Jack (device)

This article is about the lifting device. For other uses, see Jack (disambiguation).

A jack is a mechanical device used as a lifting device to lift heavy loads or to apply great forces. A mechanical jack employs a screw thread for lifting heavy equipment. A hydraulic jack uses hydraulic power.[1] The most common form is a car jack, floor jack or garage jack, which lifts vehicles so that maintenance can be performed. Jacks are usually rated for a maximum lifting capacity (for example, 1.5 tons or 3 tons). Industrial jacks can be rated for many tons of load.


The personal name Jack, which came into English usage around the thirteenth century as a nickname form of John, came in the sixteenth century to be used as a colloquial word for 'a man (of low status)' (much as in the modern usage 'jack of all trades, master of none'). From here, the word was 'applied to things which in some way take the place of a lad or man, or save human labour'. The first attestation in the Oxford English Dictionary of jack in the sense 'a machine, usually portable, for lifting heavy weights by force acting from below' is from 1679, referring to 'an Engine used for the removing and commodious placing of great Timber.'[2]



Jackscrews are integral to the scissor jack, one of the simplest kinds of car jack still used.

Scissor car jacks usually use mechanical advantage to allow a human to lift a vehicle by manual force alone. The jack shown at the right is made for a modern vehicle and the notch fits into a hard point on a unibody. Earlier versions have a platform to lift on a vehicle's frame or axle.

Electrically operated car scissor jacks are powered by 12 volt electricity supplied directly from the car's cigarette lighter receptacle. The electrical energy is used to power these car jacks to raise and lower automatically. Electric jacks require less effort from the motorist for operation.[3]

House jack

Threaded rod, 7 inches fully extended
24-ton house jack that stands 24 inches from top to bottom fully threaded out

A house jack, also called a screw jack, is a mechanical device primarily used to lift buildings from their foundations for repairs or relocation. A series of jacks is used and then wood cribbing temporarily supports the structure. This process is repeated until the desired height is reached. The house jack can be used for jacking carrying beams that have settled or for installing new structural beams. On the top of the jack is a cast iron circular pad that the jacking post rests on. This pad moves independently of the house jack so that it does not turn as the acme-threaded rod is turned with a metal rod. This piece tilts very slightly, but not enough to render the post dangerously out of plumb.

Hydraulic jack

In 1859, inventor Richard Dudgeon was granted a patent for a "portable hydraulic press" - the hydraulic jack, a jack which proved to be vastly superior to the screw jacks in use at the time.[4]

Hydraulic jacks are typically used for shop work, rather than as an emergency jack to be carried with the vehicle. Use of jacks not designed for a specific vehicle requires more than the usual care in selecting ground conditions, the jacking point on a vehicle, and to ensure stability when the jack is extended. Hydraulic jacks are often used to lift elevators in low and medium rise buildings.

A hydraulic jack uses a liquid, which is incompressible, that is forced into a cylinder by a pump plunger. Oil is used since it is self lubricating and stable. When the plunger pulls back, it draws oil out of the reservoir through a suction check valve into the pump chamber. When the plunger moves forward, it pushes the oil through a discharge check valve into the cylinder. The suction valve ball is within the chamber and opens with each draw of the plunger. The discharge valve ball is outside the chamber and opens when the oil is pushed into the cylinder. At this point the suction ball within the chamber is forced shut and oil pressure builds in the cylinder.

In a floor jack (aka 'trolley jack') a horizontal piston pushes on the short end of a bellcrank, with the long arm providing the vertical motion to a lifting pad, kept horizontal with a horizontal linkage. Floor jacks usually include castors and wheels, allowing compensation for the arc taken by the lifting pad. This mechanism provides a low profile when collapsed, for easy maneuvering underneath the vehicle, while allowing considerable extension.

Bottle jack

A bottle jack or whiskey jack[5] is a hydraulic jack which resembles a bottle in shape, having a cylindrical body and a neck, from which the hydraulic ram emerges. In a bottle jack the piston is vertical and directly supports a bearing pad that contacts the object being lifted. With a single action piston the lift is somewhat less than twice the collapsed height of the jack, making it suitable only for vehicles with a relatively high clearance. For lifting structures such as houses the hydraulic interconnection of multiple vertical jacks through valves enables the even distribution of forces while enabling close control of the lift.

They have a capacity of up to 50 tons and may be used to lift a variety of objects. Typical uses include the repair of automobiles and house foundations. Larger, heavy-duty models may be known as a barrel jack.[6]

This type of jack is best used for short vertical lifts.[7] Blocks may be used to repeat the operation when a greater amount of elevation is required.[8]

Pneumatic jack

A pneumatic jack is a hydraulic jack that is actuated by compressed air - for example, air from a compressor - instead of human work. This eliminates the need for the user to actuate the hydraulic mechanism, saving effort and potentially increasing speed. Sometimes, such jacks are also able to be operated by the normal hydraulic actuation method, thereby retaining functionality, even if a source of compressed air is not available.

Strand jack

A strand jack is a specialized hydraulic jack that grips steel cables; often used in concert, strand jacks can lift hundreds of tons and are used in engineering and construction.

Farm jack

A farm jack attached to a vehicle

The farm jack is also known as a Hi-Lift Jack. The farm jack, invented in 1905, consists of a steel beam with a series of equally spaced holes along its length, and a hand operated mechanism which can be moved from one end of the beam to the other through the use of a pair of climbing pins. Typical sizes for the farm jack are 4 feet (1.2 m), 5 feet (1.5 m)and 6 feet (1.8 m) referring to the length of the beam.

The jack's versatility stems from its use for such applications as lifting, winching, clamping, pulling and pushing. It is this versatility, along with the long travel it offers and its relative portability, which make the farm jack so popular with off-road drivers.

Safety standards

National and international standards have been developed to standardize the safety and performance requirements for jacks and other lifting devices. Selection of the standard is an agreement between the purchaser and the manufacturer, and has some significance in the design of the jack. In the United States, ASME has developed the Safety Standard for Portable Automotive Service Equipment, last revised in 2014, including requirements for hydraulic hand jacks, transmission jacks, emergency tire changing jacks, service jacks, fork lift jacks, and other lifting devices.[9]

See also

Look up jack in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.


  1. "Different Types of Jacks | Metro Hydraulic". www.metrohydraulic.com. Retrieved 2016-02-05.
  2. Oxford English Dictionary Online, quoting senses II and 10a.
  3. Electric Scissor Jacks, JackMaster. "Electric Scissor Jacksand you can lick your girls will the jack does all of the work you pick of". Retrieved 8 February 2014.
  4. Dudgeon, Jl Ujb richard (Jan 25, 1859), Richard dudgeon, retrieved 2016-02-05
  5. William Cox (July 2001), "Light Talk on Heavy Jacks", Old-House Journal: 37
  6. Brian S. Elliott (2006), "Air-Over-Hydraulic Jacks", Compressed air operations manual, McGraw-Hill Professional, pp. 56–58, ISBN 978-0-07-147526-6
  7. George William Sutcliffe (1895), Steam power and mill work principles and modern practice, Whittaker & Co., p. 828, The bottle-jack is exceedingly firm and safe for short vertical lifts, but is not convenient for pushing in a horizontal or oblique direction.
  8. John Norman (2009), Fire Department Special Operations, Fire Engineering Books, p. 51, ISBN 978-1-59370-193-2
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