Many of us dream of owning heavy machinery. It’s fun to think about how easy it would be to unload your truck after a Costco shopping trip if you just had a forklift. Digging a hole for that koi pond in your backyard would be a snap if you just had a backhoe. Changing those hard-to-reach lightbulbs would be a trivial matter if you just had a scissor lift. Of course, that kind of heavy machinery is expensive. And even if you can afford it, you probably couldn’t fit an excavator inside your one bedroom apartment. But that doesn’t mean you can’t make your own purpose-built miniaturized machinery, which is exactly what Dave has done with his crawl space forklift.
The large majority of forklifts in use today are combustion engine-driven vehicles, usually running on propane. The engine provides power to the wheels so it can move, and also drives the hydraulic pumps that lift the pistons for the fork. Because they need to maneuver in tight spaces and place loads precisely, virtually all forklifts have rear wheel steering. And, of course, the forklift needs to be heavy enough to counterbalance the weight of the maximum load it’s designed to carry.
Learning to operate a forklift isn’t difficult, but all of those factors mean they’re largely unsuitable outside of commercial or industrial settings. New forklifts cost roughly the same as low to midrange cars—anywhere from $15,000 to $30,000 for a typical model. Like a car, they require maintenance and upkeep. And, obviously, you need somewhere to store it. Those factors are prohibitive if you just want it make it easier to unload your pallet of mulch from Home Depot. But what if you have a more specialized purpose?
Like many of you reading this, Dave has a crawlspace underneath his house instead of a basement. Most people just ignore their crawlspace, and the only time it gets used is when a repair person needs access to some plumbing or wiring. Nobody wants to fend off spiders and dust just to get to their box of Christmas ornaments. But that is a lot of wasted storage space. Dave figured it would be great to take advantage of all of that space, so long as he didn’t have to crawl around down there himself.
The solution he came up with was to build his own miniature forklift that is designed specifically for operating in the cramped quarters of a crawl space. He obviously couldn’t ride on the small forklift himself to operate it manually. Instead, Dave’s crawl space forklift is remotely-operated using an FPV (First-Person View) setup that is common in the RC world. That lets him take small pallets in and out of the crawl space while he remains outside, safely away from spiders.
To keep the number of moving parts to a minimum, and reduce future maintenance needs, Dave decided to go with a completely electric setup. The forklift has three wheels: two independently-driven wheels in the front, and one free-spinning caster wheel in the back. Because the two driven wheels are turned by individual electrical motors directly, no complicated differential or steering system is needed. Turning is as simple as spinning one wheel faster than the other.
The forks are also lifted with an electric motor, in this case a single 6” linear actuator. After taking the weight of the forks themselves into account, that linear actuator can lift loads up to 50 pounds. There is also an additional 2” linear actuator for controlling the tilt of the forks. That load capacity is obviously orders of magnitude smaller than a typical forklift, but is sufficient for lifting the kinds of small boxes that a homeowner is likely to store in their crawlspace.
To control the forklift, Dave chose a setup that is common for drones and other radio-controlled vehicles. That includes a Flysky FS-i6 six channel RC transmitter and a Flysky FS-iA6B RC receiver. The receiver controls the forklift’s drive motors through a Sabertooth Dual 32A motor driver, and the fork motors through a Sabertooth dual 12A motor driver. The FPV setup is a combination of fairly generic components, including an FPV camera, FPV transmitter, and combination FPV receiver and 4.3” monitor.
The frame and body of the forklift is likely where Dave spent most of his time. The frame is constructed from square steel tubing that was welded together, and the body is steel sheet metal. Some of the mechanical parts, like the axles, had to be custom machined for this project. Dave did have to rework some of the systems after testing, but the finished forklift seems to work exceptionally well.
While it’s unlikely that you’re going to go out and build a dedicated forklift for your own crawl space, Dave’s work here is quite inspirational. It proves that you can create your own specialized tools, and get a taste of what it would be like if you could have your own heavy machinery at home.