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Scissor lift being used to repair windows
Scissor lift being used to repair windows
The Scissor Lift: Everything You Need To Know
8 Minute Read
Kevin Forestell headshot
Kevin Forestell
February 8, 2022

The Scissor Lift: Everything You Need To Know 

Updated January 9th, 2022

If you're looking to buy or rent a scissor lift but you want to learn more about them first, we've got you covered. Everything you need to know about these aerial work platforms including popular jobs they're used for, information about each manufacturer, and how to be safe while using one. We also have resources for the best attachments.

After reading this article you will have all the knowledge you need to make the right decision.

What Is A Scissor Lift?

A scissor lift is a popular model of aerial man lift which are used commonly for interior work jobs like ceiling construction, sign hanging, and other maintenance projects. They have a lower platform height than other boom lifts and often reach as high as 20 – 50 feet at max height. For anything higher, you'll probably want to look into other aerial platforms like articulating boom lifts or telescopic boom lifts.

Articulating boom lifts and scissor lifts in a storage facility
Articulating boom lifts and scissor lifts in a storage facility

With large platforms to accommodate both people and materials, scissor lifts are popular for manufacturing and industrial projects. Providing more stability than a ladder, these machines provide a safe and reliable environment for workers to complete projects with heights involved.

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Rough Terrain Scissor Lift, 26 ft image
19 ft - 50 ft
Electric, Rough Terrain
Rough Terrain Scissor Lift, 32 ft image
19 ft - 50 ft
Electric, Rough Terrain
Rough Terrain Scissor Lift, 40 ft image
19 ft - 50 ft
Electric, Rough Terrain

With crisscrossing braces, scissor lifts are capable of up and down vertical movements only. This X-pattern which compresses and extends is also known as a pantograph. However, what truly makes them a valuable piece of heavy equipment is that they can extend and collapse to be easily stored.

Scissor lifts are available and powered by either an electric or diesel engine. Electric engines are better for indoor use because they do not require the same level of ventilation as a gas engine and indoor jobs are usually less intense meaning that the battery will also last longer. Hydraulic scissor lifts also exist but are typically not applicable in the construction industry.

Boom Lifts vs Scissor Lift

Depending on the requirements of the job, boom lifts may be better suited than scissor lifts. As scissor lifts are more compact, lightweight, and easy-to-move equipment, they are ideal for indoor projects. They also are great if the project only requires up-and-down mobility.

Capable of working outdoors on uneven or sloped terrain, rough terrain scissor lifts, also commonly called off-road scissor lifts, were purposely made to work on uneven ground to allow for lifting workers and materials in a way that a ladder never could. There are also versions of tracked scissor lifts, however, these are pretty rare.

A yard of articulating, telescopic, and scissor lifts
A yard of telescopic, articulating, and scissor lifts

Overall, when it comes to the debate over which is better, there are two things to consider: height and horizontal reach. If you're working a job that is above a working height of 50" and will require a lot of moving on a vertical plane, then a boom lift is the better route to go.

Popular Jobs For Scissor Lifts

  • Indoor maintenance where ceilings are higher like in schools, hospitals, libraries, etc  

  • Warehouse organization, management and general maintenance where accessing tall shelves needs to be done with a safely

  • Sign maintenance or installation

  • Working on sloped land or uneven terrain

  • Working in tight outdoor spaces where an up-down lifting motion is needed

  • Cleaning and painting

Read more about popular jobs for scissor lifts.

Scissor lift being used to complete wall mural

Choosing the Right Scissor Lift for the Job

In order to pick the right machine, there are a few frequently asked questions to consider as the requirements of a project will determine what, or even if, a scissor lift will work best.

Am I working indoors or outdoors?

Electric motors are better suited for indoor projects while diesel engine lifts will be able to give the machine the power needed to maneuver around the site. When working outdoors, sometimes you will be on hard, flat surfaces like asphalt or concrete and sometimes you will be on wet dirt. Knowing which terrain you'll be on will help you determine between a rough terrain or an electric scissor lift.

How High Do I Need It To Go?

As mentioned before, scissor lift platforms have a max capacity of around 53 feet. If the job requires reaching a height of anything over that, it's best to rent a boom lift. Scissor lift sizes range include 19-foot, 26-foot, 32-foot, 38-foot, 46-foot, and 53-foot models. This variety makes for a lot of options to choose from.

Be sure to ask all of these questions and plan appropriately to ensure that you get the best equipment for the job!

Scissor Lift Manufacturers

Since the boom lift boom, many other companies have started manufacturing their own lifts. Skyjack, Genie, and JLG are among the three most popular but there are other brands as well.


JLG was originally founded by John L. Grove in 1973. The company began by making boom lifts but since has expanded into other aerial lifts as well. JLG was the first company to commercially produce the scissor lift and has been working to improve the design ever since.

JLG scissor lifts have two different categories: electric and engine-powered. Engine-powered lifts have larger platforms, can lift more weight, and can be fitted with rough terrain wheels. Electric models are better suited for indoor projects as they have quieter engines and are less suited for outdoor terrains.

Read our in-depth manufacturer and brand comparison.


Founded in 1985, Skyjack entered the industry with its scissor lifts. The company was acquired by Linamar Corporation in 2002.

Skyjack scissor lifts are some of the most common within the industry. Skyjack took it upon themselves to innovate the machine introducing the swing-out component tray in 1987. In 2013, the company sold its 250,000th equipment piece and the 100,000 SJIII 3219 model.

Skyjack SJIII 3219 model on a construction site
SkyJack SJIII 3219 scissor lift

The SJIII 3219 is an electric lift that has all standard Skyjack lift features such as dual holding breaks, 90-degree steering, lowering warning system, operator horn, hinged railing system, and overload sensing system. This model has a working height of 23 feet and an overall capacity of 227 kg (500 lbs).


A brand under the Terex family, Genie was first founded in 1966. Bud Bushnell purchased the rights to a scissor-type lift that used compressed air to raise and lower the platform.

During the economic downturn of the early 2000s, Genie started seeking a partner with shared values to help grow the business. This is when Genie Industries became a brand under Terex.

Genie scissor lifts include both slab, another term for electric lifts, and rough terrain versions. They also manufacture a variety of attachments such as material and tool carriers, variations of platforms and buckets, lift diagnostic tools, and many others.


A lesser-known manufacturer, MEC has been producing aerial equipment for more than 45 years. Started in Wisconsin in 1976, their aerial work platform division was purchased by Equipment Parts Wholesale in 2002.

Red scissor lift in a greenhouse construction site
Red scissor lift on a construction site

MEC scissor lifts include both slab and rough terrain models and are well respected for their quality and performance. Their 6092RT model has the highest platform of all models on the market at 60 feet.

Potential Hazards & Safety Protocols for Scissor Lifts

Like with any kind of equipment that is working at heights, there is a certain level of risk involved. It is always important to put safety first and follow procedures to ensure the safe operation of the equipment. Falling from lifts, being caught between the lift and other materials and raising the platform too high, and tipping the lift are all potential hazards.

Graphic depicting different hazards for scissor lifts

Image borrowed from Construction Equipment.

Falling from a Scissor Lift

Specific safety protocols should be followed for any situation when working on a lift or at heights. Always wear a safety harness as well as other PPE. Failing to do so could result in a fall from the platform and cause serious injury.

Crushing Hazards on a Scissor Lift

Always survey the work area before raising a platform. If the machine is raised too high when near a ceiling rafter, light fixture, duct system, or any other kind of obstacle, the operator is at risk of being crushed or stuck. Always keep arms and legs within the platform and maintain situational awareness of the jobsite surroundings at all times.

Tipping a Scissor Lift

Although they are made to raise materials and people, it is important to never over-extend a scissor lift or to go over the weight restrictions. When working on uneven or rough terrain, they should be done so with weight and height considerations in mind. 

Going over these recommendations or working in unsafe conditions puts the lift and operator at risk of tipping or falling over. If at any point it does not feel safe to operate a lift, stop and wait until it is safe to do so. Tipping can also be a hazard in extreme winds and weather when working outside. Check the weather forecast before planning for outdoor work.

Top Ways To Be Safe While Operating a Scissor Lift

  • Always know where the lift’s emergency stop and lowering measure is and how to use it

  • Never operate a lift alone

  • Always wear a safety harness and other PPE

  • Secure all tools while working on a raised platform

  • Always survey the job site before using the machine, including the status of the terrain on which the base will be sitting and up in the sky where the operator will be working. It's important to look for branches, hanging or exposed wires, rafters, etc.

  • Request proper training and never operate a scissor lift if you do not know how to do so

  • Never attempt to move an extended scissor lift while another person is on the lift

The History of the Scissor Lift

The first patent request for a scissor lift was filed by Charles Larson of the USA in 1963. It is said that he based the design on the pantograph but little else is known except for the fact that it was granted in April of 1966.

JLG was the first U.S. company to make the equipment commercially available. In 1976, the JLG company took the Larson patent for an extendable lift and turned it into an operational machine. Since then, many other companies started producing the same kind of equipment. 

The X shape of the pantograph style makes the scissor legs a stable tool for working at heights. It also makes the extension and collapse of the equipment a lot smoother than with a single arm. The design patented by Charles Larson has been improved over the years with additional tech advancements. The modern hydraulic system now makes raising and lowering the platform easier than ever.

The Scissor Lift: FAQ

Are scissor lifts safe?

Scissor lifts are very safe and secure if you adhere to all the safety measures listed above. However, any equipment can be made unsafe if not used properly. In order to keep the operator safe, be sure to always follow manufacturing instructions and maximum weight guidelines. Never operate the equipment unless you received proper training first and do not use a scissor lift if the job site is not safe.

Can scissor lifts be used outside?

Scissor lifts can be used outside and inside. In fact, rough terrain models were made specifically to operate on rough and uneven terrain. The tires and engine power were designed with outdoor use in mind. In some incidents, they can be better suited for outdoor use than a boom lift as they do not require as much room to maneuver themselves. 

How much does a scissor lift weigh?

Scissor lifts can weigh between 8,000 lbs and 17,000 lbs, depending on the height capacity of the model.

What is the lift capacity of a scissor lift?

The lift capacity of scissor lifts typically ranges from 500 to 2,250 lbs, depending on the size. Electric-powered scissor lifts typically have lower platform capacities than engine powered.

If you're looking to rent a scissor lift, DOZR offers scissor lift rentals with platform heights from 19 to 53 feet across all of North America.

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Find Your Next Equipment Rental on DOZR
Rough Terrain Scissor Lift, 26 ft image
19 ft - 50 ft
Electric, Rough Terrain
Rough Terrain Scissor Lift, 32 ft image
19 ft - 50 ft
Electric, Rough Terrain
Rough Terrain Scissor Lift, 40 ft image
19 ft - 50 ft
Electric, Rough Terrain
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Kevin Forestell headshot
Kevin Forestell
Kevin Forestell is CEO of DOZR and one of the co-founders. Kevin first got started as an entrepreneur when he founded Forestell Landscaping right after graduating from University. His love and passion for the industry and desire to help solve an equipment problem that contractors faced every day is what brought the founding team to start DOZR. Kevin is proud of the level of efficiency brought to the industry through DOZR and hopes that DOZR will help change the standard way equipment is rented.
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