What’s the Difference Between Casters and Wheels

So, what exactly is the difference between casters and wheels? A question that routinely comes up in our world, especially among novice buyers. Though related, the difference is great, and it’s important to recognize each part’s function. In doing so, buyers and warehouse operators can better select the right wheels and casters for their companies, and instill better efficiency across their applications, warehouses and workspaces.

Let’s roll on…

What Are Caster Wheels?

Wheels are objects that are flat on one end, round on the other, that spin on an axle. With that makeup, it allows it to roll – as it relates to the movement of the wheel itself or the object that it is affixed to. Cars rely on wheels, as do trains, as do millions of other furnitures, devices, machines and units across the world. Without wheels, we as individuals would have a heck of a tough time getting around. And so would the materials and goods that we move from one point to another.

Though wheels have been around for ages, casters only have existed over the past 150 years, which has impacted both homelife, as well as the second industrial revolution (and all future industrial and commercial operations since).

Wheels for casters come in various material types including:

  • Rubber
  • Plastic
  • Cast iron
  • Phenolic
  • Steel

Sometimes, caster wheels are made of one material, while other times they have an additional second material coating. The latter being used for added durability or protection. As you would expect, wheels often suffer a great deal of the wear and tear through use or overuse (though the caster is subject to damage and wear and tear, too). Because of this, it’s possible and plausible to replace wheels separately from the caster itself.

Without a wheel, you couldn’t have a caster. It’s an essential part of the unit and is what makes the caster operate the way it does. But you need the addition piece too, and that’s the caster, itself.

What Are Casters?

A caster is the assembly wheel unit, as a whole, that’s affixed to an object to help it move. The wheel is joined to a frame, known as the caster yoke or caster fork. The caster fork has nuts and bolts to hold the wheel in place and allow it to move, shift or turn.

Casters come in two classifications: institutional and industrial. Institutional casters are low-grade, typically made up of plastic or light-weight metal and applied to items like chairs or desks, TV stands, or other household or office items.

Industrial casters are meant for much more heavy duty application. Made from higher quality and/or more durable materials, these caster types are intended for material handling or human transportation applications, fit for warehouses, assembly lines and more.

Ask yourself some questions to decide the type of caster you might need:

  1. What am I trying to move? What’s the surface area like of that object? Is it a pallet jack, a chair, a tool cart, etc.?
  2. What am I trying to move on? What’s that surface like? Is it concrete, tar, carpet, etc.?
  3. How much weight is that object? 100 lbs? 40,000 lbs? Somewhere in between?
  4. How far am I traveling? A few feet? Across an entire shipping yard?

Casters are also divided into two application styles: rigid and swivel.

Rigid casters are attached to a caster wheel and fixed in place. They make it so the object can move in one direction – back and forth. Rigid casters are usually stronger and more durable and are preferred for heavy duty projects and applications.

Swivel casters are affixed in such a way that allows the wheel to change direction, in a 360 degree fashion. Though typically able to carry less load, naturally, these are far more versatile in the workplace, where loads may need to move along paths that are not a simple, straight line.

Deciding on which caster type you need is based on what you are carrying, where you are carrying it, and what the spatial environment looks like. Do you need your unit to be able to move about, or will a unidirectional path work for your needs?

Beyond style, it’s important to consider the weight on your unit, too. There are a variety of casters intended for various weights. See below.

Caster Type

Stress or Weight

Standard Duty

100 to 500 lbs

Medium Duty

150 to 600 lbs

Heavy Duty

400 to 4,000 lbs

Extra Heavy Duty

1,000 to 7,000 lbs

Max Duty

5,000 to 40,000 lbs

What are the Benefits of Casters?

Casters and caster wheels improve both workplace efficiency and productivity by allowing people, products and loads to move with greater speed across/throughout any environment. To operate at maximum productivity, and to operate safely, it’s important to be using (and replacing) the proper wheels and casters. Knowing the right wheels and casters, and what types to purchase based on application and surface area, is critically important.

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all option when it comes to casters and wheels. You should select the right ones that are specific to your needs. This could be dependent on the surface area of the material handling unit. Are you using it for carts, wheelbarrows, pallet jacks, tables, etc.? You’ll want to select the proper size, bearing, and material, too. Some applications require that wheels or casters are corrosion-resistant or can withstand certain temperatures or chemicals. The best caster choice may vary depending on whether you’re in the aerospace, automotive, oil and gas, or pharmaceutical industry, etc. Finally, select the right weight capacity – standard, medium, heavy duty or extra heavy duty.

We have a team here that is ready to help you with selecting the right caster for your business operations. Allied Caster & Equipment has been servicing businesses with their industrial caster and caster wheel needs for more than 30 years. Currently, we’re one of the largest distributors in the United States. For any questions you have on casters, or to place an order today, contact us!