Boom Lifts vs Scissor Lifts: A Comprehensive Guide to Choosing the Right Aerial Lift for Your Project
When it comes to lifting people on construction sites there are few better solutions than boom lifts and scissor lifts. While the goal of both is the same, help people safely perform important work at extreme heights, the way they go about it is very different. To highlight this, we've created this in-depth guide about the similarities, differences, and advantages of each type of machine.
Overview of Boom Lifts
Types of Boom Lifts and Operating Capabilities
There are four main types of boom lifts: straight and telescopic, articulating, towable, and crawler boom lifts. Straight and articulating boom lifts are available in electric and rough terrain models. Electric boom lifts have non-marking tires, which operate smoothly on finished, indoor surfaces. Rough terrain models can lift heavier loads up to working height and are meant for outdoor operation on dirt, mud, and sand.
The boom on a straight boom lift extends straight upwards without bending. They're usually used when stability is required at high elevations. In comparison to articulating boom lifts, which have multiple joints where the arm can bend, a straight boom can reach further up and out, or horizontally and vertically. When an articulating boom bends at its joints, it can reach up and over obstacles and access work surfaces in tighter areas.
Towable boom lifts, also known as spider lifts, are a lighter version of a boom lift used on softer terrain. They have four outrigger arms, which stabilize the machine while in use. These outriggers resemble spider legs, which is where the term "spider lift" comes from. Due to their reduced weight, spider lifts are easily transported by pickups, SUVs, and small trailers via hitch.
Crawlers are a compact, indoor version of an articulating boom lift. They're often used in offices and malls for maintenance and electrical work. They have non-marking tracks, reach high elevations, and can fold up into a compact structure that's small enough to fit through a personnel door.
Out of all four types, straight boom lifts have the highest vertical reach. Their platform heights, or the maximum height a boom lift's platform can access, range from 39' 6''- 210' 6''. Articulating boom lifts can reach vertical heights within the 29' 2''- 150' range. Towable boom lifts can't reach the heights the other two types can. Their platform heights fall between 34' and 50'.
Each boom lift type is used for different applications on site. Straight boom lifts can reach greater distances upwards and outwards, so they're commonly used to reach high work surfaces that are easily accessible. Whereas articulating boom lifts are used to access tight spaces from multiple angles, such as painting high ceilings, installing light fixtures and signs in tough-to-reach areas, scaffolding work, and picking fruit.
Towable boom lifts are often used for home repairs and other outdoor residential tasks, including tree trimming, putting up Christmas lights, roof repairs, and cleaning out eavestroughs.
Advantages and Disadvantages
Since the different types of boom lifts complete unique tasks, you'll be able to find a boom lift model that best suits your needs. Between the different types, boom lift platform heights span a range of 29'- 210'. This is a huge range for elevated work, so you'll be able to access multiple areas at various heights. Boom lifts also come in rough terrain and electric models, making them even more versatile.
Another advantage that comes with renting a boom lift is its horizontal and vertical reach capabilities. Moving in both directions increases the machine's ability to perform multiple tasks on-site. This also contributes to how maneuverable boom lifts are, which is particularly applicable to articulating boom lifts that reach up and over obstacles in their path. The rough terrain and four-wheel-drive option on some of the machines make them great at moving on rougher terrain.
The primary downside to boom lift design is the size of their platforms and lift capacity. They're only suitable for transporting one person up to working height along with a limited amount of materials. It's also important to be aware of the range of motion of every boom lift as there will be some limitations of movement depending on the weight. They're also more expensive to purchase and rent.
Overview of Scissor Lifts
Types of Scissor Lifts and Operating Capabilities
Scissor lifts have a large platform that sits on accordion-style arms, which lift people and materials up and down. Scissor lifts can be broken down into two categories: electric and rough terrain models.
Electric scissor lifts are designed for indoor use only and are commonly used in manufacturing and general construction spaces for painting and electrical purposes. Rough terrain models are diesel-fueled and meant to be used outdoors and can even be used to paint murals. In comparison to the platforms on electric models, rough terrain scissor lifts have larger platforms with extendable decks. Scissor lifts can also be pneumatic or hydraulically powered.
The lift pattern on a scissor lift runs up and down. This means that scissor lifts can only transport people and materials vertically. Scissor lift models have platform heights that fall between 6' and 70'. However, most models can lift up to heights in the 30'-50' range.
The manufacturing, merchandising, and construction industries rely heavily on scissor lifts. They're used to lift inventory up onto shelves in warehouses and retail spaces, bridge construction, framing, billboard and street sign installation, window washing, and other construction projects. Electrical, HVAC, and painting are common indoor applications of electric scissor lifts. Basically, any job that requires more elevation than a ladder and needs only vertical access can benefit from renting a scissor lift.
Advantages and Disadvantages
Scissor lifts are known for their wide platforms, which are capable of lifting heavier loads than boom lifts. With the option to extend the platform's deck and platform capacity, scissor lifts can carry more than one person up to working height. They can also support more weight, which is often used to carry extra boards, tools, people, and other required materials.
Another interesting feature found on some scissor lift models is a manual ground release valve. As opposed to putting the scissor lift into "descent" mode, you can release the pneumatic or hydraulic pressure and manually bring the platform back to the ground.
The main drawback of scissor lifts is their limited vertical reach and their inability to extend horizontally. While they can move horizontally on wheels, the boom lifts can extend horizontally without having to move the base, which can be difficult to navigate at times. For any jobs that require personnel and material transportation over 70', you'll need to rent a boom lift to reach those work surfaces. This restricts the number of jobs you can complete with a scissor lift.
Scissor lifts are the cheapest aerial equipment rental options. Smaller scissor lifts start at $171 per day to rent, while 50' models cost up to $600 per day. The average daily rental price for scissor lifts is $200, making them a more affordable option than boom lift rentals.
Comparing Boom Lifts and Scissor Lifts
Working Height and Horizontal Reach
Crawlers, articulating, and telescopic boom lifts have significantly higher working heights than scissor lifts. Articulating boom lifts can reach up to 150', while straight boom lifts can reach up to 210'. Towable boom lifts are the only boom lift type comparable to scissor lift working height, which is on average between 30' and 50'. You simply cannot use a scissor lift for any elevated workspace above 70'.
Since scissor lifts only move up and down, they don't have any horizontal reach. All boom lifts have some degree of horizontal reach, so any job that can't be accessed vertically will require a boom lift. Check out our scissor lift, articulating boom lift, straight boom lift, and towable boom lift spec guides for more information about reach capabilities.
Visibility at working height is pretty good on both boom and scissor lift platforms. Articulating boom lifts in particular have great visibility because they get closer to the work surface than a scissor lift can. They can also approach the area from different angles, which improves visibility overall.
Stability and Platform Capacity
When it comes to platform capacity, scissor lifts have boom lifts beat. Scissor lift models have platform capacities ranging from 500 to 3,500 lbs. Their advanced lift capacities allow them to transport more people up to working height, which is helpful for jobs that require more than one worker to complete.
Out of all boom lift types, spider lifts have the lowest platform capacity. They can lift anywhere from 425 to 500 lbs. Articulating boom lifts can lift 400 to 660 lbs, while straight boom lifts can carry 500- 3,000 lbs. The average straight boom lift model can lift a little over 1,200 lbs, depending on the range of motion. For both boom and scissor lifts, rough terrain models can carry more than electric models.
In terms of stability, straight, towable, and scissor lifts are more stable than articulating booms. Scissors and towable boom lifts have outriggers that enhance the machine base's stability. Straight boom lifts have larger footprints, which creates stability that protects workers at high elevations. In some models, the telescopic sections of the boom lock in windy conditions to further enhance safety and stability.
Because of their smaller footprints and bendable joints, articulating boom lifts have less stability than all other aerial lifts.
Maneuverability and Terrain Adaptability
Boom and scissor lifts are both well-suited for multiple types of terrain. Electric models in both equipment types ensure that work can be completed on indoor flooring, finished concrete, and asphalt. Rough terrain models can operate safely on packed dirt and other outdoor surfaces but boom lifts are better for really muddy conditions.
Some straight and towable boom lifts have self-leveling outriggers, which allow for safe operation on non-level terrains like sand and mud. It's less common for scissor lifts to operate on slopes. While some rough terrain scissor lifts can, the majority are meant for use on level ground only.
Boom lifts are much more maneuverable than scissor lifts. Horizontal reach, higher vertical reach, bendable joints, and proximity to the work surface are all factors affecting maneuverability that scissor lifts lack.
Operating Costs and Maintenance
Like most equipment, scissor lifts and boom lifts require pre-start daily inspections, which include checking for fuel or batter fluid leaks, cracks, and other damage. Both machines should have regular maintenance inspections based on their hours of operation.
Because their range of motion is more complicated and the number of joints means more things can go wrong, articulating boom lifts have higher operating and maintenance costs than straight boom lifts. Both boom lift types have greater operating costs than scissor lifts.
All personnel using aerial equipment must obtain certification prior to operation. Another must is safety and operations training so that workers have the tools to keep themselves safe. Boom lifts send people to significantly higher elevations than scissor lifts do, which poses a greater risk. Extra caution and risk mitigation procedures should be in place while operating all aerial equipment, particularly high-reaching boom lifts.
Choosing the Right Aerial Work Platform for Your Project
It's important to consider the required working height, direction, work surface accessibility, and load capacity when choosing between a boom lift and a scissor lift. Here are a few circumstances where boom lifts are the better option over scissor lifts.
Guidelines for Selecting the Appropriate Machine
Choose a boom lift over a scissor lift when the following conditions apply:
- When horizontal movement and reach are required
- When you need to move up, across, and over obstacles
- When you require vertical reach over 70'
- When rental cost is less of a concern
- When only one person requires transportation up to the elevated workspace
- When fewer materials require transportation up to the elevated workspace
- When the basket's load is less than 2,000 lbs.
Aerial Lifts Summarized
Overall, boom lifts and scissor lifts both transport people and materials up to elevated workspaces. However, their range of motion, lift patterns, and platform capacities differ greatly. All of these factors affect how well they'll be able to perform tasks on-site.
When lifting more than one person and heavy materials up to a lower working height, choose a scissor lift. When lifting one person up to a work surface where horizontal reach is also required, choose a boom lift. For your next aerial project, check out DOZR's rental equipment marketplace for boom and scissor lift rentals!