All you need to know, from the drum handling experts

Do you use drums or barrels to store products and ingredients? If so, you’ll want to handle those drums in the most efficient way, whilst keeping your equipment and people safe.

St Clare Engineering are the experts in drum handling. We are an established UK business with over 60 years’ experience in the manufacture and supply of drum handling equipment, delivering to customers across the globe.

We’ve put together this Ultimate Guide to help you choose the right drum handling forklift attachments for your drum handling needs.  So, let’s dive right in.

Forklift mounted drum handling equipment

Your forklift truck is a versatile tool for handling drums. Our range of Grab-O-Matic forklift truck drum handling attachments are quickly and securely attached to the forks, allowing you to lift, move and handle drums and barrels efficiently.

We supply drum handling forklift attachments that can handle many different types of drum, including attachments suitable for a range of drum types and sizes. If you have a forklift truck and regularly handle drums, this Guide will help you find the right drum handling solution.

What do your drums contain?

Drums are highly versatile storage and handling containers for a wide range of materials. Everything from industrial chemicals to food ingredients and maturing alcohol is stored in drums and barrels because they are robust, often reuseable, and can be moved and emptied with relative ease.

The contents of your drums will largely dictate the type of drum used, especially where food-grade ingredients are stored, or where dangerous materials are involved. The type of drums you use will then guide the best forklift attachments for moving them.

What type of drum or barrel do you use?

Drums can be divided into broad categories according to:

  • Material – metal, plastic or fibre drums
  • Shape – smooth sided, ribbed or egg-shaped drums
  • Style – open or closed top drums

These factors, along with volume of drums handled, the environment, and the total weight of the drum and contents, will help you choose the right type of drum handling forklift truck attachment for moving your drums.

Most drums come in standard sizes and materials, but if your drum is a bespoke model or you are unsure, we are always happy to help. In many cases, we ask for a sample drum so that we can confirm that our drum handling equipment will be ideal for your end use.

Drum types

The majority of drums will fall into the following categories:

  1. Steel drums
  2. Plastic drums
  3. Fibre drums
  4. Wooden barrels

We’ll explain below how to choose the right forklift drum handling attachment for each type of drum.

Steel drums

Steel drums or barrels offer strength and durability, making them widely suitable for use in storage or shipping. Steel drums are more fire resistant than other materials, and often used for flammable or toxic materials.

‘Closed head’ steel drums feature a tight head with no removable lid – both the top and bottom are permanently attached to the drum. These drums are mainly suited for storing liquid and semi-liquid products. The closed head steel drum usually has one or two drum plugs for the smooth filling and dispensing of contents.

‘Open head’ steel drums have an open top with a removable lid. This makes it more convenient to fill or dispense dry and solid products. Open topped drums should be securely fitted with lids before moving.

Which drum handling attachments should I choose for steel drums?

Most metal drums are built with straight sides and a round cross-section, with strengthening rims or chimes around the top, bottom and sides of the drum. These drums were originally placed on their sides, and moved by manual rolling supported by these strengthening rims.

Rim gripper drum handling forklift attachments

Drum handling rim grippers are suitable for use when lifting and handling drums that include a top rim or chime strong enough to support the weight of the drum and its contents. A metal drum with a strong ring or chime at the top can be firmly gripped using the Grab-O-Matic standard drum handling fork attachment fitted with rim gripping heads.

How does the Grab-O-Matic rim gripping head work?

The gripping head or ‘grab’ uses a mechanical weight-activated clamping mechanism to grip the drum rim securely between metal jaws. The lower jaw engages under the drum rim and, as it takes the weight, the upper jaw is triggered giving a secure grip. The jaws will not let go until the drums are set on the ground, which releases the weight on the gripping jaws.

Why St Clare Engineering rim gripping heads are the best

At St Clare Engineering, we use high quality materials to produce our rim grip drum handling attachments. Instead of the standard flame-cut mild steel used by others, our gripping jaws are manufactured using a grain flow dropped forging process, which produces a stronger and more durable gripping head.

These heads are then precision engineered with very close tolerances, and each part is fully tested and inspected before delivery. Our customers can be confident that they are getting a rim gripping system that will do the job as intended for many years.

Which drums can be lifted using a rim gripper drum handling attachment?

The Grab-O-Matic Single Rim Grip Drum Handler model 1-DLR forklift truck attachment is fitted with our single HD-1 gripping head, suitable for both open top steel drums and tight head steel drums.

Which drums should not be handled using a single rim gripper attachment?

If the drum skin is weak, or the drum rim is not substantial enough to support the drum’s total weight, twin gripping heads should be used to spread the load. Our twin headed rim grip is designed for use in these circumstances: two sets of grips or jaws work together to spread the weight between two points, so that the drum rim or drum shell is less likely to deform.

We recommend that a twin head should therefore be used:

  • If the drum is of a thin or flimsy construction and likely to be unable to support being handled with a single head; or
  • If the total drum weight for any type of drum is above 500kg

The Grab-O-Matic Twin Head Single Drum Handler model 1-DTLR  fitted with the HD-4 twin head gripper is suitable for all steel open top and tight head drums.

Pedestrian drum handlers

Employers are growing more aware of the need for health and safety precautions, so manual drum handling in areas where forklifts are restricted is usually now done with the aid of pedestrian drum handlers with manual or battery powered lift and drive on the base units.

Waist gripper drum handling forklift attachments

Where steel drums have two middle rolling rims, these allow waist gripping drum handling attachments to lift and move the drum securely without damage to its structure. Waist grippers can only be used where the drum has a consistent diameter with pronounced rolling rims and is not damaged or dented.

Waist gripper drum handling forklift truck attachments are suitable for handling low volume steel drums, such as 205 litre or 210 litre steel drums.

For these drums with pronounced rolling rims, Single Waist Gripper drum handler model DH-1 will allow you to move and lift each drum separately. For the efficient handling of two drums at a time, our double-drum handling option, Double Waist Gripper drum handler model DH-2 is available, allowing you to handle drums in pairs, saving time and effort.

Plastic ‘L’ Ring drums or Mauser drums

Mauser drums are named after their creator, the Mauser Group, a leading manufacturer of plastic industrial packaging. Plastic drums have become increasingly widespread in industry as a durable and re-useable way to store and transport a wide range of substances such as water, food, hazardous chemicals, oils, lubricants and many other liquids.

The drums feature a blow moulded drum body made of a polymer-based plastic, HDPE, which does not react with many chemicals or other substances.  This production method allows for smooth, egg-shaped drums to be produced at low cost.

Closed or tighthead plastic drums (also known as L ring drums since they feature an ‘L’ shaped top rim for strength) have no lid – both the top and bottom are sealed and are filled and emptied through added bungs or taps. Open top plastic or Mauser drums, i.e. plastic drums with a detachable lid, must be lifted more carefully, so may require a different forklift drum handling attachment.

Which drum handling attachments should I choose for plastic Mauser drums?

Base Gripper drum handling attachment for plastic Mauser drums

Open top plastic drums (Mauser) can be handled using Grab-O-Matic Base Gripper forklift attachments, which safely grip the tapered sides at the base of these drums. St Clare Engineering drum handling fork attachments for Mauser drums feature clamping mechanisms specifically engineered for handling drums with convex vertical sides and a base diameter smaller than the diameter of the drum.

The Grab-O-Matic Base Gripper 1-DLR-BG Mauser drum grab is a single drum handler suitable for use for handling open top plastic drums. Fully automatic in operation, the drum grab grips the drum at the base using curved arms designed to fit your drum. When the drum is lifted its weight holds the drum securely in place on the forklift attachment. When the drum is set down on the floor or pallet, the drum grab arms spring open automatically when the fork truck is reversed and the drum is released.

For greater efficiency when moving more than one drum, our Grab-O-Matic Base Gripper 2-DLR-BG is capable of moving two drums of the same size at the same time, or can be used for single drum handling.

Rim Gripper drum handling attachment for plastic ‘L ring’ or tighthead drums

Closed top plastic ‘L’ Ring drums are generally strong enough to be handled using our standard Grab-O-Matic rim grip forklift truck attachments Grab-O-Matic Single Rim Grip Drum Handler model 1-DLR

If the rim of the drum or barrel is strong enough to take the weight of the drum and its contents, use the special gripping head model HD-1 SS/AL designed to grab Mauser drums on the top rim. For heavier loads spread the weight by using twin gripping head HD-4 SS/AL

Rim Gripper drum handling attachment for open top plastic drums

Open top plastic Mauser drums may not be strong enough to be safely lifted using a rim gripper, since there is not sufficient strength in the rim. In this case you will need to use a Base Gripper (see above).

Fibre drums

Barrels made from cardboard, Kraft paper or fibreboard, known as Fibre Drums, are used extensively in the pharmaceutical and food industries, and for a wide range of powdered and non-hazardous goods. Fibre drums are low cost, lightweight and customisable, and environmentally friendly since they can be either re-used or recycled. Fibre drums are a versatile and affordable alternative to plastic or steel drums, and can easily be handled using our specialist forklift truck attachments.

Fibre drums come in many shapes and sizes, made wholly from fibre, or including metal rims or chimes for additional strength, solid plastic or metal lids and metal lever locks. This wide range of styles and the risk of damage to the relatively light material of the drum means that standard fork truck drum handling equipment is not suitable for handling fibre drums.

Which drum handling attachments should I choose for fibre drums?

The shape, laden weight and construction of your fibre drum will dictate which gripping head is the most suitable.

Heavy fibre drums from approx. 100 – 250kg with strong lid and rim

These require specially adapted twin grip jaws to spread the load. Use Gripping Head 1DTLR (Twin Head Single Drum handler). Gripping Head HD4 (Twin Head) and pillar can be added for two-drum handling.

Mid-weight fibre drums from approx. 50 – 100kg with strong lid and rim

Our specially adapted grip jaws will handle these drums. Use Gripping Head HD-1 (Single Head drum handler).

Lightweight or empty fibre drums less than approx. 50kg

Fibre drums with light contents will not be heavy enough to trigger the jaw mechanism that grips the rim of the drum, so these can be lifted instead using our Grab-O-Matic Double Webbing fork attachment: a double ratchet and webbing system used to clamp the drums securely around the middle without damaging the structure.

If your fibre drum cannot safely be handled with our specially adapted gripping heads or webbing grip, we can design bespoke drum handling equipment tailored to your specific needs.

Wooden barrels

Often found in the drinks industry, wooden barrels are used for the storage of liquids (whiskey & wine), and can be difficult to maneuver thanks to their weight and unique shape. Wooden barrels are not built with rims for lifting, and cannot be handled using waist grippers due to their bulbous shape.

Which drum handling attachments should I choose for wooden barrels?

St Clare Engineering designed a barrel handler for the wine and whisky trade. The Grab-O-Matic Wine and Whisky Barrel Handler is a fork attachment Base Gripper which automatically grabs the base of the barrel, while gripping arms close securely around the barrel as it is raised. To release the barrel, the forklift operator simply places the barrel down and reverses, initiating automatic release.

A double version of this barrel handling forklift attachment is also available.

Your Ultimate Guide to choosing the right drum handling forklift attachment

So, there you have it: everything you need to know about which forklift drum handling attachment to choose to handle your drums and barrels safely.

If you are still not sure what you need, please get in touch. At St Clare Engineering we are always happy to advise, and pride ourselves on finding a solution to every drum-handling problem. If you have non-standard drums or barrels we always ask for a sample drum from you before taking your order, so that we can ensure our products fit the exact structure and shape of the drum or barrel you will use.

Simple, safe drum handling solutions from St Clare Engineering.

Andy Bow – St Clare Engineering Ltd
Tel: 02380 643402
Fax: 02380 642189