John Shawyer, the author, is Director of Associated Pallets. He explains the basic differences between two-way and four-way ( 2-way and 4-way) pallets.
To the uninitiated eye, a pallet is simply a pallet. We’re aware of wooden pallets in use in DIY stores or see them supporting tinned goods in the supermarket, but how many of us know the difference between a two-way pallet and a four-way pallet? For front-line operators charged with moving palletized products on busy loading docks, or maximizing trailer loads understand the difference only too well. Here is a look at what the distinction is and the uses to which they are most commonly put.
The Basic Design
Wooden pallets vary depending on who manufactures them and the purpose they will be used for, but basically, they have at least most, if not all, of the following elements:
- Bearers – either stringers that run along the sides of the pallet or blocks, these allow space for the forks of a forklift truck (FLT) to enter between the top of the pallet and the bottom.
- Deck – the top or bottom of the pallet. It is a flat surface and can either be open- or closed-boarded.
- Stringer board – a horizontal element of pallet construction which is supported by blocks and which in turn supports the top deck.
- Fork entry – the space allowed for the forks of a forklift to enter and maneuver the pallet.
- Wings – these extend beyond the bearers and allow extra storage capability for larger products. They also allow for closer placement of stringers and reduce span between them, thus decreasing deck board deflection under load.
- Chamfer – applied during the manufacturing process to the bottom deck, this enables a pallet to be mounted easily by the wheels of a power pallet jack.
Whether they are two-way or four-way, the vast majority of pallets manufactured today in Europe conform to standardized sizes (See my article on standard pallet sizes) and are known as Euro pallets.
As their name suggests, two-way pallets can be entered by a forklift truck either from their front or rear. They comprise three basic elements: the top deck boards, the bearers at the sides and the bottom deck boards or baseboards. Generally, two-way pallets are more economical to manufacture and often provide greater strength and durability than four-way pallets. Their key limitation is related to the lack of flexibility with regards to pallet entry, making full space utilization more of a challenge when loading freight vehicles or in warehouses or other distribution facilities. The reason that space utilization may be compromised is that two-way pallets must be oriented in a particular way in order to be entered by a forklift.
Four-ways are comprised of a handful of basic elements: top deck boards, stringers or stringer boards and blocks, and bottom deck boards. In the case of stringer pallets, the stringers are notched to allow for fork entry. These are known as partial four-way entry pallets. When constructed with blocks, the pallet is known as a true four-way entry pallet and can be entered from either end and both sides by both FLT as well as powered pallet jack. This allows the operator greater ease to maneuver within a distribution or storage situation than a two-way pallet and provides for better utilization in transit.
The bottom deck of a four-way pallet typically comes in two distinctive styles: either with a complete perimeter base or with three boards at the base. The latter is generally referred to as legged pallets or leggers. They provide great strength when required for heavy loads and are generally regarded as stronger than two-way pallets. However, they are more difficult to repair than two-ways.
There are tradeoffs between two-way and four-way pallets. Typically, two-way pallets are cheaper to manufacture and are more durable than four-way pallets, but the latter provides greater ease of material handling, which many pallet users perceive to be worth the investment. The key consideration is to compare the purchase and repair price, prorated over the expected lifetime amount of trips, versus the operational benefits of four-way pallets versus two-way.
Over half a billion pallets are manufactured every year and add to the increasing numbers in use around the world. Their primary use is for moving heavy loads through the supply chain, including onto and off container ships to allow the import and export of every kind of item imaginable. Virtually everything that’s been imported into the UK will have arrived on a pallet, from garden plants to children’s toys. Although we may take them for granted, they are a vital part of world trade.