At higher tonnages, a trolley jack may become quite a solid and bulky piece of equipment. Note the variation on the trolley jack from the large US firm Chicago Pneumatic. A telescopic cylinder will provide high lift and tonnages.

Is a big brand hydraulic jack worth the money?

The USA was the home of 700 bar hydraulics and a massive market on hydraulic jacking. The UK was strong as well and the home of firms like Tangye. A lot of this kit is still very rugged and serviceable for long term users, but nowadays at a high price. There is a massive range of cheap kit in the market place of varying quality. Our Pump Shop Pro and Sarum Hydraulics philosophy is that Professional people need Professional kit. We would always pay for decent equipment, as we need it to work year after year and not be worn out, broken or corroded. It’s your choice.

How to keep your hydraulic jack ready for use?

Look after it when you put it away. If it needs a seal replacing, get it done. The big players have approved service firms like our friends, Shaw Hydraulics. Never overload or misuse your jack for something it isn’t meant to do.

Enjoy using a Micropac JAK10 10 tonne low height jack if that is what your job needs. Or pick the jack that does fit the bill. Or HIRE one if that is a good alternative.

Talk to us if you have an application for our JAK10.

Corrections and copyright.

As always, we are happy to be corrected. All copyright images are acknowledged.