Everything You Need to Know About Dumbwaiter Lifts and Their Uses

What’s the first visual that comes to mind when you think about a dumbwaiter? For many, it’s the picture of an older home owned by a wealthy family, possibly in England. In the kitchen, there’s a mini-elevator built into the wall that lifts food and utensils to different levels. Historically, these elevators were for the wealthy, but today, that’s no longer the case. Not only are these lifts still as popular as ever, but they are also more affordable. A residential elevator can be purchased for around $6,000-$12,000.

What is a Dumbwaiter Elevator? 

Dumbwaiter lifts are used in both commercial and residential applications. Industrial dumbwaiters, more aptly referred to as VRC lifts, freight lifts, or material lifts, are used in a variety of commercial applications where goods or materials need to be elevated from one floor to another. They are used to move boxes, medical supplies, warehouse inventory, and even automobiles. Dumbwaiters are very popular in the restaurant and hospitality industries.


The origins of the first dumbwaiters can be traced back to 200BC, during the age of the Romans, but made popular by the wealthy in France and England in the 18th century. The term ‘dumbwaiter’ just meant that the lift was a way to have your own silent waiter, not seen and not heard.

According to Wikipedia, a simple dumbwaiter is a “movable frame in a shaft, dropped by a rope on a pulley, guided by rails.”  “Before electric motors were added to dumbwaiters in the 1920s, they were controlled manually.” 

How Do You Build a Material Lift?

Material lifts use cables or hydraulics to move materials vertically from one level to another. Composed of a platform with panels, often referred to as the “car”, “cab” or “carriage,” that holds and lifts the materials. This “carriage” and the enclosures surrounding it are fabricated out of steel and ride on a steel track or rails.

Commercial or industrial dumbwaiter lifts function like those in residential settings, just bigger and designed to carry heavier materials. On the smaller end, Custom Industrial Products entry-level material lift can transport small commercial goods that fit in a 3ft by 3ft carriage with a lifting capacity of 500 pounds. And, because of its ergonomic shelf, it’s very popular with breweries and restaurants.

For those companies that need to move much heavier materials, Custom Industrial Products has a four-post (FP) material lift capable of lifting materials that can fit in a 30’x30′ carriage up to 30,000 pounds!

TL-M Series Dumbwaiter lift

Dumbwaiter Elevators Are Not Freight Elevators

Although these lifts are sometimes referred to as mini-freight elevators, It’s important not to confuse them with an actual freight elevator.  While both are designed to move materials, a freight elevator relies on a shaft and a large motor housing (machine room), whereas a dumbwaiter relies on a hoist and wire rope lifting mechanism to move the carriage up and down via dumbwaiter shaft.

It’s also important to know that the industrial (or commercial dumbwaiter) and freight elevators do have similarities:

  • Both are governed by the National Elevator Code ASME A17.1. This means that there are mandated maintenance programs that must be adhered to. And while the upfront cost for a dumbwaiter lift may be lower, the total cost of ownership is higher than a material lift.
  • Both dumbwaiters and freight elevators can be difficult and expensive to work on because of the shaft housing.

We wrote an article that goes deeper into the differences between material lifts and freight elevators, as well as a cost breakdown of both. Click here to be directed to it.

In Conclusion

We hope this sheds some light on dumbwaiter lifts and their many applications. To learn more about our material lifts and how they can benefit your organization, please visit our website or contact us.

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